A Night to Remember

Bumsit was reclining on a couch made entirely of flowers, and young nymphs sat at his feet gazing eagerly up at him.  They were of slight build and delicate feature, with golden hair interwoven with more flowers. A heavy sweet scent filled the air – jasmine, or honeysuckle, he couldn’t quite tell.  The goblet in his hand was empty, and a nymph sprang to her feet to refill it. But the  damned scent was getting stronger now and starting to annoy him.

He half opened his eyes. It was a glorious  morning  – the sun shining, sparrow-wrens chirping incessantly, fragrance in the air.

Fragrance? Not the reliable stench of stale spilt beer and muddy oaken floor?

“Close the shutters” mumbled a voice beside him.

Bumsit pulled himself up from the recumbent position in which he had awakened.  He was leaning against a low stone wall bordering a road.  In the distance he could see the jumbled mass of the cathedral looming over the town. Something tumbled to the ground, it had been resting on his chest.  A purple flower, with golden tips.  Leafrot rolled over and his face squashed into the flower.  “Mmmm …  pretty …   come  and sit with Leafrot  …  your sister can join you”

“Wake up.” Bumsit jabbed Leafrot. “What happened?  Last thing I remember we were going into the Shadow Gardens ….”

“I was  wooed and worshipped by beautiful creatures, ” said Leafrot, brushing leaves out of his hair,  “But I don’t expect I’ll see them again.”

That was the problem with the  Shadow Gardens .  It was a fae nightclub, or as close as one could get to it, and  sometimes it was there – wherever there was – and sometimes it wasn’t.  It was just luck if you happened to see a doorway into it.  Leafrot picked up the flower and sniffed it again.  “Oh, yes….  she was hot … she had little bells around her ankles and they kept tinkling … “

“Give me that.” Bumsit snatched the flower and held it to his face, inhaling. He suddenly had a vision of beautiful forms dancing around him, and it jogged a distinct memory. “I think we had a good time. ”

“Too bad we can only remember a few bits” said Leafrot. “What’s with the flower? Left over from our night?”

“Guess so. I’ve never seen one before, and the smell – maybe it’s a fae flower  – we ‘re not far from Musaeus’s house – we could drop in and ask him.”

Musaeus was a local alchemist, scholar, and dabbler in the  esoteric.  Or, depending who you asked, just a crazy old guy who collected all manner of strange objects.  He was an almost guaranteed source of beer-money if you could find something unusual for his collection, and many of the locals took regular advantage of this.    Bumsit and Leafrot approached his  house,, which was nothing more than a ramshackle hut with smoke drifting from  a hole in the roof.   There was a smell of a burnt.. something .. that neither the half-elf or hobbit could quite place.  They banged on the door, and hearing a voice, pushed it open.

Inside,  Museaus was standing at the fireplace, staring at a shapeless blob that was still  smoking and stinking.

“Is this a convenient time?” asked Leafrot. “We have a question. ”  Burnt feathers, that’s the smell, he realised.

Musaeus sighed.  “Well it wasn’t a Phoenix.  Thought it may have been, but it obviously wasn’t.”

“A phoenix?”

“Yes, “ said Musaeus, “A hunter brought it in.  Most curious-looking bird he found dead in the woods.  I had hoped it might be a  phoenix, which , as you know, can arise renewed  out of its ashes.”  He gave the black lump a poke with a long iron.  “ But this bird isn’t going to do anything.  Ah well  …   how can I help you?”

Bumsit handed  him the flower. “Can you tell us about this?”

Musaeus’s eyes narrowed slightly as he held the flower against the light of the doorway, examining it carefully. He sniffed the petals.    “Its an Areenian lily….  very rare… how did you come by it?”

“Would you believe I just woke up this morning and there it was?”

“And tell me, were you ah, imbibing last night?  And you have no recollection of any events that passed?”

“I don’t even remember if I was imbibing!   The last thing I.. we .. . remember is seeing a doorway to the Shadow Gardens  ..after that…  its just bits and pieces that we each have a vague memory of.  I’m assuming we have a good fae hangover. ”

“Well you would have.” agreed Musaeus. “Tell me, have you heard of the Nocturnis Rex?  It’s a fae custom.”

Leafrot made a choking noise  “ You’re joking – King for a Night? I thought that was just a fairytale?”

Musaeus laughed …  “Literally….! ”

“What?”  Bumsit stared  at Leafrot.  “You know what he’s talking about?”

“Yes, well, but I didn’t think it was true.  I thought it was an old wive’s tale.”

“This lily,” explained Musaeus, “Is a fae symbol of royalty.  But it is mostly used in their celebrations, notably one called Nocturnis Rex – that’s the scholarly name for it, the fae name is something unpronounceable.  It’s a particular feast where someone is crowned king for the night  – for a night they can have or decree anything they want. ”

“King? Of the fae? For a night?  I was? “ said Bumsit

“You mean I was, “ objected Leafrot, “ I ‘m sure I sitting on a throne and plucking petals off fairy nymphs”

“Indeed it appears that one of you – or maybe both – was being treated most royally,” said Musaeus,  “And the fragrance of the flower will be triggering the odd memory of what happened. But unfortunately…   “ …..  he opened his hand that had been holding the flower.  It was now a brown shrivelled husk.  “Areenian lilies have a very short life span”

“There goes any chance of proving I was the rightful king.” said Leafrot

“Get stuffed  …” said Bumsit.

Leafrot laughed, “Come on Your Highness, I’ll let you buy me a royal drink.”

“Just a minute, “ said Bumsit.  “Musaeus, that lily – if its fae, then surely it must have some magic properties even if its dead?  Could be worth experimenting on?   We’re willing to sell it to you ….”

**************************************

The two sat in their favourite ale-house musing.

“It does beg the question, ” said Bumsit,   “What other things have we done that we have no memory of, nor ever will? Perhaps we have been leading whole other  lives? ”

“Too early in the day for philosophising, my good friend. Drink up.” Leafrot took a deep draught of ale.

“And that, “ said Bumsit, “Is the sum of existence. At the end of the day, after wonders, enchantments, other lives, dead birds and flowers and what-not …  you still can’t beat a free drink”

Leafrot clanked his tankard against Bumsit’s.   “Free, and one that you can remember!”

Architecture & Love pt 2

They crouched looking at the spires of the cathedral, remembering back 25 years and more. They remembered when this pride of the city was a menace: a gigantic structure and unstoppable juggernaut, stomping across the landscape. No one knew where it came from. It just appeared one winter, smashing its way across the land, striding with legs made of stone, bellowing incoherent noises made of 10 thousand bells and gongs of 500 different materials. It crushed five towns and countless villages, and the death toll rose to inconvenient levels. Even the lords and ladies started to take an interest, especially when it started to head towards the city.

The barons raised their militias and rode out. They were scattered and splattered.

The knights took it on themselves and, armed only with lance and pennant of their lover’s undergarments, charged to their obliteration.

Mercenaries charged exorbitant sums to set up traps and ruses to lure the animated temple of an unknown god to valleys, rivers and gorges. It ignored them all and lumbered on.

Then at the city walls’ last line of defence, the City Watch sidled out to meet the foe, Captain Judoc at their head.

“So how did you do it?” prompted Bumsit.

“I was sneaky,” said Leafrot.

“No shit?”

“No really. I figured that everyone had tried pretty much exactly the same thing: to charge straight at it and hit it with swords. Well how the hell was that ever going to work, I ask you?”

“There were the clever military strategems.”

“Yeah, but we both know those slimy buggers were full of shit. They laid out a fine sounding plan with maps and charts and their flowery language, collected the cash and pissed off.”

Bumsit and Leafrot sat silently in admiration.

“Anyway, defeating the Wandering Temple never interested me. I was more intrigued by what might be inside it. It was, and still is, a great piece of architecture. I mean,” he pointed, “just look at those arches.”

Bumsit nodded, “My Mum still visits and offers prayers every Star fall-Season turn. It’s impressive.”

“Yes it is. Inside and out. But no one knew what inside was like then. And I wanted to be the one to find out because, you know, there was a good chance that a few objects might have worked their way loose in all that stomping.

“So while Judoc and his probably drunken men…”

“The Best and the Finest,” they chimed.

“While they milled about,” said Leafrot, “I got round the back and scaled one of those gargantuan legs and crawled in a back passage.”

“Did it have a back passage?”

“No. Not literally, fool. Mind you,” Leafrot put his head on the side and pondered, “I guess it is now used as a sewer pipe. Anyway, scatological side-tracker, I found my way inside.”

“Impressive?” said Bumsit, imagining the vast wealth.

Leafrot looked down at him. “You’ve been in there yourself. You know that it is.”

Bumsit’s face lit up as though he’d stumbled on the solution to a riddle and found it delightfully simple, “Isn’t it though? The gilded icons; the stained glass; the vaulting arches; the rooms within rooms. My word…”

“And I was alone in that titanic alien artgasm. I started simply and systematically, scouting through the place, marking my way with chalk, pocketing anything that I calculated would have a good resale value.”

The drizzle had eased since they had taken shelter, and the clouds were thinning. A dull glow that hid the mid-Autumn moon became more apparent. Leafrot nodded at the sky and continued his story.

“After about 15 minutes of this looting I came across and odd room that was roughly in the centre of the beast. In the middle of this hexagonal room… yes, I counted the walls,” he said in reply to Bumsit’s accusing stare. “In this room was a central stone pillar, or solid table, or a… what do you call those things?”

“A plinth?”

“Is it? Could be. Anyway on this stone plinth thing was a golden cushion, and on that cushion was a glowing red ruby the size of an ostrich egg in the shape of a heart.”

“I’ve got it!” said Bumsit. “You pinched the ruby heart and the beast died! I’m right, aren’t I!”

“No. Now shut up.”

Bumsit frowned in concentration and pulled out his pipe and baccy.

“I wanted to,” said Leafrot.

“Ha!”

“But I didn’t.”

Bumsit struck flint and lit his pipe.

“As I reached for that gargantuan jewel I heard a noise. It was the most mournful heartbreaking sound I’ve ever heard. It was the sound of a thousand jilted lovers; the cry of despair of a god who’d lost his better half.

“I couldn’t help myself. I was stopped in my tracks, and I said, ‘What’s up, buddy?’”

“Now you’re taking the piss. You never said that,” said Bumsit.

“I did, you know. And my mind was filled with visions and scenes and told me more than words ever could and made me understand why the Wandering Temple had ripped himself out of the ground and had gone wandering.”

Blowing a stream of smoke into the air, Bumsit settled more into his haunches, “And?”

“In his land there was a powerful witch that had enchanted many things; animated many things; imbued life and often reason on many things. This more gargantuan stumbling cathedral had fallen in love with another of his kind. But this other young filly, a spry stalking, proud and shapely building had gone off to explore. And so he pulled himself up and followed. And has been searching ever since.”

“Be buggered.”

“True.”

“What did you do?”

“I told him that he’d never find her by wandering randomly about the landscape. And anyway, it’s not good romance to chase too hard. And anyway again, since he was so big and impressive and manful he was easier to find than delicate graceful her. So his best bet was to sit still for a while and look around and wait for her to come to him.”

“Brilliant!”

“I thought so, too. And so he crashed his giant stone arse right there and has been waiting ever since. Waiting for some hut enchanted by some weirdo witch called Baba Yaga.”

They sat in silence for a few moments.

“He could start wandering again at any moment,” said Bumsit.

“Yes he could. Which is why I’m glad no one knows I had anything to do with it.”

At that moment the clouds parted, and the moonlight shone through and illuminated a section of the rock wall. And it seemed from that angle that the light and shadow appeared to show a doorway, with lights within.

“Come on, buddy. This is the last known shadow door to the former embassy. The fae know how to run a nighclub,” said Leafrot as he crossed the cobblestones, while the hulking shadow of the Cathedral overshadowed all: waiting, waiting for his lover’s return.

Architecture & Love, pt 1

Fantasy-city-at-night“Speaking of looks,” Leafrot blinked. It was a long blink.

When he opened his eyes again, or at least when his eyes refocussed, they were outside. It was a cold night. Drizzle filled the air and wafted on a gentle breeze. The effect was bracing, then chilling.

Leafrot looked around uncertainly.

“Where was this place?” Bumsit said. Seeing the confusion in his old partner’s eyes (or his partner’s old eyes), he added, “This hole in a wall you talked about?”

“What?” Leafrot focussed on his friend, “Sorry, Bum. I think I must be sobering up. Need my medicine.”

He drew a glass flask from the folds of his cloak, uncorked it and swigged.

“Garr! That shit is terrible.”

“Thought you said you loved the janever?”

“Ah, yes. ‘Love’ in the way the boil loves the lancette.” He shuddered and took another pull on the bottle. “That’s enough.

“It’s this way,” he pointed and headed down a side alley, “and it’s not ‘a’ hole in a ‘a’ wall. It’s The hole in The wall.”

Bumsit scuttled after the half-elf, fingering the hilt of his dagger and watching the shadowed doorways.

“Tonight’s the full moon, right?” Leafrot asked without slowing his pace, twisting and turning through the labrinthine Old Quarter.

“How the hell would I know?”

“I thought you people were one with nature.”

“You people? What’s that rascist bullshit about?” Bumsit wheezed. His legs were tiring and he seemed to have a terrible thirst. “And besides, you know very well that I’ve spent about as much time tilling fields as you have, twiggy.”

Leafrot smiled. The stars were invisible, but being able to see the moon had nothing to do with knowing where it was.

He slowed his pace, then stopped and backed into some shadows. Bumsit joined him and they couched there breathing heavily, misting the air around them. Leafrot offered the juniper flavoured heavy alcohol to Bumsit.

“There you are, my diminuitive hirsuite friend. Let’s catch our breath while we wait.”

As they drank and recovered they scanned the area. The alley opened into a courtyard of sorts, a meeting of four other alleys. A long dead tree marked the centre of the crossroads, and a rough stone fence, collapsed in many places, more or less surrounded it. In times gone by it would have been a pleasant place to rest under the shade of the tree and chat with friends. Now it was just a broken down eyesore surrounding a dead piece of wood in a broken down part of town. Above the tenements that bordered the courtyard they could see the towers of the cathedral.

“Did you know it was me that got the Wandering Temple to settle down?” Leafrot said.

“No? I thought that was Captain Judoc?”

“Best of the Finest of the City Watch?” They chimed together, and laughed.

“No. He got the medal and the parade and the awards and the recognition.”

“What a bastard,” said Bumsit. “So you got diddled again?”

“Shit no! I got the best reward of all: a thousand florins and blessed anonimity”

“Terrible what happened to him,” said Bumsit.

“Yes. Terrible. They never found the assassin, either.”

They drank in silence for a few more moments.

“Nearly midnight,” said Leafrot.

“Still time left to tell me how you did it, then: made the Wandering Temple settle down…”

Stealing the Magic Belt

“ It started in the Harpy’s Hoof, a bar I used to frequent “ said Bumsit

“But harpies don’t have hooves, they have claws .”

“I know that! ” said Bumsit, “The sign had a picture of a harpy, with hooves instead of claws. I guess the name rolls off the tongue better.”

“So technically it was a .. hippoharpy … or a harpyhippo,” said Leafrot. “Some dumbass artist’s invention no doubt.”

“No doubt.  Anyway – there was a wizard who used to frequent the bar, name of Mumblebore.  Quiet, uptight fellow, typical magic type. But when he had a few drinks in him he loosened up considerably. So one night he’d had his usual two or three drinks, which was enough to get him going. Started talking in a loud voice about his latest invention that would make him a fortune.  Said he had made a magic belt that could make you invisible, it would change the world, etc etc“

“Typical…” Leafrot had consumed a large portion of wine by now and was leaning at an extreme angle. “Bloody wizards, mages, priests and … ”

“Sorcerers,” finished Bumsit.

“And sorcerers. A pox on them all! Responsible for half my grievances, they are.” Leafrot stabbed a finger in Bumsit’s direction … “Mark my words, when the Great Disturbance comes they will be the first to go. ”

“Damn right” said Bumsit, though he had no idea what Leafrot was alluding to now. The half-elf often confused aspects of his elven heritage with his human traditions and as a result had a very fuzzy cosmology and theology.

“Anyway … ” he repeated, “Mumblebore kept banging on about his magic belt- most of the lads in the bar just teased him, but then he said something significant. He was going to make lots of these belts and sell them everywhere. Now – one belt of invisibility is priceless. A dozen invisible belts are highly valuable. But hundreds, maybe thousands of belts?  Thats what he was talking about. Common as muck, every second person has one. No value in them.”

“Thats when I decided I would steal it – while it was still priceless.”

“Better to have one belt worth ten thousand guineas, than ten  thousand belts worth a shilling each.” said Leafrot, gesturing broadly with his tankard.

“Exactly,” agreed Bumsit. “The latter is peasant economics. Which is why they are poor peasants.”

“So how did you propose to steal a magic item from a wizard”s lair.”

“Well … ” Bumsit paused for dramatic effect. “As it happened, I had a dumbstone.”

“How the hell did you get one of those?”

Bumsit  looked smug. “That’s another tale. But I’d been saving it for the right occasion.”

Even in his drunken state Leafrot was suitably impressed. Dumbstones were rare as, well, as anything you could imagine. A dumbstone was a specially enchanted stone that could nullify other magics. Only temporarily, usually,  and they often had other caveats – some had only three uses, some could only be used under certain conditions. But if you wanted to break into a wizard’s personal dwelling and circumvent the protective wards, sigils and spells – a dumbstone was just the thing. Which is why they were so rare. The name came from the fact that many protective wards gave a verbal warning to their owner  and the dumbstone rendered such wards literally mute.

“So…” continued Bumsit, “I waited for the next time Mumblebore was in the tavern, and when he ordered his first drink of the night I slipped out to his house with the dumbstone.”

Leafrot nodded – wizards didn’t keep their residences a secret, in fact they generally flaunted their places of magic, relying on spells rather than secrecy to protect themselves from intruders and unwanted guests.

“Approached front door, activated dumbstone, bam, straight in. No standard locks, no guard dog, nothing else – silly old fool. Kept the dumbstone activated just in case while I searched for his study. Which wasn’t hard, his whole house was basically just a kitchen and one enormous room with magic stuff, books, and a bed in it. And a lifesize wooden mannequin with a belt around its middle. I kept checking the dumbstone to make sure it was still working – about half of the red lines in the stone had already turned white so I didn’t want to hang around too long. I got the belt off the mannequin and scarpered quickly.”

“Easy as that then? So …  what happened?”  asked Leafrot

Bumsit grimaced.  “Got home, put the belt on – it was a good handspan wide, made of leather.  And it worked!  Couldn’t see my body at all, which was quite spooky.  The belt became invisible as well while it was on me. Took it off, I reappeared.  Put it on, I vanished.  I could see all my life’s fortune coming my way – I’d already worked out who I was going to sell it to – Lord Screwpatch.”

“The ugliest man in Kardinia – mirrors refuse to show his reflection – good choice” said Leafrot, “So what went wrong?”

“I bundled the belt and the dumbstone together in a strongbox and hid it in a secret nook. Next morning I took them out, and tried  on the belt again.  The belt disappears , a couple of inches of my waist goes invisible and that’s all!  And then I noticed  that the dumbstone was completely chalky white. It still was red the previous night, which meant …”

“Oh no …” said Leafrot

“Oh yes … sitting with the belt overnight, somehow  the stone had  sucked all the magic out of it!  Never trust magic, ever! “ Bumsit banged his tankard loudly on the table

“So what did you do with the belt”

“I still wear it- keeps me looking trim.”

Leafrot stared at his friend’s pillow-like stomach.  “Trim?”

“Indeed,” said Bumsit, “Imagine how I look without it!”

The Fountain of Youth

It was Bumsit’s turn to look doleful.   “The Fountain of Youth?  Yes I found it alright.  Sad memories. Like you, there was a woman involved”

 “You never told me there was a woman. Who was she?”

 “You heard of Leesa Langenhorn?”

 “Not The Morning Leesa? You knew her?”

 “Knew her?” said Bumsit, “I made her famous, I did.”

 “And she broke your heart…” 

 “No, broke my money pouch ! It was like this  … “ Bumsit absent-mindedly took a swig from Leafrot’s wine beaker and spluttered ; “That’s stinking stuff!..  sorry…  So I had heard rumours of a Fountain of Youth , and yes, some of those placed it at the top of the Eisenkorn. But I hadn’t planned on doing anything about it until one day an old woman came up to me in the tavern.”

 “A foretaste of your present condition,” said Leafrot.

 “Bastard.  No, she was wanting to hire a capable adventurer and guide to take her to the  Fountain of Youth. Of course, she had been directed to me. She was offering gold – real gold, so I wasn’t going to turn her down.  Many have tried to find it but failed, I said, so I can’t guarantee you success, but I am the most capable guide you’ll find. And asked for half payment up front. “

 ‘Are you saying this was Leesa Langenhorn?  That doesn’t sound right. “

 “Patience, good elf, “ said Bumsit, “All shall become clear as I unfold this sad tale. As I said, it was before she became famous.

 “So we set off, up the Eisenkorn, armed with hints and rumours  and a map I’d bought off a half-goblin,  who assured me it was the most up-to-date guide to the trails on the mountain. Cost me a lot of my gold advance. We ended up lost, of course, because I discovered that that the trails marked on the map weren’t walking trails, they were goblin  food trails.  Every damn patch of turnips, parsnips and beets on the mountain.  We went round and round  in circles, I was starting to think I’d never see the other half of the gold.  But then we found it. “

 “Just stumbled onto it?” asked Leafrot.

 “No, we saw a ring of fires blazing into the sky …. of course we just stumbled onto it. A small ruined courtyard, fountain in the centre with  a stone hippocampus shooting water into the air. Beautiful.  Leesa took one look and started removing her clothes ..”

 “Grrr …” said Leafrot.

 “No, don’t forget she was old. And then she climbed into the fountain, let the water run over her um.. old body.  Her body started changing, next moment there was the hot young nymph we all know of. Wonderful!  She gave a hoot of delight and stepped out of the fountain, bent down to pick up her robes, when she straightened up – she was an old woman again.”

 “Maybe you need to stay under the water longer, for the effect to become permanent, I suggested.  So she got back in, changed into a young thing, stood there for ages, stepped out – old woman again. Seems like the fountain worked alright, but only when you were in it.”

 “That’s magic for you, “ said Leafrot,  “Tricks you every time.”

 “Yes.  Well,  she was pretty unhappy, as you can imagine. We spent the night there, in the morning she said she’d made a decision. She couldn’t face returning to civilisation as an old woman, she’d rather stay here where she could be a youth anytime she wanted. I tried to dissuade her, after all, she still owed me money. But she wouldn’t listen. Said she could survive on turnips and beets, now that she knew where they were.”

 “Well what was I to do?  But I had a brainwave to recoup my losses.  I left her and headed back to town, carefully making a map of the way.  I found an artist, one who was good at portraits, and paid him to accompany me back up the Eisenkorn to the fountain. There she was, splashing about in the water, morning sun glinting off her  young and nubile body. I  told the artist I wanted a few portraits of her, figured I could sell them for a good price. Never trust an artist though.  He dashed off a few sketches that were damn good, but said he would fill in the colours and details when he returned to his workshop. Fair enough, I thought, and we returned to town. Next day I went round to his studio and he was gone!  Done a quick move in the night. Easels, paints and my sketches, all gone!  Never saw him again, but for the next few months, paintings of Leesa started circulating around local castles, and she became the famous Morning Leesa.  And I was poor again.”

 “Damn shame,” commiserated Leafrot.  “You missed out on the girl and the money. But you had a map to the Fountain – why didn’t you sell it? Or  start tours to see Leesa?

“That was the final blow – at some stage of our jouney the scrofulous dung-muncher had stolen my map as well!  I was never was able to find the way back.  She is probably still there, splashing water over herself”

“Women and magic. Both will get you into trouble my friend,” said Leafrot.

“Damn right – but the most trouble I had with magic didn’t involve a woman. Well not directly. Did I ever tell you about the time I stole the magic belt?”

“Probably.” Leafrot smiled.  “But buy me another wine and you can tell me again.”

Amazon Double-Cross

Leafrot looked mournfully at his beer in silence, then clicked his fingers irritably.

“I hate ale. Can’t we get some bloody wine for a change?” He looked over at the bar and waved in vain. Nobody paid him any attention.

“Eh? You love ale,” said Bumsit.

“Yes. I did love her.”

“Who?”

“What?”

Bumsit smiled. The hobbit’s old and irritable friend had the familiar look of a man reliving events long ago. “Love,” he said.

“Yeah. I did. Cold hearted titles bitch had me executed, you know.”

“She did?”

“Yeah. But that was later. Anyway: stop changing the subject.”

A barmaid walked past and Leafrot grabbed at her trailing skirts. “Wine, darling?” he pleaded. “A beaker of your very finest, second cheapest, bull’s blood?”

They sat in silence while Bumsit cracked walnuts. There was no rush: none at all since they had retired from adventuring ten years ago and had settled in to being professional barflies.

“I’d just come back down from the Eisenkorn,” Leafrot began as a rough terracotta beaker of wine appeared at his elbow. He took a sip and grimaced.

“It was spring,” he continued, “because there were flowers everywhere. And all nature was alive. You know what I mean?” He searched his chubby friend’s face.

Bumsit nodded but said nothing.

“I had a pouch full of Rawleigh’s Bloom. Shit that stuff was rare and expensive back then. I had a lot of debts to pay.” He paused and sipped his wine.

“Anyway as I was passing through Talmutvale, there she was with a band of her murderous cohorts. Beautiful, they were, with their scraps of armour and bits of tit and thigh on display. I can tell you it put the wind right up be because I knew the stories of what they did to men who couldn’t defend themselves.

“Exquisite death from pleasure? Don’t fool yourself. It was going to be bloody painful death with my goolies nailed to a tree.

“Thinking quick, I put on my best smile. I was handsome back then, you know. Nearly as handsome as now,” Leafrot said as he looked around the bar for a woman to smile at to prove that he hadn’t lost his powers. But there were none. “My eyes were much blacker.”

“Yes, yes. You conceited faerie,” said Bumsit. “What did you do?”

“Offered her the flowers, of course. Said I’d made the trip up ‘mount impossible’ just to get them for her and that this was no chance meeting.

“She was impressed. Who wouldn’t be? So I survived the first ten minutes of the encounter and if you get that far you’re doing pretty well with Amazons. They took me back to what they called a palace. It was just a glorified travel camp of tents, one of the dozens they occupy during their endless migrations. We drank fermented mare’s milk. There was music and stories. One thing led to another and then…” Leafrot winked.

“You didn’t?”

“I did,” Leafrot leaned back on his stool and, still smiling, poured some wine down his open throat.

“But later than night when she was snoring like a bullock I figured it was time to get the hell out of there while I still had all my skin. As I crept towards the tent flap I spied a leather satchel, and in that leather satchel was a jade bracelet with leather bindings. Finest workmanship. Inscriptions that were ancient.

“I pocketed it, of course, and with my shortbow in one hand and my heart in my throat, I legged it.

“Didn’t get far, of course. There was a howl of anger from back at the camp. Suddenly an arrow sliced past me, catching my sleeve and pinning my jacket to a tree.

“She’d missed on purpose was my thought, but perhaps I’m just flattering myself.” Leafrot paused and looked into the distance.

“Anyway, I could spot that I had one chance left. I yanked out the arrow and shoved the point through the leather of the bracelet. Then I shot it back at her, bracelet ringing and all.”

“Did you kill her?” said Bumsit.

“What? No. Certainly not. What do you take me for?”

Bumsit arched his brow. He knew exactly what sort of man his old partner was.

“The arrow spiralled but flew true, piercing her skirts, just missing the vitals, and then hung there with the bracelet swinging at the end like a bullseye just been hit.

“I didn’t look back. I ran like the devil was after me.”

They both sighed.

“Hey,” Leafrot furrowed his brow, “didn’t you reckon you found The Fountain of Youth up the Eisenkorn. At least, I seem to recall you managed to swing a loan out of the claim, wasn’t it?”

Defeating the Dark Lord

“Did I ever tell you about the time I captured the Dark Lord’s castle  single-handed?”

Bumsit shuffled his stomach under the tavern table – if he had been human height his stomach wouldn’t have fit, but being hobbit-size his girth fit quite nicely under . He stared over the top of his tankard at the half-elf opposite, and belched: “Single-handed. And I don’t just mean by myself. I mean I only used one hand.”

“Hang on” replied Leafrot. “Which Dark Lord is this? Not Dark Lord Tom?”

“Not him ” Bumleaf snorted. “Tosser Tom is more likely. I’m talking about Dennis the Dark Lord, you know, lived at Demon Keep. Evil, ruthless, malicious, but had a soft spot for country cooking. Jams , preserves and such. That’s how I met him. It was like this ….” . The hobbit paused, produced a long pipe and proceeded to stuff it with foul- smelling leaves. He poked a lit taper into the bowl, took an experimental puff,  and continued …. “I was there on business…”

“Dennis had decided to hold a village fair in the courtyard of Demon Keep – as I said, he had a bit of a rustic bent – arts and crafts , that sort of thing –  plus it was an opportunity for him to show his  softer kinder side.  Why I don’t know, the Dark Lords today seem to be more worried about image than actually being a tyrant. When I’m Dark Lord … “

 “Yes, yes, “ said Leafrot impatiently, “ You’ll crush the peasants beneath your hairy  feet.  Get to the story …”

Bumsit blew a ring of smoke at the half-elf.  It  hovered  over Leafrot’s head, then floated down and hung momentarily  around his neck  like a white noose before vanishing.  “Yep, well I could have been a Dark Lord ….  anyway…”

 “I was at the fair selling my famous hair tonic – Durran’s Dwarvish Hair Restorer – guaranteed to make your hair and beard grow like a dwarf’s.  It was shaping up to be a profitable day, it’s amazing the number of people who have secret urges to grow long flowing beards. But then you wouldn’t believe it – I had a dwarf turn up!  You NEVER see a dwarf anywhere, they always keep to themselves, but this day of all days one had to wander right past my stall. I was in the middle of explaining the efficacy of the tonic to a couple of barbarian types, and showing them the testimony from Durran himself – its in runic on every jar.  I learned runic when I spent seven years amongst the dwarves, but that’s another story.  Anyway, this dwarf picks up a jar and reads the runes in a loud voice: ‘Makes your hair grow as slow as a dwarf’s!’ . “

 “Did it say that?” asked Leafrot.

 “Well, technically it did  – of course it will grow slower but that’s only because dwarves live for centuries and their beards don’t start growing till they’re at least 50.  Point is, it will grow like a dwarf’s, and if you live to over 100 you’ll have a beard just like one.  Well, I told the  dwarf that he wasn’t reading the runes correctly, there was a transparent adjective in front of the conjugal verb  which made it a contradictory sentence.  But by then the damage was done.  The barbarians grabbed me and were yelling out for the guards and calling me a  fat fraudulent linguistic  liar.  Since when did barbarians start using long words?

“So that’s how I ended up in the Dark Lord’s dungeon. I figured I may be in for a long stay, and lit up a good bowlful of baccy and started to ponder the situation. Wasn’t long though before I heard footsteps and clanking keys, and one of the guards was dragging me out of my cell. They confiscated my pipe, and told me the Dark Lord wanted to see me. Turns out my baccy smoke had permeated the whole keep, right up to Dennis’s study, and he wanted to know what the smell was. Apparently it was the first time in years he had been able to smell anything over the stench of the sewers.”

“And you offered to supply him with baccy to nullify the smell of sewerage in return for your freedom?” asked Leafrot.

“Nope. He said the baccy smelled worse than the sewer! Can you imagine that? He said after living for centuries he’d finally gotten used to the sewer smell. Told me he was going to strike me down on the spot – “Not if I kill you first” I said. He laughed: ‘ I can’t die,  the Prophecy says so.’.  “At all?’ I asked.   ‘Well … I can only be killed under a very specific condition’. “And what’s that then?” 

He told me.  “You sure about that?” I asked.  He glared, and opened a book lying on his bloodstained oaken desk. “Its here… in the Ancient Tome of Peculiar Prophecies- look”

I looked. Sure enough it was the usual prophetic garbage written in old runes explaining that the Dark Lord could only be defeated under very specific circumstances by a very specific person. And I looked again.

“I don’t believe you “ I said to Dennis.

“What?”

“I don’t believe some rubbishy old prophecy, I reckon I could defeat you with one hand tied behind my back. In fact, I could out arm-wrestle you, and then kill you when I’ve won.”

I told you that Dennis liked the whole village fair thing – to challenge him to a popular country pastime was like waving a turnip in front of a goblin.

“I knew hobbits were stupid, I didn’t realise they were that stupid. You’re on”, he said, and sat at his desk, rolling up the right sleeve of his Dark Lord’s robe. I took a seat opposite and placed my right elbow on the table. He flexed his hand, placed his elbow opposite mine, and we clasped hands.

Now I have a pretty strong right arm, developed from years of holding heavy tankards of ale. There is much arm-work involved in drinking a dozen tankards at one sitting, and I hold the record for 23 tankards at Uncle Fleagum’s funeral. Dennis looked surprised when he went for the quick take-down and found that my arm hadn’t budged. He looked more surprised as I slowly started to press his arm toward the table. And for the first time in his long life, he looked panicked as his arm quivered above the table-top. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his left hand desperately fumbling for something in his robe. No time to waste, I slammed his arm down hard as he raised a crystal globe in his left hand and started chanting. The ball shattered in his hand, his body sagged and slid off the chair, and in a moment there was just a pile of robes on the floor with a withered, mummified figure dead inside.

As I was talking about earlier, not many people apart from dwarves can read runes. But you would think that a 500 year old Dark Lord would have mastered them by now. Especially when it concerns the only way you can die. You see, he told me that the Prophecy said that only a one-armed man could defeat him. But he’d got his runic grammar wrong, got his extroverted adverbs mixed up with his claustrophobic clauses. The Prophecy actually said … And the Dark Lord shall be defeated by one who uses only one arm.”

“Dumb ass, ” said Leafrot.  “And the castle? How did you capture the castle? Didn’t the guards come for you? 

Bumsit waved his pipe, “Oh, the usual thing, once the guards saw their master had been defeated, the fight went out of them. Asked if I was going to take over as Dark Lord, but I said no. Gave the castle to the guard captain who had the idea of turning it into  a theme park. Tours of dungeons, pretend beheadings, that sort of thing.”

“Nice.. ” Leafrot ordered more ales. When they arrived he carefully blew the froth off his tankard, the foam made a momentary arrow that darted toward Bumsit before dissolving into air.

“Reminds me of the time I beat the Amazon Queen in an archery contest ….”

“Amazons? Do tell” said Bumsit ……