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 ……