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Beorian Tales

A Tale of a Different Color

Prologue: Ain’t That A Kick In The Head (Present Day)

Sarah Burnheart munched on a rather sweet Mystery Pie as she watched Norman Henderson being carried in on Dugorim Stabfirst’s shoulder, unconscious and sporting a nasty gash on his head. The Orc assassin saw Sarah, and waved, shouting, “It’s that crazy old horse again! Why does Ravinger keep that psycho old nag, anyway?”

“Did it ever occur ta you, Duggie,” shouted Yeedia, manager of the Old Priest & Rat Tavern’s Leftover Lair, “that ‘e only kicks ya iffen he likes ya?” And they both cackled.

“Save me a pie an’ I’ll give you a kiss when I come back!” Dugorim yelled back, and disappeared into the tavern.

Sarah had arrived several hours early for an Understudies meeting. Granny Ginny had announced last week that she had a very important job that required everyone’s participation, including their new recruits, who called themselves The Misfits. She’d had a full day’s work yesterday, practicing her fire magic skills with Murgul. Kharimar had arrived later to give her some extra tutoring. He wasn’t a member of the Understudies, but Murgul had recommended him as the most skilled when it came to control.

She’d come to find that Yeedia was a veritable font of information about what was going on around the tavern, and the towns it served. Most people who didn’t take the time to see past her gruff exterior would never find out how smart and kind she was. Sarah had seen adventurers return downtrodden, only to be revived by a cup of koppee and her radiant smile. If anyone knew why the owner of the Old Priest & Rat kept a dangerous horse, she would. And so, she asked.

“Now, that’s a story I’ve never tol’ anyone. Yes, I know what ‘appened,” said Yeedia wistfully. “’Eard it from tha ‘orse’s mouth, ya might say. ‘Ere, have a cuppa. ‘Tis a bit chill yet.” Sarah gratefully accepted the koppee, which was giving off a nice head of steam that blew northward with the cool morning wind. And then Yeedia shouted, “Hey Eddie, git on over ‘ere!” Sarah watched as the horse walked over to them, looking at each one in turn. Yeedia handed her an apple, which Sarah cautiously fed to Eddie. “Goodness, girl, ‘e won’t bite ya!”

“Now, it was 8 years ago, back when they ‘adn’t given this place a name. ‘Tavern Wi’ No Name’ is what everyone called it. Young Ravinger (or Ravvy) was just 10 years old. Times were leaner, with food being scarce and drinks hard ta come by, makin’ the price sky high ta buy, and sky high ta sell. Artie Pendrake, you know – Ravvy’s guardian – who ran the tavern, was facin’ a tough decision…”

Chapter One: No More Cakes & Ale? (8 Years Ago)

Ravvy pushed the broom across the barroom floor for what seemed like the thousandth time. Actually, it was the third time since they’d opened that morning. They’d seen two customers, total – Great-Aunt Elryssa, who’d stopped by to see Great-Uncle Ralph; and an old orc Gypsy. Ravvy had asked Artie for permission to go outside and play, but he’d said no. He told Ravvy that he’d be safer from Crazies inside the tavern.

The Crazies were thin and dangerous people from all the races, who formed small groups that preyed upon lone travelers, lost animals or children – killing them for food. Last year had seen the beginning of a terrible drought, and a famine that showed no sign of ending. Many thousands died; farmers lost their livestock and crops, businesses closed and the mountain forests burned. The tavern tried to offer food when it could, and Ravvy witnessed Artie sobbing when he had to finally turn people away. Artie still saved some prime dire boar sausages and dried yak jerky for the rare wealthy traveler, but more often than not, they’d ended up stretching even those supplies to feed themselves.

Lately Artie had been speaking about finding work for them on a merchant ship, maybe moving to Retaw or Orthisalis – someplace near the sea, where it was said fish were still plentiful. People had started eating seaweed – seaweed! – and (according to Hans, their chef) using it in their recipes. Yuck!

“Hey, Ravvy? Come here for a minute. We need to talk,” said Artie in a serious tone. Ravvy sat on a stool at the bar that only last year had been too high to climb onto. “We have some tough decisions to make.”

Ravvy squirmed. “Decisions ‘bout what, Pops?”

“I’m not your father, kid, and as much as I love you as if you were my own, I’m just your guardian…and your friend. Your parents wanted you to have this tavern, and I’ve…we’ve looked after it as best as we can. But this drought, and this famine have put us in a tight spot.”

“But, Artie…”

His guardian looked Ravvy in the eyes. “We’re behind on our bills, scamp. We can’t afford to buy supplies.” Artie choked as he said, “We have to sell the tavern. It breaks my heart to say it, but there it is. There’s a rich family from Tasuil Beor that wants to buy the land, tear down the tavern, and build a mansion. It’s a good offer, and the money should see us through this accursed drought.”

Ravvy’s temper flared. “You sold the tavern! You sold MY tavern? You…”

Artie moved so fast that Ravvy didn’t even see him. No one could break out of one of his guardian’s headlocks, much less a 10-year old, no matter how supple.

“Did you hear me say that? Did I ever say the words “I sold the damn tavern…YOUR damn tavern!?!” As Artie released his hold, Ravvy glared at him for a minute, before saying – very quietly – “No.”

“If I’ve taught you nothing, I’ve taught you how important it is to think before you speak. And what else?”

“To always listen carefully. To choose my words wisely. To give others the benefit of the doubt. And to listen to my heart, even when my head is saying otherwise.”

“Good, very good.” And the two hugged each other. A tear made its way down Ravvy’s cheek, which Artie brushed away with his master forger’s ink-stained finger. “I haven’t said yes, yet. I told them I needed your approval, and I do.” He gave Ravvy a stern look. “My heart is telling me your parents would want you to eat well, and live well. And if we lose the tavern, rather than sell it, all will have been for naught. We’ve got two weeks. Let me know when you’ve decided.”

Ravvy picked a favorite spot – a table that had one leg shorter than the other, near the back of the bar, but with a view of the entrance. The Ravinger’s heir sat down, and noticed a tail hanging over the lip of the thundermug that had been forgotten during this morning’s clean-up. Ravvy tipped it over before sitting down, spilling ‘Uncle’ Drattus Thaddeus Rattus onto the table top. The rat yawned, scratched his belly, and sat upright. And belched rather loudly. He took one look at his best friend’s ward, and knew exactly what had transpired to bring about such an old forlorn face on a ten-year old child.

“He told you, didn’t he?” asked Drattus.

Ravvy scratched the formerly human-shaped jack-of-all-trades under his chin. “Yeah. It sucks, you know? I’ve lived here my whole life. I have friends here, good friends. I don’t want to leave! And this tavern, it’s all I’ve got left of mom & dad. Isn’t there anything he can do? Or anything you can do?”

“C’mon, scamp. Don’t you think he’s spent sleepless nights trying to think of other solutions?” Drattus ran straight up Ravvy’s arm and pointed a finger into the child’s nose. “Hmm? He takes your mom’s request as solemnly as he does his vows to Blodwin the Blessed. He’s looked for special work for months, and there’s precious little to be had. He can’t fight the drought, or the famine – none of us can. As for me – my contacts are laying low, or moved far away.”

“Where’s your Tungjii Luck when we needs him, huh? ‘Cause the only luck I’ve seen is as rotten as last month’s cheese!” And with that shocking remark, Ravvy spit into the ashes of the fireplace.

“Little mouse, you’d better hope he didn’t hear you! The drought’s not his fault – probably not any god’s fault. The earth changes, season to season, and we just have to do the best we can. I’ll tell you something you can do, and that’s be easier on old Artie. And don’t spit. It’s not seemly for a hero’s child!” Drattus spat, and his spitball bounced off the wall, onto a rafter, against the bar, then another rafter, and finally landed in the same spot in the fireplace.

“You really have to tell me how to do that,” said Ravvy.

“Practice, scamp. And a little hocus-pocus,” replied the rat, with a wink.

“If only there was something that I could do that would bring us lots of money! Maybe if we could get someone famous to sing at the tavern…”

“You know, little mouse,” said Drattus, “I’ve got a contact in the Bardic College!”

Chapter Two: A Princess to the Rescue?

Emilia watched as a fly buzzed around the plate of spider bites that was in the center of the table. The six-year old necromancing prodigy had a mind to animate them, just to scare the fly, but a living spider had hidden among its deep-fried cousins, and it snagged it as it made a low pass. Elona and Kharimar were on either side of her, each having a small glass of apple berry lemonade. Ravvy sat across from her.

“Drattus said his contact had died in a Fintagolin accident – the guy lost his grip while playing it, and his skull was smashed when the instrument fell on him. Now what?” asked their friend. Emmy watched as Elly played with her hair, then looked at Ravvy and said while batting her eyes, “I could sing for you!”

“Hah!” laughed Khari, “You? You sound like a wounded barnacle goose!”

“Kharimar N. Sendiaree, that is not true, and a terrible thing to say! You take that back right now!” cried Elly.

“Don’t worry, friend,” pronounced Khari, putting his arm around Ravvy’s shoulder, “I know someone who knows Princess Shanunu! That someone owes me a favor, and with all the rumors flying around, you’ll pack this place if the Princess agrees!”

Ravvy, who spent most days in the tavern, and usually would have heard any rumors flying around, was at a loss. “What rumors? And who’s this Shanunu?”

“Here we go!” groaned Elly.

Kharimar moved his chair closer to Ravvy. “She’s really Princess Shale Shortbeard, daughter of the Dwarven King. Only she doesn’t like him, and she escaped the castle and started a band. You haven’t heard of them? She calls them The Homunculoid Dopplegangers. She hates her real name.” Khari sighed. “No one wails like she does! She’s just puddly piddly poof-tastic!”

“Khari and Shanunu, sittin’ in the swamp, Moonin’ and spoonin’ and gettin’ wet and damp…”

“Emmy, stop that nasty song!” cautioned Elona, “Where did you hear that?”

“We-ell, truly? I heard you singing it last week!” Emmy said with a smirk, and winked at her. Elly pretended to be shocked, and then they both burst out in peals of laughter.

“Laugh all you want, you stupid girls! The Princess is awesome. She’s against her dad’s policies on non-humanoids, and the Elven Magic Restrictions, and she loves skippylooms and gingerbread netherkins and horses. She hated being cooped up in the castle against her will. And I helped her escape!” The fire mage-in-training stood up quickly, knocking over his chair, and placed his hand over his heart. “And I think she likes me!” He tousled Ravvy’s hair, and hooted.

“Did not! Don’t lie, Khari.” Emmy glowered at him. Ravvy had never seen little Emmy quite so upset.

“Ravvy,” Elly began, “We all helped. But we helped her escape because the Kiwimora sisters asked us. We know them from school, and before they came to Tasuil Beor, they were living at the Dwarven castle with their parents. That’s how they know Shally.”

“Shanunu!” corrected Kharimar.

“That’s how much you know,” sniggered Emmy, “Dazel and Xemina told us she likes to be called Shally.”

Sputtering, Khari blurted out, “You spoke with her?! And you didn’t TELL ME?”

Emmy stuck out her tongue and raspberried the elder Wizkiddle. “She was very nice. She asked me about Dingleberry. Elly, should we tell Ravvy about the band?” Emmy turned to Ravvy and said, very seriously, “There’s a gnoll, a flight of flareys, a goblin and a skeleton. Mr. Kiwimora got them to play at the bar he works at. They played last night, I think.”

Ravvy thought about that. It sounded like an odd group, but then they’d had a magician one night who had acrobatic golems. It had taken several days to repair the floor, but the tavern had made a nice profit which almost paid for the damages. The novelty of this group might bring in the crowds…but also the dwarven army.

“So, if the Princess is missing, should we be worried that – if the princess agrees to play – we’ll be shut down by dwarves searching for her?”

“They all wear masks, or so Xemina told me. And…” Khari paused and looked at the ground.

“We kinda put…” continued Elly, who also stopped speaking and shuffled her feet.

“We put a spell on her and made her taller, so we could get past the guards! No one ever knew it was her!” finished Emilia, who was grinning proudly from ear to ear.

“I can’t believe this! You put a spell on the Dwarven Princess! How long until it wears off?” Ravvy asked.

“We don’t know,” said Emmy, “ ‘Cause I asked my flarey friend to help.”

“And flarey magic,” grumbled Khari, “is very unpredictable.”

“But it will, we promise!” reassured Elly.

Ravvy asked his final question. “What sort of music is it?”

“Awesome!” fist-pumped Kharimar.

“Unique,” responded Elona, “One-of-a-kind.”

“Loud,” stated Emmy. “I don’t like it, but I’m only six.” And she shrugged.

Ravvy could just hear Artie enumerating all the things that could go wrong, and all the reasons why this was such a terrible idea. But something had to be done – and by who better than the Ravinger’s heir? “All right, I’ll go ask Artie for the day off, and then let’s go talk to these friends of yours.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

“Thanks, Mr. Fleshcleaver,” Emilia said, “I think your people mover idea is really good!”

The butcher helped Ravvy and the 3 Wizkiddles get down from his newly remodeled cart. Once it had been used for transporting livestock and meats to Tasuil Beor from Millston and back. But many scrubbings, a thorough wash with gillyflower water, benches with pillows, as well as a simple sun canopy and a string of bells for people to ring if they wanted to stop, had turned it into what Gorn called his ‘people mover.’

As he put it: “The drought was killin’ me business, an’ me an’ the wife hafta eat. It was her ideer – the roads not being safe an’ all – and the cart was jes’ sittin’ roun’ doin’ nuttin’. He offered them a free ride if they promised to tell everyone they knew about his service.

As they approached the city, they overheard two people leaving the main entrance. One, a young farmer’s wife, was saying: “I hope it’s not contagious!” And the other, most likely her husband, replied: “Ah, sweetheart, it wouldna be so bad. It’d be nice to not hear yer whinin’ fer a while!” And he ducked as his wife tried to hit him on the head.

Great, Ravvy thought. A drought and now a contagion.

<><><><><> Interlude the first (Present Day) <><><><><>

“Gorn Fleshcleaver, a carriage driver!” exclaimed Sarah, “I’d never have guessed!” She took the hot crackleberry bread that Yeedia handed her, and began to devour it. Eddie the horse nudged her shoulder, and she handed him a hunk.

“He fancies you,” said Granny Ginny, coming towards her with Jack, Algebria and Fafhrd in tow. “He’s always been a good judge of character.”

“He kicked Memnos just this morning,” stated Algebria coldly, “and he’s got a heart of gold!”

“How many times I hafta tell ya, that jes’ means ‘e likes ya!” laughed Yeedia. At this, Eddie tossed his mane, then nodded in agreement.

“Will you look at that?” said Amy Omore, “It’s as if he understands you!”

At this, the horse shuffled nervously. Granny Ginny moved around him and looked him in the eye. “It’s okay. These are good people. And it’s time, anyway.” She looked up at Yeedia.

“May I suggest,” she said, “that you take everyone’s orders, and when you’re through, please continue the tale.”

<><><><><><><> 

Chapter 3: One Hoarse Town

The first thing Ravvy noticed was how quiet the town was. People were talking to each other in whispers, or low ragged-sounding speech. The streets, usually immaculate, were littered with broken glass and pottery, the dirt churned up by hundreds of footprints, scattered in all directions. The four travelers stopped dead in their tracks when they rounded the corner.

The Singing Weretrout was known throughout Beor for its inventive bar food, and having packed houses for concerts performed by up-and-coming entertainers. Now, the famed pub and concert hall looked as if it had been sat on by a percussion of giants. The only thing still standing was, strangely enough, the bar. Everything else was in ruins. Emilia picked through the rubble, and found a dead rat, which she reanimated. She bent her head down, and seemed to be listening to it.

“Emmy speaks to rats?” asked Ravvy.

“No, silly,” answered Elona, “Your Uncle Drattus speaks to rats. Emmy speaks to the dead.”

“He says he doesn’t know what happened. One minute there was loud music and screaming, and then everyone was running for the door, trying to get out. He was looking for leftovers when he got stepped on.” Emmy patted the zombie rat and sent it on its way.

Ravvy looked at Kharimar and said, very quietly, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Maybe we should…”

Ravvy didn’t get the chance to finish, as Khari walked them down the street and away from the remains of the Singing Weretrout. “Now, friend, don’t jump to conclusions. There has to be a really good reason for what happened, and I’m sure Xemina or Dazel can tell us all about it. Their home isn’t far from here.” After about 10 minutes of wandering down the main road, they stopped in front of a store whose sign read: Sew Fine. The window display showcased clothing for the wealthy, as well as some colorful work clothes for those of lesser means.

They entered and found a woman of middle years, her glossy black hair tied behind her head, bending over a Royal Guardsman’s dress pants, carefully mending a ripped seam. She didn’t look up from her work, but cheerfully greeted them with, “I’ll be with you in just a couple more stitches!”

The curtain to the backroom was pushed aside, revealing a worried-looking Xemina, with the older Dazel behind her. Before either could speak, their mother said, in a very clear, calm and sweet voice, “It’s a terrible tragedy about that girl who lost her hair to the fire last week. You know, your hair would make a lovely wig for her, until hers grows back. One of you could donate, and then the other could make the wig. Or you could close that curtain, and go back to sewing the thousand pearls into Lady Cassandra’s bridal veil.”

The curtain closed. Mrs. Kiwimora finished the pants, and stood. “Well! Kharimar, Elona, Emilia – and you must be young Ravinger, you so look like your mother – I’m sorry, but my daughters are grounded.” She turned her head and yelled at the curtain, “Until further notice!”

Ravvy knew how to tread lightly. “Excuse me, Mrs. Kiwimora – it seems lots of people here have sore throats, but you don’t. Why is that?”

Her back was still facing them, but she turned around slowly. “I wasn’t there, you see. My daughters could probably tell you, but they can’t right now. If I seem a little sharp with them, it’s because they DISOBEYED me and BAD THINGS happened and no one in this town has gotten ANY SLEEP and I just KNOW that THEY ARE MIXED UP in this somehow!” And the corner of her eye began to twitch.

“Khari, Elly, she needs to sweep,” said Emmy softly. “One, two…”

“Somn you, Somn me, Somnus!” intoned all three Wizkiddles simultaneously. Mrs. Kiwimora swayed, and then began to fall. “Ravvy!” shouted Elona. “On it,” the heir said, catching the woman before she hit the ground. Emmy wrapped the Guardsman’s pants into a bundle and placed it under her head, saying softly, “You’re a good mom, and you love your kids. Have nice dreams.”

Dazel and Xemina erupted into the room, nearly tearing the backroom curtain from its rod. “By Bob the Eldest God, did you just put a spell on her?” asked Xemina. “Why did you say she needed to sweep? We both swept the place this morning!” said Dazel.

Elona laughed. “Yeah, we used a sleep spell, only we call it as sweep spell, because that’s what Emmy called it when we first learned it.”

“Inside joke,” explained Karimar, “This is our friend Ravvy.”

“C’mon,” said Dazel, “No time for small talk! Sister, let’s go!”

“But what about Mom?” Xemina turned to her friends. “How long will she be out?”

“Rushed casting, but with three of us,” calculated Emmy, “I’d say about 10 to 12 hours.”

“We can’t leave her alone in the shop like this!” cried Xemina.

“It’s okay,” said Emilia. “Dingleberry!” A flash of light, and her flarey friend appeared. “Could you watch over this nice lady for us, until we get back?” Ravvy was impressed, and again was reminded that although she was only 6, she was occasionally more adult than Khari or Elly.

“Hey, you’ve yet to tell us what happened!” said Khari, as Dazel locked the shop door behind them. “And why are we in such a hurry?” As Dazel began to jog, followed by Elona, he caught up to them as she replied, “I’ll tell you as we go!”

Xemina, being younger and shorter than Dazel, fell a little behind, but kept pace with them. Ravvy jogged beside her, and asked her the same question. Ravvy had to keep from bursting into laughter when Xemina said, quite seriously, “We have to rescue the princess.”

Chapter 4: Bringing Down The House

(Being a summary of the events on the premiere performance by “Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers” as told by Dazel & Xemina}

[Dazel] So, the place was packed. The boys (you know, the band) were downing some beers at the bar and we were all just really pumped for the show. Oh yeah – it was Slash the gnoll’s idea that we all wear identical blank face masks (‘cause, you know, doppelgangers) – except for Shally – she’d wear one with a tiara painted on it. Slash and Mr. Bones play long lutes, Toothbreaker plays thunderhorn, Xemina plays the siren bowstrings and I sing backup vocals. Shally plays drums and the Flarey Screamers sing chorus and play percussion stuff – nethercow-bells, tinklers, marockers, you know.

[Xemina] There must have been over 200 people in the bar. Our dad, who worked there, said they’d run out of beer, but someone in the crowd offered them a shipment that they were supposed to deliver to the Hungry Huntsman tomorrow. SO everyone was feeling crazy and loud and happy and it was so rad! Then Skelly noticed a royal Dwarven Scout in the crowd, and made us move quickly backstage.

[Dazel] We were all ‘You can’t do this!’ and the flareys were so scared, but Shally was just soooo cooool about it.

[Xemina] So cooool!

[Dazel] So awesome amazeballs cool! She said, ‘Here, Dazzy, you wear my mask, okay?’

[Xemina] And Dazz says, ‘I can’t play drums!’ And Shally says –

[Dazel] – she says, ‘My stupid da has shit for brains, he dunno what I do in ma own band! You kin sing ma part, I’ve heard ya!

[Xemina] So we go out there, our legs are shaking ‘cause there’s so many people!

[Dazel] And we totally were bosses up there!

[Xemina] The crowd was crazy for us. The first song was “We Are Beor.” It’s about equal rights for everyone!

{Dazel] I wrote that with Shally and Slash.

[Xemina] They were drinking and screaming “Prin-cess, Prin-cess, Prin-cess!”

[Dazel] I was gonna sing Shally’s big number, “Regicide” –

[Xemina] But Shally was like No, sing Xem’s new one!

[Dazel] And then I started to sing a new number that Xemina wrote called –

[Xemina] – ‘Tear It All Down.’ It’s anti-everything.

[Dazel] And then people just started going berserk. Really berserk! So, I yell –

[Xemina] – she yells ‘Get Shally out of here!’ to –

[Dazel] – Slash & Skelly. The Flareys swarm around them, to clear a path.

[Xemina] Meanwhile, before we get out the door, the Scout yells, ‘Follow them! I’ve got these two!’ but then there’s this freakishly loud ‘BOOM!’

[Dazel] We make it out just as the whole place collapses.

[Dazel & Xemina] It was awful.

[Xemina] The scout pushed Dazz to the ground, says ‘The king is so pissed!’ and rips off her mask.

[Dazel] When he sees I’m not Shally, he runs around to the alley yelling “Get her!” and we hear a voice shout “Yeah we…”

[Xemina] and the guy screams as if his arm’s been cut off! Then we hear Shally cursing and then…

By this time, the combined effort of jogging and telling the story had the Kiwimora sisters gasping for breath. Xemina leaned on Elona, and Dazel was supported by Kharimar.

Ravvy, however, was caught up in their story and had no intention of letting them catch their breath. “And then what? What happened to the Princess?”

Both sisters raised their right hands and pointed in front of them. Emilia said, very smugly, “I’m guessing she’s in there.” Ravvy turned and was faced with Tasuil Beor’s most famous and prestigious establishment for wealthy travelers: Your Mother’s Arms Inn & Spa. In front of the entrance a group of Dwarven Royal Warriors stood guard, their double-bladed axes standing a head above them.

“Oh,” said the Ravinger’s heir. “You can say that again,” said Khari, “It looks as if we’re going to have to save the princess if we want the princess to save the tavern.” Suddenly, with a flash of light, Dingleberry appeared in front of Emilia, and began chittering very rapidly. “What is it, Emmy?” asked Xemina.

“Your Dad came home, and woke your mom up. She’s really really mad! She hit little Dingle all the way across the room!” said Emmy, who was calmly stroking her frightened friend. “What else is new?” commented an exasperated Dazel. Emmy tsk-tsked and replied, “Well, he says your Dad is coming up the street right now.”

<><><><><> Interlude the second (Present Day) <><><><><>

“Wow,” said Wily Wilcox, munching on a Secret Sausage Roll. Growler the werehuman whined, and he fed her a small piece.

“Those sisters,” said Glenda, “Remind me a little of us when we were young.”

“Yes,” agreed her twin Glinda, “Except neither of us could really sing!” They both laughed. The twincesses had chosen to appear in elegant cotton travel dresses, with magical symbols embroidered on them. In life they had both been adept sorceresses, and remained so as ghosts.

“Ya mus’ be some o’ them Misfits,” said Yeedia, giving them all a radiant smile. “Welcome ta the Old Priest ‘n Rat Tavern, an’ ta my Leftover Lair! Yer Majesties,” she said with a flourish, “I’ve got sum’thin’ special fer ya.” She offered them two steaming mugs of a dark milky-brown liquid. Glinda floated over to one, and passed her hand through it.

“Monk’s Brew!” she sighed wistfully. She placed her opaque hand just above Yeedia’s, and said, “That is so kind of you! But we’re ghosts, you see. We can’t possibly…”

“I can help with that,” said a young woman’s voice. A full-figured witch, dressed in a simple but exquisitely tailored robe with matching hat, approached them. “I’ll need some of your ectoplasm, please.” The ghost sisters both winced at her request. “I just need the tiniest bit. You won’t feel a thing!”

“It’s okay,” said Wily, “She’s all right, she is.” Satisfied, they nodded. The young witch stood close to them, closed her eyes, and sucked in air with her mouth. A tiny tendril of ectoplasm emerged from each princess, and was siphoned into her. After a few seconds, the witch opened her eyes, which now glowed like candle flames, and breathed out upon each mug of Monk’s Brew. In the blink of an eye, both mugs turned opaque.

‘Go on,” said the witch. “Enjoy!”

“Well done, Emilia!” said Granny Ginny. “I’ve never seen that trick before!”

Before a stunned array of faces could sputter a comment, the necromancer laughed. “I haven’t thought about that memory in a long, long time. Pick up where you left off, Yeedia, and I’ll jump in if I remember anything.”

“Afore I begin, Miss Emmy, would ya like some candied crackleberries?” Emmy’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, yes please! With a Cowtarina shake?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Chapter 5: From Dad to Worse

Ravvy watched the Kiwimora sisters deluge their father with tearful apologies, rapid-fire explanations and matter-of-fact statements. It was impressive, to say the least. He supposed that, as friends of the Dwarven princess, they’d be given some slack. He was both right and wrong. What he hadn’t taken into consideration was the possibility that Mr. Kiwimora was, in fact, a friend of the Dwarven King, which added a new and not always favorable perspective.

“…and that’s why, daddy!” stated Dazel.

“…and that’s a promise. Never again!” swore Xemina.

Their father stood silent and still, steady as a rocky promontory being battered by ocean waves. His breathing was measured and even. Deep inside, he was laughing. But they couldn’t – shouldn’t – ever know that! Though his eyes were closed, he could see the desperation in their faces, waiting for him to pass judgement, give forgiveness or condemnation, to be kind or unflinching in his sentence. Each second he kept his silence, he knew, was an exasperating eternity to them, and the longer he kept it up, the more awful they would feel until the magnitude of what they’d done sank in.

His wife would most likely have verbally flayed them alive, leaving them battered and miserable. And resentful. Her way, he thought, was not the way to get through to them. It did not give them the opportunity to truly see the error of their ways. He knew from experience that no torture is more effective than that which is self-inflicted. He also knew that the best way to pronounce his judgement – and there would be one, make no mistake – would be to first throw them off balance.

“Girls,” he said, firmly but quietly. Six pairs of eyes were watching him, his daughters’ and their co-conspirators’. The tension emanating from his daughters was at such a high pitch, he wondered how they managed to keep calm. “Your show last night was amazing. People can’t stop talking about it!”

He felt the tension burst harmlessly, and saw them all breathe again. Bodies relaxed whose muscles had bunched tightly in anticipation. Smiles blossomed all around. And then began what would have been a flood of self-congratulation.

“We were so awesome, weren’t we?” said Dazel, high-fiving her sister.

“We were…” began Xemina, who cut herself short when she saw her father raise his hand, palm vertical in a sign that meant “stop.”

Exhilaration fled, to be replaced by dread. No one moved, no one spoke, as fear set up shop in his girls’ hearts. They were ready, and so was he.

“People can’t stop talking about it for all the wrong reasons! The place where I and 30 more people work is in ruins! It was torn apart by the customers, and it all began when that song started. Now, I’ve known Princess Shale since she was a baby, and she has no talent for writing at all! But I know two young ladies that do! Until the Singing Weretrout is rebuilt – if it is rebuilt – I’m out of a job! And I want answers, now!” He then turned his attention to the co-conspirators.

“Was it something you did, something magical? You put my wife to sleep! In the middle of a work day!! And you left her alone!!! How could…”

Khari shrugged, hands in the air, and said, “Technically, we used a sweep spell…” but his grin vanished when he saw that his friends’ father was not amused.

“When I returned from spending the entire morning calming down the Weretrout’s owner, and promising my full cooperation in raising the money needed to fix the damage that my daughter’s band caused, I did not expect to see my wife lying on the floor of her shop!”

“Technically,” said Khari, figuring he had nothing to lose, “It’s Shally’s, I mean the P-p-princess’ band.” Mr. Kiwimora took a deep breath, released it and picked up the young fire mage by his neck, walking him over to where the Dwarven Warriors stood guard at Your Mother’s Arms Inn. “Technically, I could choke the life out of you and none of these fine guards would say anything. Isn’t that right, Basalt?”

“No sir, I see nothing out of the ordinary,” Basalt replied.

“Slate? Quartzite? Feldspar, you?” Each of the guards said “No, sir” as their name was spoken. He then released Khari, who gasped for breath. A finely dressed orc emerged from the Inn, looked at everyone, and announced:

“Good Master Kiwimora, King Draunor will see you now.”

“How are you today, good friend Kyanite?” he asked.

“Hard-pressed and hard put to stay sane, Shiyomoto. I wouldn’t keep him waiting, if I were you,” the majordomo replied.

“I’ll be bringing my daughters, and these 4 young people with me. They are friends of the princess, and have information relating to the, ah, incident that occurred last night.”

“Very well, sir, I’ll inform His Majesty.” Kyanite performed a precise about face, and walked towards the Inn. Just before he went inside, he turned his head and said, “For all our sakes, don’t dawdle.”

“We can’t do that!” said Ravvy, followed by Elona shouting “How dare you!”, Khari whining “We weren’t even here last night!” and ending with both Xemina and Dazel shouting “Daddy!” Mr. Kiwimora said, rather smugly, “You thought you were going to have to deal with me. You’re both friends with Princess Shale, who is right now under house arrest. You are going to deal with her father, King Draunor. And lying to a king can have serious consequences, not just for you, but for your family and friends.”

Moving as if their feet were in chains, Ravvy & the rest followed him into the Inn to meet the King. Wait a minute, Ravvy thought, looking around. Where’d Emmy go?

Chapter 6: Three Daughters, Two Dads and One Emmy

There were four Royal Suites in Your Mother’s Arms Inn: East, West, North and South. This is due to its dating back to the era of The Four Kingdoms; now, only one suite is ever in use. Each suite occupies one corner of the top four floors. The bottom floor (5th floor, to be precise) has eight very small rooms for the royal retinue of servants, four on either side of a hallway that leads to a grand staircase; the next floor has a waiting room on one side, and a wall with two staircases and a door between them, which opens to a dining room; the 7th holds a royal reception hall, with 2 conference rooms. A secret passageway leads to the top floor, which has four royal bedrooms with a spectacular view of Castle Beor and its environs.

The roof is actually an additional floor, a sort of landing pad, which was made large enough for a dragon, but in recent centuries has seen use only by lesser flying creatures – pegasi, gryphons, and so forth.

King Draunor sat in what he grumpily thought passed for a King’s Throne, but was in fact an overstuffed easy chair in cheap gold gilt paint (it wasn’t, really, but his mood was foul) – at least it had been built for dwarven kings. The best race, he thought, should have the best accommodations. “Ky!” he grumbled, “Send a message to the front desk that I demand a better seat for my throne than this second-hand piece of gnoll turd.”

The majordomo scribbled down a note on a piece of parchment, which he then rolled up and placed somewhere in his vest. “Does Your Majesty wish for me to deliver this now, or shall I wait until Your Majesty is done meeting with Mr. Kiwimora and his group?”

“Group? What do you mean group? I told you to summon Shiyo, not a whole Bobdamn group! Too much wax in your ugly Orc ears?”

“The group is Princess Shale’s daughters and some friends of theirs, Your Majesty. Mr. Kiwimora suggested they accompany him, and I thought…”

“Do I pay you to think, majordomo?” growled Draunor.

“…that since they were there last night, they might know about what happened,” finished Kyanite, who had to hold in his anger at the newest Dwarven ruler. His family had served their line for generations. May this be the last one, he thought. “But if your highness wishes, I will tell Mr. Kiwimora that you wish him to send them away.”

“Now, that might be the kind of rude thing an Orc Clan Chief would do, but we dwarves are more civilized. Shiyo and his family might be half-breeds, but they have been loyal to us, so I’ll forgive him his human presumptuousness. Show them in, will you?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he replied.

“Oh, and majordomo? It was a good thought on your part. Perhaps my dwarven intellect is rubbing off on you?”

“How very fortunate for me, Your Majesty!” Ky hoped that sounded sincere.

<><><><><> 

Emilia had slipped away because something in the story the sisters had told about the events of last night was nagging at her. Something made the audience go beserk! She doubted that any music could be so bad as to drive people mad. Maybe it was the beer? And that’s when she remembered Xemina saying someone had offered them new beer when the bar had run out. If she could find out who that person was – maybe find a bottle that had a label or, better yet, some of the beer still in it – she could prove the band wasn’t at fault and get them to play at Ravvy’s tavern.

She’d gone back to the ruins of the Singing Weretrout, being careful to move in the shadows, checking every now and then to see if one of her friends had followed her. She could handle herself if there were trouble, but she’d grown used to being around them. Still, she had Dingleberry. When she reached the site, she was surprised to see no one there. No curious onlookers, no guardsmen, not even one street kid sifting through the rubble, looking for things he or she could use or sell or barter with. Coupled with the occasional whispered but scratchy-throated conversations of passersby, it felt eerie.

There was a lot of broken glass, chairs, crockery, metal steins, pots and pans, and rotting food. She found two drumsticks which were probably Shally’s, a sorry-looking necklace, and a miraculously unscathed poster of the concert. It even had a signature on the back of it – Lucius something. The back wall of the tavern was still standing in some places. She’d still found no trace of an unbroken bottle or half-empty stein. Dingelberry appeared in a flash of light, and chittered for her to hide, so she ducked behind the wall.

“Well, you were right,” said a male voice, “Spreading that rumor this morning worked like a charm. Everyone thinks this spot is haunted. But she’s still alive.”

“Not my problem,” A very familiar female voice replied, “I did what you asked, and provided my experimental beer. Now I’ve lost my wagon, and all the beer stolen from the Singing Weretrout that was on it is now probably lying under a ton of bricks, beams and mortar. Not to mention my good-for-nothing horse and drivers. I want compensation for my losses.”

“And I wanted a brew that made people into killers, and one dead princess. All I got was a building torn to bits without one single loss of life. I’d say we’re even. My men said the back alley wasn’t completely destroyed. I’d check there, and maybe you’ll find a case or two.”

“You do not want to make an enemy of me, Mr. Wespie. I am a witch, as well as a scientist and an alchemist. Pay me compensation, or you will regret it,” the female said.

Emilia heard Mr. Wespie begin to walk away. “I regret nothing, Miss Bloodworth,” he said coldly, “least of all not paying for results that I was promised but did not get. I practically own this town. I will know instantly if you move against me. Good day to you, madam.”

Emilia began to shake all over. Miss Bloodworth had run the mage school that she (and Khari and Elly) had attended. But she’d closed the school not long after the incident at Morbid Curiosities. Truth be told, Emmy thought that ever since they’d worn the Nightmare cloaks at school, Miss B had never been quite the same. Dingleberry chittered in her ear, and she saw Miss B walking towards the alley. “Dingbat, what can I do? She’ll find us for sure!”

“Get under here,” said a deep voice that sounded odd, as if coming from a throat that was too big for it. Emmy looked around, and a little further down, she saw 3 crates full of garbage along with several large upended, splintered roofbeams. Beside them was a big lump of something covered with a filthy hempen sackcloth.

“Quickly, and quietly,” said the voice. Dingleberry hid in her pocket, and Emmy lifted the sackcloth, squeezing under it. As she laid next to her mystery companion, she felt a massive ribcage, slowly breathing in and out. It was warm and stifling. But she felt safe. Peering through the wide weave of the sackcloth, she watched as Elissa Bloodworth picked through the alley, stopping right in front of her hiding place. She cursed every god and goddess, throwing rotting veggies everywhere. She made it to the end of the alley, and then she screamed.

Emilia would have been scared, except that it wasn’t a frightening scream. It was, instead, full of anguish. After a minute, Miss B cried. And after another minute or so, she left. Emilia stood up, and then lifted the cloth that had hidden her and her savior. It was a horse, who was on top of four cases of mostly unbroken bottled beer. There was also a dead body. A roof beam had smashed into the leather harness which the horse was wearing, pinning him to the ground.

“Excuse me, Mr. Horse,” said Emmy, “Are you dead? Because I can’t speak with animals that are alive.”

“I am alive,” it said, “and my name is Edward Trotter, but you can call me Eddie. Could you help me get free of this beam, please? I’d be ever so grateful.”

<><><><><> 

Ravvy had never met royalty before. The heir had totally been looking forward to meeting the Dwarven Princess, until getting caught up in this mess. Khari had explained to King Draunor that they were just here to see their friends, Xemina and Dazel. It was the truth, but not the whole truth. Elly had whispered in Ravvy’s ear, “Not a word about asking Shally to perform. Better the adults don’t know.” She had paused, and then whispered anxiously, “Where in the Nether is Emmy?”

Ravvy simply shrugged. He wondered if you could be jailed for not telling the whole truth, because you didn’t really lie, did you? As for King Draunor, he’d heard stories in the tavern about how so many of his subjects hated his bigotry. Travel to and from the Dwarven Kingdom had gotten very difficult for anyone who wasn’t a dwarf. Because it was mostly mountainous, it was blessed with livestock, but not farms; and the drought had caused many lakes to become dangerously low. Water was savagely rationed; non-dwarves had to pay a higher tax on it.

“…and that’s what happened, Your Majesty,” said Dazel, her voice timorous.

“Do you have anything further to say to His Majesty, either of you?”

Surprisingly, Xemina rushed to the King, and before her father could stop her, threw herself at Draunor’s feet. “Please, Your Majesty. Shally – I mean Princess Shale – is a really talented musician and singer, and our very best friend since we were little. Unlike my friends there, she has no magical powers, and neither do I. Something or someone made those citizens go all crazy and psycho and destructive, but it wasn’t our music and it wasn’t us!”

Draunor shoved her backwards with his foot, and stood towering above her (well, all four and one-half feet of him.) “You are half-breeds, your bandmates are an undead, a beastly gnoll, and a host of filthy flareys – all unfit companions for my darling daughter! What’s more, you helped her to leave my castle unnoticed and hid her from me. You should all be whipped, at the very least!”

“You go too far, old friend,” said Mr. Kiwimora with menace, his hand straying to the short sword belted at his side, “My daughters have been fit companions since your daughter first sought them out as confidants, after her mother died…under mysterious circumstances, I might add. Assault my daughter with your foot one more time, and I might remember the details more clearly!!”

“Come now, Master Kiwimora, Your Majesty. You have been friends since birth. Perhaps it is time to hear what the Princess knows. Shall I…” Kyanite’s speech was cut short by a cry of agony, as the King kicked him in his shin. “Remember your place! Speak only when spoken to!”

“Yes, Your Majesty. My apologies. I live to serve you.” Ky spoke through clenched teeth, and stood very still.

“Well?” said the King with seething sarcasm, and impatience.

“Your Majesty?” asked the Majordomo.

“Shall I summon the army? Are you or are you not going to fetch my daughter?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Shall I bring the young man who defends her, or do you wish to, as you put it, summon the army? We have a score of guards who are suffering from broken…”

“The stupid long-haired mute? Bring him, but see that there are extra guards posted here.”

Kyanite left in haste, glad to breathe air that was free from Draunor’s venom. Ravvy, the Wizkiddles and the Kiwimoras were escorted to the 6th floor waiting room. The King pronounced them suspects, and as such, they were under arrest.

<><><><><> Interlude the Third (Present Day) <><><><><>

A sizeable crowd was now in front of The Leftover Lair, some sitting in the grass and some gathered under the trees; others leaned against the side wall of The Old Priest & Rat Tavern. Present were most of the Misfits, several of the Understudies, and the now grown Wizkiddles. Ravvy had looked out the window to see what was going on, but after a few moments ducked back inside.

“I’d forgotten,” said Talisa del Kellov, “what a right bastard King Draunor was.”

“Were you guys scared?” asked young Frannie Dusa, who’d arrived just moments before in the company of bard Dave LaPlaid and mage-ineer Erik Dorada.

“Oh, absolutely!” said Elona. Kharimar nodded.

There was a small commotion as Fafhrd DeVenn stepped out of a carriage that had stopped in front of the tavern. Two well-dressed women followed suit, and were immediately smothered in hugs by Kharimar and Elona. Ravvy ran out of the tavern to greet them. Emilia hung back, and waved shyly. The two women returned her gesture, and entered the tavern proper.

The old orc gypsy went over to her, and asked, “Don’t you want to go and catch up with them, dear? It’s been years since you’ve seen them!”

“Unlike some people, I see them at least once a year! Where do you think this dress came from?” said Emmy with a grin.

The next comment caused many of the audience (the ones who had recently joined) to choke on their mystery pies or drinks.

“Granny Ginny, why are Xemina and Dazel here? Just what are you up to?” asked Eddie.

“Why, Mr. Trotter, Me? Since when have you ever known me to be up to something?”

The horse gave something between a snort and a whinny in response. “Emmy, you’d think some people had never heard of a talking horse! Yeedia, you’ll have to pass out a few more cloth squares. And please, continue.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Chapter 7: Love is Blind (And Sometimes Mute)

“His Majesty wishes to speak with you, Princess. He has told me that your Knight may accompany you.” Kyanite looked at Shally, who was sitting on the floor by her bed. She had been confined to one of the servant’s rooms. Lying with his head on her lap was the strange but incredibly strong and handsome young man who, according to her story, had saved her from The Singing Weretrout’s collapse and the roving hands of one of the royal guards. That guard’s body had been found, with his head apparently smashed in by a foot – a human foot.

She was stroking his long, luxurious brown hair; his eyes were shut. He appeared, in fact, to be asleep. Shally still wore her clothes from the night before, refusing to clothe herself more appropriately for her station. She was her own person, and had been since youth. The Majordomo admired her spirit, but feared for her future.

“Oh, Ky. Me dah kin rot fers all I care. Let ‘im think I caused the foofaraw. I dinna care.” She looked up at her old friend. “How did that sound? Common enough to drive him insane? For good? I am not going back home with him!”

He sighed deeply, as he watched the young man turn on his side. “He’s arrested Mr. Kiwimora and his daughters, and some of their friends. He thinks they are involved.”

“Oh, no! They’re as innocent as I am! Well, Mina’s new song was kinda rad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were inspired by it.” The Princess smiled. “It was bitchin’. Well, at least we didn’t perform my song ‘Regicide’ or Dad would really have me in chains!”

Ky looked at her. “You have written a song,” he said very slowly, “called Regicide? Young Lady, you don’t do yourself any favors, do you?” He knelt down on the floor next to her, and took her hand in his. “He’s in one of his worst moods yet, my dear. He reminded me to know my place, kicked my shin, told me to speak when spoken to, and all but called me a stupid orc! He shoved your friend Xemina into the floor. That’s when Mr. Kiwimora threatened to reveal ‘secrets’ about your mother’s death! I fear for your friends, Shally. What in Beor was he talking about?”

“He shoved my friend? Good, kind-hearted Mina?” The Princess’ face grew red with anger, and she rose to her feet, slamming her right fist into her left palm. Of course, the young man’s head hit the floor with a thud, and he cried out. Seeing the princess looking at Kyanite with anger, his hand shot out and struck the majordomo’s already sore shin, toppling the poor orc onto the floor.

“James, stop! He’s my friend!” Shally cried. And then he stood up, looked at her, and whinnied. Like a horse. Shally got him to help her bring Ky to the small bed, where he sat down, scooting as far away as he could from James. “Sir James, I forgive you. I’d like to thank you for the service you have rendered to Her Highness and our kingdom.” If Ky was expecting an answer, he didn’t get one. The young man’s big brown eyes never left the Princess.

“Ky, I’m going to tell you something, but I must hold you to absolute secrecy. You must never repeat what I am about to tell you. To anyone, do you understand?”

“But, what about this young man?”

“He doesn’t speak. I know his name is James Trotter, because it’s written on his shirt collar. And I don’t think he understands a lot of what we’re saying. He’s not completely mute. He just…” and she paused, not knowing quite how to phrase her meaning. The majordomo, however, said it bluntly.

“Makes noises like a horse.”

“Yes, exactly. Now, do you swear?”

Ky knelt before her. “I do solemnly swear, on my Clan and by the blood of my ancestors, never to repeat what you are about to tell me to anyone, living or dead, or otherwise animated, so help me Bob.”

Shally sighed, deeply. She hadn’t planned on telling anyone, ever, what she knew. But if there was one thing her late mother had instilled in her it was an abiding love of her country and its inhabitants – all of its inhabitants. “You know that my Dad is obnoxious, pig-headed, and pro-dwarf and anti- everyone else.”

The Princess stood and started to pace, twirling her long black hair on the fingers of her right hand.

“The night that my mother died, she called me into her room after supper. My dad didn’t eat with us, which I thought was strange. Mom had barely eaten anything. She had a grim look on her face, even when putting little Jonir to bed. She called me over to his cradle, and showed me his left buttock. He had a small birthmark, shaped like a heart.” Shally brushed a tear from her eye.

“I do not understand, your Highness,” said Kyanite gently.

“Ah. Full-blood dwarves do not have birthmarks, Ky. Birthmarks are a human trait. She told me that my Dad’s mother confessed to her that his father – my grandfather – was one-quarter human. My dad, luckily, knew nothing about it, and was born without a mark. I don’t have one either. When Jonir was born, Dad proclaimed him of full blood heritage, and as his only son, he was his heir. But he saw Jonir’s birthmark by accident that morning. Mom told me he had threatened to rip the birthmark from Jonir’s skin. He accused her of sleeping with Mr. Kiwimora! She said that she was planning to escape with Jonir that night, and did I want to join her? Of course, I said yes.”

The Majordomo watched as Shally began to tremble. “Oh, my poor little songbird!”

She ran to him, and they hugged each other tightly. “You haven’t called me that in years.”

James watched the two of them, and sat as still as a statue. “When I returned a while later, I heard shouting, and as I peeked in, I saw my father push her through the window to her death. Then, he cut the birthmark from Jonir with his double-bladed hand axe, threw the bloody patch into the fire, and shouted for the guards. I ran out of the castle as fast as I could, right to the Kiwimora house. I warned Mr. Kiwimora, and that’s why they moved here, to Tasuil Beor, away from our kingdom.”

James stood up and nudged her shoulder. Kyanite shook his head. “So that is when his hatred of anything not dwarven began to obsess him. It all makes sense now, in a sad and twisted way. And the Prince’s terrible scar.”

“Yes!” spat out the Princess, “I had Grandmother tell him all about his ‘pure-bloodline’! And the fact that there will never be any more ‘pure-blooded’ dwarven Kings is eating him alive! He hates himself, he hates his best friend and he hates my brother!”

“Come,” said Ky with as much gravity as he could muster, “Wipe away your tears, and contain your anger. Bring Sir James, and let us go see your murderous father.”

Chapter 8: Eddie & James: Centaur, Human, Equine, Why?

“Sure thing,” Emilia replied. She chanted, her hair floating in the magic-charged air. Dark purple light surrounded her, then surrounded the dead body. Eddie began to shake.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m a student of necromancy,” the six-year old explained. “I can’t lift that beam, but he can! Did he die last night?”

Eddie nodded. “Good,” said Emmy. “That means most of his brain will still work. Hey, how are you feeling, mister?”

The newly risen no-longer dead old man coughed up a cupful of viscous mucus and blood, cleared his throat, and spoke in a scratchy tone. “I’ve felt better. Who are you?”

“Right now, I’m your best friend. Could you lift this beam off the ground, so my horse friend here can free himself?” asked Emmy in her very best, ‘so sweet and cute you have to do what I say’ little girl voice. “Sure thing, little missy. Don’t you worry, I’ll get that horsey free in no time! Oh, where are mah manners? Name’s Redner, but you…you…name’s Redner, yup! Yah kin call me Red!”

Red lifted the beam, and Eddie, his harness leather freed, said, “Thank you, good sir.” “Oh, tweren’t nuthin’ a’tall,” said their new friend, “Ah kin lift…” Redner stopped talking. He looked at Eddie, and walked straight up to the horse and said, “Did you jes’ say somethin’?” Turning to Emmy he said, “Did thet there horse jes’ talk?”

“Yes, sir, I did. And I’m not a horse,” stated Eddie, “Horses can’t talk, you know.”

“What?” said a very confused, recently deceased Red. He backed away from the horse-that-wasn’t-a-horse, and ended up falling in a seated position on the 4 cases of Angry Bitches Amber Ale. He scratched his head. Emmy then noticed there was a foot-long two-by-four sticking out of the man’s belly. “Excuse me, Red.” Emmy said, and slid the piece of wood out of him, gobbets of intestine and stomach lining dripping from it as she threw it away.

Red looked at the sudden window in his torso, uttered a very quiet “Oh”, then shook his head, and pointed his finger at Mr. Trotter. “Yah looks like an ‘orse, yah gots a mane an’ a tale an’ four legs wit’ ‘ooves like an ‘orse, and say you ain’t an ‘orse ‘cause ‘orses cain’t talk.” He again looked at his stomach. He put his right hand into the hole and moved it in and out a few times, finally resting it against the side of his head, which he hit with the palm of his hand twice.

“Where’s that Bloodworth bitch? She stiffed us our money! So, we took it in beer instead. Musta drank seven or eight when Zandir got real crazy and tried ta kill me! I…I think mebbe he did…Mah brain ‘urts.”

Emilia took up the line of questioning that Red had dropped. ‘What are you exactly, if you’re not a horse?”

“My parents are…were centaurs. My brother James and I are twins, which is very, very rare for centaurs. So rare that it only happens every few hundred years. Even then only one survives. The way the elders put it, something happened that made me mostly horse, and my brother mostly human. They told my parents that we were abominations, and that they should kill us.”

Red said, very strongly for a newly risen corpse, “That’s terr’ble! Why would any parent do thet?”

“The elders believed our blood would corrupt the herd. My sire blamed our condition on my dam, and gave to her the job of killing us. She couldn’t do it, so she brought us to a human couple who lived nearby. They took us in, and raised us. James has a human body, but a horse’s brain…”

“…and you have the opposite,” finished Emmy. “How did you get to be here?”

“Our human father was a blacksmith, and he’d take us with him whenever he’d drop off his wares or take orders. Only this time…”

“The Crazies,” said Red with sadness, “Ah’ll bet the Crazies got yah!”

“Yes. My brother spooked and ran away, and my father got me loose from the wagon before they swarmed him, and…” Eddie looked away, closing his eyes. “I followed my brother’s footprints to the city, but I haven’t been able to find him. I was crying out his name when that woman captured me. She was planning on cutting me open!”

“Yeah, she’s a little nuts,” Emmy stated. Dingleberry appeared in a flash of light, and, as always, burst into a chittering frenzy. “They’re what? Under arrest? He did what? She said that?”

Red turned to Eddie and said, “Ah don’ know ‘bout you, but ah’m sooo con-fused!”

“Ding-Ding,” said Emmy breathlessly, “Can you transport all of us, you know, the way you go from one place to another place puddly-piddly-poof, to where they are right now?” More chittering ensued. “What do you mean, you’re not sure? Never mind, can you borrow some of my spirit? Will that help?”

Dingleberry flew around Eddie, and then Redner. He then hovered in front of Emmy, and chittered. Once.

“I know he smells funny. He’s…” Emmy turned to look at Red, and chose a kind explanation. “He’s different, that’s all. Red, could you pick up one of the cases.”

“Ayup.”

“Now you two get close to me. Really close.” With great seriousness, she said, looking upwards, “Tempus, I could use some spirit, if you’ve any to spare. And Tungjii, grant us your luck. Now, Dingleberry!”

The four vanished in a rather large explosion of light. Elissa Bloodworth, who had been watching from the shadows at the farthest end of an opposing alley, felt the tug of the tracking spell she’d just invoked, and took off running.

Chapter 9: Dead Heat

Draunor, King of the Dwarves, continued the dressing-down he’d been giving his disrespectful, useless, insolent and thankless daughter in the hopes of bringing her under his control, seeing the proper dwarven point of view, and kowtowing to him with the deference that he was due, both as her father and her king. It hadn’t been working, and although he knew it was unlikely to, it at least made him feel better.

“I’ve arranged for you to be taken to Miss Agate’s Finishing School, while your brother attends the Pure Dwarven Academy of Weapon Mastery…”

“I don’t think so. Miss Agate’s is a factory for stupid royals who’d like nothing better than to be breeding stock. As for Jonir, he’s only ten. And that school was shut down last year.”

“It meets in secret. The Matriarchal Council wanted safety rules strengthened! You don’t learn unless you lose a finger or two! Shut up while I’m yelling at you!”

The Princess turned to Kyanite and said, “By blessed Bob the Elder God, I’ll bet he’s using those taxes he imposed on non-dwarven-made merchandise to fund that stupid racist school!” Turning back to her father, she strode across the Inn’s Royal Suites reception room and faced him. “Is there no end to your stupid pure blood fetish? Those taxes are making life hard for everyone in your kingdom!”

“Kyanite,” said Draunor, “Do you think I’m being unreasonable? Am I a bad King? Choose your words carefully, majordomo.”

Here it was – perhaps his only chance to say what he felt. Kyanite did not fear the consequences; he did, however, worry about the consequences for his family. He wanted to let his opinions be known, but he also feared for the Princess. She was like one of his own daughters. But she’s strong, he thought, like her mother was. He would not say what the King expected to hear.

“I am certain,” he began, “that Your Majesty always does what he believes is best for his people.”

“See, Shale, even…” started the King, but Ky continued.

But not what is best for his kingdom. Your Majesty makes policies, laws and decisions which benefit dwarves, and only dwarves. You do not see other races that call the Dwarven Kingdom their home – orcs, humans, gnolls, elves, goblins, giants, trolls, merfolk or all those you term ‘half-breeds’ – as your people.”

“How dare you! You will…”

“I will continue, because you have asked me to speak, and I will speak until I am done! You are bullying more than half of the good citizens of your kingdom to leave their homes, jobs, friends and families! You insult us with your words and your actions. Your obsession with purity of blood has made you deny your own heritage – yes, I knew about your father – kill the mother of your children – Shally told me – and mutilate your son, the Prince! I am done working for the Dwarven Kings, I am done with being silent about your crimes, and I am done with you! Princess, I know that you and the Prince have the brightest of futures, as long as you look after each other. May your voice always carry, your weapons be sharp and your descendants many.” After giving her the blessing reserved for Orc Clan Chiefs, Kyanite White Claw bowed to the Princess, and began walking towards the staircase that led downwards.

Draunor reached downwards. James, sensing danger, followed his horse instincts and was at Shally’s side in the blink of an eye. Shally watched as her good friend walked with his head held high, with a gait that spoke of a weight being lifted. Draunor loosed his double-bladed axe as James grabbed a surprised princess around her waist and hoisted her aloft, running to reach the stairs. As they passed the majordomo, Shally and Ky locked eyes, where a tear was running down his smiling face. She was not expecting her father’s weapon to split Ky’s head open from back to front, as she and James flew past his falling body, to run down the stairs and out of Your Mother’s Arms Inn.

As Draunor wiped his axe blades clean on the dead orc’s vest, he yelled for his guards. “Take his body and have it burnt with the trash. You – call for a maid to clean up this mess, and you – bring me the prisoners.”

But the second guard stayed put. “Now, you halfwit!” said the King impatiently. “Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, we’re not in the Kingdom, we’re at an Inn. It doesn’t have a prison, so where would these prisoners be?”

The King looked at the guard, and smiled. “In the second servant’s bedroom, two floors down.” “Thank you, Your Majesty!” the guard replied. “You’re what – half orc, half dwarf?” inquired the king. “How’d you know, Your Majesty?”

“You’ve only got half a brain,” Draunor said with a smirk.

The guard began to stutter, “Forgive me, Your Maj-maj-…”

“Shut it. Be a good boy and do as I tell you, return quickly, and leave your uniform outside the door. You’re fired!”

The room was quiet. The Dwarven King stood where some of Ky’s brain had splattered across the floor. He proceeded to step on the larger bits, uttering a remark as he smashed each one, shuffling his feet to make patterns. He scratched his ear, never noticing the small trickle of blood that came away on his fingertip.

“I blame Shale, you know. She made me kill you.”

“You knew too much. I had no choice.”

“And now I really must get rid of her.”

“Or she might be the reason I kill someone else.”

“Wespie better get it right this time.”

He scraped his boots along the edge of the carpet by the second-rate chair. He heard Shiyomoto and his band of inferiors before the door even opened, their voices raised in anger and surprise. As his former friend entered, he said, “…where is Kyanite? What are we being charged with? This is outrageous!”

“Dad!’ shouted Dazel. “DAD! Look…there.” His daughter pointed at the marble floor.

“I’m afraid the Gods have called him back,” said Draunor emotionlessly. Using brain matter as paint, he’d written the letters “KY.” Several times.

“It can’t be! You didn’t…” started Mr. Kiwimora, only to be cut off by the king.

“What do you take me for? I simply got rid of some vermin that had the nerve to get in my way. Now, as to your charges. You are all under arrest for plotting to kill, and perhaps actually succeeding in killing my daughter; and for inciting a riot that destroyed a Tasuil Beor tavern. Dear friend, you are also charged with threatening me, which means death, or life imprisonment. I’m not sure which one I prefer yet.”

“That’s ridiculous!” exclaimed Dazel.

“Hold on,” said Xemina with alarm, “You said she was here!”

“That’s right!” shouted Ravvy, ignoring his guardian’s advice, “You did!”

“And Kyanite said…” began Elona.

‘I don’t care what you think I said,” remarked Draunor, “And Kyanite is no longer alive to confirm what you think you heard him say. As for my daughter, well, she hasn’t been seen since last night. She may be dead. Guards!” the king yelled.

One of the guards ran breathlessly up to him and said, “Your Majesty, there’s a woman outside named Elissa Bloodworth…”

Kharimar and Elona looked at each other in amazement and a feeling of dread, when there was a sudden explosion of light.

Chapter 10: Fixing The Race, Part One

Light, and a cold breeze laden with snowflakes swirled around them as Emilia and her party were deposited in center of the room. She began to approach the dwarf that wore the crown when she slipped on the snow melting at her feet.

“What is the meaning of this?” shouted Draunor, “Guards, arrest these…” Looking at the newly arrived group, he realized two things: first, they were an odd bunch of inferior species, and second, both he and the guards were frozen in place, their feet encased in blocks of ice.

“Emmy! Where have you been?” asked Kharimar.

“Your Majesty, we can’t move!” said the guard that the king had fired.

“James has been here!” exclaimed Eddie, which brought open-mouthed astonishment from anyone who saw him speak.

You!” shouted Redner, pointing at a woman who’d entered unseen.

You!” cried Elissa Bloodworth, pointing at the Wizkiddles, then at Redner, and finally at Edward Trotter.

“And what in the name of Bob the eldest God is going on here?” said a magnetic, booming voice. All turned towards the sound, and saw a female orc, dressed in the crisp white, green and gold of Beor’s Royal Guards, with a commanding presence. “I’m Special Agent Gin Anne, here on behalf of His Majesty King Asterisk of Beor and at the behest of Holly Dayinn, owner of this fine establishment. Why don’t we all go to a conference room and talk things over.”

“Some of us can’t go. We’re stuck,” stated the other guard.

“No problem,” said Khari, who launched two fireballs in succession.

“Aren’t you forgetting someone?” asked Mr. Kiwimora.

“Hey, Elly!” said Kharimar with wicked glee, “You do the honors! You need the practice!” “Right,” the shamanette replied, “My aim needs improvement!” And she quickly let one fly at Draunor, who was so frightened that he wet himself. “Well,” commented Dazel, “That’s one way to make sure your pants don’t catch on fire.”

“Why, you incompetent, insufferable piece of human refuse, I’ll…”

The Special Agent cut him off. “Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, but my King wishes to remind you that you are a guest in his kingdom, not the ruler of it, and as such, you are hereby commanded to treat its citizens with respect, regardless of their race.”

“You pissed yerself jes’ like any of us woulda done, yer Royal High Mucky-muck!” proclaimed Red. “Not thet ah kin, anymore, ah guess.”

“Gods, what…what are you? You’re not even alive! Undead! Unclean!” sputtered Draunor.

“He’s still a citizen!” said Emmy. “Let’s go, friend”, she said, and linking arms with Redner, they entered the conference room. “Oh, Ma’am?” she said to Gin Anne, “Would you see that my horse is cared for? I’m afraid my friend Dingleberry’s magic may have spooked him a little.” “Of course,” the Agent replied.

Everyone was seated at the long table, except the Dwarven King, who had yet to enter the room. Agent Gin Anne walked up to him and said, very quietly so as no one else could hear, “Your Majesty, you will go inside and sit down, or I might get mad. And you know what happens when my kind gets mad, don’t you?”

<><><><><><><><><><>

Each of them, in turn, gave as brief as description of their story as possible, with Agent Gin Anne stopping them every now and for explanations, further questions or clarifications. Mr. Kiwimora finally heard about Ravvy’s plan for a concert by Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers for the Tavern With No Name; Emmy explained about finding a helpless horse, the doctored beer and reanimating Redner; Red explained about Elissa’s beer swindle; and the Kiwimora sisters explained what happened at the Singing Weretrout, and their plan to rescue Princess Shale with the Wizkiddles’ help.

For her part, Elissa Bloodworth explained that she had taken up Alchemy after her school for young wizards was closed due to the shenanigans of some very bad students. She had been hired, she said, by an anonymous client, to create a beer that would make people violent. She had paid her drivers, she said – which brought a tirade of invectives from Redner.

Draunor spoke last. (Ravvy would swould swear that the Agent had planned it that way, because the King looked ready to burst a blood vessel.) His wanton daughter had joined a disreputable group of entertainers and performed at a tavern in front of drunken, dangerous revelers and had not been seen since. He blamed Mr. Kiwimora and his daughters for her disappearance and possibly her death. His majordomo attacked him out of grief, and Draunor killed him in self-defense.

“Thank you all. I’m going for a short walk, and when I return, I’ll give you my assessment. Guards Mangleclaw and Beardbug, please escort me. I have some questions for you.”

Ravvy & the Wizkiddles huddled with the Kiwimoras, discussing what could be done to help the tavern. Dingleberry was having fun flying in and out of the hole in Red’s midsection. The Dwarven King, however, was deep in thought. Wespie had hired this Bloodworth woman to do the job he’d hired Wespie to do. She’d failed, obviously. But she hadn’t betrayed him, which was curious. Loyalty like that from a fellow dwarf could be expected, but from a human? Plus, the concept of dosing a whole group of people with mind-altering liquor was an interesting concept. Waving her over, he spoke to her about building her a research lab, and a deal to which she readily agreed.

Finally, the door opened and Agent Gin Anne sat down, flanked by the two guards.

“What a mess!” she said, chuckling. “Most of you told the truth, some of you have left things out, and two of you have lied. A lie told to me is a lie told to King Asterisk, in my capacity as his Special Agent. This is our assessment.”

“King Draunor Shortbeard, you’re the worst liar I have ever had the displeasure of questioning. I’ve spoken with the two guards formerly in your employ…”

Formerly?” choked Draunor.

“…and they have told me that your men recovered your daughter, who you then confined to a room, and was last seen being carried from this Royal Suite by a young man running faster than humanly possible, right after you murdered Kyanite White Claw. I have seen the majordomo’s body…”

I told you to burn it with the trash, you moron!” exclaimed the king to Feldspar Beardbug.

“…and he died from an axe wound to the back of the head. Self-defense, Your Majesty? I think not. Beor cannot try you for murder, because you are King of a currently friendly nation, and Mr. White Claw is a citizen of that country. But he was also a guest, and as such has certain rights which we hereby extend to his family. As I believe that remaining in the Dwarven Kingdom would be detrimental to their well-being, the family of Mr. White Claw is granted asylum in Tasuil Beor. A carriage has been sent to fetch them, should they desire to accept the offer.”

“This is preposterous!” Draunor clamored.

“The Princess Shale, should she wish it, is under the protection of King Asterisk as long as she remains in Beor. She is granted full citizenship, with all its rights and privileges, effective immediately. Any attempt to forcibly return her to the Dwarven Kingdom will be met with forcible resistance and serious repercussions.”

“That’s kidnapping!” the king shouted. For a moment, Shiyomoto saw not the raving racist monarch but the dwarf who had been his childhood friend, who had cried when his pet weredog had been run over by a falling boulder while they’d been hunting, who was bullied by his royal cousins for being taller than they were, and who defended him against them when they called him ‘half-breed.’

“Let her go, Raun-raun – she needs to find her own way. She’s like Amethyst that way…” and then Shiyo caught himself, knowing he’d said the wrong thing.

“You dare mention her name to me! You both betrayed me!”

“Enough!” declared the Special Agent, “King Draunor Shortbeard, you have until sundown to begin your journey back to your Kingdom. King Asterisk asks that you return to visit us at a less turbulent time. You may leave now.”

He winked at Elissa Bloodworth, spat on the floor before Gin Anne, and slammed the door behind him. “Miss Bloodworth, I believe you do know the identity of your employer. I suggest that, someday in the future, you decide to tell us. In the meantime, I remind you that putting anything in someone’s food or drink without their knowledge and/or permission is considered a crime. When you set up business somewhere – and I sense that you will – his majesty will send inspectors from time to time, unannounced, to check on you. You may leave now.”

“As for all of you, let’s discuss how we’re going to find Princess Shale and her mysterious rescuer, then how to save this Tavern With No Name. And while we’re on the way to Prince Ampersand’s quarters in Castle Beor, let’s pick up Emilia’s so-called talking horse. Miss Bloodworth wasn’t lying about that, was she?”

“No, ma’am, she weren’t. Ah’d a-mentioned Eddie afore, but lil’ Emmy ‘minded me thet woman wanted to kill ‘im. So, ah kept mum, ya know?” said Red.

Chapter 11: Reunions, Part One

Princess Shale was running over everything that had happened to her in the past few years of her life, and decided that she could do better. The last 24 hours certainly proved that. Her father had murdered the only friend she still had left in the palace, and most likely would have killed her if James hadn’t been so quick in getting her out of harm’s way. Ky’s tribal blessing still rang in her ears, and puzzled her. She wasn’t sure she could watch out for Jonir, especially now that she was on the run.

James was still asleep on a mattress that Mrs. Kiwimora had provided. They were in Sew Fine’s basement. One day when she was visiting her friends, she’d complained that there were times when all she wanted was a place away from the Dwarven Court, where she could just be alone. Mrs. Kiwimora had taken her aside and told her that she was welcome to stay in the store’s basement any time she wanted. She’d apologized that it wasn’t very spacious, and not suitable for a princess, but it was quiet and comfortable, and that it would be their secret. She was a surprising woman in many ways, not to mention the finest dressmaker in the known world. Shally had come here four days ago, when she’d escaped the Dwarven Kingdom with the help of her friends.

She’d been in a daze yesterday, since the moment she witnessed Ky’s gruesome death, until sometime after the moment James had stopped running. She had looked around, and to her surprise discovered they were in Tasuil Beor’s Royal Stables. She was sitting on a small stool. James was seated on a bench at the opposite side of the room, surrounded by several mares. He was feeding them from what appeared to be a plate of oat cakes, which he himself was also eating. She tried to stand, intending to go over to him, when she almost fell.

Strong arms reached around and steadied her. “Now then, if I’m any judge of people, you’ve been in shock since the moment your curious friend over there brought you here, so don’t you be in a rush. Prescot Koda, Hunter’s Guild Companion Animals division, at your service. Hey, fella!”

“His name’s James Trotter, and I’m…” Shally paused for a second, then answered, “I’m Garnette.” Prescot Koda stood three heads above her, and his girth was impressive.

“Pretty name,” he’d said, “Not your real one, I’m thinking, but a pretty name suits you. I was called here because as soon as James walked in here, the mares wouldn’t let him alone. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t seem to understand human or orc or dwarven or elvish speech, but he seems intelligent all the same. Still, I don’t think your boyfriend poses any danger.”

“But I do,” she’d answered truthfully, and after getting directions from Mr. Koda, took James by the hand and made for Sew Fine. Mrs. Kiwimora welcomed her inside with no questions asked. When Shally asked about her looking a bit disheveled, she’d told her about her day with Mina & Dazel and their friends. Shally then told her everything that had happened, and Mrs. Kiwimora, relieved to know that her girls had done nothing bad, had held her tightly as they both cried.

She’d awakened this morning determined to not let her circumstances stand in the way of living life the way she wanted to. Mrs. Kiwimora must have been down much earlier, because she’d left a pot of tea and some nutty burrow berry hotcakes – a small stack for her, and an enormous stack for James. As she ate, she thought about her bandmates. She was pretty sure she knew where to find them. Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers were going to have one last performance before disappearing into thin air. She didn’t know where or how or when, she only knew that they deserved a farewell gig.

She began singing a few verses of Xemina’s fabulous anthem, “Tear It All Down” –

“Your system isn’t working, your hatred fuels its fire,

Your racism and bigotry just feed their rage and ire,

Down with your words and down with patriarchy,

Your hollow promises, chock full of malarkey,

Tear It all down, Starting with the crown

Build a world without the hurt, so tear it all down!

 

From the floor upstairs she heard two voices join in on the last verse, and then a knock on the basement door. “Shally, there’s someone here you should meet,” said Mrs. Kiwimora. “She’s coming downstairs, all right?”

“You were surprisingly easy to find, Your Highness,” said Agent Gin Anne. “Let’s hope your father’s hired thugs don’t have the same luck I’ve had. And you must be James.”

Shally was surprised to see him nod. “Your brother Eddie has been worried about you. He’s outside waiting to see you.” And James ran up the stairs, pushing past the orc and almost knocking her off balance. “We have your newly bestowed Beorian citizenship to discuss, and young Prince Ampersand – who is quite a fan of yours, young lady – would like to help organize your next performance.”

<><><><><> Interlude the Fourth (Present Day) <><><><><>

“Excuse me, Yeedia,” apologized Granny Ginny. There are some guests I need to speak with.”

Supplejack Bonecracker leapt down from the newly arrived carriage with ease, and released the door for the two passengers inside. Seeing Granny Ginny approach, he gave a florid bow. “It took a great deal to convince these two to travel. “

“Which is why I assigned a master of disguise to personally escort them. Please take them inside, where family awaits them.” said the old orc sweetly, after kissing the two passengers on the cheek. “This will all make sense, Shiyo, Kit, in a little while.”

“Who are they?” asked Gabriela Montes, as Jack sat down with her amongst the audience. “More characters from this story, I’ll bet,” answered Periwinkle Johnson, “If I know our Ginny.”

“Hey, Miss Yeedia,” shouted Uncle Ralph from the tavern’s roof, “Do you have any more spider bites?” The old woman gave some on a plate to Big, the Old Priest & Rat’s trolliant bouncer, who simply handed them to his friend on the roof.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Chapter 12: Fixing The Race, Part Two

“Ravvy, you have a lot of explaining to do. You have been missing for two days. Two days! I have been going crazy – Drattus, Big and Uncle Ralph have been looking everywhere for you! What were you thinking?”

Artie Pendrake had gone from giving his ward a bone-crushing hug to flaying the skin from Ravvy’s ears. Drattus was standing on the bar between them, trying – unsuccessfully – to get his friend’s attention. Ravvy saw an opportunity to speak, but was too late in thinking of the right words to begin, as Artie got his second wind. Ravvy only hoped that the rest of group would enter the tavern, and soon.

“I’ll tell you what you were thinking – nothing! Don’t you know your happiness means more to me than life itself? I promised your parents, may they rest in peace…”

“To the Ravinger Four, the Saviors of Beor,” shouted Gin-Anne, and was echoed by a chorus of voices.

Ravvy would never forget the look on Artie’s face as it changed from anger to embarrassment to astonishment. “We tried to tell ‘im, didn’t we, kid? We don’t have much in stock, folks, but Ravvy and I will take yer orders. Meanwhile, ma’am,” said Drattus pointedly to Gin Anne, “Please tell ‘im what’s been goin’ on.”

As the master forger and former priest went outside, he yelled over his shoulder, “You’re not out of trouble yet, kiddo!” “Don’t I know it!” said Ravvy.

After Ravvy poured out several pitchers of apple berry lemonade and beer, Drattus noticed that they’d have to stretch the beer in order to get through the rest of the week. Then he realized that, in his distracted state, the kid had poured half a pitcher of beer into a pitcher that was half full of lemonade. Out of curiosity, sipped the new concoction – it was tasty – no, better than tasty! A little beery, a little lemony, and a bit of apple brandy flavor – so he named the new drink ‘blandy.’

Outside the tavern, the twin centaurs were happy to be together. Princess Shale, upon hearing their story, pledged to Eddie that, should he die before his brother (which was likely, as horses only live to be about 25 years old) she would look after James. It was obvious to Eddie that she cared for James, and it seemed his brother had bonded with her.

Back inside the tavern, Kharimar, Emilia and Elona were talking about songwriting with Xemina and Slash; the Flarey Screamers were filling in Dingleberry on news and gossip in the Fae Court; Redner and Skelly were at a table in the corner playing cards. A young man was looking around the room. “What d’ya think Amper-man?” asked Slash. He stroked what looked like the beginnings of a goatee, and said, “Outside, definitely.” “S’what I thought!” said Dazel.

Walking into the tavern, Artie was saying to Gin Anne, “Absolutely not! Are you all nuts? If this tavern gets destroyed, I’ll owe my buyers and not the other way around. It’s too dangerous – for Bob’s sake, you’re talking assassins, poisoners – for all you know, that many people would attract an army of Crazies and then where would we be?”

“Mr. Pendrake, I assure you…”

“No! I appreciate you wanting to help out the Tavern, but we’re dead in the water! And who would come to see a band whose last performance saw people go crazy?”

“It won’t happen here, Mr. Pendrake, I assure you. Your stock will be watched around the clock.”

“Is there a problem, Agent Anne?” asked a young dwarf. Artie had not seen her before.

“I present to you Her Royal Highness, the Princess Shale Shortbeard.”

“Mr. Pendrake, you’d be doing me a personal favor. I want this second and last performance to be unforgettable. There will be many more people than you can handle inside, so it should all be outdoors.”

“Your highness, I beg your pardon, but being outdoors puts you in very great danger,” Artie replied.

“I don’t care,” said Shally. “I’m doing this in protest of my Dad’s racist beliefs and policies. I’m doing this for my people. They’ll be here, too. I guarantee it! You’ll make enough money for at least a year’s worth of supplies.”

The young human whom Slash had called Amper-man said, “Her cause is just, and her reasons are noble. Surely Blodwin the Blessed will keep her from the hearts and hands that would do her harm?”

Artie snapped fully alert, and grabbed the young man’s shirt front, pulling him until they were nose to nose. “Do I know you, young sir?” The youth laughed softly, and said very quietly, “You were my confessor until only last year. Have I changed that much? Your cleverness saved me from a most unwanted and conniving suitor.”

Releasing the young man, Artie fell to one knee. “Forgive me, Your Royal Highness. You have indeed changed. The goatee suits you,” he added with a wink.

“Thank you! Rich thinks so, too,” said the youth, referring to Richard Thews, Captain of the Royal Guards, and his boyfriend. “The Beorian crown is producing this performance – or rather, I am producing it, with my father’s approval of course. Agent Gin Anne, does this building have a room where we can meet in private? Just you, myself, the princess and her companion, and those three – Khari, Emmy and Elly. Kharimar has a battle plan, of sorts. It involves…well, I’ll let him explain it.”

“We all made the battle plan, your Highness,” said Emmy, “And we’re called the Wizkiddles! Like the Ravinger Four, minus one.”

“The kitchen,” his Agent replied. “It will be tight, but it’s what’s available.”

“Maybe,” said Drattus, perched on Artie’s shoulder, “we should think about adding a second floor with rooms, you know, like an inn?”

Artie laughed in spite of himself, “If we make it through this drought, old pal, I’ll build a hookah lounge just for you! And while we’re at it, why not a stable…”

Chapter 13: Starting Gate

Standing Room Only. Only once had Ravvy ever seen the Tavern packed with people. It had been an after-funeral party for a two-timing cheapskate con-man of a shopkeeper, who’d had the singular misfortune of shortchanging the mother of the head of the Assassin’s Guild. The Tavern must have turned over several times, serving more than 300 weeping customers – weeping from laughing so hard.

Prince Ampersand had off-duty Royal Guardsmen post notices of the ‘Farewell’ concert all over Beor, from the Badlands to Slainte. Gin Anne and Richard Thews took special care of Tasuil Beor and its suburbs, while Drattus had spread the word in the hidden dens and hideouts under the city. The two former members of Draunor’s guards were more than happy to put posters throughout the Dwarven Kingdom. A few even made it into the Very Deep Dungeon.

Dazel Kiwimora designed the posters, and it is to her credit that they did not directly say that Princess Shanunu was actually Princess Shale. For one, everyone had heard the story of the Singing Weretrout’s Scream The Walls Down concert – which is what Drattus began calling it in taverns all over Beor. For another, it read “!ronuarD htiW nwoD !snruteR elahS ssecnirP” in small print on the bottom, which technically was just gibberish.

People had begun to arrive the night before. The next day, in spite of the intense heat, they kept coming, and people began sharing what little food they had with each other. Artie was grateful to Eddie, James and Redner for their help when he’d managed to purchase two dozen crates of sad-looking lemons and 10 sacks of appleberries that hadn’t been sold because the price was too high – he purchased them for a fraction of the cost, as they would have gone bad the next day. Somehow, they’d managed to construct a shed that Emilia kept cold. She’d reached into her pocket and smashed a small globe, releasing small gnat-sized ice dragons that swirled to create a well-chilled room. Drinks were being kept, and would be served, cold.

Before the drought, the Tavern had sat in the middle of a vast open field which had been planted with vegetables, herbs and fruits. All of it had died, but this allowed a sizable stage to be built there. Torches now surrounded the entire area. And it was overflowing with people of all races and ages. Some were actually dressed like the band, complete with face masks – about half of which featured a tiara.

Dressed in camouflage were Gin Anne and the Royal Guards, positioned strategically in the woods around the site. It was their job to be on the lookout for possible hired assassins, and for any Crazed Ones who might be attracted by such a large group. Artie had made the decision that admission would be one piece of food – whether it was an apple, or a muffin, or a handful of beans, or even a single egg. No one would be turned away, though, if they didn’t have it. Artie was adamant that the only thing the Tavern With No Name would charge for would be drinks – and even they would be affordable. The food collected was not for the Tavern’s use – it was to be distributed to the families hardest hit by the drought, to keep them from becoming Crazed Ones. Too many had friends or family they’d lost to the Starvation Madness.

Ravvy peered out a window, and looked at the sea of faces spread out on all sides. No arguments, no angry name-calling, and everyone was laughing and talking. And there were dwarves by the score! Some people were even singing bits and pieces of Xemina’s song, which was incredible since the band hadn’t even finished singing it before the Weretrout collapsed. And that had been the first time it had ever been sung! Ravvy remembered hearing Mr. Kiwimora singing a line or two when he obviously didn’t know anyone was listening, and smiled.

The show was to start just after sundown, and it was drawing close to the hour. Dazel, Xemina, Shally, Mr. Bones, Slash, Toothbreaker and The Flarey Screamers were sitting around a table. Prince Ampersand, dressed in ordinary clothes, stood next to Artie behind the bar. Drattus perched on his friend’s left shoulder.

“Tonight is the second and final performance of Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers. I say final because there is a possibility that one or more of you may die out there tonight. King Draunor has been aware of this show for several days. He would like nothing better than to be rid of his daughter. She stands firmly against him and his bigotry. He’s hired assassins, of which we’ve apprehended seven. There are 5 more that we know of.”

“Whoa, man!” exclaimed Slash, “This is some heavy shit goin’ down. I mean, I stand with Shally – we all do – but I don’t know about bein’ killed!”

The princess stood. “Ampersand had costumes and masks, just like ours, given out to all the colleges to distribute. If someone starts shooting arrows or fireballs, or throwing knives or handaxes, get off the stage and run into the crowd. They won’t be able to spot you! Flareys, you’re to take Mr. Bones and go to the in-between, okay?”

The sun set, and the crowds began to clap and cheer. “Princess, it’s time.” Ravvy watched the band as they filed out. The Flareys used the front exit, which was unexpected. “I’m sorry I didn’t really get to know you,” Shally said. “I hope this helps your Tavern as much as it’s going to help me. Always follow your heart, that’s what Ky used to tell me.”

“Artie tells me the same thing, kind of. Are you scared?” asked the Ravinger’s heir.

“Terrified, now,” she answered, “But it’ll be different when I’m up there, onstage. I think it was like that too, for your parents I mean. I hope…never mind. Hold your loved ones close, okay?” She kissed the heir, and made her way in the gathering darkness to join the band backstage, as the thunderous applause continued. Ravvy was left somewhat breathless.

<><><><><> Interlude the Fifth (Present Day) <><><><><>

The storyteller’s audience let out a collective breath as yet another carriage arrived, interrupting her tale. The afternoon was halfway to becoming evening, and the crowd had decreased by a little, but Yeedia still kept four or five dozen enthralled by her tale.

“What in blazes is goin’ on ‘ere?” asked Memnos Ignatius Eladden (disguised as Kwan Dooley, and selling quite a few kebabs.) “There ‘ain’t been this many carriages since I cain’t ‘member when!”

Three men exited the carriage, which bore no markings. Two entered the Tavern. The other approached Granny Ginny and kissed her on the cheek, his face partially hidden by a hood. “Are we there yet, auntie-mine?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Chapter 14: An Unforgettable Night

On the road, in back of the audience, the three Wizkiddles waited. Not patiently, though. Khari paced back and forth, Elly rocked to and fro while standing mostly still, and Emmy played with the troop of Screaming Flareys. The troop then shaped themselves into a shimmering halo around them, and the show began.

Flarey magic made it appear as if the Wizkiddles stood in a cone of light. Elona channeled wind, and their voices were amplified tenfold. Khari felt ill, Elona blanked and Emmy just began chanting. It took a second or two, but by the fourth or fifth word, she was joined by the others.

“By order of Her Highness Princess Shanunu, tonight’s performance by the Homunculoid Doppelgangers is dedicated to the memory of Kyanite White Claw, who stood up for our rights and paid the ultimate price for speaking truth to the King of Lies and Hatred. May we all be willing to shine so brightly.”

The three unleashed two fireballs each, one from each hand, which sailed over the tops of six rows of unlit torches and set each one alight in a rainbow-colored blaze, thanks to the Screaming Flareys’ magic. The flareys followed the fireballs until they reached the stage, where they changed the fireballs’ trajectory to light six massive torches. Already onstage and in place, the band launched into their first number, “Regicide.”

Gin Anne’s company caught two assassins who had positioned themselves in places that gave them a strategic viewpoint of the stage. One was atop a tree, bow already drawn and ready. She was so concentrated on her quarry that she didn’t hear the Special Agent’s needle-like dagger as it caught her in the throat. One down, four to go, Gin Anne thought. An alarming idea occurred to her, and on a hunch she crept behind and under the stage with two of her men, just in time to see a pickaxe cut through the ground. They watched as a dwarven mage emerged. Another thrown stiletto, and two down, three to go.

“He laughed at me, and threw me down

And beat me with his bloody crown

His cruelty we must not abide

And one way you must decide

Suicide or Regicide!

Which way do you decide?”

 

Shally stopped, letting the audience sing,

 

“Regicide! Regicide!” they shouted.

 

Ravvy watched as the crowd applauded wildly. Truth be told, the Princess’ passion was sometimes frightening to watch. Turning away, Ravvy froze. A figure enrobed in shadows was pouring a clear liquid, a few drops at a time, into each pitcher of blandy that the heir had been about to take outside. He hadn’t spotted Ravvy yet. The figure did see Emmy and Elona enter the room. Elona’s fireball hit him square in the back, and Emilia reanimated him. As Khari entered, Emmy told the crispy critter to “Go stop your friends” and it shambled away. The two girls nodded and shook hands.

Khari looked at Ravvy and said, “Sometimes, those two scare me shitless.”

Back in the surrounding forest of dying trees, two shapes were gliding from branch to branch. The band began to play ‘Tear it All Down.’ Almost invisible to the eye, holding a diamond-sharp wire between them, and carrying rapiers with blades so thin and black they defied detection – were two acrobats turned assassins. One misjudged a branch, and it snapped with a sound inaudible to most. Gin-Anne’s third stiletto went flying, but the would-be killer had instead been felled by an arrow in the forehead. The Prince already had another arrow notched and ready, but the two watched as the second killer launched into the air, and then vanished without a sound before he could even be seen by the audience.

His body reappeared on the ground, neatly sliced in two halves.  Appearing over it simultaneously was an eight-foot tall humanoid with enormous, snow-white scaled wings, which folded and disappeared into his back. He was dressed in elegant evening attire, and holding the night-black blade. His eyes changed quickly from draconic to human, ice-blue in color. Bowing to them, he addressed Gin-Anne. “Am I late to tonight’s party?” he said with a smile.

She laughed. “No, Tempus, you’re always on time.”

“Prince Ampersand of Beor,” said the 16-year old royal.

“Nice shot,” said Tempus admiringly.

“I have an exemplary teacher,” the prince replied, looking at Gin-Anne.

“Young man, I present you with this blade. It is one of a pair. I see your ‘teacher’ has already taken Render of Sorrows. Yours is named Render of Souls. Put it away. You’ll remember it when it’s time.”

“Does he always talk like this?” asked Ampersand jokingly.

Ignoring him, she said, “That’s four down. Where’s the last one?” And she looked at Tempus. “You mean the last two?” he replied.

“There were supposed to be five!” cried Gin-Anne.

“The sixth one was unforeseen, unanticipated, and unfortunate.”

“Where ARE they?” she demanded.

“Shhhh!” said Tempus, “You’ll want to hear this.” The four looked on in silence, and heard the 4-part choral harmonies of a lullaby. When it was over, and as the Prince and the old orc wiped tears from their eyes, the dragon spoke.

“The fifth and sixth assassins are not yours to deal with. Now go, and be quick about it! You’ve got damage control to perform. My cue is almost here.”

“Damage control?” asked the Prince, but Gin-Anne was running towards the stage as fast as she could. Then the crowd screamed, not in excitement – but in fear.

Chapter 15: The Last Song

Dazel (who’d sung the lead vocal on ‘We Are Beor’) couldn’t help but ride the waves of applause coming from the crowd. There must be over 1,000 people, she thought. She watched her dad unload several barrels of what looked like Skippyloom Lager and Owlbear Original Oatmeal Stout from a wagon that had the crest of The Keg Runneth Over painted on it. “How’d they manage that?” she wondered, as Toothbreaker blasted the first notes of ‘Night of the Knitting Brigadettes’ on the thunderhorn – the audience laughed as the notes evoked the old ladies turned revolutionaries, comical at first and then building in grandeur and excitement.

Next up was Slash’s favorite, Jethro Gnoll’s famous ‘Mug of Thunder’ which made everyone click their steins or mugs or cups together, taking a sip and then, to quote the song, ‘pass the magic mug of thunder’ to whoever was next to them – it didn’t matter what race they were, just that everyone was having a bitchin’ time. Slash hoped none of the crew that dosed the brews at the Singing Weretrout had been busy here tonight.

Xemina thought she’d never have a time in all her life, ever, that could match the awesome feeling she had tonight. She watched as Toothbreaker took over the drums, and saw her sister step back to give Shally center stage. She looked over the entire crowd, which held its breath. She began to clap, bringing both hands over her head, as she began to sing the first lines of ‘Tear It All Down’ – a capella. After she completed the verse, she stopped. Again she looked over the crowd.

“Pops,” said Ravvy, looking out at stage, into the silence and stillness. “What is she doing?”

“She’s taking a stand, scamp. A very brave and foolhardy stand.”

Shally laughed, and ripped off her mask. She shook her hair, which had been piled high, and as the waves of curly dwarven locks fell to her shoulders, they revealed a real jeweled tiara. The crowd went wild, and the band followed suit. Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers brought the house down. Only this time it was metaphorically, not literally.

Shally put a stop to the epic applause by holding her hands up. “Elly?” she shouted, and the shamanette, backstage, again summoned wind to let the princess’ voice be heard.

“Thank you all for coming. The reason why we’re all here tonight – why any of us are here at all – is thanks to four people, belonging to three different races. Four good friends – human, orc and dwarf. The Ravinger Four chose to sacrifice their lives for all of us. The Ravingers left this tavern behind for their heir, who’s here tonight. Ravvy, could you come onstage, please?”

“Go on, scamp,” said Artie, “I don’t know anything about this, but when a princess asks you to do something, I know you’d better do it!” It took the heir a few minutes to walk through the crowd and to the front of the stage, where Mr. Bones grabbed Ravvy’s hand and hoisted the kid up. Ravvy received a smattering of applause, which kept growing and growing until it almost hurt to listen to it.

“The tavern’s in trouble. It’s been hard hit by this drought, like you all have. I know we only asked for a piece of food from each of you, and some got to see this show even if you didn’t have a crumb. That food you gave – Ravvy here is going to give it to those who are starving – for free – even though this child has no money to spare. Ravvy and Ravvy’s guardian might have to sell this place. Are you going to let that happen?”

One “No!” turned into a thousand. “Do you want to help them keep the tavern?” “YES!!” the audience shouted. The Princess turned to Slash, who was sitting at the drums, and motioned for him to bring his chair, which she made Ravvy sit on. Xemina found one backstage, and brought it down centerstage, where she sat with her siren bowstring. Slash and Toothbreaker stood with Shally and Dazel.

“This is what’s going to happen, folks. The Ravinger Four saved our lives. It was the races working together that stopped the Nether Queen and her army. Those of you from Tasuil Beor, and those of us from the Dwarven Kingdom know that when the races work together, anything is possible. So, Big the bouncer is going around right now with a barrel. If you can spare just one tin piece or ten gold pieces, drop it in the barrel.”

“Our next, and our last song is dedicated to your parents, Ravvy. The boys and I wrote the music, and the girls wrote the words. Now, I need everyone to be quiet, because this is a quiet song. It’s called ‘Mountain Fall.’ I hope you like it.” Backstage, Khari uttered a few words, and the torches dimmed, surrounding the audience and performers in a warm, amber glow. Mina began to play, softly and reverently, the strain of a lullaby. Shally began:

Hush now, my little one

Don’t you know our day is done

For we ride into the sun

To Mountain Fall

 

She was then joined by Slash, in his clear baritone:

 

Look there, my little pride

Where your Dad and Mommy ride

Over fields and far hillside

To Mountain Fall

 

Dazel made them a trio:

 

We fought, little lion

No thought we gave to dyin’

Gave our lives so no more cryin’

For Mountain Fall

 

And Toothbreaker, with his deep bass, completed the quartet:

 

We gave our lives, heeded the call

Our love for you made Mountain Fall

Love always wins, so you stand tall

On Mountain Fall

Dazel, Slash and Shally:

 

I’m here, my little lamb

Where you are is where I am

Guarding you, both sire and dam

At Mountain Fall

 

Slash and Shally:

 

Look there, my little star

See the people near and far

Thankful always, Yes, they are

For Mountain Fall

 

Finally, the Princess, solo, with one more member joining every successive line:

 

Hush now, my little one

See – a brand new day’s begun

It is our gift, each rising sun

From Mountain Fall, Mountain Fall, Mountain Fall.

 

The audience erupted in surprise – that the night that began with such fervent and loud songs of protest and revolution would end with, of all things, a lullaby. Parents were weeping and cheering at the same time.

The Homunculoid Doppelgangers exited the stage, leaving the Princess and Ravvy. Big carried the barrel onstage, overflowing with coins. Big was crying, Shally was crying, even Ravvy was crying. The Princess bowed to the audience, which just kept on clapping. She raised her left arm skyward, hand closed in a fist, placed her right hand over her heart and shouted, “To the Ravinger Four, The Saviors of Beor!” and the people picked up her cry. She turned with her arms open wide, beckoning Ravvy to join her in a hug.

Then Ravvy saw her fall backwards. It was only after catching her that Ravvy noticed the flickering arrow in her chest, clutched between her hands, her blood blooming across her white shift. Another arrow caught Ravvy in the left shoulder as the heir bent over her. Big stood in front of them, a massive shield as arrows bounced off of him, unable to pierce his troll giant skin. Then the screaming began, and pandemonium ensued.

Chapter 16: Reunions, Part Two

Edward Trotter was restless. Truth be told, he’d been restless ever since Shale Shortbeard had told him she’d look after James if he, Edward, died before James did. It wasn’t guaranteed that he’d live only as long as a regular horse would, and not longer – due to him having centaur parents; or that James would live as long as regular humans did.

He was grateful, of course. It was nice to know James would be well looked after. Their adoptive mother – By Blessed Bob, he’d forgotten all about her! She must be sick with worry; it had been 5 days since they’d left home. He’d have to tell her how Samuel, her husband, had died. If I leave now, he thought, I can make it back by nightfall tomorrow. He looked for James, to tell him he was leaving for a bit – but couldn’t find him. “James!” he said quietly, and then whinnied softly. He heard the band begin to play that loud raucous song called ‘Tear It All Down’ – when a rope circled his neck. A familiar voice said, “Gotcha, you freak of nature!”

Eddie took off at top speed, Elissa Bloodworth holding on to the rope for dear life. She managed to levitate herself off the ground after he’d gone a quarter mile northward up the road. He immediately veered into the forest on his left, jumping through a cleft in two trees. Bloodworth let go of the rope as her body tried to bend in a backwards V-shape. “One day,” she said, in a pain-filled voice, “I’ll find you again! But, there’s always your brother!”

Eddie immediately changed his northward course, and veered south to a hilly area that he hoped would lead him back, to get James. He didn’t think the Bloodworth ‘bitch’ (as Redner had called her) would be walking for a long while, but they needed to leave there, and fast. He could hear the band playing, but after reaching a tall hill, he stopped galloping and stood completely still.

There were two centaurs atop the cliff, facing away from him. There was no mistaking their scents. Each held a bow, and each was notched with an arrow. Even from this distance, Eddie sensed they were heavily enchanted, the shafts glowing wind-white for speed and quiet; the fletching eagle feather-brown, for accuracy; and the arrowheads bloodstone-red, for invisibility.

Even though their hearing and sense of smell were not as sensitive as his, he quietly made his way behind them. It was then that everything went absolutely quiet. Eddie held his breath, and listened, spellbound by ‘Mountain Fall.’ He felt the message of parental love, and of hope for the future. He heard the thunderous applause, and the cheering for The Ravinger Four.

It was then that Eddie’s Father loosed his arrow at Princess Shale Shortbeard. Eddie rushed his father from behind, knocking him off-balance, causing him to scramble for a hold; seeing Eddie, he spat out “Abomination!” as the weight of his hindquarters sent him over the cliff, where he died instantly. His mother bared her teeth, and pulled back her bowstring. Eddie slammed into her sideways, as she lost her aim while shooting her arrow, breaking her foreleg and some ribs against a boulder as she fell. Through teeth clenched in pain, she said, “I should have killed you.” She spat out blood, and continued, “The dwarf girl is dead. Draunor paid us well. Your siblings will live well. Promise me you’ll die well!” And she shoved herself off the cliff, where she lay motionless below.

Eddie heard the screams and shouts from the Tavern, and realized that James must be terrified if he’s in the middle of all that, and in need of a calm head and reassuring presence. He galloped towards the echoing mayhem.

<><><><><> Final Interlude (Present Day) <><><><><>

The Old Priest & Rat Tavern’s outdoor torches had all been lit, tables and chairs had been brought outside, and three firepits had been lit as Yeedia began to finish her tale. Chef Royler had called in a few favors, and the Royal Order of Knitters had brought in covered dishes and food that kept the audience fed – The Leftover Lair had run out of leftovers two hours back!

Sarah Burnheart sat with Supplejack, Aunt Elryssa, Uncle Ralph, Wily Wilcox and Growler (in her human form.) “I hope…” Sarah began, but they all knew what she was going to say. “Me too,” said Wily. “I hope I not cry,” Growler said, “Or I be mad at Miss Yeedia.”

A sound of horses was heard, as yet another hooded figure entered the tavern, and its companion approached Granny Ginny. “Artie!” cried a baker’s dozen of assorted voices. “Next time, old lady,” he said with a smile, “you send me on a sea voyage with a ghost for a captain and a banshee for her mate, I want Gujarek Stormscream along for company and my sanity!”

“Ayup,” said Drattus, jumping from Artie’s shirt pocket to his shoulder, “Artie doesn’t mix well with sea water, if you get my drift!”

“Yeedia,” said Eddie sadly, “Finish the story. Please, let’s end this.”

Chapter 17: The Race Is Run (Present Day)

Yeedia took a large sip from a mug of hot koppee. “The Wizkiddles watched as Ravvy’s shoulder was bein’ bandaged. Ravvy protested when Prince Ampersand took Shally’s body away. Ravvy fainted from blood loss, not long after that. Jes’ ta be safe, Emmy used ‘er “sweep” spell ‘afore Artie removed the arrow. The Prince an’ Agent Gin-Anne rode away with Shally’s body ta the Royal Palace in Tasuil Beor. Of Tempus there was no sign. Khari returned to the Moltenscar Mage Preparatory Academy after spendin’ the summer ‘elping Ravvy out at the tavern. Mr. Kiwimora now owns the Singin’ Weretrout. Elona an’ Emmy stayed with the Kiwimoras, where they learned a little sewin’ ‘afore bein’ chosen as ‘prentices ta a druid. (Ah’ll let them tell you that story.)”

“The crowd had run from the scene, fearin’ a massacre which never ‘appened. The Homunculoid Doppelgangers ‘ad gathered up their instruments, dazed an’ stunned from the tragedy they’d been a part of. As ya know, they still reunite from time ta time. The one song they do not play, out o’ respect fer Shally, is ‘Regicide.’ Artie an’ Ravvy an’ the Tavern With No Name survived the drought, which ya’ll ‘member lasted another year ‘afore it ended. It remains the worst in all Beorian ‘istory – may it always be. Redner works nights as maid, janitor an’ room service at the Tavern. Iffen ya’ ‘aven’t seen ‘im, it’s ‘cause ‘e’s shy.”

“King Draunor set up Elissa Bloodworth in ‘er own business, now called Alchemical Brewin’ Solutions. She didn’t find Eddie, although she keeps lookin’ fer ‘im. James disappeared the very night Shally was killed, an’ no ‘mount a’ searchin’ on Eddie’s part offered even a hint of what ‘appened to ‘im. Which brings me ta the whole reason fer this long tale – Sarah Burn’eart asked ‘Why does Ravvy keep Eddie aroun’ iffen ‘e sometimes injures customers?’ Well, ah think Eddie ‘imself can best answer that.”

“I don’t speak much,” he said, “so forgive me if you can’t hear me.” “Hey, Elly!” shouted Emmy, and there was laughter all around. “On it!” replied her friend. “Thanks, friends,” said the not-horse in a wind-amplified voice. “After a year or more of wandering, and being chased by either Elissa or her hirelings, I didn’t know where to go. My adoptive mother died while I was searching for James. I needed a place to stay. Then, while spending some time with Prescot Koda in the Royal Stables, I kept having the same dream.”

“Do ‘orses dream?” asked a voice in the back. Eddie reared on his hind legs, “Who said that?”

“Oh, that’s Marduk the Mangler,” answered Frannie Dusa.

“Have I ever kicked you in the head?” asked Eddie.

“Nope, I’m happy ta say!” stated Marduk.

“And I won’t anytime soon,” Laughed the not-horse-but centaur.

“Why’s thet?” said Marduk proudly, “Afraid I’d kick ya back?”

“You thick-‘eaded porridge-for-brains,” cried Yeedia, “ ‘E only kicks ya…”

“…iffen he likes ya!” laughed a chorus of voices, Sarah’s being one of them.

“Marduk, haven’t you been listening? I have a human brain, so yes, I dream. This was more of a nightmare. I kept seeing Shally onstage with the arrow in her chest, with Ravvy holding her. And I thought, Ravvy was there, right there next to her. The kid could have stopped it! I began to blame Ravvy for her death – which is stupid, because I could have stopped my centaur sire from shooting long before he did, if the Princess’ song hadn’t caught me by surprise…”

“It’s okay, Eddie,” said Ravvy, walking out of the tavern and placing a hand on Eddie’s neck. “You’re right, I was there. And I blamed myself for months afterwards.”

“I told Ravvy to let me stay at the tavern. Someday, I said, I might hear a traveler say something that could lead me to James. So, I stand in the front, by the roadside. And here I’ve been for almost 7 years. Maybe it’s time I moved on.”

“Not so fast, Mister Ed!” said a happy young voice, as a young man in street urchin clothes popped out of nowhere, accompanied by the sound of jingling coins and a golden glow. “Hey, Bono Fortuno, what’cha doin’ ‘ere?” said Wily Wilcox. “Word is, up in the Beginning Place, that something big is about to happen here! I thought I’d be the first to arrive, but no, my high priest is already here gettin’ the party started! Hey, Grandma!” Bono replied, and blew a kiss at Granny Ginny.

Chapter 18: Revelations (Present Day)

“You must be the Ravinger heir!” said the newly awakened God, giving a long slow wolf whistle, “I could make this your lucky night!”

Ravvy knelt down, placed a finger under Bono’s chin. leaned in close and said, “Don’t tease me, boy, or else I’ll spread the word that your lucky piece is just small change. Besides, your wishing well is already bringing in new customers, so it’s as if we’ve already been in each other’s business, no?”

“Woo-hoo!” shouted Bono. “Now, Mister Ed, tonight has been arranged by yours truly. It’s cost me a few favors, and Grandma took over a lot of the arrangements, but everyone’s here. Miss Yeedia, you tell one ‘eck o’ a good tale; but there are some things you ‘aven’t been told, through no fault o’ yer own. Grandma, you’re up!”

Granny Ginny stood. “Granny Ginny, how can…” began Dave Le Plaid.

“Stop right there, bard,” she grumbled. “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. Ravvy, would you go tell Ampersand that it’s time for him to bring out our guests from the Green Room – all but the last ones? I think he’s had enough time to speak to each of them. Has Tempus…?”

“Yes,” answered Emilia from amidst the crowd, “He’s here.”

Bono had been sitting on the counter of the Leftover Lair, whispering into Yeedia’s ear. She laughed, and commented, “That’s a wonderful idea. I’ll put some out tomorrow,” as he gave her a handful of small, flat stones.

“And now, tonight’s guests. First, the Kiwimora family – Shiyomoto, Kitriona, Dazel and Xemina.” There was some light applause, as they joined the listeners. Artie & Drattus, Elona, Emilia, Kharimar and Ravvy gave them hugs, and seated them at a large table brought down from the tavern’s special dining room.

“Next, May I introduce His Highness, Prince Jonir Shortbeard.” The dwarven royal made his way cautiously to the table, stopping in front of Granny Ginny. “I don’t feel comfortable among all of you. It’s because she hung out with the likes of people like you that she got killed.” And he glared at Xemina and Dazel.

“Have you heard nothing that’s been said tonight? It’s because of the man,” said Edward Trotter, “who paid assassins to kill his own daughter!”

“Enough!” said Ravvy. “He’s here as a special guest, and will be treated as such.”

“Miss Ginevra, I don’t know why you’re here, or what you have to do with this bunch, but remember your loyalty to the Kingdom!” said Jonir, before seating himself. “Ginevra is my half-sister, your Highness,” replied Granny Ginny.

“Old Lady, iffen you ‘ave as many ‘alf-sisters as ya lay claim to,” said Drattus, “Then yer father or yer mother or both have populated ‘alf o’ Beor!”

“That’s enough out of you,” chuckled the she-orc. “While it is true that it was Draunor who hired Clive Wespie, now deceased, to ‘take care’ of his daughter at the Singing Weretrout; and also it was Draunor himself who murdered Kyanite White Claw; and then hired 13 assassins to kill her on the night of the last performance of Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers, the princess’ death was not caused by her father.”

“Oooh,” whispered Frannie Dusa to Fafhrd, “It’s like one of those murder mysteries that Erik reads to us!”

“That’s a lie!” said Ravvy with astonishment. “I saw her fall! I held her, saw the arrow in her chest, I tried to stop the bleeding.”

“My sire shot that arrow, paid for by Draunor’s gold!” cried Eddie.

“Think back,” said Ginny, “Go over everything, second by second. You saw her fall.”

“Yes, I…”

“You saw the arrow in her chest.”

“Yes, but…”

“You saw bleeding…”

“And then what happened?” pressed Granny Ginny, also known as Miss Ginevra and Agent Gin-Anne.

“I…got shot. In my shoulder. And then Big shielded us, and then…it gets fuzzy, but I remember Prince Ampersand taking Shally from me.”

“Did you ever see the Princess get shot?” asked Emilia.

“Of course!”

“Go over it again, Ravvy. Carefully,” said Kharimar.

“What are you all getting at?” questioned Artie, “Are suggesting he killed the princess?”

“No, not at all,” said Bono Fortuno, “Just be patient.”

“I don’t know about how much patience humans or orcs have, but I’m running out of mine,” stated the Dwarven prince, “My sister is dead.”

The god of Good Fortune floated over to Prince Jonir and grabbed his beard. Looking him square in the face, he snarled, “That’s your opinion. When I want your opinion, I will ask for it. You’re going to need my help very soon, Your Highness, so I advise you to be nice.”

They’re right!” said Ravvy, quietly at first. “You’re right! I didn’t see her get shot. But, what does that mean? I don’t understand? There was an arrow in her chest! I saw it!”

“Are you saying Shally was killed by something else?” posed Dazel.

Redner wandered out of the tavern, and walked over to Eddie, who explained – briefly – what was now being discussed. “Well, o’ course! It’s ob-vee-us, ain’t it?” the undead janitor shouted, “It’s as plain as the…ah…plain…it’s the only thin’ makes a lick o’sense!”

“Out with it, you old sack o’ flesh!” shouted Drattus.

Redner straightened up to his full 5 feet 2 inches, and said proudly, “It was a trick! Ah don’ know how or who or why or nuthin’ but it soun’s like we was all ‘oodwinked!”

Elona was laughing, followed by Emmy, and lastly joined by Kharimar. “It was a trick, yes. You didn’t hold Shally that night,” said the fire mage. “You held Elona. She was holding a broken arrow – it was the shaft and the fletching – between her hands. If you remember, she never let go of it.”

“But she was bleeding…’ said Ravvy.

“Yes, I had made a medium cut in my chest. It hurt a lot, but it was enough to convince you,” explained Elona.

“But…but wait!” exclaimed Xemina, “we saw Shally fall!”

Emilia walked over to her good friends, put her arms around their shoulders, and said, “Yes, you did. But it was Elona that Ravvy caught.”

“I have seen magic of many kinds,” stated Prince Jonir, “but what you suggest is impossible. Not even Dwarven magic can do what you suggest.”

“But Dragon magic can,” said Emmy with a wink, which made Jonir blush. (Interesting, thought Ginny, filing that observation away.) “And the Dragon Guardian of Time just happens to be a friend of mine, and 8 years ago, he owed me a favor, which I claimed that night. Tempus switched Elly and Shally in both time and place. When Ampersand took Elly from you, she just changed back into her clothes and joined us when you had your shoulder taken care of.”

“Wait,” said Mr. Kiwimora, “that means that the arrow that hit Ravvy…”

“…was the arrow meant for my sister!” said Jonir.

“Yes,” agreed Emmy, “Because he exists in past, present and future, he knew when Eddie’s father was going to shoot, so he timed the switch to happen just a few seconds before.”

“And in all the uproar,” said Prince Ampersand, exiting from the Tavern’s side door, “No one saw us leave on horseback for Blackheart Bay.” Standing next to him were the grinning faces of Princess Shale and James Trotter.

Chapter 19: Trifecta (Present Day)

There were joyful shouts and tears and hugs and all of that. It had been arranged for Shally and James to ‘disappear’ with the help of the late Tsarina Darkmane and her crew. They dropped the two off on an archipelago several hundred miles west of Blackheart Bay, where Shally had built a home and garden, and raised some farm animals. They had neighbors – retired sailors and pirates, mostly – and lived a quiet life. They’d raised a few eyebrows among the locals, so Shally had a marriage ceremony performed, so no one would be suspicious. While he’d never said a word, and she still didn’t know if he understood anything, she couldn’t imagine life without him.

Shally told her whole tale to her brother. Jonir confessed (1) he’d been watching from behind a keyhole when she and their father had argued, resulting in Ky’s murder, and (2) he’d played along with their father’s racism because he’d filled all the positions in the government with Pure Bloods, and he did not want to end up banished or worse by being against him – at least not openly, like she’d been.

Xemina and Dazel told her that her ‘death’ had pretty much ended the resistance movement. They were certain, though, that a reunited band could bring it back to life. This became the subject of intense conversation, as the audience that had gathered for the story that morning began going home. Yeedia, Big, Uncle Ralph and Redner began cleaning up the area, with assistance from a few ladies of the Royal Order of Knitters.

James was standing next to Eddie when Granny Ginny pulled the two of them away from everyone, and walked a few hundred yards from the tavern, and behind a copse of trees. “What do you want?” asked Eddie. James stood there quietly, his human eyes looking first at Eddie, and then at Ginny.

“By my right and by my power, I command thy presence!”

A shimmering circle of spring-green leaves appeared, and out stepped a male centaur, crowned with a massive pair of antlers, standing at least 9 feet tall. “I am here. What is your will?”

“Cut the crap, old man,” Ginny demanded, and waved her right hand in a dismissive gesture. Before her was a perfectly average looking middle-aged man, with hair going silver on the sides and at the temple. Worry lines on his forehead were tempered by laugh lines at his eyes and mouth. “Fix this.”

“My dear, you look radiant, as always. You are already perfect.”

Ginny sighed. “Not me, them!” she pointed out. “Fix them.”

“There will be consequences,” noted Bob, the Eldest God.

“Balance be damned,” cried Ginny, “Why does the Dark always get to make the big changes? Just once, I want the Light to do so. Do it for morale. Do it for Justice. Do it for the all the poor bastards who end up being our collateral damage!”

“Every action, even mine, has and an equal and an…”

Eddie cleared his equine throat. ‘Stay out of this!” said both divinities at once.

“Don’t quote the rules to me – I enforce them!” Ginny sighed, and hung her head, and said very softly, “Do it for me. Do it for love.”

“There now. Was that so hard?”

Ginny looked up, her eyes ablaze and her fists clenched.

“Tell me,” asked Bob, “Why do you care about the mortals so much?”

“Why do you?” Ginny replied immediately, smiling slyly.

The Eldest God thought briefly and then gave an odd, quirky grin.

“Exactly!” declared Ginny. “Because no matter how predictable we might think they are…”

“…they still manage to surprise us. Yes, exactly.” He closed his eyes. “It is done, but not in the way you might expect. May I…”

“No, you may not. Return to your demi-goddess.” And Ginny walked back to the Old Priest & Rat Tavern, accompanied by a fully human James, and a fully centaurean Edward. Granny Ginny took the members of the Misfits and the Understudies to the Green Room, where she, Perry and Algebria briefed them on their newest assignments – in the Dwarven Kingdom.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for the return of Princess Shanunu and the Homunculoid Doppelgangers – performing soon at an Epic Tavern near you!

 

 

Chaos Theory is a Final Fantasy 14 Free Company on the Hyperion Server. Our mission is to provide a safe, friendly home free of elitism that provides its members a structure in which to participate in all Eorzea has to offer.

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