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Old 07-11-2003, 05:23 AM   #7
The Squatter of Amon Rdh
Spectre of Decay
 
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Sting

Vast oaken beams lost in the dim recesses of the moon-lit ceiling cast cage-like shadows across the mighty stone flags; and in the centre of the chamber two figures sat by a table engaged in a silent battle of will and wit. Both were heavily cloaked and hooded, so that only the occasional glint of an eye or snatch of murmured conversation betrayed that they lived at all. Otherwise they communicated solely through the movement of the pieces on the board between them.

There came a hollow rattling from one side of the table. The taller figure, behind whose chair a scythe had been propped nonchalantly against the wall, leaned forward and the noise ceased abruptly, plunging the chamber into complete silence. A dry, hollow voice, ancient and empty as a plundered barrow, scratched out from beneath the frayed hood; and thin fingers pushed at the markers on the table. Then the apparition spoke:

'It's the same bloody snake again! I hate this ruddy game! I told you I wanted to play noughts and crosses!'

'Look,' replied his opponent. 'I sank two of your caravels and your war galley in the last game, and the winner gets to choose what we play next. Anyway, you're only upset because you're losing.'

'I'll have you know that I am as patient as the grave itself,' said the thin man in a voice of parchment and cobwebs. 'I just don't like to play games using something called a die. It seems to mock the gravity of my position.'

'Look, Slim; you're never going to get over the anorexia and the fixation with agricultural implements if you can't get over the delusions of grandeur: a bad pipe-weed habit and a scythe do not an ultimate reality make. Besides, you scare the sword.'

He does not scare me! What scares me is the thought that you wagered me as well as yourself before you knew that he was a patient. Why did you of all people have to find me? I could have belonged to a king.

This third voice went unnoticed by the dubious Death, and would have by you as well had I not so considerately told you about it. Only the man from the folds of whose cloak it came could hear it, and he had tried extremely hard to join the ranks of those who could not. The voice was querulous, demanding, shrill or, as the addressed player put it "bloody annoying." There came a sound as of someone bashing something made of metal against something made of stone.

'Peace, my brand! Unless you want to be called Griper'

You wouldn't dare! No swordsman has given his trusty blade an insulting name in all the history of Muddled Mirth; apart from Eustace the Inept, and even he didn't do it on purpose.

'Watch me. You remember what happened to the last sword that cheeked the lord of Dun Sbrin.'

It's cheating if your girlfriend helps.

'Cheating or not, I don't see anyone claiming a rematch. Now shut up.'

Here Slim interjected:

'I thought youd stopped all that. I haven't seen you touch a drop in weeks, and the furniture polish has stopped disappearing.'

'Look, as Ive told you about a million times, 'tis my noble brand with which I converse. Sadly only I may hear the woven staves of its wisdom.'

'And they think I'm a nutter. Look, I may smoke my own socks and take a scythe to bed with me, but at least I don't go talking to it. I leave that up to real loonies like that fellow who thinks he can see hundreds of miles by looking into his bowling ball.'

'Are you going to move that piece or not?'

The mysterious speakers lapsed once more into brooding silence. Another rattle, and Lord Earnur Etceteron, for the second player was he, spake the following words of triumph:

'Yes! Up to the last row! Prepare to be thrashed!'

*****

The main courtyard of the House of Bettifordeth lay in sullen silence as the evening drew on. The remnants of confiscated alcohol, ranging from watery beer to distilled turnip juice flavoured with ether, had drained away and now only one bedraggled label remained. From it the monocled image of Captain Ishmael Strangereeks regarded the world with bleary benevolence.

The only movement in this renowned place of healing came from a churn in one corner, where a young apprentice apothecary was very enthusiastically failing to make butter. He sang as he worked, an ancient and very moving folk melody, recalled seldom in the legends of the Elder Days:

'I met a maid a-walking,
The two of us got talking
And soon we were a-walking
To a little place I know.

And as her look grew fonder,
A new plan I did ponder
And so my hands will wander
To a little place I know
'

Frustratingly for the casual listener, just as he was about to reach the really good bit the young man fell silent. From outside the gate he had caught the sound of hooves on cobbles and now there came the booming of the great iron knocker on the gate.

'You're not allowed in until morning!' he squeaked heroically.

The knocking came again, this time louder and more determined. A terrible fear sent shivers up and down his spine as an awful possibility dawned on him.

'You can play with our knockers for as long as you like! We dont accept Jehova's Witnesses here unless they've got very bad laryngitis!'

This time the gate shook on its hinges and dust fell from between the planks.

'That counts for any evangelical group, hawkers, circulars, emissaries of dark powers seeking magical objects and travelling stockbrokers. Wait until morning!'

The gate burst asunder. Splinters of wood and clouds of dust shot out across the entire courtyard, covering the hapless apprentice in debris. When he looked up it was to see a massive jet-black stallion filling most of the yard, and on its back a figure of nightmare. Black-cloaked it was and wearing a vast horned helm, the visor of which completely covered its face. Black boots and leggings clothed the riders legs and a huge war axe hung from the saddle behind him. The younger man cowered behind the churn, fear temporarily eclipsing the charms of both suspicious dairy produce and off-colour traditional music. Then, in a thunderous voice (imagine a hung-over Thor receiving a call from a telemarketer), the apparition spoke:

'Where is Lord Earnur Etceteron?'

The young man whimpered a little and ducked further behind his buttery cover and the horseman spoke again.

'He is here. Take me to him now or you will suffer all the torments that Ilvers-in-Slgin can afford!'

Trembling, the apprentice stood up and looked the other man squarely in the knee.

'What is your business with the Lord Etceteron? He is a patient here, and they may not be harmed, save by our own highly trained staff,' he announced in a defiant whisper.

'I've got a horse here for him,' answered the horseman. 'I just need someone to sign the receipt.'

*****

So it was that the mighty Pinkjin, named by the lord of Dun Sbrin many months before, came to his master, and many are the legends told of their mighty deeds. But greatest of these is the lay that is called Sillibugr or the Lay of Bricabrac. For Lord Etceteron rejoined his companions of old that they might cause the Ent that was Broken to be made whole; and that great tale begins after a word from our sponsors.

[A three-hour documentary about the manufacture of Strangereeks' Horse-Chestnut Brandy has been excised here. Its most notable features were its inaccuracy and failure to provide an adequate warning that the product causes instant blindness and sometimes epilepsy.]

Lord Etceteron puffed thoughtfully on his manly pipe as he cruised around the Motorless City, buying supplies but mainly showing off. He had already plundered the stalls of three herbalists and a blacksmith, and now, having visited his tailor, he was looking to find stabling for his new steed. The House of Bettifordeth had refused to keep any creature within its walls that could kick its way to freedom through their gates.

He arrived after a short time at Sethamirs Livery Stable and Glue Factory, fabled throughout Grundor for its four-farthing deal (in which one's money was scattered to the four farthings in numbered accounts). Struck by how shabby and run-down the stable appeared, he decided to see whether 'desperate' could be added to the list, so with this aim in mind he dismounted and walked inside, where someone else was already arguing. Someone, he noticed, who looked and sounded rather familiar. She was saying something about a wallet, and he drew the illogical conclusion.

'It is unwise, Sir, to rob maidens in ones place of business. Defend yourself!'

Wait, cant we talk about this for a while: Ive just been polished. No, really I cant, I cant stand the sight of blood! Stop!

So sang Earnurs great blade as he leapt blindly into the conversation brandishing his version of an incisive argument. Only a couple of hours on horseback and already he was on the path of errantry. It did somewhat put him off his stride, however, when from behind him his prospective rescuee greeted him with these great words of greeting:

'Oh, its you again! How are you?'

With such mighty words do great workings begin.

Last edited by The Squatter of Amon Rdh; 06-28-2004 at 08:02 AM.
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