Friday, December 29, 2006

MDS Ch. 3 - The plan hatched

In the hopes of fighting fear with knowledge and making the best of bad situations, it occurred to me to try to learn, from the princes and knights who seemed to be flooding my life, as much about this system as I could.

I must say, the more I considered the system, and the more I learned of it, the more foolish it seemed. For instance, if the prize for slaying a dragon was the princess’s hand in marriage, it was a prize that could go to one man and one man only. So under the system, it made sense only for a single man to attack a dragon. This was insane. Dragons are in nearly every way physically superior to men. In normal circumstances it would be logical to take them in groups of four or five. Men were needlessly dying for this system, not to mention the dragons.

The dragons are an interesting case, too, because their options are so limited. Unfortunately they need lots of food to live. If they take livestock, kingdoms get serious about hunting them down and their survival is unlikely. Hunting’s an option, but as a lifestyle it makes every day a struggle. The dragons have adapted to a lazier lifestyle, and see this as a reasonable system. They don’t hesitate to kill knights, because they know they’re there to kill them, and besides the knights who lose, who’s really getting hurt? And anyway, the animosity between humans and dragons, sparked by the seeming conspiracy of the monarchies to keep the politics secret from their people, makes it next to impossible for a dragon to get an honest job to pay for food. For the dragons, the choice is a lazy life of crime or a life of noble struggle.

It wasn’t unheard of, I found out, for one party or the other to actually give up and have their life spared, once they realized they were bested. Of course, there was the matter of the armor. Dragonhide armor, a not-so-charming young prince once informed me, was ‘one of the most amazing quasi-magical compounds known to man.’ Besides being virtually flameproof and insanely tough, dragonhide had one exceedingly bizarre quality that, among other things, protected it from theft. Only the one who slew the dragon from which it was made could wear it. On anyone else, it would turn brittle like shed snakeskin.

Dragonhide was a status symbol amongst knights, so they would sometimes try to kill a surrendered dragon for a piece of their hide. It just went to show you it wasn’t all about princesses.

“And it’s really a good thing,” I was telling Jarrod shortly after I found out, “Because I was starting to feel really guilty. Like people were dying for me and I was so ungrateful all I could think of was me. It’s all just really screwed up.”

"It really is," he replied.

We were quiet for a moment.

"Well, maybe I could rescue you."

I laughed. "Jarrod, have you ever seen a dragon?"

"Hey, I'm a good man in a fight."

"I'm flattered, but there's no way. Anyway, what makes you think I'm so hot on marrying you?"

Jarrod blushed.

"Maddy, I didn't mean-. I mean you didn't think I was saying-. I just, if it was me we wouldn't have to get married."

"Yes we would. My parents would see to it. That's the whole point. It's the system. I'm essentially promised to whomever can kill whichever giant lizard captures me. The only way I could get out is if... Well, maybe if I killed the dragon."

I laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but Jarrod seemed to take it seriously.

"Maddy, that's brilliant. Why not?" he asked.

"You're crazy," I said, "I could never -"

"I bet you could. One, you’ve got the element of surprise. The dragon would never expect an attack from within. Plus, shit, you've got immunity. A dragon can't hurt you without bringing down the wrath of a whole kingdom - without risk of tearing down the whole system. With enough planning, Maddy, you could do this. Free yourself from the whole thing."

"That's crazy, Jarrod. Maybe I'll just talk to my parents. Tell them how I feel."

"Fine," he replied, "You go talk to them and see where that gets you. I'm going to make a plan."

I left laughing, but also intrigued. Mainly I was just thinking dreamily about how dedicated Jarrod was to me, to come up with this whole silly plan.

The talk with my parents, as you’ve probably guessed, was like talking to a wall.

“But why don’t you want to get married?” my mother asked frantically.

“I’m not saying I don’t want to get married, I’m saying I don’t want to get married this way,” I tried to explain.

“Well what way do you want to do it, then? Have a bloody contest like the Eefratapi?” He paused. “Actually that wouldn’t be the worst idea. Bring a lot of money into the economy. Everybody loves a big tournament.”

“Don’t be stupid, Mylton,” my mother told him. She turned to me.

“This system worked for me. It worked for my mother. It’s worked for our family for generations. It works for the knights, and it even works for the dragons. I know it seems scary and frustrating to you, Maddy, but just try to think of it as the next chapter of your life. You’re going to marry a handsome young man and have a fine life.”

And that was the end of that. My parents were set in their ways, my suitors were many and varied and ridiculous, and my time was running out.

By and by as my stress level increased, I started to take Jarrod’s idea seriously. He, of course, had never directly mentioned it since that first time, but I knew, I knew he was working on it. He wanted to have it ready when I finally relented. I wanted to talk it out with someone else. My friends wouldn’t hear of it I was sure, and my parents were out of the question. That left Ariadne, the little brat.

“Madz, are you serious!? That’s crazy!”

“That’s exactly what I said when he suggested it. But honestly, he made some good points. It could really work.”

Ariadne thought a minute, picking up and studying my dolls as she thought.

“Well, what if he is right? What happens next?”

“Well, after I slay the dragon I win me. And that means I get to be my own person, and marry anybody I want.” I actually hadn’t thought about it, but when Ria called me on it I felt obligated to make something up in a hurry. Now that I had though, I liked my explanation. Whomever slays the dragon gets the girl, even if it is the girl. Makes perfect sense, I thought. Ria, apparently, thought differently.

“Do you really think Mom and Dad will see it that way?” she asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms.

“Well, what choice will they have?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. She was certainly turning into a teenager early.

“They could get angry, Madz. They might do something really bad.”

I smiled. “Why should they get angry,” I asked, “They never said I couldn’t slay a dragon.”

Ariadne did not think this was as funny as I’d hoped.

“Be careful, big sis,” she said, and walked out.

Obnoxious and pretentious as she was, she was almost certainly right. Even if I pulled this off there was no guarantee it would work out the way I wanted it to. Nonetheless, I was leaning more and more towards it as an option, and the scare I needed to push me into it came the next night.

Horizon was having a little get-together at her kingdom. It was really an excuse to get to know Prince Ryan a little better, but she invited the three of us (Bri, Jenny, and I) to allay suspicion. She also invited Prince Steven, for which I currently hated her. Anyway, much to Horizon’s chagrin, the two princes were chatting politics at the castle while us girls played some croquet on the lawn.

“How do you think it’s going?” Rizzy asked.

“He’s totally into you,” I said, rightly enough.

“But you knew that,” said Bri, “It’s your parents that are the problem.”

“I can worry bout that later,” she said, “After all, I don’t have a big scaly ticking time bomb to worry ‘bout.”

At just that moment, as if summoned by her words, a huge red form streaked toward us. We all knew what it was. I screamed. Jenny ducked. Horizon voiced an expletive.

Bri ran at the dragon, screaming, “Take me, take me!”

And it did. Well eventually. First it stopped and surveyed the scene. Then it asked, in a deep throaty voice, “Princess Briana of Sesiquill?”

She nodded fearfully. It nodded back, then produced a tiny card from between two scales and gave it to me, of all people.

“See that this gets to her parents,” it said, then picked up Bri and took off. She looked positively ecstatic.

The rest of us were a bit shaken. The party was broken up immediately, the card was sent to Sesiquill with the fastest messenger in the kingdom, and we all went home to our respective parents.

I was horrified by the sheer size of it. Dragons were the sorts of creatures you could hear about your whole life, but never be prepared to see, up close and personal. The sheen of the scales, the deep gravelly voice, the unhumanity of it. On the one hand, Jarrod’s plan seemed more impossible than ever. On the other hand, it seemed essential. After three or four days in bed recovering from the shock of it, (time that would have been mandated by my parents even if I hadn’t needed it) I went to see Jarrod.

“So tell me about the plan.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Willy the Walrus Saved Christmas

Read this first. The sequel will certianly not be as good as the original.

It had been two uneventful years since Willy the Walrus had discovered the true meaning of Christmas, but Willy still loved Christmas and the Christmas spirit more than any other Walrus. One Christmas Eve, while he was leading the Walrus choir in a rendition of some Christmas Carols,
a man dressed all in black showed up.
"Hi man dressed all in black," said Willy, "Merry Christmas Eve."
"This the North Pole?" asked the man, who had a sniper rifle slung across his back.
"No, silly," said Willy, "This is eastern Siberia. The north pole is north of here."
"Thanks," said the man, and walked off.
"Willy!" said Wesley the Walrus, one of the basses in the walrus choir, "I think that man was an assassin. He was probably headed to the north pole to kill Santa. You have to go SAVE CHRISTMAS!"
And so he did. Willy walked for a long time following the tracks of the man in black, but people are just faster than walruses. He knew he'd never make it on his own. That was when he saw the eskimo from the last story.
"Eskimo! Will you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
But the Eskimo still didn't speak Walrus or celebrate Christmas, so he lobbed his spear at Willy. Luckily, Willy dodged again. Willy noticed that Eskimo was not a politically correct term, and thought that perhaps that was why the Inuit man kept lobbing spears at him, so he tried another tactic.
"Inuit! Will you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
At this, the man put down his spear and ran to Willy.
"Foolish Walrus!" he said, forgetting temporarily that he didn't speak the language, "Inuit refers to native peoples of Canada, northern Alaska, and Greenland! The native inhabitants of western Alaska, Russia, and Siberia are called Yupik and do not objeect to the term Eskimo, often using it to refer to ourselves!"
"I'm sorry, Eskimo," said Willy, "I didn't know."
"Well now you do."
"But can you help me get to the north pole and save Christmas?" asked Willy.
'But I don't celebrate Christmas, and I frequently hunt Walruses for food."
"Oh," said Willy, and moved on.
But the eskimo was moved by what was definitely not Christmas spirit but was nonetheless nice and decided to take Willy to the north pole on his dog sled.
At the North Pole, Willy thanked the Eskimo for the ride and got out. He was amazed by the beauty of Santa's workshop and the sight of so many happy elves.
"Happy Elves," he said, "Has a man in black come through here? I think he might be coming to kill Santa!"
"Oh no!" said the elves "He came through before you did!"
Willy wasted no time, moving as fast as he could to get to Santa. When he got there he saw the man in black take out the rifle and point it at Santa.
"NOOOOOOOO!" he yelled, but he couldn't make it there in time.
"Thank you Rufus," Santa said to the man as he put the rifle down, "This sniper rifle will make some little boy very happy. By delivering it to me in time, you've SAVED CHRISTMAS."
"Well, don't thank me," said Rufus, "This little Walrus told me how to get here."
"Well, little Walrus," said Santa, "You've SAVED CHRISTMAS too. Sort of."
And so Willy saved Christmas sort of. Or at least learned the true meaning of Christmas. Again. Or learned a valuable lesson about political correctness and the value of education, if nothing else. The End.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

MDS Ch. 2 - Awaiting the Other Shoe

Thanks to my parents, I spent the next few weeks in constant dread. Every time I went outside or got near a window, I found myself cringing or searching the sky for dragons. My sister caught on eventually, and she started orchestrating escalatingly complex schemes to freak me out. By six weeks after my birthday, my mood could only be described as high-strung.

When I wasn’t freaking out about the whole dragon angle, I was getting considerably more spooked by the whole husband angle. Mother had begun trying to set me up with various promising princes and knights, and it was awful. We had nothing whatsoever to talk about. I remember one time, I was invited to spend the night in a nearby castle to get better acquainted with the kingdom’s sole heir, Prince Steven.

I arrived that night, scared to death. Normally I would talk my apprehensions out with Jarrod, but for some reason I felt like this was a topic I didn’t want to share with him. My mother had assured me we would be a “superb match,” but I didn’t share her enthusiasm. For one thing, he was two years my senior. For another at the few functions we had attended he had either ignored or teased me so I didn’t know what to expect. I gathered that this was not entirely parent orchestrated – that he had expressed an interest in seeing me.

I arrived in the castle and, after an awkward chat with some servants and about 15 minutes of waiting, he arrived, down the stairs in a horrifyingly regal outfit. I myself was dressed modestly, forbidden to dress down anymore and frightened to dress up anymore.

“Madison,” he said, “How long has it been?”

I wracked my brain. “Three years?”

“Too long. I meant to attend your little celebration a few weeks ago, but there were affairs of state.” He flicked his hand at the air, as if dispelling any affairs of state that might still be hanging around. “Anyway, consider this an apology. I’ve arranged for a fantastic dinner. Are you hungry?”

I had been, but now I was mostly just horrified and amused by Steven’s incredible pretentiousness.

“Starving,” I lied and flashed him a smile. That was probably a mistake.

Over dinner, my fears of us having nothing to talk about were assuaged. I had mistakenly imagined I would be given the opportunity to talk. Steven, however, was perfectly happy to do all the talking himself. Eventually I tuned him out. I noticed a sudden break in his monologue and returned to reality to find him staring into my eyes.

Not having been following the monologue I wasn’t sure what I could say to break the creepy spell, but luckily Steven solved the problem for me.

“Tim was right. You have become very beautiful.”

I wanted to laugh. His cheesiness, his pretension, it was ridiculous – as if by getting his servants to set up the right environment and learning the right script, he could simply sweep me off my feet. Tim! Prince Timothy had been at my party. I could see it now, the guys sitting around the fire, shooting the breeze. “So how was that party, Tim?” “It was OK, some hot chicks there.” “It’s the same old princesses right?” “Yeah, but some of them are growing up and filling out. You should have seen the birthday girl, herself.”

I shook my head. I had dressed up so much that day. He must have been disappointed to see me walk in looking like this. But evidently he decided to go through with it anyway.

“Thanks,” I said, “You’re very kind.”

I had an epiphany at that moment. All the awkward and scared would go away, I realized, as long as I kept the humor of the whole thing in my mind. From then on I treated all my “dates” as a big joke. I didn’t laugh outwardly, but I laughed inwardly and delighted in telling Bri, Horizon, and Jenny all about it afterwards.

Bri, predictably enough, was condescending.

“Madison,” she said once, “When are you going to start taking yourself seriously as a future monarch? You should be really looking for a husband, instead of finding ways to make fun of every boy who expresses an interest. I’d die for as many offers as you get.”

Bri considered me to be prettier than her and she wouldn’t let it go. She was very worried about the slim offerings and was currently trying to get herself captured by a dragon. However, her kingdom was not exceptionally wealthy; in fact there were rumors that there was hardly any money in their treasury at all. Evidently the local dragons had heard the rumors. I knew that the differences in the size of our treasury were also of more interest to the princes than the discrepancy in our appearances.

“But they’re all so ridiculous. I’m 16. I don’t want to get married!”

“Except to a stable boy,” mumbled Jenny.

“At least I can talk to him. At least he sees something in me besides a bag of gold with breasts!”

“These princes aren’t all so bad,” said Horizon, “There’s at least one makes me wish I was in this game.” Horizon’s case was a little different than ours. In her kingdom, the hand of the princess was won in a tournament of strength that would be held on her 17th birthday. If a dragon kidnapped her, it didn’t necessarily mean anything for her marital status. And if she flirted with a prince, it was just that- flirting.

“You’ve got your eye on somebody Rizzy?” I asked.


“Oh, who is it?” I asked.

“Not that it matters, but do dish,” said Bri.

“Actually, I’ve been doing some reading, and political unions aren’t unheard of in Eefratap,” said Jenny. “There’s historical precedent.”

Horizon raised her eyebrows at this. We all looked at her expectantly.

“Prince Ryan, from Huggria. His family was at our castle for some kind of trade agreement or something and we, uh, well…”

“Snuck off for a bit?” scoffed Bri.

“You could say that,” she said, giggling. And that was all we could get out of her. That was how it was – I had my Jarrod, though Rizzy and Bri thought me silly, Rizzy had her Ryan, Bri frantically tried to attract a royal eye, and Jenny just didn’t seem to care. If asked, she’d simply say “Oh, I’m sure someone will find a man for me somehow.” It was almost sad, how resigned she was about the whole thing. On the other hand, she wasn’t having a heart attack every time her sister made a growling noise.

Things with Jarrod had been slowly returning to something like normal. At my birthday party he had decided to become my suitor as well as my friend, but once he realized that it was distancing us, he toned it down. It was good, I needed a Jarrod I could talk to and count on. Eventually he found out about the suitors. One day my mother insisted I entertain a young man (I can’t even remember who) and the man was rather insistent we go riding. (He’d heard I was fond of it and was trying to cater to my interests. This is ironic because I’m really not too crazy about riding. I did it a lot because it gave me an excuse to see Jarrod.)

Anyway, we did go riding together and Jarrod was there, being all servanty and it was awkward. That night I went to see him.

“Oh,” he said when I walked in, “Hi Madison. I was just cleaning up and getting ready to head home.”

“Oh,” I said.

There was a pregnant pause.

“So who was your friend today?”

“Just somebody,” I said. “My mother basically set it up.”

“Of course.”

“She’s actually done it several times now. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it.”

“You sweet on one of those princes?” he asked, as if he didn’t much care.

“No, Jarrod, I’m not sweet on them,” I said hotly. “I have to see them and be courted by them. It’s not something I’d choose.”

“So why keep it from me?” he snapped back.

“I don’t know, because I figured you’d be like this?”

“Good job,” he said dryly, “You’re like a prophet or something. I’m going home.”

In spite of myself I started to sob.

“Jarrod!” I cried as he stepped through the doorframe. “Don’t do this. I need you to be here for me now. I hate all this boy stuff. Don’t be part of it, please. I couldn’t handle that.”

He came back over and held me in his arms. It was the hug of a friend, but it was something more and we both knew it. I told him everything, the suitors, the dragon, the whole bit and from then on he was a close friend again. I was sort of jogging my brain for a way Jarrod and I could be together, but it seemed impossible. Looking back, I guess I liked him as an idea more than as an actual potential. I could compare the princes I dated and the knights I had occasion to meet to Jarrod, and then feel justified in disparaging them.

A few weeks after my party I received an invitation to the wedding of Princess Opal and the knight who’d rescued her. We all went and had a grand time, but watching the two of them unnerved me. There was excitement and happiness, but nothing of love. They both seemed to be playing a part. Horizon and I caught up with Opal in the washroom. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, honey?” asked Rizzy.

“I just… I don’t even know him. He killed that dragon and rescued me and it was exciting and then he asked for my hand and of course I said yes and it seemed like it would all work out, but… What if he’s stupid, or he doesn’t want kids, or he wants too many kids! What if - ”

“There, there,” we said, and convinced her she was just getting cold feet and being an apprehensive bride, but I was shaken. I had been holding onto the dragon method as a hope – that the knights would be altogether a better batch then the princes, but Opal had called this into question. After all, why should they be? Why should the ability to kill things make one a good husband? I was beginning to realize that there was no answer to a question like that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

MDS Ch. 1 - A birthday party

(Posted two in a row, so please scroll down and read the intro first)

I suppose it has to come out sooner or later, but my least favorite part of telling this story is revealing that I used to be a princess. I won’t say the name of my kingdom here because I know how much of an embarrassment I am to them, but it was a small but prosperous kingdom in the lower Gribt, a successful agricultural nation. My mother, Queen Kathleen, was (and perhaps still is – I have not been back there so I can’t say) a strong, intense woman. She basically governed the kingdom, with the help of father’s advisors, while my father was out. He, King Mylton, was a lover of all kinds of sport. Falconry, Archery, Tournaments, Hunting, all kinds of entertainment. It kept him away from his other favorite thing – war, so his kingdom encouraged him.
Mylton always wanted a son to share the fun with (needless to say these were not proper activities for girls), so, though he tried not to show it, he was disappointed when I was born, and heartbroken when Ariadne was born two years later. He took out his frustrations by sporting even more, so life for us was mostly life with our mother.
From her we learned to be young ladies – to read and write, to play something (I picked up the lute. Don’t even ask me to play, you’ll wish you hadn’t), to knit- need I go on? Looking back, it was hardly a life. But at the time, I thought I had it pretty good. Though I was discouraged from mingling with the common folk, we did go into town occasionally go into town to spend our allowance on silly things in the shops. We got a stipend of gold a week, theoretically to learn how to handle money responsibly. This, I later learned, was ridiculous. No one in my family handled money responsibly. They were royalty.
But to my sweet 16. The guest list was exactly what I’d expect – not a name on it that didn’t began with Princess or Prince. It was mostly Princess, Mother had not yet began to introduce me to young men yet, and most princes did not bother themselves with girls’ parties. I knew dimly that this was all about to change, that at sixteen I would be a woman and marriageable, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was excited to see my “friends” and to be the center of attention. Extra fools would be hired to entertain, a fine feast would be served, we would ride horses and play games! I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.
There is one incident I must relate before we come to the day of the party that this chapter is ostensibly about. My mother, more as part of my ladyship training then out of respect for me, was making me come along to attend to every detail of planning the party. So she had me help come up with the guest list. We went through Princess this and Princess that until we came up with a good list, but there was one name missing: Jarrod.
Jarrod was, perhaps, my only real friend. He was the stable boy who took care of my pony, Precious. We had known each other since we were perhaps 9 and 11, respectively, exchanging friendly smiles and meaningless conversation as he helped me onto Precious or showed me how to brush her, to saddle and unsaddle her. One rainy day, while bored, I had snuck down to the stables to see Jarrod and spent most of the day with him, talking and playing. My parents were (or rather my mother was) sick with worry, and Mother forbade me to see him again. However, my father was in a jolly mood. (Jolly was one of his two moods. You’ll hear about the other one later.) He’d always liked Jarrod, the son of his favorite horse groomer, and said that I needed a friend around the kingdom and that I should be allowed to see him, as long as it was seen to that we both remembered our places. Mother, having been vetoed, rolled her eyes but went along.
I liked Jarrod, even fancied, as young girls do, that I loved him, because he was my link to the real world. He met real people and saw real places. He had adventures. He would bring me things I could never buy in the shops, because I was only allowed to visit the fanciest shops and, warned of my approach by trumpets, they put out for me a special store of fancy things.
So I told my mother I wanted Jerrod formally invited to my 16th birthday party.
“Dearest,” she said, “We have a separate list for which servants will be working at the party. You can put that boy on that list.”
“NO!” I shouted, “I want him to be a guest! He’s a dear, close friend.”
“Maddy, dearest,” she said, patronizingly as always, “Think about this from his perspective. Will he really want to be a guest at a party full of his betters? Think what would happen if, taken by one of your beautiful friends and emboldened by his position as invited guest, he tried to make an advance on her. Your boy could lose his head for that. And think what people will say! And of course no one at the party will talk to him.”
She was right of course, and, being able to come up with no better course of action, I cried. I ran to Jarrod and told him all about it between sobs.
“Maddy,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders and looking in my eyes, “Of course she’s right. But don’t feel so bad. I wouldn’t ever want to be royalty, one of those princes or knights, having to marry whoever was the richest, trapped in a castle like you. For me, this is a good life. And like Her Majesty said, I can still come to your party. Make sure you spend at least a little while at the stables. I’ve got a present for you.”
“What is it!?” I exclaimed, forgetting my former anguish.
“I’m not telling.”
“Give it to me now!”
“Then how will I ever get you to come see me at the stables?”
In this way he distracted me and made it all better. Jarrod had a knack for that. In any event, I did not find out anything about my present and, little by little, the day finally approached.

“Madz! Wake up! You’re 16!”
It was Ariadne, my little sister. Ria didn’t think much of sleeping and sruggled to do as little as possible. I was pleasantly surprised to roll over and see that it was actually light out.
“And you waited til I’d been 16 for a whole 4 hours to tell me?” I asked jokingly. “You’re slipping, Ria.”
“Think of it as my present to you.” She smiled one of those sickeningly adorable little kid smiles.
“If this is all I’m getting, I think I should get to sleep another two hours.”
“Two hours!?!” Ria whined, “But your party’s in, like, like –“
“14 hours?” I finished for her.
“Yeah, and we have so much to do!”
“You mean we have so much to watch servants do. Come back in another 4 hours, Ria.”
Ria folded her arms dramatically and sat down on my bed. A minute later she tried a different tactic.
“I bet if Jarrod were waking you up you’d get up.”
I rolled my eyes. “I bet if Jarrod were anywhere near my bedroom he’d be beheaded, especially now that I’m 16.”
Ria just smiled.
“You’re 16!” she replied, as if this were completely revolutionary news.
Now it was my turn to smile, at my adorable little sister, who, I reasoned, was very likely not going to let me sleep. As the day wore on, I went through all the necessary and proper hostess steps. I did a final check of the RSVP list and a roll call of the servant list. I tasted the food. I inspected the decorations. I saved one errand for last, however, and I knew it. So when I finally said, “Well, mother, is there anything else we need to do?” it was she who would have to bring it up, to tell me to do it.
Well,” she finally said, “Just nip down to the stables and make sure everything is in order for your guests there.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied smugly, and made to run off.
“Madison!” She stopped me in my tracks.
“What must you check at the stables?”
I rolled my eyes and rattled off the list.
“See that they’re clean and presentable, see that the horses are rested and ready to be saddled, see that the staff know what to expect and how to handle any situations.”
I racked my brain searching for that last detail.
“See that stalls are prepared for visitors’ horses?” I tried.
“Don’t waste too much time with that boy.
Of course. I, perhaps predictably, rolled my eyes again and took off. Hearing my mother’s call of “A lady never runs” I slowed to a dainty saunter.
I was wearing my favorite dress, a gorgeous yellow thing with little flowers and a neckline I considered to be just on the border of good taste. My hair was done up, but with a substantial amount of wavy blonde hair still coming down across my back and shoulders (like most of the princesses of the day, I had quite a bit of hair). Though I never considered myself beautiful, I was feeling quite pleased with my appearance on that special day. It wasn’t just that I was dressing up for the party, or even for Jarred (though I did enjoy thinking of him, and his possible reactions, as I prepared). Mainly, I was dressing up for myself. I was 16, an adult, and I wanted to feel like an adult.
I did get some reaction out of Jarrod when I stepped lightly into the stables. He looked me up and down, smiled, and said something like:
“Wow, you clean up nice, kid.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” I replied coyly, and it was true. Jarrod had washed his normally disheveled hair and put some kind of grease in it. He was wearing surprisingly clean and neat clothes, though his hide vest still had its ever-present stains. In fact…
“New shirt?” I asked.
“No big deal. The old one was getting ratty,” he replied, but I knew the truth. He had bought a new shirt for me, for the party. Granted it was a small enough thing, but I fancied at the time it meant much more.
"So…” I began. I was nervous, which was silly. Jarrod was a childhood friend – we had known each other for years and frequently (though not as much of late) spent time alone together. But today, dolled up as I was and feeling all of a sudden like an adult, and he in his new shirt, things felt different.
“So?” he asked.
“So, I’m supposed to make sure everything’s ready here. For the party.”
“Well,” he gestured at the room in general “I ain’t stoppin’ ya.”
I looked around and, of course, everything looked great. My specific mental checklist had long since slipped my mind, of course.
“It all looks good,” I said distractedly.
“Then I guess you’re done here.”
I refocused and looked at Jarrod, smiling.
“But I’m done everywhere else, too. I came here last. Can I have my present now?"
“You’ll get it at your party.”
“But right now we’re alone.”
Jarrod raised an eyebrow.
“What did you think I was getting you?” he asked rhetorically.
I said nothing, defenseless against his completely deserved implied jab.
“Game of cards?” he asked, producing a well-worn deck from his trouser pocket.
“I can’t sit down in here in this dress,” I said. “Let’s go inside.”
The card game came and went uneventfully, and finally the party began. I happily greeted my friends, and those girls who were not friends but courtesy demanded I invite. And so it came to be that I was sitting with my three closest friends, listening to a particularly bad bard sing a ballad about a girl who sold vegetables. It was less than compelling so we resorted to our standard form of self-entertainment – gossip.
“So Maddy,” asked Bri, a tough-looking brunette who had already been 16 for 6 months, “Did Opal RSVP? I noticed she isn’t here.”
Before I could answer, Horizon , a dark-skinned girl from one of the southern tribal kingdoms, cut in.
“I heard that Opal been kidnapped by one of them dragons!”
We all gasped except for Bri. We all knew that it was something that happened to princesses but, young as we all were, we didn’t really know the specifics. Bri, however, knew everything.
“I’d heard that too, Rizzy,” she said, “That’s why I asked Maddy. I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said.
“You know how I meant it.”
We laughed.
“I got a note back from Opal’s mother. It was really very vague.”
“I hope she’s O.K.,” mumbled Jenny. Jenny was “the quiet one” in our little foursome. She was small and quite striking with her ringlets of red hair.
“Oh, she be fine,” said Rizzy, “You know that dragon stuff all politics these days. Don’t nobody ever get eaten.”
“I heard of a princess in Winnaemek who got eaten,” said Bri.
“Ain’t no such thing,” snapped Horizon.
I knew I had to act quickly defuse the situation.
“This bard is so lame,” I said to the girls, “Fancy a quick ride before dinner?”
“I thought were going riding in the evening,” said Jenny.
“Well, everybody is, but I thought we could sneak off just the four of us for a quick trot.”
“And so you can see your boy-toy?” asked Rizzy.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I had quite the schoolgirl crush on Jarrod, and that I, in typical teenage fashion, blurted it out to every girl I knew. They all thought I was a little crazy.
“How about we go talk to some of those yummy princes instead?” asked Bri, gesturing at a nearby table, “They must like you if they came to your party, and they look pretty hot. Plus they actually have, you know, prospects.”
“And they’re probably dreadfully dull! I’d rather go to the stables.”
“Maddy, when you gonna get real, girl?” asked Rizzy, “You and that stable boy ain’t gonna happen. Yo momma won’t let it.”
I was upset, but I let them talk me into talking to the princes. They were even duller than I’d expected. And then of course there was dinner, so it wasn’t until nearly sun down that I, with my entire party, made it to the stables.
Of course, surrounded by my friends and my mother, Jarrod didn’t act like anything more than a servant. But after the ride, as he offered his hand to help me off of Precious, he winked at me, and when I took it, he pressed into my hand something small and metal. I kept it closed in my hand. While we walked back to the main castle, and it wasn’t until I went into the washroom that I had a chance to examine my gift.
I don’t remember any of the lavish and extravagant gifts I got that night, but I’ll never forget the pewter pendant Jarrod pressed into my hand. It was the shape of a jumping horse and it was on a silver chain. I replaced the diamond necklace I was wearing with the horse-pendant, and didn’t take it off for some time after that.
That night, or perhaps even the next morning, technically, after all the guests had gone home, I was startled to see my father the king, with my mother by his side.
“Madison,” said King Mylton, obviously uncomfortable, “We need to have a talk.”
“O.K.,” I said, “Let’s talk.”
Father cleared his throat and looked at Mother uncertainly.
“Perhaps, we should sit down,” he said.
We sat.
“Maddy,” he began, “You’re getting older. Your body has been changing, you’ve been handling more challenging responsibilities- in short, you’re becoming a young woman. A couple of things are going to happen, and they might be scary.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My mother had given me this talk three years ago. Was Father so oblivious that he didn’t even know?
“For one thing, boys, if they haven’t already, will start to take an interest in you. Be discerning. If they’re wealthy and have a lot to offer, those are the boys you should try to attract. Save everything you have to give, of course, but if you’re going to give it, give it to a wealthy boy.”
“Mylton!” said my mother.
“What your father is trying to say is that you need to start thinking about marriage, and that it’s just possible it will come in the form of a proposal. If that happens, we will support whomever you decide to be with, of course.”
“As long as he’s not a pauper or something,” Father cut in.
“Why did you say it’s just possible it’ll be a proposal?” I asked anxiously, “What else is there?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“A dragon, dear,” said my mother.
“A dragon!?” I asked incredulously.
“Tell her the story, dear,” said my mother.
“You see,” my father jumped in, “A long time ago, when the dragons first migrated to human lands, they captured and ate people at random. It was a terrible scary time and many people and dragons died. So sooner or later the dragons realized that by capturing one important person and asking for a ransom, they could get gold which they could use to buy all kinds of extravagant meat, which tasted much better than humans – lamb, lobster, whatever they desired. Princesses came to be the desired kidnappee – rich but largely defenseless, and always beloved by their kingdom.
So it went for a long while that dragons captured a princess whenever they needed gold and exhorted some poor King. Until one day, a great man named Sir John decided to put a stop to it. He trained and trained and researched all there was to know about dragons at the great library, and became a dragon-slayer. And the next time a dragon kidnapped a princess, Sir John killed the dragon, claimed it’s gold for the kingdom and returned the girl home safely. Of course the King rushed to get the two married, and that’s how the whole thing began.”
I stared at him, open-mouthed.
“What whole thing?”
“Well, the system. You see the way it works today is that some time after a princess’s 16th birthday, a local dragon kidnaps her and leaves a calling card of some kind with his or her location. Then knights from around the kingdom try to rescue her. The dragon allows three rescue attempts before he (or she) eats the girl.”
I was about to cry.
“Oh, but you see if three knights fail, the girl’s father always pays the ransom, which is usually quite modest. The girl never gets eaten. Modern dragons don’t even like the taste of humans. They’d much rather have the cash.”
“Sometimes the more preservation-minded and wealthy knights just front the ransom themselves instead of actually slaying the dragon,” my mother pointed out, “But the end result is the same. Everyone gets a chance to win. The knights get a chance at a beautiful wife and a chunk of a kingdom, you get a strong, brave husband, we get you married off, and the dragon gets some cash if he survives the whole thing.”
“Wait, what if you have to pay the ransom? Then do I get to find a husband the normal way?”
"Well maybe,” said my father, “But not always. Your mother was captured three times before I finally managed to rescue her.”
“He paid the dragon off,” she said.
“I did not!”
I was mortified, astonished, and depressed. How had I not known about this system. I mean, I always heard when a princess got carried off but it was always a tense, dangerous situation.
“Why doesn’t everyone know? Is it a big secret?”
“It’s better for everyone this way,” said the king. “The dragons and knights all seem tougher to the common people. Makes life seem a little more exciting.”
I was unconvinced. And still terrified. Not to mention tired from an exhausting day.
“I’m going to bed,” I said, and left without waiting for a response. As I lay waiting for sleep to come I turned Jarrod’s pendant around in my hand.
‘He’ll rescue me,’ I thought, ‘If it ever comes to that.’

Madison Dragonslayer Introduction

My name is Madison Dragonslayer. No, it’s not a family name; it’s a chosen one. I slay dragons. I wear dragonhide armor and ride through the country looking for damsels in distress to save. Yes, I’m in it to save the princesses and, no, before you ask, I’m not a lesbian.
I slay dragons, I slaughter those majestic beasts, for a far nobler purpose then those pompous, moronic knights who share my profession could ever dream of, and every dragon I get to before them is a victory for womankind – even if most of womankind’s too dumb to get it.
But you, dear reader, are probably wondering a lot of things. I’m hardly starting at the beginning. Instead, I thought to let you meet me the way most people do; first by gawking at a tall, blonde 19-year-old girl in dragonhide armor, and then by asking stupid questions.
“Is that real dragonhide?” “Why do you slay dragons if you’re a woman?” “Are you a lesbian?”
I used to punch them and carry on, but a friend of mine once told me that the only way to really make a difference is to make sure everyone knows why I do what I do. So know I sit them down and tell them a story, the very story I’m writing now for all of you. Some of the women who’ve dedicated themselves to spreading word of my works have asked that I scribe something and I figured, I might as well put a skill to use.
You might have noticed that I didn’t say an attractive tall blonde, or a stunning or gorgeous tall blonde up there. I’m sorry to disappoint male readers, but I am not. I’m plain, maybe cute on good days. There have been many men who once claimed me beautiful to get at my money, and a few who think me beautiful because I live dangerously and wear tight armor (dragonhide clings to the skin, there’s nothing I can do about it), but the day I find a man who thinks me beautiful for me… Well that day isn’t coming.
But anyway, it was likely not for my ranting that you picked up this tome. It was most probably to hear my story, so it is with my story that I’ll proceed. The story begins, appropriately enough, with my sweet 16.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The State of the Blog

I have been maintaining this blog for more than three years. In that time, I have not finished the story I began in my first post. Also, looking back, I don't see a huge trend of improvement in my writing, and I think the reason is that I've blown this thing off way too much. I can have a blog that I just write in sporadically whenever I feel like it, but if I do I can't realistically expect anyone, even my close friends and relatives, to read it. So from now on (and many of you will recall this is far from the first time I've made this promise) I will take on a regular update schedule. I will begin by posting every Friday.
Now like I said I've tried this before and failed, but here's why I think I'm going to succeed:
A) I've learned from NaNoWriMo. I love it and admire those who do it, but it doesn't work for me. A month of concentrated novelling is not for me. I have so far failed twice. But frequently updating a story on a regular basis has worked for me in the past.
B) I still have those unfinished novels. I will start posting them in pieces on weeks when I don't find time for original writing. So even if I have a week so busy I have no time to write anything, I have at least a few months of backlog. If this goes well, I will try to move up to twice a week. (One step at a time, people.)
[A quick note on the above: My latest NaNoWriMo is about Madison Dragonslayer, who is also a character in the Mortimer story. However, in the process of writing MD I have rewritten some of her history and she may well end up being a very different character than the one Mortimer met. I'm not yet sure how to deal with this. I may "decanonize" "Mortimer meets a Maiden" or "retcon" it (two things I've always wanted to do) or I may just ask you all to accept that the stories won't line up neatly.]
Finally, I have something to ask of you, my loyal readers:
Please comment. Whenever you possibly can, let me know you're reading and give me intelligent feedback, or just say how you feel about the characters and what's happening to them.
Just for fun, since this is your post for this Friday, timetables on the stories:
TNT: I foresee between 100 and 120 chapters at the story's end. I actually know and have known for some time what happens and how this one ends, though there are plenty of loose ends floating around in the middle.
Mortimer: I don't even think of Mortimer as a story in bits, an eventual novel. I see it more like a comic ot TV Show. There are serial elements but mainly it's the continuing adventures of Mortimer and each installment should be at least a little bit a story in and of itself. As such, it has no timetable.
NaNoWriMo 1: This story is not on this computer. But I'm 90% sure it's on a computer somewhere or in an e-mail box and somehow I'll dig it up. I can't really remember the final word count, but there's a good chunk of it already and I think I won't have too much trouble writing more. It's a silly sci-fi story in the style of Hitchhiker's Guide.
NaNoWriMo 2 (MD): Part I of the three part story is done, and this one I'll be working on as I post it. So I see this as closer to completion than anything else.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mortimer and Melvin

Mortimer was all too happy to leave the subways and enter into the sunny Higgansnorgian streets. The weak but hardy winter sunlight streamed between buildings, and the faint odor of filth and oddly enticing sausages filled his nostrils. He walked through the seedy part of town and into the moderately seedy part, then climbed a fire escape and went through a little door with no handle. Melvin's lab had only a back door, it kept most visitors away. Melvin also didn't answer when you knocked - anyone who knew him to knew to come right in, and no one caught him off guard. One or more of his inventions saw to that.
This was the man who had designed the system for demolishing the tunnels. He was the ultimate problem-solver - the crown called on him to do only the impossible. He was Melvin Lima Bean, Mortimer's dear brother.
"Morty! Hey!" came the voice from under a large watermelon-shaped steel contraption, "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"
"Can't a man drop by to see his brother without an excuse?"
Melvin popped his head out to reveal grease stains on his face.
"A man can, but you don't. And anyway, I heard you're taking vacation time, which is very not you. Something's wrong."
"It's not so much a vacation as a special assignment. But you're right, I do need your help. But it's something you already invented."
"Well all my official inventions are at the palace, at your disposal," said Melvin with a wry smile, "You don't need me for that."
"This was one of your pet projects once. Do you remember when we were 11 and we visited the Mindor Shrine?"
"Dad gave that speech about how we should never visit the place for any reason-" Melvin reminisced.
"-And you said you were going to find a way to get into Hell from the Mindor Shrine without sacrificing any blood or souls."
"Did I?" asked Melvin.
Mortimer knew he was playing games, but he also knew the only way to get what he wanted was to play right along.
"You did."
"Maybe I did. But you don't honestly believe I actually did it, do you? I was 11, it was silly."
He looked right in Mortimer's eyes and Mortimer looked back like a mirror. It was poker without cards, until finally Melvin broke.
"I've been dying to show this to someone! Come on back!"
He was giddy as a schoolboy now. Mortimer knew his twin brother's mind, and he knew that when Melvin found a problem, particularly one with no solution, it stayed in his head, eating away at him until he solved it. These were his "pet projects." He worked on them for years if need be, but he always got them done. It was of no surprise to Mortimer that one of these projects was breaking into hell.
"So the gateway is basically just a dimensional portal into hell - simple magic really - with a permanency spell of course and, here's the key, insanely advanced protective spells. Anyway, I assumed that if there were a magic-based way to dispel or bypass it it would have been done a long time ago. Anyway, magic isn't my thing. So I read everything that's been written on the subject to figure out what the specific requirements were- the magic source code - and I came across an idea. The soul-sacrificing method is accomplished by slitting open your hand and letting a decent amount of your blood sink through the sand. When the blood arrives in hell, it's used in a spell that kicks in to summon your soul as soon as you die. People have tried to use other people's blood or animal blood, of course, and it doesn't work. Obviously it's keyed so that only your own blood will work. So then I thought-"
"Melvin, can you do it?"
Melvin paused. They had reached a door.
"Oh yeah." He opened the door into a room that looked more or less the same as the rest of the workshop, then led him to a table with a microscope on it.
"The key is the blood- I've been working with my own so this should work with yours. Just because it has to be your blood doesn't mean it has to be unaltered. So what I eventually designed was a nonmagical chemical that would very slowly break down blood until it was unrecognizable. The upshot is, if you can get this into the blood you give-" he held up a vial -" by the time it gets to Hell they won't know whose soul is pledged. And by that time you'll be in."
"How do you know it's unrecognizable to magic?" Mortimer said worriedly.
"My money's where my mouth is. I sent a vial of my altered blood to Mama Mushma along with a goodly sum of money, and so far nothin'."
Mortimer had dealt with Mama Mushma, the voodoo queen of lower eastern Higgansnorg. He was one of the few who wore a charm that protected him from her magic. She could do a lot with just dolls, but with blood - he should have been screaming in pain.
"Are you sure she got it?"
"Yeah, I went to see her, told her I wanted results or my money back. She told me it was a faulty sample and she could do some real work with a better one."
"Even so, fooling a voodoo woman is one thing, fooling Satan is another. I don't have to tell you what happens if this doesn't work."
"It'll work. It has to work. Anyway, the delivery's a bitch. It doesn't work unless the blood comes out of your hand, and obviously if I injected this into your bloodstream you'd be dead."
"So what does that leave?"
"The knife. I've put the chemical into a jelly - you smear your blade in it, slice your hand in one swift swipe, and let just enough blood fall through."
"I don't feel great about this, Melv."
"Well then DON'T go to Hell. Or find a better miracle worker. Have I ever failed you before?"
"No, you haven't," Mortimer admitted, "Thanks, bro."
One awkward manhug later, Mortimer was on his way to do one more errand before heading to Hell, Melvin's jelly in his pocket.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TNT: Ch. 60

Lying in his bed at the hotel room, Eric realized he needed to do work, to take his mind off of everything. Anyway, he reasoned, the sooner we get the springs the sooner we're out of here, and he's out of her life. He hoped, anyway.
Suddenly Eric had an idea. Gina would make the best progress with Sam alone. That much was certianly true. Eric couldn't stand to be around the two of them anyway. So, he would get close to the other side - the state, the park rangers. Maybe not romantically, but if they worked this one completely seperately, they might not even have to mess with the lawsuit. They could convince whomever won to give them some of the springs.
So Eric went to sleep, happy to have a plan.
The next morning, he put on his best suit (he did think to pack a suit), headed to the park headquarters, and jumped through some bureaucratic hoops. He eventually managed to get a meeting with a man named John Begonia.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. - "
"Smellick, Eric Smellick"
"Mr. Smellick. John Begonia." They shook hands gingerly.
"What brings you here?" he asked.
"I have a special interest in this case. What I'm curious about is why you're so interested in all this. Do these springs have some special value?"
The man sat down and ran his hands across his face.
"Are you with the media?" he asked levelly, "Is this going to show up in the damn newspapers tomorrow?"
"No. I'm just an independent interested party."
Begonia looked at Eric, looked at his desk, and looked back. He sighed.
"We don't know. We haven't even had a good chance to examine them. To tell you the truth, I haven't the faintest idea why we care. The only person who might be able to tell you is Melissa Hastings, the park director. But you won't get any information out of her."
"Mr. Begonia, I was told you were overseeing the whole case."
"True enough. Damned if I know why, though. I mean, things like this have happened before, and we didn't even care. Not springs - just cool rocks, the odd fossil - stuff real archeologists would care about. But this, I don't understand it." He shook his head.
Eric was speechless. This gentleman, whom a moment ago had seemed so professional, seemed now very tired.
"So I've been straight with you," he said, "Your turn."
Eric thought. He had an opportunity to get ahead by being honest, but too much honesty and he'd be taken for crazy. He had to walk the line.
"Mr. Begonia - may I call you John?- John, you're into something deep here. It's not just crazy people who want these springs; there are other forces who could benefit from them a lot. I think you may be caught up in this."
"Honestly, I thought it might be something like that. I don't suppose you can tell me any details?"
"I myself am on a need to know basis. What I can tell you is that if you can help me to get the springs- or at least some of them- it will be the best for everyone."
"I wish I could help you, Eric, you seem like a good guy," John said, "But don't you see, without some information you're just the same as Melissa, plus I don't even have the springs to give them to you if I wanted to."
Eric leaned in in his most conspiratorial way.
"John, if you want to know what's going on, the real deal, meet me this time tomorrow by the fork in the forest path."
He walked out without looking back. Everyone had something they wanted, and John wanted it all to make sense. To make that happen, he was going to have to play this cool, and he was going to have to call Master Lin.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's a weird story/ Pointless Contest!

The first thing you notice when you enter the building is the glowing orbs. Hovering in the middle of the hallway every few feet, they shine a brilliant white, guiding you along the path. Mesmerized, you walk from one light to the next, following the twists and bends, turning arbitrarily when the orbs go to ways.
But soon you come to a place with no orbs. You run, trying again to find guiding light, when you glimpse it, passing through a parallel hallway. A pink creature, shaped like a blob with eyes. You turn the other way and run back, only to find another, this one blue, coming right for you. You try another hallway, this one with orbs, and an orange being, just the same as the last two blocks this, your last escape. But suddenly, everything changes. All the ghosts(They look a bit like ghosts) turn dark blue and their eyes turn white. They begin to move in a frenzy, their monstrous, bulbous bodies fleeing something, walking right past you, through you. You're safe.
Relieved, you walk down the hallway towards some faraway orbs, but see them blink out before your eyes. Something is eating them. In the darkness you can barely make it out, but it's bigger than any of the ghosts. One ghost, not fast enough, gets eaten by the montrous atrocity, a huge, yellow beast with nothing but a mouth. It devours the pour thing in a single bite, leaving only it's eyes behind. It's coming for you now. You can't escape it. You can see it clearly now, a huge yellow sphere with no features but a gaping hole for a mouth. Somehow it's simplicity makes it scarier than any detailed beast.
Desperate, you reach around on the floor and find, to your surprise, three cherries attached by their stem. With no other option, you throw them into the beast's mouth. As it swallows it disappears- moved on, you suppose, to a new room with new orbs, ghosts, and fruits.
Where are you??? Guess correctly and you'll win a prize!*

*No prize will actually be awarded. Void where prohibited, prohibited everywhere.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

College = No stories?

I hope not. I like the stories. But college is crazy, and I haven't had a chance to write one yet. Anyway, bear with me. Check this thing occasionally, and if I seem to be on a roll, check it frequently. Also, Blogg the Art Show is updating much more frequently, so you can always check that out.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Mortimer takes the Metro

The snake jerky had been surprisingly invigorating, but Mortimer had to get to work. Unfortunately one couldn't just waltz into Hell - at least not if one expected to come back. There was a gateway at the Mindor Shrine, but it had to be opened. There were a number of ways to accomplish such a feat, but Mortimer wanted niether to sacrifice a virgin nor pledge his own soul to Hal'duin, lord of Hell. Most people would justgive up on finding another way, but Mortimer knew one man who loved impossible challenges, and had already tackled that one. That was why he'd have to go home before going on.
He wondered if he was doing the right thing. But, what else could "Look to the dead to find it" mean? Oh well, at least he was afforded the chance to go home, he had left in far too much of a hurry. He could check on Millie. And it would be good to see the man he was going to see as well.
Narrin was tired; she had flown far and long and needed a good rest, but Mortimer needed no such thing. He touched down in the town of Iggersby, home of one of the only stables he'd trust with Narrin, and a loyal city of the Queen.
Mortimer left Narrin with the stablemaster, a close friend of his, and walked to the subway station.
The subways were new, and were almost entirely Mortimer's doing, but he loathed to use them. About two years ago while expanding palace security, Mortimer had made a shocking discovery: Dwarves had tunnelled under nearly the entire kingdom. The Queen's head General, a disgustingly dense man named Lord Sneall, went as far as to employ a talented inventor to design a system of demolishing the tunnels swiftly without damaging the palace, and had even commissioned it's production by the time Mortimer caught wind of it and carried out his plan. Using the machines as leverage, he coerced the Dwarves into turning the top tunnels into a working Subway system for Her Majesty. The Dwarves performed admirably on the production, reaching it all the way throughout the queendom, but outsourced management as a way of snubbing the royal government. The system was now extremely seedy, thanks to it's being run by Froogs, ugly, stooped creatures notorious for their lack of work ethic.
A Froog was now regarding Mortimer incredulously as he flashed his royal pass.
"Thakth not a sthtandard ticketkkk," it said.
"No, it's a royal pass. Admits me anywhere, for free."
"I don'th know about thatkk. I'd haff to thchekkk witthhh managgmentkkk."
"I am Mortimer Lima Bean, Royal Protector! I created this entire infrastructure. You owe your job to me."
"And you're holdinkk upp the line." He gestured to the empty space behind Mortimer.
"What line?"
"Sthtepp to the sthide while I getss the managgmentkkk."
Mortimer obediently stepped to the side to allow no one through. The Froog continued to stand there, and went back to reading his magazine.
Mortimer waited about a minute before blurting out.
"The management! Weren't you going to get them?"
The Froog looked at him with a look that said, "Who are you, a lowly customer, to tell me how to do my job." He looked back down at his magazine .
Mortimer whipped out the marmalady and set it to stun. Holding it on the Froog, he jumped over the rope and ran down the stairs toward the trains. The Froog didn't look up.
A train was waiting on the track. They were large mining carts, but had been fitted with seats and sanded reasonably well. Mortimer was one of three or four people on the train. It jolted into action. The trains were mostly pulled by some sort of underground serpent imported by the Dwarves - Mortimer had never asked the details. It was a long ride to Higgansnorg, and Mortimer drifted to sleep, dreaming of that day, years ago, when an avacado had burst open.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TNT: Ch. 59

Gina was feeling severely underdressed. Sam had somehow produced an amazingly stylish and well-cut suit, but she had packed nothing nice. She was in a tank top and a floor length skirt - the skirt was ok, but she didn't feel nearly dressed to his level - or like the journalist she was supposed to be. And she felt very stupid scribbling things in a notebook when she was supposed to be on a date.
But then, she'd never really been on a date.
"This place is cool," said Sam, "You pick a batter and some toppings and you can make your own pancakes right here on the table." He gestured at the flat black depressions in the middle of the table.
"Pancakes for dinner?"
"Why not? I'm still technically on vacation."
"I thought you were one of the lawyers."
"Well, I am a lawyer so it would have been superfluous to hire one. Let me start at the beginning."
He paused for a moment to let the waiter set down their drinks - he had a beer and she'd asked for iced tea.
"I've been coming here every year to dive in the summer for years. I don't dive to look for anything, just because I enjoy it. Seeing underwater caves and stuff, it's exciting. And it's athletic too, swimming with all the gear on. Anyway, about 4 years back I started coming at the same time as this other guy - James Brixon. He's an older guy, a family man. I think he's an electrician. Anyway, we've been diving together since then - for the company. This year, about four weeks ago we were diving pretty deep and we found a tiny passage we'd never noticed before. It took us two or three well planned trips to get in there, with a flashlight, but when we did we found these springs - tightly coiled, only a couple of centimeters long. Five or six of them. Now I know everybody thinks we're crazy, but these aren't ordinary strings. For one thing they've been down there a long time and they haven't rusted. But there's also, I can't explain it, hey!"
"Isn't that your boyfriend at that other table."
Gina whipped her head around behind her in the direction of Sam's finger. There was a menu covering his face but she recognized Eric's build and the shirt he'd been wearing earlier in the day.
"No," she lied unconvincingly, "Eric's off doing his own interview. And he's not my boyfriend."

Eric didn't see any reason why he shouldn't try out the famous restaraunt at the springs, as long as he didn't share a table with Sam and Gina. He wasn't keeping an eye on them, he told himself. That would be silly. He was just going to eat at the same restaraunt. If he happened to catch the odd glimpse of them throughout the course of the evening, then so be it. And he'd only asked to move to a different table because of a bad draft, not to get a better view.
'I am a horrible liar, even to myself," he thought as he pulled the menu up in front of his face.
The couple was conversing quite smoothly, smiling a lot and laughing from time to time. Gina's manner seemed even more relaxed then usual, the notebook and pencil seeming oddly natural in her hands and the man, now in a well tailored suit instead of swim trunks, looked the perfect date; the dictionary definition of "better then him." He had to keep reminding himself it was a business dinner. Why did that feel like lying to himself as well?
"Can I get you anything?" asked the waiter, "Something to drink?"
"Oh, right. Milk - No, beer. Naturally."
The waiter chuckled. "What kind?"
He stared blankly at the list. He didn't drink beer. Why had he ordered it? To look tough in front of the people who weren't supposed to know he was here?
"On second thought I'll stick with milk."
The waiter stifled another laugh with an obviously fake cough.
"Alright. I'll be back with that in a minute."
Eric put the menu back up over his face when he saw Sam gesturing his way, but he feared it was too late. He'd been spotted. It was too small a restaraunt.

Sam shrugged at Gina's explanation. Their waitress asked if they were ready to order.
"We're gonna make pancakes. We want the wheat batter, and the lady here can pick the toppings."
She smiled, surprised. "Well let's do, hmm... Strawberry's and Blueberry's. You like berries, right?"
"I like them just fine if they make you happy."
She blushed. "Mr. Stalwart! Now go on, finish you're story."
"Well, there's not a whole lot more to tell. The springs are worth holding onto, it's hard to explain why. But the park wants them for itself, who knows why. I don't know how they even found out about them."
"Do you really think they're DeLeon's springs of life?"
He laughed out loud.
"James came up with that one. Dumbest thing he could have done. Brings a horde of media here, helps the State's claim by establishing it as our position that the springs are an archeological find, and makes us look crazy. Before that it was an open and shut case. And some weird folks have started showing up, too. Hoping to get a look at them"
"And where are the springs now?"
"You'll understand if I'm not making that info public. Sufficient to say they're safe until the legal process makes them mine."
"Well, mine and James's of course. Anyway, enough about me, tell me about yourself."
She was put off by his subject change, and besides she wasn't sure what she had to tell that wouldn't weird him out.
"That's not usually how it works in an interview," she said.
"Ah, but this is a date."
"Oh it is?"
"Yeah. I thought it was an interview too, but you're not writing anything down so I can only assume the interview was a pretext for a date."
She glanced down at her blank notepad feeling very stupid. And now she'd have to play along or come clean. Playing along seemed easier, and a date with Sam didn't seem like the worst fate.
"Alright, well, I have to warn you my story's a little weird..."
"I'm eager to hear it, but would you excuse me a moment?"

Eric had long ago stopped trying to eavesdrop or spy. As he nursed his milk, he simply reflected on how sad it was that he was here, doing this. He needed to get out more. As a result he was startled by the voice in his ear.
"Milk. Nice choice, Builds strong bones and teeth."
It was that man. He had left Gina alone.
"But you seem to be almost done with it. Why don't you drink up, and give me and your coworker some privacy."
Eric was oddly speechless. The confidence of the quest was fleeting in the face of this man.
"I'm just eating. It's a free country," he finally managed.
"No, you're lurking and you've scarcely taken your eyes off Gina and I since we sat down. She didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I told her I'd take care of it politely and quietly. She wants you to go somewhere else, so she can enjoy her evening. Will you do that?"
Eric sighed. "I was finished anyway," he said, and walked out the back door.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cold Storage (continued)

"You Bastard. Give me one reason I shouldn't shoot you right now."
He stared Jimmy down, waiting several seconds before responding.
"I'll give you two. Number one, because who's gonna get your goons out of that fridge if you do? You?"
Jimmy didn't back down.
"And the other?"
"Number two, because even you, Jimmy, wouldn't shoot your own brother."
A gasp went up from the still-concious chefs.
"You didn't come here to kill people, Jimmy. If you had you would have armed your guards with guns, not clubs."
"You're wrong, Ed. The clubs were for your staff - most of 'em 'll wake up later with headaches and nothing more. This gun is for you. And I came here to use it."
Jimmy was moving forward, still pointing his deadly weapon menacingly.
"You're right, you are my brother. But that only makes what you did that much worse."
"I couldn't let you kill those kittens, Jimmy."
"Oh no!? You couldn't!?"
Jimmy let off a shot at the restaraunt cieling as he gesticulated.
"Of course you couldn't. You always have to be the hero, don't you Ed?"
"I just -" Ed was backed up all the way to the fridge again
"Shut up! Just shut up! You don't get to be the hero this time, ok? You can't save them, and you can't save yourself. This ends here."
Jimmy leveled the gun and aimed.
"You don't have to do this Jimmy!"
"Shut up!"
"You didn't really want to kill those kittens, and you don't really want to kill me."
His face was scrunched up, trying to maintain the look of mad rage, but he couldn't hide the tears in his eyes. He tried to aim the gun and fire, but he couldn't see through the tears. Finally, he cast the gun down, fell to his knees, and began to sob.
As one of his chefs secured the discarded gun, and another called 9-1-1, Ed ran to his brother's side and embraced him.
"I never wanted to hurt anyone, Ed. It all just got out a hand, and it's so much money, and I don't know what to do, I just don't know what to do. I wasn't gonna kill you, I really wasn't gonna kill you. I love you, Ed. I just-"
"There, there. It's okay. It's okay."
Well that's all I'm going to write of that story. I don't know the rest of it. Anyone is welcome to try to tell the beginning and, if necessary, the end. Maybe I'll even pick it up again.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cold Storage

Another waiter had hit the floor.

Thump. Thump. CRASH!
Two more, one holding a drink tray. This had to stop. A four star restaurant needed a full waitstaff.

"I know you're out there, pally!" the familiar voice called from the other side of the refrigerator doors.
"When I finish with the waiters, I'll start in on the chefs, and then the customers. Come on out and it can all end!"
'I bet it can,' he thought, 'It can all end.'

Thump. fizzzle. "Argghhhh!"
Someone's face had hit a hot toreen of soup of or something.

It was getting cold. He should never have hidden in the fridge, but it was the only place Jimmy wouldn't dare to look. He grabbed a strawberry out of a box and ate it. What was he going to do?

"I ain't kidden, bud! Get the hell out hare and nobody else gets hurt!!"
"That's all the waiters Eddy. I'm given you twenty seconds before I start in on the chefs. Jesus! I know you're in here!"

His hand reached for the door, but he pulled it back. He wouldn't give Jimmy the satisfaction. A new voice spoke, more timid and reserved.

"Ed... He's serious. He's gonna kill people, Ed. Please, come out. Do it for me." It was Bob, the restaurant's head chef and oldest employee. Ed could hear the fear in his voice.
"Please, Ed, plea-"

That was it! He flung the door open, and the whole scene opened up before him. Waiters were lying all about the kitchen - Hugo, Leopold, Jesse, Samson. Men he'd hired and trained. Men who were polite and gave good tips. And in the middle of it all, with Bob's crumpled form at his feet, was Jimmy. He looked exactly as he had 12 years before, when this had all started, save a scraggly beard and the addition of two huge goons with clubs. Jimmy still clutched his signature handgun, and the look of fear on his face told Ed everything he needed to know.
He chewed and swallowed another strawberry while the room watched, paralyzed.

"You want me, Jimmy? Come in and get me."
Jimmy didn't move. Ed knew why. Jimmy's fear of refrigeration went back to his father's untimely death. His face betrayed the conflict between looking weak in front of his men and facing his greatest fear. And then, as Ed knew it would, it dawned on him that he didn't have to.
"Go in and get him, boys."
The huge goons lumbered towards him, picking up speed as they neared the fridge. He knew he'd only have half a second, but he was confident it was all he needed.


He leapt between the two goons, rolling past them as they crossed the threshold into the fridge. He'd made it! But he didn't stop to congratulate himself. Springing up, he slammed the huge metal door, locking the goons in cold storage. He slammed the lock down.
"This is between us, Jimmy. Let's leave the help out of it."
Jimmy finally found his voice, and raised his gun.
"You bastard. Give me one reason I shouldn't shoot you right now."

Hell of a time for the bell to ring, eh? maybe I'll finish it later.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

TNT: Ch. 58

(100th post! )

Eric and Gina walked out of the bathrooms at exactly the same time, looked at each other, and laughed. Eric had changed into a bathing suit and Gina was back in her ordinary clothes.
"I decided you were right so I bought a-" he said.
"I was a little rash, so I thought I'd-" she said at the same time.
They paused.
"So , swimming or work?" she asked.
"Go take your clothes off again," he replied
"Hey, now," Gina laughed, "That wasn't an option."
Eric blushed. He obviously had intended no innuendo.
"I just meant, we can go swimming. You're right; there's no big rush."
"Well thanks. I'll go change. Listen, I already nabbed our first lead. I met one of the discoverers of the springs. I'm interviewing him at the restaurant at six."
"I'll make sure I'm free."
"No, I think it'll go better if I handle it alone."
"I see." Eric paused. "This wouldn't be the same guy you were flirting with after you ran off, would it?"
"I wasn't, I mean, well yeah, he does seem to like me, and we can work that to our advantage if I go alone."
"Nice of you to put the quest first like that," said Eric disbelievingly.
"Eric, don't be like that. You know I'm right. Now I'm gonna go change."
He sighed as she turned around. She was right, but that didn't mean he had to like it. He felt like Gina should be his. He'd risked everything for her, to rescue her. And she's kissed him and it just seemed like they belonged together.
Yet they didn't really have a relationship. She didn't really have any kind of obligation to him romantically. In fact, maybe she didn't think about him that way at all.
He turned his mind toward the quest. He was worried about getting the springs. In this case they were caught between two sides who desperately wanted them for themselves. It wasn't going to be easy, coming in and demanding them for themselves. And he didn't have any kind of a plan. He figured once they did all the fact-finding something would come up, but there was really no way to be certian.
Gina came out of the bathroom, clad once again in her bikini.
"I should warn you, the water's awfully cold."
"Yeah, I got that impression." He stifled a laugh at the memory of watching her try to hide her shock.
She glared at him.
He glared back.
Despite her best efforts, her grin turned slowly to a smile.
His followed suit, and pretty soon they were both laughing.
"Race you to the water!" Gina yelled suddenly, and took off. The quest, Eric thought as he ran after her, could wait a little while.

Friday, February 10, 2006

TNT: Ch. 57

Sam slammed the 20-year-old copy of "Florida Property Law" shut, sending up a cloud of dust. He couldn't take this anymore, lawyering work on his vacation. He could feel the sun on his skin and see the vacationers happily playing in the springs. Countless towels were strewn about the lawn like his, their owners buried in a book, but he was pretty sure the other books were more interesting than his. They were reading for fun.
He had thought that coming here to do the work would make it feel less like work, but it was having the opposite effect. Now he needed only to look up to see exactly what he was missing. He sat back for a minute to take in the sights and sounds. He saw a group of teenagers roughhousing around the rocks at the deep end of the spring, and the lifeguard eyeing them cautiously. He saw two old women who should not have been out in public in their skimpy bathing suits swimming across the center. He saw some divers setting up for a deep dive (since the discovery the place was crawling with them).
That should be me out there, he thoguht, diving, swimming, doing the things I love. He would have been able to beat the state lawyers; wasn't even worried. However he'd just heard that they were hiring special lawyers for this one. Some of the biggest firms in the area. He was out of his league, and couldn't afford to play.
Just as he moved to get back to work,Sam heard an argument from over his shoulder.
" big rush! We can take a swim now, get the feel for the place, and start talking to people tomorrow."
"You're not taking this very seriously, Gina. We're not here on a vacation."
"The sun is hot, the water is beautiful, and some of us didn't forget to pack a bathing suit, so I'm going in."
And then he saw her. She bounded past him, a perfect figure in a modest but very flattering purple bikini, as the other voice, a male voice, yelled.
"Fine, have a great time. I'll be out here getting to work!"
He watched as the beautiful girl jumped into the freezing water and cringed as she screamed. She'd get used to it soon enough though, and then she'd be having a much better time than he was. He glanced up at the man who'd been fighting with her- a scrawny, nerdy guy. Was that what this was turning him into? A day like this and a girlfriend like that, and all that guy cared about was work? Sam wasn't going to have it. He stood up, grabbed his suit and headed for the bathroom to change.

The water was freezing. The Florida atmosphere had tricked her into expecting pleasant water, but the spring water was freezing. Gina screamed. She shouldn't have jumped in like that, but she couldn't get out while Eric was still watching. At least, she thought he was. Her view was obscured by a guy getting up and getting something out of his back. Yep, there he was, still watching her. She felt a tinge of guilt for fighting with him like that, but she desperately needed to have some fun, and Eric had gotten so serious lately.
It wasn't that she didn't care about the quest. She was caught up in it, and even if she didn't care much about toasters she cared about Eric and she cared about the people who had rescued her, and she wanted to make this work out. But she didn't see what the big ticking time bomb was, why they had to work all the time. She needed to relax. Still, the freezing cold water would have been more fun with Eric.
She swam around a bit, trying to have fun, but after a few minutes she decided to go find Eric and apologize. She climbed out of the water, and nearly screamed again. Now the air felt almost as cold as the water did before, and she hadn't brought a towel. As she stood there shivering and considering her options, a young and very handsome man walked up to her, profferring a towel. He said some things that were totally lost on her as she took in his swim-trunk clad body.
"What?" she said, looking up.
"I said you looked like you might need this."
"Thanks," she smiled, taking the towel and wrapping it around herself like a cloak, "I didn't think it would be that cold."
"It looked like you were less concerned about thinking and more concerned about winning."
"Winning?" she asked.
"The fight with your boyfriend. I saw most of it from up there. I have to thank you, your little tiff reminded me of how much I've been letting my work get in the way of having a good time here."
"Well, you're welcome I guess," Gina replied, "And he's not my boyfriend."
"Oh," said the man, not looking entirely surprised, "He's your...?"
"My friend. And we work together."
"What kind of work?"
For some reason she didn't feel like telling him the truth of it. She didn't want this nice, helpful, good-looking man to think she was crazy. At least not yet.
"We're journalists. Researching a story - the whole springs-of-life thing."
"Well then you're lucky you met me." He smiled. "I'm Sam Stalwart, head lawyer for the defense and one of the discoverers of the springs."
"I'm Gina. I obviously don't have a pen or paper on me, or I'd start the interview now."
"That's okay," he said, "Gives me an excuse to see you again. How about I meet you at that restaurant tonight at six?" He gestured toward the structure next to the spring.
"Well, alright. We'll be there." She turned to go, but he put a hand on her shoulder.
"Condition of my exclusive interview: You handle this one yourself. Your friend can find someone else to interview at six."
"There's no other way you'll do it?"
He shook his head.
"Then I'll see you at six." She smiled, folding up his towel and handing it to him before walking off toward her car.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mortimer Meets a Maiden

The search for food did not go especially well. From atop Narrin Mortimer surveyed the land looking for a quick but filling bite to eat. Finally, he spotted a traveler stopped at the roadside. Perhaps he could share his lunch. So as not to scare a potential friend, Mortimer set down on the other side of a bend in the road and rode up to the traveler.
He, it turned out, was a she. The woman had beautiful blonde hair and delicate features, but wore tough hide-armor (it looked like dragon-hide, but that was highly unlikely) and a heavy traveling cloak.
"Ho there, traveler!" said Mortimer.
The woman snorted.
"I was passing this way, and thought you might be willing to share your lunch with a servant of the Queen, in execution of his duty."
"I serve no queen or king," the woman said coldly, "But if snake jerky is your thing you can have a piece."
Mortimer gratefully dismounted and took the proffered jerky. Snake jerky wasn't exactly his thing, but it was something. It was pretty good stuff, too. Cobra by the taste of it. He noticed that the woman, little more than a girl more accurately, was carefully watching him eat.
"Which queen are you a servant of?" she asked contemptuously.
"The Queen. The queen of this realm."
"Ah. Her. Has that uppity daughter of hers been captured by a dragon yet?"
Mortimer was deeply offended.
"No one in the Queen's court is captured by anything on my watch. I am Mortimer Lima Bean, son of Dietrich Lima Bean, latest in a long line of royal protectors."
The girl was silent for a moment, pondering his words as she pensively chewed her snake jerky.
"Well good for you. I wouldn't protect that girl. Of course, if you did let her get nabbed you'd have to marry her."
"Oh, not I. I'm no knight. But how do you know the Queen's daughter? No offense, but you don't seem like anyone she'd be acquainted with."
The girl considered for another moment.
"In my youth I travelled in different circles then I do now."
"And in what circles do you travel now?" he asked.
"If you've had your fill of my jerky, I'll be off," she said, packing up her lunch, "I'd offer you some peach nectar but I've gone and drunken it all." She hopped onto her horse, a fine stallion. Mortimer rode alongside her.
"Good job dodging my question."
"Thanks. I've had practice. I fed you, now buzz off."
"You don't fancy someone to talk to?"
"No." She quickened her horse's pace to a faster trot. Mortimer followed suit.
"Your armor is very fine. Is it real dragonhide?" he asked.
"Really?" he asked in disbelief.
"No, I was lying," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "After all, how could a pretty little girl like me slay a dragon?"
She was at least smart enough to know that dragonhide armor could only be worn by the one who'd slain the beast. He was beginning to believe she'd even done so.
"You slew a dragon?"
She sighed. "Yes, I slew a dragon. I'm on my way to slay another. I'm a dragon slayer."
Mortimer couldn't help laughing.
"A girl dragon slayer!?"
She brought her horse to a sudden halt, wheeling it around Narrin. Her voice took on a new edge.
"Yes. I'm a girl dragon slayer. And yes, I'm a princess seeker."
"Then you-"
"And, NO, I'm not a lesbian."
"Then why-"
"I'm going to tell you the whole story, Morty, if you promise to leave me alone when I'm done."
He considered it for a moment, and then agreed. The woman dismounted and sat down on a rock, motioning Mortimer to do the same.
"I was born in the kingdom of Desix, a long way from here. I was born Princess Madison, first daughter of King Vem and Queen Leslie. Yes, I was a princess. I enjoyed it very much - the finest clothing and things, gold when ever I wanted plus a regular allowance of it, the respect of everyone in the kingdom. When I reached my twelfth birthday I thought there wasn't a single bad thing about being a princess. That's when my parents gave me the talk.
"'Maddy,' they said, 'You're growing up. Soon you'll be a teenager, and things will start to change. Your body will change. Boys will start to notice you. And, if you're very lucky, you'll get carried off by a dragon.'
"They told me not to worry about the boys- I should just have them locked up if they bothered me, unless they were rich in which case I should tell mother immediately. But I was much more worried about the dragon. Father said I had nothing to fear. He'd met my mother by rescuing her from a dragon. For generations our princesses found husbands by being captured by and rescued from a dragon. If no knight could defeat the dragon, father would pay the dragon's ransom and I'd be free. If a knight did defeat the dragon, I'd have the strongest husband in the land.
"Well the system seemed okay from all that. It was not until I started talking to other princesses that I learned the truth of it. It seemed all the princesses around me had ended up with wretched husbands.
"'Sure he slew a dragon,' they'd say, 'But can he cook? Is he ever home? Is he good in bed? Has he ever read a poem?' More often then not, the answer was no. Slowly I realized this was the dumbest arranged marriage system ever, and my time was running out. I was 15, and some of my friends had been carried off at 17. So I decided I would not be married off, because I would slay the dragon myself.
I started saving my gold allowance, and making up excuses to ask for more as often as was believable. I employed a stableboy friend I'd made, Jerrod, to hide it for me in a cave not too far from the castle. After there was enough I snuck out one night, and he and I set a booby trap at the cave entrance. I bought a long knife and under Jerrod's guidance learned to use it, as well as to carefully conceal it on my person at all times.
Just when I was beginning to think I would break the cycle and not be captured, it happened. I was out playing croquet and a dragon swept down and plucked me up. My parents and the whole palace guard were right there, and they just let it happen. As I was carried I heard my mother scream "Good Girl!"
The dragon turned out to be quite personable. He apologized profusely for carrying me away and confessed that it was the only way he knew of to get gold, and he had children and a future to look after.
My plan had been to lead him to the cave of gold and then catch him in the trap, but I couldn't do it after he'd been so nice. And I didn't want to wait around for the knights to kill him and marry me. So I told him where the cave was, and decided not to set off the trap, in the hopes that he'd just let me go.
He was suspicious, and, thinking I was planning to escape while he was gone, took me along. As he entered the cave, I saw that Jerrod had already set the trap. I tried to warn the dragon, but it was too late. He was caught.
As the spikes stuck into the dragons sides, he let me go and I rolled out. His personable disposition was gone, and suddenly he was the raging dragon of all those storybooks. Enraged, he broke free of the trap. He was too fast for me to escape, so I decided to fight. I pulled out my knife.
The battle was difficult, but I eventually prevailed. The dragon was fighting injured and caught unawares; confused by the prospect of fighting a princess, which he'd always before been told not to harm. As he lay dying, he commended me, saying I "fought like the bravest knight." It was a bittersweet compliment.
I returned to the city, expecting to be greeted by a parade like the ones that the knights received when they slew dragons. There was nothing. Right there in the city square, my parents reprimanded for my foolishness and declared that I would never find a husband."
She was beginning to break down. Mortimer reached his hand out, but she batted it away.
"It gets worse. Right when I thought I could take no more, Jerrod stepped forward, in full armor I'd never seen before.
'Your majesties,' he said, 'I rescued the princess. I set the trap that helped her slay the dragon, so I will take her hand in marriage.' It was the ultimate betrayal. All the time I thought he understood my need to be free of the system, he was just another stupid knight who wanted to marry me. I left the city and I never spoke to him again. I've never trusted another man since. Myself, I decided I would help all the princesses in my situation. I officially denounced my crown, found an armorsmith and brought him to the dragon's cave. I offered him howevermuch gold he wanted to make me this armor. Since then I've slain half a dozen dragons, and rescued even more princesses. Not one has been grateful. They have all reacted like my parents did. They don't deserve my help, but at least I won't stab them in the back and try to marry them." She fel silent
"That's a sad tale," said Mortimer.
"Tell me about it."
"Well, we don't use the dragon system here. I wouldn't here of it."
"So typically arrogant. And who's taking care of dragon-related decisions while you're out here?"
"I have a very competent assistant. I'm telling you, there's no work for you in this kingdom."
"Well, truth be told, I've been taking on other jobs to earn some cash. The gold stash got looted, and slaying beasts is my only skill. I don't suppose you need any help in that area?"
"I'm pretty good at slaying things myself. I'm actually heading to the Mindor Shrine."
"Eww! Why would you ever go there?"
"I'm going to Hell, and that's the only way in that you can get out by."
"That's true enough. Well, I won't follow you into Hell, but should you have a non-underworld related beast slaying need, here's my card."
Mortimer pocketed the business card and hopped onto his steed again.
"Until we meet again, Madison Dragonslayer. Thanks for the jerky and the story."