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."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

TNT: Ch. 56.5, which is too short to be a chapter in its own right

Rubbing his tired eyes in the dim light of his study, Master Lin read the prophesy one more time. There was no mistaking it. The meaning was clear. And when Eric called, he couldn't tell him about it.
Three tests, the prophesy said. Eric would have three easy chances to give up on the quest, to turn his back on the dream of a righteous toaster. Perhaps they had even happened already. Master Lin thought he might even know who was behind these tests. He was certian he had identified the man behind Gina's kidnapping, and he feared the two might be related. A very powerful force, it seemed, didn't want this toaster created. Of course it only made sense. The perfect toaster would never need to be replaced by an unhappy customer. The perfect toaster would never ruin grain products, forcing customers to buy more before they'd eaten any. The perfect toaster, it seemed, was bad for business.
And so Eric would face the consequences. Three tests, each worse than the one before, and he could only barely hint at them lest he seal their fate. If only Eric would call.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

TNT: Ch. 56

"I'm sorry, Melissa, but this doesn't make any sense."
Melissa sighed. "You're telling me there's no budget for recovering stolen property?"
"I am saying I don't get why you care. They are freaking springs. I will buy you some from the hardware store. This is not a major archeological find." John held up a newspaper.
"Did you see this, Melissa? The world is laughing at us. I'd like to know why they aren't laughing at the idiots who found the springs and leaving us alone."
"John, this department isn't a democracy and I'm not a lunatic. I have my reasons for wanting to make sure we keep these springs. What I asked you wasn't whether you thought we should, but whether we had the resources to do it."
John flung his pencil across the room.
"Yeah, we do. There are a lot of other projects we could better put the money too, but nothing priority. If you really want to do this I guess we're doing it."
"Good. See to it. I'm going home."
But Melissa Hastings didn't go straight home. For some reason, she decided to take a walk through her park, through the wooded walking trails. She didn't see the trench coat-clad figure follow her in.
She walked down the path. She knew it well and walked on a path she knew would give her time to think but get her out pretty quickly. She knew at some point it would loop around, and when it did she saw the man in the trench coat, fedora pulled down over his face, sitting on the rock.
"Hello again, Ms. Hastings," the man said.
She was actually glad to see him. She was going to make a stand, and tell the man exactly what she meant.
"I'm sorry, sir. I'm not helping you this time. It's irresponsible of me to commit this much of the department's resources to a project you've given me no justification for. Thank you for your help, but our partnership is over."
The man was silent for a moment.
"Such a pity. I have already hired a team of private lawyers on your behalf who had agreed to show up tomorrow and begin working on the case. My superiors were going to pay their full fee. But I suppose if you can't be bothered I'll have to take the money to those divers. Perhaps they can be persuaded to part with the springs."
"You... You've hired lawyers? Well, I guess that changes things. I guess we can carry on with the suit."
"Very good. Tell me, Ms. Hastings, have I ever let you down before?"
She sighed. "Not yet."
"Then just keep trusting me and everything will be ok." He turned and disappeared into the woods.
She didn't trust him, and she wished she could tell John about him, but perhaps this was near the end of the "partnership." Maybe soon she could go back to running her own department.