The courtyard that Cren’s party had arrived in was nigh unrecognizable except for the large doors. A band was set up in a corner. The musicians, ranging from scrawny to obese, all had one thing in common. They couldn’t play their prospective instruments to save their lives. The reason as to why Rannon had hired such a band was much contested. Those who knew the king guessed that it was his majesty’s warped sense of humor at work once more. They were definitely not very far off the truth. Rannon wanted these mages to leave as quickly as possible. Playing bad music was just one way to reach that goal. On tables hewn from giant oaks sat entrees that looked less than savory. Grilled goose livers dripping in honey sauce, Cow’s tongue baked in a fungus that smelled as terrible as it tasted, sautéed Sow’s eye, baked into pies of garlic and chives ornamented the center of each table like a ghastly mass of vile-smelling hives. But oh, that was only the beginning. Rannon had the servants bring up from the darkest depths of the royal treasury the vilest tapestries he had ever seen. His wife’s people, the desert dwelling wolven, had made them as part of her dowry. Each tapestry, 13 in all, blasphemed good taste to the point that it brought tears to the eyes. The colors were so disparaging that a few of them simply could not be given a name. He had these hung in intervals around the courtyard. They glared down at the proceedings with an almost angry air, angry with the people down below them, or possibly enraged at their own existence.
Rannon watched with a well-concealed glee as the mages entered his palace and gaped in horror. Rannon of course would have never done such a wicked thing if he had invited them himself, but the ridiculous gaggle of stick-wavers had invited themselves to his palace. Rannon did not like being given orders. Ever.
“Welcome, gentleman.” Rannon bellowed as he shook the lead mage’s hand. He was an older man with a beard that fell nearly to his navel. Among the 20 or so mages, he was the one who appeared the least ruffled by the wolf king’s garish presentation.
“Greetings, your majesty. I apologize if our coming here has caused you any,” He looked around at the tapestries and Rannon saw his lips twitch as If he was holding back a laugh. “Inconvenience. “
“Oh not at all. Our cooks were quite excited at the change in fare. Us wolven eat all our meat RAW you know. Not all that much work for a cook aside from hacking it into small enough chunks to stuff in our craws.”
The mages gaped in horror but the older mage whose hand he shook nearly doubled over with his controlled laughter. Obviously this was a man who had visited Rannon’s court before. Rannon grinned. He was beginning to like this old man.
“So you’re here to test the palace’s children?”
“Indeed your majesty. Would you like to start with the royal children?”
“I guess.” Rannon grunted and led the gaggle of mages to the line of children. Each of them was dressed in the most hideous finery Rannon could find. After he had explained to each of them just why they had to dress so hideously they were more than game. Each of them dropped a bow in perfect unison and then stood ramrod straight. Rannon frowned as he realized that June and Cren were missing. Had the maids been unable to find them? He would have investigated that thought further, but the older mage once again captured his attention.
“So your majesty,”
“I hear that you’re fostering the Eastland’s crown prince.”
“Yeah what about him?”
“ I would rather like to test him first, if you’d permit it.”
“Well unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling too well this morning.”
“That’s indeed a shame, but may we see him regardless? One more illness means nothing to an old man like myself.” Rannon raised an eyebrow at the old man’s persistence but shrugged it off. He was about to call for a maid when he noticed something on the roof. He turned to look up just in time to get a face full of gritty water.
“Oops! Missed the old guy.” June said as she shaded her eyes to better see. “Hand me another bucket!”
Cren heaved the heavy wooden pail into June’s hands and watched as she swung it in an arc. He hurried to the edge to see if the mages were melting in their too big robes, but they were fine. The only one who looked like a drowned rat was Rannon, and soon, the children were sure, the sheer volume of his rage would make the water evaporate.
“Crenorien! June! Get down from that damn roof right this minute!”
“No way, old man. You’ll have to come and get us.” Cren shouted down at him. He was heady from all of the climbing and jumping it had taken to get to this part of the palace and so was foolhardy. With a growl, Rannon rolled up the billowing sleeves of his shirt and ran full speed at the wall below them. With a mighty heave, he jumped half of its’ length and then dug his hard nails deep into the stone. Rannon climbed up the wall like a spider and would soon be upon the two children.
“Stupid, stupid Cren!” June grabbed one of the still filled buckets and ran for it. Cren bumbled behind. He didn’t dare to look over his shoulder lest the sheer terror of Rannon’s face at that moment would have knocked at least a decade off of his life. Closing his eyes, Cren threw the bucket behind him and wished that he carried an ocean in his hands instead. As the bucket flew through the air, water sprang from it in a great torrent, much more than it’s small size could possibly contain. A strong jet of water hit Rannon squarely in the gut and he fell to a knee. The wooden pail spun wildly as it flew towards the peak of its’ arch, water flew every which way in powerful jets. As the young boy ran, he risked another peek over his shoulder and saw that the courtyard was almost filled with water. Mages bobbed on its’ turbulent waves like black globs of oil. Except for one, that was.