Behind the cottage, deep in the forest, a lone figure stood, his ear against the wooden back door, his acute hearing attuned to every word spoken by the women inside.
Though small in stature, he had a proud, regal bearing. In his own land, far from here, he was revered; known as the mighty warrior Stumbles MacBlunder, but for the past year he had been on a covert mission for King Jait of Protagopolis, and for this he had to maintain the deceit of posing as Smac, the lowly servant of The Pirate Queen’s chief thug and hitman.
Just last night he had crept away from one of her week-long, ghastly drunken orgies, tiring of the debauchery and rowdy advances of the Pirate Queen’s half-dressed wenches, Meliverde and Marjean. He thought once more of the beautiful young girl who had captured his attention… and his heart, the moment he had set eyes on her. She was inside this very cottage, now. He sighed and turned away.
‘’Aah, Jillian, my dear love,’’ he murmured, his head in his hands. ‘’Would that you could but turn your eyes in my direction and notice me, I would take you away from this place and make you my Lady.’’
He hurried through the forest,to the clearing where he had arranged a rendezvous with King Jait.
The king was there already, waiting on a tree stump, his expression grave. A few yards away his mare, Hazelnut, was grazing. He stood when Stumbles appeared.
‘’Lord MacBlunder.’’ he said, offering his hand. ‘’I have no doubt that you will have heard the news.’’
Stumbles bowed, and took the hand of the king, who gestured for him to be seated on another stump.
Stumbles pushed his fiery red hair back from his strong forehead, and nodded.
‘’About the Writer’s Block? Yes, of course. Do you have any idea who is to blame?’’
‘’Well, the intelligence is that the stallion, Snowbeast, was seen in the vicinity, so the finger of suspicion points firmly at Sir Rheel of NickNack.’’ The king shook his head, sadly. ‘’I would not have thought this of him, though. He has been my good friend for many moons.’’
‘’Do not be so quick to jump to conclusions, Your Majesty.’’ said Stumbles, smiling slightly. There are many more who are unscrupulous enough to commit such a crime. My own …master, for instance. Or, more probably, his mistress, the so-called Pirate Queen, Naomi… And of course, we cannot, must not forget…the Jon…’’
‘’DO NOT say his name!’’ the King interrupted, looking over his shoulder, his face suddenly pale. ‘’I would not welcome a visit from his clown. And neither, my friend, would you, believe me.’’
He beckoned Stumbles over, and spoke in a whisper.
‘’Lord MacBlunder. Would you be willing to take on this new mission? To investigate the theft of the Block, and report back to me? I will reward you generously for its recovery.’’
Stumbles held up his hand.
‘’Consider it done, Your Majesty. But I do not require payment. The safe return of the Block will be sufficient reward for me.’’ He gave a rueful laugh, then spoke softly. ‘’There is only one reward which would surpass this… but it concerns a lady of this land…’’
He paused, as if considering his next words carefully.
‘’But first, if I am to assist you, there are weapons I need. And they are in your possession. They lie in the Throne room of your palace.’’
The King looked shocked.
‘’You don’t mean…’’ he gasped.
‘’Yes, Your Majesty. They are vital to my success. I must have the enchanted sword, Dysphemism, and the holy shield, Euphemism.’’