THEATRE OF DREAMS
"The problem with democracy," thought Treguard, gently wiping the
spittle out of his beard, "is that even the morons gets a vote."
He, Majida and their guide, a charmless elfin individual calling
herself Dervlinne, were presently pushing through the crowded market square
of Krochester, a tiny, and less-than-salubrious village about forty miles
south of the ruined town of Dunsholm. The exact reason why they were there
was threatening to fade from his mind in the tide of frustration he was
enduring. What he was in no danger of forgetting was whose fault it was.
He and Majida had set off through Dunkley Wood six days earlier,
trying to locate Lord Fear's likely new hideaway. News had reached
Knightmare Castle some days before that Marblehead had fallen to Celtic
raiders during another furious row between Lord Fear and Grimaldine. What
the row had been about this time - the Brollachan had long since returned
to its creator - Treguard couldn't imagine, but the key information that
Lord Fear and his cronies had disappeared after losing the Castle actually
concerned him more than news of a successful defence would have done. At
least while Marblehead remained in the hands of the Opposition, Treguard
would have no trouble keeping track of Fear. His disappearance into the
night meant he could build for the future without hindrance from the Powers
Treguard and Majida had manipulated the ancient life debt of Arawn,
King of Anwin Wood, to provide guidance and support during the journey
south toward Fear's fallen realm. Reluctantly, Arawn had assigned the
maiden Dervlinne. She was no veteran of the woodland elves, indeed she was
barely three thousand years old, but still she was more than efficient
enough for Treguard's purpose, which was to find a safe path above ground
to Marblehead. Heading that way via the dungeon was not a possibility, as
after seven years and more it still hadn't finished reforming itself. So
without the usual shortcuts available, it was a case of trudging south
until Treguard's aging feet were so sore and so covered in blisters that he
felt like a new pair of feet were growing on his heels.
And now they'd arrived in Krochester. Now never let it be said that
Majida or Dervlinne were anything less than committed, resourceful and
hardened adventurers, gifted explorers to a tee. What's more, they were
nothing if not cheerful, supportive companions as well. And they were not
cheerful, supportive companions. They were both stubborn, constantly
answered back, and would never think twice about wandering off in any
direction on a whim and leaving Treguard hunting for them for ages in all
these identical trees. Add to all that Majida's unending complaints about
the weather being too cold and wet in "thees stoopid Inglant-place of
yours", and then repeat the dose for six days, and the degree to which
Treguard's temper must have eroded could only be guessed at. Except that if
he caught anyone trying to guess such a thing he would probably have yelled
at them for it, so it was probably not a good idea anyway.
Treguard had been to Krochester years before - it was during his
journey to Earl Geoffrey's tourney at Alvingham Castle - and had been
stunned then by the total lack of respect its inhabitants had for
authority. When Dervlinne had indicated that the safest path to Marblehead
passed through the vicinity of Krochester and that they should divert there
to collect fresh supplies, Treguard had been firmly against it. He knew
that the villagers of Krochester were bad-tempered and hostile to any man
of the gentry and that paying them a visit was like volunteering to get
thrown in the stocks. Majida disagreed with him, probably for the sake of
it as usual, and as Treguard was out-voted, they went into Krochester and
were warmly met with a bracing round of verbal abuse, rotten vegetables and
"Mogdred," sighed Treguard, "never gave me this trouble."
The timing could hardly have been better, or worse, depending on your
point of view, as they'd guided their lone horse into town on market day.
This meant that supplies were available to buy everywhere, but it also
meant that there were people everywhere too. And as soon as they saw
Treguard and Majida in their luxurious apparel, and Dervlinne, her face and
lithe figure hidden in a rich ermine cloak, there were resentful glowers
and thrown objects. The three travellers tried to maintain a dignified
silence, to turn the other cheek. More accurately, Treguard maintained
silence and turned the other cheek. Dervlinne invariably muttered faerie
curses in the direction of the throwers, while Majida invariably threw
something back at them.
"I hate people who say I told you so," admitted Treguard, "except me.
I told you we should have gone on to the next village."
"Ya ya ya," sneered Majida, as she yanked the horse's reins with
needless force. "And I s'pose is all my fault!"
"The thought had occurred."
"Typical!" sniffed Majida, narrowly dodging a small mouldy potato
some old man had hurled in her direction. "You're hell to walk with,
y'know. You never stop complaining...!"
The poor horse, Rod, had been carrying all their supplies across the
countryside for them for the past six days and, although he couldn't say
so, he was getting almost as annoyed as Treguard with all the moaning and
griping from Majida. And the way she kept tugging his reins so hard. He'd
rather have been led around by that nice Mellisandre again, but ever since
she'd gotten lost in the Maze, Rod was getting bullied by this horrible
genie. And being a horse, it goes without saying that he couldn't complain
Treguard turned and gave Majida a look like Lord Fear's favourite
fireball. "Majida, I've always wondered what a genie's insides look like.
Don't give me any further incentive to find out."
Majida's mouth curled into an upward frown, the usual look of immense
stupidity she emanated whenever she couldn't understand an English
expression. "What ees thees 'een-sen-teev'-thing?"
"I don't know," answered Treguard, "but it's something that grows
more acute with every word from your overused mouth."
He suddenly turned sharply, and, before Majida's overused mouth could
offer any more verbiage, said. "What the devil...? Where's Dervlinne gone
Treguard had thought it a bad idea for Dervlinne to enter the
village, regardless of whether anyone else went with her. Being an elf, she
was not exactly going to be in her element entering a mortal settlement,
but she'd insisted on going with them anyway. If he didn't know elves any
better, Treguard could have sworn she was scared to be left outside on her
own. For that he would hardly blame her, it was not the most congenial of
environments or the friendliest of townsfolk to encounter on your own, but
there was something undeniably very odd about her. Or rather, there was
something very normal about her, normal in human terms, which made her
behaviour very odd in an elf. She seemed jumpy, at times irascible, and yet
also timid. Her tendency to answer back was not unusual for an elf dealing
with mortals, but in his experience elves were good at hiding their fear.
Dervlinne was unmistakably the most nervous elf he had ever met, more
flappable than many humans he had known. She and Majida predictably were
getting on very badly - the only thing they could ever agree on was that
Treguard was always wrong, even though more often than not he was proven
Now Dervlinne had disappeared from view again, as she had done a
number of times while they were in the forest.
"I am here, honoured Dungeon Master," whispered Dervlinne's, soft,
almost reed-like voice.
Treguard whirled around again, and was taken aback to find Dervlinne
standing less than seven inches from his nose. Oh, how he hated the way
elves did that!
"Where did you go this time?" he snapped at her harshly.
"I was here, honoured Dungeon Master," Dervlinne reassured him, her
pale green eyes burning into his own like, well, like the eyes of an elf.
There was nothing else in the world that was quite like it. "I merely moved
to a lower stationary position that allowed me to better evade detection or
unwished-for contact with the herbal projectiles these mortals insist on
bombarding us with."
"She mean she duck," said Majida simply. "She no use one word when
fifty will do. These big-ears people are all like that."
Treguard was about to point out to Majida that she was a fine one to
complain about other people talking too much, but in the end thought better
of it. "That way," he thought, "lies madness."
Dervlinne glowered at Majida for a moment before turning back to
Treguard. "If the honoured Dungeon Master will allow it, I have observed a
stall that should serve our need for supplies."
"Well hurry up and show us, big-ears person!" Majida growled.
"If you'd be so good?" said Treguard, a little more diplomatically.
"It will serve the wishes of my liege to serve the wishes of the
honoured Dungeon Master," answered Dervlinne, turning and leading them
between a pair of ricketty wooden stalls with its owners looking a bit put
upon that for some reason nobody wanted to buy their worm-ridden bean
sprouts, to a larger and rather grander-looking wagon on the edge of the
Treguard was getting really fed up with Dervlinne calling him
"honoured Dungeon Master". As much as anything else, her tone whenever she
said it was so thickly laden with sarcasm it wasn't as if she was fooling
anyone. It was clear from the first moment that she deeply resented being
appointed to the task by Arawn, and no amount of rosy nominatives were
going to hide that if she kept uttering them like a curse from Satan's
The wagon they arrived at was somewhat larger than most of the
others, and rather better set out. A thin tarpaulin was raised over the top
sheltering it, although there was no rain, and the goods on sale were of
surprisingly good quality. There was a short, squattish man sat on a stool
in front of the wagon, also sheltered by the tarpaulin. He was chewing on a
straw that was longer than his own arm, and had a mild, serene expression
on his face, apparently focusing on some unseen object in the middle
distance. He had an odd green hood wrapped around his head, and a ring on
his middle finger made out of an ugly coppery material.
"Yup yup yup," murmured the man with the contentedness of one idly
drinking warm mead while the war to end all wars rages all about him. "Har
har, yup yup yup." The man looked at Treguard expectantly, then Majida,
then Dervlinne, then finally his eyes settled on the horse who was still
feeling peeved about getting dragged around this filthy market square by a
rude Hispanic genie. "Yup yup yup. Nop? Nop nop nop." He looked away from
them again and returned to his task of staring at unseen objects about two
and three-eights of an inch from his eyeball. It was clearly a difficult
task for him, one that required a great deal of concentration.
Treguard looked at Majida and Dervlinne, then at the man again. "Erm,
The man's eyes turned away from the particular air molecule that was
apparently holding them in thrall, and aimed themselves at Treguard once
more. "Yup yup yup," he explained.
"I think that mean 'Can I help?'" Majida put in helpfully.
"We're er, on a journey south," Treguard explained to the man in the
green hood. "About forty miles or so further."
"Oh," said the man brightening. "Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Seeseeseesee!" His
mouth spurted some droplets of unpleasantness as he spoke.
Treguard blinked. "'Si'? What, are you Spanish as well?"
"Of course he not Spaniss," wailed Majida. "He just talk funny."
Again, Treguard was tempted to make the point to Majida about pots
and kettles, again he resisted. To the man;"Do you understand what I'm
The man nodded benignly. "Stanstanstan yoooo ama sayy? Questy zat."
The look on his face had changed from cheerful brainlessness to cunning
Treguard stared at him for a long moment, suddenly gripped by a
conviction that he'd met this man somewhere before. It wasn't easy to work
out where, whoever it was, the way he spoke seemed to make thought very
difficult. That, thought Treguard with poor grace, might explain a few
things about him.
"Traytraytray!" called the man, suddenly grabbing Treguard's hand and
shaking it vigorously. "Newyoofinkadid! Bam! Bam!" He pointed at himself
Treguard was initially taken aback at this display of excited over
familiarity, not to mention a fresh stream of uncontrolled water from the
"He says he knows you, honoured Dungeon Master, " explained
Dervlinne. Treguard and Majida looked at her doubtfully.
"You understand him?" asked Treguard.
"Yes," said Dervlinne. "My people have encountered this condition in
mortals many times over the centuries. It's called 'No front teeth'."
The man grinned a ghastly toothless smile.
"Ah," nodded Majida, "That what they call 'The spit hittin' the fan',
"Um..." said Dervlinne.
"Certainly not!" snarled Treguard. The memory of Majida once calling
a dungeoneer a 'smart bottom' still left him rigid with embarrassment in
his quieter moments, and the thought still troubled him that one of these
days she might get a vulgarism right. He turned to the man hurriedly,
before Majida could explore the subject any further. "You know me?"
Dervlinne interjected again. "He seems somewhat perturbed that you
don't recognise him, honoured one. He says his name is Bumptious."
Treguard looked at the man in astonishment, suddenly realising that
he was indeed a dwarf. But Bumptious? Could he...? He saw the way the man
was nodding happily. Well by crikey; it was Bumptious, the gold miner who
had excavated level two of the Knightmare dungeon over ten years before. He
had shaved off his beard, and Treguard couldn't for the life of him work
out why he'd have chosen such a horrible hood, but it was him alright.
"Bumptious! What are you doing he-...?" Treguard's voice tailed off
when he realised that he wouldn't understand the answer. "Never mind that.
Tell Dervlinne what happened to your teeth."
Bumptious nodded and embarked on another stream of gibberish, while
"He says that he had an accident while mining a dungeon below a
"Oh?" said Majida, eyebrow raised. "Which castle?"
"It was attacked a few weeks ago," continued Dervlinne. It was
unclear whether it was her who was ignoring Majida or if it was Bumptious.
"The raiders brought down one of the castle's walls, and it caused a
rockslide in the caverns below ground..."
"Marblehead!" thundered Treguard. "You were mining Marblehead!"
"Yupyupyup!!" confirmed Bumptious, his head nodding up and down so
rapidly his voluminous nose almost faded into a blur, then continued his
"The cave-in wouldn't have happened, of course," sniffed the elf as
she translated with just a hint of disdain, "if the dwarf hadn't carelessly
weakened the cavern walls without firstly putting up appropriate tunnel
supports..." Bumptious gave Dervlinne the affronted look of a man whose
words had been blatantly-mistranslated in front of a foreign audience,
"...and he was caught in the rockslide."
"Hurt did it?" asked Majida obtusely.
Bumptious jabbered more details to the elf.
"To be precise," Dervlinne translated, "he lost nine teeth, suffered
a broken jaw, sprained an elbow ligament, jarred his neck, and split his
tongue in three separate places."
"Oooh nasty," commented Treguard with sympathy.
"Is that why he no talk proper then?" asked Majida.
Even by the highest standards of cretiny, standards which surely
applied to Majida, this question belonged on the list of the all-time truly
stupid questions. Therefore, Treguard and Dervlinne gave her a quick look
that said "Shut up, before we trim your fingernails very clumsily with a
giant pickaxe" and returned their attention to Bumptious. "Why were you
excavating there of all places?" demanded Treguard. "Surely there must be
dozens of safer places to dig for gold?"
Jabber, jabber went Bumptious.
"Honoured Dungeon Master," explained Dervlinne, casually sidestepping
a flying lettuce hurled in her direction from the ill-mannered crowd, "It
seems the dwarf was not attempting to obtain gold. He was prospecting for a
rare mineral reputed to be found in the territory. Apparently said mineral
was the staple diet of the Mozcaro..."
"What are dees Moskeetos?" demanded Majida.
"The Mozcaro," Treguard corrected her firmly, "are a tribe of gnomic
scholars from Cornwall. Hordriss told me about them once. They're an aloof
bunch, peace-loving but quarrelsome in dealing with humans. They have the
sharpest teeth of all the creatures of England."
"They better if they eat rock."
"The Mozcaro are in great danger, honoured one," continued Dervlinne,
determined not to be deflected from the subject. "Their dependence on the
mineral paloranite to feed themselves forces them to lead a nomadic
existence to find food. Unfortunately they have been unable to locate a
fresh source of the mineral, and their stocks are dangerously low. This is
why they have requested the help of Bumptious."
Treguard shook his head quietly, and ignored the rest of Dervlinne's
translation - he could guess the rest of it. Bumptious had been convinced
to come out of retirement and he had searched all the possible territories
he could for paloranite. Innocently he had approached Marblehead, unaware
of the identity of its vile Lord, and requested that he be allowed to
search the caverns of the dungeon below. And in return for an extortionate
fee, the foul Technomancer had agreed to let Bumptious prospect in his
"...And Bumptious is now here selling goods to raise the funds he
needs to replace his mining equipment," Dervlinne concluded, now sounding
incredibly bored with the sound of her own voice. "Once he's managed to
restock he plans to return to Marblehead and resume his search."
"How like Lord Fear to exploit the dire needs of others for his own
gain!" spat Treguard. "This makes our task doubly urgent. We shall head for
Marblehead with you, Bumptious, and help you search for the ore you need."
"Shall we?" said Majida in surprise. "What about the Fearlord thingy-
person? He won't wan' us digging his dungeons up."
"We need to investigate the ruins of Marblehead anyway, Majida,"
Treguard pointed out. "We might as well help Bumptious out while we're
there. It would be in keeping with our code of honour wouldn't you say?"
"Oh yeah, big right, of course," sneered Majida, "Dees I get from guy
who send little children into damp haunted dungeons to fight skeletrons and
big bug-eye things. Now he talk about code of honour, ya?"
"That's right," answered Treguard. "But I could talk about examining
your insides again if you prefer." Treguard surveyed the contents of the
stall. They all looked like they could be useful for the journey ahead, and
even for a little dungeoneering. That surprised Treguard somewhat. Although
Bumptious would have had to be prepared for a few of the nastier entities
that lay below Marblehead, with the dungeons still out of phase at present
such threats would surely have been modest. As a professional miner, surely
Bumptious would have been concerned with the correct equipment for digging?
But then Bumptious probably hadn't realised that the dungeons were
currently out of phase. "Alright Bumptious, pack up the wagon and our horse
can drag it south for you. We'll need most of this equipment when we get
Everyone looked up at Rod, who was making a slightly miffed whinnying
noise in response to these tidings.
"Sorry," said Treguard, politely patting Rod's nose. He felt a bit
embarrassed talking to a horse in front of other people, but it seemed the
least gesture he should make.
Majida, typically, was less sympathetic. "Oh shut up, cat meat!" she
snarled, thumping the long-suffering animal on the same nose.
Rod was now mightily offended, and more than a little upset at
receiving so little gratitude. Here he was, straining his poor tired
muscles to haul all this heavy equipment across the damp lands of the North
for these whining hominids, and this was the thanks he got. But he was a
proud, upstanding horse and would not resort to cowardly running away or
spiteful tit-for-tat bulshiness. So he satisfied himself with a lengthy
step forward, barging Majida to the floor, and a grunt of triumph.
Treguard tried not too hard to hide a smug grin as he helped Majida
to her feet. The genie looked down at her now-filthy fatigues in horror.
"All dis Inglant-muddiness of yours, I'm dripping in!" she cried, barely
"Yes," confirmed Dervlinne, not realising that it was another
complaint, not a request for clarification. "Perhaps," she offered as an
afterthought, "you should have worn something more appropriate for
foresting before you set off? Those clothes would be ideal if we were in
the middle of a desert. But this is hardly a desert."
Bumptious also had a sadistic grin on his face. It clearly hadn't
taken him any longer than Dervlinne to start loathing Majida. He turned to
Treguard and started jabbering again.
"What's he saying?" asked Treguard, sidestepping another rotten
vegetable surreptitiously hurled his way from the crowd.
"He says he is grateful for your offer, honoured one, and asks when
we shall depart." Dervlinne sounded slightly cheesed off, the conversation
clearly a chore to her, but Treguard, diplomatic to the last, made no
"I'd like to leave town as soon as possible," said Treguard.
Unsurprisingly, he got no quarrel with this suggestion. "We need rest
though, so I suggest we head about half a mile out, then set up camp."
"Hey," smiled Majida, much impressed, "You make some sense thees
"Thank you," growled Treguard, helping Bumptious to start loading the
wagon, "That's most encouraging."
* * *
Night had fallen by the time Treguard's ramshackle band found a
reasonably sheltered spot to make camp. They were in fact a good deal more
than a mile South of Krochester by now, and had entered the vast wooded
mass of Delamere. The extra canopy of leaves on the high branches had been
worth all the searching though, because the dark clouds had rolled in, and
the air was already suffused with annoying spots of drizzle. It was quite a
pleasant patch of ground they'd set up on. The ground was firm, but
cushioned with a fall of gentle heathers and bracken, and it was dry.
Majida, somewhat sullenly, had gathered wood and they'd built a good
warming fire to heat their aching joints. Bumptious, uncomplaining -
largely because complaint is quite futile when you can't speak clearly -
was cheerfully warming his hands between constantly jostling with Majida
for more elbow room. The reason so much space was required was Majida
insisted on reclining around a ridiculously large stretch of the fire's
perimeter, trying to get her ruined clothes at least dry enough to continue
hiking in a reasonable degree of comfort.
Dervlinne had soon tired of their constant shoving and nudging which
had inevitably caught her up in it, and had climbed into the branches of
the nearest tree, curled up, and manifestly failed to fall asleep.
Treguard meanwhile sat to one side on a rock, trying to untangle some
of the knots in his grey-streaked beard. He was trying to give the
impression that he was above mixing with his petty companions, and there
was an echo of truth in this. But he was more trying to avoid showing the
others his greatest weakness. His age. After nearly a week of wandering
through the Northern wilderness he was at the end of his tether physically,
and he wasn't sure if he was going to be in any kind of worthwhile shape
when they arrived at Marblehead, which would hopefully be in three days. He
really felt he was getting too old for all this. This was what his
dungeoneers were for. But with the Dungeon paths closed, the elf paths
dormant, and the path between the Past and the Future still dispersed, he
was having to do this himself, and he was having to go the long way round
He so wished he hadn't installed the Pool of Veracity in Dunshelm.
When the great Troll had invaded the Castle, the magic mirror in the
antechamber was damaged - only slightly, it still worked, but the damage
was just great enough that the mirror couldn't survive a complete phase
shift of the Dungeon. While rooting around for a replacement, the Powers
That Be raided Lord Fear's hideout above Goth, and found it abandoned. But
left behind was the infamous Pool of Veracity through which Lord Fear had
for so long witnessed, and wherever possible perverted, the Outside World,
and Treguard had decided that it was probably a suitable replacement.
How wrong he had been. The implements of Techno-sorcery were firmly
Lord Fear's preserve or no one's at all. The Pool had tainted the purer
magic of the Dungeon, which, be it dominated by the evil of the Gruagach or
cleansed by Chivalry, had never before been sullied by technology. Now the
Dungeon seemed unable to reform itself, and Treguard had even found that
removing the Pool again had made no difference - the damage was done. And
now without the power of the Dungeon behind him, he had lost his biggest
advantage, and so the last few years of battle against Fear had been
unhappy ones. This expedition was just the latest example of the problems
he had been having. Pleanty of endeavour, just not enough mobility.
He remembered wistfully what a fast and powerful swordsman he had
been in his younger years. He wished that this sort of thing could have
happened back then instead, when he still had the energy to cope without
the aid of the Dungeon paths. Of course, things might not have turned out
any better, because back then he had been a mercenary, and he would have as
likely accepted a job from Lord Fear as fought against him. Pathetic.
Still, it showed that age had its advantages - the greedy sadist Treguard
had been in his youth wouldn't have had the wit to understand the threat
that Fear posed. Truth be told, he hadn't been a whole lot better in
Mogdred's time either - Treguard nowadays cringed when he remembered his
short-sighted amusement at the misfortune of so many of his own dungeoneers
as they fell to the perils of Knightmare. There was so much he could have
achieved back then, and what did he do? Pour scorn on his own!
Why is youth wasted on the young? he thought. Or is that, why is
wisdom wasted on old age?
* * *
"...And did those feet in ancient times," proclaimed the snarling
tones of history's most talented gloater, "...walk upon England's mountains
green, and say 'Golly, what a mound of nose excreta! Let's change it into
something red and lumpy...' and..." Lord Fear fixed his captive audience
with a warning glare, "...I can promise you that when they said 'red and
lumpy' they weren't talking about spaghetti sauce."
Skarkill sighed as he watched this latest display of grotesque
theatrics from his master. At present he and Raptor were sitting on either
side of a dungeon cell, while its sole occupant was forced to listen to
round after round of Fear's unctuous monologues.
"It's all about me, of course," continued Fear, "so it goes without
saying that it's all about brilliance too."
"If it goes without saying," said the nasal tones of the suffering
occupant in the cell, "don't say it."
"Please be quiet when I'm talking at you," said Fear, rather politely
all things considered.
"What do you mean 'or'?" Fear demanded. "You mean you want me to
threaten you? I can promise you, there's no-one better at that."
"Ah, don't make me laugh," grumbled the tough voice of the prisoner.
"Good idea," smirked Fear. "I don't want you to die laughing, do I?"
"Why not?" asked the prisoner. "I can't still be of any use to you
"Would it were so. The spell will stop working when you die,"
explained Fear. "I'll be perfectly happy to tickle you to death once
Treguard is beaten. But not before."
"Oh." The prisoner seemed to turn this thought over in his head for a
moment. "Well thanks for clearin' that up."
"My pleasure," answered Fear. "I do love the sound of my own voice."
"Don' we all, yer Fearship?" Skarkill put in hurriedly. Raptor nodded
vigorously as well.
"No," said the prisoner. "I thought it was just a method of torture.
I'm sure being forced to listen to you contravenes a Magna Carta of some
Fear scowled. Happily, before he could offer his own opinions, there
was the irritating buzz of the communication alarm. Fear turned from the
cell-chamber and walked to his sixteen million colour/stereo-surround-sound
techno-magic mirror. It remained dark, but a hissing voice rang out across
"Yes, Lissard, me ol' Kermit?" Lord Fear responded. "What news?"
"Your Lorrd-nessss!" said the voice of the Atlantean. "All is prossss-
ceeding according to schedule. Treguard has set up camp-nessss to the South
of Krochess-ss-ssster. On present progress-nessss, arrival at Marblehead
will be in three dayssss. Precisssse-ly as you antissss-cipated-ness."
Lord Fear rubbed his hands together in delight. "Excellent, Lissard.
Continue to keep me updated, old flubber."
"Of coursssse, your Lord-nesss-..."
Lord Fear snapped his fingers and the mirror switched off. Fear
returned to the cell-chamber "His voice is quite pleasant over the wireless
don't ya think? Nice not to get showered in frog-slobber every time he says
'isosceles' for a change."
Skarkill shrugged non-commitally. Lord Fear shrugged as well,
unconcerned. If Skarkill didn't have the intelligence to see a blessing
even when it ran up to him and hit him over the head with a cricket bat
that was his problem. Fear then spread his arms melodramatically. Skarkill
and Raptor recoiled slightly, half-expecting the fireballs to fly. But
instead, Fear resumed his monologue.
"And as he gazed down upon the rank and file, as he saw the full
artistic glory of his creation, the full terror of his treachery, the
fruits of his conquest, the world did gaze upon him and they did cry 'Fear!
Fear! Ruler of all England! Ruler of the seven Worlds...!'"
Raptor looked at Skarkill enquiringly. Being a comparatively newer
recruit and having always tried to avoid his boss as much as possible,
Raptor still didn't understand some of Fear's more peculiar habits as well
as the other Opposition goons. "Who's 'e talkin' about?" he whispered.
Skarkill let loose another sigh. "'Imself. 'E's going through the
'Third Person Delusions of Grandeur' phase now."
Raptor nodded wisely to himself. "Right. Instead of the usual 'first
person gloating till 'is face cracks in two' phase?"
Skarkill smiled faintly. "That's right. You're gettin' the 'ang of it
at last." The smile melted into a resigned shrug of boredom. "This place
turns into a right theatre when he gets in the mood."
* * *
While slicing through the undergrowth with the mid-section of
Morpheus' blade, Treguard snarled as he snagged his ankle on a thick
bramble-branch. He felt the tiny barbs digging into the leather of his
boots, and had to bend over to untether his foot before he could resume
It had been two days now since leaving Krochester, and having
departed the forest of Delamere, they were now trekking through wild and
thick marshland. The weather had turned increasingly wet and windy, and as
the rain lashed into the faces of the tiny band, so tempers had begun to
fray again. Trees were few and far between around this area, so shelter was
not an option, and this of course meant Majida was complaining more than
ever. "We supposed to walk, no swim! It too cold for swim. I cold. I wet."
She ran up to Treguard and stood nose to nose with him, a look of the
shallowest hatred in her dark eyes. "You listen? I WET!
"I knew you'd find something to say which I could agree with some
day," grunted Treguard. "Look at it this way, Miss. At least all the rain's
washing the mud out of your clothes."
"Oh yea, great," said Majida, "New-moanier ees much more fun, yea?"
"Oh yes," snarled Treguard, pushing past her and resuming the march
through the deep marshes. "Trust me, Majida, right now the thought of you
contracting pneumonia is the one thing which is keeping me going."
A small way ahead he saw Dervlinne had led the horse and wagon past
them and was heading for a cluster of trees in the distance. "We can take
shelter there until the storm subsides, honoured Dungeon Master," she
Treguard looked at Majida and Bumptious, both looking exhausted and
bedraggled. It was getting to the point where none of them would be in any
shape to explore Marblehead if they didn't get regular opportunities to
recuperate. Treguard nodded, and they pushed on to take cover under the
As is always the way with these things, by the time they arrived the
storm was beginning to ease off a little, but the travellers were still
grateful for the chance to rest in the (relative) dry. Dervlinne had
tethered the uncomplaining Rod to one of the smaller trees, making sure he
had enough cover from the rain and plenty of grass to refresh himself on.
Then she joined the others who were all sat under the largest tree, a
magnificent grey oak. Treguard, unconcerned by the impact it would have on
his popularity, pulled his boots off and gave his toes a sorely needed
breath of air. Majida was now too soaked to complain anymore, be it about
the shocking state of her clothes ot the even more shocking smell of
Treguard's feet. Bumptious jabbered cheerfully to everyone who would
listen, which in this case was only the horse, about how grateful he was to
Treguard and his companions for their assistance in this vital quest to
save the Mozcaro, and how much he appreciated the importance of their own
quest, and how he would of course do everything he could to help them with
that as a return of favour, and how much he sympathised with them these
hardships they were putting themselves through for the greater common good,
and how he respected them all the more for it, and how he understood keenly
that they were clearly brave upstanding and chivalrous people whom he was
deeply honoured to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with in this most dire of
emergencies and that of course he was in no way attempting to imply that
his own mission was any more important than their own and that he deeply
hoped that if they did choose to infer that, that he had in no way
contravened any of the bye-laws of Knightmare Castle, but that if he had
that he was deeply sorry for the offence he had caused and that he wouldn't
have ever done such a thing if he hadn't still been half-insensible from
the injuries he had suffered at Marblehead, which were a deeply shameful
blemish on the Opposition's safety record and in fact he was tempted to sue
Lord Fear for the damages, so in fact, wouldn't it be fairer if Treguard
blamed Lord Fear for the offence, and consequently sued him, although of
course he did see, if that was how they felt, that it is a bit much to
blame Fear for everything that was wrong with the World, because of course,
there were some bad things which happened from time-to-time which even Fear
was not responsible for, and indeed had nothing to do with at all.
Which was all a bit pointless, because of course, Treguard, Majida
and Rod couldn't understand a word he was saying, and Dervlinne wasn't
"Dervderv!" pouted Bumptious when he realised he might as well have
been talking to the tree for all the response he was getting.
Dervlinne looked up at him, her expression broken with lines of
"Something troubles you, she-sprite?" asked Treguard, his tone sigh-
like, the relief he felt at getting off his feet almost tangible.
"She probably sniffing your stinking feets," said Majida sourly.
"There is a presence here, honoured one," answered Dervlinne. She
looked like she was in a trance. "I sense it..."
"I already tell you," inisisted Majida. "It just Treguard's
"Shut up, Majida," suggested Treguard, slowly hauling himself back to
his feet. He grunted unhappily at the renewed exertion - he'd only been
seated a moment but already his joints had started tightening up. "What
presence do you sense?"
"There is something here, that is beyond question," Dervlinne nodded
to herself. She was staring at the oak now. "Something, someone. Very
There was a sharp whooshing sound that made Majida and Bumptious
spring to their feet with a start. Treguard looked up and saw a branch of
the tree suddenly bending downwards and reaching out. He immediately drew
his sword as he realised that the branch was reaching for Dervlinne.
Dervlinne was lithe, Dervlinne was fast... but she stood rooted to
the spot, her jaw dropped, her eyes fixed on the trunk of the tree.
"Dervlinne, move!" snarled Treguard, raising Morpheus to strike.
"It's a dryad..."
The branch however wrapped itself around Dervlinne's slender figure.
With a hideous creak it raised itself up, lifting Dervlinne off her feet
and suspending her high above the ground. And yet still she uttered not a
sound, but carried on staring with an icy wonderment. While Majida and
Bumptious jumped away from the tree and hunted frantically for cover,
Treguard turned and thrust the blade deep into the tree's bough. There came
from within it a most unearthly sound, a strangled howl of agony and rage,
and another branch suddenly swung down and swatted Treguard aside as if he
were a mere insect. The branch then curled around the sword and yanked it
effortlessly from the wooden flesh of the mighty tree troll.
Treguard was dazed where he lay. He sat up woozily, rubbed the nasty
red graze on his cheek where the branch had struck him. He looked up and
saw that the branches of the tree were reaching in all directions, for
Majida, for Bumptious, and for him. Dervlinne was still held in thrall,
looking more curious than concerned, while Morpheus was also held in the
dryad's vice-like grasp, far beyond Treguard's reach. He tried to edge away
from the branch as it snatched at him, but it was no good. If he stood it
would make it easier to reach him, as long as he stayed squat he wouldn't
be able to move fast enough.
And then the face appeared. The very bark of the tree's skin seemed
to fold in and split, to warp and to concentralise, like a pool of water
with two stones cast into it. The eyes were hooded and dark, and to look
into them gave the impression of staring into the passage of infinity
itself, such was their age, so great was the time they had seen. The mouth
split open the base of the trunk, and a deep, yokelling voice rumbled
"Clumsy feet, closed minds, careless words and thoughtless sounds. We
will NOT abide them!"
Treguard was finally snared in the grasp of the branch. He felt its
sharp thorns digging into him as it curled about him and slowly hauled him
"Oakley..." hissed Treguard, recognising the tree troll, "How can you
"'Tis anywhere we can be, where the land be kind to tree," growled
Oakley. "Those who walk the path must understand the path they walk. But
when the trees do sleep, you talk and talk and talk. Leaf mold we will not.
So hang you we will until you rot."
"No!" squealed Majida. "We no know you were sleep..."
"Ignorance is no excuse!" thundered the tree troll. "You walk a path
you do not know. So now you face the moment of truth. Death is thus where
you must go..."
Treguard knew much about this fearsome creature from Pickle. It was
very much like a wall monster in many respects, and although more
intelligent, it had some similar weaknesses in common with, not just wall
monsters, but many faerie creatures. One such weakness, he knew, was its
inability to resist a puzzle.
"I challenge you!" Treguard gasped.
"Challenge?" exclaimed Oakley, slightly perplexed.
"I know the path, I understand it!" Treguard appealed hurriedly. "If
you don't believe me, test me."
Oakley emitted a soft boom of laughter. "Us? Test you? For false and
true? Test your mind about forest and tree? Ha! Very well, so it shall be.
So test you we will, and test you now. Test your thoughts, your belief, and
your wooded know-how. Free you'll all be if you tell a good tale. But crush
you we will if the test you fail!"
Treguard didn't need it pointing out to him that he was in no
position to dispute these terms. He and his companions were all held fast
in the dryad's immense grasp, and even if they could get free, it would be
the work of just seconds for Oakley to kill them. They were slaves to
Oakley's will, all of them. That is, all of them bar the horse, whom
Treguard now noticed was watching their predicament with something that
looked suspiciously like callous amusement. "Give me your test, tree
troll!" snapped Treguard, trying absurdly to make it sound like he was the
one in command of the situation. "I'll answer you."
"Very well," rumbled Oakley.
"Twas on the forest isle of Old Kintyre, the first of the Westermen
did walk on fire. Trapped he was, in a forest in flames. There was nowhere
to run, no time for games. The North half of the isle was a raging inferno,
and it spread with the breezes, for south did they blow. The man could not
swim, no help was at hand, no boat was in reach to take him clear of this
land. From all corners the island would soon be afire, every inch swallowed
in its terrible ire. All at hand were two sticks to fight for life, no use
against a blaze though, its fury so rife. And yet he survived, unscathed
bar inhalation, so tell me how he escaped the dire conflagration."
That was the conundrum he had to solve? Tricky. Treguard thought for
a long moment. It was safe to assume that it had nothing to do with
gathering water from the shore and throwing it on the flames. But how could
a man trapped on an island, with nothing available to him but a pair of
sticks possibly escape if he couldn't swim? He could hardly build a raft
out of them. So what could he do...?
To be continued...