-- The Story of Luke's Beard --

"A pint of your finest ale, please."

The bartender glared at him from behind his bushy beard.

"Sorry, lad, I don't serve children."

Luke went red. This elicited uproarious laughter from the Dwarves who sat at the table closest to the bar.

"I am NOT a child!" growled Luke, hefting his broad shoulders and matching the bartender in a glare, "I'm thirty years old and I've seen more battle than you. Just because my beard won't grow..."

"No-beardy no-beardy no-beard!" chanted the patrons of the Belching Bird, Bustoke's local Dwarf tavern. Suppressing the urge to drive his axe straight through the bar, Luke stormed off. His appetite had grown sour anyway.

--

What's wrong with me, he thought for the thousandth time, why can't I just grow a beard like a normal Dwarf? Is it a disease? A curse? Has the Light a grudge against this poor warrior, who has fought so faithfully for the forces of good?

Deep in his black musing, he almost walked straight into the old man who stepped out in front of him. He was dressed in the full cowled robes of a Manarina wizard - dark blue for an adept.

"Go away." muttered Luke.

"Pardon me, good sir, but aren't you Luke of the Shining Force?"

"So what if I am?"

"I've been looking for a member of the Shining Force." said the wizard, "I need your help. I'm willing to pay a goodly fortune."

"Hm?" his ears pricked up. The promise of monetary recompense was always welcome, "How much?"

"Let's say twenty thousand gold." he said, "Or a spell."

"A spell?"

"Any permanent magical enchantment."

"Gold will do..." he muttered. Then a thought occurred to him, "Can you grow beards with magic?"

"Beards?" the mage scratched his head, "I... er... don't see why not. We can turn people into hens, so facial hair shouldn't be a problem."

"What is it I have to do?"

"Its like this." he began, "During the Shining Force's last visit to Manarina, our battle standard went missing."

"You lost yeour flag?"

"Of course we aren't meaning to imply that its disappearance was anything to do with you fellows. How could such fine upstanding warriors of Light go around stealing people's flags? But I was wondering if you knew where it went. Maybe Kane stole it..."

"And if I find your flag, you'll help my beard grow?"

"I can have a contract drawn up immediately..."

"I'll get to it right it away!" said Luke, shouldering his axe and wandering off. A huge battle standard shouldn't be too hard to find...

--

Meanwhile, Arthur was sorting through his laundry basket. It had been a long time he had time to sit and do the Force's laundry, what with all the travelling and constant fighting. It helped that he had been permanently placed in reserve ever since anyone at all had been found who could possibly replace him. The contents of the basket were now getting quite smelly, full of soil, grass stains and, in some cases, blood. Lowe had left a potion in his pocket again so that the water was now dark blue. It had stained his white robes! Arthur hoped the priest wouldn't be angry. It was a bad idea to upset your healer.

As he got to the bottom of his laundry basket, he discovered a few things he hadn't seen in a long time. A blue hooded robe... a large pointy hat... Some of these things were items he had accidentally taken from Manarina! He most have just taken them off the line and shoved them in his basket in his hurry to leave. After all, the Force had left really quickly and forgot to tell him. It was as if they had deliberately left him behind!

The last item in his basket was very odd - a huge red tablecloth. He didn't remember being given that to wash before! It looked like it could only have fit the table of the great dining hall, made to seat every student in the Academy, and it had the Manarina coat of arms emblazoned on it. Wizards do like their big dinners, thought Arthur.

Luke walked in.

"Hello, Luke." said Arthur cheerfully, "Been down the pub again?"

The Dwarf glared at him, punched him in the face and grabbed the tablecloth.

--

"No! MY laundry!" said Arthur, grabbing the tablecloth back.

"Give it here, you daft bastard!" said Luke, making another grab for it. Arthur bolted out of Headquarters as fast as his four legs could carry him. Luke only has two short legs, thought Arthur, he'll never catch me.

The Dwarf, realising that he couldn't outrun a Centaur, looked around for something to throw at him. His eyes caught sight of Lyle's spare automatic crossbow. It was heavy, but he managed to lift it over his shoulder and run out of the door with it. He pointed it at the retreating figure of Arthur, loaded it and pulled the trigger.

The recoil bowled him over and sent him spinning backwards. The crossbow went nowhere near its aim, pointing somewhere straight upwards. Luke heard a hideous tearing sound, then a scream. Something plummeted out of the sky, a flailing, screaming ball of arms, legs and canvas. It looked suspiciously like Kokichi. Luke ran in the other direction.

He bumped right into somebody large, then fell over. He looked up and gulped, trying to look innocent.

"What in the Light's name is going on?" demanded the man, his voice a slightly reptilian growl.

"Er... it was Arthur! He mugged me! Then he stole my laun... my battle standard and ran off! Catch the criminal!"

"You can't even capture a flag on your own?" General Elliot growled, "And you guys are supposed to meet me on the battlefield? Honestly, the quality of the enemy has gone down..."

"Stop gloating at my misfortune and help me, you evil man!"

"Anything for some peace and quiet." he sighed, "Okay, we need to use strategy. Here's what we do..."

--

The Dwarf was not chasing him any more. He must have given up and gone back to the bar. What in the Light's name possessed him to steal the laundry anyway? It wasn't even dry yet! After carefully taking it off the washing line he made using two Power Spears and some string, Arthur returned home.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he screamed.

"Selling your laundry." said Luke, "What does it look like?"

There was a small market stall outside Headquarters with Arthur's laundry carefully lined up on it. A few people were standing around the stall but not many. After all, it was only a bunch of second hand clothes.

"Want to buy a genuine wizard's robe?" asked Luke, holding it up.

"Stop! Stop!" Arthur threw a spear at him but Luke parried it with his axe.

"Give me the flag and I'll give you the rest of your laundry back!"

"NO! It's my tablecloth!"

"Are you sure? I might accidentally drop this in the mud!" he said, waving the robe around.

"L... let's negotiate this carefully!" said Arthur, "Look, I'm lowering my weapon! Lower the robes carefully to the ground and I'll..."

"YOINK!" yelled General Elliot, jumping out from behind a tree, bashing Arthur over the head and stealing the flag.

He turned to Luke and gave him the flag.

"I'll want that back once I invade Manarina." he said.

"Its a deal." said Luke. You won't be invading Manarina anyway, he thought to himself, because the Shining Force will whup your ass in battle tomorrow.

--

The wizard inspected the flag carefully using his ornate mithril-gilded monocle. After a few minutes, he nodded.

"This is the genuine article." he said.

"So, what about my beard?"

The wizard rummaged in his robes and retrieved a small hairy object.

"What's that?"

"This was grown in a vat using the most forbidden magics known to man." said the wizard, handing it to him, "Be careful how you use it, for its power is a double-edged blade!"

"It looks like a false beard." said Luke, trying it on. It WAS a false beard.

"Isn't it realistic, though?" asked the wizard, offering him a mirror, "It could fool even a master Dwarven barber."

"I look like a lion!" he complained, "Even a Halfling would be ashamed of it!"

"Your face doesn't really suit a full length beard. You look distinguished like that."

"I went to a lot of trouble to retrieve that flag!" said Luke angrily, "I demand something other than a false beard!"

"Okay, I'll... er... put an enchantment on it! A permanent Attack 2 spell!"

"I'd rather have Support 2."

"I can put both on!" said the wizard, waving his arms and chanting random words, "Ipso facto! Hey presto! Attack 2! Support 2!"

"Yay! I have a magic beard!" said Luke happily. Then he ran off to the pub.
--