A grey haze rose in the distance. Madmartigan brushed his luscious brown hair over his shoulder as he brought his horse to a halt. Something was wrong.
"Something's not right," he told his horse. "Stay here and DON'T WHINNY." The horse shook off his gentle caress, as Madmartigan looked deeply into his eyes. He cared deeply about that horse, too deeply for words. Instead of attempting to explain, he turned, drew his sword, and crept into the darkness of the haze as silently as a ninja.
He'd taken barely ten steps before he could no longer see the sun. Brushing up against a thatched cottage, he kept his back pressed against the wall, sword at the ready. He could see some dark shapes moving in the distance. Taking the advantage of surprise, he tucked and rolled out in front of them, quickly grabbing the nearest and pressing his blade against their throat.
"Madmartigan? Is that you?" a familiar voice gurgled. "Madmartigan, put the sword DOWN! I'm unarmed!" It took him a moment to place the voice, but it explained why the man he'd grabbed was so near to the ground. It was Willow, his dwarf friend.
"Willow! My dwarf friend! I'm so glad to see you!" Madmartigan embraced Willow tightly, then held him back for a good look. "Let me get a good look at you!" Madmartigan stared deeply into Willow's eyes, seeing there the grand adventure they had once shared.
"Madmartigan, are you okay? You're making me uncomfortable."
"Willow, something terrible has happened here!"
"I know, I was here. There was a witch!"
"She turned all of the villagers into mice!"
"Well, can't you turn them back?"
"She took my wand!"
"Well, we'll have to go find you one, then… Do you know where we can find a wand?" Madmartigan
stood decisively, but didn't take a step in any direction. Just then, a mouse scurried towards them and up Willow's leg. Willow giggled.
"Help me, Madmartigan!"
"It's just a mouse." But Madmartigan gamely slapped at Willow's body, not managing to swat off the mouse.
The mouse hopped up on Willow's left shoulder and leaned in towards his ear. Willow giggled again as it tickled. "He needs you to go to the Castle of Blackthorn to retrieve it."
"Me? What about you?"
"I have to stay here and make sure none of them get squished. They think a dwarf knows more about being stepped on than a giant like you."
"Ah. Of course."
"Good luck, Madmartigan!"
Madmartigan looked deeply into the eyes of the mouse. "I will find you the wand you need." And then he was off.
With no thought of the dangers he would face, Madmartigan rode off in the direction of Castle Blackthorn, his trust steed racing like the wind. But as he felt the sun on his face once again, it occurred to him that he was needlessly putting his own life in danger. "I have more important things to do," he told himself. "Even if I found the sword, Willow probably couldn't use it. They'll figure a way out of the mess on their own." So he jerked the reigns towards the East, the direction of his favorite tavern. "I'll send them a message when I get there," he reassured himself.
When he reached the pub, he tied up his horse. He patted its nose, and told him "If you hear that anyone is looking for me… anyone… sound the alarm."
As he strode into the tavern and slapped down a few coins for a mug of ale, he noticed a bit of movement to the serving girl's curly blonde hair. Grabbing her to him quickly, he managed to grab both of the brownies hiding in her hair. They moaned and groaned as Madmartigan plunked them on the counter, then scurried away. "You appear to have some unusually large lice." He told her.
She stepped back, flustered, as he released her. "Have we met before?" he asked her, leaning towards her again. She tripped as she continued to step backwards, away from him. "I'm Madmartigan," he told her.
"Deirdre. No, we don't know each other."
"If we don't know each other, why are you so anxious to get away from me?" He smiled and looked deeply into her eyes.
"I-ah-I I just am!" She dropped her tray entirely and retreated behind the bar.
"I'm not going to hurt you." Madmartigan heaved himself over the bar so he could continue looking at her.
"Well, fine. But I'd like my beer." Madmartigan leaned over her and poured himself a tankard of ale. He retreated across the room to an empty table, and watched, as Deidre peeked her head out around the corner of the bar. He waved. Frustrated, she marched over to him.
Pulling out a kitchen knife, she asked him politely, "Can you please leave?"
"Not unless you tell me why you dislike me so much."
She huffed a little, "Fine! …It's your reputation. I don't want you sullying this tavern."
"It's a tavern. It's supposed to be sullied. And my reputation is, at the moment, spotless. I'm a hero of the realm, I was happily married until my wife was assassinated, and I have yet to kill anyone in retribution. My reputation is beyond reproach."
"I don't want to soliders who stop here to think my ale can turn you yellow. You're well-known as a coward, and the lack of avenging your wife's death proves it!"
Madmartigan effortlessly disarmed Deirdre. "Don't make me angry enough to prove you wrong. All right, I'll leave. I don't want any trouble." He chugged his beer and turned towards the door. But behind it, an eerie glow was spreading. "Do you have a back way out of here?" Deidre shook her head no. "Well, then we're going to have to get creative."
Madmartigan pulled her into the tavern's back room and sized her up. "You'll do. Stand right there." With a quick leap, he hopped onto the table, then to Deirdre's shoulders. "Hold my legs steady." He began hacking at the roof, trying to make a hole.
"What are you doing to my tavern?!" Deirdre screeched. But by this time, Madmartigan was already pulling himself up through the thatch.
"Your tavern?" he asked her. "What happened to Roland?"
"My father died."
"I'm sorry. Look, let me give you a hand up."
"It's that or become a mouse, I'm afraid. Your choice."
With a backwards glance, Deidre reached up to Madmartigan, and was pulled through the roof before she could even see who had entered behind her. Madmartigan quickly shifted some of the thatch back over the hole. He looked over at Deirdre, warning her with his eyes that she needed to be absolutely still. Below them, they heard the clank of metal on metal as several soldiers shuffled into the room. "There's no one here!" one called out.
But there was a swish of skirts and some eerie light, and Madmartigan recognized the voice that spoke, "They can't have gotten far." It was Bavmorda! Deirdre gasped, giving away their position. Madmartigan grabbed her hand and they slid off of the roof, and the soldiers ran outside. Falling to the ground, Deirdre stumbled, twisting her ankle. With a single glance, Madmartigan knew what had gone wrong. He swept her over his shoulder and ran as fast as he could. The soldiers set fire to the tavern and Deirdre hit his back with her fists as hard as she could to no avail.
"My home is burning down! Let me go!"
"There's nothing you can do there except let the Queen torture you for information."
"The Queen is dead!"
"It doesn't look that way. Now stop squirming!"
"Where are you taking me?"
"To my horse. Then to Castle Blackthorn. There's only one thing she could be after."
Madmartigan could see Castle Blackthorn over the ridge. It was in ruins, and surrounded by a thorny hedge that had grown around it over the years. He woke Deirdre up by gently shaking her.
"Where are we?"
"Castle Blackthorn. I need to get a wand for Willow."
"We're going in there?"
"I'm going in there. You're staying with the horse." Deirdre huffed a little at this, but Madmartigan was off walking towards the castle too quickly for her to say anything. As he crossed over the ridge, though, he found himself under attack by a band of knights. Drawing his sword, he parried and thrust, knocking arms and legs and heads to the ground, only to look around and realize there were no people inside them. …And they were slowly pulling themselves back together.
"This must be black magic." He told himself. He knocked them to the ground once more and kicked the helmets as far away as he could. Then he ran towards the castle as they began pulling themselves together again.
When he reached the castle, he started hacking at the thorny brush with his sword, glancing over his shoulder to see how far off the hollow knights were. He increased his speed to no avail. No matter how hard he chopped, the thorns simply refused to be cut. On closer examination, he realized they were smoke-blackened metal, and not a plant at all. Behind him, he could see that the hollow knights had collected themselves and were now lumbering towards him again.
Madmartigan steeled himself for capture, but out of nowhere, Deirdre appeared on the horse, riding behind the hollow knights and holding out a long stick that stuck out on either side. As she passed the knights, they were knocked to the ground in a mix of parts. Reaching Madmartigan, she stuck the end of the pole in the ground and vaulted herself over the thorns. After a brief moment of dumbfoundedness, Madmartigan hopped on the horse and circled around holding the pole. He built up a good amount of speed and followed her example, vaulting over the thorns, turning mid-air to wave his horse away from the hollow knights.
This action allowed him to neatly slip by an errant branch of thorns and break his fall on a barrel of wine. Wet and surprised, he sputtered, as he heard laughter above him. Deirdre had been caught by the thorns and hung twenty feet in the air, unable to release their hold on her.
"You're one to laugh," he told her, grouchily.
"At least you had the sense to land in good spirits."
"Can you get me down?"
Madmartigan looked around for a tool, but the pole had unfortunately stayed on the other side of the wall. Spying a catapult, however, he wheeled it into position directly underneath Deirdre, and loaded it with a bag of grain.
"You're not going to…" But before Deirdre could finish, Madmartigan launched the catapult, knocking Deirdre off the branch. As she fell, Madmartigan positioned himself below to catch her. She fell into his arms, and for a brief moment, Madmartigan smiled, until the bag of grain clobbered them both. They fell to the ground with a thud, and the bag burst open.
Madmartigan sneezed… it wasn't grain at all. It was fairy dust, pounds and pounds of it, now coating Madmartigan and Deirdre from head to toe. They stood up in a daze.
"Are you…" Deirdre began.
"Feeling what I'm feeling?" Madmartigan finished her sentence. "I feel... amazing! And you… your beauty overwhelms me! Your skin is radiant like the sun! And the moon! And the stars! … Wait a moment, have I said these words before? I don't care. I love you, Deirdre. You are my everything." He gazed deeply into her eyes.
Deirdre said nothing, simply wrapping her hands in Madmartigan's lustrous mane of chestnut hair and kissing him.
Suddenly, a wave of water crashed over them from above. They sputtered and leapt back from each other.
"What was that?!" shrieked Deirdre. "Why were you kissing me?!"
"You were kissing me!"
"I would NEVER kiss you, Madmartigan!" Above them, several brownies tittered, amused at having dumped cold water all over them. When Madmartigan looked up at them, furious, they scattered.
"Brownies!" Madmartigan raced up the stairs to the parapet. When he reached the landing, several of the Brownies jumped off the edge, landing securely on more bags of fairy dust, and sending up small clouds of dust. Deirdre backed away and covered her mouth and nose.
"Madmartigan!" she yelled up to him. "This whole place is full of fairy dust! Don't breathe!"
It was too late. Madmartigan took one breath, and filled his lungs with fairy dust. He coughed uncontrollably, and stared deeply into the eyes of half a dozen brownies before falling off the edge of the parapet. Deirdre ran to see if he was ok.
"These brownies are amazing!" he told her. "I love brownies!"
"Oh, not again!" Deirdre grabbed him by his shirt collar and looked around for more water. There was none to be found. "Well, it has to wear off eventually…" She dragged him towards the castle. "Maybe there's water in here." She glared up at the brownies. "If you think you don't like him when he's chasing after you with a sword, I promise you that you'll like him less when he's kissing you!"
"I have to tell the brownies about my feelings, Deirdre. The way my soul longs for them …they are my other half."
One of the brownies approached. They told Deirdre they didn't have another bucket of water to dump on Madmartigan, but that dousing him in flame would have a similar effect. "We're not magical, you silly thing! Flame will burn us!" So much for the Brownies' help, she thought to herself. However, her response only excited the Brownies further. They poked her and Madmartigan in the ankles with their tiny spears, herding them into the castle's grand hall.
In the center of the hall, under a glass bell, a gnarled metal wand that matched the metal thorns surrounding the castle stood. It was inlaid with rubies to look like drops of blood. The Brownies pushed Madmartigan and Deirdre towards the wand.
"Madmartigan… is this the wand we're looking for?"
"No," said a woman's voice from across the room. "It's the wand I am looking for!" Bavmorda stood triumphantly near the throne. "With this wand, I can undo this castle's curse, and reign anew! I'll ignore that hovel of a castle Elora is living in. I don't need it! My power will be so great, she can do nothing to me now!"
"Bavmorda!" Deirdre spit out. "You're dead!"
"I was never dead, just banished to the netherworld. Ask your dear Madmartigan. And now I'm unbanished. See?" She smiled and raised her arms, lifting the glass bell off the wand magically.
"Nooo!" Deirdre grabbed the wand just in time. Bavmorda attempted to magically yank it from her, but Madmartigan wrapped his arms around her and held onto the wand as well. They closed their eyes as Bavmorda's magic slowly dragged them closer to her.
Suddenly, Bavmorda screamed! "What are you doing to me!" They opened their eyes. Bavmorda was changing! Deirdre and Madmartigan dropped the wand, but the process had already begun. Bavmorda's head elongated, and torso expanded rapidly. Her skin turned green and then scaley. "Oh yes," she growled, "This will do nicely." Her dragon form filled most of the hall. Her eyes looked evil. She looked at Deirdre, who was scrabbling to grab the wand, and took a deep breath.
As she spouted flame towards Deirdre, Madmartigan knocked her out of the way and grabbed the wand, only to be caught in the flame himself. "Madmartigan!" screamed Deirdre! But as the flames licked Madmartigan, golden fairy dust jumped off of his person and became a shimmering golden armor, feeding up to his hand holding the wand. When Bavmorda stopped, Madmartigan pointed the wand directly at her, and the fairy dust flew in her direction, shrinking her down and turning her back into a spirit. She howled as she was banished again into the Netherworld.
The rest of the fairy dust in and around the castle flew up in the air, and as it floated down on the metal thorns, they dissolved. Fin Raziel rode in through the gates with a host of soldiers – no longer hollow - flanking her. "I found these soldiers outside.