Friggins wasn't happy with the way things had turned out, and he was shocked-if not downright betrayed-when he realized that the swill didn't make him feel better. A lifetime of slacking had left him with no regrets, except maybe for the paltry amount of work he had actually done, and he found himself with no way to cope with the leaden weight of responsibility sagging in his belly, like Old Lady Hedgebottom's tits when she felt like going out without her girdle.
"Dalon would help, if I had any," he slurred. His mates nodded their agreement for the seventh time since they had left Anathoptera.
"You want mushroom?" Sammie asked, offering him a cap.
"You bet your cantankerous stones I want mushroom," Friggins replied, and he popped the treat into his mouth. He washed it down with another chug from his bottle, and found small comfort in the fact that he was so drunk he barely noticed the taste.
In a peculiar development, things began to happen backwards. He spat the swill back into the bottle, and coughed the mushroom (still intact) into Sammie's hand.
"Sure," he answered.
"You look glum, mate. You want to get drunk?" one of the crew had asked.
Then he and his mates had discussed things for a while, and how they would likely be hanged for their crimes. Then he had woken up with a hangover, and before that, even his dreams were troubled. He went to sleep, then he was awake and speaking with Sammie (who, it turned out, had sneaked onto the ship earlier) before going back to sleep. Then he crawled into the sewer, walked backwards to the palace, and watched Rebel bring the two guards back to life with his sword.
The guards let them go, they spat the copious amounts of liquor back into bottles, sucked their seed out of the whore (or off her breasts, he couldn't remember which), and pulled smoke from thin air and put it back into their pipes. Then he was washing blood off of his hands, and his hands were bloody because he and his mates had just been stabbing the king with little knifes, pitifully short and unable to do much damage, which is why they had to keep stabbing him to get the job done. Red harry soaked his blood out of the royal carpet and thanked them for the gifts, even as Friggins felt his blade thrusting in and out of the Sea Lord's back. And Dickrod and the Wizard from Drabbiton were there, laughing at them, piling food into their mouths, and Alistair Rebel was trying to but in, showing them the proper way to kill a king.
When he came to, he noticed that the sun was glaring at him the way just before it dipped beneath the horizon. Which was fine with him, the sooner it was done with the better, the better to hide himself from himself. It looked to be a night just like the night before, lonely and without reprieve. So he just lay there on the deck.
"I was back at home," said Milling, "and all the food was trying to eat me."
"I got lost in a big palace, lined with books," said Stodgen, not bothering to open his eyes. "They were falling on me, and I couldn't run away."
"I don't want to talk about what happened to me," said Froderick, "but I don't want it to ever happen again."
Friggins described the way that everything had happened backwards, and his mates were impressed.
"You lot, get up," commanded the imposing shadow of Alistair Rebel, creeping at them from the man himself. "This is the second day you've been moping now, and frankly, you're beginning to get on my nerves."
Friggins sat up. "An entire country of people want to kill us," he pointed out.
"But another country of people will praise you for patriotism," Rebel countered, "so at worst, you'll break even."
"What could possibly be patriotic about what just happened?" burst Stodgen, walking a precarious line between outrage and trying to keep his lunch from surging onto the deck.
Alistair shrugged. "Dickrod will manage," he said. "He had mentioned something about this, so I assumed he's got a plan in mind."
"You know Dickrod?" asked Friggins.
"We've met. It behooves one with revolutionary intentions to meet with others who share his ardor."
"Dickrod wants to overthrow the King?" asked Stodgen.
"Oh yes, I'm sure he thinks of it constantly. When we first met, he was standing at that big window of his-the one that that overlooks the throne room--and he was mashing his limp little pecker up and down like he was trying to milk a dead cow. 'I want that, down there,' he told me, 'and I'm willing to pay for it.' I can't get the shriveled little thing out of my mind, to tell you the truth. Anyway, he tried to fund my liberation efforts but I turned him down."
"Why didn't you take the money?" asked Friggins.
Rebel shrugged. "It was the wrong time. The people were not yet ready for change. He wasn't willing to give me a ruling title under his new regime. Kept pronouncing my name 'Rabble.'"
Stodgen sprang up-a little uneasily-and began pacing. "The Drabbiton Wizard sends us on a quest up to the King, but it's the crotch pulling Wizardmaster who had really sent for us."
"I can't even remember back that far," said Froderick, rubbing his temples.
"The King didn't seem to know much about what we were up to," corroborated Friggins.
Rebel scoffed. "The King doesn't know much of anything that's happening anywhere. He just sods around in that big orgy of his."
"And when we finally did meet the Wizardmaster, he acted like we were in on it the entire team," continued Stodgen. "And why shouldn't we be? Why would he pull four Drabbits out of their home and send them off on such a dangerous mission?"
Friggins had, in his delicate state, just finished connecting the dots. "We were the wrong Drabbits!" he said, climbing wobbly to his feet.
"Of course you four are the wrong Drabbits," said Alistair. "If you were the right Drabbits, you'd have known all along."
"What I think is funny," piped up Milling, "is that there are four murderous us's somewhere looking for a Sea Lord to kill."
"That is kind of funny," said Froderick, grinning now.
"All of this," concluded Stodgen, "all the pigshit we've waded through, it's all been a colossal mistake!"
"Much less funny," commented Milling.
"But wait," said Friggins, grasping a loose end. "If we're the wrong Drabbits to Dickrod, why were we the right Drabbits to the Drabbiton Wizard?"
Stodgen shrugged. "We'll ask him when we get back."
"When we beat it out of him," growled Froderick.
"That's the spirit!" beamed Rebel. "You see now the depths of perniciousness that permeates the ruling class? Scheme upon scheme, treacherous plot within treacherous plot. It's all a simple revolutionary such as myself can do to keep up with the deception, and there is much that even my keenly honed eye for corruption cannot reasonably catch."
Froderick spat a glob of something solid onto the deck. "When we collect our fee, I suspect to have words with the withered old bastard."
Friggins shook his head. "I don't want to see another castle again, as long as I live. I don't want to end up being implicated in another assassination."
Stodgen had his hands behind his head, and his eyes were closed. He was thinking--normally something that came with ease, but given the past few days, it had become a trial in itself. "If we go and meet with the Wizardmaster, we run the risk of getting caught up in some new bullshit."
His mates agreed.
"And if we don't go meet with the Wizardmaster," he continued, "we don't collect any reward."
His mates agreed that that too would be unacceptable.
"If you want my advice," said Rebel, "drink on it. You've got a few days left to make a decision, and you won't know the lay of the land until we land back at Highcliffe."
"That's not a bad idea," said Milling, grabbing the nearest jug. "Let's head off sobriety at the pass."
"Not to mention the fact you lot are unbearable when you're sober," Rebel added. "If you can't deal with yourselves unless you're emptying a bottle, I suggest you get on with it before I toss you over."
The Drabbits heeded his advice, not because they were scared of being thrown over, but because there was nothing else to do. The whore would let no man touch her, but she did get drunk with them for reasons of her own. Froderick made numerous advances, and each one was repulsed with a slap to the face. Not to be outdone, Rebel joined in the fracas and regaled them with stories of insurrection and malcontent. It made no difference to the Drabbits that the stories were blatant fabrications-even simple country Drabbits such as them could spot the propaganda allegories from a mile off. But trumped up revolutionary hog piss or not, it was a departure from their own miserable lives. Friggins nearly shook the unshakable feeling in the back of his booze-sodden mind that something terrible was waiting for them back on shore.
The rest of the crew assisted in his mental escape as well. The dour dwarf told stories of life underground, and the sailors told stories of lives at sea. When the mood struck them, they punched at each other and never apologized. Rebel took it upon himself to train them in swordplay, and Friggins very nearly lost an eye to Milling's flailing. Mornings were the worst because of the hangover and brief window of sobriety, but a mushroom before breakfast and a gallon of grog for lunch had them with their head in the clouds by dinner, and that was when the sailors began drinking in earnest anyway.
And then the voyage was over, and the white towers of Highcliffe peaked over the horizon. The timing was almost perfect: the morning's morel voyage was just ending, and they were only a quarter through their noontime swill. They were quite out of their minds, but not so much that they didn't notice the bustle of the city.
"Is it just me, or is something afoot over there?" asked Friggins, squinting over the top of a jug.
"Those pennants are new," confirmed Stodgen, "and there seems to be an awful amount of black smoke."
Rebel had sauntered up to the deck, and he rubbed a chin coarse with bristles. "The people have been fired up about something," he guessed. "The flags mean war, and smoke is coming from the shipping district-they're forging and fitting the warships."
The Drabbits sipped their swill and turned things through in their minds. Friggins fancied his mind a water-wheel at that moment. He thought about the preparations for battle and what that meant, then he took a sip from his swill and his mind was all taken over by trying not to gag as he gurgled it down his gullet. Then his mind came up from air, and he wondered what the odds were that the ruckus was in some part due to their actions at Anathoptera.
"Maybe they've heard word of an attack from the Vilikants?" asked Stodgen.
"Heard word from whom? We've only just come, and it looks like they've been at it for days," Rebel dismissed.
Froderick cocked a watery eye at the man. "Then what?"
Rebel shrugged. "We won't know until we get there. Hand me a jug, I'll show you how a child of the Revolution drinks."
By an unspoken agreement, they did not discuss the matter until they had put in to shore, choosing instead to play a new game they had devised where they smashed empty jugs on each others heads.
"What news of Highcliffe?" called the Captain down to the phalanx of guards that had arrived to greet their arrival.
"Bloody hell," muttered Stodgen, "they've come to shackle us again."
"Highcliffe prepares for war against the Vilikants, who prepare for war against the free peoples of Highcliffe!" called up the captain of the guard. "Whence cometh thee, captain?"
"Certainly not from Anathoptera!" Clearling called down. "Excuse me a moment!"
Friggins was confused, and drunk. "They're preparing against the Vilikants because the Vilikants are preparing against us?"
Rebel nodded. "Smart tactic. Preemptive measures."
The Captain stuck his head over the bulkhead again. "What reason have the Vilikants to attack us?" he called down.
"A dwarf has slain their Sea Lord, and the Vilikants come now to claim retribution for this false gift," returned the knight.
"What then of the dwarves of the realm?" asked Rebel.
"They are to be arrested on site, for their treachery and deceit," replied the knight. "Have you any aboard?"
"A stinky dwarf, on my ship?" roared the Captain. "Surely not!" He turned to Sammie. "Sorry, Sammie, we'll have to sneak you off in a cask."
The dwarf nodded, as if this kind of thing was nothing new. The sailors had begun lashing the ship to the quay, securing the rails, and bringing any trade from Anathoptera to the deck to be unloaded. Sammie climbed into an empty barrel and they trundled him down the ramp.
"Hold on now," interjected Froderick. "We rather look like dwarves from afar, where's our cask?"
"I knew it," said Stodgen. "We're leaving in shackles, one way or another."
"Make mine the salted pork cask," said Milling, always prepared to see the best of a bad situation.
"Well, little lads, now is the time to make up your minds," said Rebel. "Sneak off in casks to safety, or go with me through the city to collect your reward."
The four had been beat, poisoned, imprisoned, pinioned, manipulated, and nearly eaten by massive sea creatures, and the claustrophobic dark of a cask seemed like the wide open plains of freedom. One more injustice and they would be out of the walls, away from the madness, free to return to the valley of the elves and smoke until they forgot their own names and fuck until their willies fell off.
"Let's do all of that, but be rich also," slurred Friggins, thinking his mates could follow his thoughts.
"Aye, we'll take the coin," replied his mates, and that was that. They doddered down the plank and onto the quay, swaying to waves that were no longer there. "I feel like I'm still at sea," gurgled Milling, trying to find his footing.
"Dwarf!" called the Captain of the Guard, and he drew his sword and lopped off Stodgen's head. It landed with a dull thud, rolled, and came to rest eyes-up at Milling's feet. He threw up on it.
Froderick went limp and nearly keeled over. A dark wet patch blossomed on the front of his trousers and trickled down his legs. Friggins looked at the twitching body on the quay, the blood still spurting onto the white stones, and the vomit-covered head on the ground. The jug of grog wasn't enough to buffer his mind from the thoughts running through his mind at that moment. Ten jugs wouldn't have been enough. There it was.
"Are you mad?" asked Rebel, drawing his own blade. The phalanx of guards drew their blades in unison, like a great metal bird unfurling its wings. "These are Drabbits, not dwarves!"
The Captain of the Guard eyed the body, then eyed the aghast Drabbits. "I suppose they are," he said, sheathing his sword. "It's alright, boys, these are only Drabbits!"
Friggins wanted to cry. He wanted to pass out, or throw himself into the sea. He wanted to take Rebel's sword and hack the guards to pieces. He wanted to sit down right there and sob. He wanted the guard to chop his head off as well.
Instead the guards pushed the remaining Drabbits into a waiting carriage, where they got in and were hastened off to the palace. The king had locked himself in the orgy room to shut out the dreary news of war preparation, for he found it hard to maintain his royal salute amidst recitations of shipping logs and recruit tallies. The Drabbits were instead led before Dickrod, who sized them up.
"You lot look like you've been had at by elves," he said. "Where's your fourth?"
"Killed by the guards," said Froderick.
"Red Harry's guards?"
"No, the city guards. Right on the dock in broad daylight. Just an hour ago." Friggins now, saying the words plain as day, laying them out as the immutable facts they were, like bones to be bleached by the sun.
Dickrod shrugged. "You'll be splitting his take then, won't you?" He tossed them four small bags. They hit the Drabbits in the chest and slid to the carpet, uncaught.
They stared at him.
"What do you lot want, a hand down your trousers and a kiss from the Queen? Piss off."
Froderick took a step forward, but the haft of a spear landed squarely on his shoulder. Friggins looked at it, the head barbed and cruel, the shaft long enough to impale all four-all three-of them.
"Take your coin and piss off, like the Wizardmaster said," growled their escort.
It was Milling who scooped up the four small bags and shoved them in his satchel with Stodgen's head. Tears slid down his eyes.
"Close the door behind you," called the Wizardmaster, unbuttoning his robe.