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The Insufferably Long Journey

Novel By: Domino Molinov

Dirmel Friggins and his Drabbit pals are probably the most adept slackers in the realm, cooking up custom potions for the rural inhabitants of their village and steadfastly avoiding doing any 'real work.' After the village Wizard sends them on a quest of dubious origins, the quartet quickly learns that life outside their sleepy little hamlet is perilous, exciting, and often grotesque. Join them on their adventures through a mystical land where the wenches are easy, the brigands are bloodthirsty, and the elves grow a mystical plant they call 'le dalon.'

Contains fictional alcohol use, fictional drug use, fictional naughty language, very fictional sex, and the occasional beheading. View table of contents...


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Submitted:Apr 1, 2013    Reads: 6    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Chapter 16

That day they buried Stodgen beneath a dalon plant.

Friggins saw little of Froderick and Milling for the next fortnight, except at meals. They sat together and talked, but their days were spent apart. Friggins couldn't see two parts of himself without missing the third, and he supposed it was the same for the others.

If Friggins had been popular the first time they had visited the valley, he was irresistible now. He awoke when the elves awoke, sometimes on his own, sometimes when an elf lass stirred next to him. He dressed and went to breakfast and ate, then followed the elves into the fields. Milling disappeared into the kitchens, Froderick skipped all pretense and went back to the bedrooms.

After seeing the dawn that first night, Friggins spent every waking moment beneath the sun. They showed him how to look for signs of harvest-flies, how to work the clever irrigation systems, and how to read the plants themselves to anticipate the budding.

"Le Dalon and a woman are very different, although they both come from the Goddess' good graces" purred Nosanti, one of the head greenkeepers. "A woman is at her best with a man, but the female plant and the female alone carries the species' true power. A male is not needed, except to breed, and that is rare enough."

"There are male and female plants?" asked Friggins, peering into the leafy green shade for he-didn't-know-what.

"You learn by looking at the buds," said Nosanti, holding the plant out for him to see. "You see the hairs? It would not be so on a male."

"What happens when a male plant and a female plant get together?" asked Friggins, trying to think back to the few times he had spent in the fields at Drabbiton. He didn't remember the potatoes doing anything quite so vigorous as populating, but who could say what went on beneath the soil.

"The male plant will fertilize the female, and she will grow seeds and bear plant-children. So no matter how much it pains the female, we must keep them separate," she said, stroking a narrow leaf with her fingers. "I cry sometimes, to think how we must keep them apart, but in this world it falls upon all of us to make sacrifices."

"You could find male plants that only like other males. Then they could be together."

Nosanti laughed. "Plants are not like elves, sweet Friggins." She grabbed him and pulled him into her, and they collapsed beneath the leaves. Her lips found his ear. "If you remember the story of our people, you know that the dalon was a gift for the first elves who found each other."

"A girl was born," said Friggins, peering back into the hazy memories of that first feast. "She was born clutching the first seeds."

"It gave us the gift of immortality, but a price was paid," she whispered, stroking his cheek. "For all that we gained, we lost much. There would be no more little girls for us, nor little boys. Those of us who are alive now were alive in the beginning. Those who have passed live only in our memories."

Friggins was quiet. If Stodgen were still alive, he would be in the library burying his nose in a book or in the soft place between an elf's thighs. He would have been smoking his pipe before, during, and after breakfast, so no doubt he would have been completely lost in his activities. He deserved to be here now, he thought to himself for the hundredth time.

"Don't forget him," Nosanti whispered as she snaked her hand down his pants, but her gift to him meant forgetting for a little while. The next half hour was consumed by the smell of soil and living dalon and her hair, and the sweet pain of her dirty hands grasping at his back.

When they were finished, they lay beneath the plant and she took out her own store. The buds inside had been freshly dried, and stuck to her fingers as she placed them in his pipe.

"I can never have children of my own," she said, breaking the silence between puffs of smoke. "All of the children I shall ever know are here in this field." Friggins wondered what was worse, losing all you had ever known, or never knowing at all. He held her tighter, and they wiled away a day that might have been spent at work.

When not helping in the dalon fields, Friggins took brief turns with the other crops, although food and the growing of it did not hold nearly as much interest as it did with Milling. When he was too sore or tired or sad to socialize with women alone-and there was never a time he found himself in their company that one did not grab him-he joined the elf men on patrol or at the hunt.

He found them a surprising fraternity. He had heard stories of their debauchery all through his childhood, from his father and his schoolmaster, but in person they were rather different. Some accounts turned out to be true: they did sneak off together at all times during the day and night, in pairs and twos and threes and more, and it took some getting used to before he could see two elfmen kiss or hold hands or squeeze each other's cocks through their breeches and not feel queasy about it.

But in almost all other ways, the tales were false. He saw now that they did not wear gowns and dresses like the females, nor did they wear their hear in the same fashion. He had heard one tale claim that they did not have male parts, and another that said they tied them down to mimic a female's, but after seeing a good twenty or thirty that looked like his own (but bigger), he decided it was just another fabrication.

The stories of history abounded with their cowardice and ineptitude at manly warfare, but their arrows flew further and truer than any he had ever seen. Their swords, long and slender, danced and sung like the heroes of old. There was something in their bearing, the way the steel came alive in their hands that spoke of an ancient training akin to a dance. He couldn't help but think of the guards who had murdered Stodgen, and how differently things might have been if they had a half-dozen elven swordsmen at their back.

And that was why he asked that they train him. Their practice swords were wood with cores of heavy iron to build strength, but the balance and length was the same. They gave him a small shield and a lightsword, as long and heavy as a claymore in his hands, and took him through the drills they had learned ages ago. He was short and clumsy, and could do little better than hack and cower, but they taught him little by little. He learned how to stand and how to move, how to hold and how to turn, how to attack and how to defend. Every once in a while they would beat him bloody and sore. "You think the men you fight will do you less?" they asked as he lay panting and clutching his arms and stomach. "Pick it up, and stand again." Between the women and the men, there was no part of him that was not aching.

Chief among his sword instructors was Jalhyn, tall and fair even among his brothers. His hair was dark, giving him an odd appearance, and his eyes seemed to cut through anything he looked at, though they never rested on anything for long. Friggins found himself wondering if those eyes were picturing him naked the first time he looked at them, then found himself scared stiff that Jalhyn had heard his thoughts. He was not an elf to suffer the slightest jest, as Friggins learned at a price the first time he made a joke about his dirk.

The elf men partook of far less dalon than their female counterparts, preferring to keep their minds sharp to practice or hunt or patrol. "Toil and pain lifts your mind as well as the plant," Jalhyn once told him after beating him senseless. "You breath in your own sweat to ease the pain, and the taste in your mouth is blood." Friggins had never met a man more unforgiving, more rigorous...or more loving. He had kept the same man for nearly a century, and during a battle fifty years ago had cut through men and warhorse alike to reach him in the fray and carry him on his back to safety. Someone had quipped that certainly wasn't the first or last time the two had been in that position, and through Friggins' delirious exhaustion he hoped it hadn't been him who had made the joke. He did not think Jalhyn would have hesitated to slice him clean in half.

The sun was setting, and the two of them sat in the First Post-the elves' name for a copse of trees that stood at the crossroads between the Man's Road and the trail to the elves' valley. It was the first line of defense for the valley, and two elves could raise a coded signal at the first hint of a battle formation from Highcliffe. Jalhyn himself had stood guard when the three Drabbits came up from the road, and they had passed seven similar posts before the elves had revealed themselves. The copse held a commanding view of the countryside, the valley could be warned a half day in advance of an approaching power.

Standing watch, Jalhyn had told him, was like battle. You replace action with inaction, the edge of fighting with the dull turn of the sun in the sky, but the discipline was the same. Friggins was ready to dismiss it as a crock of warmed horseshit, but after five hours of crouching in the same spot, letting flies fuck on his face and poison ivy creep up his pant leg, he would have welcomed a practice sword in the gut.

"I had a woman once," said Jalhyn quietly, but in the silence he might as well have shouted in Friggins ear.

"She must have been ugly enough to be a man," Friggins didn't say, because one shove and he could well have broken his neck on the ground below.

"Oh?" he said instead.

"Before the Curse," continued Jalhyn. "I had had many elf women-almost all of them, in fact. But there was one in particular, Tremeille, I know she had a sweet blonde hair and a full figure...but for all of me, I can't see her face anymore."

Jalhyn didn't speak another word for the next three hours, until the sun went down and the stars came out, and the flies left for a cozier roost. When they were finally relieved by the next watch and the two took a cold meal and some dalon, Friggins figured he might as well give the elf way a try. He found it wasn't in him to enjoy it, and spent half the night with the elfmaids trying to forget. And it was, in the end, another part of him to be sore.

The elves awoke him in the usual fashion, but when he tried to pull them back into bed they resisted. "The Queen has requested your presence," they told him, and he hoped it was because the Jester had finally been broiled alive as a spy. He was lead back through her private chambers and out to the balcony, where the brazier had been replaced by a round table. The Queen was seated gracefully, sipping a slender glass of amber wine and overlooking her valley, while Froderick and Milling ate a breakfast in silence. Friggins joined them.

"Since your arrival, I have had agents keeping a close eye on the city of men," she told them. "The Vilikant ships have arrived almost a fortnight ago, and the city is besieged."

"Excellent," said Froderick, polishing off a muffin smeared in jam. "I hope the whole bloody lot end up eating each other by the next Lastday. And speaking of which, Milling, would you please pass the capon?"

"I do not think they will have to resort to anything quite so...unsavory," said the Queen, although despite her regal bearing she could not keep a wisp of a smile from her face. "The Vilikants have yet to land in force, and even if they did they would fall quickly to Highcliffe's calvalry. The land routes to the capitol remain unhindered, the fields remain unmolested, and Highcliffe remains fed."

"Like me," said Milling, who looked to have been eat eating without pause since they had arrived. "Except for being unmolested. The girls have molested me plenty."

"And it's a good thing," said Froderick, "without constant exercise you would scarce be able to waddle around."

"What about the Vilikants?" asked Friggins. "Who's feeding them?"

"The Vilikants do not lack for food as long as there are fish in the sea," said the Queen, "and fresh water is easily enough procured from any of the streams and rivers that feed into the ocean. Men cannot guard them all."

"So in other words, the two are fumbling against each other like a pair of thirteen year-olds at a festival, who have gotten too drunk to figure out what goes where," said Froderick, sucking grease off of his fingers.

"Who's the lad and who's the lass?" asked Friggins, trying to make sense of it.

"Both of them, actually," said the Queen. "The men launch ships which get destroyed or pushed back quickly enough, and all attempts at a Vilikant landing are rebuffed by Highcliffe's siege engines. The bedsheets of this bellicose union remain largely, to finish gentle Froderick's analogy, unbloodied."

"And the King?" asked Friggins, beginning to nibble at the fare.

"Oh, he remembers better than ever what goes where. He spends his time shut up in his chambers, and has very little to do with the siege. The Wizardmaster rules the city in everything but name."

"Dickrod," groaned Friggins. "What is that hateful old sot up to?"

"That hateful sot started this little war, with the help of four particular Drabbits I could name," broke in a new voice. The Jester stepped onto the balcony, nibbling a honeyed chicken wing. "Say what you will about his character and pudendal aversions, the man knows how to take what he wants."

"He wants war?" asked Milling, more concerned with the Jester's wing than anything. He had finished his own plate.

"Oh, I'm sure he could have got on just as well with a drought, a plague, or any other calamity," continued Jester, tossing the rest of the wing to Milling. "He knows as well as myself or anyone else who knows the King, it isn't hard to distract the poor fellow. When the tough gets going, he locks himself in and fucks until it blows over. And Dickrod's been building up that ragged army of his, the Gaggers. Their ranks grow larger every day, last I saw you couldn't hear yourself think for all the retching. Between them, the war, and the king's absence, he'll be sitting on that throne with a little boy in his lap before the moon turns."

"I don't like that," said Froderick earnestly, "but I do think the King has got it right. I suspect I shall follow his example and return to the bedroom."

Milling was busy sucking the skin off of the wing, so it fell on Friggins to speak.

"Okay," he said, his wits failing him.

"No, not okay," he said suddenly, a thought coming on him. "That rat bastard killed the Sea Lord and he killed Stodgen, now he's going to kill the Man King and get everything he wants. Someone should stop him."

"The people will stop him!" said Milling. "Dickrod sent the gifts, the gifts killed the Sea Lord, now there's a war. Isn't it obvious that he's a warmongering horse's turd? Won't he lose his Gaggers when they realize what he's done?"

"No," said the Jester. "I believe he means to install a democracy."

"He means to mock us, seriously?" asked Friggins, wishing Stodgen were still alive so he could tell him what that word meant.

"A democracy," said the Queen. "He is going to say that people have the right to choose their leaders, so every man in Highcliffe will be given a vote. If more people vote for Dickrod, he becomes the new king. If more vote for the current king, he'll continue his rule."

Friggins thought about everyone he knew and everyone he had ever known. His family, the Drabbits of Drabbiton, the Wizard-and all the Wizards, in fact-the men who had tried to hang him, Allistair Rebel and his revolutionary bandits, the elves, the innkeepers and serving wenches, the people of Highcliffe, the guards who had tried to torture them, Nomad the Thrice-Trolled, the Gaggers, Jackson Stillermop, the lady he had fucked in the throne room, Sammy the Dwarf, and the guards who had killed Stodgen. Then he asked each and every one of them in his mind who should be king, the current king who kept himself locked away, or...well, anybody else. He imagined their responses.

"That sounds horrifying," he said, aghast.

"Truly," agreed the Jester. "A git like that, with no sense of humor, I'll be out of a job."

"When will he start?" Friggins asked.

"Soon, we expect," answered the Queen. "Banners hang from the Magus Ministeria with his name, and the Gaggers have taken to carrying signs with his face on it-although, I must confess, they have taken liberties with the number of wrinkles they chose to reproduce."

"Or they couldn't find enough paint," quipped the Jester, sipping now from the same bottle of wine the Queen was drinking.

"The Wizardmaster's wrinkles are less important than the Wizardmaster himself," said the Queen judiciously. "If you three think back to the story of my people, you may remember that the order of the Magus Ministeria and my own people have long been at odds with each other. We are not over-welcome among men under the current regime, but if the Wizardmaster seizes control, I fear things will go very poorly for us."

Friggins thought of Sammy, and all the dwarves who had been forced to flee back to UnderGround. "And after the dwarves and elves have fled, what then of the Drabbits?" he wondered aloud.

The Queen nodded her head. "Yours has long been an unassuming race, largely forgotten by the men who decide such things, but the events on the horizon threaten to eclipse us all. However, there is still hope. The King's weakness is the Wizardmaster's strength, but it is our strength as well."

"I don't follow," said Friggins, trying hard to see what advantage they could possibly hold.

"The bloody poor fool is about to get the boot, and he must know it," said the Jester. "He cares only about sticking as many wenches as he can, but wenches only flock to you if you have a crown on your head. We mean to trade him that crown for gold, in the traditional way, enough gold to ensure he never need touch his own prick unless he's taking a piss."

"Elegantly put," giggled the Queen. "But that is the truth of it. My loquacious Jester shall depart for Highcliffe tonight with the written offer, as well as a sizable down payment. It is Our wish-the wish of every sane elf, dwarf, Drabbit, and man in the kingdom-that he accepts this payment and transfers his rule to me."

"To me, actually," said the Jester, grinning so broadly he seemed to glow. "I suspect a crown will be difficult getting used to after my jingley hat, but maybe I'll have some golden bells added."

Friggins' eyes widened. "Why does the Jester get to be the king?" he whined.

"Because I'm a man," said the Jester, the affectation in his voice so heavy he might as well have pulled out his cock and asked Friggins to compare, "and the throne has always been sat by a man. If an elf woman were to sit upon it-even one as radiant as my Queen-there would be open revolt."

"He speaks truly," said the Queen. "My Jester knows my mind, and he is the only man I can trust with this responsibility."

Friggins looked at the Queen. She was all composure, fingers curled around the stem of her wine glass, her clothes perfect, her hair perfect, her eyes bright and seeming to see everything. Then he looked at the Jester, grinning like a mad man who's been asked to oversee the ward, taking a victorious pull from the wine bottle.

"Begging your Majesty's pardon," said Friggins, wondering how best to continue, "but are you sure that would be...wise?"

"Oh-ho!" sang the Jester, twirling the wine bottle like a scepter. "Friggins doubts my prowess as a sovereign!"

"I only mean that it would be difficult to rule this valley and all of the cities of men at once," he said, blushing for having been caught.

The Jester winked at him. "I sit the throne, the Queen sits on me, there is only one degree of separation between the two."

The Queen laughed again, a naked and honest outburst at the Jester's bawdy wit. "Again, my Jester has the right of it," she said, a wicked glint sounding in her voice. The two shared a look, and Friggins felt that he had all but disappeared from the world. If he had disappeared, and Froderick and Milling too, the pair would undoubtedly have started fucking right on the table.

"That sounds like a great plan," said Friggins a little more loudly than necessary He was trying to break their moment. "I wish you the best of luck in it."

"There is but one more piece," said the Queen, finally breaking her eyes from the Jester's. "I know that you have come a long way, my dear Drabbits, but I must ask you to play one more part."

Friggins knew it would come to this, somehow. He felt Froderick tense. Milling, as ever, was eating and didn't seem to notice.

"The entire city is on the lookout for anyone short and stumpy," Friggins said, trying not to grow angry. "I do not think we will be well received."

"Please believe me, each of you, I would not ask if I did not think it absolutely necessary," said the Queen.

"What could we possibly do to help?" asked Froderick. "Whenever we tag along, things seem to end up going horribly wrong."

The Jester spoke up. "The King, in his poxy-addled brain, had taken quite a shine to you fellows."

"Really?" asked Friggins, more than a little surprised.

"Remember, he has the mind of a simpleton," continued the Jester, "but for days after your appearance in court it was 'Drabbit this!' and 'Drabbit that!' He was never one for poetry, but he remarked to me something along the lines of 'The way those little buttocks jerked in and out has awoken something in my inner soul.'"

"He would not be the first," ceded Froderick with a satisfied grin. He had, after all, garnered high praise from a King for his natural talents.

"For the next few weeks, while you were at sea, he sought to ease the pains of your absence by inviting dwarves into the chamber," said the Jester. "But they made for poor substitution. They made him feel inadequate, and the ladies of the court who went with the dwarves seemed to keep going making their ways back, until even the King found himself vying for their affections. Sturdy folk, the dwarves. Then he turned up some real Drabbit women from some brothel or other, and brought them in. It was all he'd put his royal self in, until they tired and had to be given rest."

"They must have been of half-stock then," said Froderick. "Drabbit women don't tire easily."

"I didn't know there were things as half-stock Drabbits," said the Jester, almost bored with the jape that Friggins knew to be coming. "I had thought you half enough. But in any case, I do know that the King would be overjoyed to see you again, and if you tell him that the elves will make good leaders for his people, he'll listen."

Another plan, thought Friggins. Another meeting with a King, another responsibility for his little shoulders to bear, more people above him moving him along to their own ends.

"I know how much this is to ask of you," said the Queen, her voice latent with that age-old sadness. "You will be compensated well for your risk, of course." Of course. "And if you find this burden too great, you are always welcome to remain in our valley for as long as you wish. You will not find us unwilling hosts."

Friggins got to thinking, but he couldn't do much of it before the scrape of chair legs on stone broke his thoughts. "Begging your pardon, Your Majesty," said Froderick, "but I cannot attend."

"We should think about this," Friggins heard himself say. Even before he had gotten the words out, Froderick's words began to make sense.

"'We' is a big word for what you're talking about, Friggins. We stopped being a 'We' when Stodgen died."

"What do you mean?" asked Milling, clearly distressed at the mention of Stodgen's death.

"I mean that we-the four us of-had a wonderful life in Drabbiton. We didn't work, we got to lounge around and drink ale and mix tinctures and fuck lasses from time to time, and except for a little bit of worry from the Wizard, life was easy. I knew we had a King, somewhere, but I had never met him and we didn't pay any taxes, so he was nothing to me. Then we started getting involved, and things turned to shit. We've almost died countless times, we've killed a Lord and started a war and lost a friend, and I can't bear to go through any of it again."

Froderick was flushed, and maybe even a little embarrassed at his outbreak. "Begging your pardon, my Queen," he said, a little lamely, "but I can't help you anymore. Not in this way."

Friggins saw the fear in his friend's eyes, and the pain that was so clear beneath the surface. He felt it in his own self, always there, waiting for one word or memory to bring it all blubbering up again. He thought of the bloody stones of the quay, and Stodgen's lifeless body, and the look on the face of the guard who had killed him. If everyone in Highcliffe wore that expression, they would meet a terrible end. It wasn't a question. It was a certainty.

Milling looked back and forth between Friggins and Froderick, unsure of what to say. His plate, for once, sat untouched.

"I understand," said the Queen, in a voice that was sad-but more so for their personal loss, Friggins thought. Or, at least, hoped. "I will not make this request a second time, but I would only wish it to be known that I would not ask if I did not think the benefit far outweighed the risk. You three, should you change your mind, would be the instruments of a sweeping change throughout the land. If you fear for your safety, please know that I would provide my finest hunters to be your personal guard."

"I thank you for your reassurance, my Queen," said Froderick, now ashamed of his emotions. "But my answer stands." He bowed to her, nodded to his friends, and left.

"I hope I have not offended him," sighed the Queen.

"He has been through a lot," said Friggins. "We all have." He thought about what it would mean if the Wizardmaster seized control of the country. He thought about the look on the Wizard's face in Drabbiton as he read the letter. "Let me think on it," he said, fighting back a surge of common sense. "I cannot speak for my mates, but I will at least consider."

He bowed and left, leaving Milling to finish his plate. What he would have to say to the Queen and his Jester, Friggins didn't know.

If Stodgen were still alive, Friggins would have asked him what to do. But Stodgen wasn't alive, and he already knew Froderick's mind. He drifted through the valley, watching the elves pick the dalon from afar, not wishing just at that moment to join them. Nosanti the Head Greenkeeper waved at him, and beckoned him to come near. He waved back, and went to join the male elves at their practice.

"Here for another practice?" asked Jalhyn, severe as always.

"I need to clear my head with some exercise," said Friggins as he lit a pipe and inhaled deeply.

"You'll move twice as slow like that," Jalhyn observed, not seeming to care overmuch. "And take thrice as many hits."

"I need to clear my head with some bruises, too," said Friggins. He put his pipe away and picked up a practice sword, and the boys beat him bloody.

"You're leaving tonight," said Friggins after, not needing to ask if Jalhyn would be among the honor guard.

"Aye, we are," said Jalhyn. "Will you and your lads be joining us?"

"We haven't decided yet," said Friggins. Which was only a partial lie. He had made up his own mind once the first practice sword struck him in the belly.

There was to be a feast that night to see the expedition off. The elf maidens had forbade him from entering their chambers, wishing to dress up and surprise him. Why they would fuss about so after he had seen every inch of their naked bodies he couldn't guess, but he needed to talk with his mates anyway. He found them on the steps of the great hall, puffing away.

Friggins waited for the smoke to settle in before he spoke. "I want to go to Highcliffe," he said, his voice a little scratchy and, even to his own ears, irresolute. "I'm going to go talk to the King, like the Elf Queen asked."

Milling's eyes grew wider even than they had on the balcony. "But why?" he squeaked. "You'll be murdered by the tall men!"

Froderick, for one, was nonplussed. "He's going because the Queen asked him to go," he said, puffs of smoke rising from his lips with each word. He blew the rest out before finishing. "She had only to bat those big Queenly eyes and jiggle those big Queenly tits, and Friggins the Knight is off to do her bidding."

"It's not that!" protested Friggins, but some part of him knew he was correct. The discussion had already pulled beyond his grasp.

"The poor lad's got it worse for her than I've had it for any woman," said Froderick, puffing again from the pipe. "You know she's got that Jester's cock inside her right now, even as we speak? Be quiet for a moment, you can hear them."

The Queen's balcony was, in fact, directly overhead, and Friggins thought he could hear hurried breathing and the jingling of bells.

"If you want to go die like Stodgen, and leave Milling and me here in the valley to fuck elves and eat feasts until we can't keep it up anymore and our hair turns gray, go right ahead," said Froderick, but the fear and anger in his voice betrayed him. Or maybe Friggins was just more in tune with a pipe in his hand.

"It's not about her," said Friggins again.

Froderick laughed, so violently he blew ash onto Milling. Milling seemed not to mind, choosing instead to begin the feast a little early with a sweet roll from his pocket.

"So it's the realm you're off to save then, is it?" jeered Froderick, blowing the rest of the ash into the grass. "If nobody saves the Kingdom from the evil Wizardmaster, he'll spread his dark hands across the face of the country and enslave all the little boys to his will. Well balls to trying to stop him, and balls to you trying to be a hero. He killed Red Harry, and he'll kill you in half the time. We're safe in the valley, the Queen always said that no army could march on us here. Why risk it?"

Milling, all of a sudden, looked up. "What about Drabbiton?" he said, plainly scared. "What about Bitsy, and Lady Hedgebottom, and the Old Innkeeper?"

"They'll be fine," said Froderick reassuringly. "The Wizardmaster couldn't find it on the map, and why would he bother?"

"It's not about the Queen," said Friggins, finding his voice at last. "And it's not about Drabbiton or anybody else in the realm. It's about Stodgen."

If Froderick looked confused, Milling looked doubly so. "Stodgen is dead," he said, dropping half of his roll onto the ground.

"Stodgen is dead, but the Wizardmaster isn't," said Friggins. He finished his pipe, and blew the ashes to nothing. "I'm going to kill him."


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