"She gets us drunk and then she kicks us out," grumbled Froderick, leaning over the edge of their little cart. There were three carts in all, two with valley produce and elven leather goods (no dalon though, Friggins had been sure to ask), the third the Drabbits had all to themselves. There were chests of gold beneath the vegetables, of course.
"'Have a feast, Drabbits!'" he went on. "'Drink this wine, smoke this dalon, eat this honeyed quail, fuck these girls! Fuck all these girls, then get out when you're done!' You're a fool, Dirmel Friggins, and I'm twice the fool to follow you." He made more retching noises, but Friggins wasn't about to check if anything came out. Muttering, Froderick took another pull from the dalon and plopped onto his back. Having finally found a queasy equilibrium between drunk, dalon-drunk, gorged, and shagged out, he drifted into a stupor.
If Friggins was at all bitter-and as drunk as he was, that seemed to be the emotion that stuck-it was because of their farewell. The Elf Queen hadn't bestowed on them gifts, as she had the last time they had parted, but Friggins went in for one anyway during their last embrace. A rather brash gift, it was true, he wished now he had kept his mouth closed and his tongue inside, but he doubted she would have been fooled anyway. She very gently, but very forcefully, directed his tongue and open mouth into her shoulder, which he proceeded to glomp at before he realized they were hugging and not kissing. She held him there, but only because the Jester stood behind him and the two were making eyes at each other over his shoulder. He couldn't see it, but he could feel it, her eyes open and aching for his eyebeams to flow in and claim her, her pupils dilated and hungry, eyes so wet from exposure that they dripped with tears. Well fuck the Jester, and fuck the Queen too. That he had fucked any number of elf girls before, during, and immediately after the feast was little recompense to the wound she had inflicted on him. He at least took a measure of comfort in the fact that during their savagely chaste embrace, her nipples had perked up at whatever the Jester was doing, and Friggins felt it vividly through her silk gown. He would recall those little pips later when he went into the bushes for a wank. That would show the whole bleeding lot.
If Milling was at all bitter, he didn't show it. He was rummaging in his pack for one of the sugarbuns he had stashed away, and that seemed to keep him content.
"Milling, what do you think of all this?" asked Friggins, wondering what was behind that stoic, many-chinned face. "We may not make it through, and you haven't said a word."
"I know," replied his friend, busy getting glazing all over his face.
"And it's not because I love that Queen, because I don't," said Friggins, feeling confident enough to sit without his legs crossed only because he was too drunk and worn out to work up an erection at the memory of those perfect little buds flowering against his chest. "She can fuck the Jester. She should fuck the Jester. She's a Queen, and she can fuck whoever she wants. Even a Jester."
"Especially a Jester," said the Jester, who emerged from the bushes while stuffing his manhood back into his breetches. Which, Friggins couldn't help but notice, was as girthy as he had feared. The fool whistled a jaunty tune, and made his way back up to the front of the procession.
"Bloody fucking Jester, with his bloody fucking man-sized prick," grumbled Friggins. Milling started talking again, but Friggins was either too drunk or had passed out. He knew he was awake a few hours later because of his headache, and because the sun had come out, but mostly because of his headache. He pushed his way off the moving cart and had a toss-up in the bushes, and thought long and hard about falling face forward into the mess and suffocating in it.
"The rest of the folks in this land would take your kind seriously if you spent a little less time throwing up and a little more time doing something useful," said Jalhyn when Friggins dragged himself back to the cart.
"And the rest of the folks in this land would take you seriously if you spent less time fucking other men and more time fucking women," said Friggins. He didn't mean anything by it, but he needed a holiday and he hoped to provoke Jalhyn into hitting him so hard he knocked out. He did.
It was well past noon when Friggins opened his eyes again. The usual hangover was there, but so was a painful new throbbing he couldn't quite place. He put his hands to his head and felt a lump, still tender. Somebody must have hit him recently.
A few healthy pulls of dalon did for both, as well as a full skin of water and a few glugs of wine for good measure. He looked to his left and right, and saw that Milling and Froderick were in similarly dire straits. Friggins passed them the wine, and they took turns until it was finished.
"We passed through the Paper Forest a few hours ago," said Froderick.
"Did Nomad or the trees have anything useful to say?" asked Friggins.
"No," said Froderick.
"I left a message, though," volunteered Milling. "I wrote down some of that conversation you and I had last night, Friggins."
Friggins thought back, but the best he could do was a hazy recollection of Milling talking and him not paying any mind. Maybe he had spoken back. "That was a good one," he lied, thinking one day he could go back to the Forest and read what he had said. "You didn't happen to hit me in the head by any chance, did you?"
"No," said Milling, "that was someone else."
"No matter," said Friggins, the wine and dalon evening his two headaches into a kind of uniform throb. He sat up, which hurt, but he ignored it. "How soon to Highcliffe?" he asked the nearest hunter.
"Only four more hours," said the guard, eyes casting about. The elves had all worn cloaks, Friggins realized perhaps for the first time.
"How are we getting in?" asked Milling, sounding anxious.
"It's all been arranged," said the elf in a way that said things had been settled and shouldn't be discussed. Friggins was of no mind to argue, so he hopped to the ground and made his way to the front of the party. He found Jalhyn walking with the Jester.
"Good morning," said Friggins, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
"You've missed lunch," said Jalhyn, "have some cheese."
"Rough night, little Drabbit?" asked the Jester. "Difficult partings?"
Friggins tried to think of something clever to say, but his head was far too woozy, so he focused on stuffing the cheese into his mouth. Jalhyn watched him carefully.
"You smoked some more of that herb, didn't you?" he asked warily.
"Only cure for a hangover," said Friggins. "You wouldn't want me stepping into a dangerous situation with my reasoning powers distracted, would you?"
"If our little foray depended on your reasoning powers, or any part of you beside your impish hold on that simpleton of a King, we would do just as well to pull over and gut ourselves on the spot," replied Jalhyn. "Give it to me." Friggins surrendered his stash, but only because he knew that his mates still had their shares. If they weren't burning through it, of course.
That's when he remembered they had their own little plan to brew up. Stodgen wasn't around to do it, and he doubted Milling and Froderick would make much headway. "What happens after we get into the city?" asked Friggins.
"Your part of the plan is to stay in the cart with the blanket over your head."
Friggins coughed up some of the cheese. "We're entering a besieged city that hates short people, and you just want us to keep our heads under a blanket? And what if someone happens to, I don't know, look under our blanket?"
"We have it taken care of," said Jalhyn.
"Like balls you do," said Friggins, "it's my life we're talking about here."
"The boy-thing raises a good question," said the Jester, "but I didn't know you actually wanted to take a part in this thing. Why don't you get good and sloshed, and let the big folk take care of it. Just sleep through the whole thing."
"That's actually an idea," said Jalhyn, missing the Jester's sarcasm completely. "It'd stop them from running off."
"It would stop their yammering, too."
"If anyone asked, we could just say they were dead."
"Or we could just sell them off for a bounty, or trade them away for three heads of lettuce and a bag of potatoes."
"Bugger both your mothers," said Friggins. "We'll be sober and alert, you'd need to tie us down to make us miss the action." He threw the cheese rind into the bushes and doddered back to his cart.
His mates were pretty far gone. Their hangovers must have been tremendous. "We need to form our plan," he whispered to them after he had taken their pipe and cleared it, shouldering the burden of impairment so they wouldn't pass out again. "And keep your voices down, this is covert."
"What?" asked Froderick in a louder-than-normal speaking voice.
"We're going to...you know...do that thing," said Friggins.
"Oh yeah," said Milling, remembering now. "Do that thing to that guy. We already have a plan, Friggins, we came up with one last night. I just shared it with Froderick."
"Good plan, mate," said Froderick, clearly impressed. "Almost as good as one of Stodgen's."
"Oh," said Friggins, now fiercely proud of his inebriated tactical abilities. "Run it by me, to make sure you two have gotten it right?"
"Later," said Froderick. "We're stopping for something."
In the distance, a hooded figure rode towards them. The elves rested their hands on their short swords, and a few unslung their bows. Friggins peered at the approaching rider, and thought he saw a glimpse of a familiar goatee beneath the hood.
"Bloody fucking hell," he swore, "I think that's Alistair. He's the scout we're relying on."
"The what?" said Milling.
"He's working with us. He's going to tell us if it's safe to enter the city." They could see the walls now, and the sea glittering beyond. Friggins thought he saw specks in the water, probably the Vilikant fleet. A surge of fear rose up in him, seeing the ships and the smoke rising from the city made it all real now.
"Should we go say hi?" asked Milling as Rebel climbed down from his horse to speak with Jalhyn.
"No," said Friggins, "we should climb under the blanket and hope he doesn't come back here. I'm getting tired of running into that asshole." So they lay flat on their backs and pulled up the blanket.
"And here must be the Drabbits," said Rebel's voice from directly next to them. He snatched the blanket away to get a better look at them. "Good to see you again, my friends. It is almost fate, how our paths keep crossing."
Friggins scowled. "Did Jalhn send you back here?" he asked.
"I figured you'd be in one of these carts, and this was the only one that smelled like skunk."
"And from the outside it looks like three short people hiding under a blanket."
Jalhyn appeared next to him. "Did you honestly think we were just going to toss a blanket over you and cart you up to the castle?"
"Yes. I've never known you to joke before."
"Must be the prospect of death. It always gets me a little silly."
"I wouldn't make a habit of it. It doesn't suit you."
"I don't intend to. The Vilikants have launched a sortie on Highcliffe, they seem dead-set on making a landing this time."
"Sounds dangerous, we should probably wait for that to finish up," said Friggins.
"On the contrary," said Jalhyn, "it's the perfect cover. Most of the guard will be busy keeping them at bay. Stay hidden under the blanket, once we're inside we'll find something more secure for you." He turned to address Rebel, and Friggins was afraid of what he might say next. "You stay back here with the Drabbits."
He left them to Rebel, who told them about other freedom campaigns he had fought in, and how agonizing it can be when you're marching up to the action and all you can see are the war fires and the legion of crows circling overhead waiting for the fighting to settle, and you have to pass a procession of dead and wounded being carted off the field wailing with their injuries still squirting blood. You don't know if you'll ever know another woman, or if you'll ever get drunk again, or if you'll ever see your family and friends and hometown, because if things go very poorly your hometown might be razed. It was nothing at all like the art of waiting Friggins had learned with Jalhyn, but then again they hadn't had the gigantic idiot in the tree with them. It was a relief when word came from the front to be quiet, they had almost arrived at the city gates. Friggins peered over the top of the cart, and saw they were close enough for him to count the spearpoints sticking up over the ramparts.
"This isn't the gate we came in last time," he said, really to nobody in particular.
"Back gate, reserved only for shipments sent directly to the King," said Rebel. "Which makes this not so much of a farce as a, I don't know, misdirection. That is why we're here, after all."
"Won't they search us and find us?" asked Milling, still on edge from hearing Rebel talk for four hours about dismemberment.
"Jalhyn and the jester have it figured," said Rebel. "It's actually rather an elegant solution."
The road went right up to the wall, then into a tunnel. "Easy lads," said Rebel, barely under his breath. "They'll be watching from the murder holes." Friggins reflected on that, and decided he didn't like any part of that.
"Halt!" cried down an unfamiliar voice, on edge (presumably from a murder hole, which Friggins thought should be renamed to something else because there were all kinds of other uses for the damn things). "Who goes there!"
There was a jingle of bells. "How many other lucky bastards get to wear bells on their heads and fuck with the royal party?" answered the Jester. "I've come from the valley of the elves with a special gift for the King. A surprise, one we think he'll quite like."
There was a pause. "Captain didn't say nothing about no surprise," called back the guard, his voice ringing in the narrow passage.
"I'll let you ponder on that sentence for a few minutes, then you can open the gate and let us in please."
There was another pause, and Friggins distinctly heard a rushed conversation taking place above them. "We're going to go down and check it out," said the voice finally. "But don't try anything."
"Ok, we won't."
"I'm serious. There's a war going on, and we can pour hot oil down on whoever we want. Captain's orders."
"I believe it. We'll just be standing here."
"It's very hot. Scalding."
"Do you think anyone would notice if we lit a quick pipe?" whispered Froderick. "I think I could use one right now." Rebel kicked the side of the cart.
The gate squeaked open. "Hi," said the Jester. "Is there anything amiss, watchman?"
"Who're these somber blokes in the hoods, and what's in the carts?" asked the guard.
"As for the somber blokes, they're a contingent of elves here to join with Dickrod's lot," prattled the Jester. "The robes are a dead giveaway, in my opinion, but rather drab. I'd have thought they'd work in more color." Friggins heard Jalhyn grinding his teeth.
"They look a little like Vilikants," said the guardsmen. "We're with war at them, you know."
"I did know, you mentioned it when you were telling me about the boiling oil. Lads, show the nice guard your ears, see? Pointy. They can prove it further, if you like, but I wouldn't recommend it. Unless you happen to be into that sort of things, a bunch of tall strangers groping each other in a tunnel."
"Shouldn't be necessary," said the guard brusquely. "What's in the carts?"
"Vegetables and leather goods," said the jester, jangling his bells. "And, as I mentioned, a special gift for the King."
Friggins swore to himself. He was tired of giving gifts to kings.
"Vegetables don't sound like a very special gift for anybody," said the guard. "I'll have to check it."
"Oh-ho, by all means my good man! Wipe your greasy metal fingers all over the King's dinner, I imagine he'll find the taste quite improved and ask for seconds! 'Jester,' he shall declare, 'is that a hint of scalding oil on these pumpkins?' 'Why yes your Kingship,' I shall declare, 'the Cook of the back-gate thought the flavors to be incomplete and deigned to add his own special ingredient!' 'Well send forth, man!' he shall return, 'I wish to thank this master chef with a reward befitting his culinary expertise!'"
"Alright then, move along," said the guard, considerably quailed.
"No no, Sir Chef, please show us your mastery!" said the jester, and Friggins heard the cutting smile he turned on the guard. There was a flourish of fabric. "Behold, sir, your canvas! Do not be shy, sir, dig your befouled hands through the produce and work your magic!"
"I said move along!" said the guard, trying to sound official. "We'll open the gates, you damn bloody fool. But these wagons are to go directly to the kitchen, and if I hear of one detour I'll personally see you launched into the sea."
The bells jingled in what Friggins assumed was a jesterly gesture of thanks, and the creaking of opening doors echoed through the tunnel. The wagons trundled forward.
"Piece of cake, lads," whispered Rebel once they were clear of the tunnel. "Keep your heads down, we're not quite done yet. This is only the first part."
Friggins felt the sun through the wool blanket, and he could see light through the fibers. He could find it just by looking at the very bright blurry patch on the blanket, but beyond that he was completely disoriented. The din and bustle of the city was not diminished by the war, and the shopkeeps still hawked their wares and people still shouted at each other to get off the fucking road. It seemed to Friggins that there was an edge of urgency to everything. It was as if everyone in Highcliffe were determined to keep shouting whether or not the Vilikants came sweeping through. Many of the shopkeeps seemed to have woven their anxiety into their cries. "You can't take that gold with you, might as well go out with empty purse and full stomach!" was one favorite. "Dolphinfuckers be damned, you'll fight twice as hard if you're good and drunk!" was another. Friggins also heard more horses and carts than last time, and commands to make way for important war materials.
"So now what?" he asked the inside of the blanket, completely unsure if Rebel were still within earshot.
"Now we find something more suitable to put you in, we won't get by the palace guard as easy. I've found a covered prison wagon with nice thick bars, and I've had it painted with foolish colors. The Jester's going to get inside with a few dead fish and play the part of the captured Vilikant, that's sure to keep the lads laughing. I've worked in a fake bottom, you'll be hiding underneath. If a mob comes at us, they'd never know there were three short-arses hiding. Unless they burned it, of course, then they'd find you later if anyone cared to look."
"Why would a mob come into it?"
"There's one coming straight toward us, actually."
Friggins heard it now, a collection of voices chanting in unison. In the noise of the city, it was impossible to guess at the number. Maybe ten, maybe one hundred.
"Gaggers?" he asked, beginning to get a little worried.
"That would be them. They're getting their handles now, it should be...oh dear."
The guttural sounds of people choking wafted through the blanket, and Friggins had to fight hard not to get a little queasy himself. Milling, at that instance, let out a long, wet, sputtering fart that seemed to stick in Friggins' mouth. "What did you do that for?" he asked, trying to speak through gritted teeth so he wouldn't have to open his mouth. Froderick made little noises like a newborn calf.
"I can't help it," said Milling, "I got excited."
The mob finished their chant, and once again, gagged their appeal at the masses. Friggins heard someone actually throw up, the throat noises and tell-tale wet splat of half-digested food on flag-stone. A novice, by the sound of it, whoever did it was coughing far too much. Best to let the stomach muscles take care of it, if you coughed you had to breathe back in, and then you ran the risk of inhaling sick and choking on it. Any Drabbit could have told him that.
"Something's wrong," said the Jester's voice on the other side of the cart. "Gaggers fast for a day before a march so they don't toss up anything solid." Friggins couldn't see Jalhyn, but he imagined his hand slipping into his robe and closing over the hilt of his sword. "Keep these carts moving," said Jalhyn quietly, "keep the crowd in between us and the mob. No weapons unless they draw first. We need to change the Drabbits and gold into the other cart."
"There is no other cart," said Rebel's voice, loud and officious. "Walk away, you lot, and leave the gold. It's mine and my lads' now."
The elves, Friggins had learned during his training, kept their weapons in well-leathered scabbards. It was good for the steel, they said, and made no sound when you drew them. But what he did hear was the cry of the city-folk, a wailing panicky cry of "arms! Arms!" and "we're being attacked!" He lifted up the corner of a blanket and peered out. Jalhyn and his hunters were standing with swords in hand on one side of the carts, the Jester was backing away slowly, and Rebel was standing his ground on the other. Behind him, about two dozen men were shedding black robes and drawing weapons of their own, emerging from the mob (there had originally been about fifty, Friggins saw now, many of whom were carrying signs with an odd-looking symbol on them).
"Traitorous swine," said Jalhyn, his gray eyes burning in a way Friggins had only seen when he was about to hit someone very, very hard.
"You want to put another monarch on the throne," said Rebel, "and not even a man at that. An elf female. Men shall only be governed by man, that has always been the truth, and I'll be damned if I see you lot take over my city."
Rebel's men were very close now, jeering and brandishing their swords and clubs. The elves looked cool and collected, and Friggins wondered who would make the first strike.
"Milling!" he hissed under the blanket. "What was the next part of the plan I came up with last night?"
"You didn't really say," said Milling. "The whole plan was 'Get into Highcliffe, Find the Wizardmaster, Kill the Wizardmaster."
"Elegant in its simplicity," complimented Froderick.
"Well I hadn't planned for this, and we're about to be skewered where we lie," said Friggins. "We had best make a run for it before the fighting starts."
The fighting did start, just as he finished his sentence, and the cry of men and the clash of steel sounded from outside their flimsy shelter.
"Bollocks!" Friggins cried as he bolted from the wagon, and he crouched low and searched for somewhere safe. There was an alley, only a few storefronts down the road on his side, and he ran for it. He heard his mates follow blindly behind.
The turned down the alleyway and ran down, taking twists and turns as they found them. The tall stone buildings swallowed up the cries of men and the singing of steel, and nobody seemed to have followed. They had escaped in the confusion.
Friggins ran on for as long as he could, but his stubby legs began to ache and he ran out of breath. His headache, which had only just subsided, had flared to life. He felt his blood banging at his temples.
He rounded one more corner and hunkered down behind a pile of garbage, followed immediately by Froderick. Milling puffed up a moment later, red in the face and wheezing.
"Well that's the first part of my plan," gasped Friggins, clutching a stitch in his side. "Now what?"
"Now I think we're well and truly fucked," said Froderick. He had faired only a little better in their mad dash to safety. "We've lost our guards and we have no money, and we still have to find our way to the castle-not to mention find a way inside."
"We don't…need…gold," said Milling, blowing so hard he had to fight to get the words out. "Only…need…"
"We only need to make it as far as the Wizardmaster," finished Friggins. "That's right, Milling."
"But how?" asked Froderick. Friggins gasped for breath looking about the alley, and he espied some old rags hanging from a clothesline. Among the garments drying there was an old black cloak, a little faded and still damp, but tall enough for a man.
"Big Man, Tall Man," said Friggins as he grabbed the cloak.
Big Man, Tall Man was a popular game among Drabbit children or inebriated Drabbit adults. The aim of the game was simple: one Drabbit climbed onto the shoulders of another, and they competed with one another over who could be the Bigger and Taller Man. "I'm a man, and I pay taxes!" a team might cry as they hurried from one end of the room to the other, picked up a coin or other bauble, and hurried back to the starting point to drop into the basket of the King-who, according to traditional rules, would be three Drabbits stacked up on one another. "I'm a man, I fight in wars for a King I've never met!" they might also declare, and the legs would rush toward each other while the arms grappled and sought to toss their enemy to the ground. Milling and Froderick usually teamed up and were nearly invincible; Milling, fat as he was, served as a stable pair of legs and Froderick's unusually long Drabbit arms made for great grapplers. The pair had one many a free drink at the tavern during a noisome, boisterous evening.
"You don't seriously think that will work?" asked Froderick, gazing at the old cloak in disbelief.
"I don't know what else to try," said Friggins. "Up now, damn you, up on Milling's shoulders."
Froderick draped the cloak over his shoulders and climbed onto Millings' back, and Friggins fussed with the buttons and made sure they were properly fastened. He stepped back to appreciate his handiwork.
"How do we look?" asked Milling, muffled beneath the fabric of the cloak.
"Like a couple of wankers, I imagine," groused Froderick. "Friggins, this will never work."
"You look…passable," said Friggins, being as generous as prudence allowed. The cloak came down past Milling's ankles, and nearly swept the dirty floor of the alley. There was an odd-looking bulge in the middle, where Froderick's knees stuck out, but from behind it looked ok. "Milling, give us some steps," he said.
Milling shuffled forward, his short legs working beneath the cloak, and Froderick sang out, "I'm a man, and I look like a bloody imbecile."
"Hush with that," said Friggins. "If you've got a better idea, I'd like to hear it." Neither Froderick or Milling could think of anything better, so it was decided.
"What about you?" asked Milling. "What are you supposed to be."
Friggins was already ahead of him. He had found a shabby and stained pram, meant for carting babies through the streets, and it even had a few soiled blankets inside. He climbed inside and swaddled himself up, taking cares to fold his legs back behind his thighs so he fit. It was snug, and he figured himself the ugliest baby to have popped from his mother's cunny, but as long as nobody looked beneath the blankets it might pass.
"Well this is it then," said Froderick, grasping the handles of the pram and spurring Milling forward. "I knew we would probably die today, but I had hoped to look a little less foolish."
"Shup up and push," said Friggins. "You don't have to smell day-old baby-shit."
"Hush now, little Drabbitling," Froderick cooed. "Hush for your mommy who loves you."
"Eat my dick."
"Such a fussy baby you are!" said Froderick. "Baby will get no sweets after supper. Milling, ho!" The awkward trio waddled ahead, and turned back onto the main road.
"Any sign of the carts or the elves?" asked Friggins.
"It's around a bend in the street, I can't see," said Froderick.
"Well keep going, Milling," Friggins said. "Froderick, take us to the castle."
"Aye, I see it. Milling, go forward, we'll take a right when I say so. And take a care, I've precious cargo to protect."
Friggins ground his teeth and tried to block out the smell of baby piss, but the sour smell hung everywhere in that little pram.
The next hour was tense, with people everywhere bustling about and Froderick directing Milling through the throng with his knees. They tried to stick to the side of the road, but Milling had to dash to avoid being run over by a horse or carriage on more than one occasion.
"People are giving me funny looks," said Froderick through clenched teeth.
"If anyone asks, tell the truth," said Friggins. "You were born a hopeless cripple and a halfwit."
"And I adopted a stray dog with dysentery and I dressed it up as a baby, aye," said Froderick.
"Mothers and their children shouldn't fight," said Milling, grunting from the exertion. "I'll turn us around if I hear one more squibble from you two, don't think I won't!" Friggins let the next few minutes pass in silence. He would have given anything for a puff of dalon.
"Stop, Milling," said Froderick's voice after another half hour. "We're at the steps to the castle, Friggins."
"How is it?"
"There's about a thousand steps to the main door, and if you think I'm hauling this thing up those you're dead wrong."
"And after the steps? Any guards?"
"A regiment…or a company. Whatever you call it, there's a lot of guards."
"We'll keep going then," decided Friggins, poking his nose through the blanket for some fresh air. He felt thoroughly marinated in the stink. "There's got to be another door somewhere.
Milling pushed nobly on, and Friggins wondered about what would come next. He doubted they would find a door that wasn't heavily guarded, and although all three were armed with their elvish swords and their daggers, he doubted they would be much use against heavily armored guards.
"Friggins, a tunnel!" hissed Froderick. "It looks like it leads to the castle."
"Let's have a look then," said Friggins. Milling's legs swung wide to negotiate the turn, and the light of day faded.
"Two guards," said Froderick.
"Try to talk your way past them," hissed Friggins. "If we can't…I don't know, we'll try to kill them I supposed."
"Talk my way past them how?" asked Froderick.
"I'm a fucking baby, how should I know?" said Friggins. "Use your bloody head!"
The "man" and his pram shuffled forward, and Froderick kicked Milling to a halt. Friggins heard the shifting of metal on metal as the guards stood erect.
"No business with the King, there's a war on," said one of the guards in a gruff voice.
"Sir, sir, it's a miracle! My old mum has whelped the ugliest child in the entire history of the Kingdom, and we wanted to show the King! We meant to name it after the deceased Sea Lord, cursed be his name."
Friggins didn't know what to think of that. Given the circumstances, it was likely better than he could have done.
"There's a war on, I said!" said the guard. "The King is preoccupied with important matters of state, he doesn't want to see some ruddy ugly baby. Turn about."
"Sir, I don't think you realize how grotesquely ugly this child is. Behold!" Friggins had only a moment to prepare himself before the blanket was swept from his face. The two guards peered down on him, savage and imperial in their steel helmets. Friggins boggled his eyes wildly and drooled a little.
"Goo," he said.
"By the ancestors! It's hideous!" cried the other guard. "Look, it's even got a moustache!"
"It is a twisted little monster, but we love him for all of his faults," said Froderick with a touch of brotherly affection. "It only shat itself twice on the way over."
"Well it's a right ugly baby, I'll not deny you that, but we can't have you trotting it out before the King."
"Hold on," said the other guard, glaring suspiciously at Froderick. The other guard still stole glances down at Baby Friggins, so Friggins was sure not to focus his eyes on anything. An impressive river of spit was running down his cheek. "You've got an awfully small head, son," he said to Froderick.
"Me ma has a small cunt," said Froderick. "Pride of the whores, she is."
"And those tiny, stubby arms. They're half of what a boy's should be."
"Ma told me to quit playing with myself, or my arms would shrink," said Froderick patiently, as if he had done so a thousand times before. "I didn't listen, now look at me."
The guards were clearly uncertain about what to make of all this. Friggins doubted their training could possibly prepare them for a scenario such as this. A tremor went through the pram, and Friggins realized that Froderick had been sitting on Milling's shoulders for close to two hours now. Even a steed as mighty as Milling would fall soon. It was now or never.
"Mama!" Friggins cried as he sprang from the pram, blade at the ready. The guards were so thoroughly surprised they froze up, and Friggins felt his elvish blade slip beneath the guard's helmet and into his brain. Milling lurched forward and grabbed the other guard's knees, Froderick flew from his shoulders and wrapped up his arms, and while they struggled Friggins found an opening in the wriggling mass of Drabbit and man and plunged the blade into the guard's eye. Blood ran in the alley.
Milling sat down with a huff and massaged his tired legs. "A few minutes more and I'd have collapsed," he said.
"Milling, that was fantastic!" Friggins said. "If we make it back home, you will forever be the undisputed champion of Big Man, Tall Man.
Froderick was tearing the cloak into strips. Somewhere in the hustle, the guard had partially drawn his sword and Froderick had opened his arm on it. He bound it tight and spat on it, then rummaged through the guards' pockets for the keys.
"Only two guards," he said, grimacing. "I don't know how much longer this luck will hold up, Friggins."
"We only need it to hold up for another ten minutes or so," said Friggins. "Once we get into the Wizardmaster's chambers, the rest will sort itself out.
Froderick huffed, as if he didn't believe a word of it, but he unlocked the door and they slipped inside.