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This Time It’s Personal

This Time It’s Personal
R. Brian Campbell

Things have been pretty good for me, lately.  After beating the two-headed dragon, Gem and Ni, and the subsequent influx of gold from Prince Reggie, my life had become more luxurious than any former soldier had a right to expect.  Even after covering all the expenses involved in battling the dragon, I ended up with a substantial chunk of change.  I used that gold to buy the lot next to my office and build a house for myself and my assistant, Bart, as well as making some major renovations to my office and the stable adjacent to it.  Samuel, the farmer and woodworker I hired to oversee the building and reconstruction work, suggested adding an armoury for my weapons and equipment, instead of keeping them in the stable, and I agreed.  A professional, such as myself, shouldn’t have his equipment hanging in in a stable.  Besides, I could afford it, and it kept Samuel’s work crew busy and happy.

I also invested some of my gold in Samuel’s farm, becoming a partner and giving Samuel a chance to expand and hire workers to run the farm, while he worked on his carpentry business, of which I was also a partner.  Becoming Samuel’s partner served two purposes.  One, it guaranteed a steady supply of eggs, meat and vegetables for our table, so Bart and I never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from, and it also helped Samuel support his two children, Syras and Helena.  Bart had become very fond of the children and spent his extra time helping them out on the farm.  It was nice that Bart was finding work to do outside of helping me with my adventures.  Adventuring wasn’t exactly a safe line of work for a young boy.

Mind you, years of living on the streets as an orphan, taught Bart to be quite the young wheeler-dealer. It was Bart who brokered a collaboration between myself, Samuel and Armin, the local miller, to build a new, bigger, more efficient windmill, with the agreement that he would grind the grain produced in Samuel’s field, and share the profits of all the flour and grain products with us.  In turn, that allowed the local baker to increase his business, and soon our little village became known far and wide for its high quality bread, buns and pastries, and people rode leagues to buy our baker’s products. The local tavern also became well known for its fine tasting ales and, although I wasn’t a partner in that business, I was a valued patron.  The village of Haven was prospering and I was a large part of the reason for it.  Yes, life was good.

I yawned, stretched, and rolled over in my nice, new bed. MY bed. In MY home. I let that thought roam through my mind as I swung my feet to the floor. After years of sleeping on the ground, in stables, and in dingy inns on rather suspect beds, I now had a brand new home that I could call my own.  As I shook the cobwebs out of my head, I absently wondered what Bart had on the agenda for me, today.  Somewhere along the way, the young lad had become my business manager of sorts, finding new adventures for us to take on.  Mind you, a lot of them had been what you would call, public service work, helping out locals who could not afford to pay for my services.  As much as that put me on very good terms with the locals, it would be nice to be getting paid for my work.  Must remember to discuss that with Bart.

Now where was he?

I pulled on my breeches and a cotton shirt and headed for the kitchen.  No one was around and the wood stove was down to embers. I opened the front, tossed in some kindling, stirred it until it burst into flames, then threw in some larger wood.  While the stove heated up, I surveyed the kitchen. It looked like Bart had eaten and gone out.  Must be helping Syras and Helena again.  I turned to the pantry. Looks like I’ll have to make my own breakfast.  Having Bart around to take care of things like that was spoiling me, although teaching him to cook was one of the smarter things I had done. Teaching him to clean up after himself was another.  I opened the thick door of the pantry and was greeted by a blast of frigid air. It cost me 100 gold pieces for a spell to keep the interior of the pantry cold, but it was worth it to have fresh food on hand.  After all, what good was a lot of gold if you couldn’t have a few perks? I stepped inside, grabbed a couple eggs, a thick piece of salted pork and a heel of bread, then left, swinging the heavy door closed.

I set the heavy frying pan on the stove, dropped in a chunk of lard and threw in the pork. While the pork sizzled, I went back to the pantry and poured myself a mug of goat’s milk.  Must remember to tell Bart to grab more from the farm.  I returned to the stove, flipped the pork over, and cracked the eggs into the pan.  Soon, I was sitting at our kitchen table, enjoying my breakfast. 

Where was that boy?

Once breakfast was done, I quickly rinsed my dishes and went to check the stable.  Maybe he was mucking it out. 

Not there.  Maybe at my office, waiting for prospective clients. 

I froze, staring at the door.  In the centre of the door, right at eye level, was a folded piece of parchment, pinned in place by a dagger.  Even from several paces out, I could see a single word in block letters on the parchment. 


I pulled the dagger out and unfolded the parchment.

If you ever want to see the boy alive again, bring 6000 gold pieces to Fool’s Passage below Archer’s Bluff when the moon shines directly overhead tonight. 

The dagger blade was sunk deep in my door before I realized I was swinging it.  It snapped as I tried to pull it back out, leaving a portion of the tip still buried in the wood.  I had to consciously force myself not to crumple the parchment in my other hand.  I opened the door, stormed inside, slamming the door behind me, and dropped into my chair, my eyes never leaving the words on the parchment.

I took a few deep, slow breaths.  Okay, what do I know?  First, either the kidnapper, or the kidnapper’s employer knew how to write. I looked at the note again. Quite well, as a matter of fact. Next, whoever it was, knew that Bart was very important to me.  A key piece of information was that, the kidnappers, or their employer, knew that I charged Prince Reggie 6,000 pieces to kill the dragon Gem and Ni and rescue Princess Angie, but didn’t know that a large portion of that money was used up through making a contract and purchasing equipment.  I still had upwards of 2,000 gold pieces remaining in my “retirement fund”, hidden in the floorboards of my armoury, making me the richest non-noble in the kingdom.  But 2,000 gold wasn’t 6,000.  Besides, considering the location the kidnappers chose, it was unlikely that they planned for me to survive delivering the gold. Fool’s Passage got its name for a reason, as did Archer’s Bluff.  It was a natural place for an ambush.  If I met the kidnappers there, I would probably end up being used for target practice, something that definitely wasn’t part of my future plans. 

I also knew one more thing about the kidnappers that they didn’t know.  Their life expectancy had now dropped quite drastically.  I got up from my desk and began to prepare for the hunt.


My first stop was Samuel’s farm.  He wasn’t home, but it wasn’t him I was looking for.

“Good morning, Sir,” Syras called out, as I rode Valor into the farmyard.  He straightened up from his work, fixing a cart wheel, wiped his hands, and ran over to greet me.  He had his father’s knack for repairing and building things, I noted.

“Garth,” Helena cried from the yard, where she was feeding the chickens.  She quickly spread the last of the feed and scampered over.

“Is Bart with you?” Helena asked.

“No,” I responded, sadly. “I’m afraid that Bart is missing.”

“MISSING?” They cried out, nearly in tandem.

“What happened?” Helena wanted to know.

“Don’t worry. I’ll find him,” I assured her.

“Is there anything we can do?” Syras asked.

“As a matter of fact, yes. When was the last time you saw him?”

“Not since yesterday morning,” Syras advised me. “He helped us with our morning chores and picked up some eggs.”

“He was supposed to come back this morning,” Helena added. “But he didn’t show up.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“Is there anything else we can do?” Syras inquired. “Should we start looking for him?”

I shook my head. “No. The best thing you can do is stay here, keep your eyes and ears open, and let me know if Bart shows up, or if you see anything unusual. Can you do that?”

Both children nodded affirmative. “Yes, Sir, Mr. Garth.”

“In the meantime, do you mind if I take a wander around the farmyard?”

“Sure. Go ahead,” Syras said.

“Do you want company?” Helena asked.

“No thanks. It’s best if I do this alone.”

“Yes, Sir.”

I walked in the general direction of the barn.  I knew what I was looking for, but I preferred that the kids didn’t know. Not that I didn’t trust them, but I felt that it was best to be cautious.  Bart’s life depended on me doing this right.

As I neared the barn, I saw furtive movement in the shadows.

“Salem,” I called, barely above a whisper. “Salem. Are you there? I need your help.”

A black cat slinked out of a deep shadow at the edge of the barn and glided towards me, growing and transforming into a beautiful, raven haired young woman as she approached me. “And what would Garth the Adventurer want from me today?” She purred.

“Bart has been kidnapped. I need your help finding him.”

Salem smiled, revealing sharp pointed teeth. “And why would I want to help you find the boy?”

“Salem, I know that Bart makes it a point to save all of our leftover meat and goat’s milk, which he brings here for the cats. He does this every time he comes here, which is quite often.  He loves all the cats around here and would protect them if they were in trouble.  That’s why I believe you would want to help find him.”  I crossed my arms and waited, while she mulled it over.

I didn’t have to wait long. “You are right, of course, Garth the Adventurer.  The boy is very kind to the cats around here.  He is also a good friend to the children here.  He is a very good boy and will likely be a very good man one day. That is why I will help.”

“Thank you, Salem.  So what should we do first?”

Salem laughed. “We? We will do nothing. I will find out what happened to the boy. You will wait in your office until I contact you.”

“Wait just a-”

“This is not optional, Garth the Adventurer. I work better alone. If you want to feel useful, talk to the townspeople. See if they’ve seen anything. Just don’t interrupt my investigation.  I’ll let you know what I find later today.”

“They gave me a deadline. When the moon is straight overhead.”

“Plenty of time,” Salem assured me. “I’ll be in touch, long before then. Now go. I have work to do.” She turned on her heel, transformed back into a cat, and disappeared into the shadows.


I had no choice. I talked with all the shop owners and townspeople who knew Bart, which was nearly all of them. They expressed concern, worry, and offered to help, but none had any useful information to offer me.  Finally, I returned to my office, sat, and waited, and waited.

I waited for what seemed like forever, but realistically, the sun was closing in on the horizon, when I heard a tap at the door.


The door swung open and Salem sashayed in. Her eyes gleamed.

“Did you find anything?”

“Indeed,” She responded, confidently. “Three men, hired thug types, kidnapped the boy.”

“Hired thug types,” I echoed. “Then they were working for someone.”

“Obviously. I couldn’t find out who hired them, so we will have to ask them ourselves.”

I leapt to my feet. “You know where they are?”

“Of course,” She responded, smugly. “They are currently in an alehouse called Serpent’s Breath, at the edge of the town of Havoc.”

“Then let’s get going,” I insisted. “You can ride Bart’s horse.”

Salem burst out laughing. “Do I look like someone who rides a horse?  Don’t worry. I have my own ride.  Meet you outside the stable.”

“By the way, how did you get this information so fast?”

Salem smiled. “My cat network is very extensive. We are everywhere, and we see everything.” With that, she turned and slipped out the door.

I left my office right on Salem’s heels. Before going to the stable, I made a stop at the armoury.  For this job I would need some specialized equipment.  As light as it was, my Elven chainmail was still too heavy for this job, so my hardened leather jerkin would have to suffice for protection.  My broadsword, battle axe and lance were wrong for this job.  What I needed was something for close up work.  A wooden cudgel about the length of my forearm, narrower at the grip and wider at the receiving end was perfect. A strip of metal was wrapped around the business end of the cudgel I chose. I removed it from the hook where it was hanging and hung it from my belt. Next, I added a short handled war hammer, the head of which had a heavy square surface at one side of and a wicked looking spike at the other. Following that was a heavy dirk. Finally, I slipped a slim dagger into a sheath at the small of my back, just in case.  On a whim, I grabbed a pouch containing a modified version of the invisibility cloak the sorcerer, Amanwych, had made for me. Initially, it had been made to cover both me and Valor, so I had it altered to wrap around me, tie at my neck and cover me from head to foot, including a hood that I could pull up.  It could come in handy.

I went to the stable, saddled Valor, and joined Salem outside.  She was waiting for me, alongside the largest Bullmastiff I had ever seen.

“Garth, meet Rolf,” She introduced.

“Nice to meet you, Rolf,” I greeted Rolf.


“Time’s wasting,” Salem stated. “Let’s ride.” With that, she leapt, changing into cat form mid-leap, onto Rolf’s back, and they were off.

I had to get Valor up to a gallop, just to catch up. That dog was fast. And Salem was perched on top as if they were standing still. At this rate, we would be in Havoc shortly past sundown.


As I predicted, the sun had barely set as we rode up to the Serpent’s Breath.  I was surprised to note that, while Valor’s coat was lathered, Rolf was barely panting. Salem leapt off his back, landing in human form and striding up to the dirty front window of the alehouse.  She rubbed a fist on the filthy glass and looked in. 

“There.” She pointed. “Those three at the back of the room.”

I leaned over her shoulder. “Yeah. They look the type.”  I eyed them up and down. Large, unkempt, heavily muscled and heavily scarred, weapons hanging at their sides as they quaffed ale. I let my eyes roam around the interior of the alehouse.  My three targets suited the room they were in. “Rough looking room.”

“We’ll handle the room,” Salem assured me. “You deal with those three.  Don’t forget, you need to get information.”

“I know that. You just do your part, I’ll do mine.” Gees. Did she think this was the first time I had to shake someone down for information?  Of course, this time was personal, but that only meant I had to handle it more carefully.  “Let’s do this.”

As I walked to the door of the Serpent’s Breath, I slipped the cudgel up my sleeve, letting it rest against the heel of my palm.  Salem nodded to Rolf and transformed back to a cat.  

I swung the door open and stepped inside, Rolf at my side. Salem slipped past us, gliding towards the bar.  Conversations ceased as we entered, as suspicious eyes turned our way. Two huge men near the door, obviously what passed for security, stood up to face me, brandishing much bigger cudgels than the one up my sleeve.  This could be messy.

Rolf jumped between me and the bouncers, baring his huge, pointed fangs. “RRROWFF!”

The two men jumped back, one dropping his cudgel. Several patrons left their seats, some reaching for weapons. We had their attention now.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender reaching for something under the bar. Salem sprang onto the bar, then onto the bartender, slashing his face with her claws.  As he pulled back, she dropped to the floor, landing in human form, punched him in the face, kicked him in the groin, then kneed him in the face.  Before he could hit the floor, Salem was already reaching under the bar and coming up with a double crossbow. 

She leaned on the bar and swung the crossbow in the general direction of the bar patrons. She smiled. “Gentlemen. Sad to say, but it is closing time. My friend, Garth the Adventurer, needs to talk to the three gentlemen in the back of the room.  The rest of you may leave.”

The bar patrons just stared at her, blankly.


There was a stampede for the door.  Rolf and I stood aside and let them pass. That is, until the three I wanted tried to join the crowd. 

“Uh, uh,” I ordered, pointing. “Not you three.  We have much to discuss.”

“Try to stop us,” One growled, dragging a short sword from its sheath.

The cudgel slid into my hand, as I crossed the floor to meet him. The cudgel met the side of his head before he could get his sword clear, and he dropped to the floor. I pointed the cudgel at the remaining two. “Now, would you two like to talk, or would you rather join your friend?”

“We have nothing to say.” The second one slammed his palm down on a table for emphasis.

My dirk cleared its sheath and struck, pinning his hand to the table.  He let out a bellow like a wounded bear.  The third one was trying to blindside me with a short battle axe. I spun to face him, my cudgel catching the handle of the axe, just beneath the blade, deflecting it, as my war hammer shattered his kneecap.  He went down, screaming louder, and with a much higher pitch, than his partner.

I looked at the three of them, one unconscious, the other two screaming in pain.  I pulled up a chair and plopped into it. “Now that I have your attention, let’s have that chat.”

The one with nothing to say was gripping the hilt of my dirk, trying to pull it out of the table, and his hand.  I tapped the dirk’s pommel with my war hammer, driving it further into the table.  “Leave it.”

“It hurts,” the thug bawled.

I glared at him. “You have no idea what pain is yet. But if you don’t tell me what I want to know, I will happily teach you.” I hit the pommel of the dirk with the hammer again, inducing another scream.

The first ruffian began to regain consciousness and raise his head. I leaned over and smacked him with the cudgel again.  “You, stay put.”  I turned to the others.  “Now, who wants to start first?”

“You broke my knee,” the one writhing on the floor whined. “I won’t be able to work.”

“I probably saved your life. Find something a bit safer to do. Because, as kidnappers, frankly, you suck.”  I looked at the other one.  “So here’s the deal.  I know that you didn’t plan this operation. You’re too stupid.  I doubt you could even read the note you left me.  So, tell who your boss was, and where I can find him, and Bart, and maybe, just maybe, you get to live. What do you say?”

“How can we be sure you’ll let us live if we tell you who hired us?” The thug pinned to the table asked.

“I can guarantee that you’ll die if you don’t.” I spun the war hammer around, showing the sharp spike, then slammed it into the table, right next to his pinioned hand.

The man reflexively pulled his hand back, cutting it further. “Oowww! Okay! Okay! I’ll tell you. It was King Roland, of Starflower Kingdom.”

“Reggie’s Dad? Why?”

“Because you forced Prince Reginald to rob the King’s treasury of $6,000 gold pieces.  The King wants it back.”

“Oh, for Jupiter’s sake, is that what Reggie told him? Why that spoiled, whiney little twit…”

The kidnapper nodded furiously.  “That’s what the King told us. He wrote the note and told us what it said.  He also wants you dead.  That’s why he wanted you to come to Fool’s Passage. He wanted us to wait for you on Archer’s Bluff and feather you with arrows.”

 “I gathered as much.” I stood and towered over the kidnapper. “And what did you do with Bart. Bear in mind that your life depends on your answer.”

“King Roland has him,” The one holding his shattered knee screamed. “All we did was grab him and give him a little knock on the head. That’s all. Honest.”

“Just a little knock on the head?” I growled.  “Like this?” I smacked him with the cudgel and he flopped back on the floor and lay there, unmoving. 

“The boy’s fine,” The other kidnapper insisted. “At least he was when we handed him over to King Roland. Just a bump on the head.  He was awake and active when we left him there.  He was. Really.”

“When were you supposed to deliver the gold?”

“Not until sun up tomorrow.  Please. That’s all I know.”

“I believe you.” I reached over, grabbed his wrist and yanked the dirk out of the table, wiped it clean on his shirt, then released his wrist.  He crumpled on the floor, nursing his injured hand. I stood over him, waving the dirk under his nose.  “If you and your friends are smart, you’ll disappear. If I run into you again, I won’t be so gentle.”  I sheathed the dirk, spun on my heel and went to join Salem and Rolf.

Rolf? Rolf had converted to human form and was leaning against the bar, one arm around Salem, who had one arm around him, the other still cradling the crossbow. I had to smile, for the first time since finding Bart missing.  Rolf, in human form, wasn’t nearly as impressive as he was in dog form. He was gangly, almost bony, and slightly shorter than Salem, with a shock of orangey-red hair, sticking up in all directions. It also looked like he was making a bad attempt at a moustache.

“Tut, tut, Salem,” I admonished, wagging my finger. “Fraternizing with canines. What would your Mother say?”

“We shan’t tell her, shall we?” She purred, giving Rolf a playful squeeze, and giving me a pointed glare that only a cat could accomplish effectively.

I held my hands up, palms forward. “She won’t hear anything from me.”

Salem smiled.  “Get what you wanted?”

“Indeed,” I told her. “Apparently, King Roland has Bart.” 

“Then, let’s go get him.” She turned towards the door, gently pulling Rolf along with her.  I fell in behind them.

From behind me, I heard the distinctive sound of a sword sliding out of its scabbard. I spun one direction and Salem spun the other. As I spun, I reached behind my back and whipped my hand forward.  The thug had been creeping up on us, a saber in his uninjured hand.  My dagger took him in the throat and Salem’s crossbow bolt hit him in the chest, the combined strikes sending him reeling backwards.  The saber dropped from limp fingers as he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

I strode over, pulled the dagger free, cleaned it on his shirt, and returned it to the sheath behind my back.  As I stood, I shook my head. “Some people are just too stupid to live.”

We left the alehouse and started towards the Starflower Kingdom.


The moon was directly overhead when we arrived at the castle of King Roland.  I looked along the castle wall, as I reached into my saddlebags and removed a ball of twine and a coil of rope.  I began tying one end of the twine to the remaining bolt of the crossbow Salem had relieved from the bartender at the Serpent’s Breath. 

“What do you think you’re going to do with that?” Salem asked, scornfully.

“I’m going to find myself a crossbeam somewhere along the wall, fire this bolt, with the twine attached to it, over the beam, and let it drop back to the ground.  Then I’m going to use the twine to pull the rope over the crossbeam, tie it off, and climb up,” I responded.

Salem laughed. “Really?” She looked up, scanning the top of the wall. “So tell me, genius, how well can you see the top of that wall?”

I squinted. “Well, a bit. Sort of.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, I can see the top of the wall quite clearly, and I can assure you that there are no handy crossbeams up there, even if you could see well enough to shoot a crossbow bolt over it.  So, how about we let me handle getting us in?”

“And what would you suggest?” I asked.

She pointed.  “See that guard house?” I nodded. “The section aligned with the wall is made of wood. Do you think you could stick that bolt in it?”

“Easily,” I assured her. “But, in case you’ve forgotten, guard houses usually contain guards. Thus the name.”

She smiled at me. “You just let me handle that.  Now, you just wait right here until I signal you, and I’ll show you amateurs how it’s done.” 

With a quick smile at Rolf, she transformed to feline form and began to climb the wall, hopping and leaping along protrusions I could barely see.  In less time than I thought was possible, she was out of sight at the top.  

Rolf and I waited. Then we heard it. “Mmmrrrrrooooowwwwwoooo!”

I crept closer to the guard house, aimed, and fired the crossbow.  I felt a tug on the twine, so I tied the rope to the end of it and watched it float up the wall. It stopped, and we waited again. Then: “Mmmmrrrrooowwwooo!”

I tugged on the rope, to make sure it was secure, and began to climb.  Rolf scrambled up behind me. Salem was waiting at the top when we got there, with two guards, who were lying, unconscious on the floor of the small room that served as the guard house.  I tied them up with some of the rope and we descended the wall to the courtyard.

Salem turned to me and whispered. “The boy will be in the dungeon. We’ll get him. You go have a chat with King Roland.  We’ll let you know when we have the boy outside the castle.”

I nodded and we went our separate ways, Salem and Rolf changing to animal forms as they crossed the grounds. I opened a pouch that I was carrying and wrapped the invisibility cloak around me.

I met a few guards along the way, but the cudgel and the rope dealt with them. Before long I was standing at the foot of King Roland’s bed.  Fortunately, he slept in separate chambers from the Queen. I had no desire to deal with Queen Mummy.  I struck a spark with some flint off the pommel of my dirk, lighting a bedside candle the tapped him on the nose with the dirk pommel.  “Wakey, Wakey, Your Majesty.”

The King sputtered awake. “Wha- what is the meaning of this?”

He tried to sit up, but I put my hand across his mouth and waved the dirk in front of his eyes. “Let’s not do anything hasty, Your Majesty. We need to have a little discussion.”

King Roland lay back on the bed and mumbled something into my hand. I loosened my grip enough for him to speak. “What do you want?  Money?”

I shook my head. “Not money. You have something of mine.  Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Garth.  I trust you’ve heard of me.”

The King’s eyes got the size of horse shoes.  “Garth,” He breathed into my hand.

I smiled, and leaned back a bit, taking my hand away from his mouth, but keeping my dirk in clear view. “Good. So now we understand each other.  It is my understanding that you had my assistant abducted.  I consider that quite rude. You also arranged to have me murdered, which is beyond rude. As you can clearly see, your plan failed, and I doubt that you will be seeing those ruffians you sent after me.  So, now this is just between you and me.  As you may guess, I am a bit perturbed.  Oh yeah. Don’t bother calling for your guards.  There are none close enough to hear you. At least, none that are awake.”

“You forced my son to rob my treasury,” The King snarled indignantly, revealing that he had considerably more mettle than his son. He sat up and glared at me.

“By Hades I did not,” I growled back, gripping my dirk with whitening knuckles. “That ignorant brat of yours wouldn’t leave me alone.  He kept whining and sniveling about his Princess being kidnapped by a dragon and that I absolutely HAD to rescue her.  I had already helped Prince Reggie rescue Princess Angie from a Wizard AND a dragon once before, and it was such a chore, mainly working with that useless excuse of a son of yours, that I had no desire to do it again.”

“He said-”

“I’M NOT DONE YET!” I bellowed, slamming my war hammer into a bedpost, shattering it, causing the bed-curtains to slide to the floor. “On top of what a pain it was dealing with your son, I already had dealings with the dragon, Gem and Ni, before, and barely escaped with my life.  But Reggie wouldn’t leave me alone, so I told him I wanted 6,000 gold pieces, hoping that the price would make him go away.  But the next day he showed up with the gold, so what was I to do? A deal was a deal, even though I made the deal with the intention of getting rid of him.  For the record, nearly half of that gold was spent providing specialized equipment to fight the dragon. The rest, I earned, not only for killing the dragon and rescuing the Princess, but for keeping Prince Reggie alive throughout the experience. By the way, my assistant, Bart, was heavily involved in keeping your son from being roasted alive. You owe him a thank you.”

“You did that? Both times? Reginald and Angelique said that he was the one who rescued her.”

I snorted and shook my head. “I’m sure they did.  Reggie is self-absorbed and Angie is so hung on Reggie, I doubt she noticed I was around.  But ask yourself this.  Prince Reggie is your son. As such, you should know him better than anyone.  Do you honestly, in your heart of hearts, believe him capable of fighting a dragon and a wizard, let alone a dragon as powerful as Gem and Ni?  Be honest, with yourself, as well as me.”

The King looked thoughtful for a moment, then sighed and shook his head. “No. No, not my son.  I believed him because I wanted to. But honestly, no…”

I nodded and smiled, gently. “Your Majesty, as much as you want to believe it, your son is not the man that you are.  I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it can’t be a surprise. Your son is a sorry excuse for a Prince and, if things don’t change, he will be a sorry excuse for a King.  Is the legacy you want to leave your people?”

The King continued to shake his head. “I was hoping that he would grow out of it, and when he didn’t, I tried to convince myself that he had and I was just being too hard on him.”

I snorted again. “Life hasn’t been nearly hard enough on Prince Reggie.  I don’t know if anything will make a man out of him, but pampering him certainly won’t do it.  He’s spent too much of his life having everything handed to him, his every whim catered to. I don’t know if having to work for things would help, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

King Roland looked me in the eye. “I have done you a disservice, Garth. Forgive me.  I’ll have your assistant released immediately.”

“Aarrroooowwwwooooo,” echoed through the window.

“No need, Your Majesty,” I said, with a smile. “It’s already been taken care of.”

“Again, I have underestimated you, Garth,” King Roland reached out his hand. “I shall try to avoid doing that again. And I will take your advice into consideration.”

I gripped his forearm. “Do that, Your Majesty. And now, I must take my leave.”  I stood, walked to the door, and stepped into the hallway, pulling the cloak around me.

The King stepped into the hallway in his night-robe, looking back and forth for me.

“Good night, Your Majesty,” I called out, as I drifted down the hallway.

King Roland smiled ruefully, stopped looking for me, and looked down at his guards, tied up on either side of his door. He shook his head and smiled again.


I met Salem, Rolf and Bart outside the castle walls.

“How are you feeling?” I asked Bart, looking him up and down.

“Much better now, Sir,” He responded, brightly. “Thank you for coming for me.”

“You can always count on that.” I turned to Salem and Rolf.  “Thank you for helping. I owe you.”

“I will hold you to that,” Salem replied, her green eyes gleaming.

“I know you will.”

“Did all go well?” She asked.

“I believe so. I don’t think that King Roland will bother us anymore.  He now sees things from my perspective.”

“Good,” She responded.

Let’s go home.” I climbed aboard Valor, helped Bart get on behind me, and aimed for home, Salem and Rolf transformed, she leapt on Rolf’s back, and they ran alongside us.  It would be nice to be home again.  My bed beckoned.