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Trouble Squared

Trouble Squared
R. Brian Campbell



“I said, no!” Why can’t people just take a hint?

“But you must help,” Prince Reggie insisted.

“I must? Actually, I’m pretty sure I mustn’t do anything of the kind.” There was no way I was taking on this suicide mission. I rather enjoyed living.

“But it took my Princess,” Reggie begged. “You have to help me get her back.”

“I already rescued Princess Angie once. It’s not my fault that you keep losing her.”

“That’s Princess Angelique,” Reggie whined.  “And I asked for your help before she was stolen. You were helping that… that… peasant.”

“A much more appreciative client than you have ever been. And the answer is still no.”

“I’m begging you, Sir Garth.”

“Beg all you want. My answer is still-”

“I’ll give you anything.”


“Whatever you want, Sir Garth.  Within reason, of course.”

Within reason. Yep. There it was. Well, I wasn’t feeling particularly reasonable. “I want 6,000 gold pieces.”

“Six thou-” Reggie nearly choked on the number. “Outrageous! I will not pay that!”

“In that case, have a nice day. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out.” I put my hands behind my head, leaned back in my nice new chair, crossed my ankles on my nice new desk and watched a fly crawl across my ceiling.  I could hear Reggie hyperventilating on the other side of the desk, but chose to ignore him.

“Where will I get that kind of money?” Reggie moaned.

“Not my problem.” I continued watching the fly. “Ask your Daddy, the King.”

“Daddy won’t give me that much.” He was actually crying now.

“Still not my problem.” My eyes never left the fly, as it continued along its rambling journey. “And please don’t cry on my desk. I don’t want it waterlogged.”

I listened to him sniffle, sob, blow his nose, sniffle some more. Finally, “Okay. I’ll get the money. Ssi-i-ix thhhou-ousand g-gold pieces.”

My feet dropped to the floor and I sat up. “I knew you’d see it my way. So this is the deal. I do nothing until I see the gold. All of it.  I want 3,000 up front.  The other 3,000 will be held at Wargan and Churlak Solicitors until the job is done. We will sign a contract with W and C Solicitors that guarantees me full payment upon completion of my mission. If I fail, you get the remainder back.  If I fail and somehow survive, I owe you the principle back. Agreed?”

“A-agreed. But my Princess…”

“I suggest you hurry. “ I recommended.  “Now run along.  See you when you have gold in your hands.”

Reggie burst out the door like demons from Hades were hot on his heels.

Bart stuck his head through the door leading to the adjacent stable.  I was already making notes on a parchment.  “Sir. Are you really going to go against that dragon again?”

I replied without looking up.  “That will depend upon whether or not Prince Reggie can manage to come up with 6,000 gold pieces.”

“6,000 gold,” Bart breathed in awe. “Do you think he can get it?”

I looked up and smiled. “Well, if he doesn’t, that will be the last we see of him. And that works, as well.” I handed him the rolled parchment. “But assuming he does, take this to Wargan and Churlak Solicitors. I’d like to set up a meeting with them.”

“Yes, Sir.” Bart grabbed the parchment and bolted out the door.  He was a good lad.  I hoped that I lived long enough to see him grow up.  I leaned over my desk, quill in hand, and began to work on a plan that was niggling around in the back of my head.  It would have to be a good one. Gem and Ni weren’t likely to be fooled as easily as they were the last time. I had a small chance of surviving a rematch, but I would have only one try to get it right.  Otherwise, I was toast. Burnt toast, at that.


Wargan and Churlak were happy to write up the contract for me, but they wanted 500 pieces of gold from my first 3,000, non-refundable, no matter what, and another 500 pieces of gold, if I managed to collect the second half.  And I’m the one charging outrageous prices?  I’m risking my life against a two headed dragon.  All they do is fill out paperwork.

Once I was done with Wargan and Churlak, I returned to my office and continued to make notes and diagrams.


Prince Reggie was at my door just past sun up, along with two large chests, carried by an exhausted mule.  He wrung his hands together and whined, “Daddy is going to kill me.”

“What did you do? Raid the King’s treasury? No! Don’t answer that! I don’t want to know.  Now, come along.”

I walked with him to the office of Wargan and Churlak, where we filled out the papers. When we left, I was in possession of one of the chests, minus 500 gold pieces. 

I turned to Prince Reggie. “Okay. You covered the first half of the bargain. Here is the second part.”

“Second part?” Reggie looked like he was going to wet himself.

“This part won’t hurt nearly as much,” I assured him. “The second part is that I rescue the Princess alone. You are not to help. Understand?”

“But, I have to be there to help rescue her,” He insisted.

“Then our deal is off. I’ll get you your money back, minus Wargan and Churlak’s fee, and you find yourself another adventurer.”

“Other adventurer?” This time I was sure he would wet himself. Or faint. Or both. “When you turned me down the first time I asked every knight, soldier, mercenary, warrior and gladiator I could find.”


“They all laughed at me.” He began crying again.

“Don’t worry, Reggie,” I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll get Princess Angie back for you.”

Reggie stiffened and pulled out of my grip. He straightened and attempted to look down his nose at me, except that I was taller than he was. “That is Prince Reginald and Princess Angelique. And do not presume to touch me. I am royalty.”

And that is precisely why you are not coming with me. “Be that as it may, either you agree to stay home and let me do the rescuing, or our deal is off.  Your choice.”

Reggie’s shoulders slumped. “Fine. You rescue my darling Princess.  I’ll wait at home.”

“Besides,” I pointed out. “You need to find a good explanation as to what happened to 6,000 pieces of your Father’s gold.”  

I didn’t think that Prince Reggie could get any more pale, but that did it.  “Ahhh, yeeah.  That.” He looked as if he was about to be ill in the middle of the street.  He composed himself and straightened up.  “Uh, good luck, Sir Garth.  Please bring my Princess Angelique back safely.” With that, he climbed regally aboard his horse, Honey, and they marched out of town.


I returned to my office with the chest of gold and began to separate it into bags.  Bart came in from the stable and watched me count out the gold, eyes as big as horseshoes.  I counted out one bag, tied it closed, and turned to him.  “Bart, I want you to take this gold, along with this diagram, to our woodworker friend, Samuel, and see if he can make the item I drew to the specifications I’ve asked.  There are 400 gold pieces in this bag, because I want him to drop everything and work on it right away, even hire help if he needs to.  Got it?”

“Got it, Sir,” Bart replied with a fist-to-heart salute, then grabbed the gold and left at a run.

Next, I went to see the wizard, Amanwych. For my plan to work, I needed his help again.  “Amanwych,” I called, as I entered his temple. “Garth the Adventurer here, in need of your assistance.”

A tall, lean shape separated itself from the shadows and glided forward.  Amanwych was a children’s nightmare come to life; long, thick, black hair flowing from a wrinkled, pale, grey head, a mouth full of pointed, crooked teeth, a curved, beaklike nose separating eyes like glowing coals. I knew that his bony arms and long, sticklike fingers contained an amazing strength.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t suppress a shiver. His voice was much deeper and more authoritative than one would expect from someone so emaciated.  “And what would Garth the Adventurer want from me this day?”

“I would like another cloak of hiding, like you made me the last time.”

Amanwych snorted. “You lost the last one I made for you. Why should I make you another?”

I shrugged. “Because I am a paying customer.  The last cloak served the purpose required of it.  Now I need another.”

Amanwych snorted again. “The price has gone up since last time. You couldn’t afford it.”

“Try me,” I dared.

“300 gold pieces.”

“Done,” I countered. “In fact, let’s double that, because this time, I want one that can cover both me and my horse, with enough trailing behind to hide a cart or wagon.  It needs to be fireproof, and I want to be able to see clearly from the inside, looking out.”

“For all of that, 700 gold.”

“Done.  And I want a spell that can muffle the sound of my horse’s hooves to a whisper.”

“A spell like that would be an additional 200 gold pieces.”

“Agreed. In fact, I’ll add an extra 100 gold pieces, because I need it in a rush.” I slammed the bag of gold on the table between us. “1,000 gold. But I need it quickly.”

“You surprise me, Garth the Adventurer.  Come back mid-day tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Amanwych.” I turned and left.  Once outside, I allowed my body to react to the fear I had been suppressing. I waited for my breathing to return to normal. One more stop to make.

My next stop was Max, the town armourer.  I set the diagram I had created before him. “This is what I am looking for, Max.  The tip needs to be Elven-made silver, and should be the length of my arm with a point that could punch through dragon scales like parchment.  The shaft should be iron-oak, as big around as my forearm and more than twice my horse’s length.  I also want it designed to the specifications shown here.  Can you do it?”

Max looked it over. “I can do this, but some of these specifications don’t make any sense.  Are you sure you want it exactly like this? This doesn’t look like a proper lance. In fact, it looks more like-”

“I know exactly what it looks like,” I assured him. “This is what I want.  Can you do it?”

Max shook his head. “I don’t understand why you want it like this, but I can do it.  An Elven-made head and iron-oak shaft will cost you though.  200 gold.”

“I’ll make it 300, if you can put a rush on it.” We shook on it and I was on my way back to my office.   Now the hard part.


“Samuel says that for you, he can have it done before day’s end, tomorrow,” Bart was telling me.

“Good job, Bart,” I responded. “The plan is coming together.  Now sit down, because I have something important to tell you.”

“Yes, sir.” Bart dropped into the chair usually reserved for potential clients or visitors, and watched me, eagerly.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to like this part.

I sat on the edge of my desk and set a large bag of gold on the desk beside me.  “Bart, this bag contains 800 pieces of gold, the remainder of my retainer from Prince Reggie.  I want you to put it somewhere safe, somewhere that you alone know about.  If something happens to me, I want you to take this money and set yourself up comfortably somewhere.  Get a farm, a business, learn a trade, whatever you want, just so long as you’re happy.  Got it?”

Bart looked at me, confused. “But sir, I will be helping you. If something happens…”

I shook my head. “Not this time, Bart. It’s too dangerous. You have to stay behind.”

“But I can help. I was helpful last time.”

“Yes, you were helpful last time.  But this time the dragon will be expecting our tricks. I have to stay one step ahead of them.  The best way to do it, is for me to do it alone.”

“I can help. I know I can.”

“No Bart,” I raised my voice. “This time you are to stay behind. That’s an order. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Bart turned and carried the bag of gold back to the stable, where he slept, tears running down his face.

I turned away, angrily brushing at my eyes.


Gem and Ni landed at the base of their mountain and scanned the terrain.  Ni’s ears were twitching. “DO YOU HEAR THAT?”

“HEAR WHAT?” Gem responded. “I DON’T HEAR ANYTHING.”  He gazed into the distance. “I DON’T SEE ANYTHING EITHER. WHAT DO YOU HEAR?”


Gem scanned the ground again. There! What was that? He looked closer, letting his vision expand. “THERE! THE GROUND APPEARS TO BE RIPPLING. VIBRATING. AND THE RIPPLES ARE GETTING CLOSER.”

Then, from the side of the ripples, a shining point appeared, gleaming in the sunlight. It was attached to a long staff.  The whole thing appeared to be floating in mid-air, gliding along beside the rippling earth.  “IT’S THAT TRICKY KNIGHT AGAIN!”

“Soldier,” I thought. “Not knight. Soldier.”



“FLY!” Ni screamed, and the huge dragon took flight.  As it hovered directly over the rippling earth, both heads unleashed their load of flame.

“Yeow, that’s hot.” I had barely pulled the lance back under the cloak in time. Smoke was rising from it, and it was difficult to hold without burning my fingers.  I reined Valor to a halt and slid off his back, moving around behind him, under the protective cloak.  I moved around to the device Samuel had created, which was hitched behind Valor.  Now, if only they would take the bait.

Gem and Ni were still hovering overhead, rising on the updrafts and watching the place where I hid.  They couldn’t see me, but they could see the deformation of the ground where I was.  I set my modified lance into the device Samuel had created, made the necessary adjustments, and waited.  Gem and Ni appeared to have risen to an apex. Any… time… NOW!

The two-headed dragon plunged into a steep dive, aiming right at me.  That was exactly what I had been hoping for.  I aimed my specialty weapon under the concealing cloak, bringing it in line with the target as it swooped down on me.  Keep coming. Closer. Closer. Clooooooser…


“NO!” My head snapped up.  So did the twin heads of Gem and Ni.  Perched upon his startlingly white steed, Prince Reggie came thundering across the field, heading, more or less, in the direction of the huge dragon, waving his silly little silver sword in the air as he rode.

Assured that this was no threat, Gem and Ni continued their dive, but not before casually spitting a fireball at poor Reggie.  The Prince, for his part, was concentrating so hard on his charge that he failed to see the fireball heading directly at him.  Disaster seemed inevitable, until Bart rode out of the trees, cutting off Honey’s charge, and causing her to buck Reggie off.  Does nobody follow orders anymore?  Bart leapt from his horse and dove for cover just before the fireball struck, tearing a huge furrow in the earth and propelling burning shards in multiple directions. Two horses screamed in pain and ran for their lives.

Then I had to return my concentration to the diving dragon.  They were nearing maximum dive speed. Just a little closer. I could see their chest expand, filling with liquid fire.  Almost time. Wait until the point of no return.  NOW!

I pulled back the cloak, clearing it from my new weapon, potentially the largest crossbow ever made. I lined it up one last time, drew my broadsword, brought the blade down on the cord holding the cable back, and my lance/arrow took flight.  I ducked behind my giant crossbow.  Valor, suddenly realizing what was going to happen, bolted, taking my cover with him. I grabbed hold and held on for dear life.

The lance/arrow struck Gem and Ni in the upper chest, at the junction where the two necks met, exactly where all the flaming gases were stored.

“UH, OH!” Gem and Ni exclaimed as they realized what was happening, then the dragon suddenly turned into a massive fireworks display.  The earth shook and flames and sparks flew everywhere.  I briefly worried about starting a forest fire, but had other concerns, because my brave warhorse was still dragging me, giant crossbow and all, across the landscape.  I couldn’t really blame him.  He had been too close to an exploding dragon once before.

Then it was over.  The explosions ended, the world returned to its normal shade, and the forest wasn’t on fire.  Valor stopped running and allowed me to get to my feet.  There was dragon gore everywhere, but that was to be expected.

I walked, well, limped, over to where Bart and Prince Reggie were getting to their feet.  I pointed at Reggie. “YOU! I told you to stay home. Why didn’t you listen?”

Reggie straightened himself up, trying to look regal in his torn, dirty finery, cornet bent and tilted at an odd angle. “I am a Prince. I don’t have to- Urk!”

I grabbed him by his purple velvet doublet, tearing it further, and pulled him nose to nose. “You could have gotten yourself killed. Worse, you could have got me or my assistant killed.  Understand this.  Henceforth, your Daddy’s treasury does not contain enough gold to convince me to attempt another rescue for you.  If you have any further problems, you are on your own.  Got it?” I spun him around and pointed up the mountain. “There. See that cave? Near the top, third cave from the left.  You’ll find your Princess there. Go! Rescue her.” I pushed him forward.

He stumbled, looked up the mountain, then back at me.  There were tears in his eyes. “All the way up there? By myself?  How can I do that?”

“I have faith in you. Now, go! Rescue your Princess. That’s a good lad.”

As Prince Reggie stumbled away, I turned on my assistant, Bart. I glared at him and he shrunk into himself, staring at his boots.  “You also disobeyed my orders.”  I growled.

“I’m s-s-sorry, sir. But I thought you m-might n-need me.” He cowered, trying to make himself invisible, as I loomed over him.

I put a hand on his shoulder and, with the other hand, gently raised his chin to look me in the eyes. “And, as it turned out, I did,” I said, gently.  “That was quite the rescue, you did.  Good job.”

“Th-thank you, sir.”

“Let’s make a deal,” I offered. “You attempt to follow my orders from now on, and I will attempt to include you in future jobs, no matter how dangerous I think they are. How does that sound?”

Bart grinned from ear to ear. “Yes, sir. Very good, sir.”

“Now, provided you can find your horse, did you happen to bring along that Aloe Vera sap?  I need some for my face, neck and arms, and Valor is going to need a complete rub down with it, before I can consider riding him home.”

“Yes, sir. I’m on it, sir.”

I put my arm around his shoulder. “Hold on a bit. No need to rush.  We have much to discuss.”

“We do?”

“We do,” I assured him. “We have suddenly become very wealthy. I’ve been checking, and that empty lot next to the stables and my office is still up for sale.  How would you feel about living in a real house, with a real bed?”

“For real?”

“For real.  Also, I plan to invest in Samuel’s farm, both to help him raise his family, and to provide us with enough eggs, chickens and, potentially, pork, that we will never have to worry about where our next meal comes from.  I want him to hire some good hands, so he can supervise the building of our new house.”

Bart looked at me, concerned. “You aren’t planning to give up adventuring, are you?”

I laughed.  “Hades, no. Someday, I may want to consider retirement, but this is not that time.  But, with our newfound wealth, we can afford to be picky about what jobs we do and don’t take, and not have to take on every job that comes through our door.  So what do you say? Are you on board?”

“Yes, sir,” Bart responded, with a grin.  Together, we hunted down Bart’s horse, who, fortunately, hadn’t run too far, then gave my loyal, dragonburned, steed a thorough rubdown with Aloe Vera sap.