It was a crisp autumn morning as Sir Talbot rode out of the castle grounds. He was headed to a local pasture to meet with his long time friend, Dingle. Dingle was his friend, squire and an accomplished bard. It’s been over a year since he’s seen his friend and, since his recent marriage and honeymoon, hasn’t really had time to travel with him.
As he crested the hill he saw Dingle sitting next to a large oak tree writing, as usual, on a piece of parchment. He was the same person he’d known a year ago except in the pasture with him was a beautiful chestnut colored horse. The horse stayed close by to Dingle at all times. Sir Talbot thought back to the last horse Dingle had. Two years ago Dingle had a horse named Rachel’s Pride and, to make a long story short, accidentally ate her. The knight still chuckles every now and then about the look on his face as he burst from the local tavern and vomited in a nearby alley.
“Greetings, friend Dingle,” called Sir Talbot. The bard looked up and smiled.
“Talbot, it’s been too long. I see married life suits you.”
“Indeed. Although the customary year long honeymoon was a bit much.” The knight dismounted and approached his friend. The horse belonging to Dingle seemed to be eyeing him cautiously.
“What did you expect? When you marry the daughter of a tribal chief, you have to honor tradition.” Dingle stood and offered his hand to Sir Talbot. The chestnut horse snorted in disapproval. The bard looked at the horse.
“It’s okay. He’s a good friend.” The two of them shook hands and Sir Talbot could feel the horse’s eyes on him the entire time.
“That’s quite a horse you have there, Dingle. A step up from Rachel’s Pride.” He tried with all his might to keep a straight face but burst out laughing. Dingle seemed unhappy and his horse bit the knight.
“Ouch! Your horse has quite a temper.”
Dingle smiled. “No, she’s just in tune to me. More so than other horses.”
“So, how did you come across such a fine horse?” Sir Talbot rubbed his arm. Dingle looked distant for a moment, almost sad.
“It was shortly after you and your bride left on your honeymoon. I felt left out and decided to pack up and look for a steady job. I arrived in the country of Rhee Davil and learned that the king was hiring a new court jester. Being the creative type, I acquired some equipment and made my way to the castle.
“The line of people for court jester was extremely short and it wasn’t until after I had my name put on the list that I learned of the fate of the former jester.”
“Death, I assume,” volunteered Talbot.
“Worse. Catapult tester.” The bard and knight both shuddered.
“Anyway my audition seemed to be going well and it looked like I had gotten the position but came in second. As I packed up to return home, the king himself approached me with a proposition.
“It seems that King Erik had heard of your exploits as King’s Champion and knew that I was your squire and traveling companion. He offered me an opportunity to rescue a damsel in distress.
“It’s no surprise that I am known,” Sir Talbot proclaimed vainly. “My adventures are legendary.”
“Right!” Dingle said sarcastically. And saving the Queen’s drunk aunt from the royal outhouse for the third time in one day is definitely the stories we bards like to tell.”
“Okay, so they’re not all great. But there were a few memorable occasions,” the knight said defensively.
“Your knighting ceremony comes to mind,” laughed Dingle.
“Let’s not go there again! Can we just get back to your story? Now why would King Erik find you worthy to rescue a damsel in distress?”
“He was looking for someone pure of heart to bring back his daughter.”
“Pure of heart? So he really hasn’t heard of you!” The knight retorted triumphantly.
“Hey! I’m—forget it. Truce?” asked the bard.
“Okay.” They shook hands and Sir Talbot waved him on to proceed with his story.
I was brought before King Erik and Queen Christine to go in search of their daughter, Elizabeth. Saydens the Black Wizard of East Cragmor kidnapped her and took her to his tower. They wanted someone pure of heart to rescue her and return her to the castle for she was to marry Baron Kuda of Carnthia in one week.
“Is Saydens asking for a ransom?” I asked.
“10,000 gold pieces to be paid four days from now. We need you to get Elizabeth back before that deadline expires,” the queen said and then turned to her husband.
“You will be rewarded handsomely on your return. There is one stipulation however.” The king paused in case I might change my mind.
“What is the stipulation?” I asked.
“You must not kiss the princess when you rescue her. It is forbidden to do so and she must remain pure for her marriage to the Baron.”
“What if she decides to kiss me?” I asked.
“No.” the king said flatly. “You may hug her if you so desire, but I wouldn’t recommend that either.”
“It seems to me that if Sir Talbot were going on this rescue mission, he would get to kiss the girl. Is it because I’m a lowly bard?’
“Absolutely not. We would not allow someone like Sir Talbot to rescue our daughter. We chose you because we can depend on you to respect our wishes.” The king then stood to signify that the conversation was over. “Will you go then?”
“Sure. I’ve nothing better to do,” I commented.
“Excellent! I shall have the royal cartographer meet with you in the foyer and give you a map of East Cragmor and the Black Wizard’s tower.”
“Please bring our daughter back safe,” the queen pleaded.
“I shall do my best!” I bowed deeply before them and then made my way to the front foyer.
On the way a young female who I learned was the queen’s niece, Michelle, stopped me. She was very attractive though quite unhappy with my presence in the castle. I was about to bow to her when she grabbed me by the collar.
“I hope your not planning on rescuing my cousin, Elizabeth. She is to be the next to descend the throne. With her out of the way the throne and this kingdom will be mine. You wouldn’t want to cross me!” Before I could respond, she let go of me and walked away. I adjusted my tunic and proceeded to the front foyer. I was now a little leery of going but decided to go away hoping that the king and queen would offer me some protection against Michelle.
The royal cartographer met me by the entrance and gave me the map of East Cragmor. As I scanned the map, noting the location of the tower, I realized I had better buy a horse to make good time. Being short on money, I decided to head into town and make some quick money as well as obtain any information on Saydens. I quickly left the castle grounds and arrived in the fishing port of Mengelay by dusk.
Usually when I need information, I seek out one Roland Haberdasher. But since I’m this far north I’ll need to hunt another of my contacts. I walked through the sleepy village and into the tavern called Quenchers. This was a more family-oriented place compared to the Hangman’s Noose or The Mermaid’s Playhouse. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and the smell of fresh bread and roasted meats could be noted all the way to the docks.
I took a corner table and was approached by an elfin barmaid.
“My name is Lee. Can I get you anything to drink?” she asked.
“Ale,” I replied and then I asked, “What kind of name is Lee for an elf?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why does your throat have that big gaping knife wound?” she replied.
“Knife wound? My throat doesn’t have a haugh haugh!” The feel of a cold blade right against my Adam’s apple stopped my words. The knife was nothing more than a blur.
“Now then, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t slit your throat right now.”
“I’ll give that reason.” A third voice came from behind the barmaid. The elf froze at the sound of the voice and immediately withdrew the blade. She turned to see a short man behind her. He had a stern look on his face.
“This man is a good friend of mine. Is that a good enough reason?” he asked.
“Certainly, my lord!” the barmaid said weakly. She turned and ran back to the bar. The short man then smiled at me and extended his hand.
“I’m sorry about that Dingle. My staff is usually more friendly than that.”
“That’s okay, Roam. It was kind of my fault for inquiring about her name.”
“I understand. By the way, I am no longer called Roam. Just Janbar.”
“Janbar? Is that a new alias?” I asked.
“No, that’s my real name. Since I’ve retired from adventuring, I’ve given up all my identities. So what brings you to Mengelay? Why isn’t Sir Talbot with you?
“Well, Sir Talbot is off on his honeymoon and I’m on a quest for King Erik.”
“Honeymoon? Never thought I’d see Talbot settle down. How long is he gone?”
“A year,” I replied nonchalantly.
“A year? You mean he married a…”
“Yep! It was love at first sight.”
“So what’s this quest you are on?” Janbar asked. For a brief moment I could see the twinkle in the eye of a former adventurer who was looking to get back on the road.
“I’m off to rescue the Princess Elizabeth.”