Questball - Chapter IV
The Path on the Right
At the end of Chapter III, you chose to have our heroes turn right, wherein lies a tavern, and potentially rabbits with swords. Let us now see what adventures await down this path…
“You’re the hero on this quest, so I’ll let you decide which way to go,” Granwell says. “Now quit looking so indecisive twiddling your thumbs over there and take your pick.”
Vlarax notices that he was, in fact, twiddling his thumbs indecisively. He thrusts his hands into the pockets of his wizard robe and says, “I suppose I could use a drink. Let’s go right.”
Granwell gives a whistle and his dog Cynthia takes off to reconnoiter the route. Granwell turns to Vlarax.
“I’m not criticizing your decision. But just know, the road that seems easiest often contains many unseen perils,” he says. “Don’t let the illusion of comfort taper thy wits. ‘Tis upon the easy roads, not the hard ones, that men most commonly meet their end.”
Granwell takes off after Cynthia. Vlarax rolls his eyes and follows behind, calling to his companion.
“You couldn’t have said that before I chose?”
Despite Granwell’s warnings, the road proves uneventful, and no one has yet met their end by the time they hear music and voices off in the distance.
They move forward for another minute or two then Granwell orders a halt. He takes a knee and scans the surroundings. They’ve come to a bridge over a stream in a lightly wooded part of the forest. The tavern lies just on the far side of the bridge, and Vlarax can smell the stew cooking and hear the sweet sound of the lyre. He’s more of a lute guy — lyre music always comes off as too sappy and melodramatic for his tastes — but, given the circumstances, he can’t complain.
“Oh, come on then,” says Vlarax. It’s just a tavern in the woods, and he’s had enough of this “being on the alert” stuff for one day. “We can’t stop now. We’re so close.”
Vlarax starts walking towards the bridge, but Granwell grabs him by the robe.
“That is exactly why we’re stopping,” says Granwell. “This is the most dangerous part. You let down your guard as soon as you smelled that stew. If the enemy decides to strike, this is when they’ll do it.”
No sooner does Vlarax heave a sigh of discontent than a tall shadow appears, blocking their path over the bridge.
“Oi!” it calls to them in a somewhat squeaky but nonetheless confident voice. “Who goes there?”
A figure steps forward into the light. As it does so, the long shadow it had cast shrinks to about a tenth of its previous size, and a rather regular-sized rabbit with a sword stands before the bridge. Vlarax reflexively lets out a laugh then catches himself and covers his mouth. The rabbit leers in his direction and spits in the dirt.
“No one gets over this here bridge without my say-so,” the rabbit says. “The name’s Foofkins, Jimmy Foofkins, and you might say I run security in these parts. You wanna get into that tavern over yonder, you’re gonna have to pay the cover charge.”
The rabbit holds up his hand and rubs his fingers together, in a gesture indicating “pay me.” However, his fingers are so small and fluffy that it looks to the others as if he’s just waving a cute little paw at them.
“Sir Foofkins,” Granwell steps in, after also leering at Vlarax out of the corner of his eye. “My comrade and I are, unfortunately, rather light on cash at the moment, travelling on a long and arduous quest as we are. We seek simply the comfort of shelter for the night, a warm meal, and perhaps a few pints. While we cannot pay in coin, perhaps a deal can be struck. We are willing to work for our keep.”
The rabbit once again spits on the ground and lets out a scoffing laugh.
“Sorry, we no longer accept sob stories as a form of payment. And there ain’t no work here for the likes of you,” the rabbit says. “Either pay up, or feel the wrath of my sword, upon whose whetted blade many a cheapskate knight like yourself has been slain. Capisce?”
Granwell takes a more conciliatory tone now.
“My good rabbit, we hold no quarrel with thee,” he says. “We are simply weary travellers seeking comfort from the hard road upon which we quest.” Then he stiffens his tone. “But if it is a fight you desire, know that my wizard friend here would have no problem casting a spell upon thee and turning thee into rabbit stew with a flick of his fingers.”
Vlarax subtley shakes his head at Granwell, nervous that the rabbit might call his bluff. The rabbit’s face becomes mad with rage.
“My mother was turned into rabbit stew, you sick son of a bitch. And no one speaks ill of my mother, Bog rest her soul,” the rabbit says. He steps forward, pointing his sword at each of them in turn. “I’ll tell you wise guys what’s gonna happen. First, I’m gonna take this sword and wipe that stupid look off your wizard’s face. Then, I’m gonna take this here lucky right foot of mine and shove it straight up your…”
Suddenly, he stops. He lifts his nose, and Vlarax can see his nostrils sniffing the air frantically. Then he freezes.
Unbeknownst to Vlarax, and to Jimmy Foofkins, Cynthia had snuck around to the woods on the side of the bridge and was silently stalking their foe. After a few seconds frozen stiff, the rabbit silently mutters the word “dog”, and takes off in a sprint.
Cynthia is on top of him in seconds, pinning him by the throat with her paw, which in appearance and functionality is somewhere between a dog’s paw and a human hand. There’s some dexterity in its long fingers, just enough to get a solid grip around his throat, but also fur, and claws like a wolf, enough to rip his throat open in an instant.
Granwell stands over the rabbit, helpless beneath Cynthia’s claws, and kicks his sword away into the dust.
“What was that about feeling the wrath of your sword?” he says. Jimmy Foofkins struggles for breath, kicking uselessly at Cynthia with his hind legs.
“Tell this mangy mutt to ease up,” he coughs.
Cynthia growls, but when Granwell nods at her she lets up the pressure on the rabbit’s throat a bit so he can speak.
“C’mon fella. A rabbit’s gotta make a living. I was just doin’ my job here,” he says. “And I didn’t know you had a dog. A damn ugly one at that.”
Cynthia increases the pressure on his throat.
“Okay, okay,” the rabbit says. “We’re all reasonable guys here, right? What do you say we make a deal?”
“You’re not in much of a position to be making deals,” Granwell says.
“Hear me out. You guys said you’re on a quest, and you look like you could use another sword. That wizard over there is obviously useless,” he motions towards Vlarax, who looks left and right as if perhaps he was referring to a different wizard, then gives an angry shrug. “What are you gonna do if you get jumped by a gang of bandits? I know these woods, and I know how to survive in the wild. Let me join your quest.”
“We already have enough mouths to feed,” says Granwell. “And anyway, you couldn’t even guard a bridge, how do you expect to survive a war against the Greatest Evil the Realm has ever faced?”
“First of all, I’m a rabbit. I eat grass and clover and other shit that grows on the ground. You stunads don’t have to worry about feeding me. Maybe I don’t know anything about defeating Great Evils or no nonsense like that, but I do know how to make money. Obviously, those two particular skills don’t overlap,” the rabbit says. The others stare at him blankly. “I’m referring to the fact that you’re broke. Look. These lands are lawless. Every time you come to a bridge, or a mountain pass, there will be someone like me demanding you pay the toll. Every time you cross through a forest at night a pack of brigands will be looking to skin you alive. You got lucky this time, but maybe next time won’t be so easy. You can’t fight your way out of every problem. Sometimes you have to think a little bit. And sometimes you have to pay people off.
“You guys need some brains in this operation, and I’ve wanted out of this bridge bouncer gig for years. It’s a win-win.”
Cynthia is slobbering now, hungry for rabbit stew. Granwell looks to Vlarax, considering the rabbit’s proposal.
Ye Olde Tyme News is supported by loyal vassals such as thee. To receive new posts and support The King, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.