It took a few minutes for the King of Vlaanderen to get comfortable at a table in the middle of the main hall of the Howler House Tavern, and he remarked several times that his broken leg was causing him some discomfort. “That is how it is when you are an adventurer, isn’t it though?” said King Carl the Squat. “This rough and tumble life isn’t for everyone, mind you. You have to be made of stronger stuff if you aim to survive what lurks in the dark and sinister wilderness off the beaten path!”
These were words that piqued the interest of all assembled to put it mildly. The only one not clamoring to get closer to hear every detail of the story was Shr Grogdahl who sat leaned against the wall in his chair. He sipped at a tankard of mead as he nursed a minor headache. His black eye had only begun to reduce in swelling when he had gone out to find King Carl and Prince Bortimer, and now the pain was beginning to return as he listened to the Lord of Vlaanderen regale the assembled denizens of this infamous bar with the story of how his mushroom hunt turned into the most exciting thing to have ever happened to a halfling. That the king believed this was certain. That anyone else did was doubtful. Grogdahl looked to his right and nodded his head to a wiry and dangerous looking lass named Celia the Serpent who worked hand in glove with the Lady Inquisitor of the Archduchy of Maelonbourg and the Wenigzustand.
“He’s going to prattle on, love.” Grogdahl said under his breath as Celia took a seat next to the jorish huntsman and tilted back against the wall in the same manner as he. “Don’t fret, though. I’ll translate as he goes so you know what really happened.”
Celia smirked evilly as was her manner. Together they raised their tankards and listened as King Carl assumed his cushioned place in the spotlight of attention. Next to the halfling monarch sat Prince Bortimer who was already looking as if he wished he hadn’t come along, but as long as there was schnaps to be had he was able to keep his jovial spirits about him.
King Carl began to relate the astonishing events of the past week. “It was a simple enough mission, I tell you. Prince Bortimer had found some delicious mushrooms nearby in the forest, and we had determined to make a day of it gathering them up and comparing recipes we might use them in. They were said to be of the most exquisite taste and quality as you yourselves have doubtlessly heard.” The crowd murmured in confused agreement.
Grogdahl stifled a snicker as he muttered to Celia, “Because every good quest starts with swapping recipes. The hell am I doing a part of this?” Celia giggled and took another sip of her ale.
Unconcerned with the mundane and somewhat unremarkable beginning to his story, King Carl resumed his detailed and to him at least riveting saga. “It was further from the road than we thought, though. We ventured deep into the harrowing woodlands and fought the very shadows of evil that clung to this ancient and fearful forest.”
“They were less than thirty yards from the pathway in a small meadow that had more sunlight than I have ever seen on a spring day.” Grogdahl muttered.
Using his outstretched arms to signify the mysterious and dreadful aspects of his experience, King Carl continued. “We started to harvest the mushrooms that grew here, a poetic sort of beauty that springs up from the dankest remains of wickedness and treachery. Each of the fungus we cut were amazingly perfect and would prove to be tasty beyond compare! But so engrossed were we in this task that we scarcely realized the danger we were in!”
Grogdahl looked slyly at Celia. “Ok, that part is true. That son of a bitch can focus on food like nobody’s business.”
King Carl suddenly threw his arms up and shook his hands wildly. “Out from the gloom of this hellish landscape sprang forth the most devilish monster that has ever existed! Covered in scaly armor and long, ghoulish hair and reeking of death and decay, it was a black and hoary nightmare of fangs and razor sharp claws!”
Grogdahl put his hand to his palm. “It was a wolf. A plain old wolf who should’ve known better than to think this was a good idea.” The huntsman looked at Celia. “It was the effin’ mushrooms that smelled bad.”
King Carl’s eyes were as huge as saucers, and so convinced was he that he had met the embodiment of doom itself that his audience was completely caught up in his retelling of it. “This horrible thing, this dire earthly specter of despair and unrenounced hatred, it sprang at me intent to tear my throat out and suckle my blood for its demonic appetite!”
“The hell kind of word is unrenounced? Is that even a word?” hissed Grogdahl.
Waving his arms about again and holding out his hands in front of him, the halfling king said with dramatic flourish, “I instinctively knew that this beast from the bowels of hell would shy away from my urine, and so I began to do what I must to fend the creature off!”
“He wet his pants.” Said Grogdahl matter-of-factly. Celia snorted ale out of her nose.
King Carl continued his story, beads of sweat forming on his forehead as the painful recollections poured forth with increasing fervor. “The demon crashed into me, thrown off balance by my wiles and quick reflexes. Fortunately I wasn’t alone, and Prince Bortimer here leapt to my defense and engaged this horrific howling monstrosity in hand to hand combat! I was sent sprawling in the fury of their melee and felt a sharp pain in my leg as the bones snapped like dry tinder!”
Grogdahl took another sip of his mead. “That was Bortimer. He stepped on him purposely to give him a believable injury. It did snap easily, though.”
Carl’s fevered gestures provided an animated display of the battle he was describing. “Locked like lovers the two of them rolled and flailed about. Each delivered punishing hits, the demon snapping his jaws and Prince Bortimer doing his ablest to keep me from harm! Howling in pain the fuzzy draconic demon finally realized that he could not win against us, he turned tail and fled into the festering vileness of the woods!”
“Because Bortimer elbowed him in the damned eye socket with all of his flailing around.” Said Grogdahl, rubbing his still tender eye.
Carl lowered his hands, and his voice got quieter. “Left for dead we managed to gather ourselves and make our way towards the safety of civilization. Had it not been for Bortimer, I should have perished in that dreadful place. He hoisted me up and managed to somehow carry me free of what could have been a mossy, terrifying tomb!”
Grogdahl whispered, “No small feat, that. For being small that Carl is a fat little dodger. And Bortimer had two cracked ribs, so you know he wasn’t having fun.”
Carl rested his hands on his knees and winced in pain from his broken leg. “We travelled for hours until at last we found a small hovel wherein were signs of life. Bortimer hollered and out came this wee maiden who had been making dinner, and she welcomed us in and began to nurse us back to health. Her name is Vika, lads, and no fairer woman can ever be found in all of the Wenigzustand.” The halfling king sat back in his chair and seemed to be lost in thought. “But somewhere out there is the demon of the forest. And there won’t be peace until its foul heart is burned and the ashes thrown to the four winds of virtue.”
“That’s just hurtful.” Muttered Grogdahl.
And this was the story that King Carl would relate with ever increasing drama at every possible occasion for the rest of his natural life. His leg healed just fine, but he took to using a cane that had as its handle a golden sculpture of a wolf-like dragon monster. Prince Bortimer would wince anytime this incident was mentioned regardless of where he was, but if asked he would do it all again because that was just the kind of romantic fool he was. But King Carl had not only made himself a lifetime friend and confidant in Prince Bortimer he had found a halfling maiden who despite being a commoner by birth would one day sit by his side as Queen of Vlaanderen. She wouldn’t have a crown right away, though, but that is a story for another time. And most importantly to the Troublemakers Duchess Seraphina wouldn’t be pestered by the unwanted courtship of the halfling king. This would always cause Bortimer to smile.
Shr Grogdahl never found any of it worth retelling, but he always loved the bit where he got to crack two of his best friend’s ribs while laughing so hard it sounded like demonic howls.