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The Seven Scoundrels

There’s the best tavern you’ve ever been to down near the isolated edge of the Tallwood Forest, up by the southern mountain range which hedges in the Grossling Kingdom. Turns out that this is just the kind of place an ex-Colonel from the Emperor’s Squadron, a rogue agent of the Tallwood Forest, a traveling swordsman, his sorceress wife, a brute with no one to punch, an exiled queen, and a secretive pastor would all wind up.

Despite all this, the bartender was quite unperturbed. He’d seen minotaurs and necromancers in his tavern before. With his Special Brew, he was quite sure he could handle just about any lot that chanced upon his doors.

“Have you ever seen a dragon in battle?” asked a brawny man with battle-scars tattooed across his chest. His shirt was buttoned halfway down, in order to impress the females in the tavern.

The certain female who he was trying to impress did indeed seem deeply interested by the man. She was an elf. A dark elf, actually, but she’d never admit it to him. She didn’t think he’d mind much anyway. “No,” she said, wide-eyed and amazed. “Did… did you really fight him?” She put on this act all the time – the impressed maiden. To tell the truth, it was actually getting a bit boring.

The man smirked and gulped down a rather large portion of the tavern’s beer. Waving his finger quite absentmindedly in no general direction, he said, “I fought that beast… with this finger,” he stuck out his left pinky, “till that old fire-breathing, tail-slapping, jaw-snapping old creature did die!”

“Oo-ooh,” said the dark elf, feigning impression. “Was the dragon branded on its belly with a two-headed man wearing a crown on each head, the moon behind them, a wand in the left hand, a sword in the right hand, and four slits for eyes?”

If the ex-Colonel had been more sober, he might have realized that this particular elf-lady had given an eerily accurate and precise description. But he wasn’t, so he didn’t. “Why…” he gulped down a few more swallows of beer than was good for him, “That’s just so.” Now he was feeling quite good. Even though his glory days were over and he had nothing to live for but the booze that his retirement money would pay for, there was at least somebody who knew and appreciated what he had done.

Now, if he had been more sober, he might have noticed the elf-lady reaching to her waist. But he didn’t, so he was quite unprepared when she stuck a silver-bladed knife at his throat and yelled, “YOU HAVE SLAIN THE GUARDIAN OF THE SECRET ORACLES! YOU WILLL TELL ME WHERE THE ORACLES HAVE BEEN TAKEN!”

This was quite exciting, and might have been enough to grab the attention of the bartender. But it did not, because at the same time…

“You have been fooled; we have come all this way for nothing!” complained a thirteenth-order sorceress to her husband fencer, known round the world for his excellent swordplay and tiny stature. “The three-handed swordsman will never arrive to duel you in front of the nymph-casino!”

“To the contrary,” argued her short husband, “I have not been fooled; YOU have. YOU said there would be a spell on him so that if he stood us up, he would die a long and arduous death. Did you not do this? I fully expect to be paid, either by the bettors, or by the money that is due me when the centaur-lawyers read through the contract we made.”

“Oh,” breathed out the wife, “So this is MY fault?” YOU had just won the Emperor’s Melee and had received five thousand gold pieces. We could have bought a CASTLE with that gold! I was content to settle down, but YOU kept wanting to get more. More, you said. More we need. So now we come. Do you think I would really kill a man over some money we do not need?”

“Do not need? Do not NEED?” The short swordsman seemed perplexed. “Do you not understand the purpose of wealth? It is to acquire more and MORE. The dragons understand this, and you see how powerful they are!”

“And you do not understand the purpose of settling down and starting a real life!”

“Is not fencing a real life?” he asked. “Is it not real enough for my real wife?”

“No,” answered the sorceress. “We have moved and fought. Moved and fought. Moved, threatened, and fought. Nothing of worth.”

The little man brought down his head with his hands in exasperation, understanding that his wife could never realize the importance of gaining wealth. So he changed tactics. “But that is not the point.” He touched the tip of his sword. “You said, ‘I will kill the man if he does not come.’ Now he does not come. Why is he not dead? I saw you cast the spell – was that deception?”

“No,” answered the wife. “It was not deception. I cast a spell on him, but to bring him here if he did not come of his own choosing, not to be barbarous and kill him! FANA-WANA!” She cried, in a terrifying voice, which completely undid the silliness of her words.

Suddenly, a three-handed man appeared with a blade in each hand and a feather on each blade. “I have waited to kill you…” he seethed to the short swordsman.

This was quite exciting, and might have been enough to grab the attention of the bartender. But it did not, because at the same time…

A mother robbed of her children was sobbing as she poured out her heart to a kindly pastor. “M-my boy… he’s been taken by… those monsters. Those wicked politicians exiled me and stole away my boy! ”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” comforted the pastor.

“But no!” cried out the woman. “He’s not dead! That’s the worst of it… He’s going to be corrupted and turned into one of them… OH!” she went back to crying.

The pastor put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right,” he soothed. “Even if we don’t see an end in sight, there is one.”

“How can you know?” she asked, looking up at him.

“Because…” answered the pastor. Oh, could he really do this? Could he tell her he knew there would be a good ending when he didn’t even know what would happen to him any day?

“Because in the end, when this world fades away, there will be justice and compassion, hand in hand, waiting for us all.” He could tell her that. Of that much, he was certain.

But this woman had been a queen. She knew when political adversaries were holding back. “What aren’t you telling me?” she asked.

“I…” the pastor was not accustomed to lying. Perhaps he would have to start. Or simply stay silent.

But whether he decided to lie or not would never be known, for at that moment, a dark shadow stirred up from the ground to take life. In a deep voice, it groaned, “The exile… must die!”

And like any sensible person, the exiled queen regent screamed.

This was quite exciting, and might have been enough to grab the attention of the bartender. But it did not, because at the same time…

Four trolls tore off each of the four walls of the tavern. A dragon grabbed the roof in its claws, threw it up in the air, and incinerated it with one breath. Fifty armed soldiers in heavy armor and long swords encircled the building, poised for battle.

“SURRENDER!” cried out the general. You could tell he was the general because he had a ridiculous-looking plume atop his pointed helmet.

Considering the situation, the bartender figured this would be a good time to bring out Special Brew. Hopefully he wouldn’t cause too much damage. “Come on, big, burly, baldy!” Out of the place that most people thought all the food was kept, an enormous man (some people wondered if he actually was a man, and not a troll), emerged. “BOOOOOM!” he yelled. That was his favorite battle-cry. If you hadn’t noticed, he liked things that started with the letter B. That’s why he worked for a Bartender. It’s also why he came when the bartender said ‘Come on, big, burly, baldy!’ (He wasn’t even bald, but he answered to baldy anyway)

So, with army surrounding them, trolls glaring at them, and dragon flying over them, the Seven Scoundrels got to work.

Ex-Colonel Grandsome snapped into action and grabbed the knife at his throat. “Who in the nine realms thought they could kill me with that?”

“You were drunk!” protested the dark elf. She stammered out – “I am Agent Frìa of the Tallwood Forest! Explain yourself!”

Keeping an eye on the trolls, Grandsome said, “Oh, it’s quite simple, miss. I can drink all I like and get drunk all I like, but battle snaps me out of anything. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some trolls to kill.”

“Not if I kill them first,” snapped back the dark elf. She proved her point by expertly throwing four daggers into the nearest troll. Two in each eye and two more in the heart.

Colonel Grandsome was stunned, but managed to stutter out- “Well, you’re- you have throwaway weapons.”

Frìa would have retorted a sarcastic response, but most about anyone gets scared silly when they can see their reflection in a dragon’s golden eye. So she reacted as she always did when she was scared – she threw a knife in its golden eye.

A loud roar came up from the dragon, and its tail knocked the dark elf on her back. Ex-colonel Grandsome leapt up to do battle with the beast. “Have at thee!” he cried.

The dragon responded by breathing fire. But Grandsome charged under the flames and stabbed the dragon’s foot. “Hya!”

With a cry of pain, the dragon flapped its wings and flew off. “WAIT! WAIT!” yelled Grandsome. He was saddened. “I want to fight you,” he called out half-heartedly.

But the dark elf was far from saddened by the dragon’s departure. “Did you see his belly?” she asked.

“I was preparing to stab it,” muttered Grandsome.

“It was branded with a two-headed man wearing a crown on each head, the moon behind them, a wand in the left hand, a sword in the right hand, and four circles for eyes. This was the brother of the Guardian of the Secret Oracles! Surely he must know where they could be!”

“Great,” mumbled Grandsome as he chugged down some beer to sulk.

The half-sized swordsman stuck his sword at the three-handed man. “You stay here and wait to duel while I kill that general.” Turning to his wife, he said, “Make sure he doesn’t disappear on us. I wouldn’t want to be left with no one to duel – again.”

“OH!” The sorceress rolled her eyes. “Keep up that talk and I might just forget to cast paralysis spells on any soldiers thinking of defending their general.”

Knowing that his wife would protect him no matter what he said, he went off to fight the plumed general. “En garde!” he shouted when within dueling distance.

The general smirked. “You think you can fence me?”

“If your swordplay is worth half as much as your armor, perhaps.”

This angered the general, and he lunged at the little man with a ferocious roar as his men came thundering to defend the honor and safety of their general.

But the half-sized swordsman simply parried the sword and stabbed the general through a crack in his armor. “Apparently you aren’t worth half as much as your armor.” He plucked the feather from the general’s pointed helmet.

Distant cries of “SANA-FANA!” could be heard as charging soldiers were systematically paralyzed. The half-sized swordsman walked away in peace without fear of vengeful soldiers.

Special Brew saw some people his size for once. He thought (he knew he shouldn’t think too much, but this one thought he thought especially thoughtful) that perhaps if he wrestled the big people, the little people could take care of other little people.

“BOOOM!” he roared as he clashed up against the first troll. Oh, this one was already dead.

“BOOOM!” he roared as he clashed up against the second troll. Oh, this troll had seen him coming and ran away.

“BOOOM!” he roared as he clashed up against the third troll. Oh, this one just dropped to the ground. Hmm, maybe this was what they called playing dead. Either that or he was sleeping, and Special Brew didn’t want to wake up anybody who was asleep.

“BOOOM!” he roared as he clashed up against the fourth troll. Oh, this one was listening to someone. Who was he listening to?
“Stomp bad,” articulated the pastor. He demonstrated by exaggeratedly stomping and exaggeratedly shaking his head. The troll turned its head to the side.

“No stomp,” said the pastor. The troll put his eyes up to think better. It understood. It was confused.

“No stomp because people no like stomp.” This was a bunch of words, but the troll eventually got it. And he seemed to agree. He smiled. The pastor smiled even wider… until he looked away from the troll to Special Brew.

“Who are you?” asked the pastor.

“I’m Special Brew,” said Special Brew. “You made a troll nice.”

“That I did,” nodded the pastor.

“Can you teach me how? Bartender says I better at scaring, but I like being nice. Not as much as I like B though.”

“Of course I’ll teach you,” said the pastor. Then he was confused. “B?”

B is such an amazing letter.”

And you said your name was Special Brew?’

“Yes.”

“Why not be called Bob? It has two B’s and it’s a real name.”

Special Brew stared wide-eyed. “I shall be Bob. No, I shall be Burly Bob. That has three B’s. Because you have bespoken beautiful name for me, Burly Bob will be wherever you be.”

“That’s great,” smiled the pastor. He looked to the ground. The shadow was still being amused by the surrounding battle. Perhaps that would satisfy it. Hopefully. But where was the queen?

“SOLDIERS!” she cried. “Your general is dead and you have no one to command!” This much was obvious. She had seen how they had responded to his death. And she had also noticed how many were charging. She appreciated that some of them were being paralyzed, but she knew that eventually, the sorceress had to wear out.

The soldiers looked cautiously up at her. “We are the mercenaries of the Golden Tooth!” one responded. “We will not be insulted by some woman!”

“I am not just some woman!” she proclaimed. “I am the exiled queen of the Grossling Kingdom! Join me and you will be paid abundantly!”

Taking this into account, another mercenary yelled, “But we still have no commander!”

Out came Grandsome, stepping crookedly with beer mug in hand and an emerald crown on his head. “I’m a commander,” he grinned. “You sorry lot can have me.”

“Yes,” quickly agreed the queen. “And you will all be paid abundantly. The Grossling Kingdom has just scores of gold mines.”

At the sound of gold mines, the non-paralyzed mercenaries quickly agreed to follow the queen.

“WAIT!” called out agent Frìa. “Where’d you get that emerald crown?” she asked Grandsome.

“It fell of the dragon,” smugly replied Grandsome. “And it’s mine.”

“I’m coming with you then,” she stated.

“How’s that?” asked Grandsome while the queen looked worried.

“A dragon never lets its treasure be stolen without returning to reclaim it. I need to find the Secret Oracles. The dragon you took that crown from knows where the Secret Oracles are.”

“Oh,” sighed Grandsome. “If you stay quiet, I might not mind you.” The queen seemed satisfied at the occurrence.

“Now, where’s the sorceress who’s been paralyzing my mercenaries?” angrily cried out the queen.

Shaken by such a critical response to her work, the sorceress stood up. “Would you like the same?”

“No,” said he queen. “I would like you to join us.”

The half-sized swordsman stood up. “What?”

“You will be paid quite well.”

The half-sized swordsman sat down. “You are a beautiful woman, wife.”

The pastor trotted up with his brand-new troll and Bob.

“This is Bob,” explained the pastor to the queen. “I explained that we’d love to bring him along.”

The exiled queen stared up at the monstrous man before her. “Perhaps we might.”

“I’m glad that’s settled,” smiled the pastor.

Looking amongst themselves, the Seven Scoundrels met the gaze of one another, marking their companions for whatever adventures may come.

“Well, let’s get started!” roared Grandsome. Turning to the bartender, he asked, “Where’s the next tavern on the way to the Grossling Kingdom?”



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