Thursday, November 29, 2012

Intrigues, Rogues, and Riots in Hobbington

Lido Goes it Alone

… and there they were, sitting in the now derelict Five Crows Tavern across the street from Dunn's Bridge. The heroes sat by the light of a single gas lamp. They were all healed up and ready to get a good night's sleep. Ishcandar announced that he wished to search for a tavern.

“We’re in a tavern,” said Arik bluntly.

“Is there anything to drink here, by chance?” asked Ishcandar dubiously raising an eyebrow and peering into the darkness. And so there was.  And plenty.   Ishcandar and his father took a seat at the bar and helped themselves to dusty bottles of brandy. Arik took the opportunity to sample a cask of fine Dwarven Ale he happened to notice. Bantum sat petting his chickens while Dr. Chickenhiemer tried to explain something to him and so was clucking away. That was not going so well. Bantum just nodded and smiled.

Lido had gone out into the street to find his way to the Constable's Hall in order to try to bring Constable Barnstormer back with him. The AAA Group hoped that Barnstormer would help them to invade the Five Animal's Hall prison in order to rescue Elizabeth Warden and her father.  It was dark and murky outside. There was a deep fog covered the entire town. A small tremor shook the bridge as Lido stepped onto it.

“Down to the hairs of my toes, I don’t like having to cross Dunn’s Bridge in the middle of the night,” mumbled Lido to himself. There was a green light flickering in the third floor tower window of Dunn’s Bridge. A shadow passed across the window, and Lido took a deep breath. He crossed through the fog to the far side of the bridge, scurrying as quietly as he could, sticking to every shadow that he could squeeze himself into. He felt grateful that he made it to the other side without incident, and proceeded on toward the town square, where the Lower Township connected with High Street, and where the Town Court and other administrative buildings. In that warren of streets was were the Constable’s Hall was located.

As he crossed Fountain Square, Lido noticed a noisy crowd had formed on the far side under the shadows of some tall buildings. He had been drinking with Ischandar for several days before meeting with the AAA Group, so he was not really familiar with what had been brewing lately in Hobbington. However, by coincidence, somewhere along the line he’d been sitting in some obscure pub eating a loaf of hard bread and taro-root soup, when he overheard a conversation that now, finally, occurred to him might be of interest.

Two men had been sitting in a dark corner that night, practically invisible, whispering to each other. Anyone whispering always caught Lido’s attention. He turned a highly tuned Hobbit's ear towards them and pretended to not be paying attention to anything other than the soup in front of him. Ishcandar, drunk on a gourd of rice wine, sat babbling aimiably about his upbringing with Mr. Stouthart, the tutor he was hoping never to see again. Hobbits have wonderful hearing. But Lido was moreoever specially trained at the Guild to focus his hearing on one specific conversation, even in a crowded and noisy pub, and listen in. His luck was good, the angle was just right, and once he positioned his head to catch the acoustics and used the back of his hand to reflect the sound just so, he could hear them reasonably well.

“Now Korfu, I want you to listen to me very carefully,” whispered one.

“Yes, my master,” whispered the other.

“The rebellion is going well. You have done an excellent job.”

“Thank you, master. I have followed your instructions exactly.”

“Good Korfu,” whispered the master, controlling with subtle movements of his hands the emotion of his disciple.  “You feel proud now. You feel proud of yourself. You feel that you can achieve great things in this world.” Korfu felt pride in his achievement.

“Yes I feel that now, master,” whispered Korfu with sudden delight.

“Good Korfu. Now, listen to me carefully. You must undermine the Mayor’s authority. You must seat Senior Borge at the head of the Council. You will raise rebellion in the North Quarter. Then you will send your two minions to the Old Quarter and rouse the rabble there to riot against the Mayor there.”

“Yes master,” replied Korfu.

“Good, Korfu,” whispered the master. “You will meet me afterwards at the usual place.   Go now.”

“Yes, my master,” whispered Korfu, who rose and left the bar.

Days later, as he crossed the Fountain Square, Lido thought about that conversation again. It was an ugly looking crowd, burning garbage in a barrel, and shouting slogans about something having to do with taxes and the Mayor. As he observed the crowd, Lido happen to spot a man standing off to the side in the shadows who was speaking to another man who then came out and rallied the mob with a fiery speech. The man in the shadows slipped into an allyway and disappeared. That man, he was certain, was the same Korfu who he’d overheard in the pub days earlier. Lido skirted the crowd with his head down and slipped past without being noticed. Up High Street he went on his way to the Constable’s Hall.

The roads in that area of Hobbington are cobblestone, and newer than the rest, but it feels as though this part of town is at least as old as the Old Quarter, as the streets are serpentine, winding this way and that, with many little bridges and underpasses, small stairways, and very old looking buildings made with huge blocks of stone. Eventually, Lido came to a short flight of steps leading up to a massive black door with large iron bands crossing it; above it on a large black sign in white letters, “Constable Hall”. He went up the steps and knocked lightly on the door. A face appeared in the window, and then the door opened.  A stream of light revealed the long wide stone hall inside. There were two armored guards holding pikes who stopped him as soon as he entered.

“Who goes there?” asked one in a gravelly voice.

“My name is Lido. I’ve come to speak with Constable Barnstormer. I’m a friend of Mr. Rokkafellah’s who wishes me to convey a message of great importance to the Constable as soon as possible,” said Lido excitedly with a little bow.

“Wait here,” said the guard, who sent off a runner to bring word inside. Off dashed the runner with his white headdress and bright blue shirt through a door and down a hallway. In a few minutes Constable Barnstormer came out. He was, in fact, a large man with broad shoulders and a handsome square jawed and chiseled look about him.  He had not shaven for several days.

Lido's Conversation with the Constable

“So… do I know you?” asked the Constable.

“My name is Lido. I believe I am acquainted with friends of yours, Mr. Rokkafellah and a man by the name of Hermel. I believe that you, you, may know them, sir, and I, -”

“What’s the secret handshake?” interrupted Barnstormer with a raised eyebrow and stern look.

“Secret handshake? Secret handshake?” asked Lido in a near panic. “Do I know of a secret handshake? I don’t think so! No one told me anything about a secret handshake!”

“It’s ok,” replied Barnstor, “… I was testing your reaction. You’re evidently a sincere young fellow, so there is no need for you to worry. How can I help you?”

“There’s a number of things we’re hoping to… we have reason to believe… I know that the Five Animals Gang has been broken up recently, and we …”

“I see,” interrupted Barnstormer with an outstretched hand. “If you will come with me, please,” he said, as he led Lido towards a set of heavy wooden double doors. “We can speak privately in here,” he said as Lido entered the stark chamber. It was dimly lit, with wooden chairs and a plain wooden desk, and no window. There were books lining the shelves along one wall, and large cabinets with various designations in red along the other walls. It was, in fact, quite a large room.

Lido wondered if Barnstormer would remove a mask and reveal himself to be ‘The Fifth Animal’ and kill him then and there, but fortunately that did not happen. Barnstormer took a look behind him as he closed the doors, and turned to offer Lido a seat.

“Well, sir, you see that we are aware that there are people who were trapped in a prison linked to the Five Animals Hall, and we believe they may still be alive down there. We’re hoping you will come and help us to locate and rescue them. Mr. Rokkafellah in particular has an interest in getting them out while they are still alive. Would you like some cheese?’, Lido said, while offering up a morsel of cheese from his pocket.

“Well,” said Barnstormer declining the cheese, “I have some good news for you. When we invaded the Five Animals Hall we found a prison block, and a number of prisoners were freed at that time.”

“Would the Warden family be among them?” asked Lido anxiously.

“Why yes, Elizabeth and her father were there, and we released them,” said the Constable.

“Oh that’s a great relief,” said Lido. “I’m ever so glad to hear that. Thank you very much. When Ishcandar and I escaped the prison we were unable to rescue them, and have been wracked with worry these past couple of weeks,” he concluded as he sampled the morsel of cheese happily.

“Ah, well there’s nothing to worry about. They’ve returned to their residence on High Street, and the last I heard they are recovering well,” the Constable said with satisfaction.

“Whew,” replied Lido.  "I'm quite glad to hear it."

“The only difficulty is that were not able to find the chief of their clan. The Fifth Animal,” continued Barnstormer pensively.

“Yes are aware of that. I only care to say that I hope he does not find … me,” replied Lido.

“I don’t know that he would have any reason to… do you?”

“Other than that I was his prisoner, and then I wasn’t anymore, no, I don’t think so,” answered Lido.

“You mean that you escaped from his prison?” asked the Constable.

“Why yes, I just said that,” answered Lido.

“How did you manage it?” asked the Constable, quite surprised to hear this.

“I’m afraid it’s a rather long story, you see. We had some help from another friend of ours named Bernie. I am led to understand he has passed on recently, I’m sorry to say, though I wasn’t there. We had some help from him, and then… well, things got a little complicated. As it happened we were taken quite far away from Hobbington. I’ve been eating quite heavily since we returned, you see. It was a hard journey back,” he said taking a third chunk of cheese and popping it into his mouth.

“I see. Very interesting, Lido. Thank you for letting me know. I’ll get in touch with you, if I may, if I need your services again,” said the Constable as he led the Hobbit back to the doors. When he opened them however, outside the Hall in the street they heard a commotion. There appeared to be a large crowd outside shouting slogans against the Government and the Mayor.

“Down with the Mayor! Down with the Council!” members of the mob were shouting. The two guards at the door to the street were standing firmly against the crowd, pikes crossed, keeping any from entering the Hall.

“Oh my,” said Lido as he peered out. An egg hit the door near one of the guards. There was more yelling outside. A rotten vegetable splattered on the other door.

Constable Barnstormer Confronts the Mob

“Lido, you better stay here. This could get ugly,” said Barnstormer, preparing himself to confront the crowd.

“I don’t suppose there is a back door?” asked Lido nervously.

“There is a way, but it would be rather complicated to get down there. It requires getting through several locked doors, and through subterranean pathways. I would fear for your safety more going that way than remaining here. Just stay out of the way, this could get violent,” said Barnstormer firmly.  Lido gulped. The Constable summoned more men from an inner chamber and a troop rapidly formed a line at the main door. Barnstormer stepped forward ahead of his men at the top of the stairs. He held up his hand and addressed the crowd with low and certain tones, as one of great authority and justice.

“Citizens of Hobbington. I share your grievance and concern over the new taxes in the town. I too have been struck by the tax the same as you have.”

“But you defend the Mayor, and the Council!” shouted a man from the midst of the mob, to which shouts were raised and torches brandished wildly.

“We are all being taxed. Everyone from high to low,” said Barnstormer, steadying the crowd with his firm tone.

“But the Mayor is not being taxed!” shouted someone. “Nor is Senior Borge! Or the High Council!” shouted another.

“And this is why,” said Constable Barnstormer raising his voice above the crowd, “I too share your concern. However, let us be men, and not animals. Let us be citizens of the town, united by our peaceful intention to protest in a lawful manner.” The crowd murmured, seeming to be half persuaded by Barnstormer’s suggestion.

At that moment, Lido, who was peering through the door from a position he had taken to do so, noticed that across the street the same mysterious man, Korfu, was standing on the other side of the mob in the shadow of an alleyway. Korfu, it seemed to Lido, was removing something from his vest pocket in such a way that made him suddenly deeply suspicious. The twist of Korfu’s body seemed to suggest he was preparing to throw something. Without further thought, he slipped his sling on his finger, and took a stone from his trusty pouch, cradled it, and slipped through the ranks of men so that he came to Barnstormer’s side.

“Constable, look there!” he said pointing at Korfu. “That man there!” With that, Barnstormer looked and saw Korfu in his cowl, his face obscured, a gleam of malice in his eyes.

“You there!” shouted Barnstormer across the street pointing at Korfu. Everyone turned and looked, but Korfu slipped away into the shadows and vanished without a trace. Lido explained that the man in the cloak looked as though he were about to throw something deadly at the good Constable, and the crowd murmured again.

“Good citizens of Hobbington. Let us make a solemn pact,” said Barnstormer. “I will go with you tomorrow, when the sun rises to the noon hour to the Town Hall, and I will present the grievance to High Council on your behalf. Only do nothing rash this day, but be peaceable that your words may carry weight, and the Council have no cause to deny you a fair hearing.”

With this the crowd demurred and so the crisis was, for a second time, averted. The crowd dispersed.

Lido and the Constable returned to the Hall. Lido thanked Constable Barnstormer, and complimented him on how well he was able to handle the crowd.

“Thank you, Lido. Your sharp eye may well have averted a great disaster. Had I been attacked at that moment, it might have turned the crowd.  Who knows what they might have done then.”

“That was my sense as well,” said Lido. “That particular man, I don’t know if you saw his face, but his name is Korfu. I overheard him speaking with another man, his master, in a pub a few days ago.  They seemed intent on creating disturbances around the town. I am convinced that the mob is being deliberately incited for purposes that have little to do with the repealing of the new tax laws,” said Lido.

“That is very interesting. I’m glad you mentioned it. If you don’t mind, I will call in a friend of mine to speak with you on this matter. He is the town’s Inspector General, Mr. Henderson. He has been working on a case that I believe may be directly related to what you just said. Will you wait here while I send for him?” asked Constable Barnstormer.

“Certainly. Anything I can do to help, I will be happy to,” replied Lido sincerely.

Enter Inspector Henderson

Inspector Henderson came into the private chamber. He was a tall lean man with a gaunt, serious look about him. He was polite, and cordially shook Lido’s hand, introducing himself with a mild tone. He was smoking a cigarette.

“I’m quite interested in what you can tell me regarding the man you spotted outside,” said the Inspector, tilting his head to the side as he watched Lido through narrowed eyes. Lido informed him of everything he knew, with the exception of a single detail. He did not feel safe explaining that the Mayor was likely to be a target of the sinister duo, and that Senior Borge was in line to acquire his powerful position on the Council. He did not want to be the guy who pegged the plotters, least he become an enemy of those with whom he could not hope to survive a quarrel. Henderson’s keen eye, however, detected that there was a singular moment at which Lido’s eye twitched, and his gaze faltered.

“Are you sure there is not something you are …” began the Inspector sternly.

“There is one more thing,” said Lido looking around the room suspiciously, “but I should like to ask before I continue… are you sure that no one will overhear us?”

“This chamber was especially designed for discrete communications. There is no need to worry.”

“Well, then, I will tell you. The master of Korfu told him that they must eliminate the Mayor and elevate Senior Borge to his seat on the Council!”

Henderson and Barnstormer exchanged glances. As there was nothing more that the Hobbit had to add, they thanked him, and asked him to bring any additional information along should he happen to discover anything of interest in regards to this case. Lido agreed to so do and was preparing to leave.

“Very interesting,” said Henderson to Barnstormer, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “This fits in with the general pattern of strange events of late. There have been fires set in various Quarters around the town, and even tremors felt in every Quarter. Strange glowing lights have been reported, and if rumor is to be believed, some kind of ancient Serpent Lord appeared in Fountain Square earlier today. Ever since we managed to get our hands on the Five Animals Gang things appear to be unraveling. I suspect that the remaining Fifth Animal is lurking out there somewhere, and likely involved with these events,” he concluded looking off into space thoughtfully.

“Yes, well,” said Lido with a sudden shudder, “if you won’t be needing me further, I think I ought to get back to my comrades at the Five Crows now. Thank you ever so much for the good news about the Warden family. That’s a great relief to us all, I’m sure.”

“You’re quite welcome, Lido. And thank you for coming forward with the information. I imagine it may be quite useful in the investigation. As for the Warden’s I think I will send a man over to take a look in on them tonight. Just to be sure they are getting on alright.”

“That’s a good idea, thank you,” replied Lido as he wrapped himself in his scarf and put on his winter hat. “I’m quite grateful to you,” he added as he left the room. And with that he departed the Hall and returned along the winding streets, and made his way back to the Five Crows. Lido entered with a flurry of snow behind him into the Tavern.

“Friend!” said Ishcandar as soon as he saw Lido. “What news?!”

“Good news! The Wardens have been rescued already by Constable Barnstormer days ago. They’re safe and sound in their home on High Street. He’s even sending a man to take a look in on them.”

“Wonderful! A round of drinks for everyone!” shouted Ishcandar merrily. As it happened though, everyone was soundly sleeping in various corners of the room. Even Ischcandar’s father, Mr. Rokkafellah, had taken up a comfortable spot on a cushioned chair and was snoring quietly near the fireplace. The only other members of the group who were awake happened to be Arik, now on his third cask of fine Dwarven Ale, and Praymar, who rarely was found sleeping.

“It may be best if we don’t stay in Hobbington, Ishcandar," said Lido to his friend.  "I ran into a mob on the way to the Constable’s, and I recalled something I overheard while we were in one of the pubs we wandered through when we first returned to town.”  Lido sat at the bar and conveyed the details of the sinister conversation to Ishcandar.

When the Clock Strikes Thirty-Six

“Did you say Korfu?” squeaked Praymar who had slunk up from a corner of the room to listen in. “I thought he was dead by now!”

“It would seem that both he and Ibis survived the salt mine,” replied Arik stroking his beard thoughtfully. He and Praymar took turns explaining to the Hobbits how they had met Ibis and Korfu in the Prancing Unicorn Inn, and all the details that they could recall regarding the salt mine, and their adventures there. Outside the wind howled in the streets, and the clock on Dunn’s bridge struck twelve times. With that Hermel woke up and stretched himself, glad to see that Lido had returned without incident.

“Um… isn’t that the second time that clock tower struck twelve times tonight?” he asked.

“Actually, the third,” replied Arik.

“It must be broken,” said Hermel, not wanting to get involved with any unnecessary mysteries when they were so close to getting on their way to Yellow Clay Village after all. “At any rate, it doesn’t matter. Why not lie down and get some sleep. We’re leaving early in the morning. There are some blankets over there.”

“But if the tower clock were broken, ...I would think it would not strike at all, rather than strike midnight three times in one day, don’t you?” asked Lido.

“Are you a clock maker?” asked Hermel curtly.

“Actually my father was friends with a clock maker once,” replied Lido.

“Does that make you a clock maker?” asked Hermel, even more curtly.

“Well, no, I suppose not,” replied Lido. “But I do know that a broken clock doesn’t strike at all, rather than strike the same time more times than it should.”

“Yeah,” squeaked Praymar.

“You know what?” said Hermel, seeing where this was headed, “I have an idea. Why don’t you two go and check it out?  That would be the right thing to do.”

Doctor Chickenhiemer began to cluck. He jumped off of Bantum’s head and fluttered himself to the floor, waking the young giant up.

“Do you want to go out?” asked Bantum. “Okeee” he said and got up to let the rooster outside. Hermel shrugged and rolled over to go back to sleep. Star, who had woken up by then, looked out the window toward Dunn’s bridge. He saw that there was a green light in the window on the third story of the tower, and that around the entire tower there was a pale shimmering blue glow. Chickenhiemer jumped off the stoop down to the street and began making his way toward Dunn’s Bridge.

“Yer letting out the chicken, eh?" asked Arik rhetorically.  "Is the chicken going to scout out the tower and find out if the clock is broken? Is that what’s going to happen?” he continued, disgusted.

“What are you even saying?” asked Bantum confused by the multiple questions in a row.

“I don’t even know anymore,” replied Arik gruffly. He never believed that damn rooster was able to talk, or anything other than an ordinary bird in the least. All the genuflecting to that ridiculous creature really irked the Dwarve to no end. “Good night!” he said, and with that went to find another cask of ale. Arik drank himself into a stupor. Meanwhile Star of Justice was looking out the window, watching Chickenhiemer as he made his way toward the tower.

“Come back, chicken!” shouted Bantum as he went out into the street to get Chickenhiemer. Star followed after him. Chickenhiemer made his way across the snow drifts toward Dunn’s Bridge, wound his way around the side of the tower, and to the front door.

Inside the Tavern, Lido began snoring, which for Hobbits is a funny little sound that would be hard to imitate, but sounds a bit like “ninnyninnyninnyninny”. Hermel got up and kicked him lightly until he stopped snoring and went back to sleep. Meanwhile, Ishcandar noticed a rat crossing the bar in front of him. It had a white spot over one eye.

“Hermel, look!” said Ishcandar. “It’s Bernie’s rat!” Hermel opened an eye and took a brief look. He saw the rat scuttling across the bar. The rat stopped and perked up on its hind legs. Arik looked at it and commented on the fact that it wasn’t a bear, or a snake, or a chicken and took another draw from his pint of ale.  He said he could take a liking to a rat, since it wasn't any of those other three animals, and grunted with satisfaction when rat squeaked at him.  The rat squeaked again and rubbed his little paws together. Ishcandar gave it a little bit of cheese he pulled from his pocket. The rat squeaked with delight, took the cheese and nibbled on it.

Meanwhile, at the bridge, Bantum had followed Chickenhiemer, while Star of Justice had followed Bantum. He thought it best to keep an eye on the young giant. When the two adventurers made their way around the railing of the tower to where Chickenhiemer was clucking, the rooster clucked twice and bounded into the air, flying up to the third story window from which the green glow was emanating. He landed deftly on the ledge of the window, and took a position there, peering inside intently.

“Come back, chicken! Come back!” shouted Bantum. Star, who did not want to make a ruckus at all, calmed Bantum down and got him to be quiet. They agreed to go to open the front door and try to find Chickenhiemer quietly from the inside. The door was open. Within was a dark unfurnished circular hall surrounded by dark purple tapestries. “Chicken…” called Bantum into the dark hall. Star lit a torch and they both stepped inside.

“This is probably and awful silly thing to do,” commented Star to himself.

Dr. Chickenhiemer to the Rescue

As the two brave souls entered the lower hall, Chickenhiemer was craning his neck around the side of the windowsill in order to peer into the upper chamber. There he saw some very interesting things indeed. There was Dr. Lobe, exactly as he remembered him, only somewhat older looking now. He was focusing his attention on a machine with a large number of dials, meters and an array of electromagnetic projectors. Dr. Chickenhiemer was somewhat alarmed. There was a soft blue glow emanating from a tall cylinder in the center of the room. Within the cylinder were highly energetic beams of blue light, forming a cubic spiral in a descending pattern, slowly rotating around a single beam of green light that went to the ceiling. The array was positioned according to a Chronometric device and aligned to specific stars and constellations which were mirrored in the ceiling of the chamber, all with incredible precision, even by Chickenhiemer’s exacting standards. Above it, suspended from the ceiling was a glowing emerald casting a fiery green light around the chamber. The entire place was throbbing with unfathomable mystical energies.

Off to one side Chickenhiemer spotted movement. It was Yakov, the burly mute assistant of Dr. Lobe. He was carrying a large heavy steel container into the room from a passageway. Dr. Lobe instructed him to place it in a precise location at the center of the room, within the cylinder. On the far side of the room Chickenhiemer saw a frosted glass rectangular box, with mist coming off of it in undulating waves. Within the container he could make out a body. It was, he thought, a young woman with long curly red hair. She appeared to be in a state of suspended animation. The entire setup presented Dr. Chickenhiemer with a single, clear, and obvious purpose. But why would Dr. Lobe wish to send the young woman into a time vortex? Thinking it over swiftly, Dr. Chickenhiemer concluded that Dr. Lobe himself probably had no interest, other than that of pure science… to discover the laws of the universe. Yet, someone was behind the experiment. Dr. Chickenhiemer was very curious as to whom that might be. Yet there was no time left to find out. The girl would be vanish into the vortex momentarily if he did not take action. Not wishing to disrupt such a delicately dangerous operation such as this, he decided to make one small, barely significant change to a single setting of a particular dial on one of the supporting devices in the room. To do this was very simple. He used his Mesmeric Hypnotic-Influence to reach into Yakov’s weak little mind, completely undetected, and cause him to brush the dial unwittingly as he passed the machine on his way to the center of the room. The dial moved from a 32 setting to a 31 setting. The likelihood of Dr. Lobe noticing this in time, he estimated, was 1 in 37,812. Good enough. Dr. Chickenhiemer fluttered off the ledge silently and flew down.

Meanwhile downstairs, Bantum and Star had entered the lower chamber by torchlight. When they walked in the door behind them began to close, but Bantum’s rather large body prohibited it. He did not notice, in fact, but pushed the door back open without considering it again. They looked around the room. There were three melon-sized red toads with large curved tusks in the room. All the chickens began to cluck. Bantum tried to calm them down, but as the toads began to hop towards the two men, one belched out a ring of billowing orange fire, which wafted up to the ceiling, and this caused the chickens to cluck frantically.

“Sorry, Froggie, but you are bad!” said Bantum as he crushed the toad nearest him with his warhammer. Star destroyed another one with his mace. The third one hopped over to Bantum and belched a large billowing wash of flame over the soft hearted warrior. The flames were made of mystical fire. Bantum, unlike most others, was uniquely low powered when it came to any kind of mental ability, and his low mystical defense reflected that. The flames washed over his ethereal body and consumed what little mystical energy was there. Bantum fell to both knees with a loud thud, staring sightlessly into space. All the chickens on his bandoleer fainted. Star killed the remaining toad with his mace, sending a splat of blood guts and fire in a wide area.

“Bantum!” yelled Star as he ran to his friend's side. The great warrior was slumped to the floor unconscious. Star knelt down, a look of deep concern on his face. He prayed for the blessing to be able to perform the only skill he knew of that might heal Bantum’s mystical energies. That was Mesmeric Healing. He focused on that, praying to the wondrous Elkron of the Sun, and by that power, performed the Mesmeric Healing successfully. The mystic energies flowed into Bantum from the air around them, and so the young warrior awoke, opening his eyes slowly.

“Bantum!” said Star with great relief, and helped him to get to his feet. The chickens drooped on the bandoleer as Bantum stood up.  Star guided him slowly to the door. At that moment Dr. Chickenhiemer came flying into the chamber from outside and landed on Bantum’s head. He was very annoyed with himself for having left his favorite mount where he might encounter this kind of danger, and swore to himself that this should not happen again. With a flick of his wings the other chickens were revived and began squawking. And with that they walked back to the Five Crows Tavern.

Mr. Rokkafellah's Dream

Entering the now silent Tavern, Star woke Hermel and recounted the tale, or as much of it as he knew. Hermel seemed unimpressed, and advised them to get some sleep.

And with that everyone went to sleep. Except for Mr. Rokkafellah, who had awoken to a slight sound from somewhere in the room. It sounded, he thought as he opened his eyes, like two sticks tapping across the floor. Without moving he turned his eyes in the direction of the faint noises. There he saw a remarkable sight. An odd shaped creature, about four inches tall, had emerged from Lido’s vest pocket and was standing itself upright. Mr. Rokkafellah closed one eye and made the other into a thin slit. The creature, if you could call it that, had an enormously oversized head, bulbous body, and pencil thin arms and legs. More remarkable were its pointy teeth, which showed as it worked its jaw into a dreadful grin. But most remarkable of all were its glowing red eyes, like two small coals of fire glowing fiercely within jet black eye holes.

“Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” Mr. Rokkafellah thought to himself. The odd little creature began tapping its way across the floor on its tiny stick-legs. It was making its way, slowly, toward where Mr. Rokkafellah was sleeping. He felt very uncomfortable about this. Just as the creature, or thing, was upon him, the stalwart Hobbit sat up suddenly and looking down said, “What’s this? How dare you sneak up on me while I’m sleeping, you devilish little runt!”

With that the creature got a very angry little look on its face and stood up tall. Taller and taller it stood until finally it was quite a lot larger than Mr. Rokkafellah, and billows of flames were coming out of its mouth. In fact it grew so large that its head grazed the ceiling and its body seemed to fill the entire room.

“You have something I want,” said the now gigantic hell-runt. “Hand it over, or I’ll eat you for breakfast.”

Now, ordinarily, Mr. Rokkafellah was not the easily frightened sort, but this was pretty bad. He felt quite sure that if the hellish fiend wanted to eat him, it very well could.

“W-w-w-what do you want?” asked the elder Hobbit stammering badly, a cold sweat having taken hold of his entire body.

“Give me the Green Jade Dragon. I want to steal it, you see, since the true owner has let go of it,” said the monster with a fierce grin, his eyes blazing with red fire.

“B-b-b-but what do you want it for?” Mr. Rokkafellah managed to stammer out.

“With it I can torment the young hero, of course. He and his family will be at my mercy. And we like that. Very much, we like that, because we have no mercy,” said the fiend from hell. And with that Mr. Rokkafellah, who liked Hermel after all, got up his ire, and so he blurted out something that he thought he would regret very much, very soon.

“I shan’t do it,” he said. And with that the little monster roared with a fierceness of iniquity that would have frightened most of us down to the very marrow of our bones. But Hobbits, as we know, are in fact made of stern stuff, and when it comes to the defense of their friends, they’re in fact very tough little critters indeed. And as soon as he set his face sternly with furrowed eyebrows against the monster, it shrank suddenly down to tiny size, and ran across the floor as fast as it could back toward Lido’s pocket. Before he jumped in he squeaked in a terrible tone, “This isn’t the last you’ve heard of me, Mr. Ishcanter Rokkafellah! We know where you live!”

Well, of course, Mr. Rokkafellah was quite upset, and nearly paralyzed with fright. He decided to get up and throw some cold water on his face. He walked over to the bar in order to so do. As he did, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something that bothered him a great deal. There was an eye looking through the Tavern window at him; a very large eye. So large in fact that only part of it showed through the window. The tavern shook a bit. Despite his best intention to run and hide himself somewhere where no one would ever find him again, he found that he was walking to the window to see what could have such a huge eye as that. And there he saw in the street a great green dragon was resting his giant claws on the tavern peering through the window at him.

“You did well not to give the Dragon’s Tear to my enemy,” said the Dragon in a deep and sonorous voice directly into Mr. Rokkafellah’s mind. “But you should remember, as long as you hold the stone, that devil from hell will be after you for it. And he will find new and inventive ways to try to pry it from your fingers, you can be quite sure. I won’t tell you what you must do… but consider yourself warned.”

And with that, Mr. Rokkafellah awoke with a start, his body covered in sweat as he lay in the comfortable chair near the window. It was a nightmare! Only a dream! He was enormously relieved. And yet, still enormously frightened. He didn’t like that dream at all. Not one bit. He quickly felt into his pocket. There it was, cool and glassy hard. The Jade Dragon Stone, safe and sound. After that, as you can imagine, the poor old Hobbit didn’t fall back to sleep. But kept his eye on Lido’s pocket the rest of the night.

Eventually, dawn came around. Everyone woke up, starting with Hermel, who went around and woke up the others one at a time. When he came to Mr. Rokkafellah the Hobbit was wide-awake, staring up at him from beneath his blanket. Hermel thought it a bid odd, but paid no particular attention. His mind was elsewhere.

“Mr. Rokkafellah, why don’t you come with us to the Guild Hall so that we can arrange for a guard to accompany you back to your mansion?” suggested Hermel.

“Why that’s very decent of you, young man,” replied the elder Hobbit. “Very decent indeed. I doubt that shall be necessary, however,” he said. 

After everyone had gotten themselves together under Hermel’s direction, they went to the Guild Hall, and settled in to have a hearty breakfast before the long journey to the far away Yellow Clay Village. After the breakfast, Mr. Rokkafellah prepared to head back to his mansion.

“Good bye, my son,” he said warmly. “It was good to see you.”

“It was good to see you, too father,” replied Ishcandar.  "Oh father, I don't suppose you could spare any money for my journey to the Provinces?  I've spent quite a bit and have run low."

“You’ve grown up a great deal all of a sudden. I suppose you will turn out to be a responsible young Hobbit some day, much like I did,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, handing him a small sack of coins. “Do take care of yourself, and come back from your adventure in one piece,” he said, almost tearing. He gave the lad a hearty hand shake, and passed him a small hastily scribbled note as he did so.

“I’ll try father,” said Ishcandar, and stepped aside to surreptitiously take a look at the note. It read, “Meet at the Iron Horse at 9:30.”

“As for you, Hermel, you’re a fine young man. I want to lend you something,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, and he pulled out the Dragon’s Tear and handed it to Hermel.

“Mr. Rokkafellah, I can not repay you the money you gave me for it,” said Hermel sincerely surprised by this unexpected action.

“You hold on to this young man, and consider it perhaps a kind of loan, possibly. I had a strange dream last night, in which I will say that a great green dragon suggested in no uncertain terms that you should hold onto it, er, for me. Why not?  Hah hah... It’s of little use to me. But for you, perhaps it is of great importance. Just remember that I did you a favor once if you ever should come to mind, ok?”

“Ok, well, thank you Mr. Rokkafellah. I appreciate it very much,” said Hermel taking the stone in his hand. It felt cool and comfortable resting again in his palm. He put it in his pocket, wondering what in the world the Green Dragon might have said to Mr. Rokkafellah to make him change his mind and give up on so much money.

“Good bye, young heroes,” said Mr. Rokkafellah, shuddering a little bit as he recalled the freakish dream.

At that moment the door opened and in walked Constable Barnstormer, followed by the young and beautiful Elizabeth Warden and her elderly father.

The Arrival of the Fair Maiden

“Hello,” said the Constable. “I went to check on the Wardens, and Mr. Warden insisted on coming along to see you folks, along with his daughter. You remember, I suppose, Elizabeth Warden?”

Everyone looked at the gorgeous young beauty with the curly red hair, and large green eyes. She looked at Hermel, and as she was about to hold out her hand to greet the surprised young hero, Ishcandar stepped forward and took her hand.

“Can this be? The fair young maiden is safe and sound!” he said as he bent his head to kiss her hand.

“Is this the girl you abandoned in the prison?” asked Hermel with a bit of sardonic intonation in his voice.

“Why I think this is the girl you didn’t want to go back for,” said Ishcandar with a bit of a snide edge in his voice.

“I didn’t realize it was HER,” retorted Hermel, annoyed and dismayed by this sudden turn of events. "I didn't remember her name."

The girl, now entirely wilted, turned to leave the Guild Hall looking miserable and depressed, followed by her doting father, who appeared equally dismayed.  Things certainly didn't turn out as he had hoped they would!

“Wow. What a buzz kill,” said Rothmon as he shook his head and slumped his shoulders.

“If I’m not getting any, you’re not getting any,” said Hermel to Ishcandar with a twinge of satisfaction.

“Hey lady,” squeaked Praymar as she left the room, head hung low. “I’m here for you,” he called after her. There was no reply. Constable Barnstormer, considerate of the Warden’s bruised feelings, made a quick good bye and followed after them.

“That was the same girl that was cryogenically frozen in the tower last night,” clucked Dr. Chickenhiemer quite uselessly.

“So, Rothmon, how’s it going with the Archers? What do we have to work with?” asked Hermel, having taken a whole second to move on and get back to his objective.   Hermel was nothing if not single minded.

Rothmon replied that the arragenments for the Archers were already made, and that they would assemble at Hobbington Main Gate that morning. Everyone was ready to move out, and so the 'AAA Group' of the Hobbington Adventures’ Guild marched toward the Main Gate, eager to get started on their next adventure. And when they got to the Main Gate, what did they see, but a large crowd of people outside of Wuldkarva’s Wooden Doggie Emporium. It was quite a large crowd in fact, and everyone seemed quite excited about something or other, and the whole plaza was abuzz with the excitement.

“Oh no,” thought Hermel to himself. “This smells very suspiciously like the beginning of another distraction… must avoid. Must avoid. Must avoid…” In his pocket the Jade Dragon Stone grew a bit heavier, and a bit warm to the touch.

Last Episode: Interlude: The Long Squabble
Next Episode: Time To Leave Hobbington

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