But getting killed won’t happen until after Sarton yells at me for not getting a calf, so I head off to the Royal Barn. Which is not a barn. It’s the house and business office for the Royal Gardener, Royal Livestock Tender, Royal Herbalist, and, for all I know, the Royal Manure Spreader. My business there is short, brief, unpleasant, and successful. Degrif, the Royal Livestock Tender, dislikes me, Sarton, Court, life, and I suspect himself as well, judging from his perpetually grumpy mood. But he knows his job, and he can tell me to the day how old every animal in the barns and pastures are. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got a tally, not just of the barn cats, but of the mice they catch. So, I get a promise to deliver a calf fitting Sarton’s requirements by late afternoon.
Which leaves me with getting three dragon’s teeth. Despite what Sarton may think, they are not easy to come by. I’m not exactly going to go hunt and kill a dragon myself. The mortality rate of people who try that is a mite high for me. No, what I need to do is find someone who has them, and make a deal. Or maybe hornswoggle them. Depends on who is it, and how sober they are at the time. In any case, not going to happen until after lunch.
So I head back to the palace proper. And run into the Royal Guard at its snottiest.
“Who are you?” Gruff voice, straggly beard, zero brains.
“I’m Tollon of Velgard, Lord of Tyznar Heights, colleague to Master Court Magician Sarton. Get out of my way, oaf!” My title is sort of real, and I’m counting on this lamebrain not to know the difference.
He doesn’t stand aside. “I have heard nothing of your coming.”
“And I’ve heard nothing of you, whoever you are. Nevertheless, we are still presumably honored by your presence, if honor or presence pertains to you.” It’s usually safe to insult people in ways they won’t understand.
This one certainly doesn’t understand. The blank look on his face adds to what would be called “rustic charm” by our more sentimental bards, “ugliness” by our more satirical ones. He tries to think, finds it too hard, and gives up. Turning part way around, he bellows, “Corporal, there’s a Lord of Tizzy Hates here.”
Grumbling follows. And then from inside the castle emerges Corporal Wayne. He sees me, grimaces, walks up to me, bows, and greets me, “My dear Lord of Tyznar Heights,” sounding as serious as he can. And then he aims a kick square between my legs, targeting some cherished body parts of mine, which kick I anticipate and avoid. I try to return the favor, but this time he’s anticipated me, grabs me by the foot, and tosses me to the ground.
I give him a resentful look. “What that necessary?”
He grimaces again. “No. But it was fun.” And then he lets out a loud laugh. Turning to the first guard, he says, “You can let this one in at any time. If he’s going to be hanged, I’ll do the job myself.”
I get up, dust myself off, grab my fallen bag. “You are the soul of courtesy, Corporal. I imagine you’re even civil to the men cuckolding you.”
That gets no response save an ill look and a laugh before the corporal returns to his station. And so I return into the palace. First stop, my own room, to drop off mypeppermints. Then to Sarton’s workshop, to drop off his and tell him the calf will be coming.
Sarton’s workshop is at the extreme northern end of the castle, on the third floor. Above him on the fourth floor is an artist’s studio, the thinking being that if Sarton blows himself up, he won’t kill anyone of importance. The door to the workshop has an enchanted doorknob that can get quite vicious, if you aren’t an approved visitor. Sarton dislikes being disturbed. Considering that breaking his concentration could bring a plague upon the kingdom, it’s wise to leave him alone.
But I know Sarton is just developing a spell today, so don’t even knock before turning the knob and entering.
Only to be greeted by a demon. A demon seven feet tall, with teeth, prominently on display in a slobbering mouth.
“You wouldn’t be a vegetarian, would you?” I ask as I decide whether to fight (no!), freeze (please, no!), or flee (please, please, please!)
But I don’t get the chance, as the demon picks me up by the back of my jacket. The top of my head suddenly feels a bit warm and wet, and I realize to my horror that the demon is drooling on me.