“Lords and ladies,” the Lord Steward bellowed in the tapestry covered reception room. “Presenting Randil-” the court herald bent his ear low to catch a hushed word from the men behind him. He straightened, thumped his curved white staff against the marble staircase twice and continued on.
“Presenting, Captain Randil Thorntree…”
A sleek, mustachioed man stepped out from the dark entryway. He smoothed his hair, winked and smiled at the maids who stole glances and giggled among the fruit plates. The Lord Steward bent to receive another whisper from behind and continued.
“Adam Goedurn of the YaWannaKissimmee Bard’s Guild…”
A trio of discordant notes announced the next man’s arrival. He leaped in front of Randil and set his small guitar to a fast paced melody. The sound of it brought all eyes and ears to attention. His guitar twanged and thrummed to a beat that only he followed. Adam’s eyes closed and he lost himself for a moment falling to his knees with the rhythm. Randil coughed and spoke behind his hand, “Over Doing It”. The guitar stopped with one last echoing note and Adam popped back to his feet. There was a splatter of applause from the serving maids.
“If you are quite finished,” the Lord Steward said to Adam who waved at the crowd and stepped to the side. The Steward looked back with one raised eyebrow, straightened and announced. “And, the brothers Karamowiwicz; Haruin and Taruin.” Two men slid past the Steward in unison, eyes veiled beneath identical dark hooded cloaks.
Haruin smoothed the points of his mustache, eyeballed the Lord Steward and the sturdy herald backed several steps towards the door. Taruin stretched his neck with noticeable cracking, bent his hands out in front of him and the sound of his popping finger joints echoed in the royal court.
“Ahem,” Randil gave the brothers a pointed look. He turned to address the majestic assembly, fluttered his hands in the air and gave a low bow that was echoed by the other men. “Lords and Ladies of Duke Leto’s Court, we are here…”
Randil gestured to the men behind him and found that only the assassin brothers still stood at the top of the marble steps. The sound of a delighted squeal brought his attention over to the fruit table where Adam lay draped across a cheery maiden, strumming on his guitar while she fed him grapes.
“We are here,” Randil smiled thickly, strode down the steps, retrieved Adam by the arm and hauled him to the center of the court. “To tell the tale of our adventure in the Mines of Torun!” He addressed the crowd but stared at Adam.
Adam nodded his head, “Yes, that’s right!” He spun and struck a harsh note that made some of the women gasp. “It was a dark and stormy night…” His fingers fell upon the guitar in a slow and dreary melody.
Not that dark! Randil hissed. Adam’s face brightened and his guitar followed suit until they were both creating a soft traveling sound, like the clop of hooves.
“My companions and I,” Randil cleared his throat with a closed fist to his lips, “had just laid down for the night at the very entrance to the mine. Our guide, a young boy of merely ten years,” he paused next to the extravagant duchess and put his hand on his chest. “Sweet thing, I could tell that he looked up to me.”
Taruin and Haruin stalked through the audience. Randil noticed something odd about their cloaks and the way they lumbered as they walked. He picked up the pace of his story and backed his way over to them.
“Our guide told us this was the mine’s single entrance, where we would no doubt find…a cyclops!” Randil threw up one finger amidst the gasps from the courtiers, spun around in the ensuing chatter from his audience and pinned the brothers with a stare. He glanced inside their cloaks and saw a growing collection of gilded serving utensils, crystal goblets and an elegant vase. Put those back! He hissed.
“But this was no ordinary cyclops,” Adam shouted from high above at the opposite end of the room. He was perched over a fireplace mantle, strumming his guitar with an eery sound. “This was the cyclops king- Gedentak the Beheader!”
Another round of gasps and shouts of disbelief raced through the court. A serving made dropped the silver platter of fish she’d been carrying with a clang. Well dressed men and women shuddered and huddled together.
“Oh no,” The duchess cried out, clapping a jeweled hand over her mouth.
“Oh yes!” Randil raced to her side and drew her close to him. His voice deepened to a low stage whisper. “The safety of the people of…of…”
“Yarnolth.” Adam supplied as he walked past, plucking a soulful tune.
“Yarnolth,” Randil’s voice wavered, “is more important than our own. Think of the children…”
Randil patted the head of a particularly small man and moved back to the center of the room where all eyes were fixed upon him. He drew himself up, one hand on his chest, the other resting on his wide leather belt.
“We had no more than closed our eyes when we felt the first rumblings of the cave floor.” Randil tipped and waved his arms as if the court had suddenly shifted underneath. He teetered on one foot. A few of the men standing near made as if to catch him.
“Suddenly the ground broke apart,” Randil crashed to the floor. Adam appeared behind him and began a descending scale of notes. “We found ourselves falling through the mine shaft like so much dirt and debris!”
“We plummeted down, down, down into the depths of the mine. The air was fetid and chilled my-”
“What happened to the boy?” The duchess asked.
“The boy?” Randil raised one eyebrow and looked at Adam.
“The boy…” Adam repeated and returned the quizzical look with a shrug of his shoulder.
“Your guide. The one you said looked up to you.” The duchess asked; big eyes brimming under an elaborate wig festooned with cherries, feathers and an egg sized ruby bird that bobbed when she spoke.
“Oh yes, the boy!” Randil bounced to his feet, turned to Adam and they both shared a look. Behind Adam’s shoulder, Randil caught sight of the Karamowowicz brothers at the feasting tables. They pushed and shoved their way through the royal guests, grabbing fistfuls of meat and cheese.
“We…” Randil began, “I mean to say…I…rolled him out of the cave just before the floor collapsed. Likely saving his little life.” He stepped back to stand beside Adam and spoke through his smile, Where did you get the Bonehead Brothers?
Adam plucked his guitar and winked at the fruit serving girl. Itchy Sailor’s Pub. You wanted us to look tougher. Randil let out a groan and addressed the audience.
“After hours of searching the complicated maze of tunnels we finally found his lair. I went in first. Alone in the darkness.” He whispered loud enough for the entire room to hear. There was a general murmur from the court, so brave!
“There he was…Gedentak the Beheader…seated on a throne of bones,” Randil said. Adam made a gruesome face, one eye larger than the other and let his lower lip hang low.
“Oh, it was a battle for the ages! I only wish you could have seen it.” Randil plucked a serving spoon from a passing maid and brandished it as if it were a mighty blade.
He and Adam dueled across the floor. Randil with his serving spoon and Adam with his guitar. The instrument twanged and thumped with each stroke. They hopped onto tables, cartwheeled round the chairs and bobbed back and forth in their battle.
“The beast had the strength of ten oxen!” Randil said. Adam pinned him against the dessert table. Cakes and pies shook. The courtiers gasped. “I feared this would be my end!”
“Little did I know that Adam and the Karamowowicz brothers had set a trap for the cyclops king,” Randil pushed wildly against the guitar and sent Adam spinning back into the crowd, tipping over trays and spilling wine.
“After forming a rudimentary lathe they fashioned a deadfall with discarded bones and rocks,” Randil sprang onto the table and Adam thrummed on his guitar; a deep melody that built to a crescendo. “It came crashing down and I dodged through the falling boulders just before the beast was crushed!”
Randil launched from the table with a high arcing spin that elicited gasps and pointing. Adam raced his fingers around the guitar in a rousing finale and slid on his knees to the center of the room, ending up next to Randil just as he landed. The applause was deafening.
The two men took bows and waved at the appreciative courtiers. The fruit serving girl blew a kiss to Adam who caught it and put it in his pocket with a wink. Randil searched for the brothers to complete the finale and caught a glimpse of them heading in the wrong direction. They moved through the center of the crowd and jostled past the duchess. Haruin looked back with grease smeared lips and tipped his hood. Something crimson red and dazzling was pinched between his teeth. They disappeared through the servant’s exit just as a shriek split the air.
“Someone stole my ruby bird!” The duchess patted her bare wig while those around her gaped and pointed. Every eye turned towards Randil and Adam.
The men paused for one panicked heartbeat in stunned disbelief then spun on their heels, made three quick steps towards the staircase and were promptly surrounded by royal guards. Randil leaned over to Adam amidst the shouting. This is the last time I let you do the hiring!