Friday, November 24, 2017

Draft: The Tiger Queen, Part III


Dreary days passed on the trail of the Black Dog. The Brown King traveled alone, save for his trusted advisors, as he knew a larger party would draw suspicion, and make finding the Queen all the harder. The Queen was well loved, and wide knowledge of her disappearance would surely upset the kingdom. He had nearly reached the border of his kingdom, The Old King Woods, stopping at the last hamlet, Broken Vale. The Freeholder there had a fine big farmhouse, the last really cozy house along this road, and the king thought he could use a good nights rest. Worry had him up most nights, and travel up early most mornings. He thought he might find a spot of news, as well.

The king traveled incognito, his great bearskin cape rolled behind his saddle, his copper crown tucked safely away in the saddlebags. But LeCircle, the Freeholder of Broken Vale knew him, and greeted him warmly.

“It’s been years since you’ve been through here! Too long! Too long! Come in! Come in!” he said, ushering the three of them in, nodding to Crow and Cat, hugging the king roughly. LeCircle led him in with an arm slung over his shoulders. “What brings you this way, then? Hunting pirates without any magistrates?”

“So you’ve heard?”, asked the king. “He’s been through?”

“Rumours only, really. A few missing chicken and sheep, here and there. But you lend credence to those rumours, don’t you?”

“Maybe I do,” sighed the king, “maybe I do.”

The king shared what he knew of the Black Dog; LeCircle did the same. It amounted to very little. Some say he had passed nearby, heading into the Old King Wood, hoping to reach the Wilds beyond. Some say he had found what he was looking for and turned back towards the sea. Some said he couldn’t find what he was looking for, and returned to the salt waters to find it there. No-one knew much at all. And no one mentioned the Queen. Least of all the King.

“It’s a delicate thing, to look for something without admitting it’s gone”, thought the King, later that evening, after LeCircle’s grand supper in celebration of his visit.

“Let’s check out the woods,” said the King to Crow, after a largish breakfast. “Can’t hurt while we’re here.”

So noon found them deep in the Old King Wood, so named for no reason anyone really remembered. “Some old king, likely,” was the best Cat could come up with.

“Named for King English!” came a voice from ahead, and down a bit to the left. “Old King English and his band of harriers, fighting the Great Usurper!” said the bushes in that general direction.

The King, not a fan of speaking bushes normally, warily drew his sword. “Indeed. My ancestor, the Great Usurper, although we don’t really call him that, much,” said the king. He cocked his head at the bush. “Who goes, in any case?”

A small creature, dressed in roughspun cloth and leather moccasins stepped from the bushes. A young woman, the King realized, a hunting bow in her hand. A supporter he supposed, of the bands of harriers in the wilds, still on about the loss of a crown quite some time ago. He hoped she wasn’t planning on shooting him. He rather disliked being shot at.

“Peanut!” she declared, puffing up. “Daughter of Holmgren, strongholder!” She looked him up and down, making no real move towards the shooting of any arrows.

“Thank God,” muttered the king, slumping a bit, and returning his sword to its scabbard. “Peanut you say?”

She looked a bit abashed at this, Peanut being perhaps as odd a name in the strongholds as it was in the Inner realms. “My da likes peanuts,” she said under her breath. “What?” asked Crow.

“Why are you in the Old King Woods?” she asked, instead. “Who are you to approach the strongholds?”

“I suppose that’s a good question,” said the King, not really wanting to admit that he was the King, especially not here at the very edge of his Kingdom, where the strongholders hadn’t paid taxes or declared fealty since long before his time.

“Looking for Black Dog!” cawed Crow.

“Never heard of him,” declared peanut. “Let’s go find him, then.”

So she led the King and his retinue deeper into Old King Wood.