“I do not hate Ellwood Cyrene,” I said, as Ethyl and I rode through the barren windswept hills of the northern Fallen Lands, just south of the great glacier known as The Skagarack.
“Is it because she dresses like a man and goes adventuring?” asked Ethyl.
“Is what because she dresses like a man and goes adventuring?”
“Is that why you hate her?”
“I do not hate Ellwood Cyrene. Why, I said as much scarcely a paragraph ago.”
“I can’t imagine why she would want to go adventuring,” said Ethyl. “If I was the Queen, I would stay at home in my palace, wearing beautiful dresses and having tea parties.”
“Fiend!” I shouted, unsheathing my sword, which is to say, taking it out of its scabbard, which is the sword holder thing. “Now I know that you are not the true Ethyl, for she has said a thousand times that she would never wear a dress and she hates… well, in truth, she is moderately indifferent to tea, but I’ll wager a gold sovereign that she would hate a tea party!”
“Put your sword away, Father. I swear by all that is holy that I am your loving daughter.”
“You are not helping your case, fiend! The real Ethylthorpe would never describe herself thus. If you really are my daughter, what is my favorite pie?”
“You love all pies equally,” she said with a sigh.
“That does sound like the correct answer,” said I. “It is not proof enough, however. It is far too vague. You must answer a question that is more un-vague.”
“More specific?” she offered.
“I do not take grammar advice from doppelgangers,” said I.
“I do not remember you ever taking grammar advice from anyone,” she replied, “though I recall hearing it offered on quite a few occasions.”
“If you are who you say you are, answer this question. What was the pie that your Aunt Celia made for me the last time we visited her?”
“That was a long time ago, probably,” said Ethyl.
“It was close to three years ago,” I reported.
“How could Ethyl… how could I possibly be expected to remember that?”
“I will give you three guesses. If you cannot get the correct pie in those three guesses, I will run you through, which is to say, poke you with the pointy end of this sword.”
She scrunched up her forehead in thought.
“All right, she made you either a blueberry pie, a chicken pot pie, or… a disconsolateberry pie.”
“She did indeed make me all three of those pies,” I agreed, putting away my sword. “She made me a few others as well. It is well that you remembered, for I was almost certain that you had been replaced by a…”
“A goblin!” shouted Ethyl.
“Clearly you hadn’t been replaced by a goblin,” said I. “I would have noticed by your very round head or your very pointy teeth.”
“No, Father, a goblin!” Ethyl shouted again, this time adding a gesture, which is to say pointing to the trail ahead.
Standing not twenty paces ahead of us, was indeed a goblin. He was no more than three feet tall, with an over-sized round head, glowing eyes, and a gaping maw. In other words, he was typical of his vicious little species. As we watched him, that gaping mouth widened into a grin filled with jagged little teeth, which I always thought looked far too much like the teeth on the blade of a cross-cut saw for my taste.
I drew my sword again, and pulled up on Hysteria’s reigns, so that she would stop. Ethyl whipped out a bow and a handful of arrows.
“When do you take up archery?” I queried.
“I’ve been practicing, um, when you weren’t looking.”
With that, she pulled back on the bow and let loose an arrow which lodged itself into the goblin’s eye. He fell over onto his back, looking up at half the sky with his remaining dead eye.
Suddenly we were surrounded by goblins, for it can be said of a certainty, that you never run into a single goblin, but rather stumble into a whole pack of them. The rest of the horrible little blighters had been hiding on either side of the road, just waiting for their hapless cohort to waylay a couple of decent folk, which is to say, us.
There were about two dozen goblins in this particular troop, and they had not chosen well in their prey. I was a skilled goblin killer, and sliced left and right, my sword just reaching low enough to chop the top third of a goblin’s head off. Hysteria was a known hater of goblins, or anything else that got too close to her feet, and she reared up again and again, stomping the ruthless little monsters into the permafrost, which is dirt that is permanently frosty. Acrimony pranced around and killed one or two, mostly by accident, I think. Ethylthorpe was surprisingly accurate in her archery, dropping one after another of the little monsters. Before long, there wasn’t a single goblin remaining. I counted thirteen bodies, indicating that nearly half the original number had fled. This was standard operating procedure for goblins, which is to say, escaping when they are losing a battle, and not attempting to repair an injured organ or broken bone.
“Well, once again, good has triumphed over evil,” I declared. “Let us hurry along and be out of this immediate area before nightfall.”
“Good idea, Father,” agreed Ethyl. “I believe there is a village some four or five hours ride ahead.”
“How would you know that? We did not travel this way before.”
“Um, I must have read it on a map.”
“If that is the case, a nice cup of mulled cider would hit the spot about now. Mayhap this supposed town of yours will have a pie as well.”
“There is a very nice inn there,” said Ethyl. “Um, according to the map, and they serve meat pies for supper. The um, map didn’t mention cider, I’m afraid.”
“It is of no consequence,” said I. “As it is, you have found quite a remarkable map with much more information than one can usually expect. Where did you see this map?”
“It must have been back in Fencemar,” she said. “That is of no consequence though. What is of consequence is that at the upcoming inn, you may tell some of your wonderful stories. Oh, how I have longed for years to hear one!”
“You have heard many of my stories over the years,” said I.
“Oh. Um, yes. That would be true, wouldn’t it? But your stories are so wonderful that I could listen to them again and again, because you, my dearest father, are the greatest storyteller in the entire world.”
“Spoken like a virtuous, clever, upstanding, astute, right-minded, sharp-witted, obedient, thoughtful daughter,” said I.