His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 1 Part 2

When he was done eating, Mike looked around.  He really needed to clean up the house he decided.  He would get up and clean for a half hour.  He could manage a half hour.  By the time he had emptied and then refilled the dishwasher and emptied the trash compacter though, he didn’t feel like continuing, even though only fourteen minutes had passed.  He sat back down watched more vueTee, dozing off after a while and waking up just in time for Deal of the Century.  Then came Rat Race and then Pajama Party.  He opened a can of soup for dinner and went to bed after Saturday Night Live.

Mike woke up just after five with a splitting headache.  The bed was cold, not surprising considering he had left on both the oscillating fan and the auxiliary air conditioner.  He got up and turned off one and then walked downstairs to the family room to turn off the other.  Stopping for a moment, he reached up and touched the vueTee screen, turning it on.  An infomercial for the all-in-one electronic device charger blared to life, but he sat down and grabbed the remote, thumbing back to the browser and examining the Daffodil page once more.  With a sudden sense of purpose he zipped through the custom design pages, changing most of the settings that had been there since he had first looked it over. He didn’t know why he made most of the changes that he did.  It was as if something unseen and unknown inside him compelled him to do it.  With a slightly hesitant hand, he pressed the Buy Now button.  $27,499.00. Then he went back to bed.

It was more than five weeks later, May 31st, when the package arrived.  In the interim, life had gone on much as it had for the past several years.  Each weekday, Mike tried to teach World Geography to the dullards that passed for eighth grade students in Midland Middle School, after which he came home and vegetated the evening away.  On the weekends, he skipped the first part and simply vegetated.  One night, the Saturday before last, he had dinner with Harriet and Jack.  Every day he looked forward to the change that was coming.  Even if the Daffodil never lived up to the hype, even if it was just an overpriced Gizmo Maidbot, it would be an improvement.  It would pick up the laundry that had covered the floor for a month, vacuum the carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed in two months, clean the bathrooms that hadn’t been cleaned since Tiffany’s funeral, and maybe dust the things that hadn’t been dusted… well, ever.

Mike was annoyed that the box was just sitting on the step when he got home. Something that expensive, he should have had to sign for.  Somebody could have just carried it off.  But they hadn’t.  It was here. The box looked impossibly small—only about thirty inches on each side.  It was silver with a large yellow daffodil only partially obscured by the shipping label.  Unlocking and then opening the front door, he picked up the box and brought it inside. It was heavy but not too heavy to lift. He set it down first in the foyer, but once he had shut and locked the front door, he carried it into the center of the living room floor.  He went to the kitchen and returned with a chef knife.  Carefully sliding the blade through the packing tape, he cut along each edge and then across the top seam.

Folding back the two flaps of the box lid, Mike looked down to find it filled with packing peanuts.  Brushing some of them out of the way, he almost immediately found a patch of smooth white skin.  It was remarkably real looking—pearlescent on the surface and kind of peachy pink beneath, but not a single blemish or mole or hair upon it.  Mike brushed more packing peanuts out onto the floor and uncovered more skin, and then plastic with black hair inside.  Finally, setting the knife on the coffee table, he tipped the box over, dumping the contents into the center of the floor.  White packing went everywhere.  The Daffodil rolled out and came to rest on its side, facing away from him.  It was curled up tightly into a ball.

At first, Mike thought he must have ordered the wrong robot.  Curled up as it was, it looked like a child.  He just stared at it for a moment; at its naked back and buttocks and its black hair wrapped up in plastic.  Finally he kicked around through the packing peanuts. There didn’t seem to be a manual—just a single sheet of paper marked Quick Setup.  He picked it up and looked at it.  There were two pictures and no words.  The first picture showed line drawing of the back of a human-looking neck, except that the neck had three round holes in it and below them a button. The second picture showed the button being pushed by a line-drawn finger.  Next to the button and the finger were the numerals 1, 2, 3.  Bending down, Mike lifted up the plastic wrapped hair and examined the Daffodil’s neck.  There were the three holes and there was the button.  He pressed it and counted aloud “one, two, three.”  Then he let go.

For a moment nothing happened.  Then the Daffodil tilted its head and unarched its back.  It unwrapped its arms from around its knees and stretched out its legs.  Rolling over onto its stomach and then placing both palms on the floor,  it rose in a push-up form, and then putting its left foot beneath it and then its right, stood up, coming to attention.

“Please wait,” she said, and it was at this moment, that for Mike, it became a she.

The Daffodil could no longer be an it.  It was obviously not an it.  And it was obviously not a child.  Once upright, she was tall, maybe five foot seven.  Mike examined her carefully.  Though her hair was covered with a clear plastic cap, he could see it was jet black. It matched two dark, carefully arched eyebrows and a set of long eyelashes.  She had no other body hair.  Her face could best be described as cute, with large blue eyes, a button nose, and thick voluptuous lips.  She had the kind of slender and yet curvy body that was just not possible on a real woman.  Breasts the size of apples just kind of floated there above a perfectly flat stomach. Mike tilted his head down.  She looked anatomically complete.

“You are Michael Winston Smith?”

“Huh?”

“You are Michael Winston Smith?”  She was looking at him.  Her eyes seemed very life-like.

“Uh… yes.”

“I am Daffodil serial number 55277-PFN-001-XGN-F0103.  My software is up to date.”

“Good.”

“The primary setup procedure requires approximately six hours.  During this period, I your Daffodil, will be unavailable for other activities.  It is recommended that during this time period you make a few basic decisions. What initial duties do you wish me to have?  What clothing, if any, do you wish me to wear?  What name would you like me to answer to?”

Mike looked at the clock on the wall.  It was 3:20 PM.  He counted off six hours on his fingers—9:20.  Sitting down on the white sofa that was almost never used, he looked at the shapely nude robot.  With a wry smile, he realized that he could sit and stare at it for the next six hours, or he could get up and do something.  He went back to the family room, picked up the texTee, and flipped open Moby Dick, but he didn’t read any more of it.  Instead he pressed the icon for the bookstore and typed in “names”. The titles of half a dozen books appeared including The Name Book, The Secret Universe of Names, and The Baby Name Wizard.  He selected the last book of the six: Virtue Names.  It took about twenty seconds for the book to download to the texTee. Looking back to the screen, Mike turned to the first page of the name book.  The first name was Agape.  Agape? The book said that it had something to do with God’s love, but all Mike could think of was “hanging loosely open”. That was not a particularly desirable trait.  He picked a page at random.  Patience. Now that was a trait he could appreciate.  But the book said it was pronounced Pay-shuns.  That wasn’t right.  Paish-ence. Mike had always appreciated those names, mostly associated in his mind with the ninetieth century, that illustrated the supposed virtues—Faith, Hope, Chastity—but he hadn’t considered Patience until now.

He set the texTee back down and walked to the living room to look at the Daffodil.  Did she look like a Patience?  Close enough, he decided.  Now what? He looked back at the clock.  It was 3:33.  What else did she say?  Clothing. He felt his pants pockets.  He still had his keys and wallet.  He slipped out the door, locking it behind him and jumped back in the car.

Walmart was right around the corner and it took him less than five minutes to get there and park his car.  He felt more than a little self-conscious, venturing into the women’s apparel department, but it turned out that he was one of more than a dozen men there.  Most were just standing around, waiting for their women to finish trying something on in the fitting rooms, though a few were actively shopping.  Mike made his way through the racks of ugly old-lady dresses until he found the clothing that young women seemed to prefer.  The Daffodil looked like she might be in her early twenties.  The first racks held blue jeans, but there was no way that he would be able to figure out the right size.  Then he found several racks of dresses that seemed appropriate.  He picked out a cute little one with blue flowers on it, then a white dress with large black polka dots.  The smallest size on the rack was a three/four, and it looked pretty small, so he picked out a size five/six for each dress.

His Robot Girlfriend – Chapter 1 Part 1

Chapter One

Mike’s life was crap.  And every day he got up out of bed and thought about how it was crap.  Today he climbed out of bed and made his way through the discarded clothing on the floor of the bedroom to the bathroom.  His worn image looked out of the mirror at him. He picked up his cordless razor and turned it on before remembering that it was Saturday.  He stuck out his tongue at his reflection.  Slipping off his underwear, he tossed it at the hamper just outside the bathroom door.  It landed on the floor.  Turning on the shower, he stepped inside the glass-doored stall, and stood beneath the spray.  Then he took a deep breath and began soaping up and rinsing off.  Pouring a handful of shampoo, he scrubbed his scalp, rinsed, and then turned off the water.  He waited about two minutes—partly to drip dry and partly because he didn’t want to face the day—before he climbed out of the shower stall.

Once he was dry, Mike walked back into the bedroom, crossed to the dresser, and pulled out a clean pair of underwear.  The underwear was so old that it looked more grey than the white that it had been, and the material had worn through enough that the elastic showed in the waistband.  He slipped his left foot in the leg hole and then the right, getting his big toe caught for just a second.  Pleased with himself that he had not lost his balance, he went back to the bathroom and combed his thinning and graying hair.  It had been graying for a long time.  It had only been thinning, at least noticeably for a few of years—just since Tiffany had died.  He brushed his teeth, and grinned at the man in the mirror.  It wasn’t a friendly grin.  Back in the bedroom, he slipped on cut-off jeans and a green t-shirt.  Then he walked through the bedroom door, down the stairs, through the living room, and into the family room.

He touched the screen of the vueTee hanging just above the fireplace to turn it on, and then passed through the archway and into the kitchen.  Pouring a bowl of cereal, he sniffed the milk before adding it.  It was still good.  Grabbing a spoon, he headed for the worn recliner which faced the vueTee.  The screen was on, but it wasn’t alive with movement and sound.  It still had the browser up and it was still on the Daffodil site.  Mike had followed the link the night before from the very slick commercial he had seen during the Tonight Show.   On the left side of the screen was a large yellow daffodil and on the right were four large yellow buttons, arranged vertically.  The first said Barone, the second Amonte, the third Nonne, and the fourth PWX.

Daffodil wasn’t the largest manufacturer of robots, but it certainly had the most cultural cache.  Their commercials were by far the best.  Everyone seemed to be talking about them.  Mike could hum their jingle right now.  The four buttons corresponded to the four basic robot units that Daffodil produced.  Though there was some crossover between the four types based on the many options that were chosen, the Barone was usually an aid to adults—a robot maid, gardener, or grandparent.  The Nonne was a babysitter type: a tutor, a nanny, or again, depending upon the options, a maid.  The PWX was an industry grade robot designed for use by corporations and government organizations as a receptionist or a clerk.  Finally the Amonte was a personal companion.  It could be configured as an escort, a friend, or a lover.  As the commercial said, it was “anything and everything you want it to be.”

Mike leaned back in the chair and pointed the remote at the vueTee.  He moved the curser over the Amonte button and pressed.  The body frame options screen came up, but there was a small window along the left side that said “narrow your selections.”  You could narrow them by price.  You could narrow them by race-ethnicity.  Or you could narrow them by gender.  Mike ignored that side of the screen and looked at the body build.  If you were going to dream, you might as well dream unencumbered.  Dials allowed one to set height, chest, waist, and hips.  He had already filled in these features the previous night. After that, one flipped through a series of screens where prospective customers could change almost every aspect of their robot.  The head controls gave one control over the shape and placement of eyes, nose, lips, and ears, but also let one choose the forehead shape and jaw line, the hair color and style, the type of chin, and the placement of freckles.  Other controls set every detail from fingernails to nipples.  Mike flipped through them.  The last screen showed the price for his particular build: $26,999.00.  That would wipe out his payNEtime account, and then some.

Mike let his curser drop down to the search bar.  He moved through the postings about Daffodil.  There were many from people questioning certain aspects of the design, but few from people who had actually purchased one.  Daffodil didn’t disclose their sales figures to the public, but experts estimated that they had thus far sold only about 300,000 units.  There were a few messages from owners of the Gizmo robot, who went on about how superior it was, because you set its personality before purchase.  There was only one posting that Mike hadn’t seen. He clicked on it and an aging woman with orange hair appeared on the screen.

“I love my Daffodil.  He does everything for me—takes care of the bills, fixes my meals.  He drives me to visit my friends, and he rubs my feet every night.  His name is Andre.  I just don’t know what I’d do without him.”

“Probably move to Florida,” said Mike.

He flipped over to Today Saturday.  As he watched Tania Marquez read through the top stories of the day, he thought about purchasing a Daffodil.  Twenty seven thousand dollars was a ginormous amount of money to spend. If he had still been married to Tiffany there would be no question.  He wouldn’t have bought one.  He would still have wanted one, but he wouldn’t have bought one.  Oh, Tiffany might have gone for a five thousand dollar model designed just to clean the house, but she certainly never would have let him get the one that he had designed online.  Of course if she had still been here…  Oh sure, he might have fantasized about a Gizmo Sexbot, but it would have remained just a fantasy.  Besides, he didn’t want a Daffodil for sex—well, not just for sex. If he was going to get one, it would be for companionship.  It would do all the things that it was capable of doing.

The rest of the morning, Mike watched the vueTee.  After Today Saturday was over, he turned to the Cooking feed and watched Café Italiano, Breakfast at Bloomberg’s, and America’s Test Kitchen. When Noon Buffet came on, he turned off the vueTee and picked up his texTee.  The New York Times had already downloaded, so he flipped through the pages.  Most of it was politics.  Mike didn’t hate politics, like everyone else he knew seemed to. It was just that there didn’t seem much point to it at the moment.  All three major parties had chosen their candidates even though none of them had yet had their convention, and it was more than six months till the general election.

The paper bored him after a few minutes, so he clicked through the book menu. He had the first chapter of The Janissary Tree, so he read it.  When he was done, he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to spend $17.99 for it.  He flipped over to Moby Dick.  He had the whole book.  Before this year, he hadn’t read it since college and wanted to read it through again, annotating it along the way—just because.  It was slow going.  Here it was April, and he was only on Chapter 24: A Bosom Friend.  He tossed the texTee onto the floor beside the chair.

Though he wasn’t really hungry, Mike decided that it was lunch time, mostly out of boredom.  He went to the foyer, where his tennis shoes sat on the ceramic tile.  Slipping them on, he grabbed his keys and wallet from the small shelf on the wall and headed out the front door.  Climbing into the car, he drove down the block and around the corner.  He thought about stopping at Hot Dog Paradise, but there was a long line of cars in the drive-thru, so he went to McDonalds.  The girl at the window could have been mistaken for a real person at first, but just like in every other fast food drive-thru window, she was a robot. She was probably a Gizmo Servbot, though McDonalds had their own custom build that wasn’t quite like anywhere else.

“I’ll have a McMeatloaf sandwich,” he said.

“Would you like that ala carte or with an Arch Value Meal?”  She had that slightly tinny voice.

“Value meal.”

“Would you care for fries, side salad, fruit slices, or yogurt sticks?”

“Fries.”

“And what would you like to drink?”

“Diet Pepsi.”

“Your total comes to $17.96.”

Mike swiped his cash card through the slot just below the window.

“Thank you for choosing McDonalds.  Please pull forward.”

At the next window another Gizmo girl handed Mike his drink and then the bag with his McMeatloaf sandwich and fries.  He drove back home and returned to his recliner to eat.

The vueTee had automatically turned off in his absence, so he turned it back on. He watched Face the Nation as he ate. Catherine Garvey was interviewing all three presidential candidates—one at a time.  The Republicans had nominated another old man.  The Democrats had nominated another old lady.  It was the same old thing.  Barlow said lower taxes.  Wakovia said balance the budget.  Only the Greens seemed to have picked anyone who wasn’t a cookie-cutter image. Mendoza was young, attractive, and idealistic and probably didn’t have a chance in hell of getting elected because she had inherited all the problems of President Busby.  As long as there were troops in Antarctica nobody was going to vote Green.

His Robot Girlfriend

Mike Smith’s life was crap, living all alone, years after his wife had died and his children had grown up and moved away. Then he saw the commercial for the Daffodil. Far more than other robots, the Daffodil could become anything and everything he wanted it to be. Mike’s life is about to change.

His Robot Girlfriend is available at the following locations.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty: Epilog.

Three years after the events in this tale, I was sitting beside the fireplace in the Singing Siren Tavern in the city of Antriador, having just finished telling the tale of Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess, when I heard a voice calling out.  “Gah! You are the worst story-teller ever!”

It was Jholiera.  She was no longer dressed as an orphan boy.  Nor was she clad in her leather elven-style princess dress with a leaf motif carved into it, and lots of gold jewelry.  She was dressed as a traveling warrior, with armor carefully tailored to her short and feminine form, and a sword on her back that was nearly as large as she was.  Her golden hair, now almost reaching her waist was styled into dozens of thin braids, each adorned with beads of bone and ivory.  She threw her arms around me and pulled me close in a tight embrace, then released me before continuing.

“You are the worst storyteller ever.  None of that was right—the pies, the goblins, the elves.  None of it happened that way at all.  Only that bit in the Inn with Ellwood Cyrene was remotely true.  And I most certainly did not kiss you.  Not even once.”

“A little romance makes for a better story,” said I.

“I’m surprised you didn’t have me throw myself at you.”

“I had to keep it proper,” said I.  “You were dressed as a boy most of the story.”

“Come here, you great fool,” she said, and taking my face in her small hands, she pulled me down to her eye level and kissed me, this time deeply, on the lips, and with great passion.  It was such a shock that for a moment I couldn’t speak.

“What are you doing now?” she asked.

“I am pondering a new ending to the story.”

“You’re not thinking of making up an ending where I show up in a tavern dressed as a warrior and, taking your face in my small hands, I pull you down to eye level and kiss you, this time deeply, on the lips, and with great passion, are you?”

“Of course not,” said I.  “Perish the thought.”

 

 

The End

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 19

Chapter Nineteen: Wherein I make an escape, a plot element that I normally wouldn’t reveal, but you know that I am alive anyway because I am telling you the story.

I was given another bowl of the delicious mush, which I ate, this time with more difficulty because my back really ached when I bent over to eat like a dog.  I certainly didn’t sleep though.  Oh you can be sure of that.  I didn’t sleep.  Knowing that you are going on trial in one hour is not nearly the cure for sleepiness that knowing you are to be executed in the morning is.

“Eaglethorpe,” a voice called.

I turned to see Jholiera bathed in the light of the setting sun as it diffused through the trees.  She was no longer dressed as a boy.  She had on a leather dress cut in an elven style with a leaf motif carved into it. It left her shoulders bare and though her form was slight, there was no longer any question that she was a young woman. She had golden jewelry on her arms and a delicate golden crown on her head.

“Eaglethorpe, how are you?”

“I’ve a pretty nasty stab wound in my back, and my arms are aching from them being tied behind me.  I think I skinned my knee when I was trying to eat from a bowl like a dog, but there’s no way to check.  Oh yes, and they are going to kill me in a few hours.  Other than that, I’m fine.”

“Come here, close to the bars.”

I did as directed and she reached through the bars and cut the bands that were holding my wrists together.  My muscles cried out as blood rushed back into them, and a shooting pain went from my back straight into my heart.

“I think I shall die before they have a chance to kill me,” said I. “Serves them right.”

“Don’t say that.  I’m going to get you out of here.”

“How?”

“I’ll be back after midnight.  In the meantime, try to get some rest.”

“You have no idea, girl,” said I, as she went off into the trees.

Remarkably I did sleep this time.  I must have.  I don’t remember falling asleep or even sitting down.  But when I was awakened, by small pebbles hitting against my face, I found myself sitting against the wall of the cave.

“Ow!  Stop it,” said I, as one of the small pebbles hit me in the eye.

“Quiet you,” said Jholiera.  “I’m almost ready to rescue you.  Get over here and wait by the cell door.  You have to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

“Why aren’t you rescuing me now?”

“I don’t have the key yet.”

“You don’t have the key?”

“Calm down.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

She did return, but it wasn’t in a few minutes.  It was quite a bit later.  In fact, by the time she did return, I was beginning to fear that the first rays of predawn light might make escape impossible.  But when she arrived, Jholiera did have the key.  She quickly opened the cell door, and taking me by the hand, led me through a maze of trees.  We hurried around massive trunks and over fallen logs, through curtains of trailing vines, until we came to another small glade.  Here was my beautiful steed, which is to say Hysteria.

I can tell you I had a hard time saddling my horse due to my injury.  But with the elven princess’s help, the deed was soon done.  As I prepared to mount, Jholiera stopped me.

“Thank you Eaglethorpe,” she said, and gave me a tender kiss on the cheek.

“You are coming with me, aren’t you?” I asked.  “You can’t live with such a horrible father, or marry such a horrible husband.”

“Don’t worry.  My father is not so bad.  And Iidreiion probably won’t want to marry me anyway after he finds out what I had to do to get the key away from his cousin.  Besides, I’ve had enough adventuring for now.  I just want to stay home and be safe.”

With that she gave me an even tenderer kiss on the cheek.  I climbed into my saddle and took off through the woods, just as the early dawn was beginning to break.  And I didn’t see the little elven princess again.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen: Wherein I find out what fate the elves intend for me.

It was well into the morning before I was given a clue as to what was going on. Three new elven men arrived outside the bars of my cell.  I mean that they were new because I hadn’t seen them before, not that they were new because they were newly born.  In fact, they were fully grown though their age was indeterminate, all looking quite youthful.  One had long grey hair while the other two sported long blond locks.  It was the grey-haired elf who spoke to me.

“You are to be tried for the kidnapping of a princess of the elven people,” he said.

“This is a big mistake,” said I.  “I had nothing to do with any kidnapping.  Quite the contrary.  I was helping her return to her home.”

“All the important details will come out in the trial,” he replied.  “Our only purpose at this moment is to introduce ourselves.  I am King Jholhard and I will act as your judge.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I sighed.  “I know that I will be treated fairly by Jholiera’s father.”

“This is Iidreiion, Jholiera’s betrothed, who will act as the prosecutor.”

I didn’t know what to say to this fellow.  I looked into his face and didn’t see any obvious malice.  Maybe he would simply present the facts as known. I certainly hoped he was dedicated to the truth and not to seeking out a conviction at any cost as is so often the case in human societies.

“And this is Iidreiior and he will act as your defense counsel.”

“I am very pleased to meet…” I stopped and looked from my defense counselor to the prosecutor, back to my defense counselor, back to the prosecutor, back to the defense counselor, back to the prosecutor.  They looked exactly the same.  They were twins.

“Um, well when is my trial to begin?” I asked.

“In one hour,” replied the king.  “You should take your rest until then.”

I was not going to rest until then.  I defy anyone to “rest until then” in a similar situation.  Try this with someone you know.  Tell them “I’m going to tell you something that will change your life in one hour.  Rest until then.”  See if they rest.  Or tell them “In one hour you will find out if you live or die.  Rest until then.”  I will wager that they won’t rest.  Or tell them “In one hour I’m going to give you a pie.”  Then don’t give them a pie.  They won’t rest.  That may not be exactly the same, but they won’t rest.  Watch and see.

“What are you doing now?” asked the king.

“I’m pondering the future.”

“Such as it is,” he said, nodding sagely.  Then the three walked away, leaving me to my own thoughts.

An hour later I was marched out of my cell and taken to an open glade within the wood.  This space had obviously been used as a ceremonial center for many years. Covered areas had been built for spectators as well as individuals involved in whatever ordinance was being performed.  The awnings were made of wood, but they were covered with many layers of vines, while here and there, trees grew up through them.  Most of the seats were intricately carved of stone and had been worn very smooth by extended use.  I was led to a spot on one side, where Iidreiior waited.  On the other side of the glade, stood his twin.

A few minutes after I arrived, a whole crowd of elves began filing into the open forest area.  There must have been about two hundred of them.  Though I carefully watched for her, Jholiera was nowhere to be seen.  At last King Jholhard appeared and took his place in a stone chair raised only slightly higher than the others.

“What is the charge?” asked the king without any preamble.

“The prisoner is charged with the abduction of a princess of the royal blood,” said Iidreiion.

“How does he plead?”

“Guilty,” said Iidreiior.

“What?  Wait.”

“After having weighed all the important details,” said the king, placing far too much emphasis on the word important for my liking.  “The prisoner is hereby found guilty as charged.”

“What?  Wait.”

“Recommended sentence?”

“Death,” said Iidreiion.

“Agreed,” said Iidreiior.

“What?  Wait. What kind of trial is this?”  I demanded accusingly, my back straight, but without my arm being outstretched, as it was still tied to the other arm.

“It is a show trial,” said the king.  “It is called a show trial because it is only for show.  There is no real justice involved.”

“I know what a show trial is,” said I.  “I’ve been in enough of them.”

The two hundred or so elves in attendance watched mutely as I was dragged back to the cell in the cave and left there once again.  All in all, it was hardly worth being dragged to the glade in the first place.  They could just as easily have told me I was guilty and condemned to death right there. Sitting down, I leaned against the wall of the cave and winced as my back came into contact with the stone. After a few minutes the king appeared outside the bars.

“Why bother with a show trial that lasts three minutes?” I wondered.

“As I said, it is for show,” he said.

“But why?  I never kidnapped your daughter.  I was helping her come home.”

“Yes I know.  It’s her punishment.  She needs to learn that she can’t run off.  There are consequences.  Your trial and your execution tomorrow morning will remind her of that fact.”

“You’re going to execute an innocent man to make a point to your daughter?”

“It’s not as though you were an elf,” he said.  “You’re only human.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen: Wherein I become prisoner of the elves.

I must admit that I slept well, notwithstanding the fact that I was using a rock for my pillow, and I had no mattress but the bare ground, and I hadn’t even my own blanket to keep warm.  I slept well.  I slept well until just before dawn, when suddenly, which is to say all of a sudden and without warning, I felt the weight of several bodies fall upon me.  I struggled and threw one or two punches that found their targets, but having been attacked in my sleep and no doubt lulled into a state of drowsiness by elven magic, it was inevitable that I was overpowered.  They took me captive, which is to say they tied my hands behind my back, gagged me, and put a sack over my head.  Then they hobbled my legs with a piece of rope so that I could take only the most mincing of steps.

I heard some shouting and I thought I recognized Jholiera’s voice, but with the bag over my head it was impossible to make out what was being said.  Once I thought I heard her demand my release, but I wasn’t released.  I wasn’t sure who had attacked me, but I was relatively sure that it wasn’t goblins. Oh to be sure, goblins are thick in those parts.  But had goblins come upon a sleeping man, they would have sliced his throat rather than taken him captive.

The point of something sharp jabbed me in the back.  I didn’t know if it was a dagger or a sword or a pike or a javelin or a sharp stick, but the meaning behind it seemed clear enough to me.  I was to go in the direction opposite from the side in which I was being jabbed, which is to say the back of me, so I should go forward.  I did, but I didn’t go very fast, being hobbled as I was.  Despite the fact that it had been my captors who had hobbled me, they didn’t seem to want to take that into consideration, for they kept jabbing me to hurry me up.

It is hard to judge time when your senses are deprived, which is to say your head is in a sack.  But as I was marched along, enough light came in through the weave of the cloth that I could tell when dawn arrived and could more or less make out in which direction the sun was to be found as it move up and across the sky.  We didn’t stop to break our fast, and we didn’t stop for elevenses, and we didn’t stop for lunch.  When we didn’t stop for tea, I tried to protest by planting my feet on the ground and refusing to go on.  The only effect that my protest had was an even fiercer jab with a dagger or a sword or a pike or a javelin or a sharp stick right below my left shoulder blade—fierce enough to draw blood.  This, as you can imagine, didn’t make the walk any more fun at all.

Fortunately it was only a few more hours after that fierce jab when we arrived at our destination.  I was jerked and pulled around until they had me right where they wanted me.  Then my hood was pulled off, revealing to me three of my abductors.  They were warriors, wearing shining armor.  Their long golden hair and long pointed ears, as well as their stature, gave evidence to their obvious relation to my little half-orphan friend, who was at that moment nowhere to be found.  The warriors removed my gag and hobble but kept my hands tied.  Then they left me.

I looked around to find that I was in a small cave that had been turned into a prison with metal bars across its entrance.  From the mouth of the cave I could see nothing but trees and forest. Inside the cave there was nothing but a ratty old blanket on the rough stone ground.  You may think that it would be impossible to sleep under the circumstances, and ordinarily I might agree with you.  But as I had been awakened in the middle of the night and cruelly marched almost an entire day, I was very tired and very sore and the wound in my back was beginning to sting.  I suspected that without being cleaned it might gather an infection, especially in such a place as I now found myself in, full of noxious cave vapors.

When I woke, there was a small bowl of mush sitting just inside the bars.  It was mildly humiliating to have to eat like a dog, since my hands were still tied behind my back, but I did it.  I have learned on the few occasions that I have found myself behind bars that one should keep up one’s strength if possible. So if you are behind bars and you are given food, you should eat it.  In the jails of Theen, I was lucky when I got a maggot-filled potato.  In the prisons in Aerithraine I have eaten curds and stale bread.  Food in Lyrrian prisons are a mixed bag, depending upon which city-state you find yourself.  And woe be to him who is imprisoned in Thulla-Zor.  I was once thrown in a tomb-like cell there and had to hunt for my own food—and you don’t want to know what it was.  Imagine my surprise when I ate this bowl of mush then to find a delicious mix of unborn grains and dried fruits.  So I ate. I sat down against the wall.  I waited to see what would come.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen: Wherein we travel for two days without my companion uttering a single word.

Jholeira curled up in my blanket next to the fire and went to sleep without another word.  I didn’t think this strange, but when she did not deign to speak to me the following morning I began to feel a little put off.  I decided that if she wasn’t going to speak to me, then I wouldn’t speak to her either.  We packed up and left our campsite in complete silence.  By elevenses I was getting rather tired of the quiet.  Over a brief meal of raisins and cheese I tried first to coax her and then to trick her into speaking.  She would have none of it however and I eventually stopped trying.

The little path that we followed wound down through a series of small valleys, eventually coming to the stream.  The trees grew thick on both sides of the stream and indeed on the far side there was a vast expanse of forest that is Elven Wood.  The stream itself was no more than twenty feet wide and its broadest expanse and in those places where it widened out thus, it was only a few inches deep.  Though the banks were icy, the water was clear and free flowing.  Upon reaching it in late afternoon, we followed it southeast until, finding a narrow spot where the water deepened to several feet, I stopped to drink and look for fish.

The greatest skill I ever learned, with the single possible exception of story telling which is more of an art form than a skill, is that of guddling fish. Fish that have swum up the shallow part of a stream, will often take shelter under a rock or a ledge when they come to a deeper and slower moving part of a river.  When they do, they become prey for the guddler.  He reaches his hand under the ledge, knowing where a fish ought to be, and carefully locates the fish’s tail.  Then he begins tickling the fish with his finger, tickling its tail, then tickling its belly, and finally tickling right under the gills. Then with a quick grasp, he pulls the fish from the water and tosses it up onto the shore, ready to be cleaned, cooked, and eaten.  If the temperature of the water made the fish sluggish, you couldn’t tell it by the ones I found, though it didn’t do me any good sticking my arm in.  I caught two lovely river trout that day, one which I cleaned and cooked over the fire for our supper, and the other which I kept captive by running a string through its gill, and tying one end to a sapling, and tossing the other end, attached to the fish, back in the water.  This second fish we ate for breakfast.

It was late the following afternoon before we reached the intersection of the stream with the East Road.  By this time I had resolved myself to the fact that my little orphan boy/girl was never going to speak to me again, but as we crossed the small bridge, which spanned the juxtaposition of the road and the stream, as bridges are wont to do, she at last broke her silence.

“We should spend the night on this side of the stream.”

“Why?”

“The forest is dangerous, especially at night.”

“I don’t care,” said I.  “I’m not talking to you.”

“Yes you are,” she replied.

“No.  I am not.”

“I was not talking to you, but now I am.  But you are definitively talking to me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“I’m not talking to you.  I’m just telling you that I’m not talking to you.”

“That means that you are talking to me, because in order to tell a person something you have to talk to them.”

“No you don’t.”

“Now you are just being contrary,” said she.

“No I’m not.”

“Fine,” said she.  “I don’t care whether you are talking to me or not…”

“Yes you do.”

“I don’t care whether you are talking to me or not and I don’t care whether you are being contrary or not.  In either case we should spend the night on this side of the stream.”

“No we shouldn’t,” said I.

“No?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” I explained.

“Well as long as your reasoning is sound,” said she.

“No it isn’t.”

We spent the night on the west side of the bridge, just at the edge of the trees on that side of the stream.  By the time we made camp, it was too late for me to find any fish to guddle, so we ate dried beef and drank coffee for our supper.  Jholeira curled up in the only blanket while I snuggled up in my coat and set my head upon a large flat rock to use as a pillow.

“Are you cold?” she asked.

“No.”

“I’m sorry I stopped talking to you.  You have been a very great help to me and you didn’t have to and here I am wrapped up in your only blanket while you have nothing but your coat to keep you warm.”

“I have the fire.  Besides, it is only fitting that you have the blanket, being an orphan or a girl or a princess or some combination of the three.”

I stayed awake quite late watching the stars and listening to Hysteria complain about her lack of oats.  She should have been happy, as in that particular spot by the bridge there grew not only an abundance of grass but some early flowering szigimon, which any stable master can tell you is the very best horse feed in the world.  Many times she has had to make due with busy grass, which is the least best horse feed in the world—not that it is bad for horses, but it does nothing more than give them something to chew on and doesn’t provide any real nourishment.  You would think by now she would know when she had it good.

“What are you doing?” asked a small voice from the other side of the campfire.

“I’m pondering horse feed,” said I.

“Well, go to sleep.” It must have been some kind of elf magic, because no sooner had she said this than my eyes closed, seemingly of their own volition.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess -Chapter 15

Chapter Fifteen: Wherein we take the road less traveled.

The following morning found both Jholeira and me awake and refreshed.  So we made an early start.  It was not as early as Ellwood Cyrene who had left at the crack of dawn.  However when I went down to the common room that morning, not only did I find that my friend had paid for breakfast for my elf girl and myself, but he had left a package for me as well.  Wrapped in a large oiled cloth, were several pounds of dried beef, a wheel of yellow cheese, two or three pounds of raisins and a small cloth sack with a half dozen coins in it.

Ellwood Cyrene never seemed to be in need of money, despite the fact that he seldom took payment for his many acts of manly heroism.  I have seen a bucket of gold coins gathered together by a town to pay the hero that saved them from the threat of a raging monster, only to have it politely refused by a smiling Ellwood Cyrene.  I have seen him pass out coppers to every orphan in a six block radius of the inn in which he was staying.  To be fair I have seen him plunder more than one baggage train, and on numerous occasions he has rifled through the pockets of a man he has just stabbed—but who hasn’t done that, when you get right down to it.

I was not able to procure any oats for my poor steed, which is to say Hysteria, but I did get a small bundle of dried hay to supplement the small amount of forage we were likely to find in that country in winter.

We set off on the East Road, but following the advice I had been given, we soon turned off to the north, following a cattle path that wandered over the hills and down into the valley.  Our new path veered off from our previous course, but not enough that I thought we would lose our way.  In fact at teatime, we stopped among a small copse of trees at the top of a hill. From this point we were able to look down to the south across a vast valley.  True to Ellwood’s warning, a great battle was being fought.  It was impossible to tell who the two sides were, as their banners at this distance were too difficult to read.  All that was certain was that both sides were humans. I took some small pains to make sure that we weren’t spotted, but considering the distance and the chaos on the battlefield, I judged that there was little chance of it.

After journeying the remainder of the day, we made camp just off the path in a little hollow which had been formed by three massive boulders piled one atop of the other two.  I can only imagine that some giant piled them up thus as there was no nearby mountain down which they might have slid to come to rest in such a fortuitous configuration, which is to say a pretty good shape.

“We should reach the edge of Elven Wood tomorrow,” I told my companion.

“Really?  I don’t seem to recognize any landmarks.”

“Maybe when we get closer,” I offered.  “How long since you’ve been home?”

“Six or seven years I would suppose.”

“That must be tough, being without your family for so long.”

“Yes.”  She sighed. “And what about you?  You’ve been without your family for quite a while now too.”

“What?”

“How long has it been?”

“How long has what been?”

“How long has it been since your family disappeared?”

“Oh.  That. I really can’t say.”

“You know, I’ve been thinking.”  Jholeira stood up and began to pace back and forth beside the campfire. “The purple drops on the floor, as I’ve already said, could be from the blueberry pie you were expecting.”

“Fiends!” said I.

“As far as Gervil’s knife being stuck in his bed is concerned, that could be an indicator of foul play or of nothing at all.”

“I see.”

“The floorboards being pried up however tells us something.  Whoever the culprit or culprits were, they were looking for something hidden under the floor.  Money maybe?  Family jewels?”

“The unpublished manuscripts by the world famous Eaglethorpe Buxton,” I offered.

“I suppose that is conceivable,” said she.  “What I don’t understand is the onions in the rafters.  The only thing I can think of is that they were trying to ward off vampires.”

“Monsters!” said I.  “But wait. Isn’t that supposed to be garlic?”

“Maybe they couldn’t find any.  Or maybe they didn’t know the difference.  Garlic looks a lot like an onion.”

“Oh, my family would know the difference,” said I.  “My poor old father was a fine onion farmer.  In fact one variety, the Winter Margram onion was named for him.  My cousin Gervil wrote an epic poem about onions, though I was never able to memorize more than the first five hundred twelve lines.”

“Is that all?” she wondered.

“Tuki was Onion Queen three years running.”

“So it is possible that your family would have had onions around?  Say, hanging from the rafters?”

“Only at harvest time.”

“Was it harvest time?”

“Was what harvest time?”

“Was it harvest time when your family disappeared?”

“It could have been.”

“So there really are no clues at all,” postulated the half-orphan.

“What about the tracks?” I asked.  “What about the tracks that ended mysteriously after only fifty feet?”

“You said it was a stormy night.  The rain probably washed the tracks away.”

“You’re right,” said I.  “The next time it will be morning.”

“What do you mean next time?”

“Um, nothing.”

“You mean the next time your family gets kidnapped or the next time you tell about it?”

“Well…”

“Your family never was stolen at all!”  She stood up with back straight and finger pointed accusingly.  She looked quite intimidating.  “You lied!”

“It’s wasn’t a lie,” I explained.  “It was a story.  Well, it was a first draft.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess – Chapter 14

Chapter Fourteen: Wherein we spend the evening and night in the inn.

Ellwood had just returned when the husky innkeeper appeared in the common room and made an announcement. His announcement wasn’t loud and it needn’t have been. The room wasn’t that large and there weren’t that many people in it. I counted sixteen, ourselves included. There were the three of us, the innkeeper and serving wench, six men and two women who were obviously locals—farmers no doubt, a traveling tinker; a sell-sword, which is to say a mercenary, who from the looks of things had not been doing too well; and a darkly cloaked figure in the corner. Now one might expect a darkly cloaked figure in the corner to be the cause of potential mischief, but the truth is that I have hardly ever been in an inn or a pub or a taproom or a tavern or a bar or a saloon that didn’t have a darkly cloaked figure in the corner. Most of the time, they do nothing more than mind their own business. It’s only those few who end up in stories causing trouble, that the name of darkly cloaked corner lurkers everywhere becomes tarnished.

“We are privileged to have in our presence today,” said the innkeeper, “the world famous storyteller Eaglethorn Beltbuckle.”

Ellwood snorted into his recently filled cup. Was it his twelfth or thirteenth refill? I stood up.

“Eaglethorpe Buxton at your service.” I casually moved around the room to find the best spot for story telling, eventually settling on a stool near the fireplace. “And this is the story of the Queen of Aerithraine.”

“Oh God! Not her again!” shouted Ellwood. “Don’t you have any new material?”

The sellsword at the bar began to get up, whether in defense of the Queen or of my story-telling or just to make for the outhouse I don’t know, but a single steely look from Ellwood put him in his seat again. Apparently neither of them had any doubt whom was top dog.

“I shall recount the tale of how I sold my sword to get a poor but beautiful farm girl out of prison and then slew a werewolf using only this fork!” I triumphantly pulled the fork from my fork pocket.

Suddenly the darkly cloaked figure in the corner jumped to his feet. He swept aside his cloak to reveal black armor and a dozen long thin knifes on a bandolier across his chest. He began plucking the knives and launching them directly at Ellwood Cyrene, so quickly that seven were in flight at one time before the first met its destination. That destination was not, as had been intended, the torso of my friend, for Ellwood had jumped up at almost the same instant. With a quick flick of his wrist, he deflected the first two knives toward the wooden bar, where they stuck with loud thunks. He ducked to the side of the third and fourth knife, and then grabbed the fifth, sixth, and seventh right out of the air and sent them back at the cloaked figure. By this time the assailant had thrown two more knives, but Ellwood easily dodged them. One of them hit the wall just near my head. The other went into the fireplace causing a cloud of embers to float up into the air like fireflies. And then it was all over, for the three knives that my friend had returned to the would-be assassin had all found their marks—one in the man’s right hand, one in his chest, and one in his throat.

Everything was quiet for one moment, and then chaos erupted as the townsfolk and the traveling tinker rushed this way and that to get out of the way of a battle that was already over. In thirty seconds, the three of us, and the darkly cloaked dead body, were the only ones left in the room. Even the sellsword had fled.

“That’s better,” said Ellwood. “Everyone likes a werewolf story.”

I recounted my story of the farm girl and the werewolf, at least so far as I had revised it up to that time, to my friend and my half-orphan companion. I’m not going to tell it now, because I want to make some final editing before it sees print. You should always get a true story just right before you print it.

Afterwards we made our way up to our rooms and I have to say that they were quite nice. I would have half a mind to write up a review for a travel company and give that particular inn three stars if only I could remember what the name of the little town was. In any case the rooms were very nice, all the more so since they were free to me. I made sure that my little elf princess was settled in and had the door locked before preparing for bed myself, and was just about to lie down when there was a knock at my door.

I pulled the portal open a crack to find Ellwood Cyrene. He leaned in very close to me. I could smell the ale on his breath.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“Yes?” I leaned closer only to better hear him.

“I’ll be gone when you wake Eaglethorpe,” said he. “Don’t continue on the East Road. There will be a battle fifteen miles east of here tomorrow. You will have to make a detour.”

“All right.”

“And Eaglethorpe?”

“Yes?”

“Be careful, won’t you?” He reached up his hand and brushed aside a strand of hair from my forehead. Then he turned and walked down the hallway to his room.