Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Sixteen: Wherein we recover and make our final return to Fencemar.

I opened my eyes to be greeted by the night sky, filled with stars.  I took a breath and immediately regretted it.  As long as I didn’t move or breathe, I was fine, but if I failed to follow that rule, my entire body punished me, which is to say, hurt.  A little round face peered down at me, and I was certain that a goblin was about to bite off my nose.  I was greatly relieved then, when I noticed that this little round face was framed by blond hair tied up in two pigtails.

“Do not move, Father,” said the face, apparently belonging to my child, which is to say Ednathorpe.  “I believe you have broken every bone in your body.”

“I have not,” I gasped, punished for every syllable.  “A giant did it for me.  Where is he anyway?”

“The giant?”

“No, the last remnants of my patience, sanity, and consciousness.  Yes, the giant, stupid girl.  Owe.”

“It wandered away after I shot out both of its eyes with my bow,” she said, with a bit too much smugness, I thought.

“And where are the goblins?”

“Most of them are all around us.  The giant stomped most of them into the dirt as it blindly wandered around.”

“Well, it appears you have inherited my warrior instincts and abilities,” said I.  “Now, please reach into my saddlebag and retrieve the three healing potions that I have stashed there.  I think I shall need all three.”

“I am sure you could do with three or maybe even four potions,” said Edna, “but your saddlebags, your saddle, and your entire horse are nowhere to be seen.”

“Drat,” said I.

“Maybe she will wander back to us by morning.”

“You shouldn’t assume that,” said I.  “By this time, Hysteria has returned to Rumplegate, and is using my money to buy her way into a game of poker.”

Edna watched over me the entire night and made sure that a large fire kept us within its warm glow.  This might have been important on any trip through the wilderness but having to spend the hours of darkness on blood-soaked ground amid the mangled and dead bodies of a score of goblins made it doubly, or triply, or quadropoly so.  Who knows what terrible predators glared at us from just beyond the edge of the illumination, which is to say the light?  But by morning, they were gone.  And to my great surprise, Hysteria had returned.  She still had the healing potions in her saddlebag, but my money purse which had hung on her saddle horn was now empty.

Ednathorpe brought the healing potions to my lips, and I drank them.  Even so, it took a while before I was once again steady on my feet.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” I told Hysteria.  “A horse of your years.”

She looked at the ground and kicked the dirt.  There was no use dwelling upon it though.  What was done was done.  Instead, we continued on toward Fencemar.

It was late when we arrived.  We stopped first at the stable, and notwithstanding the fact that my purse was decidedly lighter, in fact empty but for a few coins I had stashed on my person, and notwithstanding the fact that I was not overly happy with my noble steed, which is to say Hysteria, I still arranged for hay and water and a good brushing for her and for Acrimony.  After all, as far as I knew, he was guiltless.

Edna and I stepped through the tavern door in time to hear someone speaking loudly from the common room. We looked inside to see a fellow dressed as an adventurer, speaking before a crowd consisting of a few townsfolk, some travelers, and if looks were to be believed, a fair-sized mercenary group.

“And now, I shall tell you how I, Eaglethorpe Buxton, saved Celestria and defeated the zombie horde with only this fork!”

“Varlet!” I cried.  “You are not Eaglethorpe Buxton!  You did not save Celestria!  You were not even born when that happened!  And what did you do to your beautiful hair?”  The fake Eaglethorpe Buxton stared back at me, eyes wide.  “Mother said I could cut it.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Fifteen: Wherein we encounter goblins again and something more dangerous.

Edna and I had traveled most of the day when we reached the site of the goblin attack on us from way back in chapter eight.  Though it was still quite a few hours from sundown, the overcast sky made it seem later than it was.  It was just the sort of time in which to expect a goblin attack.

I looked at my daughter and said, “This is just the sort of time in which to expect…”

“Goblins!”

“Yes, that is the right of it.”

“No, Father!  There!  In the road!  Goblins!”

“Really, Edna?” I shook my head.  “Four exclamation points?”

“Five goblins per,” she said.

Sure enough, there was a horde of some twenty goblins rushing toward us.  I am sure that there are some among you who will scold me for my use of the word horde, there being only twenty or so of the snotty little gits.  Normally, I would not ascribe horde to any number less than a hundred, mass to no number less than two hundred, and throng to a group that did not consist of at least a thousand.  It was certainly not a multitude.  In reality, I would say that this was halfway between a gang and a crowd, but the fact that in addition to myself, my daughter, in a brand-new blue dress I might add, was being born down upon by these goblins, armed as they so often are, with knives, razors, and sharp sticks, made them seem more numerous than they actually were, which is to say like a horde.

“Get behind me, Edna,” I ordered.

In reply, she whipped out her bow, seemingly from thin air, and fired off three arrows, all of which hit their marks, assuming those marks were the head, throat, and kneecap of three goblins respectively.

Hysteria reared up and stomped down upon a couple of goblins, and I swung my sword at a couple more.  It was, all in all, something of a repeat of the previous goblin attack in the same location.  That is to say, it was something of a repeat until a hulking form stepped out from behind a group of trees.  It would not have been difficult to identify this new figure as a frost giant, even had I not had encounters with a number of them recently, which is to say discussing the life story of one, kneecapping another, and stabbing the manly bits of a third.  This one was a hulking fellow of about seventeen feet in height, clad in a mix of gigantic armor and furs and carrying a huge war hammer.

This is not as odd as it may sound to those of you who are not trained monster hunters.  Goblins, being tiny, sniveling little creatures often team up with a larger humanoid of some type.  Often it is a hobgoblin or a bugbear.  Many times, I have found groups of goblins throwing their lot in with an ogre.  A frost giant was somewhat unusual, though hill giants are not, but then, this was the edge of frost giant territory.

The giant took three great strides towards us.  This was one stride too many for my brave and noble steed, who bucked once, sending me falling to the ground, and then took off at a gallop to the southwest.

There were three or four goblins on me by the time I could get to my feet.  I could hear their little knives and razors clanging against my armor.  One sliced me across the cheek with its knife.  I shook them off and cleared a path around me with broad swipes of my sword.  By then, the giant was upon me.  With a mighty thrust, I stabbed right up into his manly bits, only to hear a very loud clang.  This was the smartest frost giant that I had ever encountered.  He was wearing a codpiece, which is to say armor over one’s family jewels.  Then I was hit along the entire left side of my body by the enormous war hammer.  I went flying through the air, and lost consciousness before I hit the ground.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Fourteen: Wherein I teach Edna about truth and responsibility.

The breakfast at The Rolling Barrel was certainly not the best one that I had ever been served.  That would have been the breakfast brought to my bed by the princess of the monkey people.  Her name was Princess Ack-Ack-Ooh-Ooh and she was lovely, as was her tail and her feet that looked exactly like her hands.  But as we were in the far north of The Fallen Lands, just along the southern border of the great glacier known as The Skagarack, I had not expected banana waffles.  At The Rolling Barrel, in the town of Rumplegate, we had regular waffles.

“There is no such thing as monkey people,” said Ednathorpe.

“Princesses do not talk with their mouths full of waffles,” I chided.  “Neither do monkey people, which do indeed exist.  I suppose your mother told you that all my stories are rife with falsehood, which is to say, mostly made up.”

“She said that some of your stories were very loosely based on your perception of reality.”

“Poor child, to have been raised by such an angry and vengeful woman.  All of my tales are completely and absolutely and unquestionably true, having only been edited that they might fit the occasion, the audience, the limits of time, and the point that I am trying to make at the moment of the telling.  In other words, you can bet your life on the veracity of any of them, which is to say, the truth.”

Edna looked at me, her eyes wide.

“So, you really killed a werewolf with a fork?”

“Indeed.”

“You defeated the wicked Sorceress Myolaena Maetar?

“It is a fact.”

“You saved Celestria from zombies?”

“Not just the city of Celestria, but the whole country of Aerithraine.”

“And you escaped the Amazons by seducing their queen and then leaving her alone and bereft?”

“I… um, what now?  I don’t recall telling that story recently.”

“I heard it from my mother.”

“Oh, you did, did you?  And did she tell you who that queen of the Amazons was?”

“She said that the queen was a poor virgin, unwise to the ways of man.”

“That is not how she was and that was not how it happened,” said I, “and that is not how the story goes.  I shall be happy to tell you the real story of Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Amazons just as soon as I come up with it… um, remember it.”

“I can’t wait to hear it,” said Edna, her eyes sparkling with admiration.

“You are a lovely girl,” I told her.  “I wish I could take you straight from here to a civilized country so that you could be presented to royalty.  I am afraid though that we have to turn around and go back to Fencemar.”

“Why ever must we do that?” she cried.  Tears immediately appeared in her eyes and rushed down her cheeks.  “You don’t like me!  You want to take me back to trade me for Ethyl!  I’m so sorry!  I never meant to impugn your honesty, which is to say call you a liar!”

I stood up, rushed around the table, and pulled her to my chest.

“Do not think it, my sweet daughter!”

“That seems a little much,” said she.

“Um, I could jump over the table.”

“No.  How about you just take my hand and clasp it in yours.”

I took her hand and clasped it in mine.

“Do not think it, my sweet daughter.  I am so happy to finally know you, and I am looking forward to spending the next year with you.  However, we must make sure that Elleena and Ethyl have not killed each other, and Elleena and I must make sure that your plan of you spending a year with me and Ethyl with her mother will work out.”

“I suppose that is the responsible thing to do,” said Edna.

“It is,” I agreed, “and we’re going to do it anyway.  And let us not forget that there is unusually large pie in Fencemar.”

So it was that I, Lord Dewberry Eaglethorpe Buxton and my sweet daughter Ednathorpe turned our horses back to the east and made once again for the village of Fencemar.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Thirteen: Wherein we spend the night at the inn.

“I miss my mommy,” said Ednathorpe.

“You have only been away from her for a day,” I replied.

“A day and a night.”

“I was saying a day, as in one cycle of the sun, and not a day as in the time of daylight which is opposed to the night which is the time of darkness.”

“I still miss her.”

“That is understandable.  You are only seven and so can only stand to be away from your mother for a day.”

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Nearly six times as old as you.”

“How long have you been away from her?”

“My mother?”

“No,” she said.  “My mother.”

“I saw her briefly last night, but besides that, it has been some seven years.”

“You love her.”

“Why would you think that?” I demanded.

“Otherwise, you couldn’t have had Ethyl and me.  Mother told me how it works.  When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, a stork brings a baby and drops it in a cabbage patch for them to find.  If they love each other twice as much, the stork brings two babies at once.”

“That does sound like a story that your mother would tell,” I allowed.

“Isn’t it the truth?”

“Of course not.  You were born in Dewberry, where there is nary a cabbage patch within fifty miles.  Plenty of onion patches, but no cabbage patches.”

“Would you tell me the truth about how babies are born?” she asked.

“I suppose you are old enough.  When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, the mommy sends the daddy on an epic quest.  On this quest, he must perform many difficult deeds such as crossing mountains and valleys, until he reaches a great stone castle.  There he must fight his way in.  It doesn’t matter how many times the owner of the castle invites him in, he still ends up fighting.  Finally, once he has entered, he must kill a hundred or so monsters that live in the castle, all the while searching, until he finds a great egg.”

“Is the baby in the egg?”

“Edna, do not hurry a storyteller.”

“Sorry.”

“The warrior, which is to say the daddy, brings the egg home and the mommy sits on it.  She sits on it even though it makes her sick and messes up her emotions.  For three months it makes her very sad.  For three months it makes her very angry.  And for three months, it makes her… well, it makes her want to kiss the daddy all the time. Then finally, the egg hatches and inside is a golden coin.  The mommy and the daddy take the gold coin to the midwife and she gives them a baby.  Rarely, one finds two gold coins inside the egg, and the parents end up with twins.  The trip to the midwife also involves a lot of bitching and yelling, as I recall.”

“But where does the midwife get the baby?” asked Edna.

“That is a story for another time.”

“You must miss my mother an awful lot,” she said.

“Why would you think that?”

“Well, you loved her very much, and you’ve been away from her for seven long years.  That’s almost as long than I have been alive.  And even if you are seven times as strong, because you are seven times older than me…”

“Six times,” I interjected, “more or less.”

“Even if you are six times as strong, you have been away from her for one thousand three hundred and twenty times as long, so you must miss her two hundred twenty times as much as I do, and I miss her so much that I want to cry.”

“That can’t be true.”

“You can’t argue with math.”

“You can argue with math,” said I.  “Math always wins though, because math is a vicious cur.”

Both Ednathorpe and I eventually fell asleep.  She woke the next morning at the crowing of a particularly abominable rooster.  I had been awakened much earlier by that very same fowl.  Contrary to popular belief, roosters crow all the time.  They crow in the morning and they crow in the evening, and sometimes they crow in the middle of the night.  Many of us, who have grown up keeping chickens, have learned to ignore those phantom cries in the darkness, but this one was simply too much.  I resigned myself to not sleeping any more that night and was only stopped myself from hunting down and killing that rooster and his owner by the fact that my daughter managed to sleep soundly through the cacophony, which is to say, roostering, at least until morning.

Consequently, that morning, I was somewhat less than fully awake, which is to say, I was still sleepy.  My daughter, however, was well-rested and quite bubbly.  She insisted that I dress her in another of the cute little outfits that I had originally procured for her twin.  This time, it was a blue satin dress with lots of lace and beneath which were seven petticoats.  A petticoat is a sort of skirt that goes under a skirt, which make the skirt on the outside poof out.  The poofing effect is compounded the more one adds additional petticoats.  The blue dress also had quite poofy arms though there was no undersleeve garment making them do so.

“I love this, Father,” said Edna.  “I feel like a Princess.”

“Well, that stands to reason, because you are indeed a princess, or at least you would be if you had not been born a bastard, which is entirely your mother’s fault.”

“Well, I still feel like one.”

“You look like one too.  You have no idea how I have longed to see my daughter dressed up just so.  I’ve spent the better part of the last six years wrestling Ethyl into girl clothing, only to have it torn apart, dragged through the mud, or set fire to.”

“I wonder how Ethyl is doing with Mother?” she wondered.

“Not as well as I am, I imagine,” said I.  “All evidence indicates that I have come out ahead in this exchange.”

“Don’t say that, Father.  You know you love Ethylthorpe.”

“Of course I do, though it has not been easy.  Your mother will have to deal with all the profanity and the foul language and the vulgarity and the swearing from now on.”

“I am afraid that Ethylthorpe will have to deal with all of that too,” said Edna.

“And Ethyl has recently been referring to the Queen of Aerithraine in unflattering terms,” I said.

“My mother has been doing the same,” said Edna, “Only in regard to Eaglethorpe Buxton.”

“Mayhaps, they shall get along famously,” I said.  “Let us go downstairs and have breakfast.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Twelve: Wherein I recall a wonderful and later less-than-wonderful romance.

I kissed Ednathorpe on the cheek and left her to change into her jammies, a brand-new pair that I had purchased for her sister in AntriadorAntriador was with jammies something like Oordport was with dresses.  This particular pair consisted of a warm and cozy top and leggings, blue and dotted here and there with tiny images of unicorns.

The unicorn is an animal that is common in the woods around Antriador.  They are a bit like a horse, but as they make horrible mounts and aren’t good to eat, they are completely worthless.

I made my way, by way of the corridor, to my own room.  There I removed my gear and undressed, finally blowing out the candle and climbing into bed.  I lay there for a long time, staring at the cedar planks that made up the ceiling.  As I did, I thought back to the events that had brought my family to its current condition, which is to say split into two halves.

Nine years ago, give or take a few months, I had the misfortune to find myself engaged to be wed to three or four women at the same time, all of whom, I hasten to point out, had asked me to marry them, and not the other way ‘round.  I wasn’t ready to be married, and notwithstanding the fact that one of the women was the Queen of Aerithraine, with whom I was deeply and honestly in love, and had been for a long time, I decided on a different path.  I ran away.

Elleena, the aforementioned queen, followed me and found me, although she was in her guise as the manly warrior and adventurer Ellwood Cyrene.  We adventured together across the eastern world, putting wrongs right, putting evildoers in their graves, and putting quite a lot of beer in our stomachs.  Eventually, of an evening, Elleena even took to dressing up as a girl, and we would stroll in the moonlight, lie under the stars, and dance the night away.  We did it all, adventuring of a day and frolicking of a night.  We did it all until she was unable to adventure and very nearly unable to frolic, as she was heavy with child, which is to say pregnant.

We traveled back to Celestria, and just before we arrived, I tenderly took her in my arms, and tenderly touched her cheek, and tenderly kissed her lips, and tenderly asked her to marry me.  I was expecting a simply “yes,” seeing as how she had asked me to marry her only a bit earlier, but that was not what I got.

“Oh, so now you want to marry me?” quoth she.

“Um, yes.”

“You just feel forced to marry me because I’m pregnant!” quoth she.

“That is not the reason why I asked you to marry me, but it might be why I asked you to marry me now.”

“You just want to be King!”

“I want no such thing, although I would be a good king.”

“Aha!  I knew it!”  Her voice turned low and menacing.  “For years, petty nobles and weakling merchant have tried to worm their way into my life and my bed, all in order to steal my power, my authority, and my crown.  Now, the most petty and weak man that the gods have ever molded from clay has gotten where no other man has been and I will not have it.  I will not have it!”

“What do you mean ‘petty?’” I demanded.  “Besides which, you will have it, whether you want to or not.  There is no question, but it is coming out of there and it is coming out of there soon.”

“We will go to Dewberry Castle,” she continued.  “There I will give birth, and you may play mother to the fruit of your transgressions, and I will go on with my life and never have to see you again.”

“I have heard that women get moody at this time,” said I.

I was not expecting the uppercut that followed, leaving me with a swollen jaw and a bruised disposition.

As it turned out of course, she had not it, but them.  We were blessed with beautiful twin girls, whom I was happy to name—Ethylthorpe Dewberry Buxton and Ednathorpe Dewberry Buxton. By that time, Elleena was in a better mood, which is to say less prone to punch and yell.  She was still determined to be gone from me however, but she had fallen in love with the tiny pinched little faces of the girls.  We stayed together for almost a year after their births, but in the end, it was decided that she would take one and I would take one.  After all, they looked so much alike that looking at one twice was almost like looking at both once.

I took off on a grand adventure, taking my baby with me.  I had assumed that Elleena had gone back to being Queen of Aerithraine, but apparently, she was doing much as I was doing, which is to say going on adventures and acting like a man.

My musings, which is to say my thoughts about the past, were interrupted when my door opened.  In stepped a diminutive, which is to say tiny, figure in blue jammies.  She climbed up onto my bed and snuggled up against my side.

“I miss my mommy,” she said.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Eleven: Wherein I learn what happened to Ethylthorpe and Ednathorpe’s hand in it.

“Ednathorpe?”

“I prefer Edna,” she said.

“Your name is Ednathore,” said I.  “If indeed you are Ednathore.  But you cannot be.  I looked on your back and saw the birthmark shaped like a kick ball.  That is Ethylthorpe’s birthmark.  Ednathorpe has a birthmark shaped like a pie.”

“I used lip rouge to fill in the empty slice, so that it would look like a whole pie, or a kickball, depending upon one’s point of view.”

“Let me see.”

She turned around and I unbuttoned two buttons on her dress, just where her birthmark was.  There was a round kickball.  I wet my thumb and then rubbed the little mark, and behold, an empty slice was revealed.

“Ednathorpe!  My beloved child!”  I spun her back around and grasped her in a mighty hug.  “I haven’t seen you since you were a baby.  Oh, how you’ve grown!”

“Oh father, I am so happy to be here with you, and I have enjoyed these past twenty or so hours.  I have yearned to be with you for so long, and I knew much about you, but alas, I didn’t think I would ever see you.  My mother told me that you were dead.”

“Oh, what perfidy!” I cried.

She raised an eyebrow.

“Did you not tell Ethylthorpe that her mother was dead?  At least Mother told me who you were.”

“It’s an entirely different situation,” said I, “but that is not important.  Tell me of how you two managed to become switched.  It was no doubt due to some incompetence on your mother’s part.”

“It was not my mother’s fault.  She is a good person, and I love her.  She is a fine mother, except that she never lets me wear dresses, and always has me dressed up as a boy, and never puts my hair up or ties it with a ribbon, and we always have to go adventuring, and seldom even stay in an inn, but have to camp out on the hard ground, and she never lets me have tea parties or play with dolls or live in a castle.  I want to be a princess!”

“Oh, my poor, poor child,” said I.  “She has probably neglected your education too.”

“She has taught me to read and to write and to algebra, but I’m sure it’s not the same level of education that I would have received from you.”

“Of that, there can be no doubt,” said I.

“Anyway, we had been traveling for the past several months, moving westward from Aerithraine’s border, when we arrived late in the evening at Fencemar.  I begged and pleaded with Mother to let us stay inside, as I was frozen through, but the tavernkeeper informed us that he had let out the only two room in his establishment.”

“Which is to say, his tavern,” I added.

“Indeed.  Mother said that we could stay in a room, if I could convince the current occupants to double up into one.  I went upstairs and knocked on the door of a room and it opened.  There, standing before me, was an almost exact copy of myself.”

“It was a doppelganger!” I shouted.

“No, it was Ethylthorpe,” said Edna.  “We were both shocked, but after sharing a bit of information, we figured out that we were twin sisters, separated at birth by our parents.  I had always wanted to meet you and hear your wonderful stories, and Ethyl had always longed to know her mother, so we exchanged clothing and took each other’s place.  Now I get to travel with you, not to mention sleep inside, wear pretty dresses, and have my hair tied up in ribbons.”

“I suppose sleeping inside is a big deal for a little girl,” said I.

“I said not to mention sleeping inside,” she said.  “Ethyl and I agreed to maneuver you and mother into being in Oordport in one year, so that we could compare our experiences and decide if we wanted to trade back or not.”

“What happens when you both inevitably, which is to say certainly and unavoidably, want to be with me.  Then your mother will be all alone, with neither of her children there to keep her company.  Why, she is likely to fall under the sway of some ruthless man… or woman… or bugbear.”

“That is something you should have both thought about some six years, ten months, and fourteen days ago.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Ten: Wherein I learn the true identity of the doppelganger.

Ethylthorpe and I made our way up to our rooms on the third floor, having eaten a fine meal, which had been supplied free of charge by the inn, happy to have provided entertainment for their patrons in the form of Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Werewolf, Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Zombies, and finally Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Sorceress.  My room was the first at the top of the stairs, the first one on the right, but I led Ethyl past it, to the second door, which was her room.

I stepped in and looked around, to make sure that there was no one lurking inside.  With no danger present, I allowed the girl to enter and then closed the door behind her.  Then I grabbed her by the cute little red dress that I had purchased for her in Oordport and threw her up against the wall.  Holding her there, her feet a good twelve inches above the floor, which is to say, one foot, I placed my face close to hers and spoke in low tones.

“Now, foul, vile, and despicable villain, I will cut you into pieces and bury your parts in separate holes.  But first, I will torture you until you confess and tell me what you have done with my poor, sweet, Ethylthorpe.”

“Father, I am your daughter,” she gasped, as I squeezed her tiny throat.

“Do not lie to me!” I hissed.  “Do you think that I am such a poor writer that I did not notice all the inconsistencies in chapters seven through nine?  You are not my daughter Ethylthorpe!”

“No, I am not Ethylthorpe.”

“Then tell me where she is.”

“She is with her mother.”

“You’ve killed her?  Oh, you have no idea what pain I will subject you to before I finally slay you.”

“Her mother isn’t dead, and you know it!  She’s with her mother and her mother is Elleena Cyrene!”

“Don’t lie to me!”

“I’m not lying.  She’s safe with mother.”

I released her and let her drop to her feet.

“And you are not a vile doppelganger that killed her to take her place?”

“Of course not, Father.  I am your daughter.  I am Ednathorpe.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Nine: Wherein we have a disagreement over stories.

Ethylthorpe had promised a town and she delivered a town.  It was three times the size of Fencemar, which was really more of a village.  There were two inns and three taverns in this new town, which was called Rumplegate, and they all looked warm and cozy.  Ethyl insisted though that we stay in the inn called The Rolling Barrel.  Apparently, her map had indicated that this was the best of the lot.

The Rolling Barrel was a large three-story building constructed of hewn stone on the ground floor and a combination of pine and cedar on the floors above.  By the time that we had seen our mounts, which is to say Hysteria and Acrimony, safely in their stalls at the stables, with clean water, good oats, and the promise of a rubdown, it had already grown quite dark.  Stepping into the taproom of the inn revealed a large room, heated by a roaring fireplace and filled with local miners, lumberjacks, and trappers as well as more than a few travelers like us.  We took a small table along an inner wall and were immediately approached by a barmaid.

“What can I fetch ya’, luv?” she asked leaning over the table.

She was quite a fetching thing, moderately plump, with licorice-colored hair, coffee-colored skin, and big bright eyes.  Her slightly pointy ears told me that she had some elven ancestry, which is to say probably one of her grandparents was an elf or an elf-lover.  Her bountiful bosom strained against her blouse, which she wore with the top two buttons undone.

“I have it on good authority that you serve a meat pie for supper,” said I.

“Indeed we do,” she smiled.  “I’ll bring out a pair of ‘em right away.”

“And a couple of beers,” I added.

“Tea for me,” said Ethyl.

“And a tea for her,” said I.

“Say, you look familiar,” said the barmaid.

“I am quite famous,” said I.  “However, I have never been in this town before.  Perhaps you have traveled south to Antriador or Oordport, or perhaps west to Celestria.”

“Not you,” she said.  “Her.”

She pointed to Ethyl.

“I’ve seen ya’ in here before.  Haven’t I?  But ya’ had a different fella with you then.  Is one of ‘em your dad and one your uncle ‘en?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Ethyl.

“All right, all right.  I ain’t one to pry,” said the barmaid.  “Two meet pies, a beer, and a tea, right away.”

“That was two beers,” said I.

She nodded in acknowledgement and headed off toward the kitchen.

“It will be some little while until she returns with our supper,” said Ethyl.  “Would now be a good time to tell one of your famous stories?”

“You know it would be,” I replied.  “Introduce me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, introduce me to the crowd.  Stand up and tell them that I am Eaglethorpe Buxton and they should prepare to listen to a wondrous story.  You’ve done it a hundred times before.”

“Oh, yes.  I just wasn’t sure because I didn’t know what story you were planning to tell.”

“What story do you think I should tell them?  Perhaps Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Elven Princess.”

“No, not that one,” said Ethyl.

“How about Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Irascible Monkey People?”

“No one wants to hear that,” opined Ethyl, “because everyone knows that there is no such thing as monkey people.”

“Oh, how sharper than a serpent’s tooth,” said I.

“It seems like I’ve heard that before,” said Ethyl.  “Why don’t you tell the story of Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Mercenary Warrior Who Ought Not to be a Woman but Secretly Was?”

“I am not in the mood to tell that story.  How about Eaglethorpe Buxton and the Werewolf?”

“That sounds promising,” said Ethyl, getting to her feet.  “Your attention good folk!  Here is Eaglethorpe Buxton, the world’s greatest storyteller, and tonight he will tell you the greatest story ever told!  Tonight, he will tell you the story of The Queen of Aerithraine.”

“No, I won’t!” I said.  “I do not tell that story anymore.  Besides, she’s a beastly hag.”

“But the people want to hear that story!”

“Actually, we don’t much care which story you tell,” said a large man, who looked to be a teamster or involved in some other hardy profession, which is to say, a tough job.

“This here ain’t Aerithraine and we don’t give spit about their queen,” said another, this fellow obviously a farmer, judging by his weathered skin and reddened neck.  “You can save that story for when you’s back in Celestria.”

“But it’s a really good story,” said Ethyl.

“Tell us something exciting!” called out a dark-haired woman, sitting on the lap of a mercenary swordsman.

“Yeah!” cried her companion, and the fellow sitting across from him, both of whom looked to be well past the moderately drunk stage, which is to say, the plenty drunk stage, which was no doubt why the woman was with them, as men in the plenty drunk stage are freer with their coin than those in the moderately drunk stage.

“I shall tell you the most exciting story of all,” I told them.  “I will tell you how I chased down a vile and deadly werewolf and killed him with this very fork!”

I whipped my fork out of my fork pocket and held it up so that it shone in flickering light of the fireplace and the many hanging lanterns.  Everyone in attendance gave a great cheer.”

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Eight: Wherein the doppelganger threat rises again, only to be put to rest just in time for the inevitable goblin attack.

“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.

Eaglethorpe Buxton and… Something about Frost Giants

Chapter Seven: In which Ethyl determines to be more of a girl and less of an evil doppelganger.

Ethyl and I traveled through what little remained of the night and then we traveled through the morning, not stopping until it was nigh on noon.  We found a little spot beside a river with a few bits of grass that the horses could nibble on while we nibbled on some dry rations.

I literally felt like figuratively kicking myself because I had neglected to purchase even a fraction of a gigantic piece of pie before we had left Fencemar.  So, I made a small fire for warmth and imagined that a meat pie was baking away in the coals as I ate a piece of bread so hard that it was inedible until dipped in river water.

“What ho!” shouted Ethyl suddenly.

I looked up to find her looking down into a saddle bag, or more precisely into Acrimony’s saddle bag, since it was behind the saddle that was fastened to Acrimony’s back.

“What?” I asked.

“There are dresses in here.”

“Of course there are dresses in there.  Every morning, I take out one of those dresses and wrestle you into it, clean you up, and do your hair into cute pigtails.  And every day, by half past noon, you have stripped off the dress, dirtied yourself up again, and taken to acting in no fit manner for a young lady.”

“I have?  I mean, I have,” said she.  “You know, I wouldn’t mind getting into a dress now, as I’m still cleaned up from yesterday, and, if you wanted to, and it wasn’t too much trouble, and we have time, I wouldn’t mind too terribly having my hair put up in cute pigtails.”

“What have you done with my daughter, vile doppelganger?” I shouted, jumping to my feet and whipping out my sword.

“I didn’t do anything to her.  I mean to me.  I mean, it’s me.  I’m right here, obviously.”

“I knew there was something off about you.  You are way too nice and way to civilized, and now that I think about it, way too clean to be the real Ethylthorpe Buxton.  I should have known right away that you were some evil fiend that had taken her form.”

“I’m really Ethylthorpe Dewberry Buxton,” she said, “and my birthday is the Sixth Day of the Rat Festival in The Year of the Drunken Hobgoblin.  No doppelganger would know that.”

“Hmm,” I hmmed, almost satisfied.  “Turn around and lift up your jerkin.”

With a sigh, she did so, and I could see the birthmark in the small of her back shaped like a kickball.  I was thus reassured that she was the genuine article, the article being my daughter.

“Satisfied?” she asked, cheekily.

“I am satisfied that you are my daughter, but I am not otherwise satisfied, which is to say, I wish I had a meat pie.”

I finished my lunch, such as it was, and checked the horse’s hooves, while Ethyl changed into the cute little red dress that I had purchased for her in OordportOordport is a city known for its fine dresses and is somewhat of a destination for both men and women who enjoy wearing that type of clothing, which is to say dresses.  Once she had put on the proper attire for a young lady or a very small man, if he was inclined to such a thing, she allowed me to braid her hair into two cute pigtails, with red ribbons tied to the ends.

“What do you think?” she asked me.

“I scarcely know what to think,” said I.  “Let’s be on our way.”

I put out the fire and cleaned up the camp, and then my daughter and I mounted our horses, me upon mine and she upon hers, and we continued on our way.

“Tell me about my mother,” said Ethyl.

“I have told you about her many times.”

“Um, yes, I know.  I want to hear about her again.  What was she like?”

“What would you like to know?”

“Was she beautiful?”

“She was extremely beautiful,” I said.

As I reminisced, which is to say, talked while remembering, I tried to keep as much wist from my voice as possible.  Wistfulness is fine beside a fire of an evening but is no good while riding through the cold countryside.

“She also wore beautiful dresses and she never even once dressed in pants and pretended to be a man.”

“Where is she?” asked Ethyl.

“You know where she is.  She’s dead.”

“She is?  I mean, she is.  I mean, how did she die?  I mean, tell me again how she died.”

“I can’t tell you again how she died,” said I.

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you again how she died, because I’ve never told you how she died in the first place.”

“Oh.”

“She died of consumption,” I told her.

“Consumption?  What is that?”

“It’s when you consume something you shouldn’t have,” said I.  “She consumed poison.”

“Poison!” shouted Ethyl.  “Who poisoned her?”

“Calm yourself,” said I.  “Nobody poisoned her but her own self.  She took her own life.”

“Why?”

“Well, it wasn’t because she didn’t want to be a devoted wife and mother or wear dresses all the time and give up on a life of adventuring.  It was a different reason entirely.”

“Well, what was it?”

“Um, well… I will tell you another time.  It is too upsetting.  Let us talk on a different topic.”

“Okay,” said Ethyl.  “Tell me why you hate Ellwood Cyrene so much.”

“Who said I hate Ellwood Cyrene?  Did he… she… he say that?  Either one of them?”

“No.  She said nothing to me about it.  And I know that she is a woman.  And I know that she is really Queen Elleena of Aerithraine.”

“How do you know all that?” I demanded.

“Well, it’s all right there in Chapter Six,” she said.