“You will hardly know we are here.” Lord Holdfast was strutting around the state room as if he owned the place – My state room, Baron Dumplypump grumbled in his seat at the head of an otherwise empty table.
“But ten thousand men!” he cried, exasperated. “I have neither the room nor the resources to accommodate –”
Lord Holdfast cut him off with a patronising smirk. “That has all been taken care of. We have been commandeering provisions from farms and villages en route and as for the sleeping arrangements, we shall pitch our tents on common land.”
“Then why, prithee, do you need me at all?” Dumplypump blustered, setting his chins awaggle.
“My men need to rest,” Lord Holdfast deigned to perch a slender buttock on the edge of the table, “and your stronghold is ideally situated, being within coo-ee of Fireblast’s territory. And, since we were passing, I thought the opportunity ripe to pop in and invite you to join us. What do you say? Your army joined with mine; Lady Fireblast won’t know what’s hit her!”
The baron performed a good impression of someone mulling it over when, in truth, the idea had already occurred to him. To join with Holdfast and unite against the scourge of the Eastern Realms!
As always in these situations, it did not pay to appear too keen.
“I think…” he said, as archly as he could, “…that is an excellent idea. But I do not wish to appear inhospitable. I shall send casks of ale to your men to bid them welcome.”
“Capital!” Lord Holdfast stood.
“And you shall dine with me this evening, My Lord.”
“You are exceeding generous, Dumplypump.”
“And I am Terkus.”
The men nodded curtly to each other. Lord Holdfast clicked his bootheels together and strode out. Baron Dumplypump let out a girlish giggle. He rang for Nebbish, his chamberlain.
Having given the servant his orders, the baron slipped into his private chamber. He drew aside a velvet curtain to reveal a tall looking-glass in an ornate frame.
The surface of the mirror seemed to shimmer and a shadowy figure appeared, slender and sinuous and with glowing eyes like emeralds. Out poured the Baron’s news, his words tumbling over themselves like horses in a stampede.
“Excellent!” said a voice like scraping on the glass.
“And the poison in the ale should be taking effect right about now,” Dumplypump tittered. “I cannot wait to see Lord Stuckup’s face when he finds himself alone and surrounded by thousands of my men.”
The image in the glass grew as the figure stepped closer. It took on the shape of Lord Holdfast and an arm reached out and seized what it could find of the baron’s flabby neck.
“Treacherous toad!” Holdfast spat. The baron choked and spluttered. Holdfast stepped from the frame and drew his dagger.
“Wait, wait!” Dumplypump cried. “We can still work together! We can take that bitch down!”
Holdfast’s nose wrinkled as though the baron had emptied his guts on the flagstones.
“I don’t think so. You see, this was all a test, my fat, flabby friend; and you failed. I don’t have ten thousand men; I have barely half a dozen. Those casks of ale were sent back to your own troops. A modest bribe to your man Nebbish allowed me access to this room.”
Dumplypump gaped. “All is lost!” he quailed. “I’ll get you for this!” he roared as Holdfast shed the cloak that had been his disguise.
“Oh, yes?” Holdfast arched an eyebrow. “You and whose army?”