a squad of imperial dragoons was making merry in the courtyard in front of the inn.
nothing had to be said. it was an opportunity for hero to display her tricks, and try to add to the precarious funds of the little band.
jen had been riding just ahead of the wagon, which was making a leisurely pace since entering the streets of the town.
an occasional street urchin would shout at the wagon, usually something humorously deragotary about the inhabitants of the steppes and mountains, but they were ignored, and pythias and bucephalus plodded along to their placid rhythm.
it was a warm evening, just growing dark, and hero and leander had been walking beside the wagon, preferring the night air to the somewhat stifling interior of the wagon.
with a nod to hero, and to the mug the driver, jen rode away ahead into the interior of the town.
the wagon stopped. before proceeding, hero beckoned to leander.
“listen,” she said to him, in a milder tone than he was used to from her, “we have a good chance to get a good haul from these drunken boobies. we will try the punch and judy, and betty and buddy routines i have taught you. now look here, goat boy, i am going to try something a little different to get you up to snuff, as jen has forbidden me to use stern measures. can you guess what that is?”
“no,” the bewildered leander replied.
“if you do a good job, or even if you do not foul things up completely, do you know what i will do?”
“i will let you kiss me. what do you think of that, eh?”
leander would not have been half so amazed if hero had turned into a dove or a dragon and flown away into the sky.
“i - that sounds good me,” he managed to say.
“good. then let us proceed.” and with that she turned, did a couple of somersaults and sprang back on her feet in front of four dragoons seated around a table covered with emptied glasses and bottles.
“here is a fine group of bold fellows!” she cried. “preparing themselves in the time honored way to enter the hell of battle and carry away glory! ready to go swirl to sword with corak himself and carry his head to the emperor!”
“get away with you, you little bumpkin, you little dung beetle from the steppes,” growled what seemed to be the drunkest of the four, “ do you take us for shepherds or mountain men, new to the city? get back, you shall not get close enough to pick this soldier’s pocket.”
“oh, you wrong me, captain, you do me wrong in truth!” cried hero, in no way put out by his words and doing a pirouette, “ i only wish to entertain you - to bring a smile to the lips of a bold soldier about to give his all to save the empire!”
“entertain us?” exclaimed one of his companions, who had the appearance of a grizzled veteran. “you look a chick a bit too young to fry, miss. if you have an older sister, send her our way, that we may be properly entertained.” and he laughed, banged his glass on the table and looked around at his fellows for their approval of his words.
“and enough,” added a third member of the party, seemingly younger and more sober than his companions, “ of your twaddling efforts to flatter us. we are about as likely to fight the dread corak as you are - if he even exists and s not a phantom. no, we have sat here in garrison since moloch was a chimneysweep -“
“by god, he speaks truth!” cried the final member of the quartet, a huge red faced fat fellow, “how we - or at least i, ha ha, long for the thunder of battle! to clash with the foe in the manner of our heroic forefathers! too long have we grown soft -“ but his peroration was cut short by a fit of coughing and a belch that shook the table.
nothing daunted, hero persisted. “i am sure all you brave fellows will acquit yourself nobly when glory calls! in the mean time, why not enjoy a good laugh? i am sure you all know the stories of betty and buddy - well, we are here to present a brand new one - an imperial premier, just for you! if you enjoy it, throw us a shekel, or a lousy kopeck! it is entirely up to you!” and she turned to leander, who had been standing dumbly behind her the whole time.
“are we ready - for ‘betty and buddy - in the castle of the monster’?”