As the first arrow whipped about three inches past his head, Quentin decided it was time to re-evaluate his life.
Quentin was a goblin, and as far as he knew he was the only intelligent person in the realm of Analgesia. That might sound arrogant but, given the available evidence, it was the only conclusion he felt could be reached. After all, he had been making a living for the past few years by tricking gullible idiots out of their money with every scam, swindle and con he could think of, and as he hadn’t yet been thrown into a ditch covered in tar and feathers, it was fair to say that most of them were a needle short of a haystack.
Of course, even idiots get lucky sometimes; and this was why he was currently running for his life as a baying mob made up of the angry villagers of Dodge attempted to turn him into a very well-dressed sieve. The long crimson cloak and large floppy hat he’d been wearing as part of this particular scheme were not exactly aiding his attempts to escape, but at least he cut a stylish figure as he sped along the cobblestones, trying to remember the way out. Now you may ask why, if he was so clever, he was having to evade the stream of arrows, stones and the occasional piece of excrement that were being sent his way; and, as luck would have it, the answer was just hoving into view around the corner.
“Get the goddamn cart going, Scrote!” he shouted. Scrote was his assistant, or as Quentin preferred to think of him the moron who he’d been unfairly saddled with and who seemed hell-bent on getting him into trouble. Scrote put down the “artistic” parchment he had been intently studying whilst perched on the seat of the ramshackle collection of splinters and woodworm that the two of them called “home” (with entirely different levels of honest enjoyment and bitterness, admittedly), and grasped the reins tightly.
“You’re facing the wrong way, you idiot!” Quentin screamed. Behind him, the villagers were gaining, most of them with various sharp and pointy instruments to which the word “brandishing” could so easily be applied. Scrote turned around to face the front, smiling and shaking his head at what a silly billy he’d been, and in his most leisurely manner began to shake the reins, trying to coax the flea-bitten horse that pulled the cart into as close an approximation of life as a nag that looked like it was yearning for the glue factory could manage. The horse, however, wasn’t budging; it just flicked its tail and aimed a snort of derision at the short podgy idiot faffing about behind it.
If Quentin could have spared some time from his current preoccupation, he would have described Scrote in the following way. Imagine the tallest, prettiest, fairest maiden, with long, flowing golden hair, a sweet and noble countenance and a sharp, inquisitive mind. Scrote was the complete opposite of all these things. He was short, he was dirty, and he was monumentally stupid; though he was a goblin like Quentin, the comparison was akin to saying that kisses and vomit are the same because they come from the same orifice. The best thing that could be said about his appearance was that usually most of his body was obscured by his clothes; that part that could be seen looked like a blind man had tried to shave a baboon and made a particularly bad job of it. He had hairy legs, hairy arms and hairy palms; and the less said about the smell...
This was slightly harsh on Scrote, who was almost certainly not as stupid as he looked, if only because if he were as stupid as he looked he would have had great difficulty breathing; but then life, for the most part, is harshness, and why should Scrote be spared?
Currently Scrote’s short stubby little body was covered not only with his habitual dirty rags but also in tar and feathers. There was no time for Quentin to shake his head meaningfully at his assistant, however, because at that moment a lump of cow dung the size of a fist smacked him in the back of the head and pitched him, spitting and cursing, onto the ground. The mob were about twenty yards behind the goblin; this, he thought, was it. Not how he’d pictured going out, hacked to pieces by angry country bumpkins whilst covered in shit; but then not many people get to choose how they die, and fewer still enjoy it.
The first villager reached him as he lay on the ground, a big ugly brute with blue paint all over his face who brandished what looked like an old rake with bits of cabbage leaf still stuck to the spikes. Oh, great, he thought, death by gardening implement, how very heroic. The man’s face curled into a smile of righteous satisfaction and he raised his makeshift weapon above his head.
“This’ll teach ya tae defile oor virgins!” he said in an outrageous accent. Quentin closed his eyes as the rake descended.
Then the sound of galloping hooves and tortured wood filled the air, and the big man threw himself sideways as a massive bulky shape hurtled past him. Scrote had finally managed to get the horse and cart moving.
Quentin struggled to his feet as the horse, maddened by whatever Scrote had done to it, ploughed through the mob of villagers, scattering them aside like stalks of wheat (if the wheat was also screaming obscenities as loudly and angrily as it could). As it reached the end of the street, Scrote managed to drag it around, the wheels screeching in protest as they raised sparks against the cobblestones, and drove it back up towards Quentin. Those few villagers who had managed to stagger to their feet after the first time the cart had gone past were bowled over again, various farming implements flying into the air; with a clatter of ill-fitting horse shoes, Scrote managed to halt the cart just in front of Quentin, and he swiftly leapt up beside his ill-smelling friend.
“Get us out of here!” he said, taking control of the situation as ever. Scrote cracked the reins and the horse leapt forward again, the impotent howls of the villagers following them as they sped through the village gates and out into the woodland. Soon, they were safe, and Quentin allowed himself to relax and remove his hat and cloak. “Well, that’s one place we won’t be going back to,” he said, to a blank stare from his befeathered friend. Sighing, he told Scrote to slow down a little whilst he clambered into the back of the cart.
Moving aside all the various paraphernalia the pair used to undertake their nefarious schemes, and the book of bedtime stories Quentin had to read to Scrote when he had a nightmare, he reached the very back of the cart, the part they slept in, and placed his long-fingered hands on the small brown sack which contained the money they’d managed to scam from the villagers back there. At least, he thought, all that running around had been worth it; for once, they’d managed to get away with the gold, and that, after all, was all that mattered.
In hindsight, he should have realised that one should never count their chickens, especially given that the idiot he was forced to travel round with was covered in feathers a few feet away from him; but the thought that they might actually be able to eat a proper meal tonight had blinded him to caution. He opened the sack, expecting that lovely glimmer of light reflecting off metal that meant beef, gravy, and lovely cold beer, and saw … nothing. Just a single moth, which flew out of the empty darkness and fluttered happily off into the forest. After scrabbling around the back of the cart for a second, hoping that Scrote had, for some reason, hidden their earnings underneath the old cloaks they used as blankets, he straightened up and, in as polite a voice as he could manage, enquired as to the whereabouts of the money.
“Oh, that,” Scrote said. “I emptied it out of the sack in the village.”
Quentin took a deep breath. “And why did you do that?”
“Well,” Scrote began whilst drumming his overlong nails on the seat beside him, “well, you remember back there at the village fete, when you went onto that stage and shouted about how you had that miracle potion that would cure all ills...”
“Well, and then, I was supposed to come on the stage like I’d never met you and say I had terrible, terrible venereal diseases...”
“Well, and then you gave me the potion, and I leapt up and said I was cured and had never felt better...”
“Yes, Scrote, and then you threw up because you’d been eating candy-floss despite the fact that I told you not to, and then you shouted “Sorry, Quentin,” at the top of your voice so that the whole crowd, who had been shoving money into my hands faster than a greyhound with a wedge of ginger stuck up its bum, realised we’d been scamming them and turned on us... I was there, remember?”
“Well, yes, but then, once you’d run off screaming that I was an idiot and you wanted me to die, and they all chased after you except for the two who decided to put me in that bucket of tar and cover me in feathers,” Scrote paused for breath whilst raising his feather-covered arms to demonstrate his point, “and then they left me alone because I was crying too much for them to be having fun... well, I remembered that you’d told me to put the sack on the cart and get the hell out of Dodge as soon as we’d pulled off the scam, and so I emptied the money out and put the sack on the cart just like you said!” Scrote finished triumphantly, and grinned, exposing surprisingly white teeth.
“You took the money out, and put the sack in the cart on its own...” Quentin said, his voice exhibiting that calmness that usually comes just before an island-consuming storm.
“Yes,” said Scrote, still beaming widely. “It was quite heavy to carry, you see, and you’d kept saying we’d have to move fast before they found out that the potion was just nettles in water, so I thought, if I took the money out, I could move much quicker. And you told me to put the sack in, so I did. No problems.”
Quentin was still making an effort to stay calm, although steam was starting to rise from his ears, a common occurrence in angry or stressed-out goblins. “And you didn’t think that I might have meant keep the money in the sack and take it all with us, so that we could buy things like food and drink and a place to sleep that isn’t strewn through with rusty nails and infested by termites?”
“Oh, of course I thought of that, Quentin,” Scrote said, grinning even wider. “So I picked up two of the coins to take with me. I thought it was a bit odd you hadn’t told me to do that, to be honest.” He turned back to the road, whistling a jaunty tune. Quentin reached his hands out, fingers extended to choke his companion, but with a roll of his eyes decided against it, and slumped back into the cart, steam still spewing copiously from his shell-like ears. Not for the first time he wondered if Scrote’s idiocy might actually be a carefully constructed facade put on solely for the purposes of winding he, Quentin, up, but as usual he dismissed the thought. Nobody was that good an actor. Not particularly wanting to continue the conversation, he rooted around the cart, locating a quill and a piece of parchment headed “Places we shouldn’t go back to”. He licked the nib of the quill (goblin saliva has a similar consistency to ink), and bent down to add the village of Dodge to the list. He sighed heavily.
“Now, now, what can the matter be?” came a voice from the trees. Scrote was so startled in the driving seat that he immediately pulled back on the reins and the cart slid to a halt. A figure emerged from the holly bushes, wearing a flowing robe of deep purple, lined with what appeared to be badger fur, an equally grandiose pointed hat, and carrying a long mahogany staff with strange sigils carved down the shaft, sigils which writhed and twisted in the cool forest air. It was an effect only slightly spoiled by the thin streak of bird droppings matted into the stranger’s luxurious red beard.
“Well met, my fine fwiends, on this fine mowwow!”
Quentin paused whilst he worked out what “mowwow” meant, then raised an eyebrow. “Nobody speaks like that,” he said to the stranger. “What do you want?”
The stranger strode into the middle of the road, and spread his arms wide.
“The question is not what I want, but what you want,” he said. His voice had a nasal quality to it that
Quentin, his mood not aided by the day’s previous events, was finding incredibly annoying.
“What I want is for you to sod off,” Quentin said. The stranger blinked a couple of times, but managed to rally.
“I believe we may have got off on the wwong foot,” he managed. Scrote looked like he was about to agree and introduce himself, until Quentin shot him a murderous glance. “Don’t you dare encourage him,” the goblin told his olfactorily-offensive companion.
The stranger, evidently choosing to ignore this, held out his free hand. “My name is Wandolf,” he said, “but most people call me Godwin, because of copyright issues.”
His speech impediment really was incredible, Quentin thought; it was taking the goblin a second to actually work out what Godwin was saying, and he wasn’t quite sure if this annoying moron (or possibly mor-won) realised that his speech was so befuddling.
“Godrin?” the goblin said.
“No, no, not Godwin, Godwin,” the stranger replied. The goblin closed his eyes, hoping this was all just a fairly tedious dream, but when he opened them again, the stranger was unfortunately still there, a wide and innocent smile upon his face.
“Oh. Well, Godwin,” Quentin said, “I’m Quentin, and I’m going to go away now, before whatever’s wrong with you becomes wrong with me, OK?”
Godwin turned a delicate shade of puce, and tightened his grip on his staff. Quentin continued.
“Before I go, though, I feel like I should let you know that you’ve got sh-hang on, is that a false beard? Scrote, look at this-this guy’s wearing a false beard!” Quentin laughed out loud, and Godwin’s face changed colour again, this time matching the bushy red beard that, as Quentin had noticed, was held on by two paper-clips secured over his ears.
“You are being exceedingly wude, you know,” Godwin said. “It’s starting to get on my wick a little, if you must know. And I warn you, you won’t like me when I’m angwy!”
“What are you going to do, turn into a giant green monster and rip us to bits? Stupidest thing I ever heard. I’m bored now, so could you please just go away? Come on, Scrote, let’s leave this idiot alone and get out of here.” With that, Quentin turned his face away from the stranger, and his assistant cracked the reins again. After a few false starts, the horse evidently decided it might as well start going forward, and the cart started on a sedate pace along the road, leaving Godwin standing alone.
This is the point at which, in most fantasy adventures, the wizard-for that is what the stammering stranger was, if you hadn’t already guessed- smiles a secret smile, knowing they have found the hero that will save the land from evil and, more importantly, learn a valuable lesson which will make them a far better person/hobbit/green tentacle thing. However, this isn’t most fantasy adventures. As the wizard took off his large purple hat, ready to knowingly peer over the top of it at the goblins’ retreating cart, a whole flight of geese directly overhead decided it was time to lose a bit of weight. Godwin’s scream of disgust could be heard all the way back to Dodge.