It was with a somewhat downcast expression that Sir Scat left the stables of the Red Gryphon Inn. His endeavors in mounting the horse that the nice young gentleman (whose name escaped him for the moment) had offered for a charger had been less than successful. In truth, not to mince words, Sir Scat's equestrian undertaking had been an overwhelming disaster. However, the knight took comfort in the fact that his kind benefactor had not borne witness to the calamity. Sir Scat did not question the abrupt disappearance of the youth. It was not in his nature to ponder on such things.
Removing his helmet, Sir Scat attempted to pummel out yet another dent, sustained when, after several futile efforts, he had finally managed to sit astride the horse...albeit facing the wrong way...and the animal had bucked violently, making an immediate beeline for the stable door. The helmet had taken something of a bashing when the knight had slipped sideways in the saddle, head colliding with a nasty "thwack" against the side of the barn. For a moment, he had seen stars...many stars...gaily twinkling in and out of the blackness which swam before his eyes. Landing face-down in the dirt had only added to his confusion. Luckily, a flaxen-haired lad (whose name Sir Scat believed might be Peter, although he was far from sure) had recaptured the bolting beast and returned it to the stall. The knight wondered if it were necessary for every crusader to learn the obviously challenging art of horsemanship. Still, he felt no ill-will toward the animal, now whinnying mounfully from its secured corral.
"Foul beast," he murmured in good-natured fashion before tripping over an inconveniently-placed bale of hay.
Sir Scat blinked in the bright sun. Given his recent demise, the sudden blaze of light blinded the knight and made him feel rather woozy. He tottered unsteadily from one foot to the other, trying to maintain his balance. When his surroundings were once again sound, he noticed he had been circled by a group of tiny men. Holding hands, they were orbiting to-and-fro with looks of concern etched upon their small faces. Sir Scat stifled the urge to warble, "Ring-around-the-rosy," and contemplated briefly from whence the melody now trilling within his brain had orginated.
"We were afraid you were going to take a tumble, Sire" said one of the little fellows, while the others nodded in grave agreement. Sir Scat was very grateful for their interest in his welfare.
"Much obliged," he told them. It was a phrase he had heard one of the Inn's serving wenches utter when presented with a coin for her trouble. The knight hoped it would be suitable for the present circumstances. The tiny men glowed with appreciation and Sir Scat breathed a sigh of relief. He so often seemed to say the wrong thing, even though he always had the best of intentions.
The knight peered more closely at the ring of faces. There was a vague trace of recognition within his memory. He determined not to worry it at, since to do so invariably meant that the recollection would promptly (and usually permanently) disappear. A cache of instruments by the side of the highway slightly sharpened the image.
"You are musicians!" announced Sir Scat, well-pleased with his powers of deduction.
"Indeed we are, Honorable Sir" stated one of the tiny fellows, who then looked to his comrades for verification. They nodded vehemently. Yes, his words had been loud and clear, even though to his own ears, his voice had been merely a vague echo. Quint (for such was the little chap's name) wondered if his hearing would ever again be restored to full capacity.
"We are the Brownies who came here with Master Moog, Majesty" said one of the other little lads.
Sir Scat frowned. Was the name "Moog" supposed to ring any bells?
"The HobGoblin?" timidly suggested another and then rubbed ruefully at his shoulder, where one of his comrades had delivered a tweaking pinch to the skin for speaking to Sir Scat without the proper form of address to one of such high rank.
Sir Scat scratched his head, dropping his helmet in the process.
Quint hurried forward and retrieved it. "Much obliged," said the knight, bowing at the waist. Quint quickly dodged the point of the knight's sword, which had been inadvertently strapped-on backward and was now hovering dangerously close to the Brownie's upturned nose.
"Lord of the Pit, Highness?" ventured the Brownie who had first spoken after Quint's initial statement. At least Sir Scat assumed it was the same Brownie. In essence, he was experiencing difficulty in discerning one from the other and all the varied forms of distinction being tossed his way only added to the discombobulation.
"Ah...," murmured the knight. Now THAT sounded somewhat familiar.
The band of Brownies looked at each other in amazement. How could the knight fail to remember? One...the smallest of the group...was hustled to the forefront. He assumed the position reluctantly. Removing his cap, he inclined his head deferentially in the direction of Sir Scat and nervously cleared his throat.
"My name is Zebedee, Your Reverence," he muttered. Sir Scat regarded him with an inquiring but friendly eye and absent-mindedly returned his helmet to his head. Unfortunately, the visor refused to go either up or down, being jammed somewhere in the middle. The view was most disconcerting...almost like double-vision.
"I am a penny-whistler, Your Eminence" added Zebedee. The knight nodded encouragingly and marvelled at how his sword was now facing the wrong way. Moreover, he appeared to have suddenly acquired two weapons instead of his customary one.
"Do you not recall, Your Magnificence," continued Zebedee, "that you are Lord of the Pit?"
Sir Scat wrinkled his forehead and scrubbed at his nose. The action caused his visor to snap shut, trapping the tip of his forefinger in its metallic jaws. Unwedging the injured digit, the knight fearfully scanned the finger for signs of blood...hoping none would be found since blood never failed to make him nauseous. Luckily, the finger seemed virtually free of open lesions. Sir Scat gingerly raised his visor and sucked morosely upon his wound.
"Lord of the Pit, Majesty?" prompted Zebedee.
The knight nodded. "Yes," he mumbled. "I believe I do remember, now that you mention it." Giving his finger a final lick, he smiled down hesitantly at the expectant faces. "And how is Master Moog, that most gracious of promoters?"
The largest of the Brownies, whose had not yet previously spoken and whose name was Farthing, stepped forward. "He has deserted us, Venerable One," he bemoaned sorrowfully.
"Leaving us with no leader, Valiant Sir," added Quint, hoping that he had heard his brother Brownie correctly. Farthing WAS speaking of Moog's disappearance, was he not? A curt nod verified Quint's assumption.
"So, we were wondering....," proposed the Brownie who had formerly been pinched, quickly adding, "My Liege...."
Sir Scat looked at each hopeful expression and attempted to fathom the question...for a question there certainly appeared to be. Awareness dawned slowly. Sir Scat was dismayed. The "Lord of the Pit" title was turning out to be something of a hinderance and assuredly far more trouble than it was worth. He now remembered the reason for the bevies of adoring shepherdesses and milkmaids who accosted him every morning by springing with alarming regularity from behind the shrubbery at back of the Red Gryphon Inn. Through no fault of his own, the knight had become a local celebrity.
Bearing posies of flowers, the blushing young maidens constantly thrust bouquets into the hands of the knight and, when he could carry no more, deposited blooms atop his helmet and into the cuffs of his boots. Their actions had been most bewildering, but Sir Scat now realized it was because they considered him a hero...and a champion. He blushed at the thought. He had completely forgotten his moment of glory within the Pit. Sir Scat was at a loss regarding how to handle such adoration...and now, this band of seven Brownies were apparently offering themselves into his service. In truth, poor Sir Scat had no idea what he was supposed to do with such an entourage.
"Well," began the knight slowly and thoughtfully, anxious not to offend "I am not sure...."
The seven musicians fell to their knees, caps-in-hands. "We beg of you, Majestic One," entreated Farthing, "please allow us to serve you. We can play you into battle. We are unafraid. You will not be disappointed."
Sir Scat sighed and scratched his head once more. This time, however, his fingertips met with steel as they brushed against his helmet. He pondered on removing the object, but decided to let well enough alone for the present. He really did not feel like dealing with the visor again any time soon. There seemed to be no courteous way to refuse the most earnest request.
"Very well," he said. Perhaps it would not be so bad. After all, they appeared to be a most affable little troupe of fellows. The seven Brownies hugged each other excitedly before rushing to the roadside to collect their instruments.
"You have neglected to retrieve one triangle," remarked Sir Scat when the Brownies had finished scrambling for their musical possessions.
"That belongs to Pye, Your Greatness," said a Brownie who Sir Scat believed had not spoken before...or maybe he had...Sir Scat was unable to tell. "He vanished two evenings ago, just before suppertime," added the anonymous (or possibly not) Brownie, "but he is sure to return."
This unidentified (or maybe formerly identified, for Sir Scat was now more confused than ever) Brownie shoved the smallest of his companions. "Bring the triangle with you," he barked. "Our Liege would have you keep it for when Pye rejoins our band."
Sir Scat opened his mouth. He was about to state that he had actually only been commenting that the musicians had left one of their instruments behind and it was really none of his concern whether Pye's triangle were picked up or not although, to be sure, he would have hated to think it might be stolen if left lying by the ditch. However, such an explanation seemed out of order...to say nothing of being moot now that the instrument had been hurriedly recovered. Sir Scat closed his mouth again.
"Lead on, McDuff!" declared one of the Brownies. Sir Scat tried to distinguish which one of the wee fellows was called "McDuff" since, as far as he could recall, that name had not before been mentioned. The knight was, however, still unable to tell one from the other. The ensemble marched along ahead of him, playing a rousing if somewhat discordant tune. Sir Scat tried his best to keep in step with the uneven beat and wished that his sword would refrain from perpetually swinging forward and becoming entangled in the cuff of his right boot. He really should DO something about that!
"I shall have the Inn's seamstress make them different colored caps," the knight told himself happily. "Then I will be able to tell them apart!" He sighed...assuming, of course, that he would be able to remember which color happened to be associated with which of the seven Brownies.
Moog the HobGoblin chewed noisily on the stem of his pipe and squinted at the two figures making their way along the Great Lir's Highway. One he was delighted to espy...the other, he could have well done without.
"Sir Boris, my fine fellow!" cried Moog, rushing forward to vigorously shake the hand of his mislaid paladin. "I cannot express what an absolute joy it is to see you again!"
Pye, the Brownie triangulist, tugged at Moog's tunic. "I too came in search of you, Master," he ventured hopefully.
The HobGoblin reluctantly patted the tiny head, curbing the rising impulse to smack it instead. At least the Brownie had refrained from bringing the other seven incompetents with him and, Moog noted with some relief, had also neglected to bring his instrument.
"Sir Lionel!" roared Boris, noticing his comrade-in-arms teetering toward him with a jug of brew and brace of wooden tankards. Arm-in-arm, the two old warhorses who had seen better days, staggered off to a makeshift shelter in order to reminisce and imbibe the fruit of the vine.
"You should return to the Inn, Master," piped Pye. "New guests are arriving every day now and the local inhabitants are still talking about the competition."
Moog pondered the proposition. Perhaps this little Brownie had something. The HobGoblin had initially intended his "Lord of the Pit" to be an annual event...but, if interest continued to run high. Moog was not one to pass up an opportunity and this could be the perfect chance to recoup his losses. This time, however, it would be different. The contest would be open to allcomers, regardless of gender. In fact, he hoped now that the green-skinned, silver-haired, feminist-obsessed, pointy-eared, elf-harridan WOULD participate. It would be gratifying indeed to see someone kick her self-righteous rear end.
His eyes narrowed. "The musical accompaniment was a mistake," he told Pye firmly. "An unnecessary expense which I can, at this juncture, ill-afford."
"I will do anything, Master," pleaded Pye.
Moog rubbed his hands together, the skin on his palms was rough and sounded like sandpaper. "I could possibly use someone to clean weapons and polish armor," he suggested casually, spitting out of the side of his mouth.
"I'll take it," declared the Brownie.
"Just victuals and board, mind," stated the HobGoblin. "No wages come with this particular form of employment."
If Pye was disappointed, he gave no sign and scuttled off to collect a bucket and bundle of rags. It made little difference really, since he had received no wages from the HobGoblin for his musical skills in any event.
Moog grinned through his crooked, yellowed teeth. With a smidgen of luck, perhaps the tide was about to turn for once in his favor. This was proving to be a rather auspicious day.