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Groan is a hulking mountain of muscle. Gape is his similarly large but slightly smarter half-brother. Gordo is Groan’s partner, a dwarf who is absolutely deadly with an axe. Together, they have roved the lands of Illmoor, often thieving and occasionally lending a helping hand to the kingdom’s ragged towns. But Groan and Gordo have ended up on the rulers’ bad side too often, and now the king of Phlegm has enlisted the help of Duke Modeset to eradicate them. The royals create a grand tournament whose prize is the princess—a competition the warriors cannot resist—and then usher the men off on a series of deadly missions that they could not possibly survive. The hazardous adventure sends them around the kingdom, battling foes of all shapes and sizes, until the final confrontation that will change the future of Illmoor forever.
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The Shadewell Shenanigans
The Illmoor Chronicles
By David Lee Stone
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 David Lee Stone
All rights reserved.
A crowd of more than four hundred visitors had gathered in Bludly Wood for the last day of "The Limbbreaker," an annual wrestling tournament that was quickly becoming one of Western Illmoor's largest tourist attractions.
A weighing system comprising two enormous cages had been rigged up on a hastily assembled scaffold, one containing a multitude of tiny green creatures, and one half open for the use of a grizzly queue of potential combatants.
Three lines of thick hemp rope had been draped among four trees to form a square of combat, and an impossibly tall elf had stepped between them in order—the crowd assumed—to make some sort of announcement. However, when a statement was finally issued, it came not from the elf, but from a tiny goblin perched jauntily on the elf's left shoulder. The goblin was carrying a twisty loudspeaker.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome back to the last day of the Limbbreaaaaakkaaar tournament! I am your host, Cuppatee Tuesdi, and this is our closing contest, scheduled for one fall, a submission, or a knockout. I invite you to take a quick look at the progress of our two finalists ..."
The goblin indicated, and all eyes turned away from the ring to consider an enormous chalkboard nailed to the nearest oak. It read:
Big "Nige" Trollsort vs. Mad Mick "The Ogre"
Winner: Double Disqualification
Groan Teethgrit vs. Ruby Twoshoes
Winner: Groan Teethgrit
(opponent disqualified for being a woman in disguise)
Grid Thungus vs. The Mighty Minter
Winner: Double Countout
Gape Teethgrit vs. "Muscles" Mirko
Winner: Gape Teethgrit
Groan Teethgrit vs. (vacant)
(vacant) vs. Gape Teethgrit
Groan Teethgrit vs. Gape Teethgrit
The goblin continued: "Coming down the aisle, weighing in at two hundred and ninety-six twadlings and hailing from the Mountains of Mavokhan, I give you GAAAAAPE TEEEEETHGRITTTTAHHH!"
The crowd divided like an enchanted sea to admit the imposing form of Gape Teethgrit, who pounded down the aisle like a man possessed, leaping over the ropes and landing, one successful somersault later, squarely on his feet. While the crowd jeered wildly at the warrior, he secured his long hair in a ponytail and made sure his ankle guards were tightly locked.
"Annnnnd his opponent," the goblin continued warbling into the speaker, "accompanied to the square by his manager, Gordo Goldeaxe, weighing in at three hundred and six twadlings, and also from the Mountains of Mavokhan, GROOOAAAANN TEEEETHGRITTT!"
A cheer exploded from the crowd as they parted once again to reveal Gape's half brother. The larger of the two barbarians plodded down the aisle, stepped straight between the ropes, and slugged his sibling hard in the face. As Gape crashed to the floor, a small but sturdy-looking dwarf hurried to the side of the square and began to bark orders.
Gordo Goldeaxe looked nervous. It had taken him the best part of a week to persuade the brothers to enter the competition, and he was already regretting the effort. He beckoned Groan over to him and, when the barbarian finally hulked across the ring and leaned down, whispered: "What did you hit him for? We're faking this, remember?"
Groan frowned. "I 'it all the uvvers."
"Yes, I know! That's because they were bloody strangers: we've got a scam going. If this fight's a tie, then we get both lots of money, plus a bonus from the ring crew, because all the visitors will come back next year to see who wins out. That's fifty crowns for Gape, twenty for you, and thirty for me. Remember how I told you to work it out?"
"Yeah," said Groan doubtfully, "but I don't see no 'arm in 'ittin' 'im."
Gordo sighed in exasperation. "He's your brother, for cryin' out loud!"
"So? I don' like 'im."
"Neither do I! But you wanted this all along. And besides, think of the money."
The dwarf was about to go through the whole plan again, when Groan was suddenly taken off his feet by a ferocious leg-sweep.
The big barbarian landed on his back, moaned a bit, and then rolled over and grabbed a tree in order to regain his stance.
Gordo scowled at Gape's victorious grin, then shielded his eyes as Groan muscled up and hit the barbarian with a head-butt that could probably have been heard in Spittle. Gape tumbled backward, swung on the ropes, and quickly retaliated with a reverse hamster-kick. The crowd roared their approval.
Quick to capitalize on the move, Gape hurried around the back of the ring and seized his brother in a vicious chiselfoot-leg-vise. The crowd was about to applaud again, when Groan broke out.
The giant barbarian lumbered to his feet, blocked two right-handers, and snatched his brother by the hair. Then he drove his head under Gape's chin and dropped onto his knees, delivering a jawbuster that sent shudders through the sympathetic audience. He quickly followed up the move with two full blacksmiths and a half roadsweeper.
By this point, Gordo had his eyes shut and his stubby hands clamped tightly over his ears (a precautionary gesture that did little to prevent him feeling every crack and thud as various blows were executed).
The action in the ring was heating up.
Gape catapulted himself from the ropes toward his brother. Groan ducked, and they caught each other with a vicious washing-line maneuver, leaving them both down for the count.
The elf with the shoulder-goblin, who'd been circling since the two warriors had entered the ring, suddenly dropped to its knees and began to pound the ground. The goblin announced its actions to the crowd.
A group of official soldiers from Phlegm had been mingling in the crowd, and one of them pushed past Gordo, thrusting a small poster of some kind into the dwarf's hands. Gordo's attention shifted briefly from the match as he watched the soldiers continue to make their way through the crowd. Eventually, when it became obvious that the group had moved on, he returned his focus to the fight.
"TEN! A TIE! THE CONTEST IS A TIE!"
The crowd booed, hissed, and began to shuffle away to the various food stalls surrounding the area. Groan and Gape lay still for a further five minutes as per their instructions, and Gordo, well pleased with himself as he noticed the treasurer counting out a generous stack of gold, unfurled the parchment that had been handed to him and read:
MAN TO MARRY
THE RICHEST PRINCESS IN ILLMOOR.
APPLICANTS MUST BE OVER SEVEN FEET TALL
AND MUSCULAR WITH NICE TEETH AND
CONSIDERABLE SKILL WITH A SWORD.
ACCEPTABLE CANDIDATES GET
A ONE-DAY TRIAL PERIOD EACH,
FOLLOWED BY A CHANCE TO COMPETE IN THE
ARENA FOR THE LADY'S FAIR HAND!
APPLY TO: PRINCESS SUSTI,
PHLEGM KEEP, PHLEGM
Gordo sniggered at the advertisement, reflected that the princess in question had to be a complete moose, and tossed the scroll away. Groan caught it.
"Wass this?" he boomed, his brother striding up behind him.
"It's nothing," Gordo assured them both, snatching Gape's arm and hurrying the younger barbarian over to the treasurer's table.
Groan frowned as he attempted to make sense of the words; reading had never been one of his strong points. After his third attempt had got him as far as "Wanted," he called to one of the scantily clad dancing girls who had accompanied him to the ring during the earlier rounds. She hurried over.
"You know words?" Groan asked.
"Yes, Mr. Teeth. I can speak Illmoor, Goblin, and Orcish."
"Read this for me, p'ease."
"Certainly, Mr. Teeth."
Gordo had managed to extract a hundred crowns from the tournament's treasurer; his day was only slightly marred when Gape decided he wouldn't accept his share.
"What'd you mean, 'that's not enough'?" he snapped as the barbarian slowly shook his head.
"I mean exactly what I said, Gordo. You've given me forty-eight crowns; the agreement was for FIFTY."
Gordo sighed and slapped two more crowns into the warrior's open palm. "Just remember that we're allowing you to join us, not the other way 'round."
Gape nodded and leaned close to the dwarf. "And just you remember which brother you're dealing with," he snarled. "Groan and I may share the same father, but the similarity ends there."
Gordo sneered at the warrior, failed to shove him aside, and waddled around him instead. When he'd made his way back to where Groan was standing, he was shocked to see the barbarian deep in conversation with one of the Phlegmian soldiers. The man was showing Groan a scrolled painting of some kind.
"What's going on here?" Gordo asked, glaring at the soldier with barely disguised malice. "I'm only away five minutes and you're already mixing with the enemy."
"I ain't mixin'," Groan bellowed, turning the scroll around so that Gordo could get a good look at it. "I'm in love."
"That," intoned the solider, "is Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Phlegm."
Gordo shrugged. "She's nothing special."
"Are you joking?" Groan exclaimed. "She's the bes' lookin' woman I ever saw!"
"Get out of it; my mother's prettier than her."
"Your muvver's bald."
Gordo shook his head in disbelief. "You're actually considering it, aren't you?" he said. "You really think that girl'd look at you twice?"
"Not once she's seen me," said a voice, and Gape snatched the scroll from Groan's fumbling fingers. "Felicsataris Trumidia, a woman of unspeakable beauty."
"Oi!" Groan echoed. "Stuff off out o' it; I saw her first."
"Yes, well you'd have to, because if she saw you first, she'd run a two-minute mile. Ha-haha-ha!"
The soldier, who'd been grinning slyly ever since the girl had led Groan over to him, cleared his throat. "I know," he said. "Why don't you both apply? That way, I can arrange for you each to spend a day with the princess before the list of applicants becomes too ... crowded." He glanced down at Gordo. "You can bring your gnome, by all means."
"I'm a dwarf!" Gordo snapped. "And I'll bring my bloody self, if I've a mind to."
"I should hurry, if I were you," the solider concluded, calling over one of his subordinates and politely reclaiming the portrait from Gape. "After all, opportunities such as this seldom come along every day."CHAPTER 2
The drafty corridors of Phlegm Keep's east wing echoed as Pegrand hurried along, stopping at each gloomy portal in an effort to locate the duke. They'd been secret guests of King Phew's ever since the meeting in Shadewell, in order to "insure" that the plan proceeded smoothly.
Pegrand soldiered on. He eventually found Modeset in a small chapel behind the library, tossing scraps to his insane terrier. The dog in question, whose name (as well as its nature) was Vicious, looked as if it would happily rip the duke's throat out but couldn't be bothered to muster the effort. Pegrand steered well clear of it.
Modeset didn't take his eyes off the dog, but nodded slowly. "Did you know, Pegrand," he began, "that this keep has a shark-infested moat?"
"Er, no, milord, but—"
"Isn't that wonderful? I swam with sharks when I was a boy, you know. My father's lagoon was full of them: he used to drop me in it from time to time—"
The manservant gasped. "What? You mean, on purpose?"
"Oh, he was only messing about." Modeset chuckled. "He loved me, really, it was just his way. Funny thing was, I'd be swimming around for hours, and none of the sharks ever went for me. I can just see my father's face now, screwed up in disbelief, when I casually climbed out after a good afternoon's breaststroke. Now, you were saying?"
"Milord?" Pegrand took a moment to compose himself. "There's some important news," he said.
"Yes, I had gathered that. What type of news, exactly?"
"You know that if it's bad news, I don't want it ..."
"I'm serious, Pegrand. One more 'unfortunately,' and you're fired."
"Please take that threat to include all I regret to inform you's and you're not going to believe this's. Are we clear?"
The manservant rolled his eyes and nodded. "Yes, milord, but it's good news."
"Very well. If you'll wait for just one moment ..."
Modeset turned his head slightly, eyes still fixed on the dog. Then he took two deep breaths and lunged sideways, snatching the animal up by the scruff of its neck mere seconds before it exploded in a fit of gnashing teeth and flying spit.
Motioning for his servant to open a large cage at the far end of the chapel, Modeset crossed the floor, struggling to keep hold of the raging fur ball, and deposited his pet in its holding pen, slamming the door shut and clicking a fat padlock over the bars. Then he wrapped a tissue around his bleeding arm and collapsed into a nearby pew.
"Pegrand, you may begin."
The manservant paused for a moment before mumbling: "You know, I think I've forgotten what it was, now ..."
"Get on with it!"
"Yes, milord; just a little joke, there. Um ... we've had a message from King Phew. He says that Groan Teethgrit and his brother have swallowed the bait."
Modeset raised an eyebrow, his lips on the brink of a smile. "They've both applied to meet the princess?" he hazarded.
"Yes, milord. Apparently, they're both on the way to Phlegm."
"Well, yes, milord, apart from the dwarf."
Modeset nodded. "We always knew he'd be part of the equation. King Phew has made all the ... preparations?"
"Yes, milord. His herald says both men will be well entertained, and each'll be given a day to spend in the princess's company. Then they'll go to the arena to see which one gets to propose."
"All as it should be," said Modeset, tucking in the edge of his impromptu bandage.
Pegrand hesitated in the doorway, looking momentarily doubtful. "What if they kill each other, milord?"
"A bonus," said Modeset quickly.
"And if they don't?"
"If they don't, Pegrand, then good King Phew can begin to put the rest of my ingenious plan into action. Now, be so kind as to fetch dinner."
"Er ... yes, right away, milord. I'm afraid it's grit 'n' pebble soup again, though. They seem to go in for that a lot here."
Modeset let out a deep and painful breath. "If there's nothing else, Pegrand," he sighed, "I'll be in the archivist's suite, reminiscing about better times."
Pegrand nodded. "I get the hint, milord. Dinner won't be long."
There came a small, embarrassed knock on the door of the Phlegmian archives.
The custodian of the archives, an ancient man in full possession of his considerable faculties, looked up from a dusty, leather-bound tome and wondered whether he'd imagined the sound. After all, no one had visited the archives in what seemed like an age.
Silence. Then, again: knock, knock.
The archivist rummaged around on the table for his spectacles and, upon locating them, struggled to his feet.
"Come in?" he called.
The door opened a fraction, and Duke Modeset stuck his head through the gap. "Excuse me, but I wondered whether I might trouble you for a moment."
The archivist nodded his head, discharging a torrential mixture of dust and dandruff. "Of course, of course!" he spluttered. "The archives are free for everyone to enjoy. Please, be my guest."
Modeset nodded and slipped through the door, pushing it closed behind him. The room was filled from floor to ceiling with books, and when the elderly archivist motioned for his guest to occupy a seat, it took the duke five minutes to identify one. Eventually, he brushed a pile of scrolls from a suitable-looking stool, and took his rest.
"Now," the archivist began, peering at Modeset over the top of his spectacles, "what exactly are you looking for?"
The duke hesitated for a moment, then smiled. "I understand you have records here for Crestwell."
The archivist clapped his hands. "Of course! We have details of every priest to have served under—"
Modeset shook his head. "Not the cathedral," he said. "The school."
There was a moment of stony silence.
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to disclose that information to anyone except select members of the nobility."
"I am Duke Modeset, Lord of Fogrise and former ruler of Dullitch and its environs."
The archivist looked suddenly flustered. "Oh, I'm so sorry, milord! I didn't recognize—that is, I'm afraid that I don't see very well these days."
Excerpted from The Shadewell Shenanigans by David Lee Stone. Copyright © 2005 David Lee Stone. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsSelected Dramatis Personae,
Part One: The Challenge,
Part Two: The Truth,
Part Three: The Fight for Phlegm,
Preview: The Dwellings Debacle,