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Charming and the Prince

Barely a week had passed since the fateful ball, and a silent storm was brewing in Tarsus. After the ball, there was no more violence. Associating such behaviour with the monster, instead of publicly displaying their distaste for the Princess, the people became secretive with their opinions, using words instead of force. For most, it ended with the words, but some talked of becoming a beast to fight the beast.

Beginning in the capital, the nobles gossiped among themselves regarding what had happened. The eavesdropping servants then told their families, informing the common folk. The hearsay of a disfigured princess spread like wild fire, out of control, twisting, and warping until the claims were increasingly wild.

They claimed she had bitten off the head of those who attempted to stop her, described her to have the limbs of a beast, and to be a witch in disguise. They said that she had torn out the heart of her suitor so that she could cast a spell upon Tarsus. Some suspected that she was a victim, that a monster had eaten the true princess. Nelumbella had become a legend. The common name they used to refer to her was the Ogre Princess.

These were the sort of stories that reached Brevis on his return.

Brevis’ first thought was that people were being very rude to ogres, but he then realized that ogres did not have royalty. As he listened to more of the stories, he realized who the Ogre Princess was. He thought that their claims were false. The tales he heard during his travels from fabulists held more truth. Tarsus had evidently forgotten how an ogre’s were feet like. Ogres were known to have good hygiene—and to take pride in their appearance. No one past the borders associated ogres with unsightly things. They were simply different.

Brevis then found out how some wanted the Princess to be dealt with. They spoke of gutting out her heart, as she had her suitor; they spoke of burning her at the stake, like the witch they thought she was; and they spoke of putting her to the test of trial by ordeal.

Brevis panicked. He was only thankful, that in every story, the Ogre Princess had run away—and hopefully, far from the capital. He prayed she had safely hidden in his country manor. His neighbours would protect of her. They adored her. But when he went home to look for her, she was not there. None of his neighbours had seen her either.

In haste, Brevis travelled to the palace to sort out the matter with Talus and Navi.

When he sauntered into their throne room without announcement, as he normally did, he was greeted with the sight of a blond knight at the feet of the elderly King and Queen, begging, with tears streaming down his face, for permission to retrieve the Princess.

Brevis thought asking for permission to retrieve someone was a silly. Surely, simply going to retrieve the person made more sense. When he was young, when a damsel in distress was lost, knights embarked on quests to save the damsel on their own accord, without stamps of approval, but that was in Old Tarsus. They were in a different Tarsus now. Suddenly, why the knight was asking for permission dawned upon Brevis: She was not in Tarsus.

The King and Queen noticed his presence. Rising from her seat, Navi stalked over to Brevis. They knew exactly who had planted the seed in their daughter’s head and taught her how to leave. To his surprise, they were not as furious with him as he predicted. They understood that they had sheltered the Princess too much, that if they had let people become accustomed to her as she grew, instead of directing her down the path she had taken, the situation may have been better.

Being responsible, Brevis insisted to the King and Queen that he should be the one to go retrieve the Princess. The couple agreed, but they sought to maintain a hold on the Prince.

Brevis consequently found himself travelling to the Forest of Old Tarsus burdened with an inexperienced, pretty young knight, who claimed to be in love with the Princess. Talus and Navi had claimed that with Brevis’ experience, the young knight hindering the retrieval was impossible.

Humouring the two, albeit reluctant, Brevis let the knight tag along for a couple of reasons. Firstly, his brother had commanded it; and secondly, Talus and Navi cheered a little to think of Brevis gallivanting around with a boy who appeared princelier than the Prince did.

They were an odd pair. While Brevis, a dishevelled looking man, rode on his trusted grey wolf, Dira, the knight rode a white stallion that seemed to sparkle in a similar manner as its rider.

Brevis knew Charming was not his given name. For no matter how much the knight insisted it was, Charming was not a Tarsusian name. Brevis’ old friend, Sir Papilla, who oversaw Charming enter into knighthood, told him all about the boy. The nickname was one of Sir Papilla’s major peeves. Thus, Sir Papilla referred to Charming by his true name: Umbilicus. As a result, Brevis too addressed Charming as Umbilicus, or Umbs for short.

Sir Papilla did not make Umbilicus sound pleasant. He told Brevis that Umbilicus relied heavily on his face. He said that Umbilicus was so pretty that if he were allowed outside of Tarsus, he would have blinded trolls with how pleasing his face was. Often times, whenever Sir Papilla saw Brevis, he would claim that Umbilicus would be the death of him and that Brevis would never see him again. Sir Papilla did not know what to do with the young knight, and he had no idea how Umbilicus passed the final test for knighthood.

Brevis did not allow Sir Papilla’s opinion to sway him, but he did notice Sir Papilla was primarily correct. In Brevis’ opinion, Umbilicus was not as terrible as Sir Papilla described. Albeit a tad annoying, Umbilicus was hard working and determined. From what Umbilicus had told Brevis, he was so determined that he had danced all night with the Princess in an attempt to woo her.

No wonder she ran away, thought Brevis. Her shoes were deadly! He distinctly remembered instructing her to rest her feet frequently when wearing the shoes; but Umbilicus, who thought his attempts were impressive and charming, did not give her such opportunities.

As Umbilicus went on, boasting about how he had charmed the Princess, Brevis nodded along, pretending he believed that Umbilicus could be the sort of man his niece wanted. The boy was delusional, but he rather liked that about him. Umbilicus’ delusions made him seem full of hopes and dreams. What Brevis liked most about the boy was his ignorance to his princehood. Brevis took it as a sign that his unofficial renouncement was working—at least amongst the younger folk.

Umbilicus was obedient too. He followed Brevis, a man who wore none of the frills of royalty, a man who he knew not to have any title, without question. For Umbilicus, if the King and Queen trusted a man enough to head the retrieval of the Princess, the man was a great man. The boy hung on to Brevis’ every word, whenever the man had a chance to speak that is.

Brevis became fond of the boy. If he was able to talk some sense into Umbilicus, they might become friends—that and if he was able to quiet him. His ears were being rattled off. Brevis wanted to help the lad prove himself as a capable knight and man, despite his constant blabbering.

In half a day’s time, Brevis and Umbilicus were at the borders, making their way between the Western Wall and the Eastern Mountains, a place Umbilicus had not known existed. The tunnel-like path echoed Umbilicus’ voice, causing Dira to fold her ears downwards. She was tempted to pounce and shove his mouth into the dirt. Brevis bore through and ground his teeth, knowing the lad would finally quiet when they reached the destination.

‘You still have yet to tell me where we are going,’ said Umbilicus, disorientated by the darkness.

‘To retrieve the Princess,’ said Brevis.

‘I know that,’ said Umbilicus, exiting the gap. He gestured to the trees before them. ‘But why are we in such a strange forest.’

After the changes in Tarsus, not even the knights left the kingdom, because it was deemed a danger. The forest was justly odd to Umbilicus. The young man was experiencing his first taste of diversity, save for the Princess’ feet. Brevis imagined the fright the boy might experience if he saw trees that spoke.

‘This is the easiest way you can leave Tarsus without a warrant,’ Brevis explained. ’However, you must never tell the King, Umbilicus. Otherwise, many people will be angry, and you may not be so pretty after they are done with you.′

Umbilicus shivered. ‘Then where are we going now that we are in this forest?’

Umbilicus was in shock. The place was frightening. To Brevis’ relief, the boy was completely out of his element, not knowing what to say, let alone do. The knight was finally quiet. The Lemon Wafer Cookie Inn was like nothing Umbilicus knew. Neither house nor tree, the establishment was somewhere in between.

Umbilicus left his stallion in the stable with the giant birds, rhinos, other peculiar creatures. Dira did not remain in the stable. She went inside the building with the men. Brevis had said, ‘Dogs, no matter how large, and even if they are their evolutionary predecessor, are always welcomed, because they are any man’s best friend. They do not allow more species only because they might crowd the place.’

Umbilicus followed behind Brevis and Dira. Humans, non-humans, and animals surrounded him. Some looked like they could be human, but Umbilicus knew they were not. Humans did not come in those shapes or sizes. He had heard of such beings existing, but he thought they were myths. Umbilicus was intrigued. This was what was kept out; and this was what they were kept from.

Brevis stopped to greet several people, both big and small, ones with horns, manes, six limbs, and blue skin, making small talk before asking if they had seen the brothers. Most shrugged, but some gave specific direction.

When Brevis did not know the person, Dira trotted in the front, ploughing through the busy place. Contradicting how an inn was supposed to be a place of rest, the establishment was a lively place full of exchange.

Umbilicus let Brevis usher him around the hectic space, and he tried to absorb what he was witnessing. Not one human seemed to be from Tarsus, and he saw that the workers were animals. Birds flew across the halls, and squirrels climbed the walls. The place was outrageous!

The guests were predominately male, causing the atmosphere to be overly masculine, but not in a rough and tumble sort of manner. A gentle hand was evident, creating a mismatched appeal.

Breaking his thoughts, a squeaky little voice called out, ‘Oh, Brevis! Thank goodness you’re here!’

The trio turned to face an elf. He was more than a head shorter than Umbilicus, and as petite as a human child was.

‘I have been looking for you, Linden,’ said Brevis.

‘I’ve been looking for an artist!’ piped the elf, jumping to embrace Brevis in the biggest bear hug he could muster.

‘The Princess is lost,’ informed Brevis, putting down the little fellow.

‘My pet is lost!’ the elf said, bouncing on his toes in a distressed, yet cherry, manner.

‘Well,’ said Brevis, scratching his head, ‘I suppose we shall tend to your situation first. What is it that you need me to do?’

‘You see, I haven’t gotten a picture of my beloved pet,’ explained the elf, wrapping his arms around Dira, who gave him a slobbering lick. ‘I had her for less than a week before she ran away. I need you to draw me a picture of her so I can post it on the bulletin board.’ Dira shook off the elf.

Umbilicus thought it was ridiculous for them to stray from their task to help the elf, but he sympathized. He remembered his puppy running away from home when he was a small boy. Luckily, he did find the puppy with the help of his friends. He hoped they could do the same for the elf.

‘This is Umbilicus,’ said Brevis, introducing the two, ‘and this is Linden.’

‘Charming,’ Umbilicus corrected.

‘Yes, I am charmed to meet you too,’ chirped Linden, shaking the knight’s larger hand with both his little ones.

Brevis was satisfied.

‘Come on,’ Linden urged, tugging the two men along by their big human fingers, ‘this way, this way.’ He sat them on a plush sofa. ’Wait here. Do not move an inch. I will bring you pencil and paper!′ The elf skipped away.

Umbilicus sat frozen in his seat, posture stiff. He swore he heard jingling when the elf moved, but bells were not present. The elf’s jovial behaviour was scaring him. ‘Brevis, I know you want to help your friend,’ he said, careful to just move his mouth, ‘and I do too, but how will we get back on track. What if he makes us join a search party for his pet? He seemed pushy, and we do not have that sort of time to waste.’

Dira curled up on the rug by the couch, and Brevis found a comfortable position to sit in. ‘As I draw, and he describes his lost pet, we will casually mention to him the matter with the Princess. Otherwise, he will not really listen. He digresses very often, but if he knows of whom we are speaking of, he will inform us. He has a brilliant memory. He remembers everyone who enters his forest and everything he hears. If that does not work, we will ask one of his brothers. They are much more collected individuals, although their recollection is not as good.’

Umbilicus relaxed his posture a bit. ‘How do you know this elf?’

‘He is my tutor’s nephew,’ explained Brevis, shrugging.

Linden returned, balancing a tray of cookies and tea on his head, and holding a set of pencils, board, and paper in his arms. ‘Draw, draw,’ he said, passing the necessary items to Brevis and setting the tray on the coffee table. Linden stared at Brevis expectantly.

‘I need you to describe your pet’s appearance,’ said Brevis, selecting his pencil of choice.

‘Oh, yes, my pet,’ said Linden, pouring their tea, and making it to how he knew humans to enjoy their drinks. ‘She’s a she, and she’s young.’

‘We lost a she recently too,’ said Umbilicus.

‘Oh, that is positively dreadful. My pet is a human too!’ said Linden. Even as the elf sat, he seemed to bounce.

‘So is our Princess,’ said Umbilicus. Linden offered him a cup of tea, and Umbilicus took a sip. The flavours suited his taste perfectly.

Brevis started the basic structure of a human female’s face.

‘Of course, the Princess has to be a human. Brevis is a human. His niece has to be a human too,’ Linden reasoned with himself. ‘Humans are such peculiar creatures. They are so easy to lose.’

The news struck Umbilicus. He did not know Brevis was related to the Princess. Umbilicus reasoned that Brevis was the brother of the Queen; Tarsus did not have a prince. ‘I did not know you were her uncle,’ said Umbilicus, reaching to sample a cookie.

Linden’s breath caught. ‘He’s the King’s brother, the Prince of Tarsus, the man who needs a haircut, the most des—’

‘I cut my hair,’ interrupted Brevis, elbowing Umbilicus, causing the boy to choke on the cookie. Linden was the one who was supposed to be questioned.

Umbilicus coughed, staring at Brevis with wide eyes. They had a prince. That was real news.

‘Oh, but so little,’ pouted the elf. ‘To your shoulders isn’t short enough. It should be this short.’ Linden demonstrated the ideal length with his hands. He wanted Brevis to crop his hair.

‘You just want me to set a better example for Charter,’ Brevis laughed.

‘Yes, yes, I do,’ said Linden, nodding his little head. ‘He ran away too, and who does he know who likes to runaway?’

‘Do you also need a picture of him?’ asked Brevis, although positive that Charter would return. Charter was responsible, and Brevis understood the need to need to get away from Linden occasionally.

‘It’s already on the board,’ Linden said, pointing across the room.

‘Then tell me about your pet again,’ suggested Brevis.

‘Yes, yes,’ said Linden. ‘She’s taller than me but shorter than you.’

‘I thought you took in another child,’ said Brevis, fiddling the pencil and waiting for an actual description. He questioned what sort of adult human would willingly be adopted by the perky elf.

‘No, no, she’s relatively grown, but I guess you could say she is a child. I estimate her to have a few more growing years,’ explained Linden. ‘She has all those woman parts in place, the lower humbum and the upper bumhum. But her bits do look like they could be a bit more hummy and bummy for her frame, if you know what I mean.’

‘What were you doing adopting a human woman?’ gasped Umbilicus.

‘Everyone adopts creatures with a shorter lifespan than their own,’ said Linden, gesturing to the resting wolf. ‘Brevis has Dira, and I have Crumpette.’

‘So her name is Crumpette,’ said Brevis, immediately knowing Linden had named her. None of the lands he had been to, or heard of, used pastries for names.

‘Yes, and she is beautiful,’ said Linden, finally offering a physical description. ’She has a heart shaped face. Her forehead is broad but not too broad. She has a nice nose too! The perfect human kind—you know how to draw that, Brevis. And her eyes—they are so lovely. They curve so endearingly at the bottom. Her lips are a little full at the top, but her bottom lip isn’t thin. I bet Charter would love to kiss her! She’s his type. She’s so pretty she could pass for an elf too! She’s kind of like you, Brevis. You’re so handsome for a human male. If you cleaned up once in a while, I could dye your hair gold, and then we’d be two peas in a pod. Why, now that I think about it, you both have the same grey eyes, and the same chocolate hair! Well, hers is longer and prettier, but it is the exact same shade.′

Brevis dropped his pencil and board. ‘You lost Nelumbella.’

Linden shook his head. ‘I didn’t lose Nelumbella. I lost Crumpette.’

A scruffy middle-aged giant approached them, towering over. ‘You lost Nelumbella,’ he told Linden. ‘Why else did I let you take in another human? The world doesn’t need you raising more outlaws.’

‘My goodness,’ Linden gasped, putting the pieces together. ‘Charter stole the Princess.’

Wye sat down. ‘It’s about time you came,’ he said, gruffly greeting Brevis. Reaching into his large pocket, he took out a giant diamond shoe and put it on the table. ‘I found this in Charter’s room.’

‘Why would Charter run away with Nelumbella?’ Brevis asked. The shoe was enough evidence to prove that Crumpette and Nelumbella was the same person.

‘Elves can be clueless,’ Wye said, eyeing Linden. ‘They get it from Mother. He probably didn’t think Crumpette was Nelumbella. I only figured out who she was because of Dirus. Besides, you never said anything about her feet. You told us she was athletic and liked nature. We found a cripple.’ He sighed. ‘I suspect Nell heard some things I shouldn’t have let her hear. It gave her ideas, I suspect, and somehow she managed to convince Charter to go with her.’

Listening to them speak about his Princess with another man drove Umbilicus mad. This Charter fellow even had her shoe! Umbilicus burst. ‘Who is this man who stole my love you speak of?’

‘Our brother,’ Linden piped. ‘His picture is on the bulletin board.’ He grabbed Umbilicus’ sleeve and led him to the large board covered by flyers. Brevis, Wye, and Dira followed. ‘That’s him.’

The black and white image made Umbilicus panic. He was appalled. With cursedly delicate elven features in combination with the ruggedness of a giant, the brother looked like a handsome human male—but not in the same manner of the knight, who was too often described as pretty. ‘She is lord knows where with him?’

Brevis chuckled.

‘They’re going to make me an uncle!’ Linden said delightedly, bouncing on his toes. ‘Elves run away when they fall in love. I’m so excited!’

Umbilicus’ jaw dropped.

‘Then why do you need a picture for the bulletin board?’ Brevis asked softy, crouching slightly to be level with the elf. He was happy his niece had found someone, and hoped Linden would be too. He could go home, explain the situation to her parents, and she would be free to live her life with the person she loved.

‘I don’t want them to burrow a new tree,’ Linden murmured. His bouncing stopped completely. ’I want them to burrow further into our tree. We’re supposed to be together forever. Mother said so.′

Wye leaned down and whispered to Umbilicus, seeing his confusion over Linden’s actions, ‘He’s had a few hundred years of life, but he’s still a child by elf standards.’

Umbilicus’ eyes widened, realizing how old the thief of an elf-giant had to be to consider reproduction. ‘That brother of yours must be an ancient.’

‘He hasn’t hit the triple digits yet,’ Wye defended. ‘He’s a young adult.’ Giants had a much shorter lifespan than elves, and his little brother was aging at a pace somewhere in between. Ignoring Umbilicus’ protests regarding the difference in years, Wye addressed Brevis: ‘They’re not going to make him an uncle. They’re going to Kmeria.’

Brevis swiftly snapped upright.

‘Where is Kmeria?’ asked Umbilicus. He had heard of the kingdom, but he was poorly versed with countries outside of Tarsus.

‘West,’ Brevis breathed. He paced back and forth. ‘We have to bring them back. They cannot go there. He could, but not with her.’

Wye crossed his arms, shaking his head. ‘How do you intend on entering Kmeria? The Queen’s got a bounty on your head.’

Brevis stilled and faced Linden. ‘Is the Captain here?’

‘Of course Butter Biscuit is here,’ chirped Linden, returning to his usual merry self. The elf took Brevis’ index finger and pulled the man to where the Captain resided.

Before leaving with Linden to meet the Captain, in a low haunting voice, Wye added to Umbilicus, ’I have to say, lad, you have some competition. She finds certain things about my brother to be very appealing. She even slept in his bed.′

Umbilicus swallowed, silently cursing the elf-giant.

The Captain, or Butter Biscuit, was the grandchild of Linden’s first human pet. The Captain was also not named Butter Biscuit, having corrected Linden upon introduction, similar in manner to the way Umbilicus corrected Brevis. Unlike Umbilicus, however, Butter Biscuit truthfully was not the Captain’s name. The Captain’s father certainly did not use pastries for names. It was not Captain Butter Biscuit; it was Captain Brandywine of the Fish House.

Captain Brandy was not a fisherman. Fishermen made an honest living. Captain Brandy was a pirate. The ship had once belonged to the Captain’s grandfather, Rumpert. Rumpert had named the ship the Fish House so that Linden would think he was living a quaint and peaceful life. The ploy had worked for a while; but when his eldest son decided to pay the elf who raised his father a visit, the truth came out.

Rumpert had reasons why he did not want his Papa Linden to know what he was doing. Linden, being the young elf he was, and still is, had an overprotective nature to those he considered his, a quality Rumpert did not appreciate. When Rumpert was a young pup, he dreamed of experiencing life without the binds of rules and laws. Thus, when Rumpert became a full-grown human, he ran away from his Papa Linden and became a marauder of the sea. Rumpert happened to meet an imp of an elf when he left. The two never stopped running.

Umbilicus did not know what to expect with a pirate. He knew that pirates were the thieves of the sea, but not much else. Hence, when he saw the Captain sitting in a dimly lit room, enjoying a cake that he suspected Linden to have baked, Umbilicus’ curiosity was aroused.

Captain Brandy was mysterious. A largely brimmed black hat hid the Captain’s face from sight. Being primarily human, the Captain was willowy and lithe in frame but of average height; but with elf blood from the grandmother, Captain Brandy had features more delicate than Umbilicus, yet less so than Linden. Umbilicus might have even described the Captain as pretty, but with visible body markings, piercings, dirty (or dirtied) blond dreaded hair, pirate garb, and darkly rimmed eyes, Captain Brandy emitted an aura that made Brevis proper in comparison.

‘I want to visit Daffodil,’ Brevis told the Captain.

Beneath the hat, Captain Brandy smirked. ‘You’ve decided to complete the final quest with me?’

Brevis nodded.

The Captain’s hat tilted back and gold eyes shined with mischief.

Intimidated by the intense exchange, Umbilicus remained silent. Drawing a picture was one thing, but this was too far off course. Umbilicus thought Brevis had gone insane

Umbilicus left his horse in the care of Linden and Wye. He, Brevis, and Dira followed Captain Brandy, who walked proudly, albeit wonkily, down a staircase that went through to the tree’s roots, and entered a dim aquifer lit by glowing fungi. It smelled like sewage. ‘Why are we down here?’ Umbilicus asked.

‘Because here leads out,’ said the Captain.

Brevis patted Umbilicus on the back. ‘Do not worry, Umbs, we will see the sea in no time.’

‘Watch your step, men,’ said Captain Brandy, directing them across a wobbly dock.

Boarding the ship, Umbilicus was flabbergasted. They were the only people. Rats were everywhere! The rats were not the common sort either; they stood past his knee when upright. Astonishingly, Dira did not attempt to eat or chase any of the rats. She was well acquainted with them, and they were friendly with one another.

A squeaking rat approached Umbilicus.

Umbilicus screamed, almost jumping off the ship. ‘Why is your ship infested with these vermin?’

Captain Brandy picked up the rat and lifted the critter to Umbilicus’ face. ‘He wants to say hello and get to know you.’

The rat sniffed Umbilicus.

‘Oh, he doesn’t like you,’ said Captain Brandy, pulling the rat back and laughing at Umbilicus’ fear.

Umbilicus was disgusted. ‘Why do you have rodents instead of men?’ The ship was the Rat House, not the Fish House!

‘I’m part elf,’ said Captain Brandy, putting down the rat. ‘You know, you don’t have to be a lot of elf to talk to these lovely creatures. They do their jobs very well. Why would I use stinky men—who could be rebellious—when I can have sweet little mice?’

‘They are rats!’ exclaimed Umbilicus, ′Giant rats.′

‘My point and case,’ said the Captain.

‘Quiet, Umbilicus,’ commanded Brevis, ‘before the Captain makes you walk the plank.’

As Brevis, the rats, and the Captain went to prepare the ship to sail, Umbilicus stood in silence, befuddled by the situation.

‘Get on the Captain’s good side,’ said Brevis, after completing his task. ‘You will learn things you will not be taught back home. I promise this experience will be beneficial.’

‘What are you boys chatting about?’ asked the Captain, butting between the men. They were ready to leave.

‘I was wondering,’ said Umbilicus, ‘what is this quest we are embarking on? How is it going to help us retrieve the Princess?’

The question was fair. Neither had explained it to him. ‘Child, this is a quest to win your heart’s desire,’ said Captain Brandy. ‘Whatever you want, you will be delivered to. That is the prize for completing the quest.’

Umbilicus frowned. He did not like being referred to as a child by the Captain; the Captain did not look any older than the knight. To be fair, Umbilicus was not aware of the lifespan of quarter elves. Despite the Captain’s appearance, Brandy was closer to Brevis in age than Umbilicus. ‘Why have you not yet completed this quest?’ he asked.

‘What I want is not here any longer,’ said Brevis, ‘—but that does not matter. As long as we want to rescue the Princess enough, we will be brought to her. It is the best way to enter Kmeria safely.’

‘And who is Daffodil?’ Umbilicus asked.

‘Daffy is a one of the most powerful witches I have met,’ said Brevis. ‘She is also likely the lone witch who is not in Kmeria who has magic that can help us. She is a neutral witch too. That means she neither gives nor takes. Consequently, although I would say we are friends, we have to give her something equal in value in exchange for her aid. She usually has us do tasks, which she calls chores, even if you have to risk your life to complete it. That is why we call them quests.’

‘We’ve almost died a couple times,’ said Captain Brandy.

Umbilicus turned white.

‘You are not having second thoughts, are you?’ said Brevis. ‘You can still turn back for Tarsus.’ Maybe the boy was not ready for such an adventure. Knighthood did not mean as much as it used to in Tarsus. During the days when he grew up, Brevis recalled having to slay dragons to claim knighthood. The recent generation no longer went through such trials.

‘No, I am fine,’ insisted Umbilicus, finding confidence. He would complete whatever the witch wanted him to do. He would win the Princess from the elf-giant.

‘Do you have any more complaints or questions?’ asked Captain Brandy.

Umbilicus shook his head.

Captain Brandy smiled. ‘Then, we set sail.’

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