“How now, Good Shine?” Called OFG to her favorite assassin as he made his away across the Great Hall. He moved with the grace of a dancer and as silently as a shade. His rouge's grin. She adored him.
“How goes the War on Rats, Sir Shine?” Asked OFG, ruler of The Good Land.
OFG was seated on an rather nondescript heavy wooden chair on the top of a wide dais. She sat causally, one foot pulled just under the seat with the other booted foot slightly out in front. She leaned on the chair's right arm. She wore dark leather hunting clothes that could easily be made battle ready. Behind her on the wall hung her battle axe, mail, war helmet, and armor which was attended by a groomsman. She was ever ready for war.
She was surrounded by her personal guard and some of her counsel. Col Ti was positioned on her left just behind her and Little Mo, her Chief of Staff was on a low stool just to her right. Lucky was elsewhere attending to his duties as Master of the House, while Commander Zander and the Princess Kai were on patrols.
The Great Hall was full and bustling with activity. Many fighting men were in attendance as well as the courtiers and visitors from across all the Lands. They were in between seasons...the harvest was in but winter had not yet come to the Good Land. This was a time for gathering and feasting.
“The war goes in your favor, my liege, as always. ” Answered Shine, smiling as he approached the dais and then bowed low. Shine rarely came to court. There must be a good reason, thought OFG.
He was not alone.
“Come, who have you here?” She said leaning forward and indicating the small figure.
Shine gently pulled the small one forward. She was wrapped in a cloak, such as it was, the filthy covering was really just rags. The visitor was extremely small and had unremarkable coloring. Her rag cloak fell off revealing a very short jerkin that was well tattered. She was very thin. Clearly this small one had a sad tale.
“I told you - you must show reverence if you are to stay!” Hissed Shine to the small figure. He jerked her hand to pull her to a forced bow. She bent down unwillingly.
Immediately there was a ripple of bawdy laughter and cat calls. The visitor's jerkin was apparently not long enough to cover her modesty. The young visitor turned her head, still bowed down, as if to strike but then... she winked and waggled her bottom.
The gathered crowd whooped with laughter and cheered. OFG, chuckled quietly. Mistress Peep, who's colorful gown was always perfectly modest, inhaled so sharply it sounded like a shriek. She grabbed the Lady Pepper's hand and they stomped out of the Great Hall in protest of such scandalous shenanigans.
“For heavens sakes!” Cried Little Mo and he leapt up from his seat, taking his own costly cape from around his shoulders, and wrapped the young visitor ensuring she was well covered.
“Perhaps you'll find this a bit warmer than your old one.” He offered as he escorted the visitor forward to OFG.
The Great Hall had started to settle down and OFG turned her attention to the visitor again. “How is it that you have come to us, Stranger? Where are you from?”
She said nothing.
Shine winced. He was filled with shame that anyone should have such a low station even far past the edges of the realm. He cast his eyes down.
“I found her in the middens.” He said matter-of-factly.
“And she smells like it too!” Shouted someone in the crowd crudely. There was a gasp and then silence.
“You there!” Col Ti stepped forward. His hard face and dark eyes narrowed at the blackguard that insulted the visitor.
You could be anything in The Good Land – except a coward. But being unkind to a visitor under the protection of their liege was a damnable offense. Anyone who dared do so would soon learn the very meaning of the word 'unwelcome.'
The men at arms had all snapped to attention. Those nearby instinctively stepped back to reveal the villain. Col Ti shouldered his way toward the miscreant, snatched him up by the collar, and hauled him toward the door. The fiend dared to beg for mercy and make excuses. No one came to his aid.
It was one thing to share a teasing laugh especially if it was directed at yourself. It was another thing entirely to humiliate someone in the Good Land. Cruelty for sport was not accepted.
The begging continued as Col Ti manhandled the offender toward to doors, “No! Please! I only meant! Stop! Please!...”
Mocking another for amusement was a serious offense. All were accepted in the Good Land regardless of their circumstance or past. Punishment was swift. The offender would be cast out of the gates. If he survived the terrors of the night he would be allowed to come back and beg for OFG's pardon. It was not always given. If he was granted another chance he would be stripped of all rank and wealth and would be given the worst of tasks. It was almost guaranteed this ne'erdoweller would spend years cleaning out the privies. He would never return to the ranks. It would be better for him if he just left these lands. Such was the way of things.
The huge doors at the rear of the Great Hall slammed shut and silenced the offenders pleas for mercy.
“My apologies.” Said OFG gently to the visitor, “What is your name, child?”
“I... I have no name.” She replied. Her large, wide, green eyes looked around nervously. She was clearly overwhelmed at everything that had happened. She could not believe that someone had stood up for her. She had never enjoyed protection from another. Most of her life had been spent entirely alone – or humiliating herself for other's entertainment. No one had ever even asked if she had a name – they only asked her price.
“Ah then, you have the naming rights, Good Shine. What say you?” Asked OFG. This was the custom in the Good Land. Your name was more than your identity. It described who you were, told your story, your status, your deeds of valor. It showed your belonging and place among all those that gathered under OFG's banner.
Shine shook his head modestly, “I would not presume, Sir, I...”
Heads turned as a chorus of “Commander” radiated thru the Great Hall. Zander had entered and was approaching the dais to take his place beside his mother. He moved easily and smiled readily, affable as ever. Zander stood at least a head taller than even the largest warriors. He was broad and strong and dark and handsome. He walked with the confidence of a man who had no fear.
He had earned the name “The Dread” for his wrathful deeds against Baldric the Bull and the Cow Herds. Lesser men who were nervous around him before were now terrified of The Dread Commander Zander Hannibal BoneCrusher. The Foe Hammer. The Black Death. The Night Feared Him.
Zander nodded a soldiers greeting to Shine the Assassin and then his eyes fell on the small one. They looked at each other in wonderment.
The visitor gently pushed Shine aside as she took a small step toward Zander, her mouth agape, “You are... you are the largest person I have ever seen.”
Zander smiled. “Hello.” He said looking down at her.
“No, you... you are enormous... how does such a large creature even live?” She reached out to touch him as if he was a dream. He laughed. His booming voice caused the small one to shrink back. Gently he reached down and picked her up by the scruff.
“And you are one very itty bitty kitty.” He said.
OFG turned to Little Mo who was scribbling furiously in a scroll and said, “Well, then, so named. She is now Itty Bitty.”
Meanwhile Itty Bitty, suspended at such a height was starting to panic and started to kick and squirm.
“Look at those itty bitty feet!” Laughed Zander and he tickled them very gently and roared with laughter. “She is so small!”
“Hey you! You.... just... you just put me down! You can't hold me like this!” Itty Bitty started to twist and paw at his grip.
Then suddenly she cried, “Ayyyyyiiieee!” and did a kind of allyoop and pushed her back feet off his huge hand and did a somersault in the air and landed..... right on Zander's head.
The company of fighting men, all watching with amusement, howled with laughter at the small cat sitting on their war leader's head. She looked like a tiny little hat on his huge head.
“How did you do that!” Exclaimed Zander being very careful not to shake her off his head.
But she didn't notice, because Itty Bitty had never been so far off the ground in her life. “Look at how high I am! I can see everything!” She had settled herself astride his huge head and was hanging on to his ears to steady herself, one in each hand.
“Quick! Turn this way! I want to see over there!” She motioned by tugging on one huge ear.
“As you wish.” Said Zander carefully turning his head. He was holding his hands up on either side of his head to catch her lest she fall.
“And that way, turn that way! This is amazing!” She was awestruck at the size of the Great Hall and all the people gathered there. She was accustomed to a life of being alone and shunned... but now here she was the center of everyone's attention and merriment. This was the best day of her life.
“Now... now take a step that way, if you please, Sir?” She said, pushing one of his great ears forward to indicate the direction.
“Here we go!” Zander said happily as he carefully walked forward, still holding his hands up to catch Itty Bitty if necessary. They made their way around the Hall and everyone laughed and clapped. A very merry pair they were.
Little Mo watched from his seat much amused and astounded at the turn of events. He looked up to OFG, nodded his approval, and asked, “Isn't she a pip?”
OFG laughed quietly and watching the new fast friends as they delighted the crowd.
“What do you think?” Asked OFG, “Where should our new charge reside?” She gestured toward Zander and Itty Bitty. “A pip she is but it would seem she lacks the grace for the court, and the discipline for the regiments...”
“If I may, Sir, perhaps with the Hunters?” Said Little Mo. “She has good courage. The night may fear the Commander... but that very small cat does not.”
“Just so.” Said Shine in agreement.
OFG watched as Shine ever so subtly shifted his weight to one foot. She knitted her brows. A fighting man such as Shine is always ready to strike, he did not stand coyly on one hip as one of the courtiers. She noted his eyes, there was some tension around them... perhaps pain?
“I'm glad you've come in, Shine, I was going to call you back anyway. It seems that the Healers are demanding to see all the assassins... some foolishness of a disease going around. You will report to them them immediately.” She nodded to Little Mo who was finishing up the orders as such.
“But Sir, I assure you that I am quite well. I...” Demurred Shine.
“Good then. It should be a short visit. You know the way, don't you?” She said as Little Mo handed Shine a scroll with orders for the Healers. “I'll expect a report on your examination within the hour. Dismissed.”
Shine bowed again and then withdrew. As was his way he all be disappeared before her eyes into the crowd like a shadow.
Meanwhile the Great Hall was cheering Zander and Itty Bitty. She pretended to control him just as if he were one of the huge siege engines...forward, backward, fast, slow. Each new direction brought great waves of laughter. OFG smiled watching their antics. Itty Bitty had found a new friend and it seemed that Zander was happy as well... what good fortune to find such companions.
“Oh good heavens! What will Kai think of this!” She thought, knowing very well that Kai would not like this at all. It was well known that Kai did not like other females.
“Little Mo,” She said to her Chief of Staff, “Take a note to tell the Princess Kai that she will get along with Itty Bity whether she likes it or not. And if she doesn't she will be sent...”
“... on a very long and boring patrol.. Yes, Sir, I have that right here.” He said indicating that he had the orders already drawn up.
OFG smiled. There was a reason that Little Mo was on her counsel – he always knew exactly what she was thinking.
“And I will follow Shine to the Healers, as well. Then report to you.” Said Little Mo.
She nodded. “So it's decided then,” OFG said indicating to Itty Bitty, “That our newest addition will be assigned to the Hunters? Good then. Make sure she gets quarters...somewhere near the kitchens. Let her know she may take as much as she wants to eat. She'll need strength if she will be a Hunter. In fact, let's see how she does.... Tomorrow we shall hunt. And... Little Mo?”
“Make sure that Itty Bitty gets to the tailor for some proper clothes... or dressmaker... whichever she desires. But soon. For heavens sakes.”
“Indeed.” Said Little Mo as he scratched out the last of her orders. “Yes, indeed.”
See Part Two
Part Three here.
You may also find all of the Adventure Tails in the Not Entirely Fiction link on the top of this page.