By Ian Wilson (rated G)
The two hobgoblins prowled quietly through the ancient pine forest. Massive cyclopean structures, overgrown with plant life, reached to the heavens all around them. A twig snapped.
“Quiet, Bobert!” hissed Robin Goodfellow.
“Why, though?” asked Bobert. “It’s not like there’s anyone around to hear!”
“You don’t know that,” said the master thief.
“Do you have any idea where it is?” asked the apprentice thief.
“A general idea,” replied Robin.
“Oh, he has a ‘general idea’. Sure, we’ll find it in no time at all!”
“Need I remind you that you’re the reason we had to take this job?” snarled Robin.
“You ain’t gonna let that go, are you?” huffed Bobert.
Robin turned around and placed his hands on his hips.
“Bobert, need I remind you that that was our mutual fund that you emptied on that wench!”
“She was indentured… to CORSAIRS!” said Bobert emphatically. “What was I supposed to do? Let ‘em treat her like trash?”
“If you had simply stopped for a moment, I could’ve hatched a plan to release her, but you had to do with the hard way and now we’re here in the Grave of the Devourers!”
“Wait…” said Bobert, stopping to think. “Does that mean we are walking on–”
“Giant corpses,” said Robin, matter-of-factly.
“Giants. Dead giants,” said Bobert in disgust.
“I wasn’t going to tell you, but you asked. We’ve been trampling on their bodies for some time now. I’m sure you’ve noticed that everything is a bit larger here; the blood of giants causes that.”
“Great,” said Bobert. “Just great.”
“Maybe we should split up,” offered Bobert. “Cover more ground that way.”
Robin stroked his chin. Bobert had accompanied him on many dangerous adventures and had seen a lot of action, but was he ready to go completely solo? Robin wasn’t certain.
“A worthy idea,” said the master thief at last. “Be very, very careful.”
The hobgoblins split up, each going in opposite directions, searching for their goal. Bobert wove among the oversized ferns and briars, occasionally stopping to nibble a berry the size of his fist. Robin probably would’ve cautioned him against it, but Bobert was hungry and the berries were good.
Between the clumps of brush, Bobert found a peculiar rocky ridge. He took the path of least resistance, walking along the ridge as it snaked its way between the trees. The stones followed a regular pattern; almost like the scales of a huge reptile.
The forest turned into a bog. As Bobert continued along the ridge, his keen observational skills kicked in. He made out the shape of what seemed to be legs and a long, serpentine body ending in a hideous head. He was walking on the back of a dead dragon.
The great Conqueror Wyrms populated the tall tales told to young children, and some doubted that they had ever existed at all. Robin believed in their existence; Bobert hadn’t been certain and hadn’t cared one way or the other. He was a believer now.
As he continued down the back of the dragon, his keen ears were arrested by a strange sound: music.
Bobert looked around for the source. Who would be playing the flute in a place like this? Bobert looked carefully down from the dragon’s back into the muddy water. He saw at the water’s edge a stunning woman playing the flute. Weeds were woven into her glossy, dark hair. She was submerged in the murky water from the waist down. Her delicate fingers skillfully danced upon the flute. Bobert was entranced.
“Hello there,” said the maiden. “You can come down here if you like.”
Her blue-green eyes so mesmerized Bobert that he nearly forgot about the sword.
“Oh… hi! I wasn’t spying on you or anything… creepy,” said Bobert, awkwardly.
The lady giggled.
He climbed down from the back of the wyrm and sat down on its massive foot.
“So… you new around these parts?” asked the hobgoblin.
“No,” replied the woman.
“Cool,” Bobert said, nodding his head. “You see a sword anywhere around here?”
“Come closer,” replied the maiden.
Bobert felt as though he had no choice in the matter. He waded through the muck toward the beautiful woman. He was about halfway there when he heard a sharp voice nearby call out his name.
Robin Goodfellow stood at the edge of the bog glaring at him with his hands on his hips.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” shouted the master thief. Bobert looked up at him sheepishly. Instantly he remembered why they were there; all of this had been for Demelza, his true love. Crushing guilt swept over him like a flood.
“It’s alright,” said the woman, “I’m not going to hurt him.”
“The Pit you’re not! Bobert, get out of there, NOW!” bellowed Robin.
Bobert obeyed his master and turned around to leave the bog. He felt something touch his leg. It coiled its way up his leg and wrapped around his torso. It seemed to be the tail of a large snake.
“Lil’ help!” said the hobgoblin.
Bobert struggled to lose himself from its grasp. He realized then that she was no woman at all. She held Bobert tightly by the serpentine lower half of her body, and bent toward, holding her face so close that he could feel her forked tongue tickling his face.
“You’ll make a fine husband,” she whispered.
“You’re a nice girl and all, but I think we should just be friends,” replied Bobert.
Bobert drew his dagger with his free arm and stabbed the creature in the tail. The creature shrieked. Her coils loosened enough that Bobert was able to break free. He waded toward his master, trying not to meet the hobgoblin’s piercing gaze.
“You stupid, imbecile!” barked Robin. “Pitiful excuse for a thief!”
“So I had a weak moment, it happens!” returned Bobert.
“You completely forgot why the Pit we came out here in the first place!”
As Bobert opened his mouth to say something else, he felt a sharp pain in his lower leg.
“OW!” cried Bobert. “What the fiddle-faddle?!”
“What now?” queried Robin.
“Something bit me,” replied his apprentice.
“Serves you right,” said Robin, crossing his arms. “Come on then. The sword should be lodged in that dead wyrm.”
They climbed up the dragon’s back and searched the large scales for anything resembling a sword.
“What was that… thing anyway?” asked Bobert.
“A nix,” replied Robin. “Creatures that live in ponds and lakes and tempt those foolish enough to fall for their charms.”
“Yikes,” said Bobert. “Imagine the in-laws!”
“She’d drain your life-force from you and leave you a wasted husk,” said the master thief.
“Ouch!” muttered Bobert, looking down to find what he’d stubbed his toe on. He found the hilt of an ancient sword lodged in the wyrm’s flesh. “Jackpot!” he said as he pulled the blade out of the deceased beast.
“Now, let’s leave before you get us both killed,” said Robin.
A thick fog rested in the Troll Forest that morning as Robin Goodfellow and Bobert trudged toward the pre-arranged meeting place.
“They couldn’t have picked somewhere creepier to meet up?” scoffed Bobert.
“Does your tongue never grow weary?” asked Robin sarcastically.
“I do tongue exercises every morning,” retorted Bobert.
They came to a fork in the path and waited. Hooded and robed figures emerged from the mist, riding mighty steeds. One of the figures dismounted his horse and approached the pair of hobgoblins and drew back his hood. He was an elf-lord, tall, and dark. His black hair hung in locks about his noble countenance like the mane of a lion.
“General Cadoc,” said Robin, bowing.
“Robin Goodfellow,” replied Cadoc, inclining his head.
The sight of elf warriors had so awed Bobert that he momentarily forgot himself. Elves were a rare sight in those days. Robin nudged his apprentice, reminding him why they were there in the first place. Bobert shook himself back to reality and handed the cloth-wrapped blade to the elf general.
Cadoc removed the wrapping and looked at the blade.
“Gram, wyrm-slayer,” said the elf lord.
He covered the sword again and placed it on his steed. He then snapped his fingers and one of his retinue produced a small wooden chest.
“You’ll find your payment in there,” said Cadoc.
Bobert took the chest eagerly.
“Many thanks, my lord,” Robin.
Bobert began to open the chest, but Robin placed his hand on the lid.
“Not yet!” scolded Robin. “Show some decorum.”
Once the elves were sufficiently far away, Bobert opened the chest. Finding the payment more than satisfactory, he closed it again, saying “That’ll keep us in beans for a while.”
Bobert strode into the pub, triumphantly carrying the wooden chest filled with gold. He placed the chest on a table where two corsairs sat.
“That should cover the remainder,” said Bobert, crossing his arms.
One corsair opened the chest and handled a few of the gold rings inside. The corsair motioned to his partner, who produced a written document, and handed it to Bobert. Upon it were Demelza’s name and the terms of her indenture.
“She’s all yours, now,” said the corsair.
Demelza stared at them from behind the bar. Bobert met her gaze. With a quick wink, Bobert ripped the document in half.
“You’re free,” he said.
Demelza smiled and wiped the tears from her eyes. Bobert sat down at the bar. Demelza poured him a drink.
“You know, you don’t have to tend bar if you don’t want to,” said the apprentice thief.
“Well, I need some way to put food on the table.”
“How did you get into this situation anyway?”
“My father was part of a farming collective, and the corsairs would come every year and take a portion of our crops. We had a bad year, and Papa couldn’t afford to pay the tax, so I sold myself to them in exchange for his life.”
Bobert nodded, understanding her predicament.
“Now,” continued Demelza, “How did you become apprenticed to the famous Robin Goodfellow, Prince of the Thieves?”
“He literally picked me up off the street,” answered Bobert. “I have no family that I know of. He gave me a name, a place to live, a skill, everything.”
“So you’ve never known your mother and father?”
“Where is Robin Goodfellow, anyway?” Demelza said, looking around the pub.
“He went back to his lair and went to bed early,” said Bobert. “His wilder days are behind him.”
“He has a ‘lair’?” asked Demelza, incredulously.
“That’s what he calls it. Always had a flair for the theatrical.”
“What a drama queen!” scoffed Demelza.
“I know, right?” Bobert sipped his drink. “So what will you do with this newfound freedom?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet,” answered Demelza. “Hadn’t planned that far ahead. I wanted to see the world a little.”
“There’s a lot of it to see,” said Bobert.
“I want to go back to visit father, let him know I’m still alive and well.”
They talked and laughed until closing time. Bobert paid his bill and prepared to leave.
“Well, I guess this is goodnight,” he said, wistfully.
“I guess so,” said Demelza, twiddling her hair. She caught him by the arm as he was turning to leave and kissed him. Bobert grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“I… better go.”
Demelza watched him leave. Once he was too far away to see, she closed and locked the door.
Bobert jumped up in the air and cried “Whoo!”
Robin didn’t have much use for romance. He’d tried it. It never meshed well with the transient lifestyle of a master thief. The idea that Bobert would fall under a woman’s spell didn’t fill him with confidence. Bobert needed a firm hand. To the face.
Robin was just about to go wake his apprentice when he came drifting by as though he was in some sort of trance.
“Good morning, Romeo,”
Bobert barely acknowledged him. He took his traveling bag and a stick and started to leave.
“Where are you off to?” asked Robin. “You haven’t even eaten breakfast. At least have a cuppa.”
Bobert stared blankly at his master and walked out the door.
“Bobert, what the Crom?”
Robin went out after him. He took him by the shoulder and turned him around to face him.
“Bobert, where are you going?”
“To see her.”
“The serving wench?! This is too thick!”
“No. Not her.”
Bobert turned away and kept walking.
“Then whom?!” shouted Robin.
But Bobert kept on walking, saying nothing to anyone.
Demelza sang a merry tune as she swept up the rubbish outside the pub. It felt like decades had passed since the last time she felt truly free. Then he passed by; her white knight. Bobert didn’t quite look himself. He had a dazed, far-away expression.
“Bobert!” she said. No response. She called his name again, and still no answer. She approached him.
“Look here, you self-important pickpocket!” she said gruffly. “What’s the matter with you?”
Bobert looked at her with hollow eyes.
“Wake up, Bobert!” she said.
“I must go,” said Bobert.
“Where?!” cried Demelza.
“None of your business!” shouted the hobgoblin.
Demelza took Bobert by the arm and slapped his face. His expression barely changed.
“Go back to the pub,” he said in a monotone voice.
Demelza simply stood there in the street aghast. Her eyes were flooded with tears. Robin Goodfellow came bounding down the lane.
“What happened to him?” asked Demelza.
“I’m not certain yet,” replied Robin.
Robin grabbed Bobert by the hood and spun him around.
“What the Crom is wrong with you, boy!?” Robin shouted, slapping Bobert with the back of his hand.
“I tried that already,” said Demelza.
Robin grabbed Bobert’s head and looked into his eyes.
“Where are you going?” he said in a determined tone.
“To the bog,” said Bobert. “I must see her.”
“NO!” cried Robin.
“Where’s he going?” questioned Demelza.
“When we were retrieving that sword from the graveyard of giants, Bobert met a nix in a bog.”
“She beguiled him into the water. I believe she’s put some spell on him. He won’t stop until he’s returned to her.”
“How do we break the spell?!” asked Demelza.
“I do not know,” replied Robin.
“What do we do, then?”
“We go back to the bog.”
A thick fog lay over the ancient forest as they approached the accursed bog.
“You didn’t have to come, you know,” Robin told Demelza.
“Yes, I did,” she replied firmly.
Bobert walked just ahead of them in utter silence.
“We’re getting close,” said Robin, drawing his short sword. They walked cautiously toward the bog. As they came through the undergrowth, they were met by a host of large reptiles. Robin cursed.
“Knuckers!” he said.
Bobert was nowhere to be found. Demelza’s face was a mask of terror and unbelief.
“Those are the biggest knuckers I’ve ever seen!” she cried.
“The blood of giants and dragons makes everything grow larger.”
The knuckers squirmed to attack, snapping, and hissing.
“Run, Demelza!” cried Robin.
Demelza did as she was told. Robin fought back. His blade flashed like lightning as it cut through the ranks of oncoming reptiles.
“Come and get it!” cried Robin.
Meanwhile, Demelza took the long route through the wood back to the bog. With Robin distracting the serpents, she was able to get to the bog’s edge. Bobert was wading into the muddy water toward the beckoning nix.
“Bobert!” cried Demelza.
Bobert looked back with the same blank expression and kept going. The nix’s tail coiled around him and drew him in.
“He’s all mine now,” she said. “You can’t have him.”
“Oh yeah?” said Demelza. “You get your slimy tail off him, you bog… thing!”
“How very clever of you,” replied the nix.
“What do you even want with him?!”
Demelza drew a large knife and waded into the water.
“Listen, witch,” she said, “I am done playing games! That hobgoblin, as stupid and intemperate as he can be, saved my life, and… I love him. If you don’t let him go I’ll-”
“You’ll what?” asked the nix.
“You’ll have to deal with me.” Robin Goodfellow stood high on the dragon’s back above the bog. Knucker blood stained his face and clothes.
“And who are you?” asked the nix.
“I am Robin Goodfellow, prince of thieves. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
The nix laughed.
“I demand you break this spell immediately!” cried Robin.
Seeing his determination, the nix ceased her laughter.
“And what will you offer me in return for his life?” she queried.
“Mine,” answered Robin.
The nix loosened her hold on Bobert and gazed Robin.
“I can assure you,” continued Robin, climbing down from the dragon’s back, “I am quite a catch as far as hobgoblins go. Quite energetic for my age. And you, my dear, are rather fetching yourself.”
“Hmm,” the nix pondered. “You are rather handsome.”
“Robin, are you crazy?!” cried Demelza.
“Mad as a hatter!” said the master thief with a wild grin. “And madly in love.”
“I think I shall take you up on that,” said the nix.
She released Bobert from her coils, and he collapsed into the water, senseless. Demelza waded over as quickly as her dress would allow. She gathered him in her arms and dragged him back to shore.
“Wake up, Bobert,” she said. “Come on! Wake up, you big dope!”
She gently patted his face. Bobert’s eyes slowly opened.
“Am I dead?” he asked.
“Not yet,” replied Demelza.
“You wanna tell me where we are, why I’m all wet, and why my master is smooching that nix?”
“Shut up and kiss me,” said Demelza.
Bobert obeyed without question.
“How’s Robin going to weasel his way out of this one?” asked Demelza.
“Oh, he’ll figure out something. He always does.”