Edited SL, MMD
Robin Goodfellow & the Apples Of Inspiration
By Ian Wilson
Robin Goodfellow and Bobert sat at their usual table near the fireplace in the pub, as they usually did this time of the evening. The fire crackled softly, the air was filled with the smell of food and pipe-smoke and the sounds of laughter and singing. The master thief and his apprentice were waiting for a client who, according to Bobert, would pay quite a bit of money.
“Where’s this so-called high-profile client, Bobert?” said Robin, lighting his pipe.
“He’s coming eventually,” said Bobert.
“I’m beginning to wonder if he exists.”
Demelza came over to the table with a smile on her pretty face.
“What’ll you have?” she asked cheerfully.
“I’ll start with a kiss,” Bobert said, beaming.
“It’s on the house,” said Demelza, obliging the roguish hobgoblin.
“Oh, will you two get a room!” scoffed Robin.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Goodfellow,” said Demelza, turning to the master thief. “How’s the wife?”
Robin grimaced, recalling the recent incident in which he was forced to marry a water nymph to save his apprentice’s life. In truth, the idea of marriage made Goodfellow a bit queasy. Fortunately, they’d worked out an equitable arrangement.
“I’ll have an ale,” said Robin.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” he said with a chuckle.
“Two ales coming up,” said Demelza, departing for the bar.
A tall, cloaked figure entered the pub, an elf, or possibly a man. An elf would be a rare sight in the Dwarf Realm, a man would be even rarer; a good reason to remain cloaked. The figure sat down next to the two hobgoblins and lifted his cloak from his face, slightly.
“I am Eoghan,” he said.
“So?” said Robin.
“Of the Ap Aneran family,” said Eoghan.
“I’ve met Anerans before,” said Robin, puffing on his pipe. “You don’t strike me as one of them.”
“This is our client,” said Bobert.
“Ah yes,” said Robin, seeming as though he didn’t care who the fellow was. “What can we do for you?”
“Despite the fact that I come from one of the oldest and most respected bardic families in all the nine realms,” began Eoghan, “I am rubbish as a bard. I can barely carry a tune. All my compositions are terrible. My relatives have disowned me.”
“And what would you like us to do about it?” asked Robin.
“I want you to steal the Apples of Inspiration.”
Robin nearly choked on his pipe smoke.
“You want us to what?!” he asked incredulously.
“The Apples of Inspiration,” repeated Eoghan. “They grow on the Tree of Wisdom in Annwyn.”
“I know where they grow,” said Robin. “Do you realize that that tree only blooms once every seven hundred years?”
“Yes, and it bloomed just this season. The apples should be ripe by now.”
“And the gods guard it jealously!” Robin went on. “Assuming we got through the countless horrors roaming the land and made it to the tree, who’s to say we’d get out of it alive?”
“I know your reputation, Prince of Thieves,” said Eoghan. “I’m sure you’ll be able to do it.”
“Then there’s the question of funding,” said Robin, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
Eoghan placed a bag of gold on the table.
“That’s a down payment,” he said, “with much more to come, if you are successful.”
Robin stared at the bag.
“We’ll take the job,” he said at last.
“Thank you,” said Eoghan as he departed.
Robin looked at Bobert.
“I hope you realize this will be the most dangerous mission of your life,” he said.
“I’m prepared,” replied Bobert with the confidence of youth.
“No, really, you’re not.”
Demelza filled their packs with food for the journey.
“Easy with that, woman!” said Robin. “Much more and we won’t be able to carry it all!”
“It’s a long journey to Annwyn,” said Demelza. “Pardon me for caring.”
“We’re not going to live there,” retorted Robin.
“Promise me you’ll come back?” asked Demelza of Bobert.
“I promise,” said Bobert, placing his hands on her diminutive shoulders. She kissed him tenderly.
“Enough kissing!” cried Robin, growing increasingly impatient. “Let’s leave before she starts crying.”
“Bye, love!” said Bobert, as his master dragged him out the door.
Demelza smiled and waved silently.
The master thief and his apprentice made their way to the Iron Forest, which stood between them and Annwyn. This was the quickest way, but it was the most dangerous. They could have hopped aboard a ship to take them there, but that would take weeks that they didn’t have. They needed to get to the Tree as quickly as they could.
The Iron Forest was a dreary place. The sun hardly ever shined, and when it did, it was usually veiled in thin clouds. Rain and mist soaked nearly everything. Massive limestone rocks made the journey difficult, in addition to the creatures that roamed the forest who would be more than happy to devour two hobgoblins.
“Hurry up, Bobert!” hissed Robin.
“Look, Master, we’ve been walking for three days,” said Bobert. “Maybe we could slow down just a little?”
“Stop your whinging!” replied Robin. “And keep your voice down! Something might hear you.”
“We haven’t seen a single soul since we encountered that troll two days ago. I think if someone were gonna hear us, they’d have done it by now.”
Robin spun around and looked his apprentice straight in the eye.
“That’s exactly what the Iron Forest wants you to think!” he snarled. “That’s how it gets you!”
“You talk like it’s alive,” said Bobert.
“In a way, it is,” replied Robin.
“Have you… been here before, Master?”
“Once,” replied Robin. “It was long ago. I nearly died.”
“Will you never run out of questions?”
“So long as you keep being an enigmatic fart-bag, no,” retorted Bobert.
They came to a hedge of thick briar bushes. Robin Goodfellow led the way, hacking through them with his sword. They emerged from the thicket into a grove of trees. In the center was their prize; the Apples of Inspiration.
“Jackpot!” said Bobert.
As they approached the tree, however, they heard a rustling in the brush.
“Stop!” said Robin.
A great, scaly, reptilian head emerged from the bushes. Its mouth was filled with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth. It hissed at them.
“Oh, brill!” said Robin. “A great-wyrm.”
A stream of greenish fluid shot from the creature’s mouth at the pair of thieves. They leaped out of the way of the emerald spray.
“What the actual pit?!” cried Bobert.
“Don’t let it spit on you.” said Robin, calmly, as though it were nothing at all.
“Oh, really? Tell me more.”
The massive reptile swung its tail at the hobgoblins, but they jumped over it like a jump-rope.
“Bobert, go climb the tree and get the apples, I’ll deal with the serpent.”
Bobert obliged and ran toward the tree, but the wyrm followed him.
“Oi!” cried Robin.
The serpent turned its great head to look at Robin, and squirted poison at him. Robin jumped away and stabbed the beast’s tail with his sword.
“Come and get it!”
The monster lurched toward Robin. It snapped at him with its toothy maw. Robin leaped with the agility of a cat. He took out his short-bow and an arrow and shot at the dragon, hitting it in the eye. The beast roared with pain.
Meanwhile Bobert had climbed up the tree and reached for an apple. The tail of the great reptile collided with the trunk, nearly shaking Bobert from his bough.
“Watch it!” he cried.
Robin ignored him, and continued poking and stabbing the wyrm with his sword.
Bobert grasped the apple and placed it in his satchel. He placed three more fruits in the satchel before clambering down the tree.
“Well, it’s been fun, but we had better be going,” he said as he reached the bottom of the trunk.
They made a break for it, dodging poison spit the whole way out of the grove.
“Well, that was close!” said Bobert.
“It’s not over yet,” replied Robin. “We still have to get through the Iron Forest and back home. The gods probably already know we’re here.”
“Shh!” hissed Robin.
They stood stock still and silent. A distant howling sent a cold chill down Robin’s spine.
“Hide!” said Robin.
The pair found a rock crevice to conceal themselves, and huddled together, barely daring to breath.
“What is it?” whispered Bobert.
“The hounds of Annwyn,” replied the master thief. “Now, be quiet!”
The massive canines stalked past their hiding place, sniffing the air. They were accompanied by a figure dressed in black; the Hunter of Annwyn. After pausing for a moment that stretched on forever, they passed by. Robin insisted they stay in their crevice for some time afterward.
“Master, I am getting a cramp!” hissed Bobert.
“Fine, get out.”
The two emerged from the crevice and continued their journey home.
Not long after their harrowing adventure, Robin and Bobert stood in the middle of the forest at a fork in the path awaiting the arrival of their client. Eoghan came over the rise to meet them as they’d arranged.
“Did you bring it?” he asked.
“Have you brought the money?” asked Robin, crossing his arms.
“I have it,” replied the failed bard.
Bobert produced the satchel of magical apples. Eoghan opened the bag, examining the fruit lustily.
“Now, how about that money?” asked Robin, impatiently.
“Well, about that…” replied Eoghan, reluctantly.
“We better not have gone through all this trouble for nothing!” said Bobert, placing his hands on his hips.
Eoghan grabbed the satchel violently and kicked Bobert to the ground. He then bolted into the forest as fast as he could run. Robin helped Bobert off the ground and they chased the man through the undergrowth. Robin cut him off and tripped him. Eoghan fell on his face, but scrambled to his feet. Just then Bobert leaped down from a tree branch and landed on top of him. Bobert held on, scratching him and pulling his hair like an animal. Eoghan drew a dagger.
“Bobert, look out!” cried Robin.
Bobert let go of Eoghan and drew his own two daggers. Eoghan ripped open the satchel, pulled out an apple and bit into it.
“Eoghan, NO!” shouted Robin, but it was too late.
A crazed grin spread across Eoghan’s face and he began to cackle madly.
“Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her Christmas pie,” rhymed Eoghan. “But along came a turtle and gave her a myrtle and said ‘a fellow can try’!”
He then collapsed into a bout of uncontrollable laughter.
“What the Sam Hill?!” exclaimed Bobert.
“He’s gone mad,” replied Robin. “Anyone who eats the apples of inspiration raw, without first brewing them into cider will surely go mad, just like that.”
“Golly!” said Bobert.
“Well, there’s no getting anything useful out of him, now,” sighed Robin, “Let’s go get an ale.”
“I’m for that!” said Bobert, as they walked back to the hobgoblin town to get a pint.