Neither Silk nor Bunge saw any point in joining them, though. They were in a tavern, and it was a well-known fact that all taverns had cellars. If the storm did get so bad that they needed to take shelter underground, well, obviously a tavern was the best place to be.
Bunge’s rant about newly-announced tax increases came to an end and he took a long drink from his mug of ale. Silk nodded in agreement and did the same, even though he couldn’t quite see the point of his friend’s argument. It wasn’t as if they ever paid any taxes themselves.
“But anyway, the way I see it,” began Bunge again. “If this really was a Golden Dragon, it wouldn’t be too happy with us sitting in its stomach.”
“Er, yeah…” Silk paused with his mug halfway to his mouth. Then he grinned and placed it back down on the bar. “Yeah. You were pretty pissed off yourself though, that time it happened in Uhrland, if I remember. Still, I suppose not half as pissed as the dragon was afterwards.”
“It’s not my fault there’s no door in a dragon.”
“Hang on a minute.” The barman, Bert, frowned and ran a hand through his hair. “If this was a real dragon, I wouldn’t have built my bar here, so you wouldn’t likely be sitting here either, would you?”
Now it was Silk’s turn again to be confused. He had assumed Bert would want to ask about what had happened in Uhrland—everybody always asked about what had happened in Uhrland—but instead it appeared that he had actually come up with a very good point.
“Aha!” He grinned at Bunge and held out a finger to waggle it in his face.
“But what if the dragon was in disguise as a building?” said Bunge.
Bert stared at him. “As a building?”
“Yeah, they do that sometimes you know.”
Silk removed his finger from in front of Bunge’s face and began waggling it in Bert’s direction instead. “Ahaaaaa!”
The barman had no counter to that argument, realising he had been out-thought by a greater mind, and nodded his head slowly in agreement. Bunge took another swig of his ale and Silk lowered his wiggling finger so he could get a grip on the handle of his own mug, just as a crashing sound echoed from somewhere in the tavern’s back rooms.
Bert cursed under his breath. “Sorry, gentlemen. You’ll have to excuse me for a minute. Bloody kids!”
“Yeah, sure.” Silk peered into his mug. It was still half full, so as long as Bert wasn’t more than a couple of minutes, he’d be fine. The sound of the barman giving his kids an earful filtered through to the bar, and he turned to Bunge. “Anyway, speaking of dragons, we really should take a trip up north again sometime soon. Have a break and get in some yeti hunting or something.”
Bunge opened his mouth to reply then leapt to his feet instead, slamming his mug back down onto the bar and bracing himself against its wooden surface. “Damned wizard! If he thinks he’s dragging me off to that cold bloody cave of his again at this time of year, he’s got another thing coming.”
Silk sighed; a reaction like that could only mean one thing. He looked down into his own mug, saw the miniature whirlpool swirling within that confirmed his suspicions, and closed his eyes.
Murphy! What did the bastard, midget wizard want this time? And why couldn’t he just send them a letter or messenger like everybody else? Whatever the answers, Silk made no attempt to resist the magic himself. As well as being futile, to do so would probably only end up making the journey a whole lot more unpleasant and painful.
On this occasion, though, neither he nor Bunge showed any inclination whatsoever of disappearing into their ales. Instead, the whirlpool in Silk’s mug gradually subsided, to be replaced by an image of Murphy’s ginger-bearded face. He was smiling broadly. Silk and Bunge were not.
“Greetings friends!” Murphy’s voice was strangely high-pitched, not at all deep and throaty like the Timiri dwarfs. Which, of course, he wasn’t. Silk quickly pushed the thought out of his head just in case Murphy also happened to be able to read minds across space and time. “It’s been a long while, eh?”
“Would’ve been longer if we were luckier,” said Bunge.
“Look, what do you want, wizard? Hurry up and spit it out so we can tell you where to go and get back to drinking.”
“Yes, I’m not doing too bad, thanks for asking,” said Murphy. “Although the weather has been a little chilly lately. You’re looking quite well yourself, too. Have you lost weight? Or is it just that I can’t see your stomach from this angle?”
Silk ignored the pair’s customary exchange of pleasantries and stared down into his ale, trying to work out whether Murphy’s head was actually floating on the surface of the drink or in the air above it. He gave the mug a little shake and watched the swirling ale distort Murphy’s face. “What would happen if I drank this now?”
“Stop that!” the wizard snapped. “You’re making me dizzy. If you were to drink this now I’d be extremely upset and you’d end up with a really bad stomach, like you’d eaten two Samrian curries right after each other.”
“Oh,” he said. The surface of the ale it was then.
“Anyway, as to why I’ve decided to look you both up again to renew our long-established and highly effective partnership: there is a problem that needs sorting out.”
“No. Really?” Bunge’s eyes opened in mock disbelief.
“Yes, really. And if you’re a good little boy and let me finish, I might even tell you what it is. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“Yeah, okay. Whatever. Just get on with it.”
Murphy coughed. “Well, you’ll be glad to know you’re not going to have to travel far, because the trouble is right there in Meerith. However, you must complete my task by midnight tomorrow, else the whole of Septia will be torn apart.”
“Makes a change from someone trying to take over the world but keep it in one piece, I suppose,” said Bunge. He glanced across at Silk, who, for some reason, found himself quite unable to keep from giggling.
“Quite. You’ll also be pleased to know that there are no evil, mad overlords involved either.”
“Things are looking up,” said Bunge, and Silk giggled again.
Murphy closed his eyes for a second and appeared to take a deep breath. “A queen from another world, in another dimension has become accidentally stranded in ours and must be returned. Such are the results of improper trans-dimensional relocation--I shan’t go into details since your tiny minds couldn’t even begin to grasp the fundamentals--that the world would quite literally begin to come apart at the seams…”
“Tiny minds!” exclaimed Bunge. “Bring us to that cave of yours and say that!”
“I only meant in relation to mine,” explained Murphy hurriedly.
“Ha! You’re only half my size. Go on, try me with some of that trans-dimensional relocation crap.”
Somehow, the image of Murphy’s head, despite its lack of shoulders, managed a shrug. “If you insist. After improper trans-dimensional relocation, there forms a displacement profagular continuum. This in turn causes irregularities throughout the viscous memborial sectors of time and also in the historical propensity of quargons, thus…”
“Right, right,” interrupted Silk, his head spinning already. “Of course we know all that stuff, and, as far as I remember, it will take a long time to go through all the possible effects. So if you just tell us where the queen is, we can get on with it and get her sent back before it’s too late.”
A smirk spread across Murphy’s face. “Of course. The queen was found on the outskirts of Meerith and, due to certain cultural differences, was immediately placed under arrest and imprisoned by the King’s men.”
“Okay,” said Silk. “So you want us to break into the palace and rescue the queen. Then what?”
“Bring the queen back here and wait for me to contact you again. And I didn’t say I wanted you to break into the palace. You could always go and ask King Roger nicely.”
Silk snorted. “Yeah, right. You know old Roger’s never liked us much after that incident with the diamonds, the ton of horse crap and the gnomes. He threatened to have us thrown into his dungeons if we ever came within sight of the palace again.”
“The gnomes were definitely your fault though,” said Bunge.
“Oh, sure. How was I supposed to know they turned blue and exploded when they saw beautiful women?”
“And I don’t remember it being my idea to pile all that horse crap on top of the palace roof either.”
Honestly. He made one tiny mistake and would Bunge ever let it drop? It’s not as if anyone had been killed, or even hurt. Well, not hurt much anyway. Mostly it had just resulted in a lot of people getting a bit messy.
“Anyway,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it was my fault or not. Compared with what would have happened if we hadn’t found Queen Belinda’s diamonds, I’ll take this arrangement any day. Now, can we get on with discussing what we’re going to do about this foreign queen?”
Bunge grinned and turned back to his mug, only to find that Murphy had gone.
“Cunning, sneaky, bastard wizard,” he muttered. “We never did talk about pay.”
An hour later found Silk and Bunge walking the streets of the Dark District, hands close to their swords’ pommels, and making a great effort not to appear too drunk to fight. Away to their right, dressed in a smart blue and grey uniform, a royal lamplighter was in the middle of a shaky ascent to light a street lamp, while four members of the city watch clustered about the bottom of his ladder. Silk wondered what the group could possibly have done to earn such a wretched assignment. It really was tantamount to ordering them to commit suicide, and, sure enough, before he and Bunge had walked on more than ten metres, the sounds of a muted scuffle broke out behind them, punctuated by a shriek that ended in the clatter of wood upon stone. The Dark District was kept dark for a reason, and those who made use of it liked to ensure that it remained so.
They paused at the entrance to an alleyway. All alleyways in the Dark District looked the same, and all were equally dangerous. Except for this particular alleyway. This one was subtly different from the others in that it was usually only potentially as dangerous as the rest rather than immediately so.
The pair glanced at each other, nodded, and then Silk led the way inside. Both were careful now to keep their hands as far away from their swords as they could. If they were to be killed then killed they would be, and well before they could draw weapons of their own. All in all, it was best to try not to look too aggressive. Rick, Meerith’s chief criminal overlord, would undoubtedly be aware of their presence already and their fates would have been decided. That they were currently still alive boded well, but you never did know with Rick.
After much twisting and turning, the alleyway brought them to a dead end, where they stopped and waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. Silk glanced up at the sky apprehensively. It looked black, but then everything did in this area of the city. He would normally have expected a star or two overhead though.
“You think we’ve got the right one?” he asked, after a few minutes more.
“Dunno,” said Bunge. “I just picked one at random. Gods, I could do with a drink.”
“Yeah.” Silk pictured himself back in the Golden Dragon, ale in hand and Bert already pouring him another. “Maybe Rick will have one.”
A bolt of lightning tore, fizzing, across the sky, lighting up the whole alley for a couple of seconds. Silk groaned. The storm was here at last. A short moment later, a thunderclap rolled ponderously through the rain-laden clouds above, the cue for the liquid bombardment of the streets below to commence, and he began to get wet.
“They’d best not be long,” growled Bunge, as the intensity of the rain increased from drip to torrent in the space of a few seconds. “Only a madman would be out in a storm like this is gonna be.”
“Or a pair of drunken bums,” said a woman behind them.
“Not through their own choice,” said Bunge, turning round. “We’re not that drunk.”
“Drunk enough that you walked straight past the door though.”
“Ah, Morena.” Silk grinned at the woman standing in the newly-appeared doorway, and started towards her. “Morena, Morena, beautiful Morena. Crown jewel of Marat, seductress of the stars, courtesan of the gods, woman with big breasts and red hair who shall one day be fortunate enough to experience the pleasures of my bedroom delights. How can you blame us when the entrance was in this very position but six months ago?”
“Still as smooth as your name, eh, pretty boy?” She twisted her mouth into a smile and handed him a length of rope, the end of which he passed along to Bunge. “You both know the drill. Let go of this rope and, without me to guide you, Silk’ll never get to fulfil his promise, and I shall undoubtedly die of a broken heart.”
“Exploded heart, more like,” quipped Bunge. “With joy.”
Silk kicked out backwards without making contact and Bunge laughed. A tug on the rope from in front then nearly pulled him off balance and Morena began to lead them through the pitch dark corridors of Rick’s lair. How she knew where she was going without the aid of a light was anybody’s guess, but she set a brisk pace through the darkness, and Silk and Bunge could only trust that she wouldn’t lead them into any obstacles or suddenly let go of her end of the rope.
Eventually, they came to a halt before a door and Morena rapped out a coded knock on its heavy wood. Without receiving any apparent answer, she then bade them enter, giving Silk’s rear a playful squeeze as he passed. Silk yelped in surprise and leapt round quick enough to catch a wink from the woman before Bunge appeared between them and pushed him on inside. The door immediately slammed shut behind them and Silk turned back towards the room’s interior and the crime lord it housed.
Rick was seated, as always, at a desk in the middle of the room. Or, at least, Silk assumed it was the middle of the room. The circle of light emitted by the small, solitary candle failed to pick out any walls, leaving the rest of the chamber hidden beneath a claustrophobic darkness. The candle gleamed low and to the side of the crime lord’s chair so that the ghostly light flickered upwards to bathe the ridges and hollows of his face. His sharply pointed goatee only added to the monstrous effect.
“Welcome, old friends and associates.” Rick’s voice boomed so unnaturally deep that Silk was sure he put it on just for them. “You are thirsty I imagine.”
Without waiting for a response, Rick beckoned into the darkness behind his right shoulder. A slick, grimy boy hastened forwards bearing a jug of ale, from which he proceeded to fill two large mugs that sat on the desk before disappearing again.
Silk snatched up the mug nearest him as Bunge did the same with the other and, after a quick toast to Rick’s health, downed it in one go. Beautiful. After an hour without a drink he had started to worry that he was sobering up. He placed the empty mug back down on the desk again and the boy stepped back into the circle of light to refill it.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of receiving your company?” boomed Rick when he saw that they were both settled. The movements his jaw made when speaking played merry havoc with the shadows across his face.
“We need your help,” said Bunge.
“Really? And here was I thinking that this was some kind of social call, with the pair of you being in the area and deciding to drop in and say hello.”
“Rick,” Bunge protested. “Would we waste your time like that?”
“You are doing so now. Get on and speak what you wish from me, lest I lose my patience.”
“Okay, okay, calm down. There’s no need to get your goatee in a tangle.”
Silk nearly sprayed ale from his mouth. Was he trying to get them both killed?
“It’s looking a lot better than the last time we saw you, incidentally,” he interrupted quickly. “Really pointed. Great.”
Rick swung his head round slowly to stare at him.
“Which isn’t to say that it didn’t look good last time. It did. It looked great in fact. Amazing. I just thought it looked even better now. You know, better than amazing.”
Rick continued to stare and Silk began to wish he had just left Bunge to it. His attempt at a diversion did seem to have done some good, however, because Bunge promptly brought the conversation round to the point.
“We need a good sewer guide.”
Rick allowed his gaze to linger on Silk for a few seconds longer then turned back to Bunge. “You didn’t have to come to me for that.”
“We need entrance to the palace.”
“I see.” The crime lord leaned back a little in his chair and brought up a hand to stroke his beard. “Well, I’m not sure I could sanction that, what with me being a staunch royalist and all.”
“We’ll pay ten gold cornats.”
Rick snorted. “Multiply that figure by itself and we can start haggling.”
“A hundred! No chance. Ten is well over the price as it is.”
“I’m sorry, I thought you told me you wanted entry to the palace.”
“Thirty,” said Bunge.
Rick shook his head.
“Fifty, and there’s no way we’re going any higher. Have you any idea how long it takes to make that kind of money?”
“You can always try to find your own way in.”
“I think we might.”
“Bunge,” interrupted Silk. His friend glanced over at him and he shook his head. The price was extortionate but Rick would be well aware of the history between them and the royal family, and know that they had precious few alternative options.
Bunge didn’t look too impressed, but he turned back to Rick and gave in anyway.
“Okay, one hundred gold cornats, but that’s not a starting price. That’s final. Okay?”
Rick inclined his head and beckoned into the darkness behind him. The boy who had served them ale stepped forward again, spat into the palm of his right hand and offered it to Bunge to seal the bargain. Bunge did the same and shook hands with the boy.
“The deal is done,” intoned Rick, sounding more as if he were a priest conducting a religious ceremony than a vicious crime lord brokering an illegal bargain. “I wish you a profitable venture, gentlemen. Pornim here shall be your guide and will come for your payment tomorrow evening at the Golden Dragon.”
The sewers stank. Human waste and excrement, rotting fruit, vegetables and carcasses—both animal and, occasionally, human—all had their own distinctive odours that, when mingled together in the dank tunnels that comprised the city’s sewer system, created a pong so intensely putrid that no adjective Silk could think of could ever truly do it justice. But whichever way you described it, to their joint dismay, the smell was instantly sobering. It didn’t help Silk that he had lost large amounts of alcohol in puking his guts up just inside the entrance either, adding the subtle aroma of his own vomit to the foul stench pervading their new, limited atmosphere.
Their guide, the boy named Pornim, appeared oblivious to the reek, and he led the way with the aid of a shuttered lamp as if they were taking a stroll through some noble’s rose garden. He had assured them that there was a little-known passageway which connected the sewers with, as luck would have it, the palace dungeons. It wasn’t ever guarded—at least it hadn’t been four months earlier—since it began so far away from the palace that no one would think that it finished up there, especially since its exit in the dungeons was well hidden despite also apparently being in plain sight. It was to here that they were heading.
It was a half-hour walk to get to the entrance of this passageway, however, and at first Silk wasn’t sure he would even last five minutes before passing out and probably drowning in the oozing flow of the city’s waste. Fortunately, his nose shut down before the rest of his body could, and by the time they reached their destination he had almost stopped noticing the smell.
“And here we are,” announced Pornim suddenly, directing the light of his lamp downwards at a small tunnel in the wall near where it met the floor.
“Piss off!” exclaimed Bunge. “That’s tiny! My knob wouldn’t even fit in there.”
“Then I bet all the whores go running for their lives when they see you coming,” grinned Pornim, dropping onto his hands and knees to crawl inside, his lantern now hanging from a piece of string around his neck.
Silk laughed. Bunge might have been exaggerating a little more than slightly, but he could see his point; Bunge wasn’t exactly the slimmest of people. Years of drinking had given him a gut that more resembled the barrels his favourite tipple came in, and the tunnel wasn’t much more than a couple of feet wide at a push, nor a lot higher either.
“Best if you let me go next,” Silk told him, putting on a serious expression. “If you do get stuck, it’ll be easier for me to get out the other end than to have to crawl backwards this way.”
Bunge glared at him, then shoved him aside and crawled in after Pornim. “This tunnel had best come out where you said and not get any tighter, else I’ll tie you in a knot and throw you in the river,” Silk heard him shouting after their guide, as he too crawled into the opening behind them both.
“If this tunnel did get any tighter, which it don’t, then I certainly wouldn’t have anything to worry about from you,” floated back the answer, and Silk laughed again as Bunge began muttering a series of threats and curses ahead of him.
“And you can shut up behind me as well, too!”
They were some time in this tunnel, mainly because it was difficult for both Silk and Bunge to make their way through it. Bunge might have had a bit of a gut on him, but once they got a little further in, Silk wasn’t so sure that it wasn’t he who was having a harder time of it. At least Bunge was fairly short so he fit the tunnel kind of snug. Silk had discovered that he was actually a little too tall to crawl comfortably on his hands and knees and so had to do a sort of squat at the same time, which was really making his arms ache. Eventually, though, they caught up with Pornim at the end of the tunnel and the boy informed them that a small lever in the wall would cause a flagstone above his head to slide open.
“And then we come up in the main corridor in the dungeons, so if there’s guards up there we’ve got to be quick or we’ll be in trouble,” he finished.
“Great. Tell us now, why don’t you, after we’ve crawled all the way up here,” growled Bunge.
“At least you’re not the one going up first,” said Pornim. “Now are we going or what?”
“Well we’re going to have to now. There’s no way I’m going to be able to crawl out of here backwards.”
The boy placed his lantern safely in a corner, drew a knife from his boot, and then pulled on the release. Just like he had said, a stone dropped down from above and slid noiselessly to one side, allowing a flickering light to cascade into the tunnel. Without waiting to see if they had been discovered, he leapt through the hole, dagger at the ready in order to confront anybody who might be there while they were still surprised at what they were seeing. Bunge was soon up after him and Silk followed next to find the corridor fortunately devoid of guards. Looking around to get his bearings, he pondered briefly why it was that dungeons always tended to be lit by flaming torches rather than candles or oil lamps, while Bunge aimed a cuff at their sewer guide.
“What was that for?” protested the boy, dancing back quickly out of reach.
“For being cheeky to your elders. Now which cell will the queen be in?”
“How would I know?”
“I don’t know. I just thought you might, that’s all.”
“Well you thought wrong.”
“Here comes someone who might be able to tell us,” said Silk, catching the faint sound of approaching voices.
Bunge snapped his head round towards him and nodded. In an instant, they were both stalking silently towards the end of the corridor, leaving Pornim to needlessly hiss the word ‘guards’ behind them. They pulled up a couple of metres short of the corner, glanced at each other again, and grinned.
The voices gradually moved closer and a few moments later the guards appeared, their cheery expressions turning to looks of surprise as they found knives suddenly held to their throats.
“Good afternoon,” said Silk. “We seem to be having problems locating the cell of the foreign queen.”
“And you,” continued Bunge. “Have been selected for the honour of helping us out. However, I should probably warn you that both me and my friend here have an incredibly rare illness where any words other than which cell she’s in will cause our arms to spasm violently.”
“I assume…” began Bunge’s guard.
“Uh uh,” he interrupted him, jerking his hand slightly. “When I said any words, I meant it.”
“Two doors down on the left.”
Bunge drew back his fist and slammed it into the guard’s face, rendering him instantly unconscious. Silk grinned and followed suit, only to find his guard remained standing so he had to hit him again. And again. Finally, Bunge stepped across to smash his fist into the side of the dazed man’s head, and he crumpled to the floor to lie next to his partner.
“Aw, come on. I had him then.” complained Silk, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand.
“Whatever,” said Bunge, snatching up a ring of keys from one of the prostrate guards. “Do you think he meant second door on the left or two doors down then the next one on the left?”
Silk shrugged. “We can always try them both.”
Opening the second door on the left, they knew immediately that they had the right one. On a rat-chewed pallet in the corner sat the regal sight of the queen they were here to rescue. Well, perhaps not exactly regal, Silk decided, but definitely a sight.
Her looks were such as he was more likely to describe as striking, and she appeared to have gone somewhat overboard with her make-up. Her whole face was powdered heavily, with two large areas of some sort of red paint standing out a mile on either cheek. Her eyelashes were extremely long and covered thickly in what appeared to be a dark oil, and atop her head sat a rather obvious wig—white rolls of hair piled up over a foot in height.
“Who the hell are you? And why have you brought me here?” she demanded, jumping to her feet. “You can’t just go around throwing people in dungeons, you know. I’ve got rights.”
Silk stared in amazement. “How come…”
“Holy Peacock!” interrupted Pornim, quickly backing out of the room again.
“You’re a man!” exclaimed Bunge.
“How come, if you’re from another dimension, you speak the same language as us?” Silk finished.
The queen gave Bunge a scathing look.
“How observant,” he said, before turning to Silk. “Look, mate, I don’t know about the language thing, but what do you mean by another dimension? Where the hell am I? I only popped out at the interval to use the bloody loo. They’ll think I’ve done a runner.”
“You’re a man!” said Bunge again.
“You’re in Meerith, the capital city of Marat,” explained Silk quickly, seeing a scowl develop on the queen’s face. “A country on Septia. I don’t know how you got here, but I do know that if we don’t send you back soon, your being here could destroy our world.”
The queen’s scowl mutated into a look of bewilderment and confusion. “You can do this?” he asked doubtfully.
“No, of course not. But we know a man who can.”
“And what if I want to stay?”
“Then, from what Murphy told us, it won’t be a very long visit. And anyway, do you really want to?”
The queen took a look around the cell. “No, you’re right. Not really.”
“It’s a bloody man!” said Bunge. “In a dress!”
“Look mate,” began the queen, but he didn’t get a chance to finish because, fortunately, Pornim reappeared in the doorway.
“We should go now,” he said, giving the queen an odd look. “Those guards might wake up or be missed, and we can’t let anyone know about the tunnel.”
Seeing the obvious sense in the idea, and hoping it might distract Bunge at the same time, Silk nodded and quickly ushered everybody out of the cell and back down the corridor. There was some brief difficulty with the height of the queen’s wig in the tunnel, but he took it off, stuffing it down the front of his dress to keep it clean, and presently they were back in the sewers once more.
Outside, the storm was now raging in full flow so, for a small additional fee, Pornim conducted them all to an exit actually inside the Golden Dragon, where they surprised Bert by popping up in his cellars. The young thief and sewer guide then took his leave, promising to return again the following evening to collect their payment.
The storm lived up to expectations, continuing through the next day and into a second night, so Silk and Bunge were unable to leave the tavern at any time and remained there with the freed queen, awaiting Murphy’s call. Unsurprisingly, considering the amount of time they had been alone in the bar, all three men were drunk, and they were getting along quite well.
“Go on, you order this time,” said Bunge to the queen. “And do the voice again.”
“Oh, Bert!” the queen called over to the bar. “If you could see to pouring us another three ales as quick as you can, I would be very appreciative. Thanks.” He fluttered his eyelashes at the bemused barman in an alluring manner, and Silk and Bunge fell about laughing.
“Er…I’ve got a bit of work I need to do out the back,” said Bert after serving them with their drinks. “I’ll be back out in a bit.”
Bunge laughed as they watched the barman disappearing hurriedly through the door behind the bar. “I think you’re scaring him.”
“I think I scared you too at first, big boy.”
Bunge laughed even harder then stopped abruptly as the queen’s bewigged head suddenly stretched upwards, growing thinner as it did so, before arcing over into his mug of ale, followed closely by the rest of his body.
Silk peered over into his drink where the familiar whirlpool was now beginning to recede. “So that’s what it looks like from the outside,” he said. “Bloody bizarre.”
Bunge nodded. “At least the world’s safe, though—again.” He took a long sip of his ale. “I wonder what I’d look like in a dress.”
Silk sprayed ale all across the table as the image of Bunge in a figure-hugging red dress and a diamond necklace popped into his head. “Absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. But you’ve got to admit, she…er…he was bloody funny.”
“Better than one of our queens.”
“Better than Belinda, definitely. Where did he say he was queen of?”
“Some place called Drag, I think. On the planet Earth.”
“Earth. I wonder if we’ll ever find ourselves there one day? If we do we might end up in Drag, or could maybe find our way there if not. We could pop in and see him again. Say hello.”
“So long as they don’t try to make me wear a dress too,” said Silk.
Both men finished their drinks in contemplative silence, not even tempted by the queen’s untouched but sorcery tainted ale, and then, when Bert returned, ordered another round.
© January, 2014 M. J. Waller
M. J. Waller lives in that green and pleasant land that is the UK, where his working life is punctuated by short, random bursts of creativity. His fiction has appeared in Fear and Trembling Magazine and at Short-story.me.