The Lord of the Socks
Episode 1: Musings at the Gluttonous Boar
Most heroes of legend have magical swords or shields, great powers of sorcery, or are phenomenal warriors. Me? I have socks.
Oh, the socks are magical, trust me. I found them on the skeleton of a dead sorcerer, but that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say, they grant me the ability to run for a long time without getting tired. They also can grant me short bursts of speed in case I encounter zombies, troglyns, or angry fathers with pitchforks (sorry, I’m not telling you that one). Oh, and these socks also glow in the dark, which comes in handy when, say, one needs to run in the dark from the previously mentioned pitchfork.
Did I ever tell you about the time I saved the King of Fringolia? No? You haven’t heard about my encounter with a two thousand year old sorcerer? Myrick is my name. Myrick the Magnificent. Doesn’t sound familiar? Yeah, well, this tale didn’t get out very well. It didn’t quite make it into the troubadours’ play lists, either. Sometimes it stinks being a peasant.
This happened back in my sixteenth year when I was still carrying messages for the Kingdom of Fringolia. Nut-boy and I (his real name is Brutus, but this kid really liked to eat nuts) were returning from a long route down in the Kingdom of Hatu. Our bags were full of messages from there and I was looking forward to a long bath to clean off weeks of road dust.
As we walked through the main gate of Castle Fringol, I said, “Ah, home sweet home. It will be nice to take a few days off and rest my weary feet.”
“But your feet don’t get tired like everyone else’s,” Nut-boy said through a mouthful of walnuts. “Not with those magic socks of yours.”
“Shh. Keep it down, my boy. The last thing I want is for the overseer to know I have these socks. He’d never give me a day off if he knew. Besides, my feet do get tired, along with the rest of me. And I really wish they weren’t magically attached to my feet because I’d like to give my feet a good soaking.” I knelt down, unslung the mail bag from my shoulder, and tried to estimate how much we’d get for our haul. There should be a few extra coppers in it this time.
I looked around the courtyard. Normally, it would be bustling with soldiers and merchants selling their wares. There were only a couple of farmers there selling produce to some old ladies.
“Hmm, that’s strange.” I shrugged and pulled out an apple from my pack.
A shadow fell over me as someone growled. I looked up to see Bum-stabber the guard. Of course, his real name is Sergeant Uchdehn, but I called him Bum-stabber because of how he liked to use the huge spear he carried. “If it isn’t the two thieving runts,” he said.
“Oh, hi, Sergeant.” I stood up with a cheerful smile. “It’s been a while, old friend. How goes things in the castle?”
Bum-stabber spat. “Like I’m gonna tell some stupid message boy.”
“Well, you’re just a stupid guard…I mean.” Yeah, my brain doesn’t always keep up with my mouth.
His spear swung down and around. My socks gave me enough of a burst of speed to avoid the pointy end of his spear, but barely. He was quite proficient with that thing.
“Scram, you lousy thieves,” Bum-stabber yelled as Nut-boy and I scampered away.
We went to our barracks and turned our message bags in to our overseer. He was an old, stooped man with one arm and an eye patch. As usual, we were underpaid. After we went back outside, I stared at the measly three coppers in my palm. “Four weeks and this is all we get? This is robbery! I should report him to Lord Korac.”
“I…I wouldn’t do that,” Nut-boy said, his voice trembling. “Korac’s scary.”
“Pff. My boy, you need to not be so frightened by the magic professions. He’s just a wizard.”
“Who can turn people into slime beetles.”
“Have you ever seen him turn someone into a slime beetle?” I asked.
“Well, no, but I’m sure he could if he wanted to.”
I shook my head. “That’s a bunch of boiled cabbage. He’s just a man, like you and me. Only taller and older. And fatter. No need to be intimidated by him.”
“But he put us under that spell that forces us to stay in the messenger service. Do you know what would happen to us if we tried to leave?”
I laughed. “Nothing. It was just a parlor trick he used to scare the weak minded but, with my keen intellect, I saw right through his deception. We can leave the messenger service whenever we want. Now, let’s go to the Gluttonous Boar and buy some mead.”
“I don’t want to. I’m saving up for a shipment of pecans coming in next week. Besides, you just want to go gawk at Ruella the barmaid.”
“Well, duh. She’s gorgeous.”
“And ancient. She’s like almost twenty.”
“Oh, come on, Nut-boy. At least come and keep me company while I drink. And stare.”
Nut-boy rolled his eyes and sighed before tromping after me. “Okay, but only for a few minutes. I need a nap.”
We made our way to the Gluttonous Boar and entered the normally loud tavern. I looked around at the chairs stacked up on the tables. None of the candles were lit and the only light in the room came through the curtain-covered windows. It was as silent as a tomb, and I should know.
“Where is everyone?” Nut-boy asked. He was just as perplexed as I. This time of day the tavern should have been filled with drinking and laughing Fringolian soldiers who just got off duty.
“Hellooo!” I called out.
“Hello. Anyone here?”
Something clattered in the back room behind the bar. A few seconds later, Ruella came out scowling and holding a broom. “What’re you doin’ here, Myrtle?”
“Myrick. I came to get some mead,” I answered.
“Fine.” She leaned the broom against the bar and poured a mug of mead from a barrel behind her. She slapped the mug on the bar and said, “That’ll be two coppers.”
“Two? It’s supposed to only be one.”
“Business has been slow.”
“Well, no wonder when you double your prices.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you going to pay or not? Or should I call for Sergeant Uchdehn.”
“Fine.” I fished two of my hard-won coppers out of my coin bag and put them on the bar. “So, where is everyone?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Where’ve you been? Under a rock?”
“Not exactly. We were just down in Hatu fighting man-eating tumbleweeds.”
“No, really. Long story. You’ll have to let me tell you about it sometime. But tell me what happened here.”
She let out an exasperated breath. “Korac detected some powerful magic emanating from the Valley of Death and took the king and the army with him to secure it. They thought we could use it to regain some territory from Duragath.”
“Sounds fun. So what happened?”
“Only Korac came back about two days ago. He didn’t say a thing, just climbed on up into his tower and started brewing some kind of strange spells.”
“Hmm. So I take it this wouldn’t be a good time to complain to him about our overseer,” I said.
“Not unless you like living in slimy gutters and eating insects. Now, are you going to shut up and drink so I can get back to work?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks for the news.”
She turned around and picked up her broom before returning to the storeroom. So much for getting to gawk at her while she worked.
Nut-boy shuddered. “The Valley of Death. I don’t like that place.”
“Nonsense, it’s a nice spot. After all, that’s where I found my marvelous socks.”
“Yeah, socks you can never remove unless you’re dead.”
I took a drink of my mead as I thought. “Yeah, but remember how Nonac was looking for a magic orb?”
“Yeah. But you told me it wasn’t in the crypt.”
“It wasn’t, but I wonder if that’s what Korac is after, too.” I took another sip and put my mug on the bar. “There could be some good money in it for us if we find it first.”
“Nuh uh. No way. I am never going back to that cursed valley. It’s haunted.”
“That’s a bunch of cabbage. Just because there was one living skeleton there who tried to kill me doesn’t mean the whole valley is haunted. Besides, Nonac turned him into splinters. I think. I hope the big, lovable barbarian found a way back out of the tomb.”
“Me too,” Nut-boy said.
The door burst open and Bum-stabber, along with two other elderly guards came in. “There you are, you little puke. Come with me.”
I picked up my mug and took another drink. “Why?”
“’Cause I said so.” He pointed his spear at me.
I shook my head. “I’ve had a long day. My feet are tired and I just want to kick back and enjoy my drink. I’ll come when I’m done.”
“You’ll come now.” He stepped forward and pressed his spear point into my chest.
I put my mug down. “Okay, maybe I’ll come now.” My voice trembled, I’m afraid to say. “But what do you want?”
“You’re under arrest for possessing illegal magic.” He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and dragged me out of the Gluttonous Boar.