To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. *** “So that’s really the name they went with? No one could come up with anything less… I don’t know, awful?” Lord Joseph King was as
To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here.
“So that’s really the name they went with? No one could come up with anything less… I don’t know, awful?”
Lord Joseph King was as dedicated to fooling about as he was to zoology, princess. He wrote both the finest bestiary in all the lands and the most wretched collection of puns ever assembled.
The little crunches beneath Sabine’s boots grew louder as she treaded deeper into the forest. Even for a quiet afternoon walk, it was hard not to notice the conspicuous lack of animal noises. Sounds such as the tweets of birds, chirps of crickets or even the occasional rustle from a far off deer would not be missed on their own, but without any of them, the silence seemed profound.
Too profound for Sabine’s liking, as she kept her conversation going. “Was that a demonic curse or something? Infinite knowledge in one field while also being completely insufferable?”
Actually, yes. I took in the demon who made the deal with him, and I believe your fourth husband slaughtered him. He looked like a boar, made noisy proclamations, and took deals for power at terrible prices.
Though no wind passed through the dirt path on the way to the Ableman Apple Farm, a crackle passed through the branches overhead. The sound reminded Sabine of the times she’d watched the men walking on stilts in the various festivals of her youth.
Sabine laid a hand on the sword slung over her shoulder. “A boar demon?”
Indeed, he referred to himself as, “The Deviled Ham.”
After a slap against her own face, Sabine vigorously shook the vial on her finger and thought back. Dahkhal’s words had brought back memories, both precious and bittersweet. Sabine’s fourth husband, Ou’Antu, hadn’t known anything about a princess when he set off on his quest to defeat Dahkhal. The evil warlock had taken up residence near the young warrior’s village, and Dahkhal’s latest tower of vanity dammed up the river Ou’Antu’s people relied upon. That wasn’t to say the dark haired hunter with the strong cheekbones was displeased to get a lover out of the ordeal, and Sabine cared for him as much as she was able at that stage in her life. It had grown difficult to get attached, three marriages and three funerals in, but she wanted to give that one the benefit of the doubt. When he proposed, the ring he did so with had a tiny chip of beaver’s tooth set in its center. To his people, the beaver’s tooth was strong enough to bring down forests and durable enough to stay whole while it did so. Sabine held back on asking where the chip had come from then and accepted his proposal graciously. Years later, that ring remained on her right pointer finger.
Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow—Behind you—ow!
“I hear them, I hear them.”
Sabine took one of the stolen swords out from its sheath and swung downward. A long, almost claw-like branch fell from an ashen tree and hit the leaf-covered ground. With a tilt and a raise of her blade, the princess-turned mercenary glared up at the withered tree that had just reached out to grab her.
“So, I take it you heard me coming in then?” She glared at a pair of knots in the tree’s center, as if she expected them to shift into eyes. “I’ve come to put a stop to your attack on the Ableman farm!”
The old tree said nothing in its defense.
“You think playing dumb will save you?” Sabine took another step forward and laid the tip of her sword on one of the knots. In the midst of her threats, she didn’t hear a different pair of branches crunch just behind her. “I know all about your kind and the tricks you play, answer me!”
“‘Your kind and the tricks you play?’ What say thee, Ash, has she judged our character unjustly?”
“I dunno, Stick, but the little birch just made a big mistake.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sabine heard Dahkhal the jellyfish’s mental laughter. With both hands gripped on her sword’s handle, she whirled around to face the opponents who had stalked up just behind her. The two anthropomorphic trees swung at her with their enormous, powerful branches. Sabine raised her blade and parried a strike from the one called Ash, but Stick sucker punched her with a thick, wooden fist. The warrior for hire hit the dirt path, shook some stars out of her eyes, and glared up at her pair of opponents.
“We got more man flesh than we could ever fertilize with, and you’re just a wee little thing,” one of them said. “Take word to thine people. I am known as Stickler, and this is my brother, Dumbash. Be off with thee, or known thine wrath.”
Dahkhal asked, Why is his speech so archaic?
Too distracted not to wonder the same question, Sabine asked, “Why do you talk like my grandpa?”
“I have seen over two hundred summers, impudent welch.” Out from the center of Stickler’s branches came four pointed talons like the retractable claws of a cat. “Heed thine final warning, or face obliteration!”
As if he had waited too long to be part of the conversation, Dumbash added, “Yeah! Make like a tree and get the hell out of here!”
A moment of silence passed in the glen before Stickler let out a groan and stared toward his younger companion. “That line doesn’t make any sense.”
“Of course it does!” Dumbash raised his hands in protest. “Leaf was the obvious pun, so I subverted expectations.”
“Thou had delivered but a single piece of botanic wordplay before choosing to subvert. At least two instances of setup are necessary for the phrase to be effectively mirthful.”
In the midst of their argument, Sabine’s battle stance slackened. “I’m sorry, are we not fighting now?”
Stickler made a motion indicating she should settle herself. “We shall resume momentarily, but if this unfortunate matter is not addressed now, it never may be.” The tree shifted around on his tentacle-like roots to turn and face his companion. “Now listen here, young Dumbash. If you are unable to properly use thine gimmick, it is preferable thee not have one at all.”
Dumbash threw open his arms in defense. “Well what, are you blaming me for trying to branch out a little?”
The elder tree scowled. “Thee is too late to deliver upon such things now, any merriment to be had has already been lost.”
The younger tree made his best facsimile of a boxer’s stance. “Well, if you don’t appreciate the fruits of my labor, I wood like to see how well you’d stand in a tree for all—”
Ümlaut the Överbearing’s battle äxe flew right through the center of Dumbash’s face. He contemplated this for a moment, screamed, and fell to the forest floor.
“I’m sorry, but me and the immortal jellyfish wizard just couldn’t listen to that anymore.” Sabine drew a hatchet out from a pouch on her belt and pointed it at her remaining foe. “You and me now, let’s do this, chop chop.”
A forlorn Stickler fell to the parts of his roots that could best approximate knees and sobbed before the fallen body of Dumbash. “Nay, nay! What foul fate hath thee put upon me, cruel strumpet? My heart grows heavy with the loss of my beloved comrade, and sure as the stars I will smite thee when I have completed my laments and soliloquies! Oh, fair Dumbash, what a brother was thee—”
Stickler cut himself off with his own scream as Sabine closed the distance between them and struck at him over and over with her hatchet. “I—said—chop—chop!” When her wooden adversary fell and died, she huffed for a few breaths before she asked Dahkhal, “Is… is that really it? Big as they are, I thought it’d be harder.”
No, no, they’re powerful, but they’re also fragile. If you cut through deep enough to their center, all their power goes seeping out. Just remember, ‘To kill a zomtree, take out the grain.’
Sabine was unsure why she was so disgusted by that particular bit of wordplay, but it just made her all the readier to get to the Ableman Apple Farm.
Not two steps later, a hundred voices at once called, “Hold it!”
Sabine froze, grabbed ahold of her sword, and looked around for her next foe. Only a moment later did nearly every tree she could see rise from its spot half-buried in the ground and glare at her.
“She has slain brothers Stickler and Dumbash!” One of them called. “Prune her limbs and bring her before the master!”
The mercenary’s glare darted about at what seemed to be innumerable foes. She gripped her blade and hatchet tight and ran out to flay the forestry.