[ once upon a grunt ]

by spec 4 lori

Once upon a time in a small kingdom of the lush lands of Viyet-Na'am lived a discontented king. His name was King Miron. King Miron was not discontented because he had no friends; his High Councellor Ezekiel was his close friend since childhood. Nor was he discontented because of the state of his kingdom; the High King Rustie treated all his subjects fairly and justly. No, King Miron was discontented because he had no wife. King Miron had entertained the princesses from the other kingdoms, but none of them wanted to marry him. Because of his adventuring nature, the princesses he courted were afraid he would get killed and leave them as widows.

Therefore, in a time of great prosperity within his land, King Miron and his High Councellor Ezekiel disguised themselves and slipped out of the city unnoticed to try and find King Miron a wife.

Wandering for days on end, Miron and Ezekiel found no luck. They scoured cities, towns and villes for women. But where one was too revolutionary, the other was too Quaker. Where one was only interested in Ezekiel, the other was not interested in either. Where one was only concerned about books and children, the other was only concerned in entertainment and getting paid.

"Oh Ezekiel," King Miron mourned one night, "I fear I shall never find a wife!"

"Have faith, KM," Ezekiel said, poking the fire with gusto, "A gal is bound to show up soon."

The next day, as they were marching along a pathway at the side of a hill, two evil bandits named Victor and Charlie rolled heavy boulders down the hill side and atop the King and the High Councellor. Neither were hurt, but both were trapped underneath the heavy boulders, victims to Victor and Charlie's plunderings.

"Oh Ezekiel," King Miron mourned through the boulders, "I fear I shall suffocate before I find a wife!"

"Have faith, KM," said Ezekiel, peering through the cracks of the boulders, "I hear someone coming."

Indeed Miron and Ezekiel saw two of the strangest beings heading up the very same path they marched. One was as tall as two willows and stout as two oaks, and he had a happy, beaming face. The other was as small as a shrub and tiny as a reed, and his face was sour and pensive. The odd pair stopped at the fallen rocks and the giant peered in.

"Hey ho, fellow travellers," he boomed to Miron and Ezekiel, "I see you are trapped under these boulders. I also see the two bandits Victor and Charlie are coming down the hillside to plunder you."

"We realized this," Miron said, somewhat testily. "Can you help us?"

"On one condition," said the small one harshly. "That we may travel with you until we find ourselves wives."

Seeing no problem to this, Miron agreed.

The tall one, whose name was Baiker, immediately began removing the boulders as if they were like small pebbles. The tiny one whose name was Roo immediately ran up the hill. When he met up with Victor and Charlie, he put on the most fearsome face imaginable. When they saw his fierce face, Victor and Charlie were so terrified that they ran and ran and kept running. I hear they are still running away to this day.

Miron graciously thanked them and the four travellers went on their way.

They travelled for three day with little rest. By the end of three days, the meagre C-rats they had were gone. Most were consumed by Baiker, who ate more than ten hungry soldiers. Soon, they were dragging their feet, starving and exhausted.

"Oh Ezekiel," fretted Miron, "I fear I shall starve before I find a wife!"

"Have faith, KM," Ezekiel said sptting out a half-chewed thistle, "There's a ville coming up yonder."

Indeed, they approached a small ville of mud huts and thatched roofs. There was no one outside, and after peering into one hut and then the other, Baiker and Roo looked back to King Miron.

"They are all empty!" exclaimed Baiker.

"There are only skeletons," Roo added.

"Not true!" called Ezekiel from the far hut. "Look what I found."

Indeed, inside the hut, three men sat, each with a different look, but each also looking quite healthy. One man had a very sad, yet thoughtful visage. Another looked quiet but very intense. The last looked very relaxed and content.

"I am Tailer," said the relaxed one, "Are you four tired?"

"I am Jonsen," said the quiet one, "Are you four hungry?"

"I am Hourn," said the sad one, "Are you four searching?"

"Yes to all your questions," Miron replied, pleased. "Can you help us? Why are you alive and everyone else dead?"

"They became tired of working and so they dropped to the ground," said Tailer.

"Then they couldn't move off the ground, and so they starved," said Jonsen.

"Then they were too weak to search for better, and so they died," finished Hourn.

Miron began to get impatient, but then Ezekiel gently pushed him aside and approached the three strange men.

"You three seem to know a darn lot about these here parts and problems. Now we four have come upon these very same problems, but we don't wanna drop on the gound."

"Or starve," Baiker added mournfully.

"Or get weak," Roo grumbled.

"We need you guys's help," said Ezekiel.

"We will help you on one condition," said Tailer.

"That you allow us to travel with you," said Jonsen.

"So we can find ourselves some wives," finished Hourn.

Miron agreed and Tailer immediately rose and went outside. Smiling a beautiful and winning smile, he was able the charm the vegetables from the ground surrounding him, woo the fruit from the trees dangling above him and coax the hogs from the woods around him. The tricked plants were reaped and the fooled hogs were slaughtered and they had a marvelous feast.

Hourn then immediately took out a small, shiny mouth instrument and began to play a long, melancholy tune. Everyone suddenly became so at peace and so comfortable they rested for what seemed like days when it was really just a few minutes.

Lastly, Jonsen stood up and moved around in various directions. Then he turned and pointed south.

"That way. I can see from here that that way will give us the least trouble and lead us to a place with many women to choose from."

Miron graciously thanked them and the seven travellers went on their way.

They travelled for eight days and did not find much trouble. When more Victors and Charlies tried to attack and rob, Roo and Baiker just scared them away. Whenever they needed food or shelter, Tailer charmed the innkeepers for rooms, the cooks for food and the shopkeepers for supplies. When Miron felt restless, Hourn played for him and he rested. And whenever Jonsen spied trouble ahead, he guided them around it. Then, one day, Jonsen stopped and turned to Miron.

"I see a problem up yonder. Ahead is a river; but I see bamboo growing beside it that we can make a raft from and sail over. Further on I see a mountain; but I see strong branches laying about that can aid us on the hike. Further on, I see a canyon; and that, I cannot see a way to cross."

"Oh Ezekiel," whined Miron, "I fear I shall plummet before I find a wife!"

"Have faith, KM," said Ezekiel, trudging ahead and pulling Miron, "We'll find a way somehow."

The travellers forded the river and climbed over the mountain with no problem. When they reached the canyon, however, they stopped. They went eastwards, they went westwards, but they could not find a way around the canyon. Night came, and the travellers settled at the canyon edge and started dinner and camp.
Halfway into their meal, two men approached them. Both were very handsome, but one looked extremely worried while the other looked extremely smug. The smug one also had a very large, strange cloak slung over his back.

"I am Persel,"said the worried one. "My fellow traveler Makay and I are very hungry. May we share your supper?"

Roo looked suspicious and Baiker looked sad at the thought of sharing more than he already was. Taylor was already nodding, Hourn looked inviting and Jonsen mildly appraised them. With a wave of his hand, Ezekiel invited them to sit.

"Go ahead," said Ezekiel. "We have plenty and we can always get more," he smiled as Tailer, who grinned back in a most relaxed manner.

"Wait, wait," interrupted Miron, irritably. He didn't mind Persel, but Makay's smug face annoyed him. "We may have plenty now, but not forever. Not if we can't get across this cursed canyon."

Makay, already sitting and eating, looked out at the canyon and then back at Miron. "Leave everything to me, friend. I'll take care of you."

Miron didn't believe him but after a look from Ezekiel, he relented and said no more. They all rested thanks to Hourn's music and the next morning they woke refreshed.

"So Makay," Miron challenged after breakfast, "Let's see how you get us over the canyon."

"No problem," Makay said and threw off his cloak. Two large metal wings sprung from his back. Picking up Roo (who struggled) in one arm and Jonsen (who was in shock) in the other arm, Makay flew them across. And this was how he carried all of them across, except for Baiker, who was so huge, they had to rest at the bottom of the canyon several times before reaching across.

"That was great, thank you Makay!" Miron looked very pleased, as did they all. Then they turned and looked expectantly at Persel.

"What?" Persel said.

"Well, son, what can you do?" Ezekiel inquired.

"Well...do y'need anything right now?" Percel asked.

"Um....no, not really," said Miron.

"Then I need something from you:let Makay and I travel with you until we find ourselves wives. Without Makay, you would not have made it across the canyon."

Miron agreed and after graciously thanking Makay, the nine travellers went on their way.

They travelled for nine days without fear, hunger or exhaustion slowing them down. King Miron was quite pleased with his fellow travellers, and the small band of travellers slowly learned to respect, trust and enjoy each other's company.

"We are probably the most invincible group in the world!" Tailer exclaimed.

"Well, I wouldn't say the world," mumbled Roo, remembering stories of great men told to him in his youth.

"If we are so wonderful, why have we not found any wives?" asked Persel.

No one had an answer to that, because they knew it was true. No matter where they went, the women were just not right for any of them. Not just that, but many women outrightly rejected them. The women they met, whether she be princess or peasant nevertheless saw in the traveller's eyes a lust for something that women could never give them: adventure, thrill-seeking, the need to roam and be free. The unfortunate travellers did not know this, or else they would have stopped this quest immediately and gone home.

Eventually, however, they came upon a large and bustling city. The guards at the front gate stopped them.

"What business have you here, travellers? We do not allow vagrants into Ladybird City," said one of the Guards.

"Ladybird City!" Miron exclaimed, "The city wherein the High King Rustie rules?"

"Hush, fellow guard!" exclaimed the other guard. He turned to the travellers. "This is Ladybird City no more. It is now the Tansonhut City, now that the High King Dharling has overthrown the High King Rustie."

"Well I am King Miron," said Miron, proudly. A collective gasp of surprise arose from the other seven travellers (not Ezekiel, for he knew already) and they all immediately placed their right hand parallel to their forehead, as was the custom of respect when faced with Royalty. Miron continued: "As a King of one of the High King's regions, I and my fellow subjects demand to have audience with him."

The guards could not argue with this, especially after they saw Miron's Royal emblem, the small gold bar. Respectfully, they let the nine travellers in. Leaving their fellow travellers safe in an inn nearby, Miron and Ezekiel made their way into the Hootch Palace to have an audience with the new High King, Dharling.

The High King Dharling was seated in his throne, waiting, for he had already heard from various servants who spied in the city about the arrival of King Miron and his High Councellor Ezekiel.

"King Miron, what brings you to Tansonhut City?" asked the High King

"Actually, my High Councellor, my fellow travellors were on a quest to find ourselves wives. We only happened on this fair city by chance."

Now the High King Dharling was a devious and evil King, who ruled unfairly and was very different from the previous High King. Before King Miron had even gotten trapped under the boulders by Victor and Charlie, the High King in his greed had rounded up all of the most beautiful and coveted women in Viyetna'am and hid them away in a secret place. Now, upon hearing that King Miron was seeking a wife, his heart became harder and even more possessive than it ever was before. He was determined to prevent the King Miron from ever getting close to these women.

"Very well," said the High King, "I shall allow you to choose from the most treasured women in Viyetna'am provided you can find them. They are hidden far, far away from here, but I shall provide you with one clue: Listen for the clicking. It is night now; you and your High Councellor may rest here tonight and tomorrow re-embark on your journey. Dismissed."

King Miron and High Councellor Ezekiel smartly put their hands to their foreheads and then turned and marched away. As they prepared for rest in a royal chamber, Miron smiled at Ezekiel beatifically and clapped him on the back.

"KM, why are you so happy? This journey sounds dangerous and I do not trust this new High King as I used to trust the High King Rustie."

"Have faith, Counsellor," replied Miron, "It cannot be that bad. And to choose from on of the most treasured women in Viyetna'am! That is certainly worth the risk."

Ezekiel did not think so, but he said nothing and the went to sleep.

That night, Miron was risen by seeing bright flashes of light coming from outside the open window. Grabbing his rapier, Miron cautiously headed towards the window. Outside, floating on a large bed of glowing white, was a beautiful woman.

"I am one of the women the High King Dharling has hid in the secret place. You and your men are in grave danger, the High King Dharling intends to kill you on your journey. The path to find us is difficult and very dangerous; many men have died trying; however, if you listen closely, I will advise you. With you is a flying man; strap him to your strong man. Then use your strong man to pick you all up and fly you all in any direction you choose. Use your far-seeing man to point you in the right direction, which is towards the glowing white. Use your music man to let the rest of you sleep so you will be refreshed when you find us. That is all I can say now. Remember the High King's clue and remember my words...."

"Wait! What is your name?"Miron asked, scared he would never see the beautiful woman again.

She was already floating away, but he heard her distantly echo:

"I am the Queen Suzan Malete...."

King Miron was now very excited about his journey. The next morning he and Ezekiel gathered up the other seven travellers and went to a shopkeeper. There he purchased some strong rope which he used to strap Makay onto Baiker's back. Baiker then gathered then up in his large arms and they flew up into the air.

"North," Jonsen said after looking around in every direction. "I can see much farther now that I am so far up here. If we fly north we will be able to find ourselves wives."

Indeed, as Miron peered northwards, he could see a strange white glow in the far, far distance. And so he trusted Jonsen's decision and they flew on. They flew for many kliks and Miron was pleased that he remembered Queen Suzan Malete's instructions so far. Then he remembered the last instruction and so he said:

"Hourne, you shall play and let us rest while we are travelling."

Hourne agreed and took out his shiny mouth instrument. He played a sad, soulful tune that immediately put everyone at rest except for Baiker, Makay and Jonsen who had to stay awake. They put little knobs of paraffin wax into their ears so they couldn't hear the sweet music and fall asleep as well.

Yes, Miron indeed followed all of the Queen's instrucions, but in his eagerness to follow what she told him, he forgot what the High King had told him as a clue: Listen for the clicking.

Indeed, Makay, Baiker and Jonsen heard the strange clicking when they flew over the strange white glow, and, as they got near it, their curiosity got the better of them and they flew down to take a look. The clicking led them to a glowing palace in the middle of the dense green forest. Landing on a balcony, Baiker woke the sleeping travellers to show them where they were.

"The strange white glow!" said Miron, looking around. "The clicking sound! I am glad you are my fellow travellers, for I forgot to tell you about the clicking sound and yet you were still able to find this place. This is the place the Queen Suzan Malete told me of. This is where we will find our wives!"

Everyone was very pleased to hear this.

"KM, if you don't mind, I think maybe we should take a peek in through these here windows and see what is inside," said Ezekiel.

Miron agreed and each traveller found a window and each peered through. Inside they saw a large hall filled with elaborate tables and chairs. On each chair was seated a beautiful princess, seven in all. At the end of the row, Miron also spied the Queen Suzan Malete. The clicking sounds were made by strange square buttons with ancient letters on them. The buttons were mounted atop a board which the princesses deftly pressed. Each also faced a glowing white glass screen where the letters appeared which was embedded in a fair-sized box. The boxes sat upon little tables. The princesses looked very sad.

"They are all so beautiful," said Roo.

"Yet they are so sad," said Hourne.

"We must try to make them happy," said Tailer. He was about to crawl in through his window, but Ezekiel held him back.

"Hold on there, Tailer, look over there and then tell me if you want to go charging in like a knight on a jousting spree." Ezekiel motioned over to the other end of the hallway, where upon a large and hideous throne sat an even larger and more hideous beast. It kept a vigil watch over the poor princesses, and would not let them stop from their chore.

Tailer nearly fell over in fear!

Then, the Queen Suzan Malete looked up and spied Miron peering into one of the windows. Quickly she got up began stretching and yawning. The horrible beast looked up and stared at her.

"My Queen, you grow weary," it growled, in a most ferocious manner.

"Just bored, my liege," answered the Queen. "This eternal typing makes me yearn for something more exciting. I need a challenge."

"Well what do you suggest, Queen, considering you are trapped here for eternity?"

"I propose a challenge for myself. If I can come up with nine brave men, each with a special talent, by the time the sun disappears behind the mountain, you must allow them to work for you. If I cannot provide nine of these men...you may eat one of the princesses."

The princesses gave a collective gasp and continued working harder than before, hoping their ernestness would not land them into the beast's ugly mouth. For how can the Queen find nine men in such a short time! they all thought.

The beast liked this idea and agreed to it.

"But you may not leave the palace ground, Queen Suzan Malete. You may go, go try and find these nine men."

The Queen bowed and quickly left the hallway. She eventually came out onto the veranda where the nine travellers were waiting.

"You have heard everything I said to the beast, correct?" she asked.

They all nodded. "What is it, and why does it keep you here?" asked Percell.

"It is called the Cosbie Beast. The High King Dharling thinks he can trust it to just keep us locked up forever, but he does not know that the Cosbie Beast intends to take over all of Viyet-Na'am. The Beast intends to use us to get its ways."

"How?" asked the ever-curious Jonsen.

"I and the other seven princesses are from a special land filled with magical powers and delights," she explained. "We love your land, and, by using the magical glowing white, our imaginations allow your land of Viyet-Na'am to survive and flourish. However, the evil Cosbie Beast intends to keep us locked up, forever using the glowing white not to create your land, but to destroy it. If we are locked up, we cannot open up the imaginations of other princes and princesses in our land and therefore your land of Viyet-Na'am will perish and die with no one to mourn it." The Queen delicately patted a tear from her eye.

"How can we help you?" asked Miron.

"This is what you do: allow me to bring you into the hall and present you to the Cosbie Beast. He will then challenge you to see if you really do have special talents. First, he will ask you to provide him with his favourite food, which is a chocolate pudding. Tailer must then run down to the scullery and woo the cooks there to make him one ton of pudding. Next, the Beast will want you to answer a riddle asked by the most fearsome creature he owns. Roo must then scare the creature with his own angry face and answer the riddle by saying: "You say the darndest things." Then, the Beast will become angry and try to kill you all. Percell must then stand up to it and the Cosbie Beast will transform."

"Into what?" asked Makay.

"I do not know," answered the Queen, "I just know it must be Percell who stands up against it, with no weapon and no one else to protect him."

"I will do it," vowed Percell.

And the nine travellers got prepared before the sun set behind the mountains.

Right before the last slice of the sun disappeared behind the mountains, Queen Malete arrived with the nine travellers. The Cosbie Beast was surprised, but is kept its anger well masked.

"Good evening to you, my Queen," it said pleasantly, "It see you have indeed brought nine men."

"Yes, and they do indeed have special talents," answered the Queen.

"We shall see about that. I am hungry and I need something to fill my belly up. There is only one type of meal that will fill my belly up. Bring it to me on the morrow or I will certainly eat a princess."

And with that, the nine travellers left the hallway. Immediately, Tailer ran down into the scullery where the cooks lay about in tired sadness for having to cook for such a horrible beast. It was difficult, even for Tailer, but by midnight he was able to coax the cooks into making the pudding and by the time the sun peeked out from behind the mountain, Baiker brought up the ton of pudding and plooped it down in front of the Cosbie Beast. The beast was very angry now, but masked it well as it slopped the pudding down its throat greedily.

"See what I said? They do indeed have special talents," said the Queen.

"We shall see about that. My most fearsome creature abides in the darkest area in the dungeon. When you go there, it will ask a riddle and you must answer it correctly. It will tell me what you said on the morrow and if it is wrong, I will certainly eat a princess."

And with that, the nine travellers went down into the dungeon to find the fearsome creature. Only Roo alone, though, went into the room to face the creature. After a while, he called the others in. When they entered, they saw Roo sitting happily atop the creature, that didn't look very fearsome at all! in fact, it looked rather fearful as it stared up at Roo. By the time the sun peeked out from behind the mountain, the creature had slinked up to the hall and whispered the correct answer, "You say the darndest things", to the Beast. Now the Beast was very mad, and it slaughtered the poor creature and ate it.

"See what I said? They do indeed have special talents," said the Queen.

"We shall see about that," The Beast rose up suddenly ready to strike and kill them. Percell ran up to face it, looking very brave and defiant. The Beast immediately grabbed him and promptly swallowed him whole. At first it looked very satisfied. Then, it began to look very ill. Then, with much panic, it stuck its own claw down its throat.

"The purity!" It screamed. "The innocence of this man! It is too much for my corruption, my network hogging, my viewer hoarding! Help meeeee...."

And with that, the Beast was transformed. Percell was pulled out of its throat and he was not hurt. The Beast had transformed into a strange being with a large stomach and a round, soft hat that fell over his eyes.

"Should we kill it?" Miron asked the Queen.

"No," the Queen laughed. "It is completely harmless."

"Hey hey hey," said the Beast. And that was all it was able to say for the rest of its life.

The Princesses, now freed, jumped for joy and danced with the men. "Thank you," they all cried in glee.

"Are you now going to become our wives?" asked Ezekiel.

"We will do better than that," said the Princess Stahrbuc, and she fed Ezekiel a dark, hot, bitter beverage.

"Yes! We will use our magical glowing white and our imaginations to help you," said the Princess Siesons, and she blessed them with her portable glowing white.

"How?" asked Hourne.

"Through that, we will find you beautiful women that you will fall in love with," said the Princess Kitiekat and she spun and danced around them.

"And you will still be able to have the adventures you will never want to give up," said the Princess Mhac and she handed then their swords.

"We will also provide you with our love, through poetry and song," said the Princess Saboo and she gave them illuminated scrolls.

"And you will continue to live in our hearts and minds, travelling forever as a group," said the Princess Magi, and she gave them each matching shields.

"And lastly, you will always be able to have fun," said the Princess Luri, and she tickled them all generously.

The nine travellers were quite happy with this arrangement, and together they travelled, never forgetting the Queen and her seven beautiful Princesses as they loved, adventured, and had fun.

And they lived happily ever after.

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