“Whaddya want?” challenged the captain of the guards.
“I hear you’re hiring mercenary scum,” I replied cooly.
“So, I’m scum.”
The portcullis was raised and I was shown inside. The outer keep was a large affair with stables, an armoury and a Starbucks.
“They’re hirin’ over there.” My guide gestured towards a table that wouldn’t have been out of place at a blood drive. I adjusted my eye patch and approached with cagey glances to my left and right.
There was a short line of would-be villains in front of the table. As I got to the end, a whitish womanly man a black outfit with lots of silver buckles stomped past me muttering, “You know I'm bad! I'm bad - come on!!! Woo!”
I ignored him and waited for my turn.
The grizzled war veteran at the table didn’t even look up from his clipboard.
‘Previous work experience?”
“Killer for hire, thief, short-order cook, northern barbarian and looter.”
“Ever served with Umbi Two-Fingers?”
“Nope, never had the privilege.”
I had assumed that in a case like this honesty would be the best policy, but I saw the interviewer dude’s pen sliding towards the “application rejected” box.
“Oh wait, did you say ‘served with Umbi’?! I thought you asked if I had slept with Umbi! Ha! Yeah, I served with him all the time. Taught me everything I know. Never slept with him though, and that is somethin’ that not many can say, mind you. That Umbi! Hands like an nymphomaniacal octopus.”
The old soldier got up and went to confer with his pals. They came back in a group and formed a circle around me.
The smallest, greasiest one pointed to my eye patch and said, “Wot’s wif dat?”
“Oh, it’s only for reading,” I answered smartly.
“So, you served with Umbi?” asked a scarred melon-headed freak lippily.
“Is your mom a cheap whore?” I rejoined.
“I say we give him a florin and make him our sweet boy,” suggested one lascivious wag.
“Look, boys,” I sighed, “I think you’re wasting my time. I want 20 grand a year plus commission or I’m gonna go hire on with the Pirates of Blackwater down the street. Oh, and before I go, I’m gonna kill the lot of you for smelling so bad.”
“Heh,” laughed Melonhead, and he went for his sword. When his hand got there, he was surprised to find nothing but air. That was because an instant earlier I had snatched it from his scabbard and cut his nose off. The nose hit the floor with a sound that’s not unlike the one made by an ear hitting the floor, only this one is slightly more nasal.
I then handily dispatched Mr. Sweet Boy and amputated someone’s pegleg.
They all leapt back and cried out. More armed guards came running over to surround me.
“I think now I’ll want 25 grand a year,” I drawled.
The brigands eyed me in astonished and cowed fury.
“Done!” cried Grizzly Beard, my original interviewer. “You shall have your money. Please just don’t kill anyone else.”
“Sure,” I grinned, looking at Melonhead, who was rolling on the ground, his face in his hands. “No skin off my nose.”
Just then a big Ricola horn was blown and all the mercenaries lined up in ranks. I was pushed to the front, where I snapped to attention.
An apelike shuffling heralded the appearance of my old chum Trap-Jaw. He looked the army up and down.
“My Lord Scare-Glow will ride forth tonight with his host. His glorious vengeance shall be felt on those dogs who have tithed neither men nor money to the State Construction Project. Prepare yourselves to commit the bloodiest acts of murder and intrigue. We ride!”
Wonderful, I thought, now I can stay behind as the army pulls out and search the castle for Mer-Man at my convenience!
Just then a figure in ancient and rotted robes walked quickly out into the courtyard. His face was that of a glowing skull. He carried a dark lance that was etched with runes and crackled with a faint electricity. He passed an eye over the troops, but his gaze froze on me.
“You there,” he snarled, “The big blond one.”
I pointed at my own chest and mouthed an unbelieving “me?”
“Yes, you! You will be my standard banner. Mount up beside me!”
Scare-Glow swung himself into the saddle of his massive stone horse and I hopped onto a perky lil’ roan next to him. Trap-Jaw handed me the flag with a look of bitter resignation in his eyes.
“Jealous much?” I whispered.
Before he could answer we were off. Mer-Man was still somewhere in the halls of Castle Skeletor and I was riding in the vanguard of Scare-Glow’s army.