Read Shadewell Shenanigans Online
Authors: David Lee Stone
The Shadewell Shenanigans
For Chiara Louisa Tripodi,
Part Three: The Fight for Phlegm
Ruler of Legrash
Ruler of Dullitch
Wife of Count Craven
Manservant to Duke Modeset
Chairman of the Great Assembly
Ruler of Sneeze
Ruler of Phlegm
Wild adventurer or Wildman
Princess of Phlegm
Goblin ring announcer
Demented fox terrier
Ruler of Spittle
HE MEETING TOOK PLACE
in the village of Shadewell; a sure sign that something untoward was afoot.
Shadewell had a bad reputation, and not simply because it nestled beneath the western overhang of Shinbone Forest. The town, aside from being a haven for thieves and the more disreputable traders that frequented the southern shores, had played host to just about every major conspiracy in the history of Illmoor. In fact, no backstabbing murder plot was ever considered a threat until it could boast at least one high-level meeting in Shadewell. The villagers, who had a keen but necessarily detached interest in current affairs, occupied themselves during these anarchical gatherings by guessing who was going to be murdered next. Gold was seldom wagered on these guesses, though, because the process was so straightforward. All one needed to do in order to ascertain the presumed target was spot which great civic leader hadn’t been invited to the table.
On this occasion, however, the villagers of Shadewell were left more than a little flummoxed; everyone who was anyone had turned up. Indeed, by lunchtime, all six permanent members of the Illmoorian Great Assembly had passed under the Shading Gate and into the village proper.
Viscount Curfew was the first to arrive. The ruling lord of Dullitch had left his entourage at the stables and had, to the great appreciation of the crowd, made his way to the village hall by foot, his long, dark cloak billowing out behind him like a possessed shroud.
Next to appear was Curfew’s cousin, Duke Modeset, a notorious figure throughout Illmoor since his banishment from Dullitch following the hideous rat catastrophe. Modeset, much to the chagrin of his cousin, had been awarded the elevated position of Assembly Chairman, effectively allowing him a five-fingered veto throughout the proceedings. Curfew had only a one-fingered veto at
disposal, but it probably wasn’t the sort he’d be allowed to use during a vote.
After Modeset, came King Phew of Phlegm, the richest member of the Great Assembly. He arrived in a golden carriage pulled by a pair of Chudderford Shires that were so incredibly intelligent, they’d waited until they’d been stabled before asking to use the toilet. Phew himself was a stout and sturdy man who attracted attention wherever he went, not merely due to his wealth, but because he walked while leaning backward: anyone who watched him was immediately put in mind of a limbo dancer, minus the bar.
The next arrival struck a stark contrast. Baron Muttknuckles, the regularly bankrupt and consistently violent lord of Sneeze, rolled up his sleeves at the door, elbowed his way into the village hall, and practically committed murder when the butler tried to take his deerskin coat. Eventually, after several arguments with fellow lords, the baron allowed the still-antlered beast to be removed, and blind eyes were turned as a full set of stolen crockery fell from one of the pockets.
Prince Blood, the premier of Legrash, arrived in a blaze of glory. Quite literally, in fact: his party had been attacked by Shinbone Footpads, who’d beaten up the prince’s footmen and promptly set the royal carriage afire. As he arrived, several of his aides were trying to put him out and were beating him frantically about the head with a wet blanket, much to his apparent embarrassment.
Last to enter the village was the Earl of Visceral, the gaunt and angular primate of Spittle, who arrived complete with two skeletal bodyguards and, much to the amazement of the villagers, proceeded to dismantle them both and pack them away neatly in a small wooden suitcase before continuing to the hall.
Inside, the atmosphere was less than pleasant. Underneath a wide banner commemorating continental peace and the All-Cities Charter of 1014, several cries of “don’t you threaten me” were quickly followed by a suggestion from Muttknuckles that Phew’s incredibly muscular left arm had only become incredibly muscular since his wife had run off with her jester. Amid the tumult, Duke Modeset was in huddled conversation with Visceral, with whom he shared a great deal of common ground; partly because they had attended the same classes at Crestwell School, but mainly because he’d borrowed from the earl’s land army in order to wrench the town of Fogrise back from a ferocious group of cardsharps.
“Can you believe this?” Curfew muttered to Blood. “How’re we supposed to get anything done with such a row going on?”
“Oh, I expect it’ll die down,” said Blood, who’d been in attendance twice before and was thus a veteran of the proceedings. “It usually does.”
All eyes turned toward Pegrand Marshall, Modeset’s faithful manservant, who’d brought a twenty-pound lumphammer to bear on the old oak table. The gesture was more ceremonial than aggressive, but it certainly got everyone’s attention.
“Milord Modeset, in this, his most humbled and obsequious position, prays silence at this difficult time.”
Modeset rolled his eyes, then reached up and pulled Pegrand’s head level with his mouth.
“I’ve told you what to say, Pegrand,” he whispered. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t
add bits in.
It’s bad enough not being able to address the assembly directly, without you making things worse.”
His manservant nodded and returned his attention to the temporarily captivated audience.
“His lordship very much resents not being allowed to talk to you all personally,” Pegrand continued, “and is somewhat surprised that he is still being treated like an exile in most parts of Illmoor,
the fact that he saved the capital from a Yowler plot to destroy it. Still, as a once-disgraced noble, he is only permitted to chair the meeting, and not to address it. Therefore, I will be his voice for the duration of this meeting; a decision that has caused his lordship no small amount of stress. Does anybody have any objection to my addressing you all?”
There were a lot of shared glances and a few shrugs. Only Curfew nodded in agreement, but even
acknowledgement contained a reluctant edge.
Pegrand swallowed, progressing: “While I remember, Duke Modeset
wish to thank you for inviting him to chair this most vital of meetings … and he’d very much appreciate any donations you’d care to make toward the restoration of his ancestral home in Fogri—”
Without waiting for the speech to be concluded, Modeset leaped from his seat and snatched a handful of his servant’s jerkin.
“Damn you, Pegrand! I told you to leave that bit until the end of the day. Now every one of them knows we’re here with a begging bowl. Well, thank you. Thank you so very much.”
He slumped back into the chair, folded his arms, and stared pointedly out of the window. His manservant went red in the face for a few moments, but proceeded.
“His, um, his lordship, er, I must apologize—I read that last bit wrong. His lordship is fine for money, and is doing very well for himself despite, erm, how things might look. In actual fact, we’ve both got new jerkins on order—”
“Shut up! Just shut up!” Modeset chimed in. “You’re only making the situation worse! Just listen to yourself, man!”
Pegrand’s frown was threatening to melt his face. “I’m sorry, milord, I really am! What should I say?”
“You think you’re hard up?” Muttknuckles interjected. “I had to
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Curfew said, leaning across the table with a smile playing on his lips. “Much as I hate to interrupt this entertaining little pantomime, I would like to remind you that we are all here for a reason, and I, for one, cannot wait to get this discussion underway.”
“Seconded,” muttered Phew and Blood in unison.
Modeset shifted uncomfortably in his seat and, eventually, cleared his throat. “I know what the rules state,” he began. “But may I at least be allowed to address the Assembly directly? After all, disgraced or not, I am supposed to be chairing this meeting.”
“Get on with it, then.”
The duke nodded, then leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath. “We are here today, gentlemen, to discuss a common threat.” He waited for a murmur of agreement before continuing. “Each one of us has suffered untold humiliations at the hands of this menace, and not one of our beautiful cities has escaped his destructive attentions. Gentlemen, I think you will agree with me when I say that it is high time we rid ourselves of Groan Teethgrit.”
The muttering around the table increased, but Modeset had regained the momentum and he wasn’t about to let himself falter.
“I have here statements from your foreign ministers: one each from Spittle, Sneeze, Dullitch, and Legrash. Phlegm is a notable exception, but I’ll come to that in a moment. For now, I would like to share with you a brief roundup of events involving this … continental landmass and his despicable associates.”
Curfew sat up, Blood twitched, and even Muttknuckles was paying attention. The only people in the room not paying full heed to the duke’s speech were Visceral, who’d helped to write it; and Phew, who was becoming increasingly nervous about his city being described as a “notable exception.”
“Since Teethgrit and his midget partner escaped from Dullitch following my own exile,” Modeset proceeded, staring pointedly at his cousin, “escaped, I might add, dressed as washerwomen …”
Curfew glared at him.
“That is,” Modeset plowed on, “a seven-foot, bald-headed washerwoman and her bearded, four-foot niece …”
“Yes, yes! I think we’ve got the picture,” Curfew snapped, ignoring the accusatory stares of his fellow leaders. “Do go on.”
“Hmm … well, since that day, they have wreaked havoc across Illmoor, and I quote: ‘seventy-two merchant caravans ambushed between Dullitch and Spittle, losing both cities somewhere in the region of fifty thousand crowns; the theft of countless bejeweled swords from the royal vault in Legrash, costing approximately thirty thousand crowns; and, more recently, several cases of arson and extraordinarily reckless vandalism in and around Sneeze, causing Baron Muttknuckles to slip even further into debt and depravity.’ To date, only our Phlegmian cousins have escaped Teethgrit’s ravenous hunger for chaos, but I assure you, Your Majesty, that even your fair city will not go unnoticed for long. I am now given to understand that these two unspeakably troublesome mercenaries have joined forces with the last surviving member of Teethgrit’s tribal clan—a man, I might add, who boasts a list of criminal activities almost matching that of his half-wit brother—promising yet more mayhem and misery still to come.” Modeset took a deep breath and shook his head disapprovingly. “The history books tell us that this one rogue tribe has terrorized our land for more than two centuries … and it falls to us—um—
the five most powerful and influential leaders in Illmoor, to answer the question: why are you putting up with this? There’re only two Teethgrits left, after all, and you do have four entire
at your disposal.