The Carrot and the Stick Part 25

Chapter 24: A Circus of a Situation

The mossmallow henge itself loomed before them. The clan had houses of wood built into the very henge itself, and growing down from the top piece of the henge was a Wrapperbulb Upsidedown tree. A tree with pale white bark and inky black leaves. Nestled among these leaves were multicoloured crinkled looking bulbs. The bulbs were giving off light, it was getting dark after all.

It was an impressive feat to have grown such a tree in that location. Normally darksorbing plants like that didn’t fare well when brought up from underground.

Below this then was a table. A grand table. The tabletop was made from large sections and small sections of emerald, for the Goadskulls are fond of things that remind them of the Great Green Bull. Beneath the tabled top, supporting the emerald slabs was none other than the dusky skeleton of some grand forest serpent. At one end of the table, was the seat of shame, formed from the tail tip of the serpent. At the other of course was the glorious seat of honour! This was formed from the skull of the serpent, and was adorned with various trophies and loot! In fact you couldn’t see the skull itself for all the pelts, stuffed heads and other assorted things.

Beyond this table was a series of smoking pits, like the mouths of some dreadful fire breathing beasts! They were of course, the cook-pits where the shamans of the clan would perform their mystic art!

Eadam was instantly curious and drew closer to the pits, but before any of the other adventurers could do anything about it, Eadam was captured and pressganged into service by the shamans. Everyone else was led to seats at the grand table. It was part of the table where the goadskulls would put guests. There, Ulex and company were surprised by a familiar face.

Elswipe the Fat!” Ulex cried in surprise.

The worryingly rotund merchant slaver keflin shifted his bulk on his long suffering gargoyle slaves. He frowned, rolls of fat on his face rolling like waves.

You don’t have to call my name like I’m some sort of villain you know!”

Master is a the most virtuous of merchants!” Ramalsin cried from his seat.

Following that, the merchant’s followers flattered him as only they could.

Yes, he wouldn’t do a thing like shaving gems or never taking krells, but always buying in krells!”

Nor would he trick someone into slavery!”

He wouldn’t use rigged dice!”

Selling fruit that looks good on the outside but has gone bad inside would never even enter into his mind!”

Weaselling out of contracts isn’t his style! Why he wouldn’t even have a weasel slave for the express purpose of getting out of contracts!”

Elswipe waved a pudgy hand, a bit nervous at his followers listing out his misdeeds.

Alright, alright, that’s enough for now”

Gheel stared at Elswipe.

I must admit Mr. the Fat, I am a bit confused as to how you got here before us!”

Elswipe stared back, as if looking at a pet that was, while a bit cute, more than a little dumb.

My good man, I have a wondrous magical caravan. You do not. I have such riches that I can sometimes bribe the land itself, you are mere paupers!”

The land can be bribed?” Waufronk asked.

Sometimes. It is a fickle thing.” Elswipe’s eyes widened and he looked around before signalling to his gargoyles. The unfortunate creature grunted and lowered him to the ground. Elswipe patted the ground.

Not that there is anything wrong with being fickle. I’m quite fickle myself, why having such a changeable mind can be quite charming.”

He signalled the gargoyles again and they lifted him back up. With difficulty.

Spongy looked about Elswipe’s crowd of sycophants, he looked a bit upset.

Where Creambash brothers?” he asked.

Indeed, the two fierce snow white bears that Elswipe had as bodyguards were nowhere to be seen. Elswipe closed his eyes.

I’m a bit tired. Ramalsin, you entertain the plebs”

Oh, as you wish oh wondrously huge master!”

Ramalsin had barely finished talking when Elswipe began snoring surprisingly softly. The sneaking looking Ramalsin himself deflated like a popped balloon, relief visible on his snout. The various sycophants seemed a lot more relaxed and a lot less interested in Elswipe now that he was sleeping.

Finally. I do wish he hadn’t taken such a shine to you Spongy Snaps. The trip here has been dreadful. We kept encountering patrols of the firelord too, and that put him in a right foul mood. Ah, right, you were asking about the Creambash brothers. Well, Elswipe sent them off with one of the goadskull hunting companies. A show of goodwill and all that.”

Oh. Spongy miss wrestle”

-Ah, of course you do. My if the brothers knew that they avoided wrestling with you, they’d be… well very happy. Yes, very happy, ah I wish I was back in the hills farming surly cabbages. Even farming insulting cabbages would be better. I should have listened to mama and papa back then- Ramalsin thought. He didn’t dare say anything.

How many hunting groups does this clan have anyway?” Ulex wondered.

Oh, they’ve only got three. There was the one you came with, the Company of the Six, then there is the Yellow Horned Company. The last group… it isn’t a group actually. I was quite surprised, why they have some sulky hero type hunter, barely speaks, but appears in times of need and at feasts. They don’t see hide nor horn of him the rest of the time!”

A hero…” Ulex mused.

Waufronk was considering taking out his heirloom earplugs. The bustle of the feast was quite bad, and Ramalsin was dreadful to listen to, what with his snivelling voice.

Yes, quite, Elswipe was a bit worried that it would be one of those heroes that release slaves without thinking about who’ll feed them, but well, no released slaves yet! But enough about all that, or a bit related to professions, when did you motley lot change from being adventurers to being a circus troupe? I must say it seems a fitting change. You’ll likely make a bit more money too. Why Elswipe was even thinking of releasing a few slaves to join your circus.”

What?” Gheel objected.

Everyone’s talking about the performance you’ll be doing at the feast. I must say, I am looking forward to it myself. Been years since I saw a good circus.”

what” Kepo said flatly.

Why the goadskulls are in a complete tizzy about it. I reckon if someone was to ride through here and try to prevent you from doing your show, well, I think they’d eat such a person alive!”

What!” Waufronk almost screamed.

They’ve even dusted off an old cannon they had stored away, seeing as how you don’t have one”

What” Ulex boggled.

What I’m really excited about is how Spongy’s going to juggle several ferocious beasts!” Ramalsin raved.

Spongy fine with this” the gingerbread man himself said.

Waufronk sat back, his mind filled with visions of them being chased through the woods by a whole goadskull clan, angry at being cheated out of a circus show.

Oh look, the Yellow Horned Company has arrived!”

The unfortunate adventurers turned to look at the new arrivals, if only to take their minds off the situation they were now in.

Author: SnowyMystic