Chapter Fifty-Six

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The mood in the great hall could be optimistically described as awkward.
“I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?” asked the Duke of Whattlesworth.
“She’s under an enchantment, your Grace,” repeated Garfan.
“I will see you fed to Great Beast of Funtor! Then reanimate your bones from the leavings!” said the Lady Daphnae, in the voice of the Balor-Nar.
“I see,” said the Duke.
“Good, because-” said Garfan.
“Except,” interrupted the Duke, “that I don’t really.”
A squad of house guardsmen stood at attention along the hall, occasionally rattling a sword or spear. Not so loud as to interrupt, but just enough to remind people that they were indeed surrounded by armed guards.
“Father, ‘tis true! My sister is bedeviled by magic!” shouted Tarnah. “An evil spell from the Master of Evil!”
Garfan had convinced her not to kill Hubert, who had failed to fix this before they returned. It was not easy, since she really was prepared to chop Hubert in twain, but when everyone pointed out that removing the enchantment would require a lot of research and study, she reluctantly agreed to postpone killing him till he proved that he could not do it.
“I am the Master of Evil, reborn in the body of your child, you fat oaf!” sneered the tween.
“Daphnae, please, the grown-ups are speaking,” tutted the Duke.
“I will kill you first!” he/she said with narrowed eyes.
“Now Sir Garfan, I had hoped that with your reputation for getting things done, you’d bring my youngest back with no ill effects, not possessed by some sort of evil spirit,” stated the Duke. “It is an evil spirit, is it not?”
“She’s been placed under a spell that makes her think that she is the Master of Evil, so not possessed. It’s as if she “thinks” she’s possessed,” added Hubert.
The Duke squinted, and asked Tarnah, “I’m sorry, I know you introduced this fellow, but who is he again?”
Garfan spoke up quickly, “This is Hubert. He was a prisoner in the Citadel of Darkness who was quite instrumental in our escape.”
“Ooo! Well, you have our thanks, young man,” said the Duke, bowing his head the appropriate amount for this situation.
“He’s my idiot son!” said the Lady Daphnae in her deep manly voice. “He was the Master of Evil till I disposed of him!”
“As you can see, it is a powerful enchantment,” added Hubert.
“Quite!” said the Duke.
Garfan took a knee and spoke.
“Your Grace, I set out to rescue your youngest daughter and I did, but there were complications as you can see. While I owe my life to those who traveled with me, I alone bear the blame for the result. If you wish to punish anyone, punish me alone.”
“Father, I have fought beside Sir Garfan and I would stand with him in whatever justice you would met out!” declared Tarnah.
Caliric came forward, “A squire stands by his knight, not matter what!”
Hubert stood with them, “If it weren’t for Sir Garfan, I’d still be in that dungeon.”
Lockford appeared next to them all and uttered, “I would be a poor valet indeed if I should not stand with my master.”
Kelph, who had told them numerous times as they traveled that they were crazy to come back, had the attention of the room. He was usually overlooked in a crowd but when you roll in with the Chosen One, it makes it a challenge to fade into the crowd. He cocked his head to the side and nodded.
“Yeah, me too,” said the thief who then joined the crowd.
The Duke looked at the group and stroked his chin.
“Daphnae is my youngest child, any harm to her is harm to me,” said the Duke, “It seems that someone has damaged her, and that I cannot forgive.”
Awkwardness slid effortlessly into tension.
“That person will feel my wrath and it will be terrible,” the Duke said as he plucked an axe that leaned against his chair and flung it across the room into the head of the chieftain Oook-Maart, where it quivered.
“Fortunately, that person…” paused the Duke, “is not here. I will have my vengeance on the Master of Evil or my name is not Terrowin!”
“Terrowin?” thought everyone except Tarnah.
“Come here my friends!” said Duke Terrowin.
Standing, the pudgy little nobleman embraced them all. The mood sidled away from tense back to awkward, as hugging someone you don’t know that well often is. But awkward is always better than dead or tortured.
Balor-Nar/Lady Daphnae continued to threaten everyone with various forms of vengeance and as a result, was sent to bed without supper.
There was a banquet, a smaller affair than the return of a Duke’s daughter would warrant, but considering the guest of honor had a mouth like a sailor on a fiery sea in one of the Hells, it was just fine.
Toasts were given and stories of the quest were told, avoiding the part where Lady Daphnae was actually the Master of Evil. That still left a lot of good adventures to tell. The Duke and the members of his court were suitably impressed.
The Duke was initially disappointed that the Master of Evil was already dead, but then cheered up when he thought about it.
As party broke up, the Duke insisted that they all stay as his guests, which was the only polite thing to do.
Before people were led to their chambers, Garfan pulled Kelph aside and said, “Kelph, you were an enormous pain in the ass at times and it seems like you just like to argue with me for its own sake.”
“Like you don’t make my life more complicated every time you show up!” countered the thief.
“But, you did a great job and it’s time for you to get your reward,” Garfan said as Lockford handed a familiar sack.
Kelph had a quick intake of breath.
“Is that…” he said in a small voice.
“As per out agreement,” said Garfan.
Kelph took the sack and opened it. Wafting up was a smell that made him happier than he’d ever been.
“Enjoy, you’ve earned it,” said Garfan.
Bliss quickly turned to annoyance.
“You give me this after the meal? Typical!” fumed Kelph.
“It’s not the last meal you’ll ever eat! Relax!” replied Garfan
“This might be an excellent thing to break your fast tomorrow morn,” added Lockford. “It will assuredly be the finest meal at this or any other castle.”
“Yeah…” said Kelph, “I think you’re right. Good night, breadless losers.”

In his chambers, Garfan removed his armor with the aid of Lockford. Caliric had been given the night off; Pavda the carpenter’s daughter had shown up, smelling of vanilla and cedar, just as he remembered.
“That went remarkably well, all things considered,” said Garfan.
“Indeed sir, masterfully handled,” said Lockford, “You avoided the truth as deftly as you avoid an enemy’s blow.”
“None of us actually lied,” the Chosen One said a little defensively.
“If I implied such a thing, please forgive me, sir,” said the Valet, as he removed a greave.
“It’s not ideal, I’ll give you that.”
Lockford, then poured hot water in to the copper tub provided for the knight.
Garfan lowered himself into the hot water with a sigh, “That is just what the Physicker ordered.”
“I don’t wish to ruin your excellent mood sir, but there does seem to be a hundredweight Manticore in the room,” said Lockford said as he handed Garfan a bar of sandalwood soap.
Garfan grabbed Alacritas and leap from the tub, flinging suds about the room. “Where?”
Lockford cleared his throat, “I was of course, speaking metaphorically, sir.”
“You might want to choose a turn of phrase that that seems less threatening, Lockford,” said Garfan as he sheathed his sword and returned to the tub.
“Noted. But the matter of the MOE remains,” replied the Valet as he poured a snifter of brandy.
“Em Oh Eee?” he said taking a sip of the amber liquor.
Lockford leaned in and spoke quietly, “The Master of Evil, sir.”
“Oh! That’s pretty clever.”
“I cannot take the credit, it was Master Kelph’s turn of phrase.”
“Still good.”
“Indeed sir. If we could get back to the matter at hand.”
Garfan pulled a washcloth overt his face and sighed.
“There is nothing we can do until Hubert figures this out, so…” said the Chosen One with a shrug.
Lockford said nothing and Garfan savored it. Peaceful silence was a rare treat. He sat in the tub and let himself relax till the water got cold.
“Okay Lockford,” said Garfan as he removed the washcloth, “I think I’ve soaked enough.”
Standing before him was not his Valet. It was Tarnah, in a robe. It was the first time he’d seen her out of armor. She looked good. Very good.
“You have, let me rinse the suds from you and we will away to bed!” she declared.
“Very forward,” he said with a smirk.
“I will show you such thing as your citified ladies will never know.”
Garfan wanted to tell her that where you grew up didn’t affect such matters but it felt like a moment for agreement.
“I’m sure you’re right,” he replied.
“I did not steal into your chambers to banter,” she said as opened her robe to let it fall to the floor.
Garfan took a moment to enjoy the sight. It was extremely enjoyable.
“Let us talk no more this night,” she said.
Which was an excellent plan.

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