When the Swords of Astrid came to town, I was as frightened as anyone. There was talk of interrogation and burning and other terrifying things. We tried to welcome them, but they didn’t look too welcome.
They demanded that we prove our loyalty, and gave us three choices:
- Bring back their holy chalice.
- Bring back the heads of some dangerous fey.
- Find out why the sprouts of Grantham had turned black.
I don’t know about you, but I like sprouts.
Besides, just a little while ago, I’d saved the cheeses of Meriview, and that had turned out OK.
Some of the better people of Chuton had been to Grantham recently. It hadn’t gone well. There had been a fire. There had been an inquisitor. People had died, by all accounts.
But nothing that would destroy good healthy sprouts.
Owen Blacksmith and Bzzzantine said that they would come along with me (Porky). The coffin maker came, too, which I took as a bad omen – but she had a cart, so what choice did we have. I never did get her name.
A bad season for sprouts
When we got to Grantham, we found it was true. Every sprout, black as black. When you touched them, they went ‘poof’ and all you were left with was a fine black dust. We needed to find out who had dropped a Grantham on these poor little sprouts, and fast!
The mayor seemed distracted and distraught. It may have had something to do with the fact that she had participated in the burning of the village schoolteacher and her whole family, perhaps. But that wasn’t what was important right now. We needed to save the sprouts!
It turned out that one of the younger members of the town had taken umbrage at the murder of his beloved, the schoolteacher’s daughter.
The teacher’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the teacher’s daughter.
Taken umbrage in the form of a pitchfork to the neck of Bess’ lover, Hank, as it turned out. So claimed Frank, Hank’s brother, and all the town backed him up. They’d all seen Hank die, and they’d all seen young Wilbur run off into the woods. And then they’d all seen their precious sprouts turn black.
They’d all seen it, but they hadn’t done anything to stop it.
With the help of a dog called ‘Dog’, we tracked Wilbur into the woods. The woods were scary, but lovely. The dappled light made it seem like there were four of me – I felt like there was a little crowd of ‘me’, all protecting me.
Dog went mad and I smelt blood. We thought that we’d found young Wilbur, but it was only a goat ripped in two, with it’s entrails eaten out. The culprit had hauled the goat into a tree and eaten it up there, so we started looking in the trees.
Sure enough, Dog found Wilbur in a tree, all trussed up like a Solstice ornament. Hanging there, just waiting for someone to come and try to rescue him. Only a madman would have done something like that, or someone setting a trap.
Or both, as it turned out. The thing that attacked us was mad. More than that, it was chaotic. It’s head was where it’s belly should be, and it had too many arms and legs. It kept rocking backwards and forwards, and doing crazy cartwheels. I was scared witless, I don’t mind telling you.
Luckily, all that cartwheeling had made it dizzy, so when Bzzzantine hit it, it fell over. In my witless state, I ran forward and jumped on it, in some crazy attempt to hold it down. I did hold it down, but it didn’t do any good. It just turned around and around and around, like Bzzzantine’s buzz saw, and ripped the poor coffin maker’s throat out. I never did get her name.
Finally, it was dead. The sprouts were saved! Young Wilbur claimed that Frank had made a pact with this crazy demon thing to hunt him down, and the sprouts were blighted because of it. Frank, of course, claimed that wasn’t true, but the fact that the sprouts were turning green again seemed to give the lie to that statement.
However, that wasn’t our business. We left Grantham to sort out what to do with star-crossed Wilbur and Frank. We had a dead crazy thing, a dead coffin maker (I never did get her name) and a very large box of luscious green sprouts in the back of the cart.
I hope those nasty Swords of Astrid are gone by the time we get back to Chuton.