Despite the morality plays, the allegories, and the comical tales, striking off the head does not kill the snake. Not when the snake is a fortress filled with narcissistic, megalomaniacal, greedy, power mad frogs and the head is one sodden, flatulent, paranoid monarch.
Turns out, the room was barred from the inside and no one could get in unless his majesty, what’s his face, let them in. Made our immediate life easier. We took our time exploring the immaculate quarters. The walls were hung with tapestries, the floors thick with carpets. A bed that would’ve fit Alfred filled a full third of the room nearest to the doors we had entered through. We had to climb over chests and other furniture which indicated that the kinglet here had no idea the doors existed.
There were many artifacts here as well. Some looted from other places, Rufus assured me, but among the larger pieces were several tablets and statues that had been plundered from one of the many temples that had once filled this fortress. I did not recognize any of the orders or deities represented which disturbed me quite a lot. It would have been no more morbid to place the dismembered body of a loved one out as art.
We helped ourselves to some of the king’s food stuff, as it was likely to go to waste. Liz allowed what was safe and palatable, which we were all thankful for. With our water skins refilled and our packs heavier for the fresh food, we girded ourselves for battle.
Sparkle tested the doors, looking for alarms or traps and was not surprised at all to find several of both. They were all rather easy to spot from this side of the door, meant more to catch anyone entering without the king’s assent. We had no idea how many guards to expect on the other side of those doors, so we just hefted our weapons and waited while Bÿglar, the strongest of our lot, pulled the doors open. They swung open easily, with pulleys and counter-weights hidden the walls to ease the movement of the thick doors.
The two guards on the other side barely moved when the heavy portal swung open. Apparently the king had a habit of making grand exits because they just stepped to the edge of the stair and waited to proceed him. I almost felt bad when Liz and Sparkle killed them. Okay, not really.
Frankly from this point forward it was a boring exercise to open a door, kill the six or less frogs in that isolated chamber and move to the next. No one was anticipating a revolution or over-throw from the inside. They were just prepared for one to come from outside the king’s private suites.
All told we killed thirty-seven frogs before we made it to the throne room. That was the easy part. Not to give an impression that we were not battle tested. There were some very large, very experienced warrior frogs in that lot. Nearly a dozen. Most of the rest were sycophants and functionaries. By the time we entered the throne room, we had not found the froggy wizards, but we did get a surprise.
Seems the frogs had allies beyond the edges of the swamps. Someone who had a vested interest in assisting the froggies in their play for swamp-wide domination. I thought maybe it would be Illitharad, the Psy-Flayer. Him I was anxious to introduce to the business end of my mace. But it was not to be. Instead it was another wizard. One that Rufus knew and loathed more than he loathed Wizard Tim.
Just beyond the dais where the king’s throne rested, a small gathering of emissaries stood, huddled together, exchanging worried glances. There was a screen which allowed the king and his retinue to stand behind and scan the room before entering. I found this to be very advantageous. We watched them for a moment, the frogs in the room casting worried glances around. Apparently it was not uncommon for leadership of the frogs to turn over from time to time. This we gathered from their comments.
There were three fat merchants huddled together, listening to a tall thin individual pontificating on the subtle changes a kingdom could undergo when a new king was raised from the ranks of the conspirators. This was the wizard. He was telling the quaking merchants that their wagon trains would be safe and that the next king, whomever it proved to be, would need their supplies just as readily. The voice was callous and meticulous, with precise diction and the hint of an accent that I had never heard before. It was Rufus who recognized him, and for good reason. For it was not just another wizard, but one of the masters from the university in Skyfell, the gods curse all wizards.
“Leviathus!” Rufus weasel gnome growled. There was murder in his tiny gnome eyes and I was willing to assist in whatever form of the act he cared to entertain. This Leviathus had just finished telling the merchants that with his assistance the current king had expanded their territories to sweep up even more of the lesser demi-humans and that within the season he would be personally responsible for the final dissolution of the Black Heart Hobgoblin Legion.
This drew exclamations of relief and even glee from the three merchants who went on to decry the hobs as beneath contempt for their barbarity and expressed the hope the wizard Leviathus would help eradicate their entire species from the world, men, women, and children all should be slaughtered in their beds.
Gods, I hated people like that. So much so, I was happy to introduce Leviathus and his friends to my gods on their way to hell. Interestingly enough it was Bob who stayed my hand with a surprised glance from Sparkle who not only agreed that we should not kill the wizard, but that we should also not kill the merchants.
We waited in the antechamber while Sparkle and Bob bent their heads together. Eventually Bÿglar and Liz joined them while explicitly excluding me and Rufus from their plotting. We were to watch that no one tried to come back here and look for the king, though by the conversation the wizard and the merchants were having they did not truly expect for the king to show his hoary face this day in any case. He had already made them wait two days.
So imagine my surprise when Sparkle returned, took Rufus aside and gave him something which brought a smile to his weasely face. I was the only one not in the know and I was becoming more and more frustrated by the whole thing. My muscles were growing sore from the battles we had undergone and I wanted to finish this while I was young.