HyperGolf Episode 3

Episode 3

War Before Tea Time

Scrabble


       In the middle of a dreary moor liberally scattered with sheep excrement, Baron Clyde the Thirty-Seventh and Randy sat on wobbly fold-up chairs and played Scrabble off an equally wobbly fold-up table.
       Randy groaned and looked at his watch. "What's the par of this hole?"
       Clyde moved the teapot, which had been standing on his scorecard. "Roughly thousand light-year fairway, par fifty," he read.
       "This is gonna take forever! I've only had twelve shots."
       Clyde shrugged. "And most of those were chipping about in that dense patch of ionised gas you managed to hit your ball into two parsecs back."
       Randy picked a letter, and revelation flashed on his face. He arranged his letters on the scrabble board, bisecting Clyde's earlier addition of 'fornicate' and his own 'underwear'.
       Clyde stared at the letters (he was sitting on the other side of the board, so to him they were inverted). "That's not a word."
       "Yes it is; 'color' is a word."
       "Not spelt like that it isn't." Baron Clyde slurped his tea sullenly.
       "It is in my dictionary. It's in my spaceship; you want me to go get it?"
       Clyde snorted. "Bother and drat your silly spelling." He picked up his electric blunderbuss and smacked Randy in the leg with the butt of it. Randy's kneejerk kicked the board over and sent the letters flying onto the grass.
       "Moron," said Randy. He crouched down to pick up the letters. "Just 'cause you were losing."
       "There're some down there in that cowpat that you've missed." Clyde pointed. "And it's not really surprising you keep jittering and knocking everything over. You've not had any tea."
       "I don't want any tea," said Randy through gritted teeth. "It has an adverse effect on my handicap."
       Clyde took out his pocketwatch, looked at it, and put it back. "I'll bet you a space shilling that the referee is in the pub in that emission nebula we passed on the way in."
       "Yeah," said Randy. "No point arguing with that."

Scrabble Ambush


       Clyde started and spilt tea on himself as what they had both assumed was an old log with a few dead leaves sticking out of it, and had not noticed edging closer to them over the last half hour, stood up and pointed a gun at him. Randy looked up from picking up the Scrabble letters and yelled. Clyde knocked over the table, leaping behind it and spilling the teapot, as several more soldiers jumped up from the ground.
       On closer inspection, they saw that their assailants were in fact humans of some sort, with bars of dark pigment on the sides of their faces.
       "Er, Claaahd," said Randy slowly. "Tell these other people… of your kind… to stop pointing guns at us."
       "I demand to know the meaning of this!" Clyde pointed his electric blunderbuss over the edge of the table. Two more of the ambushers appeared behind him and grabbed him by the arms, while another wrested the blunderbuss off him.
       "Get up!" ordered another, seizing Randy. Randy's bionic golf bag immediately began to bark with indignation, and flung itself at the heels of the people holding him hostage, until someone picked it up and fed it a biscuit.
       "Don't you dare hurt her!" Randy told the golfbag accoster as they were frogmarched away. "She's 7th generation pedigree!"
       They squelched through a quagmire and at last arrived at a large concrete fortress surrounded by a moat. Clyde and Randy were marched over the drawbridge, past a portcullis, and down some steps into the bowels of the building, where their captors threw them into a dungeon.
       "You peasants! How dare you treat me like this!" Clyde shouted through the bars as they locked the door and left. "I'm a Baron of the Third British Empire!"
       "I demand to speak to my lawyer!" Randy shouted. "And what have you done with my golf bag? She needs feeding now, and if you don't look after her you're gonna have a lawsuit on your hands!"
       "Just look at this place!" Clyde pirouetted 360 degrees, holding out his hands. "It's disgusting! I've never seen such a bad damp problem! And look, there's a human skeleton over there, chained to the wall! We shouldn't have to be in a room with a decomposing corpse! It contravenes health and safety regulations!" He stamped over to the offending cadaver, and kicked it under a crude bed made from a plank of wood.
       "Claaahd, don't get all cute with me." Randy waggled his finger at the Baron. "Those people are the same species as you, unless those stripes on their faces were camouflage paint. There's something funny going on, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is your fault in some way."
       Clyde set his arms akimbo. "You know, just because we're all the British species doesn't mean we're all loyal to the British Empire!"
       "What are the other ones loyal to?"
       "Well, there're a few offshoot factions. Every so often there'll be someone who doesn't like some aspect of the law or something, and starts shouting their mouth off about it, then a few other people will get behind them, and they'll set off to claim territory of their own. There's the Scottish Marauders and the Welsh Insurgents for a start."
       "So these people are this Scottish Marauder faction?"
       "From their unsportsmanly ambushing of us, I'd say no. Scottish Marauders fight fair. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this lot were Australians."
       "Australians?"
       "You know how the British Empire is in the Galactic OverHalo? They broke off and settled in the UnderHalo, and they've been bloody rude about it ever since. They always win at cricket, and the reason they always win at cricket is because they don't play fair. Why, only last year we were playing them and they cheated!"
       "You don't say? How did they do that?"

Baron Clyde's cricket anecdote


       "They snuck into the pavilion in the dead of night and replaced all the tea with some diabolical poison with the caffeine taken out of it. The next day we were all ill with caffeine withdrawal and couldn't play. In fact they would have got away with it and we would never have known if Prince Herbert hadn't got drunk and been sick in the kitchen bin and found all the incriminating packaging and the real tea in there."
       Clyde sat on the bench and got out his pocketwatch. "Tarragon, I want to make a tachyon call to say we're being held hostage."
       "To whom?" it replied.
       "I don't know! The referee, Duchess Connie, the Queen. Anyone and everyone you can get through to."
       "That's not going to be possible," said the watch. "It seems this dungeon you've so foolishly had yourselves immured in is constructed in close vicinity to a hyperspace anomaly."
       "Hyperspace anomaly?"
       "Tachyons don't work inside wormholes or near hyperspace anomalies. If you'd bothered to pay attention in your Physics lessons when you were a boy, you'd know why."
       "I did pay attention in Physics lessons!"
       Tarragon paused a moment before continuing in an irritated tone. "No you didn't. You tried to use me to hypnotise the girl sitting next to you to perform unspeakable acts upon your person, and the teacher confiscated me."
       "Bah!" Clyde threw the watch at the wall and lay on his back, cradling his head in the palms of his hands and crossing his legs over at the ankles. He shut his eyes and grimaced. "I wish I hadn't told you that tea anecdote," he said at length. "I'm starting to feel damn thirsty now!"
       Randy paced the length of the dungeon. "There's a bucket with water in it here." He picked up the bucket and examined its contents. "Although it might actually be urine. It kind of smells like it, and I can't tell in this light."
       "All my tea bags are in my bandolier with my antimatter grenades and the spare batteries for my electric blunderbuss, and I left it back on Purple Emperor."
       "There's a used one in the pocket of your flying jacket," said Tarragon. "Only the other day you were threatening to put me in there with it."
       "Aha!" Clyde located it.
       "Wait a minute, someone's coming," said Randy.
       Two guards emerged into the annexe outside the bars. "You! Did you just say you were a Baron of the Third British Empire?"
       Clyde stared at the guards, a piece of string with a bit of paper on the end hanging from his mouth. He spat out the teabag and picked Tarragon up off the floor. "What happens if I am?"
       "You're to come with us." The keys jangled in the guard's hand as he opened the door.
       "Er, on second thoughts I think I'd rather stay here," said Clyde, glancing at Randy and then casting about the dungeon. "The place is starting to grow on me."
       "Yeah," said Randy. "From the level of advancement of the mould, I'd say it was."
       The guards manhandled Clyde out of the dungeon and slammed the door again. "Claaahd!" Randy called as they dragged him away.
       "Bloody Australians, or whatever you are!" Clyde's voice echoed along the damp corridor.
       "I wanna speak to my lawyer!" Randy shouted.
       Clyde was dragged up the slimy stone steps into the courtyard outside, thence into the back of the house through the kitchens, up an ornately decorated mahogany staircase, and finally down a long corridor.
       The guards threw open a heavy oak door with a polished brass handle, threw him inside, and threw the door shut again.
       Light streamed from a large, uncurtained window, into a room with bare floorboards and stone walls. An heraldic escutcheon hung from the far wall, depicting a lion rampant in the upper left corner, two teacups in the lower left, a plate of scones in the upper right, and a harpy being sick in the lower right of the field. There were two crossed laser lances beneath it, and a caption that read: 'NECRAY: Fighting for what is just and correct'. The only other furnishings were a table, a weapon rack, and a vaguely human-shaped dummy made out of sacking and bits of wood. This latter item was in the process of being thrashed most savagely by a short, well-muscled woman with a nasty-looking sword.
       Apart from her leather jerkin, gauntlets, boots, and trousers, she also had on an odd platinum crown. Clyde stood and watched as she whirled and slashed and stabbed, every stroke of the sword sending splinters and bits of stuffing flying. The practice culminated in a running leap that brought the blade down through the middle of the dummy. The head flew off and bowled across the floor, coming to a halt just before the Baron's feet. The woman pirouetted to face him, holding up her sword in triumphant pose.
       "I am the Queen of Necray," she declared, in a commanding voice that soared and rang in the acoustics of the room.
       "I am Baron Clyde the thirty-seventh of Pebdrake."
       The Queen of Necray looked down her nose at him. "Your teeth are all yellow."
       "That's because I've been sucking a teabag, on account of there being nothing else to eat or drink."
       The woman strode towards Clyde, sword still in hand. He flinched, but she walked past him to beat a large gong that he hadn't noticed before, hanging as it did on the wall behind the door.
       The door opened and a servant poked his head into the room.
       "Fetch victuals for the Baron!" ordered the Queen.
       The servant's head disappeared and the door closed.
       Clyde looked at the door, and then at the Queen. "I should like to take this moment to say that your hospitality stinks. Your central heating needs looking at, 'cause it's bloody freezing in here. The décor of that dungeon of yours is in a diabolical state, and there aren't any towels and the room service is appalling."
       The Queen looked as though she was about to say something, but then there came a knock upon the door, and the servant entered, carrying on a tray a teapot and cups, and a plate of scones and a selection of jams.

Clyde meets the Queen of Necray


       "Put it down on the table," said the Queen.
       "Now that's more like it!" Clyde rubbed his hands together and reached for the butter knife.
       "Stop! This is not your afternoon tea! This is a trial, and the penalty for failure is execution!"
       Clyde snatched back his hand and put it behind his back.
       The Queen of Necray pointed at the table as though about to accuse the food of being poisoned. "What are they?"
       Clyde stared at the things on the table, glanced at the abused practice dummy, and then back at the Queen. "Afternoon tea?" he ventured. "Elevenses?"
       "No, what are they?"
       "Why, they're scones of course."
       "That's right! They are scoans!"
       "Does that mean I've passed the trial?"
       "Yes! You may now eat."
       "Jolly good!" Clyde picked up a scone and sliced it in half. "Pass the jam would you? No, not that raspberry rubbish; I'll have some of that rosehip jelly."
       "What were you doing in No Man's Land?"
       "Where?" Clyde glanced up. "Oh, outside here you mean? I was playing HyperGolf." He finished slathering rosehip jelly on his scone, and squashed it back together.
       The Queen turned away from staring out the window to give him a contemptful look. "You are bothered with the trivialities of some game, while our people have been at war for a hundred local years?"
       "How should I know about your people? I'm only round these parts because I happened to hit my golf ball with my driver with such force and at such a trajectory that it landed here." Clyde sloshed milk into a teacup.
       "Ever since this planet was first colonised, we have honoured the ancient customs, and kept to four meals a day. Until there came to power of an evil fiefdom a lord calling himself the King of Frod! He was determined to start a war, over scones!"
       Clyde widened his eyes at the scone in his hand. "What, the possession of them?"
       "No, the pronunciation of them!"
       Clyde took a bite out of the scone. "There's no dispute over pronunciation! They're 'scoans', and that's all there is to it."
       "But the King of Frod maintains that it is not so. He upholds that they are 'scons'!" She spat the defamatory word as if it were a mouldy scone with rancid butter.
       "But that's preposterous! How could it ever conceivably be pronounced 'scons'?"
       "So any reasonable person would think. But he refuses to admit he is wrong, and so we have been at war forever since."
       "Hmm." Clyde chewed pensively. "Ah," he began with his mouth full, spraying damp crumbs in the Queen's direction. "Here's an idea for you. Why don't you get a neutral third party to make a scone with a sword stuck in it, then hide it up a hill somewhere, and then you and this King of Frod race towards it, and the first person to get there and pull the sword out of the scone wins?"
       "That is an interesting thought." She paused to consider. "But it's too complicated; the King of Frod would no doubt find a way of cheating at it. No, the only way we can hope to have victory over him is to engage with his forces in open warfare."
       "Oh well. Will you release me and my friend, and let us get on with our game then?"
       The Queen narrowed her eyes. "No. I want you to fight alongside me."
       Clyde finished his scone and licked his fingers. "I'm not really very good at fighting. I think I'd let the side down."
       "What? Do you not care?" the Queen shouted. "Would you have this sceptred isle defiled by heresy? Do you want your children to grow up calling it a scon?"
       "I haven't got any children."
       "You might have one somewhere, that you don't know about."
       "I suppose I might." Clyde sliced another scone in half.
       "Wouldn't it bother you then, if you did have one, and it grew up not knowing how to use the English language properly?"
       "To be honest I don't really think I would mind. So long as it didn't come round to my house and ask me for money or anything like that."
       The Queen stared at him for what seemed a long time. "Will you join us, or not?"
       "Well, all right, but I'd rather finish this hole first."
       "No, we ride to war tomorrow morning!"
       Clyde sighed. "Will you at least let Randy out of the dungeon?"
       "The guards tell me he is not of our kind. They say he is some alien kind of man."
       "Oh, he can't spell to save his life, but he's a nice enough chap if you don't bring it up in conversation."
       "Well, then. If he will join our cause, he can come to war with us. If not, then he's not going anywhere."

*


       Randy had been waiting in the dungeon for two hours when the guards brought Clyde back.
       "Where've you been?" Randy demanded. "Who gave you that electric blunderbuss back?" He frowned. "Somebody's fed you. Those stains down your front weren't there before."
       "Randy," said Clyde quietly, the light of the smouldering torches reflecting in his monocle. "You just have to say you believe that it's a scoan, and not a scon, and they'll let you go."
       "What?"
       Clyde sighed through his nose and made a face. "You know those small cake-things with raisins in them people sometimes have with their tea?"
       "Um, I think so."
       "These people have been at loggerheads for a hundred years, factionated by a schism of opinion pertaining to what they're called. All you need to do is say they're scoans, and you're free, and then we help them fight some war, and they let us go and we get on with our game."
       Randy frowned. "No. I don't have an opinion. I don't even like the darn things. Who cares whether it's a scon or a scoan? I sure don't."
       Clyde rolled his eyes. "This is no time to sit on the fence. It may be honourable, but it's not prudent or clever. And if you stay down here in this cold and damp, you'll end up with some despicable illness."
       "Claaahd, that's the stoopidest argument I ever heard! I came here to play golf, not get involved in politics!"
       "Randy," Clyde was starting to become exasperated, "I'm trying to help you here!"
       "Well maybes I don't want helping. Maybe I don't want to be set free in a community that starts wars and takes prisoners over stupid things that don't matter, like the taxonomy of savoury cakes." Randy sat down on the clammy shelf at the back of the dungeon and folded his arms.
       Clyde made a requisitioning expression at him.
       "I'm not getting involved with this, Claaahd. They can sort it out themselves. I'm staying right here until I get to speak to my lawyer."

*


       The Queen of Necray waited for Clyde in a large arsenal on the ground floor of the castle.
       "He says he won't take sides." Clyde threw himself down in a chair with its upholstery all ripped and covered with stab marks.
       "No matter. I have no need for him." The Queen began polishing a suit of ferromagnetic space armour.
       Clyde noticed a boy loitering beside a rack of plasma bayonets in a corner. "What are you doing hanging around here, you spotty little oik?"
       "Oh." The Queen glanced at the boy. "I'd like you to meet Harold, your squire."
       "Delighted to meet you, my liege." Harold bowed.
       "I don't need a squire," said Clyde. Harold's face suddenly changed to look as though he was about to burst into tears. "Well," Clyde hurriedly added, "I suppose my electric blunderbuss could do with a polish. And you can be my caddy for a bit if you like."
       The boy's face brightened at once. "Where, pray, is your equipment so that I might attend to it?"
       "It's in my spaceship, Purple Emperor," said Clyde.
       Harold hurried off out the door.
       "And don't go touching anything in there!" Clyde shouted after him.
       The Queen poured out some tea. "I propose a toast." She handed Clyde a cup.
       "Say we have this war and win? Will you let Randy out of the dungeon afterwards?"
       "We'll see." She clinked her teacup against the Baron's. "To the victory of Necray."

Necray assembles for War


       The Necrayan army rose for battle before dawn, and so Clyde found himself standing in the dark in a freezing stable. Now he'd got his weapons and armour out, he was starting to feel most uncertain about participating in this battle. As it turned out, his voltage mace had a fault in the chain and didn't look at all reliable, his forcefield hauberk smelt musty, his codpiece had a hole in it, and he hadn't been able to find his bolometric deflector helmet at all.
       Harold emerged from the stables, leading a huge hairy horned beast with six legs and boar-like tusks, equipped with a saddle and bridle.
       "What in the OverHalo is that?" said Clyde.
       "She's a yale," his squire explained. "A strong and noble beast of battle."
       "What am I supposed to do? Spit-roast her and eat her?"
       "No, you're supposed to ride her. And please look after her well my liege, because she's my favourite mount of all the ones in the stable."
       "How am I supposed to get up there?"
       Harold led the yale over to a mounting block. Clyde had no sooner got his backside in the saddle and his feet in the stirrups than the Queen appeared on the back of a prancing jet-black winged horse, flanked by two riders with banners and trumpets. "Come along, Baron!" she roared.
       Harold handed Clyde up his electric blunderbuss and his voltage mace, and secured his golf bag and golfing umbrella behind the saddle.
       As they rode out onto the moor, Clyde couldn't help but noticing that everyone seemed to have on more armour than he did. In addition to this, most of their armour had a muddy colour to it that camouflaged well with the ground, whereas his garish cravat and mustard-and-grey Gingham plus-fours did no such thing.
       The cavalry lined up along the crest of a muddy hill. Clyde's yale took its place slightly behind the Queen's mount.
       "How does it feel," she shouted to him, "to stand on the field of battle, ready to face the enemy, and to fight to the death for what is right and true?"
       "Er," said Clyde. His nose was numb with cold and wouldn't stop running. He took out a cigar and tried to light it several times, to no avail. "Did I mention I have asthma? Damp weather seems to set it off." He glanced down. "Probably yales do too."
       The Necrayan cavalry shuffled about, their armour clanking and their pennants and banners flapping in the chill wind as the Frodians began to assemble on a far ridge.
       The Queen of Necray sat perfectly still on her jet black steed. The King of Frod rode in a flying sedan chair with an antigravity motor, and he was leaning out and shouting. His mocking voice penetrated the damp distance: you undercooked, greasy, floury, past-your-sell-by date, unrisen cowards!
       The Queen held up her laser lance and stood before them. "Today we fight for Necray; for victory; and for the immovable sanctity of our language!"
       Clyde stared at the Frodian army.
       On the Queen's shout, everyone charged with a battle-cry of 'Scoan!' Clyde's yale leapt forward as though a hornet had stung it, and galloped into the fray. It was all he could do to hang on as the rest of the army around him bounded up and down on their genetically tailored mounts, bellowing and blowing battle horns, their pennants and cloaks and spears flapping and waving in the predawn gloom. He couldn't see the battle ahead, just the yale's ears and horns and a lot of hair lurching frantically up and down.
       As they collided with the Necrayan front line, someone on Clyde's right fell off their mount. The yale leaped, turned, kicked out with its heels, and swung its horns. Frodian knights fell all around, their armour making a noise like a row of toppled dustbins. As the yale began to gather speed again, Clyde started to feel he was getting the hang of this. He reached for the handle of his voltage mace and began to swing it in an arc around his head.
       Without warning, the yale stumbled to a halt, threw its head forward, and began to eat the grass. At the same time, the chain on Clyde's voltage mace snapped, sending the heavy spiky part flying off at a tangent. Clyde lost his balance and fell forward, landing on the yale's neck in a position most contortionists would be immensely proud of.
       Elsewhere, the Queen of Necray had caught up with the King of Frod's sedan chair, and was trying to separate it from its entourage. "Go away!" he shouted, leaning out from behind a curtain and brandishing a big sword. "And it's a scon!"
       "Come out here and say that!" roared the Queen, and she wrenched her horse about and urged it upward. The horse beat its wings and began to gain altitude, until the Queen, high in the sky, turned and pointed her laser lance at the sedan chair. The curtains parted, and the King mooned disgracefully through the window.
       The Queen clapped spurs to the flanks of her horse, and it folded its wings and plunged like a peregrine. The King yelled out and started racing his sedan chair to try to get out of the way.

The Battle of the Scones


       Meanwhile, Baron Clyde was still sitting on his yale, which continued to eat the grass and ignore the battle going on all around it. He saw the sedan chair hurtling towards him, and began frantically hitting and kicking the yale to try to get it to move out of the way. The yale raised its head at the last moment, and braced itself and turned both horns towards the sedan chair. With a loud noise of splintering wood, the sedan chair smashed into pieces, most of which fell in the mud on the other side of the yale. Clyde fell off backwards into what the yale had done moments before, and the Queen's horse shied and pulled up suddenly from the ground and flew off. The Queen herself didn't, and continued towards what was left of the sedan chair and impaled it on her laser lance, leaving the lance sticking out of the ground at a sixty-degree angle, with the Queen still dangling from the handle.
       Before Clyde had regained himself, someone grabbed him and thumped him in the chest as though they feared he was suffering a cardiac arrest. "You most Odious Chap!"
       "You Diabolical Person!"
       His golfing umbrella clashed with the aggressor's sword.
       "It's a scon!" Clyde's opponent shrieked. "Twerp!"
       "And the same to you, with currants on it!" Clyde kicked him in the groin, and thumped somebody else with the handle of his voltage mace. He skidded in the mud and did the splits in a most undignified manner. Without the yale under him, the Frodians seemed much more daunting. The men were all great tall strapping lads, and as for the women, they all had massive muscular thighs and huge bosoms they could have broken down iron doors with, given a suitable run-up and a tailwind.
       People waded through the mud, shouting insults pertaining to bakery ingredients at each other. The King of Frod rose from the wreckage of his sedan chair, waving his sword. He collided with the Queen of Necray and they fell in a muddy sprawl of limbs and started beating each other up.
       "Why can't you just accept things as they have always been?" the Queen shouted. "Why do you have to be so bloody unorthodox?"
       "You're a self-righteous hidebound megalomaniac," The King of Frod rubbed the Queen of Necray's face in the mud, "who can't accept that other people's ways of life and opinions might be different to your own! The English language is a dynamic continuum in a state of constant flux!"
       The Queen of Necray jabbed her knee hard into the King of Frod's codpiece. As he lay gasping and writhing, she struggled to her feet found her sword, which she pointed at the King's throat. He fell back in the mud and swore.
       "Victory to Necray!" The Queen beckoned over two obsequious knights. "Throw him in the dungeons!"

The King of Frod is valiant even in defeat


       "It's a scon!" the King shouted as he was dragged away. "You can throw me in a dungeon or silence me for the rest of my days, but it will always be a scon! In the song of birds, in the essence of the winds, in the smell of the swamp on hot summer days, in the mess the hounds make by the back door, and in the hearts of all the people, it will always be a scon! You may take our lives, but you'll never take our dialects!"

*


       Randy hurried over to the bars as footfall echoed on the stairs. It turned out to be two guards with a bedraggled man covered with such an amount of mud that it was impossible to tell even what species of human he was. They unlocked the cage door and threw him in with Randy.
       "Uh, you aren't my lawyer, are you?" Randy didn't think he was, but with that amount of mud it didn't seem prudent to jump to conclusions.
       The man managed to muster some shred of dignity over the indignity of his appearance, and leaned regally against the slimy wall. "No I am not," he said, "I am the King of Frod."
       Randy stared at him. "Are you the guy who wants these cake things to be called scons?"
       "That is correct." the King heaved a great gust of a sigh and sank to the floor. He covered his face with his hands. "Woe is me, on this, the darkest of days for my people."
       "Hey, it's not so bad in here, once you get used to it."
       The King shouted an expletive.
       "Come on, there's more to life than how you pronounce things. I mean, take ma friend Baron Claaahd. He can't spell to save his life. And he can't even pronounce simple words like 'skedule' properly. Doesn't mean I don't wanna know him for it."
       The King sighed again, and swore under his breath. "I don't mind if they want to call it a scoan. I just wish the Necrayans would accept that we pronounce it differently, and we could be allies again."

Randy in the dungeon with the King of Frod


       Randy didn't say anything for a while. He leaned on the wall and considered this.
       "You know when two species of aliens meet each other for the first time, and they decide if they're going to have a war or be allies and trade with each other?"
       "Yes," said the King, still with his hands over his face.
       "If they decide to be allies they make kind of a compromise language to use when they're dealing with each other."
       "Yes it's called a pidgin," said the King irascibly.
       "Well, that's what you need. A compromise word that's something between scon and scoan."
       The King slowly took his hands away from his face and stared at Randy. "What word is there that's neither scon nor scoan, but sounds a bit like them?"

*


       Clyde had emerged from the heat of battle covered with mud. He'd searched the battlefield for his mount and various possessions he had lost along the way, and managed to find his golf bag, his electric blunderbuss, and Tarragon. He couldn't locate the rest of his voltage mace and had only the handle and part of the chain. He had slunk off back to the castle while everyone else had been rejoicing about the victory, and found what he hoped was a secluded bathroom out of the way in which to clean himself up.
       No sooner had he sunk into a hot bath and started trying to wash the mud out of his quiff with a shower attachment, than a servant barged in and walked straight across the room and out through another door, leaving both doors open.
       "Oi! Do you mind?" Clyde shouted.
       A knight came clanking down the corridor in his suit of armour. He entered the bathroom and pulled off his helmet and grinned. "Jolly good fight!"
       "I don't know if it's escaped your notice," said Clyde, raising his hands, "but I'm trying to have a bath in here!"
       "Oh, carry on! Don't mind me!" The knight dumped his helmet in the handbasin to soak. "Victory for Necray, eh? If only my forefathers could see this day!" He then proceeded to remove the rest of his armour, put down the toilet seat and sat on it, and began to regale Clyde with tales of the days of old.
       Then Harold came in with tears streaming down his face, sobbing that the other squires were picking on him and had flushed his tabard down the toilet. He stood at the end of the bath and demanded to know what Clyde intended to do about it.
       The Queen strode in. "Ah, there you are. I've been looking all over for you. Finally Necray is triumphant in victory! The forces of Frod are utterly annihilated!"
       Clyde shrugged. "It was internecine, surely?"
       "It was not! We won, definitely and by a large margin!"
       "Well, think that if you want, then. I've had enough and I'm too tired to argue. All I want is for you and these other people get out and let me have a bath in peace, and for you to let me get on with my golf game!"
       "No! Now is the time for us to confront our defeated foe! Surely you want to gloat? Surely you want to make him feel small and pathetic and insignificant!" The Queen drew herself up to her full height.
       "Not particularly. You can do that by yourself. I just want to play my shot and get out of here!" Clyde slung a sopping-wet sponge at the Queen. "Get out! And you!" He lobbed a loofah at the knight. "And you, stop snivelling and pull yourself together, and go down to my ship and get me some clean clothes while you're at it!"

*

A public bathroom?


       Clyde and his squire accompanied the Queen of Necray into the dungeon. She addressed the King imperiously. "Have you had time enough to consider your predicament?"
       "Yes, I have been talking to this dear gentleman."
       Randy bowed before the Queen.
       "He has been advising me, and we have decided to capitulate if you will agree to an armistice on the terms we have to offer."
       "Well, what are they?!"
       "In exchange for our freedom, we will agree to stop challenging your right to talk how you like in your kingdom, as you will in ours, and where our paths cross, we shall agree to use a pidgin word to refer to particular baked items that may be savoury or sweet."
       "What rot are you raving about?" spat the Queen. "What is this pidgin word?"
       "Scnnns," Randy pronounced it as a nasal sort of sound.
       The Queen sneered at him. She opened her mouth to deliver her coup de grace, but then Clyde interrupted her.
       "I think that sounds like an excellent proposition." He knocked back half his brandy.
       The Queen snapped her fingers, and the two guards grabbed Clyde by the arms and hoisted him up so his feet dangled six inches above the floor. He dropped the brandy glass and it smashed.
       "See here, you," began the Queen, "you are starting to outlive your usefulness. Unless this discourse reaches a satisfactory conclusion, you are going back in that cell! And that," she cast her eyes down, "was the property of the castle, and I expect recompense for it before you leave!"
       "Wait a minute," said Harold, and everyone turned to look at him. He went red in the face. "I don't think it's a bad idea either."
       "We have defeated him in honest combat!" said the Queen. "He is not in a position to negotiate with us!"
       "He's not negotiating with us," said Clyde, still in the guards' grip. "He's agreed to stop calling it a scon, hasn't he, and that's what you wanted, wasn't it?"
       "I suppose so. But he's not repented and admitted it's a scoan!"
       "I shall never speak that word! Even if you kill me!" roared the King.
       The Queen glared at him. "That can be arranged."
       "I think everyone just needs to calm down," said Randy. "Ma'am, I don't think you realise what a great sacrifice this man is making in order to put this offer to you."
       The Queen stared at Clyde, who squirmed a bit. "Isn't 100 years a bit long to be having a war over scnnns?"
       "I suppose it is." The Queen looked pensive for a moment.
       "Can you tell these guards to put me down now. My arms are starting to hurt."

*


       The celebratory feast looked like the Mad Hatter's tea party after it had been gatecrashed by drunken knights. Clyde and Randy sat in the positions of guests of honour, between the Queen of Necray and the King of Frod, who poured gravy over his steaming hot egg sandwiches.
       "Just look at him!" the Queen muttered to Clyde. "He's holding his knife and fork in the wrong hands as well! He eats like a swine!"
       Clyde put his hand over his face. He had been fiddling with Tarragon throughout the meal. He had drunk too much brandy, and all he wanted was to play his shot and get off this planet as fast as possible. Randy tried to hide the King's table manners by taking off his hat and positioning it in the Queen's line of sight.

An uneasy armistice around the tea table


       As soon as the meal was over, they hurried back to the moor and their SpinShips.
       The air buzzed, and a glowing sphere of light appeared, hovering above the ground.
       "About time," said Clyde, as the referee's SpinDisc slid to a halt and folded up beneath the SpinShaft of his armchair.
       The referee beamed inanely and floated down, adjusting the tracking and recording instruments on his chair and augmenting a few thrusters to bring the armchair to a halt. Randy's golfbag gambolled about, having not been exercised that day.
       "Right, how we getting on? Sorry about the delay. Someone managed to hit a ball into a subterranean ocean on an airless ice moon a few hundred parsecs away. Nightmare, I can tell you."
       "Let's get on with it." Randy switched on his seven-iron and headed towards the spot where his ball lay. He hit it in a hurry and it missed the planet he was aiming for by several parsecs.
       "Oh, bad luck!" the referee commiserated him.
       "I can live with that," said Randy.
       "I'll just take it here, from the grass," Clyde said. He stumbled forward, shanked the ball, spun around twice, knocked a divot out of a tree, and brought the head of his club down into a squelchy bit of turf, spraying muddy water onto Randy and the referee.
       "Uh, Claaahd, how much of that brandy did you drink? And are you real sure a driver is the right club to use in this boggy terrain?"
       Clyde staggered and glared at Randy. "A driver is always a good club to use, unless you're chipping or putting." He straightened up and swung his driver hard, and the ball flew off into the sky with a loud warble and a flash of light.
       The referee stared at his scanner with a glum expression. "I don't know how best to tell you this, but you just hit your ball directly towards a black hole."
       Clyde bellowed an expletive and waved his club over his head.
       "Wait a moment!" The referee's expression changed to astonishment. "The ball has bounced off the ergosphere of the black hole via the theory postulated by Penrose! It's heading back to the fairway! Splendid shot, Baron, and an excellent use of a little-known law of Physics!"
       "I meant to do that," said Clyde.
       "Well now, best all be on our way," said the referee. "I've got other golfers to get to, so I can't hang around here." He activated his chair's SpinDisc and disappeared.
       Clyde bobbed a flamboyant bow and shook hands with the Queen of Necray and the King of Frod.
       "Come on, Claaahd. Let's go!" said Randy.
       "Well," Clyde said cordially. "I have had a most egregious time here! It's all been most enlightening, and if I never see any of you again, it will be too much!"
       With that, he turned about and leapt into the airlock of his ship. He made a quick salute through the door, too fast for any of the onlookers to see how many fingers he was holding up.
       "Bye!" Randy shouted from his ship.
       The two ships rose up, their SpinDiscs whirled into solid spheres of light, and they both dropped into wormholes and disappeared. The Necrayans and the Frodians looked on in peace.

Randy and Clyde are free to continue with their game, and their argument


       Presently the Queen frowned. "What does 'egregious' mean?" Her frown deepened, and she stared at the King, and then the patch of sky where Clyde's ship had vanished. "If I never see any of you again, it will be too much... that's an insult, isn't it?"
       "Yes," said the King, trying to be agreeable. "He said 'grarse' as well. Insufferable little man."
       The Queen shot a penetrating look at him. "What do you mean, he said 'grarse'? What else is one supposed to call it?"
       "Grass."
       "Heresy!" roared the Queen, and reached for her sword. A murmur of general dissent spread over the united denizens of Frod and Necray. The King of Frod swerved out of her way, and made for a winged horse that stood saddled up in the courtyard. "There'll be war before tea-time!" he shouted as he sprang into the saddle and soared away.

© Sam Andebonn 2009