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Beethro the Delver III - The Pink Threat (By Erik Hermansen)
Beethro was busy shoveling his unopened mail into a furnace, when his sister knocked. There was just too much to read, and he couldn't keep up with it. If you had a message for Beethro Budkin, it was best to deliver it in person, not by letter. Vonnifa Budkin knew this, so she was at her younger brother's front door knocking.
Beethro planted his foot on the shovel blade and pushed into a mountain of ancient mail. As he lifted the shovel, grey clouds of paper dust went up and started Vonnifa coughing. Beethro was about to throw his load into the fire, when Vonnifa screamed out, "Wait!"
She snatched a blue envelope from the shovel. An ornate seal containing the letter "D" was affixed to its front. "This... this is a letter from the king!" cried Vonnifa.
"Oh," said Beethro dismissively, "I get those all the time. That's just a blue one. Don't worry--we can burn it."
"But Beethro," Vonnifa was shaking, "King Dugan has sent you a message. This is his seal!"
"If I liked him better, maybe I'd care."
"You must read it! Don't you want to know what he has to say?"
"But I do know, because that's a blue letter. Basically, it will be some sort of fundraising scam. Now that Parliament has voted away the Royal Tax, Dugan's scrambling to keep his loot. His scheme is to make every dumb little event at the castle into a Royal Cermony with guests who pay to see it. He wants me to drop a hundred greckles or so to attend the Making of the Beds. Or the Polishing of the Shoes or the Plumbing of the Loo. That's all it is."
Vonnifa, unconvinced, was already removing the letter from its envelope. "I have to read it," she said.
"Fine. Fine." Beethro went back to his shovelling.
"'The Cleaning of the Codpieces'", she read. "Wow. I guess you were right. What has royalty come to these days?"
"Now if you had a pink letter, then I'd raise an eyebrow at it. Might even read the stupid thing. A pink letter is something Dugan wrote himself--not his event organizers." Beethro continued shovelling paper into the flame. Vonnifa stared at the mounds of flammable material surrounding the furnace, and shuddered.
"Beethro," said Vonnifa in a suddenly sweet tone that caused Beethro to wince knowingly. She continued, "I want you to talk to Halph."
That wasn't so bad. Beethro had thought she would ask him to exterminate her cellar again. Halph was his nephew--a quiet, dopey kid that he liked a lot.
"Halph is getting to a certain... special age of early adulthood. He's becoming a young man, and taking an interest in--"
"Say no more!" interrupted Beethro. "I'll get him tanked and take him to Madam Menedlavee's. That boy will do half his growing up in one night!"
"You'll do no such thing!" shouted Vonnifa, her face severely reddened. "I am not sending him to stay with you, so that you can go whoremongering together!"
"He's coming here?" asked Beethro. "Where will I put him? There's no space!"
"This house has eight bedrooms. Or it did when our parents lived here and weren't too lazy to keep it clean."
Beethro did a special kind of junk-hauling algebra in his head, moving A to B and B to C, switching A and D with a layover at point X. It might be possible to clear one of the rooms, but it would take some serious engineering to pull it off. The woman had no idea what she was asking.
Vonnifa said, "I want you to talk to him about getting a solid education and finding a trade, so that he's not stuck with a nasty life of danger or drudgery. You could do this, right?"
"Huh? Why me?" wondered Beethro.
"Do you want Halph to be a dungeon exterminator?"
"Of course not! I've spent half my life getting into that business, and the other half getting out. Now finally, I've got my restaurant and a little bit of peace. Occasionally, I do a small job beneath, but just to drag some roachmeat back for restocking the pantry."
"Exactly. Now, for some unknown reason, Halph thinks he wants to be a dunger."
"Dungeon exterminator," corrected Beethro.
"Do you want my beloved son, and your nephew, spending his years wandering around in the dark, battling vicious beasts for his life and a few greckles?"
Beethro looked for a table to pound his fist on but couldn't find one. "Absolutely not! It's a horrible occupation."
"It certainly is! A rotten filthy occupation, and dungers never get any respect."
"No, they don't," he agreed, and added "don't say 'dunger'".
"They always look so disgusting--scarred up from wounds, wearing blood-stained clothes. Nobody invites them to anything!"
"Completely lacking in social skills. You try to shake hands with a dunger, and he's likely to cut your arm off."
"There is probably no single career worse than that of a dungeon exterminator. I would rather--"
"Now that's enough! Don't say one more bad thing about exterminators, or I'll get kicking mad! Yeah, it's a rough, thankless job, but we smitemasters are, for the most part, fine examples of character, even if we should have picked a better line of work!"
Vonnifa was startled into silence. After a moment, she cautiously continued. "Sorry, Beethro. Maybe I went too far. You will help me with Halph, won't you? Just tell him what you've learned, so he doesn't make the same mistakes you did."
Beethro was sad to hear his life judged this way.
There was a knock at the door.
"Okay. Send Halph down next week, and we'll get him straightened out," said Beethro.
At the front door was a King's Messenger, trying his best to look splendid in a worn-out uniform. Seeing the door opened, he drew a mini-trumpet to his lips and squeaked a triumphant little tune.
"Stop that!" said Beethro. "What is it?"
Much throat-clearing ensued, and then: "The Hand of his Highness. In all Its Glorius Kinglitude. The Fair and Lovely Hand of King Dugan. The Third. Of Dugandy. Did move with Mighty Flourishes while a pen rested betwixt His Noble Fingers. The Heavenly Hand brought forth Profound Words to paper, enscribed--"
"Just give me that grebbing letter." Beethro grabbed a pink envelope from the messenger. The man then considered if he should repeat his announcement, since it was not completed. Beethro simply shut the front door and went back inside.
"Okay, so what does Dugan want with me now?" Beethro sat down on a bucket and knifed the envelope open. Vonnifa peered urgently over his shoulder.
I paid you well for a simple extermination job that any dunger could have finished for half the price. It appeared that you fulfilled your contract and cleared the dungeon, but now it is again brimming with vermin! There can be but one reason for this: You deliberately seeded my dungeon, in hopes of getting another contract with me later. You treacherous cheat! You dirty dunger!
So now you must come back and rid my underground chambers of all their pests, once again, at your expense. If you fail to do this, then you shall face dire consequences. Direr indeed, than you could possibly imagine. Even if you were given some pretty good hints from the best experts in direty.
These are the words of Your King, written by the Hand of His Highness in all Its Glorius Kinglitude. (See attached addendum for full description of the Royal Hand.)
King Dugan the Third (of Three),
Benevolent Ruler of All That You and Many Other People See
"Beethro, you've got to take care of this," stated Vonnifa. She was pacing quickly in the limited floorspace available to her.
"Wait, I'm still reading... 'dire consequences'... 'words of...'" Beethro stood and crumpled the paper in one large fist. He then threw the paper ball to the ground and smashed it loudly with his shovel. Next, he spat on it eight times. Finally, he picked it back up and violently ripped it into soggy pieces.
"That's what I think of this letter."
Vonnifa pleaded, "You can't just ignore the king. You'll get into tremendous trouble!"
"Maybe fifty years back that would be the case, but we aren't talking about an old-fashioned, chop-off-the-heads-and-start-a-new-war-before-breakfast king. This is just some guy that shows up in parades, eats a lot of food, and says stupid stuff nobody listens to. He doesn't have power. Even his Dad didn't have any. Parliament took it away decades ago, and all that's left is Dugan's piggy attitude.
"The fellow's gone so broke, he can't pay for recurring maintenance, and he's too proud to set up an installment plan with me. So he makes this noise to scare me into doing free work. I could go down to the castle, explain reality and get Dugan to calm down, but I'm busy right now. He's just having a bad day, and somebody else will have to make him feel better."
Vonnifa shook her head quietly, and pushed a pile of loose papers away from the fire.
Beethro the Delver: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
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