“Oh thank Brust!” Ezra said as the walls of the city appeared over the crest of the hill.
Katryn understood her relief. The trip had been nothing but one long list of complaints from the princess.
Amariellannettee, upon seeing the castle, let out a wail. The team cringed collectively.
“What is it this time?” Ezra shouted to the sky.
“I can’t let my subjects see me like this! Just look at my hair!”
“Why did I ever give up assassination?” Ezra muttered.
“Don’t worry, your highness,” Lorien said smoothly. “I can create a suitable disguise for you.”
The princess looked at him with big eyes. “You mean you can cast a glamour on me?”
“Something like that.”
The guard looked slightly confused as he waved through an elf, a dragon, three humans, and an unidentifiable creature wearing a bag over its head.
“This is not amusing,” Amariellannettee muttered in Katryn’s ear.
“But nobody will recognize you now,” Katryn said cheerfully.
“But I can’t see anything!”
Up ahead, Ezra appeared to be skipping.
The town was like most castle towns in the area. It had a busy marketplace and half a dozen inns. The streets were thronged with merchants, farmers and minstrel troupes, as well as the occasional adventurers looking for work.
The team pushed through the main street, leading the princess by the arm. Katryn only let her bump into a few vegetable carts, an admirable show of restraint, she thought.
At the castle gate, they were stopped by a pair of bored-looking guards.
“Hello,” said Katryn. “We’re here to see the king.”
“State your business.”
“We’re the heroes he hired last week. Princess rescue.”
“Right. Lorien, give them the pass.”
The elf nodded, digging into the pocket of his robes. He frowned. Moving his staff into left hand, he checked the other pocket. Then, shoving the staff into Cory’s hands, he patted himself down frantically.
“Tolkien,” he swore. “I, um, think I might have dropped it in the sorcerer’s castle…”
“Right before we blew it up. Of course.” Katryn sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose in an attempt to ward off an oncoming headache.
“We can’t let you through without a pass,” the guard said. “You’ll need to make an appointment. It’ll take about a week…”
A muffled shriek came from under the princess’s sack. “You are the worst heroes ever!” She lifted the bag off of her head, practically hissing at the guards, “I am your princess! Let me through right now or I will have you executed!”
The guards backed away as if they’d been confronted by a demon, bowing all the way. Without a word, Amariellannettee stomped forward. Katryn shrugged, and the team followed her.
In the throne room, the king stood to greet them.
“My daughter!” he said, arms wide.
“These guys suck, dad. Don’t pay them anything.”
“Hey. We’ve got a contract,” Ezra snapped.
“Do you know what I had to go through the last three days? I was dragged across muddy roads, on foot, suffered humiliation, bad food…”
“The terms were we bring her back, we get paid,” Katryn said. “Here she is.”
The king looked uncomfortable. “Ammy, sweetie, they’re right, you know. I can’t go around breaking my contracts.”
The princess made a noise usually associated with donkeys and stormed off.
“Roland, their money.”
A footman stepped forward with a heavy sack. Katryn opened it. Gold coins. She closed the bag again, giving it to Muffin, who swallowed it.
The king and the footman gave her a strange look.
“He has a special pouch that he stores it in,” Cory explained proudly.
Katryn shook her head. “Look, don’t ask. It makes the dragon happy, and we’ve never had a problem getting it back from him before.”
The king and footman continued to look at them blankly.
“Well, nice doing business with you, your highness,” Katryn said. “We’ll just leave, then…”
“That was…something,” Katryn said as they walked away from the castle.
“I’m sick of dealing with these damn damsels,” said Ezra sullenly.
“Aren’t we all,” Katryn muttered.
“At least we got paid,” said Lorien.
“Yeah. Hey,” Katryn said, “I thought I saw an inn earlier that didn’t look too cheap. I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a drink.”