Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)
TITLE: Fergus Gets the Girl
By Jan Ackerson
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As the men neared Calinor, they found the road festooned with bright banners of welcome, and Tremayne noted with a stab of joy that his name had been spelled correctly on each one.
Inside the castle gates, there was a flurry of activity—weary horses were stabled, menservants appeared to help Tremayne into his purple silk tights, and curious cats were whisked aside by busy workers carrying jugs and trays. When Tremayne had waxed his mustache into a perfect spiral, a yellow-jacketed servant led him to the Great Hall. Fergus followed several paces behind.
The Great Hall held a long, oaken dining table, at the end of which sat King Horace and the slender and beautiful Princess Madeleine. Tremayne strode forward and bowed deeply. “King Horace, it is a fortunate day, for at the end of it, I shall claim your daughter as my prize.” There was no response, so Tremayne cleared his throat and started again. “KING HORACE, IT IS A FORTUNATE…”
The king snorted. “Don’t shout, boy, I’m not deaf, I was sleeping. I’ve heard this all before—blah blah, beautiful Madeleine, blah blah, half my kingdom. Have some bread and wine before your test starts, and let’s get this over with.”
Stewards brought refreshment. Tremayne drank deeply from his goblet before biting into a heel of bread. “Faugh!” he said, “this bread is too hard!” He snapped his fingers, and Fergus appeared. Silently, Fergus pinched off all the pieces of crust, tucking them into his tunic.
Princess Madeleine looked up, surprised.
With the light repast finished, a small riding party was formed for an excursion into the countryside. As they saddled their mounts, Fergus tossed the bread crusts to a bony hound that danced around the horses’ hooves.
The princess hid a smile behind her slender fingers.
Before the group reached the castle gates, Tremayne called out “Halt!” and hopped from his steed. “Fergus, you’ve saddled her too softly—I wobble. Fix it!” Fergus dismounted, removed a blanket from under Tremayne’s saddle, then tightened all the straps. As the party set off again, Fergus tossed the blanket to an old woman, begging at the gates.
Madeleine appeared to stifle a giggle.
After a few leisurely hours, the riders reached a lovely, verdant clearing. Princess Madeleine’s lady-in-waiting, a solemn girl of fifteen named Becca, worked with Fergus to spread a richly-embroidered cloth on the grass. Fruit, cheese, and chocolates were produced from Becca’s pony’s saddlebags.
The maidservant settled Madeleine onto a quilted pillow while Tremayne removed his sword and lowered himself to the cloth. “Zounds!” he cried. “Fergus, this ground is too hard! What a fool you were to give away that saddle blanket!” Wordlessly, Fergus removed his tunic and rolled it up, positioning it under Tremayne’s purple-clad buttocks. For the rest of the meal, he stood shivering in his undergarment.
Madeleine stared at him between nibbles of cheese.
Birds twittered, breezes wafted—and some time during the fruit course, Tremayne made an un-princely sound. “Blecch! There’s a soft spot in this apple! Fergus, take this from my sight!” Fergus quickly grabbed a more satisfactory apple from the bowl and rescued the horrified prince. As Madeleine watched in wonder, he took a small silver knife from his belt, sliced off the bruised spot—and with a wink, offered the apple to Becca.
Madeleine had held her emotions inside all day, but this last act couldn’t be ignored. She leaned toward Tremayne and said, with her mouth full of grapes, “What kind of idiot is this?”
Tremayne and Madeleine were wed the next day—the princess looking beautiful but skinny, all pointy angles and a certain hardness of spirit which was shared by her heartless groom. As they said their vows, each was scheming…How can I get both kingdoms?
Becca rode back to Robovia with Fergus—who practically leaped off his horse and into the arms of his wife, the charming Theresa, soft everywhere the princess was hard. As Theresa cradled Fergus in her ample bosom, she looked over his shoulder and laughed. Becca was riding into view.
“Mama!” sang Becca, “I’m home!”
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