The Forbidden Fools' Stools
Three fools narrowly survive a prickly situation when they come face-to-face with the forbidding Rilk'gar…
“And now, a brief intermission,” the Imperial Bard announces after the tragic conclusion of Rishne’s tale.
The audience stirs, a few drying their eyes. Some stand to stretch and relieve themselves; others seek cool relief from massive kegs of beer that have appeared, as if by magic, in the Grand Hall.
His announcement made, Rothus ‘ja Darden gestures from the rostrum, and aerialists in pointy hats leap from the shadows of the dome, tumbling and twirling through the air. Gasps pierce the growing din of conversation, followed by relieved cheers and applause as the airborne tumblers — slowed in their descent by some hidden enchantment — land gracefully on their feet.
But not everyone is satisfied with the intermission performance.
“You call that entertainment?!” A young man swills from his stein and topples forward onto the stage. The crowd boos at him, which emboldens him further. “And this beer? This is not beer.” He spits it onto the ground. Jeers from the audience, alongside a few empty vessels aimed at his head.
“Stop!” A portly, babyfaced man stands and a hush falls over the crowd, eager for his next word. This is Steven Boepensberry, the beloved hawker of the city’s favorite beer, Rilkback Lager.
“Why? That man is sullying your beer!” asks a voice from the stands.
“It’s not his fault he can’t hold his liquor,” Steven winks. Laughter echoes through the seats. “Besides… this man may amount to nothing in his life, but his actions can still alter history in hidden ways.”
“Me? Amount to nothing?” the young man slurs in disbelief. “I’ll have you know that I will become somebody. My dad guarantees it!” Mocking laughter from the audience.
“Get this lad a bed and some tea!” Steven calls. “As the city’s premiere peddler of pints, I have seen my fair share of deadbeats. Here’s a story of the unlikeliest of heroes…”
Three brothers from the poor hamlet of Graycott marched through a field of hops, swaying in the breeze. It was golden hour, with the sun just setting, and good humor filled their souls just as good beer, fresh bread, custards, and cheeses — a veritable feast — filled the sacks they lugged.
The Cogstone brothers were field hands, picking up odd jobs here and there between seasons. Yet despite their good intentions and hard labor, misfortune followed them like thorny storm clouds.
Mathias took a swig of beer from a jug and adjusted the sack on his shoulder. “These’ll be lighter by the morning! Been looking forward to this all week,” he bellowed, leading his younger brothers — Casonato and Bartek — into the woods. By now, moon light peeked through the dense leaves.
“To relax with your favorite brothers?!” Casonato beamed at the thought. The youngest brother, Casonato had the largest heart, yet he remained the most sheltered and least competent.
“No! To get away from the missus and kids!” Mathias, the only father of the three, chuckled. As the eldest, he’d done and seen more than his brothers, and never failed to remind them of that. “You’ll understand when you become a dad. You need your own time,” he muttered and took another long pull of beer.
“If you wanted to let loose, we could’ve just gone to the pub,” Bartek said, stepping carefully and waving a stick around before him. “You can’t get eaten by a bear at a pub.” The middle brother had developed baffling superstitions and lived in constant fear of his life, due to, well, having narrowly survived many fatal accidents while in the company of Mathias and Casonato.
“False — there was that string of unexplained bear attacks at the Stone Tavern Inn,” Mathias said, shaking his head. “Those poor orphans.”
The three brothers come upon a clearing at the top of the hill, bathed in silver moonlight. Mathias threw down his bag. “We’re here!” Casonato followed suit and stretched his arms over his head in triumph.
“Not so fast!” Bartek squeaked. “Help me inspect the ground for rock mites. They can burrow deep into your skin and eat you alive.” Bartek carefully dropped to his knees and began poking around, Casonato eagerly at his side.
“I’ve said this a million times — rock mites don’t exist in this part of the land!” Mathias’s words fell on deaf ears. He took another swig and dropped his gaze to the ground. A smile crept across his face. “Hang on. Are those…”
At the foot of a small bush, Mathias found a patch of glowing, iridescent, squat toadstools. “Fool’s stools!” Mathias licked his lips and reached for them.
“Stop! Those are dangerous.” Bartek swatted Mathias’s meaty hand away. “Our minds must remain sharp in these dread woods.”
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