Manticore’s Prize

by Amy Allworden

“Gather round, I’ve a tale for all you good folks.” Geoff announced to the four people in the Cozy Creature inn; once its heavy wooden door thumped to a close. Aside from the sounds of Madeline Hufroe creaking in her rocker by the fire no one bothered to stir. Undeterred, Geoff strode to the center of the room and reached into his cloak with a measured pause.

“Here now, what’s all this about?” Old Henry stopped swabbing the counter and grasped the handle of his ‘peace keeper’ a studded club below the bar. “I run off the last ‘quest do-gooders’ we had in here. Bunch of singing dwarves said they were gonna find this dragon Frog or Hog something or other…blah, blah, nonsense!”

“I’ll tell you our story good innkeeper.” Geoff deepened his voice, “My companions – Alistar El’aldrin, Dorim Stonesbuckle and I,” he drew out a large yellowed tooth in one smooth motion, “have just vanquished a Manticore!”

“A Man-Truckor?” Old Henry took his fingers off the club and cupped his ear. Miss Jenny appeared at his elbow carrying a tray of meats.

“I think he said MANE-tick-ur, what’s a Manetickur?” The girl asked, flouncing over to have a look at the pointed tooth.

“My last husband was one a those,” Madeline Hufroe said with a squeak of her rocker, “woke up one day, told me he was living a lie. The old tramp stole my best blue dress and ran off with a troupe of bards…calls himself ‘Nancy DePoussey’ now!”

“Ahem,” Geoff  gathered attention back to himself and went on, “it’s good for you that we found this Manticore because your town was lying in its path. These beasts are foul, vicious and clever. Put simply, Manticores are pure evil.”

“Never heard of him,” Old Henry pushed away from the bar and stomped to a table that needed more swabbing.

“You’d remember if you ever saw one,” Alistar joined in and followed Old Henry around the snug tavern room. “It has the head of a lion and the body of a Gryffin. They sleep in the craggy hollows of seaside cliffs and nest on the bones of-”

“Wait, don’t a Manticore have the head of a Gryffin and the body of a lion,” Farmer Benjamin piped up from a corner table. He set his mug down with a slosh and began to pantomime the body of a lion.

“I believe those are Southern Manticores, my friend.” Alistar confirmed with a smile of gritted teeth. “Your town was in grave danger…that is what’s important here.”

“What’s important is you smell like you bathed with one of those things.” Madeline Hufroe quipped,  and Miss Jenny giggled.

“We set a trap for the beast,” Geoff took up the tale with a stage whisper, “as I’m sure you’re aware, Manticores love nothing so much as the flesh of small children.” He waited for the expected gasp of disbelief, but the room dropped to silence save for the creaking of the rocker and Old Henry’s swabbing.

“Is that it?” Farmer Benjamin said in the pause, knocked back the rest of his drink and staggered to his feet. “That’s me then, off to the wife and kids.”

“No wait, there’s more.” Alistar trotted towards the farmer and thrust him back down to his chair. “Luckily, we have in our company a dwarf,” He threw a hand to one side to introduce Dorim. The warrior sucked in a great breath of air and puffed out his chest.

“Dwarves are cunning warriors and Dorim is no exception,” Alistar said. “Our brave companion approached the Manticore’s nest, with no thought to his own safety, donned in the traditional short pants and cap of a school boy, flying a pinwheel and whistling the tune My Ladies Not a Milkmaid…”

“How’s that fellow supposed to look like a little boy?” Miss Jenny complained. “His beard’s down to his toes!”

“Madam,” Alistar held up one authoritarian finger. “Manticores can not see very well-”

“What’d he say?” Old Henry bellowed from the other end of the room.

“MANE-tick-urs, can’t see good!” Miss Jenny hollered back. “Ya deaf old pot.”

“Just like my husband,” Madeline Hufroe warned and shook her finger towards Alistar, “he couldn’t see worth a damn either.”

“That clears up one or two things.” Miss Jenny muttered on her way back to the bar.

“I’ve a goat what keeps running into the side of the barn,” The farmer said. “You ‘spose he’s one of them Mane-tick-urs too?”

“People! People, please…” Geoff rapped his gauntlet against the bar four times. “You were all nearly killed just now! Let’s not forget there was a vile, ravaging beast nearby. Any minute this demon could have eaten Ben’s blind goat, killed deaf Henry, this sweet barmaid or even your last husband, Nancy DePoussey!” He pointed a somber finger at each of them and the inn dropped back down into silence.

“Once we had access to the beast’s nest,” Geoff sucked in a deep breath and went on without stopping, “Dorim lowered down a rope ladder which we ascended in silence, attacked the Manticore with every bit of might and effort we had left to ourselves and slew the beast! See for yourselves…”

Geoff held the yellowed tooth aloft higher yet while Alistar and Dorim struck heroic poses. As one, they made a theatrical bow with a flourishing display usually reserved for royalty. A wicker donation basket appeared at their feet.

“I am certain you are each grateful,” Geoff’s words rumbled with emotion, “fascinated and hopefully speechless-”

“Ok, I think I got it,” Farmer Benjamin interrupted; put a closed fist to his lips and belched, “but just in case… tell it to me again from the begin’n.”

Two hours and three more failed attempts later the heavy wooden door to the Cozy Creature Inn thumped closed. The companions stood alone in the dark streets while Geoff pocketed the empty wicker basket. No food, no drink, no place to spend the night and no money. He glanced at Alistar and they shared a pointed look for several tense moments before turning to address Dorim.

“I’m NOT shaving me beard!” The dwarf said and stalked off into the streets leaving his companions to stare after him. It would have been a dramatic sight if he wasn’t still wearing short pants and a school boy cap with the pinwheel bouncing along behind him.