The Court of Lord Matthias the Magnificent was an odd place to be any time of the year. The gardens were always beautiful, the castle was always clean, and the members of the Court were always wacky. It has often been said that Lord Matthias was the only sane person inside the castle walls, but closer inspection would reveal that most of them were quite sane. Even so, one would have to leave reality behind when entering the walls of Lord Matthias’s Court, for reality was flagrantly disregarded by all in the Court.
The Court was peaceful on this particular day. Bright sunlight poured in through the beautiful stained glass windows, and a slight breeze whispered through the halls, caressing the grand tapestries. Suddenly, there was a shriek of loud, abrasive laughter, and a myriad of colors dashed down the corridors. The courtiers quickly moved to one side, letting the colorful figure race past. More than one person shook their head in amusement as they watched the happy figure disappear around the corner. They looked from one to the other, smiling knowingly as they said, “Debbon” and moved on. After all, the name was the only explanation needed.
Who was Debbon? She was Lord Matthias’s jester and friend. Rumors abound about her, searching for some explanation of her strange ways – even in the Court itself! Some say that she’s part imp. Others say that she’s an overgrown pixie. Still others say that she’s some kind of goblin or brownie. However, the common consensus was that Debbon was simply crazy.
Debbon skidded to a halt in the Grand Hall, her long, wild brown hair billowing out around her round face, drawing attention to the gleam of some new mischief in her hazel eyes. Lord Matthias groaned inwardly even as he fought a smile at the sight of her. His blue eyes narrowed as his flat forehead creased in dismay. He pursed his thin lips, finishing off the expression that usually prompted Debbon to compare him to a turtle. He could only hope that he was prepared for anything.
“What is it?” Matthias asked.
Debbon’s large eyes lit up, and her lips parted in a devilish grin. “We,” she pronounced with mocking dignity, “need to get a moat monster!”
Matthias was only slightly taken aback with this proclamation. “What? Why?”
“Because! We don’t have one! Duh!”
Matthias choked back a laugh, squeezing his eyes shut as he shook his head. “No,” he told her as he began to move away. “I don’t want my court to be cliché.”
“B-b-but!” Debbon chased him and threw herself back in front of him. “A moat monster would eat anyone swimming through the moat!”
“Why would someone swim through the moat?”
“Because they’re trying to break into the castle to kill you.”
“No one would want to kill me.”
Debbon snapped her fingers in disappointment. “You’re right! You haven’t done anything worth killing you over.” She paused and then shouted another reason. “It’s tradition!”
“Which means it’s cliché.”
“But our moat is empty!”
Debbon folded her arms over her chest in an exaggerated pout. Matthias sighed in exasperation, shook his head, and left. Debbon waited until Matthias was out of sight, stopped pouting and went running back down the halls. There were many ways to skin a turtle; the whole trick was in doing it without the turtle’s knowledge. One such way lay in the dungeons, where two professional ‘turtle-skinners’ lived.
The one turtle-skinner was Debbon’s brother, Simao. Simao was younger than Debbon by two years, shared her large mischievous streak, and was generally well liked – especially by the ladies of the Court. He had also mastered many forms of hand-to-hand combat. He lived in the dungeon cells under the not-so-watchful eye of the prison keeper, constantly trying to escape. Why was he in jail? Matthias said that he was too annoying to be in the court, so he made him a professional prisoner. It was Simao’s job to escape.
It was the other turtle-skinner’s job to catch him. His name was Theodore, or Teddy, and he was Debbon’s best friend. Teddy was a half-giant from the Northern Kingdoms. He disliked sunlight and heat, but loved fire. He was very sweet, gentle, soft, and huggable – like a big bear. He liked to stay in the guard room with his alchemist’s lab, tormenting flies and making mini explosions.
When Debbon found the pair, she couldn’t have laughed louder. Simao was trying to escape again, and he wasn’t being subtle about it. Teddy had obviously just come out to watch his attempts, because he looked at the scene with mild amusement and curiosity.
“What are you doing?” Teddy asked.
Simao grunted as he wedged his bench between the bars of his cell door. “I am using this bench to leverage enough weight to lift the door off its hinges!”
Teddy smiled as Simao pushed against the bench. “You do realize that these aren’t half-barrel hinges, right?”
Simao stopped and looked at the hinges. “Aw nuts!” He shrugged his shoulders and put his bench back against the wall. He plopped down on the bench, tucking his hands behind his head as he propped his feet up.
That was when Debbon bounded into view. “Hi Teddy! Hi Simao!”
Teddy glanced at the newcomer. “Hi, Debbon.”
Simao just waved.
Debbon ran up to the cell door and looked in at her brother. “Still in prison, are we?”
“It’s my business to be in prison,” Simao replied nonchalantly. “If I’m not in prison, I’m not doing my job.”
“And if he’s not in prison,” Teddy added, “I don’t have a job.”
Simao sat up on the bench and looked at his sister. “What’s up, Debs?”
“We need a moat monster!”
“Why?” Teddy asked.
“I thought Teddy was the moat monster?” Simao added a split second after.
“No,” Teddy said, “I’m the prison keeper, alchemist, and executioner. Remember my big, shiny axe?”
“Oh is that what you call that thing?”
“Yes, Simao.” Teddy turned back to Debbon, who was laughing at their sarcastic exchange. “Now why do we need a moat monster?”
“Because we don’t have one.”
“And-and moat monsters help defend the castle in battle by eating anyone who tries to swim through the moat!”
“We’re in a battle and nobody told me?” Simao asked.
Teddy looked back at him and smiled as one would when talking to a two-year-old. “You silly little person you, of course we’re not in a battle!” He turned back to Debbon. “Why don’t you ask Lord Matthias?”
“He said ‘no.’” Her eyes widened as Teddy shook his head, and she quickly manipulated her expression into a look of silent suffering and sadness. “Please, Teddy?”
His face twisted into an indecisive expression, but Debbon’s pleading expression quickly won him over. He sighed. “Matthias would know if you were going to get one anyway.”
Debbon perked up at his hinted consent. “I already thought of that! What we do is have Simao escape in the direction of Monster Lake, and we go get him. Can we help it if a monster just follows us home?” She looked from one to the other. “What’cha think?”
“Conspiracies, escape, annoying Matthias?” Simao rubbed his hands in anticipation. “I like this plan!”
Teddy grinned and nodded. “It actually might work. We just have to wait a few days for Matthias to forget about the whole moat monster thing.”
Debbon clapped her hands and bounced around in delight. “Yay! Thanks, Teddy!” She ran back up the stairs, completely happy.
Teddy looked back at the cell and saw Simao pressed against the bars. “What?”
Simao grinned. “Go catch me a lobster for lunch. I’m hungry.”
Teddy chuckled sarcastically. “Yeah, I’ll get right on it! In the next ten years.”
* * *
Two days later, there was a banquet at Lord Matthias’s Court. Despite all the beautiful decorations, the delicious food, and the funny company, Debbon’s favorite part was the music. It was her personal opinion that Matthias had made Tyler the minstrel out of spite. Tyler couldn’t play a mandolin to save his life, and he was just as miserable as everyone who had to listen to him try. Debbon loved watching the ever-changing wincing expressions of his audience, and snickered every time he hit a sour note. She snickered a lot during the banquet. She was about to attempt to sing along with the discordant chords to further torment Matthias, when she heard Emblyn the herald cry out, “Announcing Teddy, Alchemist, Prison Keeper, and Executioner.”
Everyone stopped and looked at the half-giant in surprise. Teddy smiled awkwardly and burped. It was deep and loud. He looked at the crowd somewhat bashfully.
“Hi!” Debbon shouted back, waving exuberantly.
Lord Matthias gave her a look and turned to the half-giant. “Yes, Teddy?”
Teddy scratched his head, avoiding eye contact with everyone. “Uh, Simao has escaped his cell. Just thought you’d like to, you know, know.”
Matthias frowned in confusion. “Do you mean, escaped the castle?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure he went east.”
“What? How could you possibly know that?”
Teddy held up a piece of paper. “He left a note. It said he was going east. It also said to feed his rat.”
“Ugh!” Matthias blew out in frustration. “All right, fine! I guess you should go after him.”
“Oo! Oo! Oo!” Debbon’s hand shot up into the air, and she jumped up and down to get Matthias’s attention.
“What?” He asked impatiently.
Debbon’s hand dropped and she smiled sweetly. “Can I go too?”
Matthias didn’t even bother to ask why. Her reasons were not going to make sense, and he had no patience left to decipher them. “All right, fine. You both go get him.”
“Yay!” Debbon clapped in delight and dashed out of the Grand Hall, shouting to Teddy, “I’ll get the food!”
An hour later, Teddy and Debbon said ‘good-bye’ to their friends and crossed the drawbridge. Debbon had a bulging sack of food on her back, and Teddy carried his large, shiny axe over his shoulder. Debbon’s good mood was irrepressible as she skipped along the path, humming a little tune to herself. Teddy watched her skip about until they were out of sight of the castle.
“So what food did you bring?” He asked, already thinking of lunch.
Debbon stopped skipping and ducked her head almost guiltily. “Fish.”
“Okay, and what else?”
He looked at her, a slight frown creasing his gentle face. “Anything else?”
“Even more fish!”
“So that’s all you brought? Fish?”
She looked up at him, widening her eyes so that she would look innocent and angelic. “Well, the moat monster will need to eat something!”
“But what about us?”
Teddy let out a frustrated growl at Debbon’s proclamation and shook his head.
Debbon ducked her head apologetically. “Sorry, Teddy.” She looked up at him, her lower lip jutting out in sorrowful dismay.
He sighed. “It’s fine. I’ll just have to find something to eat on the way. Come on, let’s go.”
The two friends travelled down the forest path in good spirits, Teddy having already forgiven Debbon for not bringing real food. Teddy would occasionally wander off the path to find food, at which point Debbon would plop down on the path and play with her jester stick while she waited for him. Each time Teddy returned, he’d have an impressive handful of whatever he found – nuts, berries, and sometimes an apple or two. He was kind enough to share some of his findings with his jester friend, and the day passed peacefully in their company.
The sun was just starting to lower when the pair stumbled into a small campsite. A fire was burning brightly, and Simao sat at its edge, roasting a banana. He looked up when he saw them. “You guys are slow!”
Debbon dropped her sack of fish and shook her finger at her brother. “We’re not supposed to catch you yet! Go away!”
“It’s my fire.”
Debbon grabbed a big stick and ran after him. Simao dropped his banana and grabbed at his sister’s stick. Teddy quickly rescued the banana from the flames, and, seeing that neither sibling was watching him, started eating it. He watched as they poked, punched, and tickled each other. He finally decided to intervene, and said around a mouthful of banana, “Don’t make me separate you two.”
They paused, looked at him, and then at each other. Simao took advantage of the distraction to quickly tickle Debbon, causing her to shriek and scurry out of reach. Simao saluted Teddy mockingly. “Separated!” Then he looked at his recovered sister and ran into the forest, shouting, “I’ll be watching you!”
Debbon started to chase after him, still in fight mode. Teddy grabbed the back of her shirt and lifted her off the ground, her arms still swinging and her feet still kicking. “No,” he told her, sitting her gently on the log. “Now sit. Stay.”
Debbon pouted. “Woof.”
The next few days passed in very much the same way. Simao would show up on the path beside his friends, annoy Debbon, and allow himself to be chased away. The third day after they had left the Court, the friends arrived at Monster Lake. Simao got there first, found a nice climbing tree near the water’s edge, and started to climb. He was well out of sight by the time Teddy and Debbon arrived, so neither his sister nor the half-giant noticed his presence. He noticed theirs. He grinned in mischievous anticipation as Debbon ran up to the water’s edge, and he quietly began to descend to a lower branch.
Debbon stayed just out of the water, scanning its surface for any sign of a monster. Not seeing one off hand, she dug into her sack and pulled out a tuna. Crouched down, she slapped the water’s surface with the fish, singing, “Here monster, monster, monster! Debbon’s got a nice, juicy mackerel!”
Teddy shook his head. “That’s a tuna, Debbon.”
“No, it’s a mackerel! It’s more fun to say.”
“Okay.” Teddy shrugged and let her be delusional.
Debbon stopped beating the lake and stood up. She cocked her head to one side, as if listening to something just barely audible. “Do you hear that?”
Simao leapt from the branches, throwing himself halfway across Teddy’s shoulder, screaming right into Debbon’s ear. Debbon jumped, her arms spinning wildly in panic, and fell into the shallows of the lake. Teddy just stood there, neither scared nor surprised by Simao’s sneak attack.
He looked at Simao, said, “Hi,” then looked at the dripping Debbon. He frowned, grabbed Simao by the shirt, said, “Go get her,” and threw him into the lake beside his sister. Teddy pointed at Simao and asked Debbon, “Was that what you heard?”
Debbon scrambled out of the water and shook her head vigorously, her now wet long locks slapping her cheeks. “No, it’s something else, and it’s crying.” She grabbed her sack of fish and dashed down the shore, following the sounds that apparently only she could hear.
They found the source of Debbon’s mystery sounds a mile down shore. It was a baby sea-wolf, lying on its side to show the large bite marks in its tail. Debbon dropped her sack with a cry sympathy and ran to it. Teddy tried to stop her, trying to warn her that sea-wolves were extremely dangerous, but she had the wet mammal in her arms before either of her companions could say “turtle.” Thankfully, the sea-wolf was sweet tempered, or too hurt to be hungry. It just whined miserably as Debbon cradled it.
Debbon carried it over to her friends and looked up at Teddy with her big eyes. “Can I have a piece of your shirt to bandage his tail? Please?”
Teddy was tempted to say ‘no’, or to at least protest, but he gave in to her sad-eyed gaze with a groaning, “Fine.” He tore a part of his sleeve and gave it to her, having the satisfaction of seeing her eyes light up and a smile crease her face.
“Thanks, Teddy! Here, Simao, hold him while I bind his tail.” She thrust the little monster into her brother’s arms and tenderly bandaged his wounds. That finished, she took him back, retrieved a piece of fish from the sack, and offered it to the sea-wolf. It sniffed the fish curiously, distracted from its pain by the tantalizing smell of food, and then devoured it. The sea-wolf looked at Debbon curiously, sniffed her, and then licked her. Debbon giggled and hugged it. “I’m naming him Bobbin!” She declared. “And he’s going to be our new moat monster! Say ‘hi’!”
Teddy petted the creature hesitantly. “Hi, Bobbin.”
Bobbin licked his hand.
Simao rubbed Bobbin’s wolf-like ears. “Aw, he’s such a cute little fellah! Isn’t he?”
Bobbin growled, laid his ears flat against his head, and snapped at him.
Debbon laughed. “Aw, he’s not a cute little fellah, he’s a vicious monster! Yes he is! Yes he is!” She cooed into Bobbin’s face, speaking all sorts of baby gibberish. He licked her. She giggled, gave him a squeeze, and said, “Okay! Let’s go home!” Bobbin licked her again.
Three days later, the companions returned to the Court. Teddy presented the recaptured Simao to Lord Matthias, and Matthias sent Simao back to the dungeons. Simao grinned at the reinstating of his job, and broke away from Teddy to hug Matthias. Then he laughed in triumph as Matthias’s face turned bright red.
“Get him off me!” Matthias howled.
Teddy suppressed a chuckle, and picked Simao off the flustered lord. “Come on, Simao. Time to go back to your cell.”
“I want a lobster,” Simao informed him.
As Teddy carried Simao out of the Grand Hall, Debbon came in, carrying Bobbin. Matthias stopped and stared.
“Look what followed me home!” She said, holding up Bobbin so all could see. “Can I keep him? He can be our moat monster!”
Matthias frowned. “I don’t want a cute moat monster.”
Bobbin’s ears went flat against his skull and he scrambled out of Debbon’s arms. Growling and snapping, the little sea-wolf charged after the lord, and Matthias was forced to climb on top of a chair for safety. Debbon doubled over laughing as other members of the Court shrieked and leapt on top of their own chairs in fear of the growling creature.
“Debbon!” Matthias cried. “Get rid of that thing!”
Debbon obediently retrieved Bobbin and fed him a little fish. “Aw, Bobbin just doesn’t like being called ‘cute.’ He’s a vicious moat monster, yes he is!” She looked at Matthias, her eyes twinkling. “And he’s quite scary, isn’t he?”
Matthias scowled. “Just put it in the moat.”
Bobbin licked Debbon as she turned to go.
“He’s tasting you!” Matthias called after her as he climbed down from his perch.
Debbon just laughed.
An hour later, Debbon charged back into the Court. Everyone looked at her, warily watching for her new pet. Debbon, however, was unaccompanied, and went straight to Lord Matthias with a new proposition.
“Let’s get a dragon!” She said.
The entire Court turned and shouted in one accord, “NO!”