Chapter Four: Goat Chase

Sir Abran! Sir Abran! Wake up!

Sir Abran groaned and lifted his head from the hard floor. What happened? he asked blearily, touching the swelling lump on the back of his head. he added.

Oh, Sir Abran!

Sir Aban struggled up to a sitting position. What is it? he asked, blinking to clear his vision.

Reva bent over him, a deeply concerned look in her brown eyes. Sir Abran blinked and stifled a groan.

You crashed into that man and fell over, Reva told him. Are you all right?

Sir Abran shook his head to clear it, and Reva, thinking this meant he was indicating that no, he was not all right, started to sob. She threw herself over Sir Abran, knocking him over.

Oh, no! You're dying! she exclaimed through her tears, which were soaking Sir Abran's tunic.

I am not dying, Sir Abran said with as much dignity as was possible under the circumstances. He gently pushed Reva off his chest and sat up. he frowned. Oh, no! He smacked himself on the forehead with one hand, very nearly knocking himself unconscious yet again. Oh, no! he said again, and groaned deeply.

What is it? Reva said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it between her own hands.

Yes, what is it? chorused the bureaucrats clustered in a loose ring around the fallen Sir Abran.

The Evil Magician, Sir Abran said, his voice tortured. He has escaped with the goat Abran. I have failed! He removed his hand from Reva's grasp and got unsteadily to his feet, staggering a little. But Sir Abran was accustomed to fighting dragons and entire armies, and he was soon steadied. It took more than a collision with a bureaucrat to stop Sir Abran, though such collisions have oft been known to kill lesser mortals.

The Evil Magician! gasped Reva and the ring of bureaucrats. Oh, no! He took Abran! Reva added.

He took Abran? rumbled the particularly dull bureaucrat into whom Sir Abran had crashed. But Abran is right here! He pointed to Sir Abran.

No, Abran is my goat, Reva told the bureaucrat. She turned to Sir Abran. You say the Evil Magician stole my goat? She frowned. Why would he do that?

For the Ring of Weather Control, of course! Sir Abran cried, near to impatience.

But doesn't the Evil Magician know how to control the weather on his own? Reva asked.

He's not powerful enough, the dull bureaucrat said, snorting. Everyong knows that. Only the Great Magician himself is powerful enough to control the weather.

Reva said, and the other bureaucrats all nodded in agreement.

said Sir Abran, but he was powerful enough to put me under a control spell, and he's made off with the goat and the Ring of Weather Control! Once King Mallan possesses that ring, who knows what he will do! I must stop him! Please let me through, Sir Abran said to the ring of bureaucrats, who parted at his word. Sir Abran was one of the few poeple the bureaucrats obeyed.

Wait for me! Reva cried, running after Sir Abran and squeezing past the bureaucrats. He's my goat, after all! And she dashed after Sir Abran.

shouted the Assistant Secretary of Wheatberry Affairs. You're not done filing! And he took off after Reva.

If he's going, I'm going too! declared the large, dull bureaucrat. Besides, I still need Sir Abran's autograph!

The other bureaucrats talked it over briefly and then decided that if everyone else was going after the Evil Magician and a goat, they were going too. So the bureaucrats took off after Reva, who ran after Sir Abran, who pursued the Evil Magician and the goat, wherever the Evil Magician and the goat happened to be. It was nearly as silly as the other day's chase involving the two cooks, the scullery maid, the stableboy, the servant, the guards, Reva and the goats. All in all, it was a scenario quite typical of the silly kingdom of Glupzia.

Sir Abran ran as fast as he could, which was very fast (though not as fast as usual, considering he had recently been knocked unconscious). The bureaucrats soon gave up the chase, but not Reva. She kept going even after Sir Abran had a good hundred-yard lead.

It's... my... goat! she panted, for want of anything better to say.

Sir Abran came to a crashing halt, however, when a thunderclap sounded outside the window.

The Evil Magician! he cried, stopping short and staring out the window.

A very strange sight met his eyes. A lone thundercloud hovered in the courtyard just outside the castle, and underneath, somehow avoiding the lightning that arced out of the cloud, was a wet, soapy and very mad goat, along with a small human figure. The Evil Magician.

Sir Abran paused but a second, then hurled himself bodily out the window with a crashing of glass (luckily it was a large window). Luckily, too, he was only two floors above the ground, and luckily the castle was not surrounded by a moat. He hit the hard ground and rolled forward, to come up in a crouch and race off again. The Evil Magician shot one terrified glance in Sir Abran's direction and gestured. He and the goat disappeared yet again, the thundercloud dissipating in their wake.

Reva paused when she came to the broken window. She didn't particularly want to leap out of it. She lacked Sir Abran's strength and grace, so in the end she opted for a more conventional route to the castle courtyard: the stairs. It took her some time to make her way down the two flights of winding stairs, but she made it and finally stumbled breathlessly out into the courtyard. There was no sign of Sir Abran or the Evil Magician or her goat, except a large puddle left over from the miniature rainstorm. Then, off in the distance beyond the castle gates, she heard a thundercrack and took off sprinting toward that.

Sir Abran, meanwhile, dashed forward out through the castle town, straining his eyes, trying to pick out any atmospheric disturbance that would give away the location of the weather-controlling goat. As he dashed forward, the clouds in the sky directly above him scattered thanks to the Great Magician's good-weather spell, leaving the clouds Abran the goat left in his wake all the more conspicuous.

There! Abran could see papers and scraps of trash blowing wildly in an alley, forming a funnel shape.

A tornado! He shook his head and ran toward the alley. This goat was a danger to he people of Glupzia even when not controlled by King Mallan, and Sir Abran was going to get him back.

Reva, meanwhile, raced through the market, looking around for anything out of the ordinary. She found plenty. All the maidens between the ages of ten and thirty had set off in pursuit of Sir Abran, whom they all, of course, recognized, even when he was little more than a blur dashing down an alley. Reva was swallowed up in the crowd of maidens and swept along in the direction Sir Abran had gone.

Well, at least I won't have to search for him, Reva thought sullenly, trying to keep from being trampled under the feet of the starstruck maidens.

Sir Abran stood at the place where the street opened into the alley. The Evil Magician stood at the back of the alley, holding tight to Abran the goat's tether. He looked exhausted--he probably didn't have a lot of magic left. That was good for Sir Abran--the Evil Magician wouldn't have the strength to do another transportation spell on himself and the goat. His sword outstretched, Sir Abran started down the alley toward the Evil Magician and the goat. In the face of his good-weather spell, the tornado that had been building collapsed. Sir Abran could taste victory. It was a familiar taste, something like honey-wheat bread.

And then he was knocked over for the second time that day, this time by a mob of screaming maidens demanding--what else?--his autograph and/or his hand in marriage.

Please let me go! Sir Abran cried ineffectually, trying to bend away from the maidens surrounding him. He caught dizzying glimpses of Reva, trying to tell him something--probably asking for his autograph again.

By the time he finally fought his way free of the maidens (gently, of course, so as not to hurt any of them) and made his way to the end of the alley, the Evil Magician was gone, along with Abran the weather-controlling goat. And Sir Abran faced an all-out war with his fans if he wanted to get past them out of the alley in which they now had him cornered.

So he sighed and resigned himself to signing many autographs and tactfully declining many offers of marriage. When at last he came to Reva, he cringed, expecting a marriage proposal at least. But after just a single autograph, she grabbed him by the hand and dragged him off away from the other maidens.

Reva was actually quite happy with the situation. She got to hold Sir Abran's hand, after all! But she was not happy about losing Abran the goat to the Evil Magician. Her mother would never forgive her for that. So she dragged Sir Abran away from the other maidens and cornered him next to a fishmonger's stall. Since the castle town was a ways inland, the fish smelled none too fresh and none of the other maidens dared approach. The fishmonger, an older man with failing sight, simply grunted at them and otherwise left them alone.

What is it? Sir Abran asked, wrinkling his nose at the smell of fish.

Where's Abran the goat? Reva asked. We have to find him!

asked Sir Abran, raising one eyebrow. Miss, please, I really don't think you can aid me in finding the goat.

Reva nodded. she said, staring vaguely at Sir Abran. So how are we going to locate him?

Sir Abran frowned. Miss, I think you misunderstand... He stuttered to a halt. She clearly wasn't listening to him. In fact, she was leaning forward slightly, staring at him, lips parted. Sir Abran took an uncomfortable step back and wondered how to treat this tactfully.

How will we find the goat? Reva said again.

Sir Abran considered making a break for it, then decided there was really no point. The Evil Magician and the goat were doubtless long gone. So he sighed and said, Let's go back to the palace. The king will know what to do about the goat.

Reva nodded. she said.

They went back to the palace, followed by the gaggle of screaming maidens. Luckily, this disorganized entourage was turned away at the castle gates. King Glupz didn't like having fans in the castle.

Sir Abran and Reva made their way through the castle to the throne room, which was guarded by a single guard and a password.

Are we allowed entrance into the royal chamber? Sir Abran asked formally.

The guard, who had been slouching, straightened up at Sir Abran's voice. Yes, sir! I'll need the password first, sir! He thumped the butt of his spear on the ground.

Sir Abran leaned forward and whispered the password in his ear. The guard nodded, started to open the door--and noticed Reva.

Who's she? he asked.

Her name is Reva, Sir Abran said. Now, please, let us in! It's urgent!

Can't let any fans in the throne toom, the guard said, shaking his head. Not allowed.

I'm not a fan, Reva said.

The guard looked at Sir Abran. 'S that true, Sir Abran? he asked. She's not a fan?

Sir Abran was torn. On one hand, he could tell the guard she was, indeed, a fan--it wouldn't be a lie, really. On the other hand, he could tell the guard she wasn't a fan, and then be stuck with her for the next half-hour while he explained the situation to the king. And on another hand--that made three hands, which Sir Abran didn't have--if he told the guard she was a fan, it would almost be a lie, because she did, after all, work in the palace. She was the new Assistant Assistant Secretary of Wheatberry Affairs. So Sir Abran sighed and, once again, made the honorable choice.

No, she's not a fan, he told the guard, who grunted and cst a suspicious glance at Reva, but didn't comment. Sir Abran was, after all, Sir Abran, and no one dared contest ay decision the great hero made.

Sir Abran and Reva walked into the throne room. At any other time, had she been accompanied by anyone other than the great hero Sir Abran, Reva would have been awed by the richly-furnished throne room. When her father spoke of the palace, he was bitter.

That's our taxes paying for that, he often said.

Reva always just nodded, and did not point out, though her father knew it well, that they didn't pay taxes. It was, anyway, someone's taxes paying for it.

But Reva didn't pay attention to the throne room's decor. Sir Abran was far more attractive than any wall hanging or gold-embroidered footstool.

Sir Abran noticed Reva staring at him again. He wondered uncomfortably what it would take to get her to stop. But there were more inportant matters to be discussed with the king, who was currently sitting on hie throne, writing something on a scrap of paper.

The king glanced up from the scrap of paper when Sir Abran cleared his throat loudly.

Your Majesty, he said, bowing.

The king looked at Sir Abran, then Reva. What's a fan doing here, pray tell? Then he blinked and looked again. And by the Fates, what are you doing without the goat! He'll ruin the weather without you nearby! The king half-stood, gesticulating in anger.

That's why the fan is here, Sir Abran explained, then took a deep breath. You see, the Evil Magician has stolen Abran.

The king blinked.

The goat, Reva explained. My goat.

Refresh my memory, said King Glupz. This is the same goat that has possession of the Ring of Weather Control?

That's right, Majesty, said Sir Abran, bowing.

Well, why didn't you stop him from taking the goat! the king demanded.

I would have, Majesty, but I was mobbed by fans. Sir Abran bowed his head. I have failed.

You're telling my you lost the weather-controlling goat because you couldn't manage to outrun a group of screaming maidens? King Glupz said, frowning down at Sir Abran.

I am sorry, Majesty, Sir Abran whispered, bowing his head. He looked up, face hardening into an expression of determination. But I promise to retrieve the goat on my own and regain my honor as the greatest hero in Glupzia.

Very good! The king nodded. And as your monarch, I say to you, go on a Quest to retrieve the goat, and on your way could you perhaps stop by the village of Plutzia? They have a slight dragon problem. Oh, just your basic maiden-snatching--you should be able to handle it. King Glupz nodded to Sir Abran. And you, girl, King Glupz went on, you may stay here at the castle in the bureaucratic headquarters.

But I have to go on the Quest with Sir Abran! To get my goat back! Reva protested.

No fans. They stopped him once, and I will not let it happen again, the king said firmly. You're to stay in the castle and that's the end of the matter!

Reva nodded and curtsied, but inside she was boiling mad. And determined to go on the Quest, even if it meant doing something really, outrageously stupid.