Sir Steven's Magical Quest

"An applicant for the Princess-rescuing job requests an audience with Your Majesties!"

The Chief Herald's deep voice reverberated throughout Castle Crownhaven's spacious reception hall.

"Another candidate for dragon chow?" mused King BoldSpear of Land 'o' Bliss. "I thought all of my remaining knights were too smart for that."

"Maybe he isn't from around here," Queen Goodness&Gracious suggested, shifting her ample bottom o the throne beside him. "Who is it, Chief Herald? A brave and noble champion from one of the neighboring monarchies?"

"No, Ma'am. Just a humble farmer's son too poor to afford decent clothes, from the looks of him."

"A commoner," said the King. "At least we won't lose anything of value. Show him in."

The Queen flinched as the Herald bellowed: "Peasant Steven Plowboy of Swinelick Village, enter and pay obeisance to your Liege Lord and Lady!"

A tall, shabbily dressed young man strode through the hall and bowed deeply before the throne. "Oh, exalted Majesties! Your devoted subject begs to be of service to you in your time of utmost distress."

"At least he has good manners," the Queen murmured. "Not bad looking, either."

"You obviously refer to the kidnapping," King BoldSpear said. "Are you familiar with the details?"

"Yes, Sire. For many years the powerful Wizard Wartly was your most trusted advisor. But when you refused to appoint him Royal Tax Collector, he absconded with your daughter Princess Lush Lips and her lady-in-waiting Duchess Hot Babe. He is holding them in a remote cave on Monster Mountain, guarded by his deadly Dragon Destructo. Many daring knights have tried to rescue the hostages, without success."

"Do you know why they failed?" asked Queen Goodness&Gracious.

"Yes, ma'am. The dangerous obstacles between here and Monster Mountain are all but insurmountable. First there are the Poison Pensters, wannabe writers who put their angry frustrations on paper, roll them into spitballs and throw them at passersby, causing agonizing deaths. From there the trail winds through the Forest of Flesh-eating Trees that devour every human careless enough to approach them. Beyond them flows Suck-Bottom Creek, with treacherous quicksand that swallows all creatures who set foot in it. If a traveler survives the crossing, he finds himself on the Plain of Jump-in-tos--invisible demons that invade human bodies and make them slaves."

"I've been trying for years to get them to supply us with cheap laborers who would never strike," the King said.

"That would solve our servant problem," his wife added. "But they can't get across the creek."

"I don't think I can help you with that," Steven said. "Anyway, next comes the Thicket of Behinders, who may as well be invisible. Nobody has ever seen one because they move so fast that they are always behind you. When you try to look at one in front, he attacks from the rear. Beyond them, the way is blocked by the enchanted domain of Sorceress Barbra Strident. Her singing voice is so loud and off-key that it scrambles listeners' minds and makes them zombies."

"Couldn't be much worse than our daughter and her girlfriends whooping it up during a slumber party," King BoldSpear opined.

"Or you and your Lords trying to harmonize after knocking back a keg of ale," Queen Goodness&Gracious jibed.

"Then there is Hoopsnake Hill," the ambitious farm boy continued. "Swarming with venomous serpents that not even the swiftest horse and rider can outrun. They grip their tails with their jaws to form rigid circles and roll at incredible speed, lassoing their victims and crushing them into bite-size pieces. At the foot of the hill lies the Valley of the Ennui, people who are so bored that they kill strangers just to have something to do.

"Those are most of the dangers that I know of. If anyone manages to survive them, he comes at last to Monster Mountain. It was formerly inhabited by many kinds of supernatural horrors. But Dragon Destructo defeated them and absorbed their evil powers. It can only be controlled by Wizard Wartly's magic."

"Well, you've done your homework," the King said. "Do you know the reward offered for the safe return of the Princess and Duchess?"

"Yes, Sire. You have promised to give the Princess to her rescuer in marriage and make him heir to your kingdom," Steven replied.

"Right. A high price to pay, but I'm determined not to let Old Wartly get the best of me."

"Wouldn't surprise me if those girls went with him willingly," the Queen sniffed. "They were always headstrong and eager for wild escapades. If I didn't miss them so much, I'd let the Wizard keep them until they've learned their lesson."

"Quite so," agreed her husband. "Do you think you can succeed where so many others have failed, young man?"

"I'm sure I won't disappoint your Majesties."

"I like your self-confidence," the Queen said. "Knight him, dear."

"What? Oh, yes. You'll need a noble title to undertake a Royal assignment."

The King rose from the throne and drew his sword.

Steven knelt and the blade touched his shoulder. "By all the sovereign powers invested in me, I dub thee Sir Steven the Stu--" A sharp word from his wife caused him to alter the sentence. "Sir Steven the Stalwart. Arise and go forth to fulfill the Code of Chivalry and your duties to our Land 'o' Bliss."

Sir Steven departed and the Royal Couple remarked sympathetically on the sad fate that almost certainly awaited him.

But the new knight was smiling as he approached his horse in the castle courtyard, because he had a secret advantage. His Aunt Helen was a formidable witch with a good reason to help him. As a young girl she had been deeply in love with the Wizard, who was handsome and wart-free then. He promised to give her a full-length mink coat with a matching hat and mittens, saying that she would always receive a flattering reply when she asked: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the furriest of them all?"

But he grew tired of her and decided to end their affair. Helen was heartbroken and made such a tearful scene that the Wizard angrily cast a spell that covered her feet with painful corns. And as the old proverb tells us: "Helen hath no furry like that of a woman corned."

Helen struck back with a spell of her own, causing the Wizard's face to break out in ugly warts. During the following years she had worked hard to increase her magic, dreaming of the day she could even the score for her ex-lover's treachery. Now at last she had an opportunity to obtain revenge and assist her nephew with his ordeals.

She provided Steven with several magical items including a saddle that would enable him to ride anything and a suit of armor with a rearview mirror to watch out for Behinders. Then she transformed herself into a lively mare to carry him on his travels.

"How did it go, Stevie lad?" she neighed as he swung onto her back.

"I got the job," he said proudly. "And it's Sir Steven to you now."

"Big deal," Helen sneered. "Don't let it swell your head, or I'll buck you off into the nearest dung heap."

They left the castle and cantered away toward the distant hills, discussing plans to rescue the kidnapped girls. Suddenly the ground shuddered violently and split open in a gaping chasm before them, spanned by a narrow wooden bridge.

"Whoa! That's a surprise," Sir Steven cried as he reined up. "Why didn't you warn me about it?"

"I didn't know," Helen replied. "The Wizard's trickery can be unpredictable."

A huge knight in ebony armor and riding a black stallion appeared at the opposite end of the bridge and roared:

"I am the Guardian of the Bridge! You shall not pass unless you can defeat me, which has never been done."

"How are we going to handle this?" Steven asked.

"Not we--you," Helen answered. "He may look uglier and meaner than the Devil, but he's just as human as you are. There's a rule against using magic in a fair fight between mortals. So you're on your own, kid. Good luck."

"Thanks a lot," he said dryly.

He summoned his courage, steadied his lance and urged Helen forward as the Black knight charged at full gallop. They met at mid-bridge with a resounding clash. Steven lost his lance as he was knocked out of the saddle. He stood up, shaken but unhurt, as his opponent's attack speed carried him on for several yards. His lance head had lodged in Steven's shield and he drew his sword as he wheeled his mount around for another assault. Steven swung the lance's shaft like a club at the Black Knight's head and managed to unseat him.

Dismounted, both men rushed at each other swinging their swords. The Black Knight's greater size and strength drove Steven to the edge of the bridge, where he teetered dangerously. Then he ducked under a clumsy thrust and with a hard push sent the Bridge Guardian plunging into the chasm.

While Steven was gasping to regain his breath, the black stallion sidled up to Helen with a lecherous wink.

"Hi, cute shanks, want to horse around? I know a cozy little meadow where we can roll over in the clover."

"Get lost, oat-breath!" Helen snapped, sending him on his way with a hard kick in the ribs. "I hate male animals who think that when a woman shape-shifts, she wants to have some interspecies hanky-panky."

"Well, you did make yourself a very fetching filly," Steven pointed out.

She snorted. "Let's get the show back on the road. The worst is still ahead of us."

They traveled on past the bleached bones and rusted armor and weapons of several unfortunate knights who had preceded them.

Suddenly a volley of hate-filled spitballs informed them that they were in Poison Penster territory. But when the failed authors came out of hiding hoping to witness the death of another victim, they were in for a surprise. Seven's magic armor deflected the pellets and shot them back to their source, inflicting painful wounds.

"Hey! No fair using our own weapons against us!" the Pensters cried indignantly.

"Sorry, but writers have to learn that life is unfair," Helen said. "Especially when you to try to get your stories published."

They continued their journey, soon reaching the Forest of Flesh-eating Trees. From dark gnarled trunks and leafy limbs all around them came ominous sounds like the rumblings of hungry stomachs.

"I don't think even a tree-hugger could feel welcome here," Steven remarked.

Stout vines whipped out to ensnare them. But once more the magic armor protected them as Steven took an enchanted copy of Bhagavad-Gita from his saddlebags and started reading. Soon the trees became so enraptured with the sacred Hindu wisdom that they converted to vegetarianism and started eating each other.

"They'll get more fiber now," Helen surmised as they moved along the trail.

When they neared the other side of the forest, they heard the burbling current of Suck-Bottom Creek. Steven reined up at the water's edge as the quicksand, sensing their presence, made lip-smacking sounds of anticipation. "Looks like it would be easy for you to make a flying leap to the other side," he speculated.

"And even easier for them." Helen gestured with her head toward a flock of large grey birds circling over them. "The Wizard's spy hawks. Their sharp beaks and talons are harmless on the ground, but anything they catch in the air is instantly ripped to shreds."

"Okay, we'll do it your way."

Steven reached into his saddlebags for a handful of hard candy and tossed it out over the creek. The quicksand snapped it up and started sucking greedily, not knowing that the delicious sweets contained the Spell of Contentment and Distraction. The sucking sand was happily unaware when Helen swam across the creek and climbed up on the opposite bank.

"Now do as I told you," she said. "So we'll be ready for the Jump-in-tos."

"Yeah, yeah. You nag even more now that you are one."

He dismounted and removed his suit of magic armor. Working swiftly because the spell would soon wear off, he scooped up enough quicksand to fill the suit and tied it to the saddle. Then he licked a magic lollipop to make himself temporarily invisible and followed Helen as she ambled across the Plain.

It didn't take long for their scheme to work.

Helen grunted as an unseen Jump-in-to landed on her back and squeezed through the helmet visor. Expecting to occupy a human body, the demon screamed hideously when it found itself trapped in quicksand. Steven rushed up with an aerosol can of Helen's special Insta-hard formula and sprayed the armor, turning the quicksand into concrete. The anguished howls increased as Steven peeled off the armor to expose a statue of himself.

"Look out," Helen cautioned. "We have company."

Steven looked up as several people came slinking out from behind bushes and rocks. He could tell by their blank expressions and glowing eyes that they were possessed by Jump-in-tos, and drew his sword. But the evil spirit trapped in the statue shrieked a warning to its colleagues. The demons realized they were up against great magic and fled from their human hosts back into their own hellish dimension.

The former slaves were so grateful to be free that they begged Steven to remain and be their king. He explained that he had to carry on with his quest, but he left the demon-haunted statue to frighten away any other supernatural mischief-makers that might come along.

They journeyed on into the Thicket of Behinders and Steven kept careful watch in his rearview mirror. Suddenly blurred movement appeared in front him. Before he could focus on it, the image of a ravenous beast flashed in the mirror. Steven braced himself for an attack. But the Behinder caught sight of itself in the mirror and thought it was the most beautiful thing it had ever seen. It stood up on its hind legs and primped and brushed its fur. Several other Behinders came out to see what was so fascinating and they also were spellbound by the lovely mirror reflections.

Steven hung the mirror on a tree and left the Behinders crowded around it.

"What a conceited bunch of boobs," Helen said as she trotted on.

"Yes. We humans never act like that, do we?"

"Save your sarcasm. We're approaching the Sorceress Barbra Strident's territory, so be ready to use that special hocus-pocus I gave you."

"I have it right here," Steven said. "But now it looks like I'm going to have to joust with another knight. His lance is pointed right at us."

"That's Barbra's nose. Push it aside."

Barbra stepped out from behind a tree. "That must be Helen the Cornfoot hiding in the horse," she said, recognizing a fellow witch. "Only she could make such a catty remark at first acquaintance. But neither your rudeness nor magic will save this young man when I start singing."

"Wait," said Steven "I have an offer you can't refuse."

"What's that?"

"The magic of show business. Here is a well-paying contract for you to sing with a rock and roll band. They are going on a concert tour of their most devoted fans, where a few million more brain-scrambled zombies won't be noticed."

"Where do I sign?" Barbra cried eagerly. "Hollywood, here I come! Do you think they'll be shocked when I fly in on my broomstick?"

"Not after Madonna and Britney Spears," Helen said.

They watched Barbra zoom off, then continued on their way. Finally they came to the reverse slope of Hoopsnake Hill and climbed up through a forest of tall, skinny, leafless trees.

"I wonder where the snakes are," Steven said. "Maybe they got scared and slithered away when they heard I was coming."

"Look more closely at the tops of the trees," Helen suggested.

He looked up at several pairs of beady eyes. Forked tongues flicked out and seemed to lick drooling lips. If snakes can drool.

"Yuck! That's gross," Steven said nervously. "Why don't they attack?"

"Because we're going uphill. They wait until their prey starts down the other side, then roll after it."

"Then we'll give them a roll for their money."

Steven urged Helen over the crest of the hill and started down. The snakes curved over to grip their tails between their jaws and started rolling after them. Helen galloped on and Steven turned in his saddle, spraying the snakes with Insta-hard. The snakes' jaws locked, making them permanent hoops.

Steven used his lance to round up the Hoopsnakes and drove them down the hill into the Valley of the Ennui. The inhabitants of the valley came running from all directions, their bored expressions brightening with excitement.

"Oh, goodie!" they shouted. "Here comes a new victim we can kill to break up the monotony of our dull lives."

"Not so fast," Steven said. "I'll show you something better to do."

He dismounted and put one of the snakes around him and rotated his hips, using it as a hula-hoop.

The Ennui were fascinated and asked Steven to teach them the new dance. The fad spread rapidly and soon the valley was filled with laughing people whirling dizzy snakes around their bodies. While they were thus occupied, Steven and Helen rode on.

"Monster Mountain is just around the next bend," Helen said. "The cliffs are too steep for a horse to climb, so I'll have to resume my normal form. You can leave most of your equipment behind, but take the magic saddle."

While Helen was changing, Steven scouted ahead and saw that the terrain was as ruggedly vertical as she had claimed. But with the help of her magic they made good progress scaling the craggy mountain face. When he pulled himself up over the final ledge, he found that he was on a broad level path leading to Wizard Wartly's cave. He knew that because the Wizard stood on the path before him.

"You must be Sir Steven the Stalwart," the Wizard smiled. "My spy hawks told me you were coming. You've arrived just in time for lunch."

"Thanks, but I'm not hungry," Steven said.

"I meant that you'll be its lunch." The Wizard waved a hand at the sky.

Steven looked up and saw a dark winged creature swooping down at him. "The Dragon Destructo, I assume?"

"Yes. Don't bother removing your armor. It needs more iron in its diet."

Steven watched the hurtling mass of evil approach, its nostrils snorting fire and its cavernous mouth lined with razor-sharp teeth gaping menacingly. His magic armor protected him from the flames and he sprang nimbly aside. As the Dragon sped by, he tossed his saddle on its back and leaped aboard.

Destructo roared and beat its wings furiously, gaining altitude and trying with sharp loops, rolls and spins to dislodge its unwelcome rider. But the magic saddle was unshakable and Steven remained firmly seated through every wild maneuver the beast could perform. Finally Destructo was exhausted and glided back to the mountain path, landing as gentle as a lamb.

Steven cut it into lamb chops that he could sell to pay the expenses of his quest. Finishing that, he turned to face Wizard Wartly just as Helen climbed up to join him. When Helen saw Wartly, all of her angry loathing and lust for revenge surged up in a mighty hate spell that she hurled at him. The Wizard's magic was equal to hers and he cast his own powerful spell at her.

The two tremendous occult forces collided in midair, exploding with the strength of a nuclear reaction. Such an overwhelming outburst of emotion could not be contained by hatred and was transformed into the most powerful element in the universe--love.

As the radiating waves of unlimited affection reached the Wizard and Helen, his warts and her corns disappeared and they saw each other again in the captivating radiance of first love. Drawn irresistibly together, they embraced in a tender bond that they knew would never be broken.

Steven started toward the cave as Princess Lush Lips and Duchess Hot Babe emerged--just in time for the love spell to hit the three of them, too. Squealing rapturously, the girls ran to throw themselves into Steven's arms.

"Oh, wow! This is super cool!" the Princess cried. "I've always wanted to be rescued happily ever after by an awesome knight."

"Me, too," said the Duchess. "Please, please, please say you'll marry us."

"It'll be perfect. We've always loved each other like sisters, borrowing each other's clothes and jewelry."

"Now we can share everything, even Steven."

"Sounds good to me," Steven said. "But what will the King and Queen say?"

"Leave them to me," Princess Lush Lips said confidently. "When I was little, I could always get my way by threatening to hold my breath until I died. Now I'll tell them that I'll be an old maid and they'll have to support me for the rest of my life."

"Okay, let's give it a try," Steven said.

He turned around to say good-bye to Helen and the Wizard, but they had gone into the cave and started loving up a storm. Steven put his saddle on the storm and mounted it with the two girls. The powerful winds blew the spy hawks away as they rode the storm back to Castle Crownhaven.

When the Royal Couple were told about the planned threesome, King BoldSpear was doubtful.

"Never thought much of bigamy myself. It could make a man paranoid."

"Oh, let them do it," Queen Goodness&Gracious said resignedly. "That seems to be the only way we'll ever have grandchildren."

So Sir Steven married his two lady loves and lived happily ever after, with plenty of opportunities to prove that he could be Stalwart under pressure.

The news soon reached Monster Mountain and the Wizard shared the King's skepticism.

"Messing around with the traditional rules of marriage could have unexpected consequences," he mused. "What if, for example, someday members of the same sex decided they wanted to marry each other?"

Helen laughed derisively. "What nonsense! That couldn't happen in a million years."

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(Author's note: These events occurred a million years ago.)

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