Vector playing barken (4_50)

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Kartian Carol

by Anna M.C.


[With profound apologies to Charles Dickens]

[Establishing shot of Castle Blackpool surrounded by a heavy snowfall. Inside is a huge formal hall, where GEOFFREY is cheerfully hanging up evergreen garlands and holly on the mantel while whistling a festive tune. Suddenly, the door slams open and DIRK enters, shaking snow from his cloak. Bug-eyed with alarm, GEOFFREY attempts to block DIRKís view of the decorations by leaning back over the mantel in what he hopes is a casual pose, but which is actually the most unnatural contortion imaginable.]

DIRK: Gods, what foul weather. The moatís frozen solid. [There is a distant crack, a splash, and a high-pitched chorus of screams. DIRK smiles evilly.] Well, not *quite* solid.

GEOFFREY [looking glum]: There go the Solstice carolers.

DIRK: No, that was the ice skaters. I already poured boiling oil on the carolers.

GEOFFREY: You *what*?!

DIRK: Donít fret, I used peppermint oil. Iím doing my best to get into the spirit of the season. [He finally notices Geoffreyís bizarre posture, and circles him curiously.] Have you sprained something, Geoffrey?

GEOFFREY: Oh, no, Iím fine. Just hanging around, enjoying the fire. Nice and toasty warm! [Behind him, his trousers are starting to smoke.] You know, call me crazy, but I thought youíd left for Tronin already. Isnít that secret alliance meeting tonight?

DIRK: No, it was last week.

GEOFFREY: [looking panicked] But I thought you told me --

DIRK: Come now, Geoffrey. Do you honestly think Iíd give you correct information about anything I wanted to remain a secret?

GEOFFREY: So youíre *not* going to be away today?

DIRK: [Getting suspicious] No. Why do you --

[At that moment, dozens of rough-looking soldiers and equally rough-looking ladies of negotiable affection burst into the room. Most (including the women) are hefting large kegs of beer and/or plates of cheese hors díoeuvres, and all have sprigs of holly and mistletoe upon their persons. Many have the mistletoe attached in highly inappropriate places.]

SOLDIER: All right, Geoffrey, letís get this Solstice Eve party started!

DIRK [in tones which could re-freeze the moat]: Solstice Eve Party? Am I invited?

[All the revelers freeze at the sight of DIRK; after a few horrified seconds, they all make a simultaneous dash for the door. One quick zap of the monocle later, all thatís left are a few sizzling branches of holly, and one pathetic, flaming sprig of mistletoe. DIRK very deliberately grinds it out beneath his heel. GEOFFREY is shaking in his boots.]

GEOFFREY: Dirk, itís not what it looks like . . .

DIRK [amused]: Really? Because it looks like your pants are on fire.

GEOFFREY: My pants . . .? [He considers this statement for a moment, trying to work out if it represents an obscure threat, and then, all at once, suddenly sees, smells, and feels his smoldering britches. Yelling in terror, he stops, drops and rolls. Ignoring him, Dirk stalks over to the fireplace, raising one gloved hand to fondle the garland.]

DIRK: How odd. I seem to recall expressly forbidding any Solstice celebrations, and yet, for some strange reason, some vandal has decked my halls. [In one smooth movement, he viciously yanks down the decorations and hurls them into the fireplace. Bending down and grasping GEOFFREY by the collar, he hauls him to his feet, forcing him uncomfortably close to the fire.] And should I find that renegade hall-decker, I assure you he will find that holly and evergreen can be put to *very* interesting uses, depending on the orifices involved. I trust we understand one another?

GEOFFREY [choking]: Yes! Definitely! Absolutely no hall-decking, and no fa-la-las either!

DIRK: *Especially* no "fa-la-las." [As DIRK releases GEOFFREY and turns to go, he pauses by the fireplace and breathes deeply, nostrils flaring, a sensual smile upon his lips]. I love the smell of burning holly in the morning. [He exits.]

GEOFFREY [rubbing his neck]: Whatís he got against a little fun, anyway?

[Cut to a montage of the rest of DIRKís day, which is very fun-filled in its own very special way: setting fire to the Solstice tree in a peasantís cottage filled with screaming women and children; drop-kicking a little old ladyís tray of freshly-baked gingerbread, and then the little old lady herself; and cracking a whip to set a team of reindeer galloping off to drag some poor schmuck in a Santa suit face-down through the snow. Culminating each event with a celebratory goblet of wine, he is quite clearly smashed by evening. Cut to a view of Castle Blackpool during a snowy sunset, then cut to DIRKís bedroom, a leather-intensive abode with lots of scary, spiky stuff festooning the walls. DIRK staggers in from an offstage dressing area, clad in black silk pajamas -- trimmed with leather-studded cuffs, of course. (If he rolls over the wrong way at night, heíll quite probably poke his own eye out.) Barely visible in one corner are a frayed, leather-clad teddy bear and a well-worn blue blankie. As he collapses upon his velvet-curtained bed for a well-earned rest after a busy day of sadistic tyranny, an eerie green glow suffuses one corner of the bedroom, and a sepulchral voice echoes through the chamber.]

SARIS: Diiiiiirrrrk . . . Dirk, my son . . .you rotten little bastard. . .

[As DIRK leaps bolt upright, snatching his sword, the glow coalesces into the moaning, chain-draped shape of SARIS BLACKPOOL. DIRK nearly drops his sword in astonishment.]

DIRK [incredulous]: Father? Youíre awake?

SARIS: No, my son, I still lie in Vectorís evil thrall, neither living nor dead.

DIRK [relaxing]: Thank the gods for that.

SARIS: Wouldnít want to give any power back to the old man, would we? After all I did for you, this is the thanks I get, you ungrateful little snot-nosed punk --

DIRK: Is there a *reason* youíre here, other than that ill-advised ninth goblet of wine?

SARIS: Iím sending three ghosts to visit you this Solstice Eve. Do you know why?

DIRK [sneering]: Donít tell me, let me guess. You want to show me the true meaning of Solstice?

SARIS: Not even close. I just want to annoy the hell out of you. Traitorous little no-good . . .

[Still cursing a blue (or should I say, green) streak of abuse, SARIS fades to black. Immediately, in a burst of light and glitter, GHOST ARIEL appears in a Glenda the Good Witch getup.]

GHOST ARIEL [bubbly and perky]: I am the Ghost of Solstice Past!

DIRK [burying his head in his hands]: I think you just achieved your goal, father.

GHOST ARIEL: Oooh, nice leather thingies. [She fondles his cuffs until Dirk slaps her hands away.]

DIRK: Letís just get this over with, shall we?

GHOST ARIEL: Fine. Be that way. [Peering over his shoulder, she grins and points tauntingly.] Hey, is that a teddy --

DIRK [looming over her to block her view]: Iím warning you . . .

GHOST ARIEL [sticking her tongue out at him]: Nyah. Canít hurt me, Ďcause Iím a ghost. Nyah, nyah, nyah!

[At this, DIRK, murder in his eye, makes a lunge for her, but grasps only empty air as she disappears amidst a peal of mocking laughter. As he stumbles and turns, he realizes his surroundings have changed. He is back in the great hall, but this time it is decorated to the hilt with Solstice greenery.]

DIRK [through clenched teeth]: Geoffrey, I think itís been far too long since you and I had a fraternal stroll through the North Tower together.

YOUNG GEOFFREY: Oh, no! Youíre not fooling me this year, Dirk! I know the Solstice Elf doesnít store his presents in the North Tower!

[DIRK does a double take as YOUNG GEOFFREY races into the room, thumbing his nose at an unseen enemy. YOUNG GEOFFREYís voice is considerably higher, and his height is considerably lower, given that he appears to be about six years old. His emotional and intellectual development are none too different from his eventual adulthood, however. Clad in a lace-collared, blue velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, with his hair in exaggerated curls, he might as well have a large "Hey! Come Kick the Mommaís Boy!" sign pinned to his back. A moment later, an eight-year-old YOUNG DIRK stalks in; he is also shorter, but every bit as evil, and clad in a miniature version of his adult leather ensemble.]

YOUNG DIRK: But Geoffrey, how can you be sure? Just because he didnít do it last year, doesnít mean he wouldnít do it *this* year. The only way to know for sure is to sneak up to the North Tower and look . . .

[YOUNG GEOFFREY is clearly tempted by this irrefutable logic. Without warning, GHOST ARIEL reappears next to the adult DIRK. Although YOUNG GEOFFREY clearly canít see her and the adult DIRK, she cups her hands around her mouth and yells to YOUNG GEOFFREY anyway.]

ARIEL: Donít do it, Geoffrey! [Hands on hips, she glares at DIRK.] Boy, you were a real jerkface even as a kid, werenít you?

[DIRK inclines his head modestly, while YOUNG DIRK beckons temptingly to YOUNG GEOFFREY. Just in time, however, their parents, KING SARIS and the QUEEN, enter. The QUEEN bears an eerie resemblance to ARIEL, even carrying a duplicate of her little dog, WOJE. This, of course, opens up a humongous can of very squiggly Freudian worms with regards to GEOFFREYís hots for ARIEL, but we wonít discuss that right now.]

QUEEN: Geoffrey, my wittow snookums!

YOUNG GEOFFREY: Mumsy! Dirkís been teasing me!

[As YOUNG GEOFFREY leaps into her arms, the QUEEN showers him with kisses, while YOUNG DIRK makes gagging sounds. KING SARIS slouches down in a corner armchair to resume reading an ownerís manual entitled _How to Get the Most Out of Your PainMaster 2000 Rack ĎNí Crack_.]

QUEEN [glaring at Dirk]: Have you been mean to my wittow poopsie? [GEOFFREY joins in with a duplicate glare, and the proto-WOJE even contrives to look accusing.]

YOUNG DIRK [feigning deep hurt]: Why, Geoffrey, whatever could inspire such an unjust accusation in this season of love and goodwill?

YOUNG GEOFFREY [pouting]: What about those spiders you put in my stocking?

YOUNG DIRK: They were only licorice spiders, Geoffrey -- I just wanted to share my Solstice candy with you, of course. My deepest apologies -- is mommyís wittow poopsie afraid of spiders?

ARIEL: Boy, what goes around comes around . . .

DIRK: Shut up.

YOUNG DIRK: Was wittow Geoffrey scared? Does he need his teddy bear and his blankie?

ARIEL: Hey, back in your bedroom, didnít you have --

DIRK: Shut UP.

YOUNG GEOFFREY: Mumsy! Make him stop!

QUEEN: Dirk Blackpool, you just stop teasing your brother right now, or youíll get nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking!

YOUNG DIRK [smiling beatifically]: I *like* coal. You can use it to burn things.

QUEEN: Saris, *do* something about the boy, for goodness sakes!

KING SARIS [looking up from his manual in an abstracted fashion]: What?

QUEEN: Dirkís tormenting his little brother!

KING SARIS: Good for him. [He goes back to reading the chapter entitled "Kneecaps: They Donít Have to Bend Just One Way!"]

QUEEN [stamping her foot in anger]: Oooh! That man! [Shaking her finger at YOUNG DIRK] If you donít behave, you wonít get your very special present -- the one youíve been asking for every year.

YOUNG DIRK [eyes lighting up]: My very own torture chamber?

QUEEN: Torture chamber. Itís Solstice, and he asks for a torture chamber. Do the Tronins talk about torture at Solstice? Do the Baaldorfs? Do the Greystones? No! Youíre not getting a torture chamber. [As his face falls, she reaches into an inner pocket and withdraws a small, brightly-wrapped red package.] Itís something much better.

[YOUNG DIRK snatches it eagerly, shreds away the wrappings, and opens a small red-velvet box to reveal a monocle on a chain, glimmering seductively in the firelight. With a whoop of delight, he drapes it around his neck.]

YOUNG DIRK: Yes! My very own monocle! [Grinning evilly, he clasps the monocle with his right hand and points at a nervous YOUNG GEOFFREY with his left.] Time for a "wittow" test. [He shuts his eyes and concentrates. Nothing happens. The look of anger and betrayal on his face has to be seen to be believed.] It doesnít work! Itís a fake! [On the sidelines, as he fondles the reassuring weight of his real monocle, the adult DIRKís eyes are brimming over with the remembered disappointment.]

QUEEN: Well, of course it doesnít! We couldnít very well get you a *real* monocle, now, could we? [She shakes her head.] He must get it from you, Saris. Thereís no megalomania on *my* side of the family. Silly boy, youíre just supposed to *pretend*-- [She gasps in horror as a furious YOUNG DIRK throws down the monocle and stomps on it.]

YOUNG DIRK: Kindly donít trouble yourself to get me any more presents, Mother. From now on, as far as Iím concerned, thereís no such thing as Solstice!

[The scene fades, leaving GHOST ARIEL and DIRK standing back in his bedroom.]

GHOST ARIEL: Boy, did you ever have a screwed-up childhood. [DIRK shrugs noncommittally]. I liked your mother, though.

DIRK [dryly]: Why doesnít that surprise me?

GHOST ARIEL: So, did this trip down memory lane make you feel all mushy and warm-fuzzy? Are you ready to break out the Solstice tree, and shop, shop, shop? Shoppingís the most important part, you know.

DIRK: Actually, this particular fit of nostalgia reminded me precisely *why* I hate Solstice so much. Iím most appreciative.

GHOST ARIEL: Well, pooh. [Cupping her hands around her mouth, she bellows offstage.] Yo! Ghost of Solstice Present! Youíre up! And good luck -- this oneís a tough nut to crack!

[She fades to black. Almost immediately, GHOST JUSTIN appears, lounging comfortably in a throne carved with Solstice motifs. On either side, the WINSLOW SISTERS are plying him with goblets of wine and platters of food.]

DIRK [sneeringly sarcastic]: Well, this just keeps getting better.

GHOST JUSTIN: Coincidentally enough, thatís exactly what all the ladies readiní this just said. Only without the sarcasm. [Leisurely, he unfolds himself from his cozy seat and approaches DIRK. Keeping one tankard of ale for himself, he offers a second one to DIRK.] You could show a mite more gratitude. It ainít like youíre my top pick to spend the eveniní with, either.

DIRK [refusing the drink]: So why *are* you here, then? I donít recall you being famed for living up to obligations. Why not take your two tarts and leave?

[As two very angry WINSLOW SISTERS advance on DIRK, JUSTIN throws his arms out on either side to block them. If anything, his friendly smile only deepens.]

GHOST JUSTIN: Why, then Iíd miss my chance to see your teddy bear --

DIRK: SHUT UP.

GHOST JUSTIN: Fine with me. Weíre late for King Baaldorfís Solstice dinner anyway, and itís a crime to let a good tadmon with all the fixinís get cold. [Turning to the WINSLOWS] ĎBye for now, ladies, but you be sureíní keep some mistletoe nice Ďní warm for me.

[The WINSLOWS simper and titter while DIRK looks as if heíd rather be undergoing prostate surgery. Chuckling, GHOST JUSTIN drains and discards his tankard, then starts in on DIRKís tankard. Casually waving his free arm, he causes the WINSLOW SISTERS and the bedroom to dissolve, replaced by a gradual fade-in of the CASTLE BAALDORF dining room, decorated for Solstice dinner. The table is groaning with food, including several trays of roast tadmon and a platter of baked fish. KING BAALDORF, QUEEN LATTINIA, PRINCESS ARIEL, and PRINCE JUSTIN are all seated around the table, while CASSANDRA is pacing anxiously by the door. JUSTIN is eyeing the roast tadmon and wine hungrily. As his hand snakes out to snag a bite, LATTINIA slaps it back.]

LATTINIA: No! Weíre waiting for Erik and Marko.

[As if on cue, ERIK and MARKO burst in, mumbling apologies. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, CASSANDRA embraces MARKO. ]

JUSTIN: About time. [As he reaches out for the tadmon a second time, LATTINIA slaps him back again.]

LATTINIA: Not Ďtill everyoneís seated!

GHOST JUSTIN: Man, sheís tough. [Adroitly, GHOST JUSTIN floats a tadmon leg from the platter to JUSTINís plate. JUSTIN is taken aback for a few seconds by this supernatural generosity, then happily digs in. Heís not one to look a gift tadmon in the mouth.]

ARIEL: Finally! Didnít you bring any presents?

[ERIK looks panicked, but is saved by the bell -- or the pounding of the impatient KING BAALDORFís fist on the table.]

KING BAALDORF: Thatís not important right now, Ariel! Erik, were you able to stop the meeting?

ARIEL [sulking]: Presents are *always* important.

ERIK [sitting down as far away from ARIEL as he can politely manage]: No, your majesty. Turns out that Dirk met with Tronin last week. The intelligence our spies overheard from Geoffrey was wrong.

JUSTIN [through a mouthful of tadmon]: Well, gettiní intelligence from Geoffrey is just plain wrong on any level.

DIRK [to GHOST JUSTIN, with a satisfied smirk]: Worked like a charm.

[Off in the corner, CASSANDRA and MARKO are conversing in worried tones.]

CASSANDRA: He seems weaker, Marko. Itís just awful.

MARKO: I know youíre doing all you can for him, Cassandra. I wish I could be here more often to help, instead of running around with Erik, doing Dirk Damage Control all the time. Just once, Iíd like a Solstice where nobody even *mentions* Dirk! [His lower lip trembles.] And his wee little leg? How is it?

CASSANDRA [clasping his hands]: Worse than ever!

MARKO: Poor Tiny Tim!

DIRK [in tones of horror]: Donít tell me those two had a *child!*

GHOST JUSTIN: No, Tiny Tim is Markoís pet tadmon. Makes ya feel all choked up inside, doesnít it?

DIRK: I believe "nausea" is the more accurate term.

KING BAALDORF [Shoulders sagging]: Itís hopeless, then.

MARKO: No, your majesty, Tiny Tim could still pull through -- [Seeing BAALDORFís look, he trails off in mid-sentence]. Oh. You were talking about the Tronin-Blackpool alliance.

ERIK [With great intensity]: Not hopeless, your majesty. We may still persuade Tronin to switch sides. Theyíve done it before.

GHOST JUSTIN [dryly, to DIRK]: Which is what makes Ďem such reliable allies in a tight spot. The kingdom of Tronin sticks with contracts about as long as old Tronin stuck with wives. Want to place a bet on how long theyíre gonna stick by you?

DIRK: And of course you would know *so much* about reliability.

GHOST JUSTIN: Not to mention tight spots. [He grins lasciviously. DIRK turns away in disgust.]

KING BAALDORF: And if they *donít* switch sides? This may be the last good meal we have in quite awhile, if we go under siege.

JUSTIN: At least thereís always Tiny Tim to eat. [He grins mischievously as MARKO and CASSANDRA look aghast.]

LATTINIA: Well, weíre *not* going to worry about it tonight. Itís Solstice, after all! Iím so sorry your father didnít feel well enough to join us, Erik, but weíre delighted to have you and your brother here. Would you like some tadmon?

ERIK [pointing to the baked fish]: Thanks, but Iíll just have a piece of cod. A big one.

DIRK [snorting]: Typical. Are we through here?

GHOST JUSTIN: Depends. Do ya feel flushed with a guilty need to change your ways and make this Solstice a happy occasion for everyone?

DIRK: Does the phrase "fat chance" mean more to you than it did to Vector?

GHOST JUSTIN: I was afraid of that. Okay, time to call in the big guns. Hey! Ghost of Solstice Future! Heís all yours! [Rubbing his hands together with anticipation, GHOST JUSTIN turns his attention away from DIRK, and onto more important matters.] Ladies, break out the mistletoe, Ďcause Justinís back! Time to find out whoís been naughty and whoís been nice!

[As GHOST JUSTIN fades away, an ominously cloaked and hooded FIGURE appears, who proceeds to point ominously at DIRK. Unfortunately, the overall ominous-ness of the situation is severely undercut by the way the FIGURE is significantly shorter than DIRK.]

DIRK: Drop the act, Vector, I know itís you. [The FIGURE gestures in protest.] And Iím sure I donít need to remind you what the penalty is for engaging in deliberate acts of mime within the borders of Karteia.

GHOST VECTOR [throwing back his hood]: If youíre going to be *that* way about it, fine.

DIRK: I take it you are the Ghost of Solstice Future?

GHOST VECTOR: Your powers of deduction are astounding, my lord.

DIRK [toying with the monocle]: And Iím sure I also donít need to remind you that, while I may not be able to harm the Ghost of Solstice Future, the real Vector will be in for a very bad day indeed, should I return in a foul mood?

GHOST VECTOR [much more subdued]: Point taken, my lord. [Sighing, he raises his arms, causing the room to dissolve into a view of the great hall of Castle Blackpool. The general state of dustiness and the tatty tapestries indicate that many years have passed.] Unfortunately, I fear a foul mood is inevitable, for it is my unenviable task to show what fell fate lies ahead for you, should you not change your evil ways.

DIRK: Thatís a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, isnít it?

[Before GHOST VECTOR can reply, two DEATH TROOPERS march into the room.]

DEATH TROOPER #1: Is everything ready for the formal surrender? Baaldorf and his ditzy daugtheríll be here any minute now, and you know how Prince Blackpool gets if everything isnít absolutely perfect.

DEATH TROOPER #2: Youíre telling me. Yep, itís all ready, right down to the paperwork. Baaldorfís kingdomíll be part of Karteia before nightfall.

DIRK: Yes! Did you hear that, Vector? We won! So much for a "fell fate"!

[GHOST VECTORís expression is unreadable, but a euphoric DIRK scarcely notices.]

DEATH TROOPER #1: Amazing, isnít it. Never thought Iíd see the day. When King Tronin betrayed us all those years ago, I thought we were done for -- but olí Dirk pulled it through. Took him years, but he did it.

DIRK: Tronin betrayed us? The swine! I should use him for target practice!

DEATH TROOPER # 2: Remember how Dirk used the King for target practice?

DIRK [mollified]: Good.

DEATH TROOPER #1: Yeah, those were the days. It just wonít be the same now that Dirkís gone, will it?

DIRK: Gone?!

DEATH TROOPER #2: You can say that again.

DIRK: Yes, say it again -- with explanations! What do you mean, "gone"?

[He attempts to waylay the TROOPERS, but of course his hands pass right through them. Furious, he rounds on GHOST VECTOR, clutching the monocle tight enough to cut off circulation to his own knuckles.]

DIRK: You have ten seconds. Start talking.

GHOST VECTOR: Well, you see --

DIRK: Nine seconds.

GHOST VECTOR [Talking very quickly]: After Troninís betrayal, you still managed to win, against overwhelming odds, but . . .

DIRK: Seven.

GHOST VECTOR: You drove yourself day and night, with scarcely a pause to eat or sleep, for years. Living on rage alone, you laid waste first to Tronin, then tore down Baaldorfís defenses with an unexpected Solstice Day attack . . .

DIRK: Three seconds.

GHOST VECTOR [Very reluctantly]: And then, at the moment of victory, you . . . [cringing apologetically] . . . dropped dead. Stress, I think. The doctors said that if youíd only taken Solstice off to rest, you might have survived.

[DIRK is very, very quiet. Then, with dangerous calm, he speaks.]

DIRK: When we first arrived, that death trooper said "Prince Blackpool" wanted everything perfect.

GHOST VECTOR: Ah. Well, you see, when you died without an heir . . .

GEOFFREY [from offstage]: Hey! I donít see nearly enough cheese trays around here! Double it, and make it snappy!

DIRK: Oh, gods.

[Without a word, but with volumes of unspoken venom, VECTOR enters, laden with a tray of cheese sandwiches. Face twitching with repressed revenge fantasies, he dumps the tray in front of the throne and slinks away. Soon after, GEOFFREY lumbers in from offstage. He has obviously indulged in far too many cheese trays over the years, as he now rivals MARKOís girth. More importantly, the monocle now hangs from around his neck.]

DIRK: How on earth did he manage to get to the monocle before you? I thought youíd be looming like a vulture, waiting for me to stop breathing.

GHOST VECTOR [shuffling uncomfortably]: I was. But . . . before I took it from you . . . . I . . .

DIRK [sympathetically]: You stopped to gloat, didnít you?

GHOST VECTOR [nodding]: And while I was savoring the moment, the big cretin hit me from behind, and took the monocle. And the throne, and the kingdom. Not to mention your teddy bear and blankie.

[As a bereft DIRK seethes with rage, GEOFFREY heaves his bulk into the throne at one end of the great hall. After a short fanfare, KING BAALDORF and ARIEL enter, surrounded by a small DEATH TROOPER escort. BAALDORF looks much older, while ARIEL has acquired the permanently surprised look that excessive makeup and surgery gave LATTINIA. Both kneel before GEOFFREY.]

DIRK: I donít see Erik. Whereís Erik?

GHOST VECTOR: Heís dead, my lord.

DIRK [grimly]: At least I got to kill him in battle, then.

GHOST VECTOR: Actually, you never touched him. Right before the Solstice Day battle, there was this tragic hairspray accident. . . .

DIRK: You canít be serious.

GHOST VECTOR: And then, since Richard died years ago, Greystoneís throne reverted to Baaldorf, the closest living royalty.

DIRK: What about Greystoneís shiftless brother?

GHOST VECTOR: Right before the Solstice Day battle, there was this tragic drinking accident . . .

[As DIRK stares in disbelief, GEOFFREY heaves himself out of the throne and gestures for both BAALDORF and ARIEL to get up.]

GEOFFREY: Ariel, my love, I would not see your proud spirit so humbled. [The effect of his fine words is somewhat reduced by the way heís still chewing a mouthful of cheese balls.] Instead of you surrendering to me, I surrender to you!

DIRK: What?!

GEOFFREY [fervently, still spewing bits of cheese]: I surrender my heart! Ariel, marry me, and we shall unite our two kingdoms! Baaldorf shall not be a province of Karteia, but its equal!

ARIEL: I donít know. Youíre fat. And you smell like cheese.

KING BAALDORF: Are you kidding? Sheíll marry you! Heck, if she wonít, I will!

DIRK [brokenly]: Take me back, Vector. I canít stand to watch anymore.

VECTOR: Have you seen the error of your ways, and learned to observe the true spirit of Solstice?

DIRK: I have indeed. I swear it.

[Fade to the morning of Solstice Day. Entering the great hall, GEOFFREY stops short in amazement at the sight of DIRK relaxing in an armchair, sipping mulled cider, and surrounded by Solstice greenery.]

DIRK: Ah, Geoffrey. Just the man I wanted to see.

GEOFFREY [edging toward the door]: Why? And whatís with . . . you know . . . [He jerks his head violently in the direction of the wreaths and garlands.]

DIRK: Iíve had a revelation of sorts. Iíve been working much too hard, and a holiday will do me a world of good.

GEOFFREY: Really?

DIRK: Yes. Iíve sent Vector out to get a special dinner, and Iíve even invited young King Tronin over to join me for a bit of target practice this afternoon.

GEOFFREY: Great! Can I come, too? I could do with a bit of exercise. [He pats his slightly rounded tummy in illustration].

DIRK [an evil gleam in his eye]: Thatís *precisely* what I had in mind.

[Cut to a shot of the post-dinner festivities at Castle Baaldorf.]

ERIK: Heís finally lost his mind. Why else would Dirk send us presents?

MARKO: Theyíre probably poisoned, or rigged to explode.

BAALDORF: No, I had them thoroughly checked. Theyíre just an ordinary case of hairspray for Erik, and a crate of ale for Justin. Oh, and a note for you, Marko. Canít make heads or tails of it.

MARKO [accepting the note, and reading aloud]: "Thank you for the lovely dinner. Itís the perfect size for one. Love, Dirk." What the . . . [Suddenly, horrified realization dawns.]

[Cut back to the great hall at Castle Blackpool. The body of the late King Tronin, riddled with arrows, is lying on the floor. Dangling over him is a terrified GEOFFREY, his clothes pinned to the wall by dozens of expertly-fired arrows. Some of these arrows have narrowly and deliberately missed some very, very terrible places. Meanwhile, a contented DIRK is eating the last of what was obviously a very small tadmon. A red leather collar with a silver tag reading "Tiny Tim" leaves little doubt as to the identity of the main course. With a satisfied sigh, DIRK props up his spiked boots on the table, grasps his goblet of wine, and raises a toast to the sweating GEOFFREY.]

DIRK: Gods bless us, every one.

[He winks, drinks, and the curtain falls on . . . THE END.]

 

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