The Purple Rose of where?

Let Freedom Rot

by Mike Shultz © 2003

Javal was the stupidest man alive. Lucky for him, his companions were only a couple notches smarter. I mean really, giving him the Ring of Freedom to test it? Sounds like someone poked a hole in their heads and sucked out some brain cells with a straw--but drinking straws weren't too common in medieval times, so I guess that didn't really happen.

The Ring of Freedom--wear it and you will be freed of every sort of bondage you can imagine. Shackles will fall from your wrists; owner's whips will miss your back. But she's better than that, yes she is. Wear her in a swamp and the mud won't suck your boots or impede your progress. Don't feel like eating? No slave to food will you be. Stupider than a lusterless lump of rock? You'll be a diamond as soon as you slide her onto your finger.

I'll cut out the boring parts--treasure maps, huddled conversations with wizards in dimly lit taverns, subterranean tunnels rife with tricks and traps and monsters pulled from European myths--even though none of this took place in Europe--and finally the gang of adventurers reached that grandest of all rooms, the one where the magical Ring was hidden.

A few of Javal's companions get cut down by a trap that shot poison-tipped darts--probably powered by hidden CO2 canisters in the walls--as a climactic suspense-builder. (They were just extras, like the unrecognizable ensigns on the old Star Trek episodes--as soon as they joined the away party you got excited 'cause you knew they were going to get slathered.) Javal was just along to carry the gold and swing his sword--a short one, so he wouldn't chop off Kitibald's ear again. They'd opened the final treasure chest to gaze upon a glowing, gleaming circlet of gold.

"Could be a decoy," Plerg said.

Don't fantasy names gag you after a while? My editor wanted me to change this one, but I refused.

"What?" said Kitibald.

Hearing trouble, you know. I don't think my readers picked up on that in the first version. Should have had him scratch his slashed ear or something.

"You know, the real Ring could be in a false bottom, and this one could be cursed. Maybe turn us into tapioca puddin' or somethin' if we put it on."

"Or biscuits."

"What?" Said by Kitibald, of course.

Get it? He can't hear? Javal slashed his ear?

Never mind.

"It could turn us into milkweed," Plerg said.

"Or a frog."

"What? Don't be stupid. Magic can't turn people into frogs."

"No, really, there's some fairy-tale where..."

"We don't have that fairy tale in this world."

"Oh, fine."

"Hey, maybe it'd turn us into Javal!"

And they all had a grand laugh. Even Javal laughed--and he laughed only when other people laughed--like me and you and the rest of the socially enslaved idiots out there.

"So we gotta test it, somehow," Plerg said.

Eyes widened, the others slowly turned to Javal and stared.

"But how will we get it off 'im after he's got it on?" said Kitibald--the smartest of them all, no doubt. If only I'd listened to him.

"Easy. I'll hold my sword over 'im as he puts it on. Soon as we think it's the real one . . ." Plerg slid a finger across his neck.

"You'll kill yourself?" said Javal.

Stares, then laughs. They congratulate him on figuring something out for once. Javal didn't catch the sarcasm.

"No! Wait!" Kitibald shouted. He drew the others aside.

"What if it's the real Ring, and it takes havin' your sword over him as a kind of bondage or somethin'?"

"I thunked it was a she," Javal mumbled. They ignored him.

"I don't think she's that powerful," Plerg replied.

Oh, how wrong Plerg was. The Ring was very powerful. More powerful than anything, according to the legends. And I, silly author, thought that was a good thing. Even the word 'else' would have helped, inserted right after that darn 'anything.' "

Kitibald rolled his eyes. "It's the god-kissed volcano-forged-meteorite bathed-in-the-blood-of-a-Chartreuse-Dragon Ring of Freedom, man!"

"Right, right." Plerg paused. "Okay, I have an idea. How about them darts?"

"What difference does it make if we use a sword or a poisoned dart, you daft prick?"

It's always good to throw in some neo-Eglandisms to enhance the realism of your swashbuckling medieval adventurer types. Very convincing.

"No, we prick him beforehand..."


"How long did it take our buddies lying on the floor here to die from those darts?"

"A few minutes, I guess..."

"Long enough to see if she's the right Ring before he dies from the poison?"

The other adventurer, I've lost track of which one by now, nodded slowly.

"I think I see your point," he said, bending to pick up one of the darts. "Hey, Javal, commear!"


"Ouch, guys, dat hurt!"

"Yeah, we've got some antibiotic in our backpacks. But guess what, Javal! We've decided to give you the Ring!"

They shoved it on his finger.

I told you they were stupid, didn't I?

* * *

"What's two plus two, Javal?"

Javal looked up at his companion. Plerg smelt of putrefying animal waste products, no doubt a vestige of the troll feces Plerg had trodden upon three hours twenty-seven minutes and four seconds earlier. The feces were merely emitting small quantities of hydrogen sulfide gas, a natural byproduct of biodegrading proteins and--


"Two plus two. I think this test was a good idea, guys. He ain't none brighter."

Oops. Javal had 'huh' aloud. Then again, it had worked out to his benefit--rather cleverly, in fact. Kind of unusual for the dumb bloke who once bit off his little finger's nail on a dare.

"Five?" Javal said on an impulse.

"Is that right?" Plerg asked.

Kitibald backfisted him.

"No, you moron. Okay, Javal. Try this one: who died in Merlin's tomb?"

Javal burst into laughter. "What a bunch of--"

Idiots. He had almost said it. The joke didn't go that way; it went, 'Who's buried in Merlin's tomb?' Kind of funny. Javal never understood before, but he got it now.

"What a bunch of funny questions," Javal said. "You's guys is funny."

"Told you," Plerg said. "That ain't the Ring of Freedom. I think he's even idioter than before."

Javal shook his head in disgust. The correct phraseology was more idiotic.

And how in the name of the Chartreuse Dragon did he know that? He looked at the ring on his finger. Without warning, words flooded from his memory-banks like a bursting dam or a freshly tapped barrel of ale or an ogre slit across the jugular or . . .

The Ring of Freedom, my friend--wear it and you will be freed of every sort of bondage you can imagine. Shackles will fall from your wrists... No slave to food will you be... Stupider than than a rock? You'll be a diamond...

The words of the ancient Riddle of the Ring.

Javal chuckled. He was a diamond, the most sparkling diamond he knew. His IQ would be off the scale if those scribes ever got around to inventing IQ tests. And speaking of tests, his companions were testing him right now, trying to determine if he was wearing the real Ring. He'd been their Guinea pig--wherever Guinea was. It was high time to get rid of these people.

"Gotta take a whiz," Javal mumbled, and turned toward the door.

The Ring throbbed and the door, barred and latched to prevent an ambush while they were looting--sprung open of its own accord. Javal comprehended immediately--no mere latch and bar would ever imprison him again.

"GET HIM!" Kitibald bellowed from behind.

Javal darted through the doorway and sprinted down the corridor, glancing back over his shoulder as he went. His two companions were stumbling toward the door, but the door was swinging closed on its own. Plerg wasn't going to make it, but Kitibald was in the lead. He dove for the narrowing gap as the door swung shut. Smack! It closed on his feet, twisting him around. He landed in the hallway, his drawn dagger clattering to the floor.

Daggers, in fact. Kitibald always carried at least two dozen, and they clattered to the floor from their various hiding places--two per boot; three in the small of his back; one on each forearm under his sleeves; one on his neck in a hand-crafted sheath disguised to look like a goiter . . .

Javal slammed on his brakes and skidded to a halt.

Absolutely ridiculous! Sure, Kitibald was a rogue, the type to carry lots of sharpened steel, but there was no way that he could keep all those daggers hidden on his person at one time. They were a foot long apiece! Weighed a few pounds each! It was almost as if none of this were real, as if he and Kitibald were just characters in a . . .

Kitibald scrambled to his feet, but Javal found that as long as he made an effort to evade, the Ring prevented him from being caught. He wasn't really concentrating on Kitibald anymore, anyway. He'd just hit on something amazing, something far beyond picking up fancy vocabulary and seeing through his companions.

Javal was just a character in a story.

Kitibald poked his head into the room where Javal was hiding.

"There you are!" Kitibald cried, charging.

Javal sighed. This was getting annoying. He ducked Kitibald's blow (easy, thanks to the Ring of Freedom-from-Getting-Your-Neck-Sliced) and planted a knee in his opponent's gut. Kitibald groaned and doubled over. Javal snatched his own sword from its scabbard and smashed it, hilt first, onto Kitibald's head.

Javal smiled. That ought to take care of him for an hour or two. Now, back to his previous line of thought.

Just a character in a story, huh? That wasn't very fun. Another form of slavery, really, dancing to every jerk of some dumb author's fingers . . .

The Ring throbbed mightily and Javal looked up. An instant later, he threw himself to the floor, barely avoiding Kitibald's hurled dagger.

"Impossible," Javal said. He'd clubbed people over the head before, and no one got up from a smack like that two seconds later. No time to think. Daggers rained at him like quarrels from a belt-fed crossbow. He tumbled out the doorway into the hall and whipped around the corner.

Hadn't Kitibald dropped all of his daggers? Yes, he had. First, he'd taken a blow that would have knocked out a hippopotamus; then he suddenly had his daggers back. Completely impossible, unless . . .

The author was cheating.

"Didn't like me noticing you, did you?" Javal said, glancing at the ceiling. The ceiling started to crack. Wisps of dust curled down; a colossal rumbling filled the air. The place was about to collapse.

"I'll take that as a yes," Javal said. "Not fair at all."

The Ring of Freedom pulsed just as the ceiling caved in.

* * *

I got him, folks. Javal had me a bit worried, there--hehe! It was actually pretty bizarre. A character in my own story noticing me. Had to have been my imagination, though. A character couldn't really escape a story, whether or not he had the fabled Ring of--

* * *

Javal breathed a sigh of relief. He'd scuttled safely into a nook under the rubble, nestling himself between enormous chunks of wall. His head still hurt from where he had bumped it. Thankfully, the Ring soon freed him from the pain. Same for the poison, apparently.

Javal's jaw clenched and he wrapped his hands into fists. That stinking, dung-licking, smarty-pants author had done this to him. Broken Newton's Third Law to do him in. It was time to fight back. There had to be a way to escape this blasted story somehow.

Suddenly the crumbled walls vanished and were replaced with a strange, white-walled little room. In the room sat a scrawny man in a metal chair, facing a glowing box with words written on it. The man's fingers were jittering like a violinist's across a grid of raised squares. The man turned, his fingers still dancing, his eyes going wide. The author. Javal closed his hands on his scrawny throat.

* * *

Javal slouched deeper into his throne--his gilded, jewel-incrusted throne--and surveyed his subjects.

"You, there," he said, pointing to a man who looked like his old friend Kitibald. In fact, it was Kitibald. "What is your purpose in life?"

"To serve You, my Lord," Kitibald replied.

"And you, my lady?"

A gorgeous, voluptuous woman appeared at his feet, clad only in a few ribbons of gauzy silk. She smiled. "I think You know what I'm here for, my Lord."

"And your friends?"

She looked behind her at the army of similarly-clad mega-babes.

"The same, my Lord."

"Where's my accountant?" Javal snapped his fingers, casting a summoning spell. He chuckled, remembering how Ploop, the old wizard who'd once traveled with him, had needed to study his spellbooks to cast spells. Ha! What rubbish! Javal could now cast every spell known to man--or any other magical creature in the universe. It was a stupid idea anyway, that a wizard should have to study a book to remember how to cast a spell that he'd casted a hundred times before. Fantasy worlds were such trash sometimes.

His accountant appeared. They discussed the flabbergasting amounts of wealth in Javal's coffers. Javal grew bored and teleported him away.

"And where's that stinking author?" Javal blurted.

Blurted? Javal thought. That wasn't too flattering.

"And where's that stinking author?" Javal called in his mellifluous voice, a dashing tenor. The likes of Pavarotti, to be sure.

"Here, my Liege!" one of his soldiers called.

"What did you call me?" Javal said.

"Oh Mighty One, Upon Whose Whim the Soothing Rains Come Sprinkling Down Upon the Needful Earth, Whose Splendor is Like Mountains of Golden Sugar-plums--"

"Better. Bring him over."

His soldiers wheeled in the author--or his avatar, rather--who was strapped to a rack. His mouth was gagged.

"Not nearly enough," Javal complained.

Burning coals laid all over the author's body, somehow staying red-hot. Pins protruded from his head like that dude in Hellraiser. A sign appeared above his head.


"No, but it will suffice."

Javal's mega-babe sidled up beside him and began to stroke his arm. "He's so disgusting," she said, leaning into Javal. "Do we have to keep him around?"

Javal looked at her and smiled. Her lean had nicely exposed what little of her breasts had been covered before--not that they were little. He had to admit, the author had his charms.

"Sorry, my dear," Javal told her (still mellifluously, of course.) "Got to keep him in line."

Another sign appeared.


"Hey, I'll run your hands through a deli slicer if I want," Javal growled. His puny, simpering voice sounded more like a puppy's--a puppy with worms who crapped green shit nonstop--

"Ahhhh!" the author cried, as the coals became white-hot. Roaches crawled out from beneath the rack and swarmed over him. They piled into his mouth, some of them making it halfway down his throat before the author coughed them out. Others bit his eyelids, ran up his nose...

"Okay! I won't do it again!"

The mega-babe laughed before returning her attentions to her blessed Javal.

Javal closed his eyes. This was the life he'd been born for. He let out a long, slow exhalation as the mega-babe ran her hands over his body. Tingles went up his spine as she began kissing the back of his hand. She lifted his fingers and licked them, put them in her mouth...

And clamped her teeth down on the Ring, pulling it off his finger with a shred of flesh and a splatter of blood. Javal's eyes snapped open and he grabbed for her, but she was too quick. The mega-babe tossed the Ring out in a graceful arc--where it landed in the author's waiting hand.

* * *

The story continued, good readers, for some time after that, albeit differently. Let me simply say that I--the Most Splendid Author in the Land--left the palace with a Mega-Babe hanging on my arm and with Javal in the dungeon eating roaches. But you, my fellow author of the fantastical, don't need to hear that. You've learned your lesson, as have I. Freedom ain't all it's cracked up to be. Especially when it's somebody else's.

Now, then, did I ever tell you my story about the vampiric Cornish game hens?

x x x

A bit reminiscent, this, of a story of mine yclept "The Hero's Conference." Interaction between author and character is not a new idea but, when handled well, can be entertaining on many levels. 'Mike Shultz'--pseudonym for Christine Shultz--handles this well and entertains. Agree? Demure? Let us know on the BBS.

Chat about this story on our BBS?
Or, Back to the Front Page?