As Benda’s unconscious body was hauled out of the thatched hut his family inhabited in Stennax, no one noticed when a small bit of tuberous vegetation fell out of the folds of his cloak, and rolled onto the floor. To the uncareful eye, it might have appeared only as perhaps part of Benda’s lunch having fallen out of the food pouch he carried. But to those with eyes to see, they would notice that this tuber wore a small purple hat, had a sack of his own slung across his shoulder, and carried a tiny magical flute cut from a reed in the Great River.
It was not the first time Tob had needed to feign being a simple ordinary boring vegetable. But the tales of Tob are long and circuitous, and best left for another time. Tob had business to attend to – for, once again, his friend was in trouble.
After the knights of the Citadel had departed with her husband, Lualla sat down by the fire and cried. It had been three long years since she saw her husband after he’d been lost at sea. Most people in the village thought him long since dead, and urged her to re-marry to be able to better care for her young son, Sol. But she had refused, steadfast, always holding out hope that Benda would return to her. And now that he finally had, it was under such strange and horrible circumstances.
The Knights of the Citadel had ridden into town a few days earlier, brandishing a proclamation from the First King of Kremel, the King of the Citadel and King Over the Mountains to the east. It said that anyone caught harboring a certain fugitive expected to arrive in this village within the coming days would be severely punished. It caused quite a stir in the village, and as details began to emerge, Lualla found out the wanted man was none other than her long lost husband, Benda. The other villagers, filled with fear, began to treat Lualla very strangely and avoided her. And to her horror, the Knights of the Citadel rode to her house, dismounted, and seized control of the family hut under the highest royal authority.
Since that time, two knights were stationed at the hut to set a trap for Benda when he arrived, while the others fanned out and hid themselves amongst the villagers elsewhere. Lualla had no choice but to comply, and despite this horrid unwelcome intrusion had to pretend calmly to go about her business until the love of her life returned, only to be captured by these brutish men acting under orders from a king who wasn’t even her own.
In actual fact, the same afternoon as the arrival of the knights, a special envoy came to her from the King of Cannaxus – her king, and Benda’s king – Mergolech, King Upon the Sea and King of the Fishers. When the envoy arrived under royal guard, the Knights of the Citadel were put out of the hut, and a messenger was sent in to speak with Lualla. It was Mergolech himself, in the disguise of a messenger.
“Fear not,” he told Lualla, whose face was lined with tears upon learning that her husband was still alive, and that he would again soon be taken from her, and that she herself was to play a hand in this treachery. “I take it solemnly upon my office and upon my very person to guarantee the safety of your husband, your self, and your son. No harm will come to him or to you all. This is a matter which must be settled, however, at the High Council of the Kings, as your husband’s whereabouts these past few years gravely concerns all the peoples of Kremel.” He gave to her then a silver ring with the royal seal of the dolphin as promise, and departed. And the Knights of the Citadel returned to the hut forthwith.
So it was that loyal Lualla was doubly commanded by the king of her land, and the king of the entire realm to betray her long lost husband, who she had pined for lo these many years. And she executed her duty, as in all things, faithfully, though it pained her to the core of her being.
To Sol, meanwhile, who was still a young child, too young to fully understand why these armored men were suddenly guests in their home, she simply said, “These men are here to help find your father. He’s coming home to us at last!” She knew, however, that as the other villagers had begun to ostracize her, that he too must have heard from the other children any number of rumors about what was happening and why, including stories which sprung up spontaneously in the streets and alleys that Benda was some kind of criminal, or maybe even a murderer. There was nothing to be done, however, and she comforted Sol as best she could, who bravely did not cry or complain at the presence of these strange men in their home.
Tob, of course, had seen the Knights of the Citadel, bearing their red banners and surcoats in his original vision of Benda’s capture, struggle, and escape from the eagle Murta. He had wisely advised Benda to hide him in the folds of his cloak as they entered the village, and as far as he knew, no one there knew of his very existence.
He straightened his hat on his head, and addressing Lualla there crying by the fire after Benda’s latest capture called out, “Hail lady, hail Madame Lualla. It is I, Tob Gobble, at your service.”
She stopped sobbing suddenly, and looked about for the small voice. Fixing finally on Tob, he took off his hat and bowed with his typical flourish. She could not help but laugh at this little ridiculous figure.
“I am a loyal friend and companion of your husband with whom I have shared many exciting adventures. I bid you be of good cheer, for he is a most remarkable man, and with my help, no harm will come to him.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sorry to doubt… one such as yourself, but people keep saying that to me,” said Lualla. “And yet here we are, after his unconscious body was just dragged from this very place, and after I myself aided in his capture.” She told him then of Mergolech’s visit by stealth, and showed him the silver ring bearing the royal seal of the dolphin given to her in promise. “I don’t suppose you know what any of this is even about?”
Tob bowed again, “I do indeed, Madame. I do indeed. Do you have time for a short tale – or three?” Tob said eagerly, for the telling of tales was far and away his most favorite activity.
Lualla brushed the question aside, “Where are they taking him? To what end? And why?”
“Well, they are taking him, no doubt,” said Tob disappointed at not being invited to launch into his many tales, “to the Citadel of Kremel and to the First King, because your husband knows the way back to the lost land of Quatria, where he was washed ashore and survived these many years after a storm-at-sea.”
“Then we must follow him at once, wherever he goes,” said Lualla, gathering up her things. “I won’t be parted from him again, not for a moment longer.”
“Where are you going?” inquired Tob, surprised at her haste, and still in the mood for the telling of tales.
“First to find my son, for neither will I leave him here alone an orphan.”
“Allow me,” said Tob, confidently. He pulled out his little reed flute from his sack, and began to blow upon it in awkward notes.
“There’s no time for a song,” said Lualla impatiently.
But Tob continued playing his most peculiar little tune, and within mere moments, Sol came running in through the door, shouting, “Mama! Mama!” Lualla ran to him and took him up in her arms, weeping.
Sol pointed then to Tob, who was proudly polishing his little flute with one of his rootlets. “Funny little man!” said Sol.
“Tob Gobble,” he said bowing low and removing his hat to the boy, “at your service. Now, as I was saying, we must follow after Benda wherever he goes.”
“It was I who said it,” corrected Lualla, laughingly.
“Precisely,” said Tob. “But we won’t make it far ourselves on foot and rootlet. We must make good on the promise of your king, Mergolech. We must get him to take us with him to the High Council in Kremel. There’s no time to waste!”