Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Tollhouse Keeper

After a rather narrow escape from the bumpy rope ride at the end of all that Business with Griffins, we decided it was high time to go legit and get ourselves some fine upstanding jobs on the Payroll of whatever Wife Slaying Royal Poisoner was currently in power.

To play it cool and lay low while some of the Nine Lives we had spent on that venture regenerated, or whatever, y'know.

Anyways, turns out the local Royalty was big on Road Building, as some kinda high faluting Theoretical Excercise, and there was this big drive to hire and station as many Tollhouse Keepers as the gods were willing to provide, which, turns out, wasn't hardly a handful, since there wasn't anybody in them times what could carry a conversation further than a couple of sentences and almost nobody could scratch and scribble and Make Papers and count without using their fingers.

And most of them that could do all those miraculous things were already making a fine penny fer themselves working as Begger Makers in the local Ale Repositories, y'know.

And so we spent some time telling back all the lies they told us and making friends with the Royal Machinery, and they dressed us all up in some Official Uniforms and gave us some Royal Papers that nobody, not even the feller that wrote 'em, could read, and we got ourselves an Official Assignment out on the teetering brink of the Empire, guarding some godsforsaken stretch of dirt that led to a town full of purple lotus farmers and witches, no doubt, though I never actually visited the place.

Yah, the only reason that mudpatch even had a road going to it was 'cause some perfumed and powdery Counselor of the King had a Tower there where he stashed folks that he din't never wanna hear a peep from again but might need to be able to put his hands on at a later date, y'know.

And so the only thing that ever officially came through the Tollhouse was black carriages fulla miserable folks under gruesome guard, on the last leg of the trip to the Tower, or the Counselor's Messengers, riding back and forth with whatever messages were necessary to continue the Tower's Black Busywork.

Neither of which were we allowed to collect tolls from.

Oh, and there was a couple times some highwaymen showed up at the Tollhouse, no doubt imagining that us Tollhouse Keepers were all getting fat sleeping on huge treasure piles of Toll Money Collections, but we just pretended we had already been robbed and murdered when that happened, and the Tollhouse always looked like it had just been sacked, 'cause we never took care of the place and kept it tidy, seeing as how we were too busy getting the distillery working, so after leaving empty-handed a few times them highwaymen got smart and moved on to greener pastures where there wasn't so much apparent competition.

We never managed to collect a penny from the locals, 'cause if they ever had to head our way, they just rode around the Tollhouse, on some unnofficial path through the woods.

Got so bad we had to have the Road Wardens start guarding that path in the woods, instead of the Royal Road they was s'posed to be guarding, y'know, to try to keep folks from cheating us, 'cause we were starting to get in trouble fer never having any toll money when it came time to collect.

Plus there was some good hunting out there near that cheater's path in the woods, and we were starved, y'know, 'cause man can't live on hooch alone, no matter how hard he might try.

Anyways that's really why the Official Royal Road that we were s'posed to be guarding and maintaining became unsafe to travel on, y'know.

It was those blasted cheaters cutting through the woods, trying to avoid paying the tolls, keeping us distracted.

And so that's how some villains musta managed to blockade the road and robbed and murdered the Royal Counselor without us noticing anything suspicious for several weeks.

I know that doesn't exactly answer the question of how the Tower got burned down and all the prisoner's escaped, but it does sorta explain why we never managed to collect a toll from any of 'em, I mean, looking back on things, its no wonder why that Cheater's Path through the woods got so popular, seeing as how the Official Road was all blockaded and dangerous and stuff.

Well, that's what ya get fer all that high faluting Theoretical Empire Building Excercises, I coulda told you from the start them schemes was never gonna work, but I was distracted with all the fancy-chick-magnet-uniforms you were giving us and stuff.

Yah, this job working as a guard in the dungeon ain't that great, but the food here in town sure beats the hell outta tryin' to choke down bits of squirrel and stuff at the Tollhouse, man, I used to have to burn my critters in the fire until they was all black and unrecognizeable lumps of charcoal before I could gather the courage to put my mouth on 'em no matter how drunk I was heh.

So the New Queen is hanging all you guys tomorrow, eh?

Taking the bumpy rope ride, eh?

Bah, I'll never understand all you political types.

I'll tell you one thing, though, I'd rather take that quick trip to heaven than the one that poor Counselor feller of yers took, somebody took their bloody time separatin' him bit by sordid bit from this mortal coil, from what I hear.

Hey, don't you guys even think about escaping, I ain't gonna mess this job up, like I did with all them other ones.

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