Following the Piper to Reason

Written by:
Linda Kay


BILL & TED characters are trademarks of Nelson 1991 Inc. The motion picture BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE & © 1989 Nelson Films Inc. All Rights Reserved. The motion picture BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY © 1991 Orion Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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"C'mon, dude!" Bill called earnestly. "We must motor!"

Reluctantly, Ted forced his lips away from Elizabeth's. "Whoa.... heinous! I wish you were not going."

Elizabeth giggled shyly. "It will be only for two days," she reminded him.

"Two days without you is like suffering a lifetime with no Van Halen!"

Touched by this sentiment, Elizabeth stepped forward, taking his sad face in her hands and pressing her lips gently against his.

Joanna approached Bill, who was waiting at the door of the phone booth parked outside the Preston's garage. She turned to see her sister and Ted wrapped in each other's arms.

"It is a miracle we ever manage to leave at all," she laughed to Bill.

"You cannot blame them," Bill stated, eyeing Joanna's shapely figure and thinking how strange it was that her medieval gown made her almost more attractive to him than any of the current, revealing styles. "It is most disconcerting to think you will be over five hundred years away!"

"It pleases me not to know I am so far from you," she admitted.

Seeing Joanna was unhappy, Bill placed a comforting arm around her waist. "It's okay. We realize you get homesick. It is most difficult to leave home.... especially when you move several centuries away!"

Joanna allowed herself to lean against Bill for support. His young masculinity always made her feel so feminine. "I only wish it were possible to visit my mother. I miss her." She looked to Bill hopefully. "Do you think....? Is there any way....?"

Bill shook his head. They had been over this several times before. "It's too risky. You know your mother never leaves the castle, and your egregious king-type father was in a most foul mood seeing you didn't marry those royal, ugly dudes."

Joanna nodded with a sigh, dropping her head. "At least we can visit grandmama in the village. Father never goes among the peasants."

"I'm not surprised your father never visits his mother-in-law, especially when he won't even let her live in the castle!"

"Father is definitely...." She searched for the words. "....a most non-triumphant parental figure."

"Yo, lovebirds!" Bill called, finally succeeding in interrupting Ted and Elizabeth's cooing. "It is time to depart!"

The foursome stepped into the phone booth, closing the door behind them as Bill dialed the memorized number, finishing the sequence by pressing both symbol buttons at the same time. The booth hummed loudly and became engulfed in light before dropping into the time circuit.

"Whooooooaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!"

The trip lasted only a few minutes, during which time Bill and Ted said their goodbyes to Joanna and Elizabeth. All too soon, the booth flew clear of the tunnel and landed with a thump outside a small cottage.

Opening the door of the booth, Bill looked about cautiously, but could see no one around. "It's okay," he announced, leading the way out of the time machine. "No one has witnessed our arrival."

No sooner had they exited the booth than an elderly woman stepped from around the corner of the cottage and approached them excitedly.

"Joanna! Elizabeth, dear!" She ran forward to hug them.

"Grandmama!" Elizabeth cried joyously, as she and her sister lovingly embraced their grandmother.

"I am so happy to see you girls again!"

"We could not wait to return!" Joanna said happily. "We missed you verily!"

Bill and Ted exchanged touched looks, then noticed the grandmother approaching them.

"Thank you, William. And you, too, Theodore."

"It is our pleasure, sweet, elderly grandmother," Bill assured her with a slight bow. "Anything for one most responsible for two such breathtaking princess babes!"

"We shall return for them in exactly two days," Ted added.

"Have an excellent visit," said Bill as he and Ted stepped back into the booth.

"Catch you later, dudes!" Elizabeth, Joanna and their grandmother called after them. They watched until the booth had disappeared, then walked to the front of the cottage.

"I have just finished baking a loaf of bread.... you girls must have some while we visit."

"Thank goodness!" sighed Elizabeth. "I do so grow weary of the egregious pre-sliced bread of the future!"

They entered the cottage, not noticing the pair of eyes watching them from across the lane.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Content that he had stared at his rough creation long enough, Bill scratched out the Wyld Stallyns logo with the same stick he'd just used to draw it. This action caused the surrounding grass blades, already struggling to survive in this much trodden area of the lawn, to further suffer with the settling dust. Bill pitied their plight as he let the stick dangle between his legs.

"I miss 'em already."

Bill looked over at Ted, who was sitting on the porch step next to him. "Dude, we just dropped them off ten minutes ago!"

Ted sighed sadly. "I know. But I miss 'em. Can't we go back and get 'em?"

Bill smiled at his lovesick friend and shrugged. "There must be something we can do to take your mind off Elizabeth."

Ted strained to think, then brightened. "Got it! Why don't we go to the future and visit our outstanding bud, Rufus?"

"Oh, Ted.... you forget Rufus said he was taking his family on that extended vacation to the Waterloop Intergalactic Water Slide Park. It would be most inconsiderate to interrupt him simply because we are bored."

"Right," Ted sighed, dropping his head so it rested on his hand. Bill was starting to doodle his name in the dirt when Ted spoke again. "Bill....?"

Dropping the stick, Bill cut him off. "We promised we would let them visit for two days, Ted!"

Ted lifted his head with a slight flip of his bangs and stared blankly ahead. "Yah? So, why don't we just go back two days later and pick 'em up already?"

This idea hadn't occurred to Bill, and after a moment of thought he realized he had just been witness to one of his friend's few moments of truly inspired wisdom.

"Excellent idea, Ted!"

Pausing only to share a few seconds of excited air guitar, Bill and Ted jumped up from the porch and ran around the corner of the garage to the time machine. It wasn't long before they had disappeared from sight.

"Whoooooooaaaaaa!!!!!" The gravity hit after their sudden drop, causing their stomachs to rise, not unlike an overexaggerated elevator ride. "I hate this part!!!" they exclaimed together in response to the nausea.

Bracing themselves for the landing as the booth rapidly descended from the clouds, they could see the cottage come into view, seemingly rushing up to meet them. The next thing they knew, they had landed roughly in a hidden corner behind it. Allowing themselves a moment for the dizziness to pass, they dashed from the time machine and ran around to the front of the cottage.

"Hurry up and knock, dude!" Ted urged impatiently as Bill approached the front door. The first knock Bill tried slightly pushed the heavy, wooden door open. Surprised to find the door ajar, Bill looked back to Ted, then slowly pushed the door open further, peering into the darkness.

"Yo! Anybody home?"

When no one answered, Bill walked through the door, followed closely by Ted. Neither was prepared for the sight which greeted them. The cottage was a shambles.... what little furniture there was had been overturned, dishes were broken and nothing appeared to be in its proper place. The two stood in shocked silence.

"Whoa!" Ted finally exclaimed softly. "For a sweet, little old lady she sure is messy!"

"No, Ted! I fear this indicates a most heinous turn of events! Something totally bogus must've happened to our princess babes!"

"No way!" Ted cried, looking around desperately for any sign of the girls. "What coulda happened?"

"I do not know, Ted. But we best find out, and fast!"

Bill turned and ran to the front door, motioning for Ted to follow.

"We'll ask the neighbors," Bill explained, leading the way outside. "Surely they must've heard or seen something!"

Racing up the path of what appeared to be a quaint, friendly little house, despite the surrounding filth, Bill and Ted caused various scraggly farm animals to scatter as they passed. They soon reached the front door and Bill knocked as Ted swiped at the buzzing flies gathering around them.

"This place could definitely use a No-Pest strip," Ted commented with frustration, taking another useless swipe into the infested air.

"Truly a model dwelling for Better Homes and Gardens," Bill commented, then turned to Ted with a sneer as his friend echoed their true feelings. "Not!"

The worn, cracked door opened slightly and a scrutinizing eye peered at them from under a tuft of grey hair. "What want ye?" the suspicious woman's voice squawked.

"Pardon us, unbathed, distrusting woman," Bill started, "But might you know the whereabouts of your neighbor-type lady?"

"Yah!" Ted joined in. "A sweet grandmother with two most bodacious grandbabes?"

The door opened a little further and the woman's wrinkled, dirty face became complete. She glared up at them, now appearing to be more curious than reluctant. "Who be ya?"

Bill placed a dramatic hand on his chest. "I be Bill S. Preston, Esquire!"

"And I be Ted 'Theodore' Logan!"

"And together, we be.... Wyld Stall.....!"

The exclamation was cut short when the woman lurched forward in horror and slapped her hands over their mouths.

"For heaven's sake, keep quiet!" Seeing they would follow her advice, she removed her hands and glanced about nervously. "Come in, quickly!"

Bill and Ted hurried into the dark cottage as the woman pushed the door shut behind them. Slowly, Bill's eyes adjusted to the dim candlelight, and he could see they weren't alone. It wasn't clear just how many pairs of eyes stared at them from what felt like every corner, but what he could make of their grubby, little forms told him they were of varying ages. Ted had apparently taken notice of them as well, as he glanced about, looking somewhat saddened by the sight.

"I do apologize if I have startled you," the woman began, moving to pull some rickety benches away from a makeshift table consisting of a flat piece of wood precariously balanced across some crates. "But it is wise in these parts to be careful. You never know who may be watching."

"That's all right," Bill assured her, moving toward the seats she had provided but unable to take his eyes from the confused little faces all around. The women apparently sensed their concern.

"We do not have many visitors, and those we do have are not always welcome ones."

"You mean like guys selling magazine subscriptions?" Ted ventured to ask.

The woman sighed as she seated herself across the table from them. "Oh, the tariff collectors, mostly. It hath been especially difficult the last time when we had nothing to give them. They took most of our farm animals, leaving behind only the sickly ones." She looked to the shuttered window as if she could see through it; a sad fear creeping into her eyes. "Had not the heart to leave one hen which could lay."

"That is most egregious," Bill sympathized.

"Indeed," Ted agreed. "We would help you get some of the tariffs to pay off those burly collector dudes, if only we knew what tariffs were."

"Ted, you bonehead! Tariffs are like taxes in the olden days!"

"Oh. So, why can't you pay your taxes?"

"No one can afford to pay the tariffs the king demands! We grow poorer and he wants more money. And it has become worse after he had the river dammed. Now our crops are failing. The only fresh water we have is from rainfall and what little the village well still holds."

Ted looked to Bill with disgust. "I knew that king was an odorous dude, but I never thought he was this low!"

"Yah," Bill agreed worriedly. "If he's got our princess babes, no tellin' what'll happen to 'em!"

"Thou must be the two young suitors of Elizabeth and Joanna. Their grandmother has spoken of thee often.... behind closed doors, of course."

"We are indeed," Bill confirmed. "But now they appear to be missing!"

The woman shook her head. "I fear the princesses have been captured and taken to the castle. Their grandmother hath been arrested."

"Arrested?" Bill and Ted exclaimed in shock.

"Whatever for?" Ted asked.

"For concealing the missing princesses. The king hath searched high and low for them ever since they fled the kingdom and offered great rewards to anyone with information of their whereabouts."

"Obviously an offer too enticing for some poor peasant person to pass up," Bill surmised.

"Bill, what'll we do? The king'll chop off our princess babes' heads!"

"I would not be concerned about that," the woman intervened, pausing to pick up one of her crying children and cradle him in her lap. "He knoweth better of it. Why do ye think he was so eager to have them back? Because he loves them???"

Bill and Ted shook their heads in answer. "No way!"

"He shall marry them off to wealthy noblemen and add to his landholdings!"

"Marry off our princess babes?" Ted cried in horror.

"Heinous!" the guys exclaimed.

"We gotta rescue them!" Bill stated with determination.

"Yah!" Ted agreed, then paused to think. "How?"

Deflated, Bill shrugged. "I dunno. But we gotta, dude!"

"It will not be easy," the woman sighed. "It be only the two of ye alone. How can ye possibly gain access to castle unnoticed?"

"We did it before.... we just gotta remember not to play Star Wars this time!" Bill reflected. "First thing's first. We gotta find the castle! Which way is it?"

The mother looked uncertain, but could see they were set on going. "The path outside leads to the main road, but you would surely be spotted by the king's men."

"That would not do," Ted sighed. "Is there not any other way?"

The woman set her little boy down and walked to the door, motioning for them to follow. She opened the door a crack so they could peer out. "Over there, just beyond that tree across the lane, there is a tiny path. You must look sharp.... it is difficult to see. It leads through the woods, across the river and to the castle. I am afraid it may be grown over and hard to follow, but it will keep you out of sight of any guards."

"Looks like that's our best option," said Bill, looking over at Ted.

"Yah. We'd best start right away before any marriages can take place!"

"Do be careful!" the woman warned in a motherly tone.

"Most certainly," Bill assured her.

Ted felt a tug at his pants and looked down to see one of the youngest girls standing at his feet with the other children watching nearby. "You will come back?"

His heart breaking, Ted looked to Bill to say something, but it wasn't easy for Bill to speak, either. "Of course we will!" Bill finally announced in the happiest tone he could muster. "We shall return most promptly and with our princess babes!"

Ted patted the small girl on the head as the woman opened the door for them to leave. Neither said anything as they walked to the road, pausing to close over the rickety gate of the yard. They looked back at the woman standing in the doorway with several faces peering from around her skirt, squinting as if they'd rarely seen the light of day. Bill and Ted turned and walked toward the tree the woman had pointed out to them.

"Bill, my friend.... why do I feel as if we have just been in one of those World Vision t.v. commercials?"

"Their domestic situation is undoubtedly most egregious," Bill sighed. "If only there were something we could do."

"Yah," Ted sighed. They'd reached the tree and walked beyond it, studying the bushes along the side of the dirt road. "So, where's this secret path?"

Bill reached over and parted some branches to reveal a small, trodden line of dirt leading into the woods. "This must be it. C'mon, Ted! We have some princesses to rescue!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Joanna nudged Elizabeth sharply to keep her from crying out in horror. Elizabeth choked on her sentiment and fidgeted, trying to remain calm as the overweight, elderly man reached out and took her hand to kiss. She turned her head away as his lips met her fingers.

"Ah, my darling!" the duke's scratchy voice cooed roughly. "I cannot wait for our wedding day!"

Unable to stand it any longer, Elizabeth pulled her hand free and was disappointed when the man didn't pick up on her disgust, instead smiling goofily at her. Joanna couldn't help but notice the same, silly expression on her husband-to-be.

The king stood behind them, watching the meeting with much anxiety. His daughters were not making the wonderful impressions he wanted them to. "My friends!" he stated boldly, stepping forward to the two dukes. "My girls are shy, as you can see. But they will make wonderful wives!"

"I have no doubt of this!" Joanna's beau said suggestively, not even trying to cover the fact that his eyes were lusciously travelling up and down her form. The king could see Joanna's throat tighten in preparation of protest, and quickly placed his arms around the two men, leading them to the door before anything could happen.

"The weddings will take place next week then!" He stopped abruptly, looking to both dukes worriedly. "Your farmlands are still quite prosperous, are they not?"

"They are," answered the one.

"And your mills?"

"Operating at full capacity," the other replied.

"Good, good!" the king continued, once again leading them to the door. "As I said, the weddings shall take place next week! Until then, my friends, allow us to make all the arrangements and worry not about anything!"

"You are most gracious, m'lord."

"Yes, I am. Off with you! And keep yourselves in prime condition for your 'wedding night'!" He laughed, waving after them until they had disappeared, then slammed the door shut and turned on his daughters. The guards, which had been hiding behind some drapery at the back of the room, emerged.

"Are you determined to ruin everything? I might at least expect you to be a little more congenial toward your future husbands!"

"We shall never marry them!" Elizabeth cried. "They are fat and ugly!"

"And old and disgusting!" Joanna added.

"And rich," their father was quick to include. "You will marry them! You are my daughters and you must do as I say!"

"Father, how can you be so callous?" Joanna demanded to know. "Do you care not at all about us?"

"Selfish girl! Can you not see I am making sure you will be well cared for? You act as if I am forcing you to marry blind village idiots with the Black Death!"

"They might just as well be," Elizabeth sneered.

Losing his temper, the king motioned to the guards. "Lock them into their rooms!" With that, the guards took the girls' arms and pulled them away. "You are lucky I do not have you executed for consorting with evil demons!"

"They are not evil demons!" Elizabeth screamed from the corridor. "They are Wyld Stallyns!"

The king collapsed, exhausted, upon his throne. He wiped a worried hand over his face as he spoke quietly to himself. "I do hope the wedding can take place before everyone learns my daughters have gone mad!"

The princesses protested all the way to their rooms and continued to scream as the guards shoved them into their separate quarters.

Joanna listened as the guard locked her door, then she quietly crept along the wall to a giant tapestry which hung beside her bed. Pulling the wall hanging aside, she pushed open the secret panel which connected her room with her sister's. Elizabeth was waiting for her, and walked through the panel angrily.

"Father hasn't changed one bit!" Elizabeth sneered.

"Most assuredly not," Joanna agreed, closing the panel and letting the tapestry fall across it again. "Can you believe those ugly dudes he wants us to marry this time?"

"No way!" they chimed together.

"I would sooner be boiled in oil than marry them!" Elizabeth announced.

"Good, for that may well be the outcome," Joanna warned her.

Elizabeth paced anxiously as her sister crossed to the window to study the distance to the ground. "We must escape! Our dudes will be coming for us today!"

"Come here," Joanna ordered. Elizabeth joined her sister, who was motioning out the window. "It is our only chance."

Without a moment of hesitation, Elizabeth climbed onto the window sill, dangling her feet from the ledge as she groped for a foothold in the thick ivy growing beneath. It was awkward to climb wearing long dresses, but the girls undauntedly worked their way down.

Dangling unsteadily for a moment, Elizabeth wrapped her leg around a large vine and held tight. It didn't make her feel any better to see Joanna dangling just as precariously above her. She then looked down to check the distance to the ground when two guards appeared, stopping directly beneath them to talk casually. Elizabeth waved at Joanna, who also spotted the guards, and they clung desperately, praying the men would not be long.

"So, when will the next tax collection take place?"

"Word has it there will be a raid before the week is through. I do hope I will be chosen to ride along again." The guard struggled to remove his armor boot, then shook it upside down to free the stone which had been plaguing his foot all morning.

"Yea, verily! I brought home three large hams and even managed to hide away several gold coins for myself on the last raid."

Elizabeth could feel the large vine her leg was wrapped around begin to give way, and looked to Joanna desperately. As the vine snapped, Joanna reached down and clutched her sister's arm before she could fall. This left Elizabeth's dainty feet dangling just inches above the guards' heads. Fortunately for the princesses, the guard had chosen that moment to drop his armored boot, covering up the sound of Elizabeth's slip.

Maneuvering his foot back into the shoe proved to be as difficult as removing it, seeing he could hardly bend over in his armor. "We had best make our way to the banquet hall. The king will have our heads if we are late!"

Much to the girls' relief, the guards disappeared around the corner of the castle. Joanna made sure her sister had regained her footing before they started down again. Both felt extremely grateful when their feet were firmly on the ground.

"Hurry!" Joanna urged, leading the way as they crept to a waiting carriage. "We must away!"

They climbed aboard the back of the carriage, covering themselves with a tarp used to protect luggage. Moments later the dukes appeared and climbed into the carriage. The driver was ordered to proceed, and the carriage jerked as it began its bumpy journey.

"I cannot believe our good fortune!" the girls could hear one of the dukes exclaim. "Such luscious brides!"

"Yes! I cannot wait to partake in some martial bliss, if thoust knoweth what I mean!"

The two men laughed heartily. Joanna and Elizabeth cringed at the thought.

"Ugh! They do maketh one want to vomit, do they not?" Elizabeth groaned.

"Verily!" Joanna confirmed.

The carriage's wheels hummed in a low drone as they clicked over the open drawbridge. The girls waited until they had travelled some distance beyond the castle walls before climbing out from under the tarp and jumping from the carriage as it slowed to round a bend.

"We must get to the village without being spotted!" Joanna stated eagerly as they ducked into the woods.

"Let us take the old path which leads through the forest as we did when we were children!" Elizabeth suggested.

"Excellent!" they quietly exclaimed, and made their way to the path.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Whoa, dude!" Ted sighed, pausing to catch his breath. "We have not walked this far since your dad parked in Lot ZZ during our last trip to Disneyland!"

"We should have brought our air pump sneakers," Bill commented. "It would've definitely saved our feet such severe pain!"

Ted walked to where Bill was waiting for him. "How much further do you suppose the castle is?"

"I dunno, Ted. Could be a long way yet."

"Drag," Ted exhaled as they carefully continued to follow what they still hoped was the path. With a sudden burst of inspiration, Ted flipped his hair back and raised his head like a proud bird. "However, I would tread many a treacherous mile, suffer the torching sands of the most intimidating of deserts and risk drowning in the deepest of cesspools to reach my darling Elizabeth."

Bill wiped a tear from one eye as he slowly shook his head. "Dude, that was most eloquent. Truly one of your best. But you shoulda saved it for when the babes were around!"

Ted nodded in realization. "Yah, you're right. Next time I'll bring a taperecorder."

"Excellent! Then we could work on some Wyld Stallyns' tunes!"

Bill pushed aside the branches of a small tree and came to a stop, which caused Ted to bump into him from behind.

"Why'd you stop?" Ted asked. "Are we there?"

"Ted, my friend.... we are nowhere."

Ted followed Bill's stare and his heart sank at what he saw. The path ended abruptly at the bank of what once, not long ago, was a river; now gone, leaving only a wide expanse of mud in its wake. What remained of a rugged log bridge pointed at them from the opposite bank with its ropes lying useless along both sides.

"Bogus!" the deflated heroes sighed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The king roamed the banquet hall, envisioning with quivering excitement the elaborate double wedding which would take place the following week. He motioned with one arm along the great dining table, now empty, picturing the roasted pheasants and dainties which would soon be a reality. His exaggerated movements seemed like almost an odd, slow dance to the guards present, who tried their best not to stare.

"Marvelous! It will be a celebration to end all celebrations! I cannot wait to make the announcement this evening!"

Allowing himself to collapse into a laughing heap in the chair at the end of the long table, the king began to drift into daydreams about his newfound wealth when a gigantic form appeared in the entryway. Even from the other side of the enormous hall there was no mistaking the figure as it entered and crossed to the king, pausing to bow with deepest servitude.

"M'lord?"

"Yes, Sir Blackheart," the king motioned the sycophantic knight to his feet. It humored him to watch this incredibly strong and ruthless man kowtow to his every whim. "You may approach."

"Thank you, sire." The knight again stood, towering high above the scrawny king but remaining as humble as possible. "Your majesty seems extremely pleased this day."

"Oh I am, I am! And you shall learn the reason later this evening!"

Sir Blackheart leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Might I assume it hath something to do with the return of the fair Joanna and Elizabeth?"

The king smiled wryly, casting a glance at the perceptive knight. "It might."

The huge knight pulled away, fearing the king might actually overhear his heart racing with excitement. He had spent these past many years groveling before this aged, pathetic man; doing his bidding, carrying out his every wish, knowing full well the former duke had only become king through the "accidental" death of his brother. The peasants so easily accepted the explanation of how the former king had tragically run himself through the heart with a quill pen while signing the proclamation bequeathing the throne to his brother in case of accidental death, and no one ever really questioned the fact that the man had been decapitated as well. "A severe paper cut," the physician had explained with a knife to his back.

Now it seemed as though his years of servitude would finally pay off. He had never forgotten the promise made to him years ago after he had led the first successful pillage against the richest lands.... "You are a true and loyal knight, and if you continue to serve me faithfully I may one day giveth to you one of my beautiful daughters in marriage!"

"Oh, bumpki!!!"

The king cringed at the sound of the soft voice echoing throughout the hall. "I told you never to call me that outside our sleeping chambers!" he screamed as his wife approached.

The dainty, pale woman paused to curtsy prettily. "So sorry, dear. I was wondering if you knew when the girls would be back."

Both the king and Sir Blackheart gave her a startled look. "Back from where?"

The queen shrugged. "I knoweth not. They are not in their rooms. I thought, perhaps, they had gone for a walk."

Leaping to his feet, the king stood atop his chair. "They have escaped again! I shall have their heads!!!"

"There, there! Calm down, dear," the queen said soothingly. "Why would you want only their heads?"

The king stared at his wife in disbelief. Sir Blackheart was quick to step forward.

"Fear not, m'lord! I shall bring your daughters back to you! We will scourge the countryside until they are found!"

"Oh, is that not so nice?" the queen squealed happily. "Then perhaps we can visit mama in her cell and enjoy a nice game of chess!"

The king shook his head as his wife left the hall, then turned to Sir Blackheart. "A wonderful woman, but she haveth the intelligence of a shrub." He climbed off the chair and motioned to his guards. "Take as many of my men as you feel you may need! Just be sure those ungrateful girls are returned to this castle!"

"Yes, m'lord!" Sir Blackheart bowed, then motioned for the guards to follow him.

The king sank back into the chair, grasping his heart as he panted deeply.

"Women....!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Five minutes of thought had produced nothing. Bill sighed and looked over at Ted, who was sitting on the fallen tree beside him.

"Think of anything?"

Ted looked to Bill with surprise. "Oh.... were we supposed to be thinking about something?"

Bill stood and motioned to the mud. "How're we gonna get across?"

Ted gave their obstacle a glance. "Can't we just walk across?"

"And ruin our sneakers???"

They both looked to the riverbed, then their shoes. "No way!"

"Guess we gotta find a bridge that's not broken," Bill stated, pulling Ted to his feet. "Then we can come back to the path when we get to the other side."

"But what if we get lost?"

"We'll have to chance it, dude!"

Ted shrugged in his excited style. "Let's go!"

They hadn't gone two steps when something moving on the opposite bank caught Ted's attention. He stopped and lifted his bangs to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. There could be no doubt.... Joanna and Elizabeth were approaching on the path from the other side, and now stood at the edge of the broken bridge.

"Bill, scope it out! It's our babes!"

Elizabeth likewise motioned to Joanna. "Joanna, it is them!"

Bill and Ted hurried to the edge of the riverbed across from the girls, who jumped up and down waving their hands as if they couldn't already be seen.

"Babes! Are you all right?" Bill called.

"Oh yes!" Joanna answered happily. "We escaped from father!"

"He wants us to marry two horrible, ugly men!"

"Heinous!" Bill and Ted cried.

"Bill, we cannot let this happen!"

"This is true, Ted. But again, we are faced with the same egregious problem."

"What's that?" Ted asked.

"How do we get across?" Elizabeth called.

"That, dude!" Bill sighed.

"Who could have destroyed the old bridge?" Elizabeth asked.

"I will giveth you one guess," Joanna sneered.

Ted looked across the mud at Elizabeth, who looked so helpless and hopeful, then shook his head earnestly as he turned back to Bill. "The babes are depending on us! We gotta help them across!"

Bill nodded, looking to the princesses, who stood expectantly. Finally, he snapped his fingers. "I know, Ted! We could do like that old time dude, Sir Walter Raleigh!"

Ted thought about this a moment. "You mean, like we could get hit on the head with apples?"

Bill shook his head. "That was Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of the fig cake. Raleigh's the dude who threw his coat in the mud!"

Once again Ted looked confused. "But we are not wearing coats!"

Bill patted Ted's shoulder understandingly. "Ted, my slow thinking friend, we will carry our princess babes across, sneakers or no sneakers!"

Ted smiled at this idea. "Oh! That would be most chivalrous of us!"

Bill held his hands to his mouth to call across the riverbed. "Hang on, luscious babes! Ted and I will have you on this side in no time!"

Joanna and Elizabeth watched as Bill and Ted slowly stepped into the mud, making faces of disgust as their legs sank into the ooze up past their ankles. Carefully they made their way across, pausing to lift their feet out of the mud with each step. Bill stopped halfway between the bank and the broken bridge as Ted made his way out farther.

The girls stepped out onto the old log, which at one time had stretched all the way across, and waited as Ted stopped beneath them, knee deep in mud.

"Elizabeth.... may I?"

Elizabeth climbed down so she was sitting on the edge of the broken bridge and cautiously pushed herself off, landing in Ted's arms. She held on tightly, wrapping her arms around his neck as he turned around and started carrying her to Bill.

"Oh, Ted! You are so excellent to me!"

"That is because you are so easy to be excellent to!" Ted explained.

Elizabeth kissed Ted's cheek gently. Taking another step, Ted turned his head as Elizabeth was preparing to kiss his cheek again, intercepting with his lips. Bill watched as his friend stood, holding and kissing Elizabeth.

"Ted! Motor your butt!" He motioned to his muddy shoes. "My feet have had enough of this slimy beauty treatment stuff already!"

Ted pulled his head back and made his way to Bill, who carefully took Elizabeth from him and continued to carry her to the opposite bank where he set her down gently.

"Thank you," she offered gratefully.

Ted had already made his way back to the middle of the riverbed as Bill waded toward him. Joanna stood above, unsure about jumping.

"Come on! I'll catch ya!" Ted assured her.

Still unsure, Joanna stepped to the end of the broken bridge, which suddenly shifted under her weight. Losing her balance, she cried out as she toppled from the edge. Ted reached out and snatched her as she fell into his arms with all her weight, pushing him down into the mud up to his thighs. Joanna held onto Ted tightly as he desperately tried not to lose his balance. Bill could see Ted was in trouble, and worked his way through the mud as quickly as he could to help.

"Whoa, Bill!" Ted cried, wobbling unsteadily as Joanna's feet dragged in the mud.

"Hand her over, Ted!" Bill called, now in a position where he could take her.

Ted somewhat tossed Joanna to Bill, who managed to get hold of her and carry her to the bank where her worried sister was waiting.

"Oh, Joanna, are you all right?" Elizabeth asked once her sister's feet were on solid ground.

"Yes, I think so. But that was close!"

Bill shook out one muddy shoe, then realized Ted had not followed them to the bank. He turned and saw Ted was still in the spot where he'd caught Joanna, hip-high in the mud.

"Yo, Ted! Come on! We gotta get back to the phone booth, dude!"

Ted tried to lift one leg, then the other, but both were stuck fast. "Whoa, bogus! I'm like totally stuck, dude!"

Joanna and Elizabeth joined Bill at the edge of the riverbed as Bill tried to think of what to do. "Do not fret, Ted! We will find a way to get you out!"

Joanna looked around, then grabbed Bill's arm as she pointed to one of the ropes lying along the bank. "Perhaps we can pull him free with one of these ropes!"

"Excellent idea, Joanna!"

Bill and Joanna worked to gather the rope as Elizabeth stood upon the bank and watched Ted try to grab the edge of the bridge, which was just out of his reach. As he strained to stretch his arm out, the bridge only seemed to get farther from his fingertips. She then realized the mud was now up to his waist.

"Oh no!" she cried, turning frantically to Bill and Joanna. "Hurry! He is sinking!"

Bill and Joanna looked up, startled, then hurried to Elizabeth. Bill looped a length of the rope into circles, then swung it back and forth as he eyed the distance to his friend. "Ted! Grab onto the rope!"

With some effort, Bill hurled the rope out across the riverbed and it landed with a splat on top of the mud next to Ted, who reached over and grabbed it.

"Hang on, dude! We'll pull you out!"

Grasping the rope tightly with both hands, Ted braced himself as Bill, Joanna and Elizabeth began pulling.

"Heave it with all you've got, babes!" Bill coached.

Ted held onto the rope, even though the pulling only seemed to force him to lean forward precariously from the waist up while his feet and legs remained stuck fast in the mud. His friends tried pulling harder, but it became apparent after a few minutes that it wasn't doing any good, and they gasped to catch their breaths as they finally stopped trying.

"Whoa! This is definitely not working!" Bill sighed.

"We have to do something!" Elizabeth cried. "What if he sinks farther? What if he....?" She let her voice trail off.

"We'll get Ted out!" Bill insisted, but the questioning look he threw the situation after that didn't reaffirm the statement. "I just wish I knew how!"

Joanna was also studying the predicament. "I think, perhaps, we need more leverage."

Bill gave her an unsure look. "How d'ya mean?"

Joanna motioned to a large tree branch hanging out over the riverbed. "If we hook the rope over that branch, we may be able to pull him up and out."

Eyeing the branch, Bill shrugged. "Do you think it'd make much difference? We already tried pulling."

Joanna nodded. "'Tis the way dear grandfather was able to unhitch his heavy wagon from his horses! I could even lift it off the ground that way!"

"We have to try!" Elizabeth sobbed.

Bill picked up their end of the rope and called out to Ted. "Let go, dude! We're gonna try something else."

Reluctantly, Ted let go of the rope and Bill pulled it in, again wrapping most of it into loops. Standing back, he took careful aim at the branch above. "Heads up, Ted!" Bill threw the rope, which sailed up and over the branch before landing across the mud within Ted's reach. Ted quickly grabbed the end again and held on.

Bill handed his end of the rope to Joanna and Elizabeth, then paused to call to Ted again. "Dude, maybe you'd better tie your end around your waist!"

"Why?" Ted called.

"Remember gym class? You never could get more than two feet off the ground while rope climbing!"

"Outstanding suggestion, dude," Ted replied, and quickly tied the end around what little of his waist was still above the mud. Once done, he grabbed hold of the rope above his head and readied himself. "Ready, dude and babes!"

"Okay," Bill announced. "On the count of three! One.... two.... hit it!"

The three began pulling with all their might. Slowly, Ted felt himself being pulled up and out of the mud, which sucked downward as he was lifted. Bill and the girls pulled until they were almost in sitting positions, then grabbed higher on the rope to pull down again.

Ted clung to the rope tightly, even though his fingers were throbbing and the rope dug underneath his ribs. Likewise, Bill, Joanna and Elizabeth continued to pull despite their burning hands. Soon Ted could feel his thighs pulling free.

"Keep pulling!" Bill encouraged. "It's working!"

They were about to grab higher on the rope to pull down again when the sound of hoofbeats became clear. Suddenly, from all sides, knights on horseback appeared.

"Oh no!" Elizabeth cried. "They have found us!"

The guards did not make a move to approach, but every possible escape appeared to be cut off on both sides of the riverbed. A beautiful, black horse broke through the bushes and came to a halt. Sir Blackheart dismounted, eyeing the princesses and Bill as they held onto the rope.

"I hope we are not interrupting anything!" he said with a touch of evil.

"Sir Blackheart!" cried Joanna. "I should have known father would send you and your goon cohorts in pursuit of us!"

"And why not?" Sir Blackheart boasted. "He knew I would locate and deliver you safely!" He pointed an ordering finger at the girls. "Seize the princesses!"

Several guards had already dismounted and grabbed the princesses, forcibly pulling them away from the rope. As the girls let go, Bill felt Ted outweighing him, but held on even though he was now standing on tiptoe and Ted had sunk back down to his hips.

"Let us go!" the girls protested, fighting the guards as their hands were tied behind their backs.

"Silence!" Sir Blackheart ordered, strutting proudly toward Bill, who continued to hang on for Ted's dear life. "Am I to assume these two are the evil demons which spirited you away?"

Bill eyed the knight with contempt. "It takes one to know one, egregious black knight dude!"

"Bill, I do not think it is wise to make that dude angry at this point," Ted suggested.

"The king will be extremely pleased when he learns of this!" He motioned to Bill. "Seize the demon!"

"No way!" Bill shouted, holding onto the rope as tightly as he could.

Two guards stepped forward and grabbed Bill's waist and legs, but Bill refused to let go of the rope. Sir Blackheart watched with growing impatience as they jerked and pulled, but Bill faithfully held on.

"This hath gone on long enough!" Sir Blackheart announced, angrily marching to one of the guards and snatching the man's hatchet from him. With precise aim, he chucked the hatchet at the tree branch above, succeeding in snapping the rope in two. Bill and the guards fell to the ground in a clattering heap as Ted dropped back down, the rope falling uselessly around him on top of the mud, which sucked him down faster than ever.

"Back to the castle!" Sir Blackheart ordered loudly, and the guards on the opposite side of the riverbed turned and disappeared into the forest. Several of the guards on their side headed back down the path to the village until only Sir Blackheart and a few knights were left, including those who now held the princesses on horseback with them.

Sir Blackheart crossed to his horse and mounted as the guards continued to struggle with Bill, who was fighting against them with all his strength.

"Let us go!" Bill yelled.

"You will be locked in the dungeon until the king decides what is to be done with you!" Sir Blackheart informed Bill.

"You total medieval dickweed!" Bill screamed, jerking one arm free from the guards as he tried to lunge at the heartless knight.

"Silence him!" Sir Blackheart ordered viciously.

"With pleasure," one guard complied, drawing his sword and using the handle to strike Bill across the back of the head. Bill only managed to get out, "This is most non-triumph...." before the blow had knocked him out.

"Bill!" Ted cried, helpless to do anything.

"No!" Joanna screamed as Bill slumped to the ground. She looked to Sir Blackheart with disbelief. "How can you be so cruel?"

"Ha! I should be richly rewarded! They are evil demons, after all!"

"They are not evil demons!" yelled Elizabeth. "They are Wyld Stallyns!"

Sir Blackheart watched as the unconscious Bill was thrown over the back of one of the guards' horses, then looked to Ted as he struggled futilely. "Really? They look more like dead ducks!"

As the guards finished mounting, they steered their horses to leave. "Shall we depart?"

"In a moment," Sir Blackheart cooed. "I think the princesses should be allowed to witness the other one's final moments."

Seeing his friends had been captured, Ted fought harder to stay afloat, but the mud continued to pull him down and there seemed no bottom within reach. As his shoulders went under, he stopped thrashing and looked to the bank where the huge knight sat watching with glee. Bill showed no sign of life as he lay motionless across one of the horses' backs. Elizabeth and Joanna sat in front of burly guards on horseback, forced to watch. Ted could see tears in Elizabeth's eyes. To see his darling Elizabeth crying broke his heart, and he again struggled, calling out to her as the mud reached his chin.

"Don't cry, Elizabeth! I love you!"

Elizabeth leaned forward as if to throw herself out to Ted, but the guard held her back. "I love you, too, my darling Theodore!"

"We'll be okay! I know it!" Ted called out optimistically, then realized that was probably a bit overstated considering the situation at hand. With this reconsideration, he added, "Even though this appears to be so totally bogus!!!" He managed to gasp in one last breath before the mud closed over his head.

Sir Blackheart kicked the flanks of his horse after Ted had disappeared from sight and turned the animal toward the path. "To the castle!"

Elizabeth struggled against the ropes violently, tears streaming from her eyes as she spat at Sir Blackheart. "You are totally evil! You shall rot in Hell for this!"

Sir Blackheart didn't even give her the satisfaction of answering as he led the guards into the forest with their prisoners in tow.

Continuing to thrash desperately, Ted kept his mouth and eyes closed tightly against the mud, feeling the ache in his chest grow in intensity until he thought he couldn't hold his breath any more. He kept the air in longer than even he believed possible, knowing there wasn't any more oxygen to be had. Slowly he released the breath through his nose and mouth until there was nothing left to exhale. This only made his chest hurt worse, yet he fought his lungs desire to breath in.

Within seconds, his mind lost its ability to control his natural instincts and he opened his mouth to gasp for breath, only following through with the reflex halfway when the sickening taste of mud oozed into his mouth and down his throat. He realized now that he was really dying, and stopped struggling as his mind slowed down. Suddenly the pain in his chest became sharper, as if something was cutting into his ribs, and he had the strange sensation of rising.

"This is it," he thought sadly, feeling himself slip away. "I'm being taken to heaven. I won't even be able to help Bill and the princess babes. Bogus."

With this realization, Ted stopped fighting and let himself slip into the darkness.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Thank you, Sir Blackheart. You are indeed a great knight."

"You are too generous, m'lord," Sir Blackheart smiled.

The king looked from the knight to his daughters, who were being held in place by guards. Their mother sat behind them, casually working on a tapestry.

"I do have one other surprise, if it would please his Highness," Sir Blackheart cooed, snapping his fingers.

Two other guards entered the room, half-carrying and half-dragging the still mostly unconscious Bill between them. The king's mouth dropped open as he stepped forward.

"I do not believe my eyes! Could this be....?"

Reaching down, the king grabbed the curly, blonde hair to lift the sagging head as Bill's eyes fluttered open.

"It is! You have captured the demon!"

"Whoa!" Bill moaned, focusing on the familiar face in front of him. "How's it goin', your royal, ugly lowness?"

The king let Bill's head drop and turned to smile at the knight, who waited proudly. "You have overexcelled in your work!"

"Thank you, sire!"

"I have longed for the day when I could finally have revenge on this evil demon for stealing away my beautiful daughters!"

"I am not an evil demon! I am Bill S. Preston, Esq.!"

There was an awkward silence in the room as everyone waited for Bill to continue, but Bill seemed to be waiting for something else. When there was no follow-up statement, Bill looked around desperately. "Where's Ted?"

The princesses exchanged sad looks of concern.

The king's expression became thoughtful. "Yes," he addressed the room in general. "Where is the other one?"

Sir Blackheart slightly bowed to the monarch. "So sorry, m'lord, but he hath already been judged by God and dealt with."

"Haveth you no sense of Christian decency?" Elizabeth snarled. "T'was not our Lord that took his life, t'was you! You could have saved him!"

Bill looked from the knight to the princesses, taking in what they were saying. "You mean....? He let Ted....?"

The look on the girls' faces was answer enough.

"No way," Bill gasped quietly, throwing Sir Blackheart a horrified look. "No....way!"

The king approached the huge knight slowly. "Am I to understand.... you were directly responsible for the death of one of the evil demons?"

Sir Blackheart glanced about nervously, then sighed when he could see no way out. "Well.... yes, sire. But....!"

Slapping the knight on the shoulder, the king let out a hearty laugh. "You have given me much reason to celebrate this day! I shall make sure you are richly rewarded!"

The proud knight beamed and gazed hopefully at the gorgeous princesses, quickly trying to decide which one he preferred.

Spinning, the king pointed to Bill, instructing the guards. "Throw him in the dungeon! Keep him under constant guard!"

"Let go!" Bill yelled. "You certainly aren't being very excellent to anyone, dude!"

Joanna and Elizabeth watched as Bill was dragged, kicking and yelling, out of the room. "What will become of him?" Joanna demanded of her father.

The king seemed to enjoy pondering the question a moment. "I am not certain. I think it would be wise to put him on trial for witchcraft. Yes.... I think a test would be appropriate."

Joanna pulled against the guard's grip. "Father, no! You mustn't....!"

"I have been more than patient with the both of you! I warn you.... you will obey me!"

"Never!" Elizabeth screamed. "Keep me prisoner.... torture me, beat me.... I will never marry anyone you choose! I care not what happens to me!"

"Nor do I!" Joanna agreed.

Their father glared at them with such anger they thought for a moment he might actually strike them, but he struck them with his words instead. "You will marry the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Poncenby, or I shall have your grandmother beheaded!"

The princesses and Sir Blackheart's mouths all dropped open at the same time. The knight remained silent, taking in, with horror, this news of the girls' impending marriages.

"Father.... you cannot be serious!" Joanna gasped.

"Not grandmama!" Elizabeth added.

"Mother, you cannot let him do it!" Joanna pleaded.

Their mother looked up from her stitch and shrugged. "You know your father's temper. There is nothing I can do."

Elizabeth dropped to her knees, pulling free of her guard's grasp to clutch her father's robe. "Please, father.... you have already taken everything from me. I will never love another. Have you no heart at all?"

"I have a heart. I also have a brain.... and I know what is best for you. The weddings will take place next week as scheduled!"

Elizabeth gave up protesting, slumping from exhaustion. The queen could see this and crossed to her, kneeling to feel her forehead.

"They are exhausted, dear. It has been a busy day for them, what with escaping and being captured again."

The king nodded and motioned for the guards to take them away. "To their rooms. Lock them in and keep close watch. And remember.... if I hear of your trying to escape again, your grandmother will find herself with no place to wear a hat!"

As the guards led the girls from the room, the king turned to see Sir Blackheart's disbelieving face. "What is it?"

"I beg your grace, m'lord.... but.... I thought...."

"You thought what, praytell?"

"The princesses.... they are to marry dukes?"

"What of it?"

Sir Blackheart sighed angrily and walked past the king. "Nothing."

After the knight left the room, the king turned to his wife, who had returned to her tapestry.

"What troubles him, do you suppose?"

"Hmmmm. He is most likely upset you did not give one of your daughters to him. He has always been fond of them."

"He is a mere knight with no money to his name! I would never let a daughter of mine marry him!"

"You are right," his wife sighed. "And the girls would have to worry for his safety every time he goes out to pillage."

The king groaned and slumped into his throne.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bill paced as far as he could before being jerked to a halt by the chain around his ankle. Even though he knew it was useless, he pulled his leg back several times trying to yank it free, which only resulted in a painful jolt shooting all the way to his hip.

Venting his frustrations with a stomp to the ground, Bill paced back in the other direction, studying his dank accommodations. The dungeon cell wasn't as terrible as some he'd seen in old movies.... at least there weren't any rats scurrying the walls or skeletons in chains for roommates. There was even an open, barred window at ground level, which was near the top of the cell, allowing a shaft of light from the setting sun to shine across the gray stone floor and walls. But it might just as well have been the darkest, filthiest, roach-infested dungeon in the whole world for all Bill cared, since his heart already felt trapped in such a place.

Again he was jolted from his observations by the jerk of the chain. Swinging the heavy links to one side, he stood facing the door of the cell. A small, barred opening in the door gave him a clear view of the husky guard stationed outside, standing with his back against the wall.

"Yo, oblivious, nasty guard dude! Why am I being held here, exactly?"

The guard looked over his shoulder at Bill for a moment, then returned his stare to the wall across from him.

"C'mon!" Bill whined, rattling his chain annoyingly. "Don't I get one phone call? I know where there's a phone booth in the village!"

"I am ordered to stand here and guard you," the guard stated sharply, not turning to address Bill face to face. "That does not mean I must engage in conversation with you."

"Lighten up, burly soldier dude! I just wanna talk!"

"That will be the day when I converse with evil demons! I am a decent, God-fearing Christian!"

"Seems to me you're more of a king-fearing sycophant."

The guard wheeled angrily, shoving his face against the bars of the door. "Why you little...."

Bill pointed a cautionary finger at the man. "Oooh! Better watch that conversing with evil demons, dude!"

The guard shook furiously then quickly retook his position against the wall.

"Whoa, most non-triumphant company I am stuck with," Bill sighed to himself, turning to pace back to the window. As he crossed the cell, he heard a trumpet blare in the distance. Seconds later it was followed by another one, only closer this time. The sun no longer shone through the window, and what he could see of the sky was turning deep orange. The sound of footsteps scurrying into the courtyard accompanied the growing murmur of a crowd not too far away. Bill turned to ask the guard what was happening, then remembered how ill-mannered the man was and thought better of it.

Upstairs in her room, Joanna was seated at her window watching the nobles and gentry gather in the courtyard below. The guards stationed below her window stood motionless in their duty. As the sun disappeared into the forest and the trumpets called out their final fanfare, the crowd began to cheer and a moment later her father stepped onto his balcony, allowing the admiration to continue a while before holding up his hands for silence.

"My loyal subjects! I thank you for assembling here this early evening! I have two announcements to make at this time, with your leave."

The king stepped back to confer with his consort before continuing. Joanna scanned the crowd, wondering how so many people could be loyal to such a madman. "Of course, their lives are pretty comfortable here within the castle walls," she surmised. "I wonder how they would feel if they were forced to live in the village."

"First," her father continued, "I would like to announce the rescue of my beautiful daughters, Joanna and Elizabeth, and the capture of one of the evil demons responsible for their disappearance! It has been decided that the demon shall stand trial for witchcraft! All are invited to witness his test before God at dawn! In addition, I would like to assure my loyal subjects that the second demon has already been put to death, and no longer will my kingdom be plagued by these terrifying devils!"

Joanna turned from the window as the crowd cheered ecstatically. She couldn't bear to hear her father brag about what had to be the most horrible thing she had ever witnessed. As he began to announce the upcoming double wedding, she passed the tapestry leading to her sister's room and paused before stepping closer to pull it aside. She was about to push the panel open when she caught a soft sound coming from the connecting room. Listening closely, she could make out Elizabeth's sobbing.

Joanna let the tapestry fall back into place and crossed to her bed where she took a seat.

"....let us celebrate this glorious evening!" the king concluded amidst a roar of support from his people. A minute later, the sounds of a band began in the courtyard below and the excited murmurings of the crowd became a steady buzz.

Falling across her bed, Joanna gathered her pillow into her arms and clutched it tightly, wishing it could be Bill's strong, young body instead. As the celebration continued outside, she found it impossible to hold back the tears any longer. She couldn't stop thinking about the way her sister had been forced to watch her true love's death.

Tomorrow it would be her turn.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

His surroundings, wherever they happened to be, were warm and comfortable. He could clearly remember the horror of drowning in the mud, then dying and being pulled to Heaven. After that there was nothing until the floating.... he vaguely recalled the sensation of being immersed in warm water, like resting in a womb. Yes, that's right.... he had concluded that he was being reborn. He'd always believed in reincarnation, only he didn't think it happened that fast! Then he was lifted from that sanctuary.... been born back into the world. Voices were nearby; soft, as if not to disturb him. His new parents, no doubt.

Yet, how could he be thinking about this so clearly? And why did he still remember everything about his past life?

Slowly, Ted opened his eyes. There was a gentle flicker of firelight playing on a wood-thatched ceiling. It mesmerized him, and he began to drift back to sleep when a round woman's face appeared in front of him.

"Aye.... so ya decided to awake now, 'ave ye?" The thick Scottish accent gave the otherwise tender voice a harsh edge.

Ted couldn't help but smile at this friendly, warm face. She had such a motherly look about her. Now that he was slightly awake, Ted could see he was lying on a rough, wood floor, bundled in soft sheepskin. Nearby, the fire burned in a worn, stone fireplace. It felt so warm and safe; if it weren't for the many questions on his mind he probably would have curled up and gone back to sleep. Instead he looked questioningly into the face of the woman kneeling beside him.

"Whoa.... h..how did I get here?"

"Sssshhh.... dunnit try to talk now," she scolded, brushing a gentle hand across his forehead. "Ya 'ad ye a close brush with the Grim Reaper, laddie."

"Aye, that ye did," a man's voice chimed in as a huge figure of a man, dirty in the face but friendly despite his enormous stature, stepped into view. "And 'tis a good thing ya had that rope tied 'round ya, or I dunnit think I coulda pulled ya up outta that muddy grave."

"You pulled me out? But I was dead!"

"Aye, nearly so, I'd say!" The man took a seat on a stool near the fire and Ted could see that he held a small carving knife and a block of wood already partially shaped into some kind of animal. He proceeded to whittle as he talked. "I just happened ta be huntin' nearby when I heard the commotion. I might've got to ya sooner, but I had ta wait 'til the king's men had gone."

Ted began to remember the events leading up to his being in the mud, and sat up quickly. "Bill! The babes! They were captured by those heinous, behemoth guards!"

"Now calm down, there!" the woman insisted, pushing him back down gently. "Ya mustn't get yerself excited! Ya need to rest!"

Once again Ted sat up, but more slowly this time. The woman had moved to a pot over the fire, anyway. "You don't understand! I have to save them! No tellin' what'll happen to 'em!"

The hunter lowered his work and looked at Ted sympathetically. "I hate ta tell ya, but they have been taken ta the castle. And there be no way ya be gettin' 'em out of there by yerself!"

"I gotta try, rugged, Gaelic dude!" Ted was about to get up when he realized his now-clean chest was bare. Trying to be inconspicuous, he carefully lifted the sheepskin to look beneath, then gave a start and clasped the cover to him, blushing with embarrassment. The woman looked up from the pot she was stirring at the sound of his short laugh and saw his shy gaze looking up at her.

"Um.... where are my clothes?"

The woman turned, motioning to a nearby chair with a bowl before turning back to fill it from the pot. "Right there. They be just about dry, I think." She topped off the bowl and stepped toward him, holding the container out. "Never 'ave I seen clothes such as these, but I washed them out as best I could in the river."

"The river?" Ted asked, accepting the bowl. "I thought the river was all dammed up." He sniffed at the murky contents of the bowl warily, finding the strong aroma inviting enough to take a sip.

"That be why we live here," the hunter explained, setting down his carving to take another bowl his wife handed him. "We be upstream of the dam. The king has not control of these lands, though I fear 'tis only because the woods be too dense for his men to traverse easily."

"We grew weary of livin' under the king's unfair rule," the wife complained angrily. "We'd rather live independently and suffer a wee bit o' 'ardship than 'ave to answer to 'is beckon call!"

"And we be not alone," the hunter added. "There be more people than the king suspect livin' in these woods! Whole families, in some cases! 'Tis the law of nature, not the law of the king, we live by."

"That king dude is most egregious," Ted sighed, then swallowed the last of the broth, which felt very satisfying in his stomach. He spent the next moment fishing the last few pieces of meat from the bowl with his fingers.

"Care fer some more?" the woman asked, holding her hand out for the bowl.

"Oh, yes.... please," Ted answered, handing it to her. "Thank you."

The woman chuckled to herself as she refilled the bowl. "Y'know, fer an evil demon ya sure be polite."

"Oh.... you know 'bout that, huh?"

"Not many in these parts dunnit know the legend of the 'evil demons' who spirited the king's daughters away." She handed the refilled bowl back to Ted. "Most knew t'was but a tale. Made more sense to think the princesses 'ad run off with young suitors, and the king just couldn'a face the truth."

"Yah, but now the princesses are going to have to marry two royal, ugly dudes."

"No doubt the king is lookin' ta expand on his landholdin's again," the hunter sighed in exasperation, setting down his bowl. "He's gonna have control of us all yet!"

The woman sat on the edge of the fireplace and studied Ted thoughtfully as he ate. "So.... 'ow d'ya 'ope to get into the castle and rescue yer friends all on yer own; a young lad such as yerself?"

Ted lowered the bowl and thought about this. "I dunno. But I gotta. I sure could use some help, though."

The woman looked to her husband, who immediately stood up, prepared to end the conversation right then and there. "'Tis no use tryin' ta get into the castle ta rescue anyone! There be guards everywhere!"

"Aye, but if you and Mad Thomas were to fool 'em like ye did before...."

"Mad Thomas?" Ted asked, intrigued. "So what's got this Thomas dude so upset?"

"Lives in these woods on 'is own, he does, but in exchange fer some meat 'e helped out when the braggart 'ere boasted 'e could gain entrance to the castle grounds and someone took 'im up on it! T'was sheer genius the way they pulled it off, and I reckon they could do it again!"

"Yer talkin' madness, woman!" the hunter scolded. "There be no way I be goin' anywhere near the castle! We'd be boiled alive if caught!"

"Aye, but if the king succeeds in marryin' off 'is daughters, 'e shall rule an even wider area, then more 'n more after that! It 'as to come to an end!"

"But think what yer sayin'! There be few of us and hundreds of them!"

The woman sighed, leaning back awkwardly. "Fool, man! 'Tis not as if we want to fight a war with 'em! We just be freein' those who be unjustly imprisoned!"

"'Tis no use, I say! If this young fool wants ta get himself killed fer the sake of a few friends, let him risk his own neck! I'll be no part of it!" The hunter stalked to the other end of the cottage and sat down at a table facing away from them.

Ted looked to the woman worriedly. "I don't want you to risk your lives for my friends, especially after saving me!"

"Dunnit ya worry yerself, young friend. Me 'usband will soon see this be the right thing to do. As fer me, it would cheer me to no end to make that tyrant miserable! An' I know yer determined to go. Now, finish yer meal and get dressed. I'll talk the reluctant ol' goat into 'elping us. 'e be smart under pressure, and 'e knows these woods better than anyone."

"Whoa.... you are one most excellent lady!" Ted smiled, then took another sip of broth. "And this is truly a most outstanding stew!"

The woman set Ted's clothes down next to him. "Glad ya like it. Me 'usband was lucky today to be able to provide venison fer stock."

"What is venison, exactly?" Ted asked, raising the bowl to finish the last of it.

"Y'know. Venison. Deer meat."

Ted stopped in mid-swallow, staring into the bowl with extreme horror. The woman noticed this and grew concerned. "What is it?"

Ted looked up at her with huge, sad eyes. "You mean.... I've been eating Bambi's mother?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shadows played against the walls as the candlelight danced in a slight breeze through the window. Joanna lay across the bed, too exhausted from crying to find the strength to let her emotions escape any longer. Slowly she rolled onto her back and lay staring at the canopy above her until, finally, she couldn't stand being alone any longer.

Rising from the bed, she quickly pulled a shawl around her shoulders before crossing the room. Hesitating a second, she tapped gently on the large, wood door. When there was no response, she knocked harder. "Hello? Are you out there, hefty guard dude?"

"What dost thou want?" a deep, muffled voice answered.

"I must speak with thee. Please! 'Tis terribly important."

Joanna stepped back when she heard the key rattle in the lock. The door cracked open slightly, and she stepped forward to peek through.

"Is something wrong, m'lady?"

"I must ask of you...." Joanna paused, lowering her voice. "Might you do me a small favor?"

"What is it you ask of me?"

"I must see my love before he is tested tomorrow. I will die if I cannot see him at least once more!"

The guard glanced about anxiously, then brought his eyes back to her face. "'Twould be most dangerous if I were to oblige, m'lady."

"I would reward you handsomely, kind sir, if you would assist me in my time of need."

"In what manner?"

"Ask anything of me.... it is yours."

The guard leaned back, studying her hopeful face, then allowed a large smile to cross his lips. "Then I ask, m'lady.... the royal chastity belt...."

Joanna stepped back slightly, pulling the shawl tight over her breasts. "Surely, you cannot be serious. I would not be so...."

"Do not flatter yourself," the guard was quick to interrupt. "The price for your virtue is too great. I am rather attached to my head, and I would prefer my head to stay attached to me. However, I have heard tales of the belt.... that it is encrusted with priceless jewels...."

"And it is unbelievably uncomfortable," Joanna added.

"That is what I ask of you in return for my assistance."

Joanna crossed her arms and stood defiantly. "And how, exactly, do you expect me to remove it?"

"Do not take me for a fool, m'lady. Surely, at seventeen, you have learned how to overcome that difficulty."

Obviously the guard was more knowledgeable than she had suspected. "Wait here a moment."

The guard turned his back as Joanna stepped into the room. A moment later she returned, handing the chastity belt through the crack of the door. Holding it up to study it by torch-light, the guard gasped in amazement at the amount of glittering jewels upon it. "'Tis more incredible than I had imagined!"

"Yes, well, if I may be allowed a moment to defend my reputation by stating good morals are stronger than any such apparatus, and I only learned to remove it after growing weary of the horrible welts my hips were suffering!"

"Save your speeches.... I care not about your virginity. Wait here a moment."

Concealing the belt inside one of the torch crevices, the guard walked to the adjoining corridor and approached the guard in front of Elizabeth's room. "Cover for me momentarily.... I need to visit the necessary."

"Aye," the second guard agreed.

Joanna saw the guard motioning to her and quickly shut the door as she exited her room, following him down the hallway as he stopped to check every corner and stairway.

Sitting against the wall of his cell, Bill rubbed his still aching head as he thought about the king's speech. This was the first he'd heard about being tried for witchcraft, and the news of the test bothered him. "This is so heinous," he sighed to himself. "They didn't even give me any time to study!"

"I should not worry about it," the guard assured Bill, appearing at the opening of the cell door and smiling to himself as he spoke.

"Really?" Bill asked hopefully. "What kind of test is it, anyway?"

"'Tis nothing, really. You see, tomorrow at dawn you will be drawn and quartered. If you remain in one piece, it will show you are a witch and they will burn you. If not.... well, then.... you shall be proven innocent!"

Bill said nothing for a moment, trying to let this sink in. "Oh. That sounds fair. Thanks, dude!"

The guard laughed under his breath, his head disappearing as he bent down. Bill watched as a slot opened underneath the door and a pan was shoved through, sliding some distance into the cell, almost tipping as it ricocheted against some uneven floor stones. The slot just as quickly slammed shut.

Crawling along the floor to investigate, Bill balanced on his knees and lifted the pan to his face, trying to see through the darkness. It wasn't until he was staring into the container with his nose almost dragging in its contents could he make out the oatmeal-like goop inside. He immediately pulled his face away with a loud, "Phew! What's with the wallpaper paste? Do not tell me.... not only do I have to stay in this most non-triumphant cell, but now you want me to redecorate it for you???"

"Keep quiet!" the guard scolded. "That be all the food you get!"

Bill stuck his tongue out. "Food? No way!" He pushed the pan away and went back to the wall to sit. "I would sooner suck worm and maggot-flavored Frosty Slushes at the Circle K!"

The guard ignored Bill, retaking his post with an air of superiority. Bill sighed, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. He didn't really understand how this test was supposed to work, but he knew he wasn't a witch, so naturally he would be proved innocent.

The dungeon remained quiet except for the far-away moans of tormented souls, contradicted by the continuing sounds of merriment from the courtyard. Suddenly Bill caught the sound of someone else approaching and looked up as another guard stopped outside his cell.

"You may take care of any business now," the new guard informed the first. "I have been sent to relieve you briefly."

"Thank you, verily," the first guard sighed with great relief before he scurried off.

Once this flurry of activity was over, everything seemed to return to normal. With the man's back to him, it might just as well have been anyone guarding him, so Bill lost interest and returned his attention to the many problems at hand.

It wasn't until the new guard began whispering and motioning strangely that Bill looked up again. He could hear the lock click and the door slowly opened as someone entered. As the figure drew closer, Bill recognized the shapely form and jumped to his feet, receiving Joanna into his arms.

"Whoa, Joanna! What're you doin' here?" He pushed her back somewhat to look at her face with growing concern. "Your father isn't throwing you in here, too, is he?"

"Oh no! I had to see you!" She looked into his eyes. "Are you all right?"

"Yah!" Bill quickly assured her. "Although I must say I don't think much of these medieval fashion accessories." He shook his leg to indicate what he was referring to. Joanna eyed the chain and manacle with horror.

"My father is inhuman! Oh, Bill.... I wish there were something I could do...."

"Come sit down over here," Bill suggested, and together they sat against the wall. Bill placed an arm around Joanna's shoulders as she clung to him. "I don't suppose you can stay long."

"No," she sighed tearfully. "I fear not." She wiped her eyes and coughed slightly, determined not to let Bill see how upset she was, but he could tell.

"Aw, c'mon now, babe!" Bill cooed, lifting her chin. "Do not worry! I'll get us out of here!"

Joanna stared into Bill's eyes and shook her head, questioning the serious look there.

"I will!" Bill insisted, lowering his head. "I already failed once.... not again."

"When have you ever failed?" Joanna demanded.

Bill tilted his head to one side. "Well, not taking my school record into account...." He looked at Joanna questioningly. "Tell me something."

"Hmmmm?"

Bill hesitated before speaking again. "I was just wondering.... did he suffer much?"

Joanna looked up, startled. She could see by the look on his face that this was something he'd been thinking about, but she wasn't sure what to say.

"It was quick. I.... I don't think...."

"I should've done something."

"Oh, Bill. There wasn't anything you could have done! Do not blame yourself.... please!"

Bill hugged Joanna closer as she placed her head against his shoulder. "I let Ted down. I'm not gonna let you down, too." He looked down at her. "They're gonna give me this test tomorrow."

Joanna started to tremble, trying so hard not to cry. She felt Bill's arm tighten as his voice lifted optimistically.

"Hey, it's okay! See.... I'm gonna pass that test and I'm gonna get you and Elizabeth outta here, somehow!"

Joanna couldn't believe what she was hearing. She stared at Bill, only to see complete ignorance in his expression as to what he was facing. The hopeful look in his eyes broke her heart. He had such faith.... Ted had, too. How could he possibly keep that attitude facing such an overwhelming situation?

"Oh, Bill...." she sobbed, blinking to release the tears as she reached out to hold him. "I love you so.... you do know that?"

Bill hugged her to him tightly, gently stroking her long, flowing hair. "Hey, c'mon, don't do that. Don't cry, please?" He wanted so much just to hold her forever; to savor everything about her which he had come to know and need.... her touch, her smell, her very presence. He relaxed as he felt her body stop shaking and she melted into him, blending into his very soul; becoming, as he already knew she was, an invaluable part of him.

Slowly she lifted her head from his chest. Her hand reached up, finding his face and directing it down towards hers. Her soft eyes, filled with reflections of limited light swimming in unshed tears, gazed longingly at him. He waited, letting her direct him. The fingers against his cheek pulled ever so slightly as she leaned closer, guiding until their lips met in a soft, passionate kiss.

The door creaked open behind them. "We must go.... the other guard is returning."

It was the most difficult thing in the world for Joanna to pull herself away. "Oh please. Not so soon. Please?"

"We must leave now," the guard warned.

Bill held Joanna's hands in front of him, directing her to get up. "Go, Joanna. You can't get your dad any madder."

Joanna stood, turning away and hiding her face as she walked to the guard waiting at the door. Before leaving, she turned back to Bill, who'd gotten to his feet.

"I'm gonna pass that test, Jo.... I have to!"

"Yes," Joanna said, not letting her grief show any longer. She forced a smile, blowing a kiss from her fingertips. "My love...."

Bill watched as she turned and exited, the door locking behind her. She tried to glance through the bars of the opening, but the guard quickly herded her away, hiding her somewhere down the corridor. After a moment, the first guard reappeared. Words were exchanged and the second guard left as the original man's face appeared in the window, making sure Bill was still securely imprisoned before taking his position with his back to the wall.

If Bill was lonely before, the feeling had intensified immensely after Joanna was gone. There was something about the way she had cried that concerned him; as if she knew something but couldn't bring herself to share it. Sitting down against the wall of the cell again, Bill became more determined than ever to pass the upcoming test and save them.

Looking over at the pan which lay beside him, Bill reached down and picked it up, setting it on his lap. The so-called "food" was not the slightest bit appetizing, but it crossed his mind that he would need all the strength he could get, and maybe this was not the best time to be choosy. Not in any hurry, he dipped a finger into the mixture, swirling it around in circles several times until a fair amount had adhered to it, then lifted it to his mouth, closing his eyes before getting up the courage to actually taste it. It was just about as bad as he had anticipated, but he forced the tiny portion down, glaring at the pan with disgust.

"Whoa.... I never thought I'd be eating anything that'd actually make me miss Missy-mom's cooking!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Ssshhhh!" the hunter hissed earnestly. "'Tis just ahead now!"

Moving as quietly as possible through the bushes, the small group broke through the underbrush and found themselves facing the intimidating stone wall which guarded the castle standing ominously on the opposite bank of a dark moat.

Ted stared upward, straining to see if any guards were posted above them, when the bushes rustled and the small, bent figure of Mad Thomas stopped beside him, following Ted's gaze skyward.

"It's so BIG!!!" Thomas all but screamed in Ted's ear, startling Ted so much it caused him to fall backwards into the bushes. The hunter desperately clamped his hand over Thomas' mouth and pushed him down out of sight as his wife followed suit. Seconds later, a guard appeared overhead, staring at the dark foliage below but only catching the slight movement of the breeze dancing through the leaves.

"What was it?" the guard standing on the inner side of the wall asked.

"I see nothing. Methinks t'was only an owl."

A moment later, the hunter parted the branches above him. Seeing the guard had disappeared, he climbed to his feet, pulling Mad Thomas up with him. "Fool, man! Are ye mad???"

Mad Thomas thought the question over as Ted, the hunter and his wife waited. Seeing the strain of thought on the dirty, little face, they couldn't wait to hear the man's answer.

"Yes."

"That was a stupid question!" the wife scolded softly.

The hunter looked to Ted, who only shrugged. "Can't argue with her, dude. It was most lame."

The hunter grew exasperated. "I didna mean.... oh, forget it! Listen, Thomas, y'know what has ta be done, dunnit ya?"

Mad Thomas actually seemed offended by the question. "I be mad, not dim! I am to engage the guards in eloquent and colorful conversation.... as before."

"Good man," the hunter praised. "They really enjoyed listenin' to ya the last time."

"It was obvious! Got me some right good vegetables in exchange.... though they be a wee bit damaged after bouncin' off me head."

"Go to it, then.... and watch yerself!"

Thomas left them, moving along the side of the castle until he had disappeared around a bend. As the hunter motioned for them to follow, the forest seemed to come alive with soft voices murmuring excitedly, uttering such phrases as "They'll never pull it off!" and "Go get 'em, Thomas!".

The hunter threw an anxious glance to the trees behind them. "Keep it down!" he urged quietly. "All of ye shouldna come with us!"

"Dunnit worry yerself," one voice insisted, its owner only slightly peeking from behind the tree where he was concealed. "We be certain to keep a safe distance and await yer safe return!"

"Or notify yer next of kin!" another voice chuckled.

The hunter once again motioned for his wife and Ted to follow, leaving the curious onlookers behind. "Damn them all. As if forgin' fer survival be not excitin' 'nough, they have ta come watch us be slaughtered on top of it!"

"I be gettin' the feelin' yer not expectin' us to make it," his wife taunted.

"There be more chance of this young boy actually bein' some kind of a.... wild stallion!"

"Whoa, excellent!" Ted exclaimed happily, motioning an air guitar to his partners' utter confusion.

Slowly making their way through the bushes along the moat, the hunter led them toward the castle's smaller side entrance. As they approached, they could see Mad Thomas dancing blatantly past the stone bridge leading to the castle gates, which were opening as three small supply carts and a horse-drawn wagon arrived.

"Aiyee!!! Aiyee!!! No one be smarter than Thomas! No one be wiser than Thomas! The king's men be dim as cowpats!"

One of the guards posted atop the castle wall leaned over the edge , squinting down in disbelief. He quickly called out to everyone within earshot. "That mad fool be back!"

In no time, the guards on duty had all but abandoned their positions, gathering at vantage points where they laughed as Mad Thomas taunted them vacantly.

"High atop yer wall.... ya've got no brains at all!"

"Head ye back to the dungfield from wence thou came!" one guard hollered.

"Aye, ye terd! Mad fool of a pig!" another chimed in.

These statements only seemed to fuel Mad Thomas' rantings as his dance became more exaggerated, dodging the mud clots the guards began throwing. "Ha! Ye men throw like sick women! Thomas be smarter 'n faster than ye! Ya! Ya!"

"Now!" the hunter urged.

Keeping low, the three stole from the bushes and walked alongside the horse-drawn wagon as it rumbled onto the stone bridge. The last they saw of Mad Thomas he was laughing hysterically after receiving an especially messy mud-ball in the face, providing the extra distraction needed to pass through the castle gates unnoticed.

Once inside the walls, they abandoned the wagon and the hunter moved swiftly with some familiarity, leading them through the darkness along countless walls, pausing at each corner to check for guards. At last they reached an area adjacent to the courtyard, sheltered by shrubbery and bordered by the castle wall where no one would be able to approach them without being detected. They crouched down to further aid their concealment.

"Excellent work, dude!" Ted congratulated the hunter. "Now we gotta find the princess babes and Bill!"

"Hold it there, lad," the hunter panted. "I said I would help ya get into the castle gates. I have no desire ta be murdered this night. Yer on yer own from here."

The hunter's wife jabbed him sharply in his side. "Quit yer talkin' like that! Yer gonna be satisfied just sendin' the boy into the fray alone?"

"S'okay," Ted assured her. "You didn't even have to help me get this far! I can find them on my own."

The woman took Ted's hands into hers, speaking intently. "We shall remain 'ere and pray for yer safe return."

"Aye," the hunter quietly agreed. "That we can do."

Ted hugged the woman tightly. "Whoa, thanks! You are both totally outstanding medieval folk!" Getting to his feet, he moved to the wall. "I'll be right back."

They watched until Ted had disappeared around the corner. "There goes one brave laddie," the wife sighed.

"Aye. Ignorance can truly be the key to courage."

The people still milling about the courtyard to the soft music of the band were too merry with drink and food to be of any real threat as Ted sneaked along the edge of the castle, trying to remember his way. It had been some time since he'd been there, but it all looked vaguely familiar, even in the moonlight. Once he'd reached the opposite side of the square he stopped to study the windows above. A pale light flickered to life within one of them, and the position of the room seemed to ring a bell in his mind. This, he was certain, had to be one of the princess babes' rooms.

Creeping to a position just below the window, Ted was careful to avoid a large mud puddle as he grabbed hold of the vines growing up the stone wall and, with the help of a crevice for a foothold, managed to push himself up. The climb was unsteady, but he continued slowly until he could reach up and grab hold of the windowsill, which jutted out slightly farther than the rest of the wall. With all his strength, he pulled himself up to peer into the room, balancing himself unsteadily on a piece of stone protruding below.

As soon as his eyes had cleared the windowsill, he was startled by a candle being set down in front of him. He immediately ducked back down slightly until he heard the person withdraw.

"Damn the king! To think of the many years of faithful service I have devoted to him blindly.... a man who cannot even be true to his own promises!"

Ted carefully peeked over the windowsill, having already surmised this was not the voice of either Joanna or Elizabeth. The figure crossed in front of him, pacing from one end of the room to the other, and Ted felt his heart grow cold as he recognized the monstrous form of Sir Blackheart.

"By God, I have not toiled these many years to come to no gain!" The knight stopped, unbuckling his belt to remove his sword. "Be it by providence, I shall see the way to my destiny and be rewarded as is my right.... king or no king!" He turned to the window, then froze.

Ted was so fascinated watching this man talking to himself that he failed to respond quickly enough when Sir Blackheart faced the window. Now the huge knight was staring directly at him with eyes that grew wider by the moment.

What seemed like forever was, in actuality, only a few seconds as they gazed at one another, both too startled to react. Feeling his foot slip from the rock, Ted struggled for a better hold when the stone suddenly crumbled from its setting and Ted found himself toppling backwards from the window into the darkness below.

As quickly as the face had appeared, it was gone, and Sir Blackheart shook his head, wondering if he had actually seen what he thought. That familiar face, illuminated by dancing candlelight, had seemed so unreal. Unnerved by the sight, he walked to the window, hoping to find a more logical explanation for the vision than what was presently crossing his mind.

Luckily, the landing wasn't as painful as Ted had feared in the few seconds it took to fall the distance to the ground, seeing he had landed on his back in the mud puddle he'd so carefully tried to avoid before. Slowly sitting up, he found himself covered with the sticky, brown substance.

"Most non-triumphant!" he moaned, wiping his arms futilely. "Cleanliness isn't next to Godliness.... it's next to impossible in this time period!"

A gasp from above caught Ted's ear and he looked up to see Sir Blackheart leaning out of the window, holding the candle in front of him.

The full moon now rising above the forest illuminated the courtyard as Sir Blackheart stared down in horror. "Dear God Almighty, our sweet Lord in Heaven! What spirit is this you send to haunt me?"

Ted shakily got to his feet, apprehensive of being caught, but so far the man had made no move to alert anyone.

"He hath come back from a muddy grave to torture my very sanity! This I cannot bear!" The huge man buried his face in his forearm as if to block out the vision.

Ted hurried away, not wanting to give the knight a chance to have him captured.

Gathering his courage, Sir Blackheart once again looked down to find the apparition now gone. Shakily, he pulled back into his room, setting the candle down on the windowsill before collapsing into a kneeling position on the floor to ponder this incident.

Ted ran clumsily along the wall, certain that any moment a battalion of guards would be on his heels. He didn't want to lead them back to the hunter and his wife, so had quickly decided to take cover in the bushes just ahead. In his haste, he kicked up a rock, which bounced through an open, barred window as he passed, but Ted didn't stop to worry about it.

The rock bounced several times across the cell floor before spinning to a halt at Bill's feet. Bill looked down at it with some surprise, then up at the window, but whoever had run past was now gone. Bill kicked the rock with his unchained foot, sending it flying into the darkness on the other side of the dungeon.

"Dude must've had too much ale," Bill concluded as the reason for the person's haste.

Once again it grew quiet; the only sounds being the few people remaining in the courtyard and the music of the band, which had switched to soft, melodic tunes to bring the evening of celebration to a close. Bill allowed the stillness to lull him into a state as close to sleep as he could achieve when suddenly he became acutely aware of the distant music, as if it had reached into his mind and struck some kind of chord. He lifted his head quickly, inadvertently striking the stone wall, which caused him to let loose an expletive. Now awake, he tried to figure out what it was that caught his ear.

The gentle song consisted of a lute being strummed in a soft, simple rhythm as a flute slowly wound a series of notes around it. He wasn't sure what it was that had attracted his attention until the sequence of notes were repeated. This time he knew what it was. A tiny section of nine or ten notes were exactly the same as part of the opening of "Stairway to Heaven", even though the notes preceding and following them were nothing like the rest of the song.

Bill sat up, staring through the bars of the window, and remembered how the setting sun had cast an orange glow to the world from beyond the castle wall, made even more memorable by the billows of dark smoke from the courtyard that had weaved in its foreground.

There's a feeling I get

When I look to the west

And my spirit is crying for leaving....

The words flowed steadily through his mind as he stood and walked toward the window, entranced.

In my thoughts I have seen

Rings of smoke through the trees

And the voices of those who stand looking....

He came to the end of the chain and stood, staring beyond what his eyes could see. "Stairway to Heaven" had always been Ted's favorite song. Could it be Ted was trying to tell him something? For the first time it really struck him.... he would never see Ted again. And for a moment he wondered what life was worth fighting for. The thought of returning to San Dimas without his best friend was incomprehensible.

The feelings of doubt left him as he ran the same notes through his mind again. Ted was there.... somewhere.... and he owed it to him to save Joanna and Elizabeth from their father. This he vowed silently to the starry sky.

Ted remained crouched behind the bushes, awaiting the guards, but no one came. It slowly dawned on him that maybe no one was coming after all. Sir Blackheart had reacted kind of strangely to him. Since the coast was clear, he decided it was safe to head back to the hunter and his wife to let them know he was okay.

Checking to make sure the coast was clear, Ted was about to leave when the same series of notes that had distracted Bill now caught his attention. He remained motionless, thinking how much the notes sounded like the opening of "Stairway to Heaven". He thought back to the first time they had listened to it on CD in Bill's bedroom, following the lyrics on the worn sleeve of the Led Zeppelin album which Bill couldn't part with even though he'd long abandoned his turntable.

And it's whispered that soon

If we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason....

The lyrics entered his mind without particular provocation, but as he recalled the end of the rhyme he became aware of their strange significance.

And a new day will dawn

For those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter

Ted turned the words over in his mind. "If we all call the tune.... if we all call the tune...."

"That's it!" Ted gasped, suddenly seeing a greater purpose in this mission. Excitedly, he jumped up and dashed across the few open feet of courtyard before continuing along the dark castle wall.

"Someone's comin'," the hunter warned, drawing his knife to deal with the intruder should he prove to be unfriendly. It was a great relief when Ted appeared around the corner.

"Yer still alive!" the hunter exclaimed, amazed.

"Yah!" Ted replied happily.

"Oh, but look at ya!" the wife moaned as she tried to brush some of the mud from him. "And after I give ya that bath!"

Ted ignored her concerns, too excited to remain silent. "Listen.... I know what has to be done! We can free the entire kingdom from this most egregious oppression! All we gotta do is work together!"

"Wait, wait, wait!" The hunter shook his hands haltingly. "What are ye babblin' about? Ya came here ta free yer friends.... now yer talkin' revolution? I told ya he be a few wheels short of a cart!"

"Calm yerself, laddie!" the wife urged Ted, holding his shoulders in a feeble attempt to stop him from bouncing. "What be this about, then?"

Ted took in a deep breath. "Okay. The whole kingdom's in a most lamentable state, right?" There was no argument. "And it's all because of the king, right?" Again silence. "So what we gotta do is work together to make things right again. Y'know, if we all call the tune then the piper will lead us to reason! Get it?"

The hunter shook his head sadly. "Poor boy.... I reckon the mud seeped further into his brain than we thought...."

Ted looked to the wife, who seemed to be more understanding in such matters. "Please, ya gotta believe me!"

"Aye, but laddie, who is gonna fight this battle fer us?" the wife asked.

Ted thought a moment. "What about all those dudes and babes that followed us? Surely they must be tired of living like forest vermin."

"Talk sense, laddie!" the hunter demanded. "What about the king's guards? Surely we cannot take them all on!"

Ted was stumped for an answer to this problem, but refused to give in. "Then we gotta do something to even the odds."

The hunter scoffed loudly. "I see. The three of us weaken the king's entire guard! And how, praytell, d'ya suggest we do that?"

Before Ted could answer, two huge guards broke through the bushes with their swords drawn. The hunter and his wife spun to face them, but were too late to put up any defense.

"Who be ya?" one guard demanded, shoving his sword toward them menacingly. "Answer while ye still be able!"

Ted stepped forward, placing himself between the hunter and the sword. "Leave my friends alone, you officious and most rude knights!"

The guards' eyes grew big as saucers as their swords wavered in their quivering grips.

"I dunnit believe it....!" one stuttered, stepping back.

"No, 'tis not possible....!" the other gasped.

Ted tilted his head, confused as the huge men recoiled in fear. "Hey, what's your problem, dudes?"

Screaming, the men dropped their swords and took off running across the courtyard.

"That was most out of character," Ted thought aloud.

Behind him, the wife looked to her husband with a gleam in her eye. "'ow many of these guards d'ya reckon were at this riverbed today?"

"More than half, I would say," the hunter answered, then looked to his wife and saw the smile on her face. He paused, catching up with her train of thought, then eyed her with growing comprehension. "Maybe there be a way after all!" he sang, now intrigued.

Ted turned as the hunter threw a friendly arm around his neck, squeezing too tightly. "I be thinkin' yer plan be not so foolish after all!"

"Really?" Ted gasped, wriggling free of the thick arm's grasp. "So what're we gonna do about the guards?"

The wife leaned down and scooped up a handful of mud, kneading it between her hands before stepping to Ted and clutching his face lovingly between her slimy palms, much to his astonishment. "It be sheer genius, laddie!" she exclaimed happily, pulling his face down and kissing him roughly on the forehead.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Oh Lord, I do beseech thee.... I have, 'til now, known my actions have been blessed by your grace." Sir Blackheart shifted slightly, fighting off the cramps in his legs but remaining on his knees in front of the personal altar in his chambers. "Only now I am not so certain. Be it so wrong of me to aim to rule in your glory? We were promised great rewards by honoring You in command and discipline. T'was always my intent to carry your name into battle against our enemies. Now you smite me with broken promises and terrifying visions. Please, Lord, if thou haveth a message for me, send me a sign and show me the way!"

A sudden gust of wind snuffed the flame of the candle on the sill into a whiff of smoke, startling the knight momentarily. Irritated by the inconvenience, he clambered to his feet and lifted one of the candles from the altar to relight the one which had blown out. Turning to the window, he froze, staring in disbelief as the same muddy vision which had haunted him earlier rose into view. Only this time the entire form seemed obscured with mud and it floated awkwardly, as if in pain.

"Ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!" The specter moaned in a low, unnatural tone that sent shivers up the knight's spine. "You are going to Hell for what you did!"

Sir Blackheart took a step back, chilled to the heart. "No! Oh please, Lord, this cannot be!"

"Ooooooooooohhhhh......whoa!!" Ted grunted as the hunter's wife lost her grip on the rope for a second, causing him to drop slightly. "'Fraid so, dude.... I mean, sir."

"Then it is too late," the knight sighed, clasping his hands over his face. "I am doomed!"

Ted looked down and could see his friends were having trouble hanging onto the rope, which was looped clumsily across a gargoyle overhead. Turning back to the window, Ted found himself actually feeling sorry for Sir Blackheart, whose large frame was actually shaking with fear as he motioned in prayer, desperate to repent.

"Hey, listen, knight dude.... y'know, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on!"

At that moment, the gargoyle's head snapped off and Ted found himself falling from the window for the second time that evening, this time with a loud "Whoooooaaaaaa!!!"

Sir Blackheart looked up as a cool breeze blew through the now empty window. The last cry the spirit let out had been particularly frightening. Setting down the candle, he slumped at the foot of his altar, trying to decipher the phantasm's message.

Unsure of what had just happened, the hunter tried to get up but found himself pinned, face down, with something in his hands. He lifted the object to his eyes and cried out in horror at the sight of the twisted expression on the face of the head he was holding.

"Oh gracious! The knight must have seen through the deception! He hath chopped the poor lad's head off!"

"Whoa, thanks for breaking my fall, hunter dude!"

Hearing Ted's voice, the hunter further examined the object in his hands and saw he was actually holding the head of the gargoyle. He realized, too, that Ted had landed on top of him, and was presently sitting on his back.

"Are ye all right?" the wife asked with great concern, helping Ted to his feet.

"Save a broken back, never better," her husband answered with a groan, mistaking who the question was directed to.

"Oh, fine, thanks! Your husband provided a most comfortable landing!"

"And the evil knight?" the hunter inquired, rolling onto his back.

"Totally freaked," Ted answered, pulling himself free of the rope harness around his waist and shoulders.

"Outstandin'!" the wife stated, hardly able to contain herself. "Our plan be workin'!" She pulled her husband to his unsteady feet. "Now we must incite the peasants to revolt!"

"Oh aye, as if it be that simple," the hunter complained, brushing himself off. "C'mon, mates! Time to storm the castle!"

"Aye!" the wife stated, undaunted. "We best be goin' if we are ta have them ready by mornin'!"

"You two go ahead," Ted suggested. "I'm gonna go find the princess babes!"

"But what if yer captured?" the hunter asked worriedly. "The whole plan will go up in smoke!"

Ted gave this some intense thought, then motioned wildly in conclusion. "Then I won't get caught!"

He turned and disappeared around the corner of the castle, leaving the hunter and his wife standing in surprise.

"He be crazy! What if the guards catch on? What if they....?"

The sentence was interrupted by the distant screams of several men. The wife smiled broadly at her husband as he reconsidered his fears.

"I dunnit think that is gonna be a problem," she stated with vaunt.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The moon had risen high in the sky, illuminating the stone walls of the room with a cold, blue haze. Seated upon the cushioned stool in front of her vanity, Elizabeth slowly ran the brush through her long hair, meticulously preening with utmost seriousness.

Setting down the brush, she studied herself carefully in the mirror, stroking her hands across her tear-stained cheeks. She felt it was imperative to look her best. Satisfied with the face staring back at her, she reached down to lift the ornate dagger which had, for many years, laid within reach of her bed in case of an intruder. As she placed the point to her chest, she breathed deeply. Never had she thought it would be used for this purpose.

"My dearest love.... I would sooner die than be unfaithful, and I cannot live without you. Please, God.... forgive me, and let us be together once more."

Closing her eyes, she tightened her grip upon the decorated handle and searched to gather the courage to plunge the blade into her heart when the awkward scurrying of armor drew closer and urgent speaking reached her ears from the corridor. Elizabeth tried to ignore these noises, feeling nothing concerning the outside world was of importance any longer, yet curiosity got the better of her when she noted a worrisome tone in the inflections of the voices.

Several guards had gathered outside the princess' rooms.

"Yer speakin' nonsense, man!" the guard on duty outside Elizabeth's room insisted.

"'Tis true, I say! It stepped out of the mist and came right at us!"

"Aye, that it did!" another guard confirmed. "Breathin' fire an' smoke, it was!"

"Are you saying ghosts are haunting the castle?" Joanna's guard asked.

"Ghosts.... evil spirits.... demons.... I know not of these! I know only what I saw!"

"An' it's seeking the blood of those what done it in!"

"What wild tales you spin!" Elizabeth's guard scoffed. "Methinks the only spirits thou hast witnessed this evening gained entrance to yer insides of your own free will! Down the throat! Aye?"

He was seeking agreement with the fellow guard on duty, but in looking at the man's face he only received an expression of sheer terror for a reply. Following the wide-eyed stare along with the other guards, the group turned to see a strange, muddy figure as it stepped into the hallway, approaching them slowly.

Ted had been searching the castle for some time and no longer feared the guards, since they seemed to pose no obvious threat. However, he was getting a little frustrated since every time he approached anyone to ask directions they would run away screaming. This group didn't look much more promising.

"How's it goin', pale guard dudes?" he offered quietly.

As if acting out some strange deja vu, the guards turned and ran, dropping their weapons and screaming in terror.

Ted sighed, tired of this reaction. He wandered into the midst of swords and spears they'd left behind, then noticed a ring of keys, which he picked up and examined. "Yo, one of you dudes dropped his keys!" he called after them, but they were long gone.

After studying the keys on the ring, Ted noticed the door closest to him and wondered if one of the keys would open the lock.

Elizabeth strained to listen at the door, but couldn't, for the life of her, figure out what was going on. She looked up as Joanna entered through the secret panel, also confused.

"What is going on out there?" Joanna asked, approaching the door where Elizabeth was still listening.

"I knoweth not," Elizabeth answered.

They jumped when they heard a key rattling in the lock.

"What could they want?" Elizabeth asked nervously, not really wanting an answer.

"We shant giveth them a chance to show us!" Joanna sneered, hurrying to the bed and pulling off a heavy quilt. She returned to her sister, who took one corner of the quilt, and the two waited in ambush.

After fumbling with two of the keys on the ring, Ted tried the third and felt the lock open this time. Cautiously he pushed the door open, peering inside the room.

Elizabeth and Joanna waited until the door was halfway open. "Now!" Joanna cried, and together they threw the quilt over the unwelcome guest, striking and screaming defensively before running from the room.

Taken by surprise, Ted stumbled back into the hallway after the girls and struggled to pull the quilt off. "Whoa, this is most embarrassing!" he stated loudly.

Hearing the familiar voice, Elizabeth stopped running and looked back down the corridor at the struggling figure. Joanna came to a halt a few steps later, waiting for her sister.

"Elizabeth!"

Elizabeth motioned for Joanna to wait a moment as the figure bumped against one of the walls, then, in a flurry of effort, managed to throw the quilt off.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The girls' stereo scream echoed through the halls as they stared at the muddy form with growing terror before hurrying to take cover around the corner.

"Whoa, wait a minute, babes! What're ya running for? It's just me!"

After a moment, the girls peered around the corner at the harmless looking figure. Scarcely able to believe her eyes, Elizabeth stepped forward.

"You.... why are you here?" she asked nervously, unsure of the purpose for this spirit's visit.

"I came back to get the two of you and Bill out of here," Ted explained, not understanding her nervousness. He eyed her questioningly, somewhat hurt. "Aren't you glad to see me?"

Becoming somewhat bolder, Elizabeth stepped to the figure, reaching out timidly. Her sister entered the corridor, watching the scene apprehensively. Ted stood still and allowed Elizabeth to poke at his stomach with a gasp of surprise, at which he let loose a small laugh, smiling broadly. Elizabeth took a step back, clasping her hands over her mouth in pure amazement.

"Ted?"

"Yah! It's me!"

The shocked expression on her face turned into one of pure joy as she threw her arms around him, hugging as tightly as possible. She held on desperately as his arms wrapped around her, not caring one bit about the mud which was getting all over her. "Oh, Ted! Oh.... I cannot believe it!"

Joanna ran forward, overwhelmed by the relief she felt as Ted reached out with one arm to receive her in a friendly hug. "'Tis truly a miracle!" she exclaimed happily.

Elizabeth looked up into his face, tears again streaming from her eyes. "Oh Ted.... we thought you were dead! At the river.... when you went under...."

"It's okay," Ted assured her, gently kissing her forehead. "I came to get you babes and Bill outta here!"

"Thank heavens!" Joanna sighed. "We must save Bill!"

"Yes!" Elizabeth concurred urgently.

"Why? What're they gonna do to him?" Ted asked nervously.

"'Tis too hideous!" Joanna cried. "They are going to give him a test at dawn!"

"No way!" Ted exclaimed. "A test? Bill's not very good at tests. Well, maybe he'll get lucky and it'll be true/false."

"'Tis not that kind of test," Joanna stated impatiently. "They shall have him drawn and quartered, and if he remains alive they will burn him at the stake!"

"Oh.... well, that sounds fair."

The look of disgust on the girls' faces made Ted reconsider the statement. Thinking it over, he began to see the reason for their concern. "Oh, yah. I guess that is a most egregious way to test someone. Where is he?"

"He's being held in the dungeon!" said Joanna. "Perhaps you can scare the guard away and save him!"

"Let's go for it!" Ted agreed.

They turned to leave when the sound of someone approaching brought them to a stop.

"No more of this nonsense! Get back to your posts!"

Joanna and Elizabeth grabbed Ted's arms and dragged him into Elizabeth's room, slamming the door shut just as the guards returned, being herded by the king, who was dressed in his nightgown and cap.

"We swear on our lives that we saw it!" one guard insisted desperately.

"I care not what you believe to have seen!" the king scolded. "You are not to shirk your duties again!"

"What if it returns?" Joanna's guard asked nervously.

As the king answered, Elizabeth's guard noticed the key sticking out of the lock in her door and quickly stepped in front of it so the king wouldn't see.

"It matters not to me if you should run it through with your swords or allow it to murder you.... just do not let me hear of you deserting your posts again, or I promise you there will be nothing that demon could do to you that would be any worse than the price you shall pay to me! Understand?"

"Yes, m'lord," the men answered, and the king hurried away, grumbling about having to deal with such insubordination while seeking a midnight snack.

Joanna's guard turned the corner to return to his post as Elizabeth's guard glanced about nervously, then turned to push the door open and check inside.

Elizabeth snored loudly from her bed. Seeing her asleep, the guard released a sigh of relief and closed the door, locking it again.

Sitting up, Elizabeth motioned for Joanna and Ted to get up from the other side of the bed.

"That was too close," Joanna sighed.

"Aye, but now we are locked in!" Elizabeth pointed out. "How can we save Bill?"

Ted glanced around the room quickly, his eyes falling upon the open window. "I could climb out the window," he suggested.

Joanna leaned through the window and saw the guards in position. "There be guards still posted below, and if word hath spread that no one is to leave their posts under pain of death, I doubt we could trick them into deserting."

"Alas, this is true," Elizabeth agreed. "If there be one thing those men fear more than evil spirits it is our father."

"And rightfully so," Ted sighed, dropping into a sitting position on the edge of Elizabeth's bed. "Now what?"

Joanna placed a hand on Ted's shoulder as Elizabeth sat next to him, hugging him again. "No doubt father will force us to watch the execution," Joanna thought aloud. "If we keep you hidden when they come for us, you can sneak out!"

"But by then the test will be underway!" Elizabeth sighed. "How can we possibly rescue Bill with so many people around?"

"We can do it," Ted assured her.

Elizabeth smiled, running a hand across his dirty face. "Yes. I believe we can."

Joanna slipped from the room discreetly as Elizabeth and Ted lost themselves in a passionate embrace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

It had already been a long morning for Sir Blackheart when the sky began to lighten, heralding the rising of the sun. The events of the day would require some preparation, and the disturbed knight had ultimately given up on the idea of trying to sleep, deciding instead to get a head start on orchestrating the arrangements. As he worked, he found a new sense of purpose, even managing to convince himself that it had not been God, but the Devil, that had planted these doubtful notions in his head. After all, the king was powerful and rich. The man had to be doing something right.

Gradually the kingdom came to life as people emerged from their quarters, some already gathering along the balconies above the execution area to insure a good view of the so-called festivities.

Sir Blackheart finishing issuing instructions to several men as the king and his wife approached. He dismissed the bowing servants and likewise bent to greet the king. "Your majesty?"

"And a good morning to you, Sir Blackheart," the king beamed, his dress and demeanor displaying radiance. He motioned for the knight to walk alongside them as they continued down the corridor. "'Tis a glorious morning!"

"That it is," Sir Blackheart agreed out of courtesy.

"All is prepared?" the king inquired.

"Yes, m'lord. The demon is being readied, and all awaits your command."

"Very well!" The king slapped his hands together, rubbing them eagerly. "I shall address my subjects and get on with it, then. Have my daughters been brought forth yet?"

"I was about to have them called upon."

"We shall proceed then," the king stated arrogantly. "Come, my dear."

The queen daintily accepted the hand her husband offered. "Yes, dear. I cannot wait! I just love theatrics! Do you think they will have those apples with the sugar candy coating?"

As Sir Blackheart approached the hallway leading to the girls' rooms, he was surprised to see no one standing in front of Joanna's door. With growing anger, knowing the king's wrath would be far-reaching should this have been discovered, he turned the corner into the adjoining corridor to find both guards huddled nervously between the girls' rooms.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded loudly, startling both guards terribly. "Why are you not at your proper positions?"

The guards exchanged a nervous glance, hesitating to answer the question. Finally, Joanna's guard spoke softly. "We feared for our lives."

"And what prompted this fear?" Sir Blackheart demanded.

Once again the answer was delayed in coming. "It is unlikely you would believe us if we told you."

"Yes, well, the princesses had better be in their chambers, or the two of you will find yourselves part of this morning's public agenda!"

The guard opened the door to Elizabeth's room, revealing Elizabeth sitting at her vanity, straightening her hairpiece.

"Your father demands your presence at the test," Sir Blackheart announced, then turned back to the guards. "Bring the other one as well."

Satisfied that the princesses would be safely delivered to their father's side, Sir Blackheart hurried to the execution court. No one but the princesses noticed the shadowy figure as it stole down the hallway after they were escorted from their chambers.

Arriving in the open area adjacent to the execution platform, Sir Blackheart made his way to the center of four anxious horses where the executioner, a black hood concealing his face, was securing the last rope tightly around Bill's left wrist.

"Whoa, not so tight, ominous, hooded dude!" Bill snapped, struggling slightly.

After the man finished his work and stepped aside, Bill looked around with confusion at the surrounding horses' buttocks which the ropes from his arms and legs led to. Unable to comprehend what was happening, he looked to Sir Blackheart.

"Excuse me, heartless knight dude. Could you explain how this test works again?"

"Certainly," Sir Blackheart obliged, speaking in a condescending manner. "You see, when the king gives the word the horses will charge. If you remain in one piece, it will prove you are a witch and you shall be burned immediately. However, if your arms and legs get ripped off, that will prove you are innocent."

Bill turned this over in his mind. "Oh."

The guards deposited Joanna and Elizabeth upon the balcony where their mother and father were already seated. Joanna looked into the courtyard below, unable to conceal a gasp of horror as she saw what was about to happen. Elizabeth patted her sister's back, trying to reassure her.

As the queen munched noisily on a candied apple, the king got to his feet and held out his arms for silence. "My loyal subjects! I am pleased with the turnout for this important execut..... I mean, test."

Straining to hear the king's speech from where he was posted at the side gate, the guard grumbled in frustration. At least the lucky men posted above could easily slip from their positions and watch the bloodletting from atop the wall. It wasn't fair that he was the only one left on guard, especially when nothing ever happened anyway.

As he craned his neck to catch any glimpse of the proceedings, he didn't notice the person approaching from behind.

"How be ya, ya coward?"

The sudden, loud voice caught the guard by surprise. He wheeled, his sword at the ready, and found himself facing a pathetic looking little man who defiantly wrinkled his face in a mocking sneer.

"State your business!" the guard insisted.

"Anarchy. Rebellion. Rev-o-lution!" Mad Thomas sang vindictively.

The guard couldn't help but laugh. "Oh really? And you plan to carry this out all by yerself then, ey?"

"Of course!" Mad Thomas announced boldly, motioning over the side of the bridge. "With their help, that is!"

Before the guard could react, a hand reached up from the side of the bridge and clutched his arm, pulling him over the edge and into the moat below.

Mad Thomas leaped up excitedly, motioning all clear. With that, the woods came alive as hundreds, bearing spears, clubs and other crude weapons, rushed forward up the bridge.

".....therefore, I decree this hideous demon be tested for witchcraft this very morning! And so...."

"Whoa....uno momento!" Bill interrupted loudly, comprehension finally sinking in. "What kind of test is this?"

The king stared down, angered at having been interrupted. "And so....at my word, let the test begin!"

The crowd mumbled excitedly from the balconies and execution platform as the four knights on horseback readied their steeds. As the ropes pulled taunt, Bill was given a prelude as to just how painful this was going to be, and futilely tried to pull free.

"This is most non-triumphantly bogus!!!"

"Ready....!" the king shouted, enjoying the suspense among the crowd and the look of dreadful anticipation on Bill's face.

Ted ran around the corner of the castle and came upon the scene, shocked at how far it had already gone. "Hey, wait!"

The guards nearest Ted turned, their faces going pale at the figure caked with dried mud.

"The other demon hast returned!" one shouted, and the guards scurried into a disorderly retreat.

The king watched as his guards scattered like dominoes as the news spread. Sir Blackheart, likewise, watched as the men scrambled past him in sheer panic.

"Stop this nonsense!" Sir Blackheart yelled above the din. "Get back to your posts!"

"Guards! Guards, cease this squabbling!" the king ordered. But no one paid attention.

Sir Blackheart turned as Ted ran forward to help Bill and the two came face to face. The huge knight was taken aback at first, then drew his large sword and stepped toward Ted. "You cannot frighten me any more, you evil demon! You shall not succeed in intimidating me this time!"

There was a sudden commotion from the courtyard, and as Sir Blackheart approached Ted he was distracted by the sight of countless peasants storming the castle. The guards and knights, still shaken by Ted's reappearance, were quickly being overpowered in the confusion.

Unable to believe his eyes, Sir Blackheart looked to Ted, as if demanding an explanation.

"I warned you, dude," Ted offered helplessly.

Sir Blackheart looked up at the foolish king, who was throwing a fit, then at the peasants streaming forward in what seemed to be a never ending stream. Overwhelmed, he lowered his sword and allowed Ted to pass. Almost immediately he was approached by an insane, grubby little man.

"Filth to the royal, fat bastards!" Mad Thomas screamed, hurling a mudclot into the face of the shocked knight.

The king grew pale as the peasants continued to burst forth. His face twisted with anger as he made the assumption his prisoner was again making a fool of him. "The demon is using his powers to overthrow us! Kill him!"

Looking up, Bill saw one of the knights on horseback at his feet draw a huge sword and raise it high above him.

"No way!" Bill cried out, closing his eyes tightly as the sword came down violently.

Ted was almost to the horses when the sword swung down and sliced through the ropes holding Bill's ankles. The knight then slapped the rear of his neighbor's horse, sending it galloping with the frayed rope trailing behind and its rider barely hanging on.

Swinging the horse around in front of Ted, the knight removed his helmet and smiled.

"Rufus!" Ted exclaimed happily.

"No time for formalities, Theodore," Rufus urged, turning the horse back as two guards rushed forward. "I'll hold them off as long as I can! You dudes hustle your butts outta here, pronto!"

Bill slowly opened his eyes to find his legs were free. Before he could clearly assess what had happened, he saw what looked like a mud-covered Ted running forward and stopping over him.

"Bill!" Ted called.

At the sight of Ted's "ghost", Bill's eyes opened wide.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Bill's scream startled the two remaining horses into rearing, throwing their riders before they took off running side by side. Bill found himself being dragged on his buttocks across the dusty ground and held onto the ropes above his wrists for dear life.

"Wait for me, dude!" Ted called, chasing after Bill.

"Whooooaaaaaaa!!!!!" Bill cried, twisting his neck to see where he was going as fighting peasants and guards leaped out of the path of the stampeding horses.

"Guards! Stop him!" The king stomped his foot furiously, his orders falling upon ears too preoccupied to listen.

Joanna and Elizabeth watched as the horses turned a sharp corner, swinging Bill into a group of startled onlookers and toppling them like bowling pins.

"Whoa, sorry dudes!" Bill called as the horses jerked him away again. Ted turned the corner after them, desperately trying to catch up.

"We must do something!" Joanna cried.

Both girls quickly surveyed the situation and realized the horses were going to pass directly below them. Confirming a course of action with a single nod, they climbed onto the edge of the balcony and swung their legs over, waiting for the precise moment. As the horses galloped into position beneath them, Joanna and Elizabeth dropped, landing sidesaddle on the beasts' backs. In perfect unison, they clutched the horses' reins and called out "Whoa!", bringing the panting animals to a halt.

Bill let out a painful moan of relief as his arms were allowed to go slack, the dust settling around him. "Whoa! That's one way to test the durability of blue jeans!"

Ted gasped to catch his breath as he approached Bill, looking around for something to cut the ropes with. A nearby guard had just swung his sword back, preparing to slice through a much smaller peasant who cowered, holding a tree branch in front of him in a feeble attempt to defend himself.

"Thanks, guard dude!" Ted said, snatching the sword from the surprised knight. The large man wheeled, startled, before turning back to the peasant, who flashed a wide smile before smashing him on the head with the branch.

Dragging the heavy sword behind him, Ted stumbled to Bill and started to cut the ropes above Bill's wrists with the sharp blade.

"Do hurry!" Joanna urged, fighting to keep the horse steady.

As his arms were freed, Bill gathered his wits and stared up at his muddy friend, unsure whether or not to believe his eyes.

"You okay?" Ted asked, noting the dazed look on Bill's face as he held out his hands to help him up.

"Yah," Bill answered automatically, reaching up to grab hold of the outstretched hands, then gasping in amazement when they turned out to be real. Once pulled to his feet, Bill stood, agog. "Ted! You're alive!" Then, realizing, ".....again!"

"Yah!" Ted answered, smiling.

They were about to embrace when both cast a wary glance at the princesses watching from horseback. They quickly opted for an extremely masculine handshake, which naturally softened halfway through.

"Aw, what the hell...." Bill murmured, and they clutched each other in a quick, tight hug.

"Kill them! Guards! Kill them!!!"

Parting, Bill and Ted looking up at the raving king.

"Whoa, he's gonna develop high-blood pressure is he keeps that up!" Ted commented.

"Truly a collected man under even the most difficult situations," Bill stated seriously.

"Not!" all four added.

"Hurry!" Elizabeth urged. "We must away!"

"Yah, let's bail!" Bill agreed and he and Ted ran to the horses and climbed aboard behind the girls. Once they had mounted, the princesses prodded the horses' flanks and started them galloping through the fighting crowds to the front gate.

"Bravo!" the queen cheered, waving her apple excitedly. "This is so much more exciting than last week's execution!"

"Guards! Guards!" The king finally stopped shouting, realizing no one was listening to him. Clenching his fists angrily, he slammed them down in front of him. "They shall not make a fool of me again!"

Hurrying from the balcony, the king rushed to the courtyard. Along the way, a fleeing knight bumped into him, then gave a start as he realized who he'd run into.

"Give me your sword!" the king demanded.

The guard eyed him with confusion, not sure he'd heard right.

"Now!" the king screamed, prompting the guard to remove his belt and sheathed sword, handing them over before continuing his escape.

Strapping on the sword, the king reached the court and grabbed the reins of the first horse he came across, giving the knight astride it a shove and knocking him off in a clattering heap. The king climbed aboard the steed and raced off in the direction the escapees had gone.

Racing through the woods on horseback was especially exhilarating for the liberated foursome, and one or the other would occasionally whoop with unbridled excitement.

"Whoa, I didn't know you babes could ride horses like this!" Ted commented to Elizabeth.

"Mother made sure we had lessons.... bless her soul," Elizabeth explained.

Surprised peasants watched the two horses race by as the group reached the village and galloped along the main road to the cottage. The neighbor woman ran out of her house, drying her wet hands with her apron as she hurried through the gate to meet them.

"Thou hast returned!" the woman exclaimed happily as they came to a halt and began to dismount.

"We told you we would!" Bill bragged.

"Oh dear!" Elizabeth cried as Ted helped her off the horse. "We have forgotten grandmama! She is still being held prisoner at the castle!"

"Yah, well, the way things were going back there I don't think it would be a good idea to return at this time," Bill warned.

"That's true," Ted agreed. "But do not worry! During a revolution, the dungeon is probably the safest place to be!"

"I'm sure the peasants will remember to emancipate the sweet old lady," Bill added.

The woman circled them, her children watching from inside the broken gate as other villagers began to gather. "You poor things look like death warmed over!"

"Lady, you don't know the half of it!" Ted stated, motioning deliberately to emphasize the statement.

"This king is coming! The king is coming!" a young boy announced, running up the road.

"Father must have followed us!" Joanna cried. "We must flee!"

Suddenly a horse and rider appeared, quickly overtaking the boy and racing toward the group of peasants, who scattered into hiding places along the road as the king's horse came to a screeching halt in front of Bill, Ted and the princesses. The neighbor woman ran back into her yard, gathering her children around her as they watched nervously.

Dismounting, the king lurched forward, reaching for the sword at his waist. "How dare you mock me! I'll have your heads!"

"Whoa, calm down, frustrated, old dude!" Bill urged. "Can't we discuss this amicably?"

With one movement, the king drew his sword and pointed it menacingly at them.

"I guess not," Bill surmised.

"Father, please!" Elizabeth begged. "You cannot do this!"

"Do not tell me what I can or cannot do, young lady!" her father hissed, keeping the sword aimed at them as he stepped closer. "I am the king!"

"I don't know," Ted commented. "The way things were going back at the castle...."

"Be quiet!" the king snarled.

Hearing what Ted had said, Bill suddenly realized what his friend pointed out was true, and he called out to the peasants hiding all around. "That's right! The castle's been overthrown! A revolution is taking place even as we speak! You don't have to cower in front of this man any more!"

There was a tense moment as everyone waited for something to happen, but apart from a few faces peering from the bushes, nothing did.

The king smiled at them wickedly, continuing to approach with the sword raised. "It may be wise to repent now, demons!"

"No!" the woman called from her yard. "We cannot allow this to happen! What the young ones say must be true! See you.... the king is completely without guard!"

Realizing this was indeed the case, several peasants stepped from the bushes and motioned to the others to do the same. The king stepped back nervously, watching as the people closed in on him.

"Stay back! I warn you!"

The guys and princesses watched as the king turned in circles to keep the peasants at bay. Seeing there was no way to fight so many people, the king suddenly threw down the sword and tried to run, but the peasants quickly overtook him and held him tightly.

"Bring a rope!" one villager called eagerly. "We will show this weasel of a man what happens to tyrants!"

Joanna clutched Bill's arm desperately. "Bill, we cannot let them kill father!"

"While it is true your dad is a most non-triumphant monarch, you're right. Killing him isn't going to change anything."

"Death to the evil autocrat!" the villagers chanted venomously.

"Whoa, hold it, vengeful peasant dudes!" Ted called. "The guy's already lost his power! What would killing him do?"

"Appease us!" the villagers answered eagerly.

Ted shook his head sadly. "It is only by ones so insecure with themselves that such a meaningless act could be played out."

"My friend, Ted, speaks the truth," Bill agreed. "It would be most heinous to stoop to his level."

The peasants looked at one another, unsure. "They haveth a point," one commented.

"I say we kill him and have done with it!" another yelled angrily.

"These two have delivered us!" the neighbor woman pointed out. "We should abide by their wishes!" When no one responded, she added, "The least you could do is discuss it with them!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Patience was obviously wearing thin as people shifted restlessly, trying to find more comfortable ways to sit as they watched the proceedings taking place around the village well, which occasionally served as a town square during emergencies such as this. The king, looking chastised, sat upon the cold stones in the center of activity, his hands tied behind his back.

"Why must we continue to waste this time?" a man yelled, throwing his arms about. "Many hours have we been here and have come to no agreements! I say this uncaring ruler deserves to die!"

"Doesn't a death penalty have to be a unanimous decision or something?" Bill asked, rubbing his aching head.

"What is to become of him if we release him?" one woman asked.

"Enough of this!" the largest man in the village bellowed, stepping forward angrily. "Too long have we lived under the oppression of this man's whims! I intend to have revenge upon him and have it this day! If anyone would like to try to stop me, I welcome the challenge!" He reached down and picked up a large rock. "I say let it be death by stoning!"

"Well, if ya gotta go, I guess you might as well be blitzed," Ted remarked.

"That's not what he means by stoning!" Joanna corrected him.

The size of this man made his threat all too real, and instead of trying to stop him several of the other men got up and also picked up stones.

"Oh, how hideous!" Elizabeth cried, burying her face in Ted's shirt. "Do not let them do it!"

"I don't know what we can do now," Bill admitted sadly. "I'm afraid your dad has really cheesed these people off!"

"And these dark-aged peasants don't seem to tolerate open debate on such matters very well," Ted sighed.

As the men approached the helpless king, they could hear the fallen monarch protesting to no avail. "I demand you release me! I am your king!"

"Do something!" Joanna cried, terrified.

Bill and Ted jumped up and ran toward the men as they took up positions in a circle around their intended victim. "This has gone far enough, overzealous vigilantes!" Bill shouted. "You know what they say about casting stones!"

"Yah!" Ted chimed in. "That you shouldn't live in glass houses for a start!"

Bill's eyebrows furrowed as he turned this over in his mind. "That doesn't sound right, dude. I thought it had something to do with the first stone."

"That it gathers no moss?" Ted tried to help.

"That's a rolling stone," Bill pointed out.

Ted tilted his head, trying to understand this. "So.... you mean.... we're talking about the first rolling stone?"

The guys exchanged a glance of excited comprehension. "Mick Jagger!" they concluded loudly. Pleased with their successful train of thought, they performed an exuberant air guitar duet.

Losing all patience, the huge man shouted, "Seize them!" Before Bill or Ted could make another move they were held back by several villagers.

The huge man turned to the king. "Any last words?"

"Yah!" Ted yelled. "This is totally bogus....!"

"Not you!" the huge man interrupted. "I was talking to the ex-king!"

"Oh. Sorry, dude."

"I do not need these evil demons to stand up for me! They will probably claim my soul in exchange for their services!"

"Oh, get off the evil demon thing, will you?" Bill whined. "It's so middle ages!"

"Go ahead and execute me!" the king taunted. "It shall be all of you who pay in the long run!"

This obviously angered the crowd, as several others picked up rocks and joined the circle.

"Whoa, wrong thing to say, dude!" Ted pointed out.

"All right!" the huge man announced. "On the count of three, we throw! One....!"

Several villagers turned to look down the road as a distant rumbling caught their ears.

"Two....!"

The rumbling grew louder as it seemed to approach quickly.

"What is that noise?" someone asked.

"Sounds like an earthquake," Ted commented.

"Yes, and most egregiously there is not a stable doorway in sight!" observed Bill.

The circle of men turned from the king, lowering their stones as everyone awaited the source of the oncoming din. Pretty soon a line of horses, carts and people appeared, following a dark figure riding proudly ahead of the procession on horseback. As the parade drew nearer, the villagers could tell it was with great revelry that this group approached, and they became excited at the sight of foods and stolen property overflowing the many carts. Sir Blackheart cheerfully beckoned the villagers to join in the travelling celebration.

"Come all! The kingdom is again free from oppression!" the woodland peasants called. "We have won the battle!"

"Whoa, excellent!" Bill and Ted exclaimed.

"This is indeed wonderful news!" Joanna sighed happily.

As the parade came to a stop in the center of the village, the scene became ebullient as friends, long parted, found one another and prized possessions and family heirlooms were reclaimed.

Ted let out a happy cry as the hunter and his wife stepped out of the crowd, running forward to greet him.

"We did it, laddie!" the wife cried, tears streaming from her eyes as she hugged Ted tightly.

"I didna think it was possible," the hunter admitted, patting Ted's back, "But aye, we did!"

"A most excellent job it was, too!" Ted congratulated them both, then stepped aside to introduce his friends. "This is Elizabeth, Joanna and Bill, the ones we set out to rescue! Dudes, these are the most outstanding forest folk who saved my life!"

As the introductions and congratulations were made, the huge villager, still fuming, refused to be forgotten. "Have ye all gone mad???" he shouted. "There still be business to attend to! What about the tyrant?"

Sir Blackheart dismounted and approached the man, taking in the situation. "What be the problem, sir?"

"We were about to carry out an execution, if it be all the same to you!" the huge man stated.

Sir Blackheart looked at the pathetic king, whose loving wife had found him and was eagerly describing in great detail how the kingdom had been overthrown. Slowly the knight shook his head, turning to the huge man and taking the rock from his hand. "There will be no executions."

The furious villager confronted Sir Blackheart straightforwardly. "So yer saying we forget everything he did and let his crimes go unpunished?"

"He will not go unpunished! Now will any of us who be guilty! We shall work the rest of our lives to make amends to those who have suffered! It is God's will. We shall not stray from the proper road this time." He turned to the king with an authoritative stance. "Rest assured, this dethroned man will not be allowed to occupy the castle any longer."

"Where will I live?" the king asked sadly. "I have no where else to go!"

Everyone was silent, unsure of the answer, until a grubby figure stepped forward, throwing a filthy arm around the ex-king's shoulder. "Dunnit ya worry, mate," Mad Thomas assured him. "There be plenty of room at my cave fer both of us!"

"That sounds like the perfect solution," Sir Blackheart smiled. "All agreed say 'Aye'!"

"Aye!" the crowd shouted in unison.

"I do hope it is one of those open-air caves," the ex-queen babbled excitedly. "I'm sure it could use a woman's touch!"

The ex-king cringed at the foul smell of Mad Thomas' breath, already detesting his fate.

"Three cheers for Lord Blackheart!" someone rallied.

Doing his best to remain humble amidst the cheering crowd, Sir Blackheart walked from the king and inadvertently stepped in front of Ted, bringing him to a surprised halt. He eyed Ted, Bill and the princesses with apprehension, then relaxed slightly. "Have I now done what is right?"

"Dude, it looks like you're definitely on the right road!" Ted assured him.

"I hope your spirit may now be able to rest in peace," Sir Blackheart offered meekly as he bowed slightly.

"Well, it hasn't really been bothering me, but I appreciate the thought," Ted replied, patting the knight's shoulder.

With a start, Sir Blackheart clutched Ted's wrist with a sudden movement, holding tightly as he looked into Ted's eyes. "You're alive!"

Ted eyed the man nervously, unsure of what had startled him. "Yah?"

Suddenly Sir Blackheart released Ted's arm and fell to his knees, bowing his head humbly at Ted's feet. "'Tis a miracle! I have been given a second chance! Thank you, God! Thank you!"

Sir Blackheart leapt to his feet, waving one arm enthusiastically. "Let the festivities last forever!"

Immediately the food carts were unloaded and the villagers eagerly got to work preparing a great feast, kindling a fire to the cook the meats and spreading out the bounty on tables brought forth from the houses.

The neighbor woman chatted happily with friends as they set about cleaning some hens for the meal. A tug at her skirt directed her eyes downward to the face of one of her younger daughters, who spoke with a generous bite of apple in her mouth.

"Mommy? Where did the nice men go?"

With every intention of directing her daughter in the right direction, she scanned the crowd and realized they were no where in sight. It didn't take long for her to understand what had happened, and she placed a loving hand on the tiny head beside her. "I do not know. But perhaps we shall see them again.... someday."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Whooooooooaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!"

As the time machine settled, Bill, Ted and the princesses stumbled out of the booth to find themselves outside of Bill's garage once more.

"It is most relieving to be back in San Dimas," Bill sighed, wiping his forehead wearily with one hand.

"No jest, Bill," Ted agreed, looking down at his mud-covered and Bill's dust covered clothes. "These medieval trips are proving to be most unhygienic!"

Elizabeth stepped to Ted, placing an arm on his back. "The two of you were so brave! Thank you for saving us!"

Ted hooked an arm around her waist gently and pulled her close. "I'd do it all again for you, babe." Then, after a pause, "Only not for a while."

"I just wish I knew what happened to grandmama," Joanna sighed, placing her arm around Bill as they walked to the front of the garage.

"Perhaps I could answer that question," a voice in front of them stated.

"Rufus!" all four exclaimed, seeing Rufus was waiting for them.

Rufus stepped aside and the princesses squealed with delight as the act revealed their grandmother, dressed in modern clothing and looking radiant. The girls ran forward and hugged her happily.

"Grandmama! What are you doing here?"

"I think I have had enough of the dark ages for one lifetime," she answered. "I wanna party on!"

"Gee, thanks, Rufus!" Ted said gratefully. "As always, you have come through for us most triumphantly!"

"Yah," Bill sighed. "Sorry if we spoiled your family's vacation."

"No problemo," Rufus assured them. "If you gentlemen could see your way to accompanying us in a future excursion to the Waterloop Intergalactic Water Slide Park, I'll consider us even."

"Excellent!" Bill and Ted exclaimed, motioning air guitars.

"Oh, Bill!"

The group turned as Missy approached.

"Oh, hi Missy.... I mean, Mom," Bill called.

"Bill, you're filthy! What have you been up to?"

"Not much," Bill sighed boyishly. "Just some routine king-bashing."

"Oh. Well, whatever." Missy turned to leave, the stopped and turned back again. "By the way, I like those new friendship bracelets!"

As Missy walked into the house, Bill looked down at his wrists and saw the frayed ropes still tied to them, then looked to Ted, who only shrugged.

"Let's just hope she doesn't want us to pick up some for her from the same place," was Ted's comment.

THE END