Red Kite Publishing are delighted to add ‘Have Frog, Will Travel’ to the collection of fabulously funny fantasy stories from Will Macmillan Jones’ The Banned Underground Collection.
The whole series is in the process of being re released in a new edition, and this promises to be a great addition to the collection!
For those who haven’t read any of these books before, each book is a stand alone work, and just to make sure each volume starts with a Cast List – actually we think that this is to remind the notoriously forgetful author who his characters are each time he opens his wordprocessor…
Archlord Lakin King Under The Mountain, a great job
Guard Captain Verin Not in his right mind, or the right job
The Steward Needing a drink, his traditional role
Assorted Dwarf Guards Trying to avoid their traditional role.
Grizelda A veritable powerhouse
(aka Mrs Dorotea Westinghouse)
The Tuatha Possessors of powerful appetites
Maddy The Prior Wants power -but responsibly
The Grey Mage Thinks Dirty Deeds should be dirt cheap
Gloria It’s not easy being a teenager in love.
Ned, Bill & Ben Their minds are on higher things.
(Or higher wages, more likely)
Henry Seeking higher things
Mister Wilberforce In the service of a Higher Authority
AND THE UGLY
The Banned Underground
Fungus The Boogieman Leader of the band
Haemar Banned from leading the Banned
GG Being led into bad ways
Scar Playing the Bad Boy boogie
Felldyke Imagining he is a bad boy
Dai Working on his bad boy image
DEFINITLY NOT UGLY
Freya Too good to be forgotten
Erica Hoping Grizelda might forget
Henry arose from his seated posture of meditation outside the garden gate and took a deep breath. He ran his hands over his shaven head, adjusted his glasses and gently dusted the dried grasses and sheep droppings* from his flowing saffron robes. Using his newly restored astral balance and inner harmony he opened the garden gate and walked along the narrow path to the door of the cottage, taking care to keep off the grass as the sign warned. He knocked firmly on the door. The doorknocker sneered at him, making him take a hasty step backwards.
* [One hopes the malefactors felt sheepish about their offence.]
“Hang on, I’m coming!” called a voice from within the cottage, and despite the warm day, Henry shivered inside his orange habit. ** The door creaked open slowly, making the sort of noise that would keep a Hollywood sound studio in work for months.
** [Saffron, orange, they are the same colour to me, OK? It is not my fault. And they are both edible anyway.]
“Yes?” asked Grizelda, the off-white witch.
“Om. Have you a moment to hear the Word of Surdin?” asked Henry politely.
“One word? Really?”
“No,” admitted Henry. “It’s quite a few words, really.”
Grizelda stared at him, then finally nodded.
“Aye, well then. Come into the kitchen and have a cup of tea.”
“Om, thank you.”
Henry bowed, and followed the witch into her kitchen. He looked around with interest. As a professional accountant, he had seen a few thieves’ kitchens, but this was the first witch’s kitchen he had been into. Somehow, he had expected it to be cleaner.
“Do yer want tea?” asked Grizelda, and made herself busy at the stove.
Henry observed her. Middle-aged, average height, and…he stopped. A gentleman does not comment on a lady’s weight, he reminded himself. Even though the industrial quality boots she was wearing considerably increased her weight. In one corner of the kitchen, a broomstick leant against a cupboard. The scrubbed pine table, surrounded by chairs, lay in the centre and behind him – Henry jumped and stepped away from the fridge which was suddenly a lot closer to his back than he had thought.
He felt a cold shiver run down his back, then the fridge door closed again. “Om. Tea will be…lovely. Thank you.”
Grizelda grumbled to herself, and then tapped the stove with her forefinger. The hotplate promptly opened, and she glared at the kettle until it sidled over onto the heat out of sheer embarrassment.
“Sit yerself down,” Grizelda said amiably.
Henry carefully stepped away from the fridge and sat down on one of the chairs. Grizelda busied herself with cups, and then turned around with a wooden spoon in her hand. She leant across the table towards him and Henry went pale at the view… but Grizelda only smacked the fridge hard with the spoon.
Henry twisted round in his chair and banged his elbow hard on the side of the fridge. “I hadn’t realised it was so close,” he said apologetically.
“She weren’t when you sat down,” replied Grizelda, and started pouring boiling water into the teapot.
Henry looked closely at the fridge, which quivered and then stilled. Grizelda dropped some mats onto the table and added sugar, mugs and the teapot. Then she walked around the table and Henry quivered slightly. Grizelda raised her wooden spoon defensively and opened the fridge door. Henry peered inside, but apart from a stack of red yoghurt pots and two bottles of milk, it seemed empty.
“She needs filling up again really,” said Grizelda absently as she picked up one of the two bottles of milk. “She gets a bit frisky when she’s hungry.”
“Hungry?” asked Henry.
“Mmmm. Well, empty. Mebbe.”
“I think so,” replied Grizelda, speculating to herself. “Actually, after what went on with her and the Electricity Meter Reader last year I hope so.”
Henry regarded Grizelda as she walked back around the table. A small scraping noise startled him and as he turned around the fridge seemed to shimmer a little closer towards him. He leant towards the fridge and started whispering. The fridge jerked backwards, and scraped its way back to the kitchen wall, a flush of rose colouring the silver sheen it normally affected.
“Well!” exclaimed Grizelda in surprise. “I’ve never seen it do that before! How did yer do that?”
The fridge trembled slightly. Henry looked down at the table, mildly embarrassed. “I told her a dirty joke about a washing machine, I’m afraid.”
To his amazement, Grizelda started laughing. “I must tell me husband about that, when he gets home!”
Henry felt unaccountably relieved.
“Next month that’ll be, he’s away on business yer see.”
Henry felt unaccountably nervous as Grizelda treated him to an alarming smile, and sat down at the table.
“Sugar?” she asked, pouring two cups of tea.
“Om. No thank you. Sugar is karmically unsound.”
“Oh.” Grizelda took three spoons full in her tea. “Still, Karma’s not out to get you until yer dead, is it?”
“Om. It can be instant, karma, you know.”
“Anyway, what did yer want to tell me about?”
“I’m here to sound you out,” started Henry.
Grizelda tapped the back of her hand with the teaspoon. The sound failed to ring out across the kitchen, and she looked mildly accusing.
“Not like that,” said Henry. “I want to tempt you.”
Grizelda looked at the slim, shaven, orange clad monk critically.
“What did yer have in mind?”
“The Dark Side and our cookies?”
Grizelda looked a little disappointed. “Oh.”
Henry looked around the kitchen and sipped his tea. Years of rigorous training and self-discipline allowed him to smile afterwards and put the mug down gently.
“It’s much more fun in the Dark, you know.”
“Are we still talking about the Dark Side and cookies?” demanded Grizelda.
“Grizelda, have you never sat alone in your kitchen at night, and dreamed of the things you could do with your power?” asked Henry.
“I’m never alone in my kitchen. There’s always the fridge. And sometimes me husband, too.”
“Have you never felt the urge to be…” Henry waved his hands expressively: “…more than this?”
“Er… what exactly are yer getting at?”
“Grizelda, you are an enormously powerful witch. Everyone around here knows that.”
“Well,” Grizelda smiled modestly at the table (which was not misled by the smile).
“Yet you are being held back by superiors who are not capable of licking your shoes…boots… clean,” wheedled Henry.
Grizelda looked down at her boots. In truth, the last tongue capable of licking her boots clean had died out with the dinosaurs.
“You owe it to yourself to get the best use out of your power.”
Henry took another drink of his tea, despite the very real risk to his health. Behind him, the fridge shifted restlessly.
“I’m tempted,” agreed Grizelda.
“Just think about it, no more complaints when you turned someone into a frog. We would even encourage it, as long as it was the right someone.”
“That’s the problem though, isn’t it?” said Grizelda slowly.
“Who the right person is? And who decides that? Besides me.”
“Caer Surdin – the Dark Coven – is your natural home, Grizelda. We would honour your talents, your skills, your attitude to life.”
“Grizelda, what has being Good done for you? Has it brought you riches, honour, fame? Your neighbour, your coven leader, she lives in wealth and comfort whilst you… don’t.”
“Being Bad hasn’t given you those things either though,” objected Grizelda. “Look at you: poor, working fer The Grey Mage, and dressed like Ghandi on a bad day!”
“Om. That is my choice, to work on my bad karma.”
“Well, I think you’d be better off with a good korma. And some proper clothes. No, I’ll stick with the White Side. Me husband would never forgive me if I turned black.”
Henry decided not to mention quite how much of Grizelda was black already.
“Om,” he answered, bowing his head. His hand slipped off the table, and to cover the movement he drank some more tea. Henry took something from his pocket and pressed it hard to the undersurface of the table, where it stuck fast.
“I’m flattered by the offer, of course,” Grizelda added.
“I am instructed to tell you that it will remain open.” Henry put both hands on the table and leant forwards towards her. “The Dark Side wants you, Grizelda.”
Henry stood up and bowed. The fridge scraped the floor, and before Grizelda had managed to stand and bow back politely, Henry was out of the door. The fridge quivered in anticipation of a chase.
“Settle down,” Grizelda told it. “Settle down.” She herself sat down, but felt unsettled: the offer had more attractions for her than she liked to admit, even to herself.
“I wish Ben were here,” she muttered to herself. “It all makes more sense when he’s here.”
The fridge shifted uneasily.
“And you can keep quiet,” she told it firmly.
Outside the cottage, Henry leant back against the closed door in relief, to still his racing heart rate.
“Hey, that’s not nice!” said a muffled voice.
Henry jumped away from the door as if he’d been bitten, and his heart rate accelerated.
“That’s better,” said the doorknocker. “Thought I was going to take me last breath then for a nasty moment.”
“Om, I am sorry!” said Henry, holding his chest with one hand in case his heart made a separate bid for freedom.
“We’ll say no more about it,” replied the knocker generously. “See you again!” it called after Henry who was walking carefully along the path towards the garden gate.
On either side of the path, the grass waved happily at his waist height. Near the gate, the rambling rose waved back. Henry stopped, and regarded the rose bush. Long branches with enormous thorns trailed out towards the path, and seemed to surround the gate. Henry took a deep breath. Those years of watching Kung Fu repeats on the TV were about to pay off after all! Adopting the famous Grasshopper pose, he moved along the path as if it was made of rice paper: his feet left no marks. The lashing limbs of the rambling rose failed to touch him, and he left the dangerous garden safely. He was promptly and colourfully, sick.
Half an hour later Henry walked into the reception of the offices of
TGM Accountants and Taxation Advisors
Gloria, the disguised dragon receptionist,* looked up from her desk. She had been cleaning her nails, which were a fetching grey colour to match her dress and skin tone.
*[She was disguised as a human, of course. Business clients can be alarmed by a receptionist who looks like a fire-breathing dragon, whilst being quite accustomed to receptionists who behave that way. You never have a second chance to make a first incineration, she believed.]
“You look like you’ve had a near-death experience, Henry,” she told him.
“I should have been so lucky,” he replied. “Is the Boss in?”
“Yes, he’s free. I’ll let him know you’re on your way.”
Gloria pressed the black button on her intercom and said loudly “Henry’s back, Boss. He’s on his way in to report.”
“Is he all right?” asked The Grey Mage through the intercom.
“Just a bit pale, Boss.”
“Send him in, then.”
Gloria nodded at Henry, who smiled back and walked down the corridor. Henry knocked on the office door, and entered the inner sanctum of The Grey Mage: Accountant and Dark Lord of Keswick.
“Ah, Henry,” said that worthy from behind his large desk. “Sit down, and tell me how it went!”
“Thanks, Boss.” Henry sat down gratefully. Gloria appeared moments later with coffee for the Boss, and a mineral water for Henry.
“So how did it go, Henry? You got out alive, anyway.”
“I did take that all purpose generic poison antidote you gave me first, Boss.”
“Sensible man. I always drink some before trying my wife’s cooking. I’m convinced it’s saved my life a few times.”
“Well, she took me into her kitchen.”
The Grey Mage shuddered. “I’ve not been in there myself, but Ned has been inside her cottage before.”
“It was dreadful, Boss. That fridge is something out of a nightmare. It moves around on its own, you know.”
“Really? I had heard rumours.”
“But I am sure that you are right, Boss. She is not firmly wedded to being Good. In fact…” Henry paused and shuddered violently.
The Grey Mage pushed a wastepaper basket closer to him, just in case Henry was about to be sick. Henry shook his head, and gulped some more water. “No, it’s too horrible to contemplate.”
The Grey Mage looked intrigued. “Henry, she didn’t….did… you didn’t…?”
“No, Boss. Can you imagine how many incarnations as a frog I’d have to suffer to work off that karmic burden? But she came close to considering your offer, Boss. I reckon if you keep some pressure on, she’ll crack and come over.”
The Grey Mage nodded thoughtfully. Then he opened the drawer of his desk, took out an envelope and gave it to Henry.
“Just a bit of a bonus. You’ve earned it, without any doubt. Take the rest of this week off too, on full pay.”
“It’s Friday afternoon, Boss.”
“Then don’t hang about. I’ll have something interesting for you to do next week.”
“Thanks, Boss!” Henry left, walking on air.
“And stop levitating in the office! It unsettles the clients.” The Grey Mage yelled after his retreating employee. He leant forward and pushed the red button on his desk intercom. “Gloria? Just ask Ned to come in, would you? But first, get me Councillor Davies on the phone. Yes, him on the Planning Committee.”
“Right, Boss. Is this going to be another cunning plan, Boss?”
“I expect so, Gloria. Why?”
“I’ve got some leave coming, Boss.”
“Don’t worry, there’s time for this book to end before that”