Little White Truths

Steve Oualline

"Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt you, I know you're busy with the war and everything, but I wonder if I could persuade you and your army to make a slight detour around the next village." Zabbar stood there nervously, waiting for King Bahamut to reply. The War King merely sat in his battered field chair and remained silent.

Finally, he turned to the Sergeant standing next to Zabbar, "Why have you brought this?" he nodded toward Zabbar. The small young man, dressed in the pale blue robes of a magician did not impress him.

The Sergeant stiffened and barked, "Sir, one of the guards observed this man running towards our lines being chased by a dragon."

"I wasn't being chased," exclaimed Zabbar indignantly. "I had a little disagreement with my master, and he was getting in the last word. He's the great dragon, Pyron. It was he who sent me here. I didn't want to come. He told me to tell you to avoid the next village."

King Bahamut chuckled. Zabbar swallowed as he realized that the King did believe him. Silence filled the tent broken only the steady "Hup, Hup, Hup!" of a drill sergeant outside. Quickly he searched for an escape route. The door was blocked by two huge guards. They had the hard look of experienced veterans. Steel breast plates covered their red tunics. The long swords that they carried looked bigger than Zabbar. He knew the type. They were so tough that he could attack them for a week and they wouldn't notice.

He decided that the best way out lay in skillful talking and creative truth telling. The King glanced up at him. "Do you really expect me to believe that you are apprentice to a dragon?"

"It's the truth," replied Zabbar. He never expected the truth to give him trouble.

"What do you think of that, Sergeant?"

"I believe that this man is a liar and a cheat."

"Why do you say that?"

"While we were holding him in the guard tent, he played cards with K-cak. K-cak is the biggest cheat in the army, yet Zabbar won nine hands out of ten. K-cak tells me that Zabbar never once played the hand he dealt to him."

"I see," chuckled the King. He turned back to Zabbar. "Well, knave, there is one flaw in your story. Everyone knows that dragons never interfere in the affairs of man. Now why would a dragon care what happens to a village full of men?"

"Well," began Zabbar slowly, "he has sort of adopted everyone in the village."

"You mean he thinks of you as his children?"

Zabbar hesitated. "More like his pets," he shamefully admitted.

The King sighed, reached into his tunic and pulled forth a large brass ring. He tossed it to Zabbar and said, "Put it on."

As soon as it was on Zabbar's finger, Bahamut asked, "Is everything you told me the truth?"

Zabbar wanted to say "Of course," but the word, "NO!" came out.

The King made a motion with his little finger and suddenly two swords appeared at Zabbar's throat. He gulped and his Adam's apple brushed against one of the sword points.

Bahamut was angry. "Enough," he shouted. "Do not try to deceive me. As long as the Ring of Truth is on your finger you can not lie. Now tell me why you're are really here."

The words spilled from Zabbar in a hasty torrent. "Everything I told you is the truth except for the name of the dragon. His real name is not Pyron, it's Clyde."

"Clyde?" exclaimed the King. "That's a silly name for a dragon."

"Try telling him that," said Zabbar knowingly.

"And would he really destroy my army if I went through the next village?"

"Not the whole army," explained Zabbar. "He'd probably kill about four or five hundred soldiers." King Bahamut looked pale. "Definitely not more than a thousand."

The King slumped back into his chair. "As if Greylon's army is not bad enough," he sighed. "Very well, you may go."

Zabbar turned to leave, and the King shouted, "Wait!" The guards crossed swords. He turned back to face the throne.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" said Bahamut. Zabbar looked puzzled. "I want my Ring of Truth back. You aren't trying to steal it, are you?"

"I wouldn't dare steal from you," said Zabbar, making sure he had removed the ring before uttering the first syllable. He returned it to its owner and left the tent in a hurry.

It took him an hour to reach Clyde's lair. As he entered the room, he noticed the big dragon sitting down, studying a book. He looked up at Zabbar and said, "Well, did you get them to bypass the village or am I going to have to talk to them?"

"Don't you have faith in me?" Zabbar sounded hurt.

"No," replied the dragon flatly. "But as you pointed out, it is difficult for a dragon to talk to humans. They keep running away"

"I didn't run the first time I saw you," said Zabbar proudly.

Clyde gave him a long suffering look. "I seem to remember something about your being trapped in a small dead end tunnel where you couldn't run. But I must say, you've been a fun apprentice, even if you are a little behind in your dusting."

Pulling himself up to his full height, Zabbar said patiently, "I've told you this before, I can't keep this cavern clean all by myself. I need help."

"Other apprentices are able to keep their master's quarters clean."

"Other apprentices don't have a dragon for a master. This cave is far bigger than any human living quarters."

"So you keep telling me. But you did a good job today. You may take the rest of the evening off."

"But it's night already. There is no 'rest of the evening.'"

"Well, take off what you can."

Wearly, Zabbar made his way to the small side tunnel he called home.

In the next few weeks the village of Riverstroke became an island of calm amid a storm of war. Wounded from boths sides filtered into town to escape the chaos outside. Zabbar set up a small refugee camp and hospital near the city limits.

He spent a great deal of time at the field hospital helping out. Most of the time he would tell the patients about how he was going to use his great and wonderful powers to cure them just before he turned them over to the Town Doctor. The Doctor didn't mind Zabbar's little game; it gave his patients confidence and hope, and besides Zabbar split any money he took in 60/40.

One night as Zabbar was crossing Clyde's lair, he heard some strange sounds coming from his quarters. Someone was in there apparently searching the place. This puzzled Zabbar because first of all, he didn't have anything worth stealing and secondly when you live in back of a dragon's lair, you don't get many visitors.

He picked up a small sword from Clyde's treasure pile. He had to make do with a plain one; if he used one of the jeweled swords, Clyde would get mad. Carefully he crept forward to see what was going on.

Inside he saw someone bent over one of his big wooden chests, systematically going through its contents. As the figure straightened up, Zabbar could see that she was a young woman, dressed in a fine white silk riding outfit. This was no ordinary burglar. The rings on her fingers were probably worth twice as much as all of Zabbar's wealth.

He stood there for a moment admiring her. She was about eighteen, with long blonde hair, and blue eyes. A gold chain hung from her neck and there was a jeweled dagger strapped to her side. He broke the silence by asking, "What are you doing here?"

The lady jumped about three feet in the air, turned and grabbed her dagger. Zabbar calmly drew his sword and held it ready. The lady looked at the three-foot sword, then down at her six inch dagger, then looked at the sword again. She realized she was not in a good position.

"I am Catherine of Greylon, second daughter to the King of Greylon," she said proudly. "Bahamut, the Terrible, stole my father's Amulet of Power and is using it to destroy our kingdom. We must find another Amulet or we will be annihilated."

Catherine paused. Zabbar said nothing leaving the next move up to her. She continued, "I have heard that you are a great magician." He stood up proudly. He was glad he had such a good reputation, especially since he couldn't cast a single spell. "I came here to ask you to help our cause. When I discovered that you where gone, I decided to borrow your amulet." Zabbar looked at her skeptically. "I would have returned it when Bahamut was destroyed," she said indignantly.

He lowered his sword. He sensed profit in the air. "Why steal?" he asked. "Why didn't you try to buy it?"

Catherines eyes widened. "No magician would sell an Amulet of Power."

"Don't be silly," replied Zabbar. "I'll sell anything if the price is right." He walked over to a wooden box sitting next to the wall, reached in and pulled out a small, six inch wide black disk with a circle of power on it.

"Is this what you want?" he said. Catherine nodded. "Make me an offer."

The young lady stood there a moment, not believing her ears. This was an unheard of opportunity and she was not about to let it slip by. Her hands leapt to the purse in her belt with a speed that made Zabbar inwardly smile. She pulled it forth and announced, "All the money I have on me, fifty gold pieces."

Zabbar held out his hand and she put the purse in it. "Not enough," he said weighing the gold in his palm.

"I can give you ten thousand when I get home," she said.

"Cash only, no IOU's," replied Zabbar sternly. He knew that a coin in the hand was worth ten in the castle.

"But that's all the money I brought with me," pleaded Catherine.

"Those rings you're wearing must be worth something," pointed out Zabbar.

"Those have been in my family for generations," exclaimed Catherine. "They are part of the Royal Jewels of Greylon. I can't part with them."

"Do you want the Amulet or not?"

Reluctantly, she took off the rings and gave them to Zabbar. Then as an afterthought she took off her gold chain and earrings and gave them to him as well.

Looking her over, Zabbar wondered if she had anything else worth taking. "Not enough," he concluded.

"But that's everything," shouted Catherine.

"That silk outfit you're wearing is worth something."

"You would have me go naked!" she shouted.

Zabbar censored his first reply. It would get in the way of business. "Oh no," he said, "I'll give you some of my old clothes." He pulled forth a brown shirt and pants from a nearby closet and tossed them to her. He politely turned his head while she changed.

Carefully, she handed him the riding outfit and he gave her the Amulet. Clutching her prize to her chest, she left the room. As he started to put away his new treasures Catherine ran back into the cave screaming.

"There's a dragon out there!" she panted. Zabbar waited for her to recover. Clyde must have arrived during their negotiations.

Catherine took a deep breath. "The people in the village told me that this was an abandoned dragon's lair."

Zabbar thought for a moment, then asked, "Are you sure they used those exact words?"

Catherine concentrated for a moment. "Well, they said 'Old dragon's lair,' but old dragon's lair or abandoned dragon's lair, what's the difference."

"This is definitely an old dragon's lair and there's an old dragon living in it. Tell you what, for a hundred gold pieces, I'll get you by the dragon safely."

"But I have no more money."

"I'll accept an IOU," said Zabbar as he produced a quill and paper.

As soon as the ink was dry, Zabbar slowly crept up to the entrance of his quarters. Catherine huddled behind him. He motioned for her to remain put while he picked up a ten foot pole with a wicked looking iron claw attached to one end. Peeking around the corner, he could see the dragon sleeping against the wall.

Quietly, he crept into the lair, holding the staff in front of him for defense. When he reached the middle of the room he nodded to Catherine and she started across the floor.

When she was half way across the big dragon opened one eye and looked at her. She froze trembling, hoping that Zabbar with his funny looking iron pole could protect her.

The dragon sat up, looked at Zabbar and said, "As long as you're holding that back-scratcher, there is this spot just above my left shoulder that needs attention."

Zabbar turned the pole upright, walked over to Clyde and began to scratch vigorously. He turned back to Catherine and said, "You are protected, you can leave now."

Catherine realized what was happening and stamped from the room.

Clyde stretched out. He was beginning to feel the effects of the scratching. "Who was that?" he asked.

"Catherine of Greylon," replied Zabbar. "I sold her my Amulet of Power."

"You mean that fake you bought last year for five coppers? How much did you get for it?"

"About two thousand gold pieces."

"Why so much?"

"Salesmanship," answered Zabbar proudly.

"I supposed that's ONE word for it," said Clyde as he rolled over and went to sleep.

In the next few months the war went badly for King Greylon. His forces were reduced to a bunch of guerrilla bands, raiding here and there, but no longer a serious threat to King Bahamut. Zabbar thought it was all over, but as usual he was wrong.

It started with two young children from up north who had accidently gotten caught in a battle. The boy, Grud was about twelve years old and had broken his leg. His older sister, Gish, had carried him here over the tremendous distance of fifteen miles. The day had finally arrived for Grud to get his cast removed. That morning Zabbar spent most of his time making a crutch for the boy. He was no carpenter, a fact the town woodsmith was quick to point out, but finally after a great deal of sweating, cursing, sawing and pounding, he assembled something workable.

Grud was proud of being able to walk for the first time in two months, and hobbled toward the village to show everyone. As Zabbar watched him head up the main road, a troop of King Bahamut's Second Fast Cavalry galloped up. Grud saw them and tried to get off the highway, but his new leg was not up to running. The lead horse knocked him into a ditch.

Zabbar shouted and ran over to help, but before he could get there, the Sergeant rode up, dismounted, and shouted at Grud, "How dare you block the King's road? I'll show you." He grabbed the crutch and threw it away. It hit his horse, the animal cried in terror and ran away. Momentarily distracted, the Sergeant chased after his horse.

Grud was quickly hidden while Zabbar send out an urgent message to Clyde.

A moment later, the Sergeant came back and tied his horse up next to the hospital tent. "Where is he?" he shouted. "I want him."

A small crowd had gathered. Reluctantly, Zabbar decided that he would have to do the talking, so he took a step forward. "This town and this camp are under the protection of my master, Clyde." As he spoke the words he saw the big dragon circling over them. The Sergeant's horse started loudly whinnying. Clyde glided in behind the soldier who was too busy with his horse to notice anything else.

The man turned back to Zabbar and drew his sword. "King Bahamut rules here. Where is this 'Clyde'? I'll show him who's boss. I'll slice him up into little bits."

"I'm Clyde," boomed the big dragon. "Slice away."

The soldier turned, stared at the flame breathing monster behind him, then ran away. Zabbar grinned; there was nothing he liked more than seeing a bully outmatched.

"Clyde," said Zabbar. "I've just realized that I caught a disease that has killed many a well meaning-man - idealism. I'm going to do everything in my power to defeat King Bahamut."

"Stay out of it, Zabbar," lectured the dragon. "You can't do any good. Beside, there's no profit in it."

"I know," replied Zabbar. "But I'm going to do it anyway."

"No profit?" said Clyde in mock surprise. "This must be serious. But I should warn you, I'm not about to interfere in the affairs of man. You won't get me involved in this war."

"I understand," nodded Zabbar. "Will you go so far as to fly me to King Greylon's headquarters?"

The dragon nodded. As he hopped on Clyde's neck, he said, "I wish you'd let me put a saddle on you. When you dive, the scales on the top of your neck can be murder."

"Beggers can't be choosers," said his master as he took off.

The dragon landed just over the hill from King Greylon's camp, leaving Zabbar to walk the final distance alone. As he approached, he could see the King, seated on a wooden chair, dressed in a simple woodsman's tunic. The only way he could identify him as the King was by a simple gold chain that hung from his neck. That and the fact that Catherine was seated beside him.

As Zabbar approached, she shouted, "There he is. He sold me the Amulet. Seize him."

Two soldiers started toward Zabbar, but stopped when King Greylon raised his hand.

"Be still daughter," he said. "Be patient and learn. The man obviously has something good to tell us or he would not risk your wrath by coming here."

He turned back to face Zabbar, studying the small man carefully. "My daughter has told me all about you, and I confess that I don't believe everything she says. I'm not sure she believes it all either. Something about you robbing her while she was robbing you."

"I didn't rob her," protested Zabbar. "She bought an Amulet from me."

Catherine stood up and shouted, "But that amulet was a fake! You told me it was an Amulet of Power."

"I did no such thing," exclaimed Zabbar. "I just showed it to you and you leapt to that conclusion."

"But why did you charge me so much for an amulet worth two coppers?"

"Because you were so eager to pay it, my dear," replied Zabbar smoothly.

The King turned to his daughter and said, "There is a lesson to be learned here." Catherine stood there for a moment, her face turning red. She realized that everyone was looking at her and slowly sat down.

The King turned back to Zabbar, "I presume that you are wiling to sell us back the Crown Jewels."

"I am," said Zabbar, "But that's not why I'm here. It is twelve days before the next full moon. Bahamut can't use the Amulet of Power until then. I want to steal it and return it to you."

The King thought this over. He knew Zabbar was a good thief; Catherine could testify to that, but could he afford to trust him? More importantly, could he afford not to? Finally he decided that he had nothing left worth stealing and said, "What do you want from me?"

"Bait," said Zabbar. "I need something so valuable that it will get me into Bahamut's court so I can lay my hands on the Amulet."

"And what would that be?"

"Your daughter, Catherine."

"What!" shouted Catherine as she leapt to her feet and drew her dagger.

The King quieted her down long enough for Zabbar to tell them his plan. Zabbar would take Catherine, tie her up, and haul her before Bahamut, thus proving to the King that he was one of his loyal supporters. Having gained his confidence, he would find an excuse to handle the Amulet of Power and secretly exchange it for a fake. Then he would escort Catherine down to the dungeon, where they would overpower the guards and escape.

It was a good plan. Zabbar knew it wouldn't work, but all he needed was a scheme that the King would believe. It didn't take long to persuade the King. It took longer for them both to persuade Catherine, but in the end she finally agreed.

A short time later, Zabbar and Catherine left on their trip to Castle Bahamut. Zabbar rode one of the King's finest horses and Catherine was tied to her ow pure white filly. Zabbar had pointed out that they should do everything as realistically as possible and that meant that Catherine should be tied up for the whole trip. She didn't protest, which surprised Zabbar, but she did point out that realism meant that she should try to escape and proceeded to kick, bite and scratch Zabbar at every opportunity. Sometimes Zabbar wished that she wouldn't pursue her job with so much enthusiasm.

They were about six hours away from the castle, when they were surrounded by a troop of the King's Own Guards. They escorted the party to the castle where Zabbar spent several hours working his way up through the bureaucracy. It was late evening when Zabbar and Catherine were ushered into King Bahamut's presence.

Unlike King Greylon's simple throne, Bahamut's was as gaudy as possible. It was huge, trimmed in gold and jewels. The King himself sat dressed in pink and purple robes, drinking wine from a golden goblet studded with rubies. On either side of him stood a row of guards, dressed in gold armor, their helmets topped with a bright purple fringe.

The walls were covered with gold leaf and lined with purple tapestries. Zabbar wondered how someone could spend so much money to make something so ugly.

A red carpet led up to the King. Zabbar walked toward the steps leading to the throne, stopped and bowed deeply.

The King sat up, sloshing a little wine from his goblet and said, "Rise. Well, we meet again, Magician."

Zabbar concentrated on looking cool and confident. If he was going to pull this off, he had to look like he knew what he was doing. Well, at least he got the timing right. The King was obviously a little drunk. Trying to maintain a steady voice, he said, "I bring you a gift, Catherine of Greylon. But before we go any further, I suggest that you have me put on the Ring of Truth. Some of what I am going to tell you may be difficult to believe."

The King burped, reached into his pocket and tossed him the ring. As soon as Zabbar put it on, the King asked, "How did you capture such a prize?"

Zabbar was supposed to tell a tale about finding her riding alone in the woods, but instead he said, "I went up to King Greylon and told him that I needed her as bait so I could steal your Amulet of Power."

Catherine exploded. "You've betrayed me!" she shouted. She started toward Zabbar, but two guards grabbed her. She kicked them in the shins, but they didn't let go. "You pig," she continued, "You slime, you cheat!"

Zabbar raised his voice to make himself heard over Catherine's shouting. She was beginning to call him names that a good princess shouldn't know. "Your Majesty," he said, "Would you grant me one small favor? I would like the handkerchief of your court jester."

King Bahamut looked surprised. He nodded to his jester and the man reached into his sleeve, pulled out a purple handkerchief and held it up for Zabbar.

Grabbing the handkerchief, Zabbar carefully rolled it up, folded it in half, turned around and stuck it in Catherine's mouth. She tried to kick him, but he danced out of the way.

"Now we can talk in peace," said Zabbar.

King Bahamut laughed heartily. "I can see that you have been traveling with her for some time. How else could have you learned to dodge like that? But continue with your story."

Zabbar bowed deeply. "I give you this gift freely and ask nothing in return. It's my way of showing you that I am a loyal supporter of your Majesty. I considered the matter carefully and decided that it is safer to be one of your supporters than to support Greylon.

"Now let me explain the plan that King Greylon and I cooked up. I was supposed to make an excuse to examine your Amulet of Power."

Before the King could react, Zabbar reached up and unclipped the amulet from the chain around the the King's neck. "Now," continued Zabbar. "I look at it for a while, then 'accidently' drop it." He demonstrated. "Now I pick it up and secretly exchange it for a fake."

He gave the amulet back to the King. "That is a fake, your Majesty. The real Amulet is in my sleeve." He reached into his right sleeve, produced an amulet and gave it to him.

Bahamut carefully looked over the two Amulets in his hands. "It's a good fake," he said, "I can't tell it from the real thing."

"Thank you," replied Zabbar. "This is known as the two amulet trick. You are supposed to get confused and forget which amulet is which. But you can be sure of defeating the two amulet trick by keeping both amulets."

The King looked back and forth at the two.

"The one on the left is fake," volunteered Zabbar.

"There is more," he added. "As you know, when Catherine was young, her father had the standard protection spells put on her. No one can use magic to force her to do anything against her will. But I think I know how to make her follow my orders. If you will let me take her down to your quarters, I will order her to mind you. This will be a night you'll never forget."

The King leered at Catherine. "I sure it will be." Catherine shrank back. The King waved his hand, dismissing Zabbar.

Zabbar took off the ring and handed it back to the King. "One more thing," he added as if an afterthought, "I'll need two hours alone with Catherine for this to work."

The King nodded and Zabbar departed, followed by two guards dragging Catherine. When they reached the Royal Bedroom, Zabbar walked inside. One of the guards gave Catherine a kick, propelling her through the door.

She stood there, defiantly daring Zabbar to do something. He studied her for a moment, then reached into his sleeve, pulled out a black disk and said, "I have the Amulet, now if you promise to mind me, we might just be able to escape alive."

Catherine froze for a moment, confused. Then she nodded acceptance. Zabbar took the gag from her mouth and then untied her hands. She grabbed the Amulet and examined it carefully. "This is real," she whispered. "How did you get it?"

"Do you want to escape or talk?" replied Zabbar as he examined the place. It was decorated in the same gaudy style of the throne room. Purple and pink everywhere. "Now to block the door."

"What are you going to use?" asked Catherine. "A Wall of Force, or a Spell of Binding?"

"A chair stuck under the handle," said Zabbar as he found something suitable. As soon as the room was secure, he started searching the closet, looking for something plain enough to be worn by a Royal Page. It was difficult; King Bahamut's taste ran to the elabrate and the ugly. Finally he found the right outfit, tossed it to Catherine and barked, "Get dressed."

She held the clothes in front of her and said, "This is not suitable for a princess."

"It's suitable for a page. That's what you're going as. Now get dressed."

"Why do I have to be a page?"

"Because Bahamut doesn't have any dresses in his closet. Now move."

Catherine was taking her time changing. While she finished dressing, Zabbar went over to a nearby table and began to unload Bahamut's jewel box. Catherine looked over at him and said cheerfully, "What do you want to do, pick up loot or escape?"

"With luck I might be able to do both," replied Zabbar. This venture might prove profitable after all. Next to the box he found a roll of purple ribbon.

Suddenly he got an idea. "Tie this around my arm," he said, handing Catherine a length of ribbon. He then tied one around her arm.

Going over to the window, he looked out and saw that it was only about thirty feet to the ground.

Catherine looked over his shoulder and said, "How are we going to get down? Do you have a Belt of Levitation?"

"A rope," replied Zabbar. He secured one end to a dressing table, checked to make sure there were no guards below the window, and then dropped the rope outside.

Quickly Zabbar and Catherine slid down to the ground and headed toward the nearest city gate.

About two blocks from their destination, Zabbar stopped and said, "In order to get past the checkpoint, I'm going to need to know who is in charge of the guards."

"Are you going to use a Spell of Clairvoyance?" asked Catherine.

"No, a spell of Canyou," replied Zabbar with a grin.

"I've been waiting for you to do some real magic," said Catherine. "This ought to be good."

Zabbar carefully raised both hands, then rapidly stuck them out in front of him. Slowly he extended his left hand, grabbed a passerby, pulled him over and said, "Can you tell me who is guarding yond gate?"

"Chomi," spat the old man as he continued on his way.

"Canyou spell," muttered Catherine as Zabbar started up the road.

Zabbar boldly walked up to the gate while Catherine raced to catch up. When Zabbar spotted the first guard, he shouted, "You there, get me Sergeant Chomi at once."

A shout went up, and presently a young soldier came running up. "What's going on?" he asked breathlessly.

"The Great Wizard Zabbar and the Princess Catherine have stolen King Bahamut's Amulet and are loose in the city. The King thinks that they might try to come through this gate. I have been sent to warn you that the Wizard is a master of disguise and may appear in any form. He might look like a noble, a soldier or even the King himself. I want each of your men to take a length of this purple ribbon and tie it around their right arms. If anyone without a ribbon comes by, they are to be stopped and held. Do not take orders from anyone, even someone who looks like the King, unless he wears a purple ribbon."

"Yes, most noble," said Chomi. He made a quick bow.

"Now open the gates, I need to alert the next post and it will be quicker if we take the outside route.

"Yes, Sir!" Chomi turned and gave the orders. Zabbar and Catherine scooted through the gate.

They had gone only a little ways when Zabbar heard horses coming up fast. So close, he thought as he turned, ready to fight. The first rider came up, dismounted, and knelt in front of him. Zabbar looked at Catherine, but she was just as puzzled as he was.

"My lord," began the soldier, "Sergeant Chomi sent us to give you these horses to speed you on your way."

"Thank you," stammered Zabbar as he grabbed the reigns from the messenger's hands. It took Zabbar and Catherine three days of hard riding through the back trails to get to Greylon headquarters. The King was waiting for them.

Catherine jumped off her horse and embraced her father. Before he could fully recover, she reached into her tunic, pulled out the amulet and shoved it into his hands.

"We did it," she exclaimed. "Now we can destroy Bahamut."

"My dear daughter," began the King slowly. "That would be redundant. It seems that since your escape, he's gone into hiding. He put a lot of faith in his Ring of Truth and when Zabbar came along and broke the spell, he got very scared. After all, this was the same ring he used to make sure that all his nobles were loyal. He was especially frightened when one of his trusted Sergeants turned against him. Bahamut is no more and his army is fighting among themselves. There is also a rumor going around about a cursed length of purple ribbon."

The King turned to address Zabbar. "Why didn't you tell me you could break the spell on a Ring of Truth?"

"Mainly," admitted Zabbar sheepishly, "because I can't."

"But I heard you lie while you had the ring on," exclaimed Catherine.

"I didn't lie, I told the absolute truth," explained Zabbar.

"But you told Bahamut that you were loyal to him."

"No I didn't. I said I would be safer with him."

"But that wasn't the truth," insisted Catherine.

"Yes it was. You call what we did safe?"

Catherine paused to contemplate the answer. "But the amulet. How did you get the real amulet. You told him all about the two amulet trick?"

"Did you ever hear of the three amulet trick?" replied Zabbar. "That's where you explain the two amulet trick, but the mark winds up with two fake amulets. All I did was use a little misdirection.

"For example, I told Bahamut I had the real amulet in my sleeve. That was the truth. Then I pulled an amulet from my sleeve. Bahamut leapt to the conclusion that it was real. As a matter of fact, it was another fake. The real one was still in my sleeve."

"But you told him he had the real amulet in his right hand!"

"I told him that he had a fake in his left hand. It's not the same thing. He thought he had the real amulet in his right hand, when he really had two fakes."

"Didn't you promise to put a charm spell on me?"

"I didn't say it was a spell. I told him that I could make you follow my orders. Escaping did the job admirably. Oh, that reminds: Catherine I want you to mind Bahamut."

She gave him a puzzled look.

"I promised him I'd say that to you. Somehow I don't think it will do him much good. You see my dear, I may not be much good as a magician, but I'm an excellent con-man. I used to make my living by lying."

"That I believe," exclaimed the King. "The Ring of Truth didn't slow you down for a minute."

"In some ways it made it easier. Bahamut assumed that everything I said was the truth and that I couldn't mislead him. It's amazing what you can do with a little misdirection."

"I should have known you were a con-man after our first meeting when I found out you had sold me a fake amulet."

"That reminds me," said Zabbar. "We still have some unfinished business."

"What's that?" asked Catherine.

"You still owe me a hundred gold pieces."

The End