Cover image for The woad to wuin
The woad to wuin
David, Peter (Peter Allen)
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Publication Information:
New York : Pocket Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
451 pages : map ; 25 cm.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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He's back. By (and in some cases, despite) popular demand, Sir Apropos of Nothing once again stalks the pages of literature, leaving unmistakable footprints wherever he treads. Apropos is the unlikely noble whose life began in the lowest of ways: as the result of a gang assault by a group of drunken knights on a helpless tavern wench.Last time out, Apropos attempted to seize control of his own fate, and ended up with, appropriately, nothing. Time has passed since he fled the kingdom of Runcible, and Apropos leads a quiet existence as a tavern owner. All that changes abruptly, however, when the sorceress Sharee re-enters his life with the forces of the warlike Lord Bellicose hard on her heels. They want something they're convinced she has stolen. She tells Apropos that it's not true. Thus the medieval era's most notorious antihero suddenly finds himself once again in the middle of events of which he wants no part.Apropos, a helpless cog in destiny's gear mechanism, is hauled into the middle of another unlikely adventure that finds him dying of thirst and exhaustion in the gods-forsaken desert known as the Tragic Waste. But death is far too simple a fate for Apropos. When he awakens, he is astounded to discover that he is now a fearsome scourge of the land known as Wuin...a deadly and despised peacelord (the politically correct term for warlord) with tens of thousands of troops at his command, cities filled with helpless people trembling before him, and an adoring and sexy consort. How he came to this, what he will do once he discovers the terrible price attached to his new station in life, and how the mystic gem called the Eye of the Beholder fits into all of it are just afew of the challenges our reluctant hero will encounter along the Woad to Wuin.

Author Notes

Peter David was born September 23, 1956 in New Jersey, and raised in Pennsylvania. David originally tried to work in Journalism but finally got a job at Marvel Comics as Asst. Direct Sales Manager. He wrote some "fill in" comics for Spider-man and eventually got to the point where he was the regular writer for several titles. David has had over fifty novels published, including numerous appearances on the New York Times Bestsellers List. His greatest fame comes from the Star Trek novels, where he is the most popular writer of the series, with Imzadi being one of the best selling Star Trek novels of all time.

David is also co-creator and author of the bestselling New Frontier series for Pocket Books and has also had short stories appear in such collections as Shock Rock, Shock Rock II and Otherwere, as well as Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. David had an award-winning twelve-year run on The Incredible Hulk, and he has also worked on such popular titles as Supergirl, Young Justice, Soulsearchers and Company, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, X-Factor, Star Trek, Wolverine, The Phantom, Sachs & Violens and many others. He has also written comic book-related novels, such as The Hulk: What Savage Beast, and co-edited the Ultimate Hulk short story collection.

His opinion column "But I Digress" has been running in the industry trade newspaper The Comic Buyers Guide for nearly a decade, and in that time has been the paper's consistently most popular feature and was also collected into a trade paperback edition. Peter is the co-creator, with popular science fiction icon Bill Mumy of the Cable Ace Award-nominated science fiction series Space Cases, which ran for two seasons on Nickelodeon. He has also written several scripts for the Hugo Award winning TV series Babylon 5, and the sequel series Crusade, as well as the animated series Roswell. David has also written several films for Full Moon Entertainment and co-produced two of them, including two installments in the popular Trancers series as well as the science fiction western spoof Oblivion, which won the Gold Award at the 1994 Houston International Film Festival for best Theatrical Feature Film, Fantasy/Horror category.

David has won many other awards including the Haxtur Award 1996 in Spain, Best Comic script; OZCon 1995 award in Australia, Favorite International Writer; Comic Buyers Guide 1995 Fan Awards, Favorite writer; Wizard Fan Award Winner 1993; Golden Duck Award for Young Adult Series for Starfleet Academy, 1994; UK Comic Art Award, 1993; and the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, 1993.

(Bowker Author Biography) Peter David is the author of several bestselling Star Trek novels, including I, Q; Q-in-Law; Imzadi; Vendetta; and the bestselling New Frontier original Star Trek series. He lives in Patchogue, NY.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Having seen the good and the bad sides of heroism (more often the latter), Sir Apropos of Nothing believes he has retired to the quiet life of an innkeeper. But the sorceress Sharee barges back into his life, and thereafter she and he are pursued up hill and down dale by ferocious, vengeful Sir Bellicose. After enough nightmarish doings for one novel, Sir Apropos awakes in the desert land Wuin to face new perils. For the host of dauntless warriors, the thousands of adoring subjects, and the more physically adoring consort whom he meets aren't what they seem, and by tale's end, Sir Apropos and Sharee have escaped by the skin of their teeth, Wuin is ruined, the loyal subjects are divided into charred and uncharred corpses, and the wandering antihero beholds the talismanic Eye Eye of the Beholder with his own very jaundiced peeper. David mixes ghastliness and giggles deftly and with the near absence of lapsed taste that continues to distinguish the saga as a major feat of contemporary humorous fantasy. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

This sequel to the wildly successful Sir Apropos of Nothing (2001) starts off with a bawdy send-up of Lord of the Rings, but quickly segues into its own territory with the appearance of a mysterious Visionary at Aproposs bar, Bugger Hall. The man tells our antihero, You will become a shadow of your former self while escaping to the Tragic Waste on the Road to Ruin (or is that Woad to Wuin ?), just as Sharee, Aproposs weaver companion from the first volume, bursts in and begs for his help in escaping Lord Beliquose. The very loud lord wants a powerful gem, the Eye of the Beholder, which the virtually powerless Sharee possesses and which Apropos promptly steals during their escape into the dominion of the Rockmunchers beneath Bugger Hall. Unfortunately, the gem enchants Apropos during their subsequent arrival at the Tragic Waste and turns him into Peacelord of Wuin, a barbarian who wears blue woad on his face before battle and has, as his consort, the beautiful but possibly quite wicked Lady Kate. When Apropos shakes off his amnesia, he resolves to reverse his fate"and that of Sharees in a world turned upside down by violence. He also hopes to avenge his mothers death. The wisecracking wordplay that fans have come to expect skips smoothly off the page, lifting this satirical fantasy into a class all its own. Juggling goofy entertainment with gritty philosophical musing, David should build plenty of momentum for the promised third act, Tong Lashing. (Aug. 2) FYI: The author of more than 50 books, David is the co-creator with John Ordover of the New Frontier Star Trek series, while his TV credits include episodes of Babylon 5 and Crusade. He is also the author of a revised, updated novel, Knight Life (Forecasts, May 27). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

After his last adventure resulted in the destruction of a magical artifact, Sir Apropos settles down for a peaceful life as a tavern-keeper. When a wandering Visionary makes a prediction that launches the reluctant hero on another quest that leaves him stranded and dying in the middle of a desert, Sir "Poe" awakens to find himself the leader of a mighty and ruthless warband bent on the conquest of the world. Continuing the tale begun in Sir Apropos of Nothing, David takes another poke at the conventions of epic fantasy, this time targeting the epic heroes of sword and sorcery. In between large doses of bawdy humor and outrageous puns, the author spins an engaging tale of high fantasy featuring an appealing hero. For most fantasy collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One: The One Thing It is important you understand that I do not like taking people's lives. I have done it several times but derived no pleasure from it. Furthermore it has always been in self-defense, and, as suspect as it may sound, it has usually come about as a result of someone inadvertently throwing themselves on some sort of sharp implement I happened to be pointing in his, her, or its direction. I have never, however, been the sort to start a fight when it could be avoided...or, for that matter, failed to run from it if remotely possible. Anyone who has read my previous chronicles of my "adventures," of which this is a continuation, is already rather painfully aware of that. So you will understand the distress I felt when I was standing there in the middle of an otherwise lovely glade, on a fairly crisp and yet invigorating day, staring in dismay at the hairy-footed dwarf that I had unintentionally killed. A death which would unexpectedly thrust me -- in every sense of the word -- into an escapade that was alternately the most exhilarating, and most terrifying, that I had ever experienced. And considering what I had experienced previous to that point, that is saying some. For those who are new to what can only in the broadest and most ironic terms be referred to as my hero's journey, I shall tell you as simply as possible what you need to know in order to understand me. (Indeed, I should observe that if you are interested in my life, you may very well lack sufficient brain power to comprehend all but the most minimal of explanations.) My name is Apropos, occasionally referred to as "Apropos of Nothing" due to my lowly birth and lack of...well...anything, really, that could be considered valuable. Of late I was dubbed Sir Apropos, still of Nothing, an honor which -- for reasons I won't go into here -- did not quite work out. Suffice to say that one whose patrimony consists of a group of knights raping my tavern wench mother, providing me an existence of endless betrayal and deprivation which served to give me a somewhat cynical, shall we say, view of the world...well, one such as that does not end up living happily ever after. I was foolish enough to briefly entertain the notion, and paid severely for that unbecoming na¯vet© by winding up tossed in a dungeon barely twenty-four hours after being knighted, which was something of a record at the court of King Runcible in the state of Isteria. Once I managed to escape the dungeon through means literally too ludicrous to go into here, I hit the road in the company of a rather vexing young sorceress (or "weaver," as her type is also known, short for "magic weaver") who called herself "Sharee," which may or may not have been her true name. I never found out whether Runcible sent his knights after me to bring me back. On the one hand, his pride was no doubt hurt; on the other hand, he and his queen -- and certainly his daughter -- might have been well-pleased to be rid of me. If they had been determined to hunt me down, it likely would not have been all that difficult. My ears tended to stick out a bit too much, and my flaming red hair was long and unruly. My nose was crooked from having been broken several times, and although my eyes were a remarkably pleasing shade of gray, the rest of my hodgepodge of features invariably overwhelmed them. Furthermore I was lame of right leg, and got about with the aid of a sizable walking staff that also served as a formidable weapon. In short, I was easy to spot and difficult to disguise. Sharee was less distinctive. She dressed customarily in black, with ebony hair cut short and curled around her ears, and her rather prominent chin perpetually out thrust as if she were challenging the world to take its best shot at her. There were times when it seemed to me that her prime reason for existence was harassing me and taking great pleasure in the bizarre vagaries of my life. Still, in some ways she was the truest friend I had ever encountered, if one defined friend as "perpetual irritant." Just in case Runcible's knights did happen to be following us, we retreated west and later north, to take refuge in the Tucker Forest. This was not done without a certain degree of trepidation on my part. The Tucker Forest was a nesting area for a particularly vicious group of cutthroat monstrosities called the Harpers Bizarre, with whom I had considerable bad blood. I would far have preferred to take refuge in the Elderwoods of my youth, but the only way to get there was either along roads too heavily traveled for my comfort, or across the Screaming Gorge of Eternal Madness, about which the less said the better. Besides, Sharee seemed rather confident that if difficulties arose, her weather-related magiks could dispose of the Harpers with alacrity, and so the Tucker Forest became our temporary haven while we waited for the name Apropos to fade into the furthest recesses of royal memory. Fortunately I had considerable proficiency in forestry, one of the few true talents I possessed other than evasion, self-preservation, and rank cowardice. I had developed the forestry skills in my youth, and they had not faded in time as I grew to young manhood. I was reaching the end of my teens when we took up temporary refuge in the Tucker Forest. We found a cave in which to reside, well hidden from casual observation either from ground level (i.e., thieves) or from overhead (i.e., the Harpers Bizarre). We figured we would spend a couple of days there and then work our way farther west in order to distance ourselves more from Runcible's men. I spent time hunting, catching small game, while Sharee preferred to alternate between meditating and acting as if she had something far better to do with her time than remain with me. Occasionally, though, we had mild fun together. For instance, I commented to her that I would be interested in learning some magic. In response, she started teaching me card tricks. Not real magic at all, and I was quite irritated with her at first. But in short order, I actually derived some genuine amusement from it. I was a fairly quick learner, and also picked up some easy sleight-of-hand, including misdirection and the ability to apparently pluck a card out of the air. Not much of a trick to the latter, really. Simply keep your hand straight, hold the upper corners of the card securely on the back of your hand, between your fingers, and then snap it quickly forward. The card seems to have come out of nowhere. As noted, not genuine magic, but sometimes we measure the quality of life's passage by just how much of an assortment of mindless pastimes we develop to entertain ourselves through it. In terms of hunting, at first I stuck to small animals. But I tired quickly of a steady diet of rabbit and squirrel. So I redesigned and reconfigured the traps for bigger bait, hoping to snag a small deer or perhaps even a straying unicorn. Immortal or not, such creatures could still die from a quickly snapped neck, and such were my traps intended for. Naturally I set them nowhere near the roads that occasional travelers might use, lest an unfortunate accident occur. Yet it happened anyway. I was moving through the forest one day with my customary stealth. It may sound boastful or vainglorious, but when I elect not to be detected in the woods, it is nigh unto impossible to find me. It is one of the few instances, outside of swimming, where my lame leg does not deter me. Stealth does not arise from speed, but from economy of motion. A high-speed marathon would leave me hopelessly abandoned, but if you were seeking someone to move at a snail's pace for days on end, I was your man. Approaching one of my more crafty noose traps, I suddenly heard a startled and truncated yelp from ahead. It was definitely of a human variety of noise. It took me a moment to realize whence the sound had come -- namely from my trap -- and but a moment more to grasp, with horror, the likely significance of it. Disdaining silence, I practically crashed through the underbrush, hoping there was time to salvage the situation. 'Twas not to be. Instead I came upon a scene utterly dismaying...and yet also utterly fascinating in a perverse way, and I do mean perverse. The small pile of food which had served as bait within the snare now lay scattered about. The noose was drawn taut, dangling about three and a half feet in the air. And suspended from the noose itself, its feet clear of the ground by a good six inches, was the aforementioned dwarf. It was a damned odd-looking thing. Its head was slumped to one side. It was round, with features that looked fairly squashed, as if someone had sat on its face. Its arms were the disproportionate length so common to its kind, but its legs were longer and less bow-shaped than one customarily saw in such creatures. Its feet were odder still. At first I thought it was wearing hairy slippers of some sort, but then realized that it was barefoot and simply had the most hirsute pedal extremities of any creature I'd ever seen that didn't also possess a tail. It also sported an extremely sizable bulge in its loins which even its loose-fitting breeches couldn't obscure. I'd never been present at a hanging, but had heard that the victims of such incidents usually had themselves a fairly healthy protuberance at the moment of death, which had always struck me as somewhat puzzling. If anything could be deemed a sure killer of arousal, it was having your neck snapped. But here was I, first-hand witness to the phenomenon, and so knew it to be true. Who would have thought? I still felt some measure of guilt for the passing creature's untimely demise, but there wasn't much I could do about it after the fact. So instead I proceeded to do the most reasonable thing one could under the circumstances: I checked him over for valuables. I didn't bother to cut him down; gruesome as his situation was, it was easier to inspect him while he was upright. While his most noticeable bulge began to diminish, I happily relieved him of another -- a fairly decent purse hanging on his belt which I quickly discovered was filled with gold coins the like of which I'd never seen. Still, as opposed to coins unique to specific realms with different faces of monarchs etched in the surfaces, gold was definitely gold no matter whose countenance adorned it. Then I spotted something twinkling on the brush just beneath the dwarf's dangling feet, shining and winking at me in the rays of the setting sun. I reached down and picked it up. It appeared to be some sort of golden ring, but it was much too large for ordinary wear. I could easily fit three of my fingers into the thing. An earring perhaps, but there was no clasp for it to fasten on. It felt rather warm, and I turned it over and over in my hands, inspecting it carefully. It was then I noticed some sort of writing on the inside. It was not easy to make out and, confusingly, the letters seemed to be fading along with the dissipating warmth. But what it read was: One thing to rule them all. I didn't know to whom "them all" referred, or what the one thing might be, so really I was somewhat ignorant of the purpose of the ring. Would that I had remained that way. It was at that point that I heard something coming toward me through the woods. From the sound of it, it appeared to be a group of men, at least half a dozen. They were making no attempt to move quietly; a deaf man could have heard them coming. Unfortunately they were between me and the cave. Without thinking, I shoved the ring in my pocket and quickly sought, and found, refuge amongst the underbrush. As I mentioned earlier, when I am endeavoring to hide in a forest, I am almost impossible to detect. I drew my cape around me and huddled low, unmoving in the lengthening shadows of the forest. The men arrived in short order, and a more motley assortment one could not have imagined. The one who seemed to be the leader was a strong, fox-faced, handsome-looking man. With him was an astounding array of...hell, I'm not sure what they were. A couple more hairy-footed dwarfs, a few trolls, some other freakish-looking individuals. I had absolutely no idea where they could have come from; none of their ilk had ever passed through any of the regions in which I'd resided. They saw at once the dangling dwarf, and oh, the moaning and caterwauling that they sent up then, I cannot begin to tell you. In catching the names they were tossing around, it appeared that the deceased one was called Bubo, and the tall man was Walker. The others had an assortment of staggeringly annoying monikers that were impossible to keep straight: Hodge and Podge, Hoi and Paloi, Hither and Thither, Tutti and Fruitti, So On and So Forth, etc. It was rather cloying, and I could only be thankful I wasn't traveling with the group as I would likely have beaten myself to death after two days rather than die slowly of excessive cleverness. The tall one called Walker was standing directly in front of Bubo, obscuring him from my sight, and then he turned and looked grimly at the others. "The ring is not here," he said. There were gasps and lamentations and growls of "Death to the thief!" which naturally didn't sit all that well with me. "The body is still warm," said Walker. "The thief cannot have gotten far." Now, I have to admit, I bridled a bit at the word thief. Not that I wasn't one, you understand, but in this particular circumstance, it wasn't as if the deceased had any use for his possessions anymore. I figured I was as entitled to what he was carrying upon him as anyone else. "Spread out. Find him," Walker continued. Moving in smooth coordination, they headed out in all directions. I didn't breathe. One of the dwarfs came within two feet of me but passed me by without noticing me hunkered down in the brush. I waited what seemed an interminable time there, my legs getting numb, my arms feeling like lead weights. Night had almost fallen when I finally chanced to rise, my sharp hearing convincing me that I was alone. Except... In a sense, I wasn't. I felt an extremely odd tingling in my loins. My little soldier was standing at attention, and he wasn't little. Furthermore, I felt some sort of foreign object down there. Even though I knew I was alone, I still glanced right and left to ensure privacy, then reached down into my breeches to see what was up. Well...what else was up, beside the obvious. To my utter astonishment, I discovered the ring, nestled securely at the base of my member. Apparently I'd had a hole in my pocket, and as if it had a life of its own, the ring had worked its way through and nestled into my loins, wrapping itself around my privates as if it were destined to be there. I pulled on the ring in an endeavor to remove it. It wouldn't come off. I tried again and again, as forceful as I could be while still retaining some delicacy, as I'm sure you can well imagine. It didn't budge. Here I had been wondering how one could possibly sport such a sizable ring, and now I had inadvertently discovered the answer. Furthermore I was so swollen that it didn't appear capable of being removed until the tumescence went away. Which it did not seem inclined to do. And out there, exposed in the woods, I felt rather too self-conscious to "relieve myself" of the pressure. I was utterly mortified, but I had nowhere else to go as I headed back to the cave. Fortunately I had my great cape with me, so I would be able to draw it around myself and hide the noticeable bulge, for I certainly did not need Sharee laughing at my predicament. My hope was that if I simply ignored the thing, it would go away. And certainly spending time with Sharee would increase that likelihood, for if I'd had any remaining interest in the opposite sex after my rather disastrous history of liaisons, the weaver was more than capable of putting it to rest. I hoped that she might not be in the cave when I arrived, just so I had a few minutes to get myself settled with the cape still around me. Such was not to be, however, for there she was, tending a small fire and looking up at me expectantly. "Did you bring food?" she inquired. "Bad luck trapping," I said, which was true enough. Hungry we might have been, but I didn't think we were hungry enough to eat a dwarf. I settled down some feet away from her, adjusting the cape. My loins did not seem to be calming. Instead, in Sharee's presence, there appeared to be even more excitement than before. And I thought, Oh, my friend, are you barking up the wrong tree. If there is anyone who is not at all interested, it is -- She was upon me in a flash. I could not believe it. One minute she was sitting there, looking at me oddly, and the next she was on top of me with such force that I slammed my head against the cave wall. Her hand went straight to the place I'd been trying to keep hidden, as if she knew what was going to be there. Her eyes were wild with a fiery light, and she was smothering me with kisses even as she started pulling both of our clothes off in her eagerness. Now... I'm not stupid. I figured out what was going on in pretty short order. I didn't for a moment think that suddenly I had acquired so sensual, so commanding a personality that Sharee felt compelled to savage me in every carnal way imaginable. Obviously it was the ring. The damned thing was enchanted somehow, and it was an enchantment that no one -- even a skilled weatherweaver such as Sharee -- was able to resist. She was not in her right mind. Under the circumstances, I would have been a cad, a bounder, and an utter rotter to take advantage of the situation. And if you think that I failed to do so, then clearly you have not been paying attention. Truthfully, although I was not exactly resistant to the concept, I'm not sure I could have kept her off me even had I desired to. She was unstoppable, and thanks to the ring, I was more than up to the challenge. And later I was up to it again. And again. And again. All through the night. I lost count. By the time the morning came, my head was swimming with exhaustion, my belly practically in pain from lack of nourishment. But my suddenly very public private was still fresh as ever, and Sharee just as enthusiastic. I let her have her way with me again, this time so bone weary that I didn't even move. I just lay there, splayed on the cave floor, and thought about bathing in freezing water. Finally Sharee fell asleep, and I knew beyond question that I had to get the hell out of there. Apparently realizing that the joy ride was over, my seemingly insatiable rod slumped a bit, but not enough for me to pull the ring off. Quickly I dressed and bolted from the cave. I figured that Sharee would be waiting for me when, or if, I got back. I was ravenously hungry at that point. Perhaps Sharee could live on love, but I did not share that capacity. I moved quickly through the woods, counting on my staff -- my wooden one, not the betraying member in my breeches -- for more support than even my lame leg usually required. Animals seemed to be giving me wide berth, however, and the few nuts and leaves I could safely eat off the trees were hardly enough to keep me going, particularly after the evening of ardor I had spent. I made my way to the main east/west road which ran through the upper section of the Tucker Forest and cut east. I knew there was an inn along the way. It wasn't much, but I figured that at least they'd have some sort of minimal food there, and I could replenish myself. I also needed to distance myself from Sharee for a time. I assuredly couldn't go back to sleeping in the cave with her; the woman obviously would not leave me alone. Not as long as I had this Significant Other to deal with. I felt it stirring with renewed life as I approached the inn, and drew my cape even more tightly around myself. Fortunately enough it was a brisk morning, so no one would question why I was keeping myself so covered up. Once inside, I took a table toward the back, in a corner, with the intention of keeping entirely to myself. The innkeeper, a dyspeptic-looking fellow, glanced at me suspiciously. I held up the money, jingled it slightly, and that seemed enough to satisfy him. He moved away as the serving girl approached me. I'll admit she was a comely thing, which is what made what happened next somewhat tolerable. "A stein of mead," I told her, "and do you have any decent mutton?" She looked me up and down. Even though I was covered up, I suddenly felt as if her gaze was boring right to where I didn't want it to go. I crossed my legs, cleared my throat, and started to repeat the question. "Upstairs," she interrupted. "First door on the right. Now." "But...I haven't eaten." She brought her face toward mine, and her breath was warm and pleasant. "I'll be your appetizer...and your main course...and your dessert..." Oh, my gods. "Miss...I...that is to say..." "Upstairs, now," and there was iron in her voice, "or I'll take you right here." She meant it. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in her tone, she was quite serious. I went upstairs, to the room she indicated. There was a bed there with a lumpy mattress. Ten seconds later she was there, and the waitress provided room service. Five minutes later the waitress's mother burst in on us, shocked and appalled. She threw her sobbing daughter out, slammed the door behind her, faced me, and I knew then what was coming. I was worried that the tavern keeper was the husband, and figured that he'd be upstairs in short order with an ax...or, worse, love in his eyes. But such was not the case; they were simply a mother and daughter who worked at the tavern. And they had friends. Lots of friends. Now I have to tell you, a situation like this had, at one time, been one of my fantasies. I grew up in a tavern, saw whores in action. And I had always wondered what it would be like to be so in demand that people -- women, in my case -- would throw themselves at me by the cartload, and even be willing to pay me, just for the privilege of melding their bodies with mine. Well, no one was offering me money, although I have no doubt that I could have fleeced them for all they were worth. I likely would have, too, had any of them given me the chance to talk. Apparently there was a village nearby, and all I can surmise from the parade of female flesh that marched in and out of my room was that the menfolk were not doing their job. The women came to me in all shapes, all sizes, young and old, pretty and...less so. I tried to keep a smile on my face, tell myself that this was the price of fame. I literally, however, lost track of time. Day and night became meaningless to me. Oh, I was fed, at least. The tavern wench kept bringing me food. At one point the innkeeper stuck his head in, grinned, and said, "Keep at it, my lad! That's the ticket!" as if he was my best friend in the world. I managed a meager wave and realized that he was probably charging the women admission. He was making my money. It didn't seem fair, and if any part of me had been able to rise from the bed aside from the one part of me that appeared inexhaustible, I would have done something about it. I tried to leave, several times. They wouldn't let me. Finally they tied me to the bed. There are worse ways to pass one's hours, but none come readily to mind. I have no idea when Walker and his people showed up. It could have been a day later, a week later. I was floating in a haze of exhaustion and numbness. All I knew was that there was a thumping up the stairs, and the door burst open. For a moment I thought it was a mob of angry husbands, come either to chop me to bits or -- for all I knew -- have their way with me. Then I squinted as I recognized that improbably heroic face. I was nude from the waist down, obviously. I couldn't remember a time anymore when I'd worn breeches. He took one look, turned to others crowding in, and said firmly, "He has the ring." There was certainly no use denying it. "You want it? Take it," I mumbled in exhaustion. Walker stomped in, tossing a blanket over me. Producing a blade, he severed the bonds holding my hands to the bedframe. "It is not ours to take. I will not ask how you came by it; the past no longer matters. Thanks to the ring, you are now the possessor of the One Thing Which Rules Them All." "The One Thing being..." and I pointed to my happy soldier. "Yes." He nodded, and the others mimicked the nod. "That thing." "And 'them all' would be...women." "Yes," Walker said once more. "What you possess is a ring, forged in the -- " I held up my hands and rose from the bed, fumbling about for my breeches. "No. Don't tell me." "But you should know," said Walker. "Yes, it's a really good story," one of the dwarfs said, in a slightly whiny tone. "I don't care!" I insisted. "It probably involves some powerful magic user somewhere, and dark forces, and evil hordes wanting it back. Right?" "Well...essentially, yes," Walker admitted, looking a bit uncomfortable. "Fine. Save it. And get them out of here." I pointed at the cluster of women that was already assembling, seeming rather distressed over the prospect of my possible departure. "All I want to know is how to get rid of the thing." "You must toss it," said Walker solemnly, "into the Flaming Nether Regions. Only there will it be melted, its threat ended for all time." I knew the Flaming Nether Regions well enough. I had once been squire to a knight, Sir Umbrage, who hailed from thereabouts. You may be wondering why I did not question the interest this mixed bag of meddlers might have had in the ring. I shall make it plain: Clearly they were heroes. Bubo, previous possessor of this lovely trinket, had probably been as much in demand as I was. Walker's people had obviously been serving to keep women away from him...or perhaps him away from women...while they escorted him to the Flaming Nether Regions. They were in the midst of some great quest, into which I had been unwillingly -- and unwittingly -- drawn. I like neither heroes nor quests, because becoming involved with either invariably gets people killed. I have no patience for adventures, even though I perpetually seem to find myself in the middle of them, and the sooner I depart their vicinity, the better. Far from dauntless, I am easily daunted. I want nothing but to make money, have some fame, fortune, and fun, and survive to die of old age in my bed. In short, I'm just like you. Look down your nose at me at your peril, for it is yourself you very likely judge. So I had no interest in what had brought them to this point in time. I simply said, "Take me there." We set off. There was much trouble along the way. I could go into detail, of course. I could tell you about the dark warriors who set upon us, the flaming black hailstones, the totally unexpected return assault of the Harpers Bizarre, who apparently were now under the command of a great and powerful weaver, the rampaging fishlike killer creature called the Orcuh, and much, much more. But it was not a pleasant period, just about everyone in the group was killed, I spent the entire time with a raging tumescence in my breeches, and one of the dwarfs -- Thither, I think it was -- kept eyeing me in a manner I found most disturbing. I was frankly relieved when the Orcuh stepped on him. So you'll pardon me if I simply say, again, that there was much trouble along the way, until finally only an exhausted Walker and myself were left to stand on the edge of the formidable precipice overlooking the Flaming Nether Regions. Far, far below raged the Regions. A continuous lava flow, the origin of which no one knew, flames licking upward with formidable intensity, and smoke billowing, making it extremely difficult to see more than a foot or so down. "All right," I said to Walker. "Now what?" I had my hand discreetly around the ring, trying to pull it off, thinking that now that it had reached its inevitable destiny, the damned thing would go without a struggle. Unfortunately I was as hard, and the ring as stubborn, as ever. "You throw the ring in," said Walker matter-of-factly. "Yes, well, small problem. The ring doesn't appear to be cooperating." "That does not surprise me." "Well, it surprises me!" I retorted, wiping sweat from my brow. "You made it sound simple! Get to the Flaming Nether Regions, toss the ring in, we're done! How do I remove it?" "The ring will only detach itself," said Walker, "when the bearer's heart stops." "What?" I felt all the remaining blood in my body that wasn't elsewhere pounding in my temples. "You mean when I die?" I now realized that, obviously, when Bubo had died, the ring had fallen through his leggings and onto the ground where I'd found it. "You couldn't think to mention that earlier? I'm supposed to kill myself? That doesn't leave much of an upside for me!" "There alternative," Walker said. "Good! Excellent! What is it?" Relief was flooding through me. Walker produced a very sharp-looking knife. "Cut it off." I took the knife, turning it over in my hand. Yes, indeed, very sharp. "And this will cut through the ring?" I said doubtfully. "No, nothing can cut through the ring." As I said, I'm not stupid. I quickly realized where this was going. I fought down rising panic. "So my choice, you're saying to either death...or a life not worth living." "Think of it this way," Walker said, trying to sound commiserating. "Certainly in the past days, you've received a lifetime's worth of attention to your member. Is that not enough?" "No! Most certainly not! And I -- " "Mine!" The cackling, unexpected voice caught us both unawares. We turned, standing there on the edge of the gorge, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Bubo was approaching us, his head still at that bizarre angle from when the noose had snapped his neck. He did not, however, appear to realize that he was deceased. His skin was the color of curdled milk and shared some of the same aroma. His eyes were wide and solid black, his teeth rotting in his head. As he approached, his hands were spasming, as if he was trying to clutch something with them. "My precious! Mine!" he cried out, sounding like a screeching baby bird. "Stay back!" Walker said to me. "He wants the ring!" "If he can get it off me with an option other than what you've offered, he can have it!" "No! Don't you understand? If the dark weaver who forged the ring gets it back, no woman in the world will be safe!" "I'll buy them all locked chastity belts! It will work out fine!" I was tugging at the stubborn ring. "Here! Your old friend wants you back! Go! Go!" "Undead thing," Walker said defiantly, facing the creature which had been Bubo. "You do not frighten me." He started to pull his sword. Bubo didn't wait. He leaped through the air as if he weighed nothing, landed squarely on Walker's shoulders and gripped Walker's head with his feet. With a quick twist of his hips, he snapped Walker's neck. Walker's dead body collapsed like a sack of potatoes, his sword still only half drawn. I started to back up, but there wasn't far to go. "Stay back!" I shouted hollowly, holding my walking staff threateningly. There was a vicious blade in one end of it, but I doubted such a thing would be of use against something already dead. "Stay back, or I'll...I'll..." In truth, I had no idea what I would do. Bubo, however, did not wait to find out. With a scream he leaped across the intervening distance, howling, "Give it back to me! My pretty! My pretty ring! My precious, mine!" Either he didn't realize where we were or, in his undead and obsessed state, he simply didn't care. He slammed into me, knocking my walking staff from my hands, driving me back, and suddenly there was nothing below me but the yawning gorge of flame and death. We tumbled, falling through the smoke, but barely a few feet below, there was a rocky ledge extending that I hadn't seen before. I struck it, rolled off, grabbed it with my desperate hands, and hung there. Bubo was holding on to my left leg. I tried to kick him off with my right, but that was my lame leg, and I had little strength in it. Bubo didn't even seem to notice. Instead he clambered up my leg, and -- gods help me -- shoved his hand into my breeches, his cold, clammy palm wrapping around the still unbudging ring, my protuberance now his only means of support. "Mine!" he howled, holding on to it. "Mine! Mine!" It was too much. My brain shut down. My heart stopped. I died. For an instant. The next thing I knew, I was slammed back to life. The world whirling around me, I realized that I had fallen, but fallen onto yet another outcropping of rock. The smoke had hidden the fact that the cliff face was not exactly smooth. I heard screaming below me, and looked over the edge of the rock formation which had proven my salvation. Bubo had been less fortunate. My death, however brief, had been sufficient for the ring to slip free, and Bubo with it. I saw him spiraling down, down toward the flame, screaming and shouting, "I have it! I have my precious back!" tumbling end over end, probably not even aware of what was happening. I heard his shouting continue, all the way down, and then there was a sudden roar of flame as Bubo and the ring hit the lava below. Somewhere -- in my own imaginings, most likely -- I could swear I heard a deep, pained voice of anger roaring in fury as the ring melted in the fiery furnace of the Flaming Nether Regions...which was, I suppose, only fitting. It took me quite some time to climb, hand over careful hand, back up to the edge of the cliff from which I had tumbled. Walker was lying there, dead as a stump. I checked him over, pulled some valuables off him, and kicked his body over the edge. I had no more need of it than he did, and saw no reason to leave it lying about. Tired, bone-weary, I had nowhere else to go and so started heading back to the cave. I didn't know whether Sharee would be waiting there or not, and at that moment I didn't especially care. I just wanted somewhere that I could collapse. The journey back to the Tucker Forest was considerably less adventurous than when I had been heading toward the Flaming Nether Regions. I could only conclude that whatever beasties and vile creatures had taken an interest in my sojourn while I was in possession of the ring, they now simply did not care since it was no longer on my person. That really does summarize why I am the last individual that you'd want to have along on a quest. No matter what the object was that we might have managed to acquire, as soon as someone threatened my life over it, I would not hesitate to hand it over to them. There were very few riches or treasures -- or anything, really -- that I would consider worth dying for. Oh, I might try to trick my way out of the proceedings, but if a sword is to my throat or it seems as if I'm going to have to fight overwhelming odds in order to hold on to whatever it is, then to hell with it. But I couldn't help but wonder, as I trudged along, why it was that I found myself pulled into these sorts of escapades. Not only was I not an audacious soul by nature, but I was in fact the opposite. The fewer quests for me, the better I liked it. Why, you may ask, was I so reluctant to engage in adventures? Simple answer: fear of getting killed. And why not? That's what it all gets down to in the end, isn't it? In my life I had survived mad bird creatures of several varieties, warlords, crazed kings of the frozen north, unicorn stampedes, and a lethal attack by the greatest hero in the land. I had managed to keep my head safely attached to my body mostly through strategy and a little luck...all right, a lot of luck. But how long was I reasonably supposed to think that my good fortune would hold up? It could not possibly do so forever...and I didn't want to be around when it did finally run out. This is actually rather beside the point, but I thought I'd make the observation: Have you ever noticed that, after someone has died, those who survived him suddenly become self-proclaimed experts on what the deceased would have liked to see? "Poor John would have liked an oaken coffin." "Ah yes, Timothy, he would have wanted me to have his favorite sword with the perfect balance." "Definitely, poor Brian, he would have liked nothing better than for us all to get drunk, steal his body, quarter it, and deliver it to four syphilitic prostitutes at each corner of the kingdom, because that was just the kind of joke-enjoying jackanapes that Brian always was, and it would have given him a right good giggle." As for me, I never presume to postulate what the dearly departed would have wanted because I am quite reasonably sure that, in the final analysis, they all would have wanted the same thing...namely, to keep on living. What happens to me while I'm alive is of the utmost importance. What happens to me after I'm deceased, I absolutely could not give a damn about. And I very much suspect that every dead person out there would concur. I don't see much leeway. If there's an afterlife, then the departed are either too busy romping through heaven's grove or suffering eternal torment to care about what's going on in the world left behind, and if there is no afterlife, then obviously the entire thing is moot. "So and So would want it that way." The amount of hubris such a comment requires is truly staggering, but still everyone says it and everyone does it. And yet those same individuals would look down their noses at me just because I'm rude enough to want to postpone, for as long as possible, that inevitable time when my survivors will have the opportunity to say, "Let's sever his head and use it for a quick game of Kickabout, because Apropos would have wanted it that way." Pardon my written wanderings. Although I am writing of the days of my youth, I am rather somewhat older now...a staggering circumstance considering I never thought I would last this long, or at all. The mornings are much hotter and the nights much colder these days, and my attentions prone to occasional waywardness. I would be most obliged if you would forgive an old reprobate his shortcomings. I made my way back to the cave over many days, I continued to ponder my odd situation. Truly, it was a curiosity. There were those who would have craved adventure in their lives, but wound up living and dying in relative quiet. I, on the other hand, who would not mind in the least being left alone, invariably found myself in a world of trouble sooner or later. Life, it seems, does love its little ironies...or perversions, as the case may be. When I drew within range of the cave, I tried to get a feeling whether Sharee was still there, or if she had set out on her own. I also noticed, as I drew closer, that the sky in the area was darkening. This struck me as not the best omen in the world, for Sharee was a weatherweaver, and yes, it was possible that the approaching inclement weather was simply a normal happenstance. However it was also possible that she was in a foul mood, and that mood was being reflected in the skies above. I don't wish to sound self-centered or self-absorbed. After all, here I was commenting on the unwarranted hubris of others but a short time ago, and yet I now write of how I was concerned that the weather itself related to me. That would seem utterly ridiculous if there were not a better than even chance of it being true in this instance. In case I have not mentioned this before, I have this annoying habit of being right considerably more often than I am wrong, particularly when it comes to surmising potential catastrophes rolling in my direction. But by that point I was bone-weary, footsore, and more than willing to risk whatever anger the young enchantress might have had brewing within her than having to face yet another evening on my own. To this day, I question why I bothered. I must have had some reason that I sought her company. I could have gone off about my business, never seen her again. Perhaps it was that she was simply someone to talk to, and I -- like most creatures -- sought the company of others. Or it's more likely that by keeping someone around with whom I could converse, I could spend that much less time dwelling upon my own thoughts. The more time I spent with others, the less time I needed to spend with myself. As it turned out, the decision was taken out of my hands. I approached the cave, drawing my cloak more tightly around me as the weather kicked up fiercely. "Sharee!" I called her name, trying to shout above the harsh winds that enveloped me. If there was one thing that was highly attuned within me, it was a sense of imminent danger. As a result, I was already in motion when the lightning bolt struck the tree that was a mere foot to my left. It was a thin tree, and the lightning split the trunk as I scrambled about on the dirt, trying to get away. For an instant I thought that it was purely coincidental, and then I realized the foolishness of that notion. When one associates with a weatherweaver, and when one has even the slightest reason to think that the weaver might be put out for some reason, any bolt of lightning is automatically suspicious...particularly one that misses you by as narrow a margin as that one had. The air itself smelled burnt, and the hair was raised in my nostrils and on the back of my neck. Remembering that lightning tends to strike higher points, I elected to remain flat on my belly as I called out, "Sharee! Are you in there? Did you do that?" At first there was no movement, and then slowly I saw her shadow approaching the front of the cave. She appeared then, and it seemed as if shadows were stretching from her, consuming the entirety of the entrance. Even though it was midday, the sky surrounding us was black as pitch. The winds were blowing the clouds about fiercely. I fancied I could see images in the clouds, dragons and ogres and monsters of all shape and stripe. Every single one of them seemed irritated with me. "Sharee -- ?" I prompted. "Of course I did that," she said impatiently. "Do we have a problem?" "A problem?!" She seemed dumbfounded that I could not comprehend what it was that she was so angry about. "You have the temerity to ask me that? Do you think I'm a fool? Do you think me oblivious?" "I confess to some ignorance on my part," I admitted. "I'm not sure exactly why you would be -- " "You had your way with me, you pig!" "Ah. That," I said slowly. "Yes, that! What did you think I was upset about?" Her hands started to quiver and crackle with barely contained fury. Even though the lines in the air that weavers draw together to create their spells remained largely invisible to me, I could still perceive that she was gathering threads together to mount some new attack. Suddenly I felt a bit ill-used. "Excuse me!" I called out, and I even stood, pushing myself to standing using my staff. This was potentially a suicidal move, but I believed that if I didn't show strength, I was likely a goner anyway. "Excuse me. But it's not as if you gave me a good deal of choice, you know!" She flushed furiously, which didn't stop me from speaking. "I had my way with you? It seemed from my position -- namely horizontal -- that you were far more intent in having your way with me. You didn't care in the least about my feelings." Apparently that was the wrong approach to take, because clouds rushed together abruptly, and I barely had any warning before the air was alive once again with lightning. I whirled, my lame right leg almost collapsing beneath me, only my staff providing support as the air crackled and exploded with heat and light. When it subsided, I blinked furiously against it to recapture my sight. The first thing I noticed as the flash blinding began to fade was that the trailing corner of my cloak was blackened. That's how near a thing it had been. "Your feelings? Your feelings?" she raged. "You don't have any feelings, you heartless monster! That you would go to such lengths...that you would seek out some sort of charm or spell to seduce me -- " "Is that what you think happened?" I said incredulously. "Believe it or not, Sharee, not everything in the world that occurs is about you. Yes, yes, there was ensorcellment, I won't lie to you about that. But it was not as you describe it." "Oh?" She did not sound particularly inclined to believe me. "Then describe to me what did happen, then. Tell me the truth of it." I opened my mouth, and then closed it without a sound emerging. I didn't want to tell her. Really, can you blame me? The entire affair was possibly the single most humiliating that I had ever experienced. I couldn't even figure out where to start, because there really wasn't much of any starting place that would make me look good, and she'd want to know the details, and gods, the conclusion of the whole business.... "No answer. Lying bastard. Can't even come up with an acceptable mendacity? You're losing your touch, Apropos. The simple fact is that you use people. That's what you do. It is your gift. You use them for whatever purpose it pleases you, and then you discard them while laughing up your sleeve at your superiority." I said nothing. There was nothing I could say. It was too ridiculous, too humiliating. I suppose I should not have cared what Sharee thought of me, but unfortunately, I did. And I realized in that moment that I would rather have her think me a bastard, a manipulator, a cretin...anything other than an object of utter, degrading ridicule. A miserable fool who was helpless as he was used by a plethora of women and then engaged in an adventure so farcical that he'd almost had to part company with his manhood in order to conclude it. There was silence then save for the rumbling of thunder, which was still near enough and sufficiently threatening to keep me all too aware of my vulnerability. Then I heard her say, "Go away. Go away before I kill you where you stand." Well, with an invitation like that, I didn't have to be told twice. I turned and went off into the woods without another word. Several weeks later curiosity overtook my better instinct, and I made my way back to the cave. She was gone. There was no sign that the cave was inhabited, or indeed ever had been. I did not know where she had got to, and I suppose I should have considered myself lucky to be quit of her. I wasn't. Despite the relief I should have felt, instead I was filled with regret that this state of affairs had arisen to drive us apart in such a manner, and -- even though I had been ill-used, even though I was merely a victim of circumstance and falsely accused -- well, Sharee and I had been through a bit together. I had risked myself to save her on one occasion, and she in turn had made sacrifices in order to rescue me on another. The truth was that I was saddened our time together ended in such a manner, and wished that somehow there might be some way that I could make things right. A general rule of thumb that I shall impart to you herewith: When it comes to the affairs of wizards, never wish that you could have prolonged exposure to them rather than counting your lucky stars when they depart your life. For sure as hell the gods will hear you and take perverse pleasure in granting your they did with me. Copyright © 2002 by Second Age, Inc. Excerpted from The Woad to Wuin: Sir Apropos of Nothing by Peter David All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.