The Crimson Eagle, Part VI

Early That Morning, in the Dungeons Under Pignika Palace

Balki Robinadous never felt so sore in his entire life. His eyes were still watering from the intensive tickle and taffy pull torture King Samuel put him through the night before. The Sceptosian monarch didn’t believe his story about being the real Crimson Eagle, no matter how much Balki claimed it was true. It was true…sort of. He was a Crimson Eagle, one of two. The king threw him back in the dungeons when he refused to tell him the identity of his partner or the location of the stolen Crown Jewels.

Balki’s tired eyes looked up as two of the King’s guards shoved Marianne into the cell. He thought the tiny young woman was more beautiful than ever, despite her tangled gold curls, dirt-smeared face, and tattered pale blue gown. “Are you ok? If King Samuel did anything to you that wasn’t nice…”

“They only asked me a couple of easy questions; my name, my place of birth, do I know anything about the Crimson Eagle. Stuff like that.” She gently touched his battered face. “What have they done to you? You look like you’re covered with blueberry juice.”

Balki shifted uncomfortably. His slender wrists and ankles were chained to the solid granite wall by heavy iron fetters. His angular cheeks were black and blue, but he still retained all the dignity of his royal heritage. “I’m ok. They didn’t hurt me bad, just ran feathers over my naked body and pulled and stretched me until I screamed. Mama always said I was a growing boy, but I do’n think she expected me to be stretched until I was five inches taller!” He lifted his fingers stiffly. “Where do I come UP with them?”

“Balki,” Marianne asked when his hoarse guffaws subsided, “what are we going to do?”

“I do’n know. I’m hoping C.E will be able to come up with a plan without me around.”

“Balki, why can’t you tell me who C.E really is?”

“I don’t want to get Cousin Laurence in trouble,” Balki started. His eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open. “I mean, I don’t want to get C.E in trouble.”

Marianne looked surprised. “The other Crimson Eagle is your cranky, cross, crippled cousin Laurence Wayne? Wow, I thought the Crimson Eagle would be taller.”

Balki sighed. “I didn’t mean to tell you. Cousin Laurence don’t want anyone besides me and a few of our men to know he and C.E are two and the same thing.”

Marianne put her arms around the Myposian lint painter. “Jen and I wouldn’t have said anything, even if the king offered us a million dig-das.” She shrugged. “We already have two million dollars. We don’t need a million dig-das.” She looked thoughtful. “Although a million dig-das would feed a lot of those starving peasants we saw in Tattari and Pignika.”

“That’s why Cousin Laurence wanted to take money from King Samuel and the rich Sceptosian nobles,” Balki explained. “They have lots to take. We’d steal jewelry and dig-das from carriages and parties, sell the jewelry to a man Cousin Laurence knows who buys pretty stones, and use it and the dig-das to buy food and medical supplies for the Mypiots who needed it most.”

“We saw you leaving the pottery shop in Tattari the day the Crimson Eagle left that challenge!”

“We saw you, too. I wanted to say ‘hi,’ but Cousin Laurence wouldn’t let me. He wanted to carry out his plan while the sheriff was still there.” Balki frowned. “Cousin do’n like Sheriff Burnsetti. The sheriff got bad people in America to highball us so we couldn’t work in Chicago anymore.”

A shaft of light fell on the diminutive blonde heiress and the dark-haired Myposian artist. Sheriff Burnsetti lumbered into the cell looking altogether too happy. His heavy jowls were closer to his ears. “It’s over,” he bowed mockingly, “Your highness. Your cousin is dead.”

Balki opened his mouth to protest, but Burnsetti interrupted him. “If he and Miss Lyons aren’t buried beneath the remains of your hide-out, they’re slowly boiling to death in the hot springs. We arrested the Markwrights and Mrs. Winslow, and my men are searching every corner of Mypos for Donald Twinkicetti and Lord Charles Estevez. They won’t escape.”

“Cousin Laurence isn’t dead,” Balki whispered huskily. “You’re lying.”

“I was there,” Burnsetti shot back. “My men and I lit the fuses and left them bound on a crumbling ledge. Last I heard, your so-called-hero was blubbering to Miss Lyons about how useless he is.”

“What’s going to happen to us?” Marianne asked in a small voice, huddling closer to Balki.

Her obvious fear delighted the portly sheriff. “King Samuel agreed to turn you, Mrs. Winslow, and the Markwrights over to me. You’ll have to stay in Pignika Palace, but you won’t be harmed.”

Balki’s Myposian-accented voice was cracked and high. “What me about?”

Burnsetti pointed his sword at Balki’s battered neck. “It’ll be a pity to mar your royal throat with a common rope. You might have made this Mediterranean mud hole a good ruler if it didn’t already have one.”

“Mypos isn’t a mud hole. It’s an island.” Balki looked straight into the Sheriff’s puffy eyes. “It doesn’t have a good ruler. King Samuel is not a good ruler. His taxes are too high, he treats the peasants like the crime under his toenails, and he won’t let anyone tell the truth about him in The Daily Mypiot.”

Marianne eyed the big set of keys on the sheriff’s wide belt as he returned his sword to his scabbard. “Are those keys in your pocket, or are you just happy to see us?”

“Those are the keys to the cells and iron bonds, including Robinadous’.” He patted his belt. “I don’t trust anyone but me with them, and even I have trouble trusting me.”

The petite blonde flung herself over Burnsetti in a flurry of ragged blue silk and torn lace. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re kinda cute, for a bad guy?”

Balki raised his eyebrows. “Marianne, I didn’t think he was your type.”

Marianne wrapped her arms around the rotund sheriff. “You have a very distinctive cologne.” She sniffed. “It smells like pig snout and olive trees.”

“It’s called ‘Walking in the garden after last night’s dinner.” Burnsetti tried to pry the small woman off his person, but she stuck to him like Super Glue. “Miss Spencer, that’s no place for your hand!”

Balki looked surprised. “I’ve never heard of that cologne! Who makes it? Do they sell it at Sheepridge and Clothesmaker in Tattari?”

She grabbed the blue silk sash off her waist and wrapped it around his, wiggling her hips and giggling. “I’m having fun! Why don’t you have fun with me?” She swung the dazed sheriff into her arms and foxtrotted around the room with him.

Balki frowned as Marianne pulled the portly law officer in his direction. “What doing you are?” he whispered in her ear. “We got no time for dance numbers!”

“Just watch!” Marianne twirled Burnsetti in a circle and let him go. He flew past Balki and crashed into several bales of hay and crates of linen and wool bandages. She plucked the keys off his belt and freed her sweetheart from his bonds.

“Wow!” Balki gaped at the half-conscious lawman. “You really did a musical number on him.”

Marianne undid the Sheriff’s belt and pulled his pants off. “I have an idea. It might even work.”

Balki’s groans joined the Sheriff’s. “You sound like Cousin Laurence. Plans are no fun!”

“This one will be! Put these on.” Marianne threw the pants at him. “We can use some of this hay to give you a belly like the Sheriff’s.” She ran her fingers through Balki’s silky black tresses. “I don’t know how we’re going to hide your hair, though. The Sheriff has brown hair.”

Balki stepped back against the wall. “What that has to do with anything?”

Marianne put her arms around Balki and fluttered her dainty eyelashes at him. “Balki, have you ever wanted to uphold law, order, and the right to pursue happiness?”

“I didn’t know happiness could walk!”

At The Same Time, Just Outside Pignika Palace

Pignika Palace was quiet against the rosy light of early morning. Purple-and-gold suited troops marched around the softly gurgling fountains and past a junked cart painted dusty black. They executed a neat precision march and tap routine in front of the cart before continuing on, their steps echoing to the tune of The Pointer Sisters song “New Attitude.”

Silence reigned supreme for a few moments after the exit of the guards. Suddenly, a plump-cheeked, round head topped with curly brown hair poked out of the cart. “I think the coast is clear,” it declared tentatively.

Three women and three men stumbled out of the ancient, dirt-strewn black coach. “What are we going to do with Black Beauty?” Lydia asked, batting the bright scarlet feather in her wide-brimmed black hat out of her eyes. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to let the King’s men find her, with all those levers and engines and hidden compartments.”

“I’m way ahead of you.” Laurence took a large roll of linen cloth and threw it over the carriage. The cloth was the exact same gray of the palace wall and blended perfectly with the stone. It was impossible to tell where the wall ended and the cloth began. “I made that to hide her when we rob castles and mansions.”

“That’s nice work, Baby,” Harriett admired. “Well, how do we get in the palace? We can’t barge in there and demand they give us Balki and Marianne back.”

“Maybe if we asked nicely...” Lydia began, but her husband shook his head.

“Lydia, I know Sam.” He put his hands on her trembling shoulders. “He’ll have tortured and beaten Balki black and blue by now, and God only knows what he’s done to poor little Marianne.”

Jennifer rolled her eyes. “I’m more worried about what poor little Marianne’s done to him. She’s smarter than most people give her credit for. She figured out the Crimson Eagle was two people before I did.”

Robert retrieved a long, brown wool caftan from one of Black Beauty’s many compartments. “We’ll split up. I’ll distract Sam while the rest of you find Balki, Marianne, and the men.” His eyes sparkled with repressed fury. “I have a few things I’d like to discuss with His Royal Wonderfulness.”

Lydia gave him a loving kiss on his lips. “Robbie, dear, be careful.” He gave her a wordless, comforting hug before taking off into the shadows.

“I hate to point out the obvious,” Harriett started tensely after the newspaper owner blended into the dawn, “but I think we’re about to be discovered, and not by Christopher Columbus.”

“It’s the King’s guards! Quick!” Laurence pushed Jennifer under the covered wagon. “Hide here!”

Lydia was the last one to slide beneath the cart. She managed to grab her feathered hat just as five men resplendent in purple-and-gold uniforms and hats, sharp swords shining in the soft sunlight, stomped in front of the cart. “Hey, Miki,” the tallest started, “did you hear something?”

“It was probably just a bird,” Miki, a short man with a thick brown mustache, grumbled. “The incident at the ball last night with the Crimson Eagle has us all on edge.”

“On the edge of what?” asked another man, a heavy-set blonde.

His smaller companion rolled his eyes. “Forget it. I just got Sheriff Burnsetti’s orders. Ol’ Sam the Sour is ready to hang the Crimson Eagle. They’re going to call all the citizens to the courtyard at Pignika Castle today to witness the execution.”

“Balki!” Lydia hissed in shock. “They’re going to hang Balki!”

Laurence’s eyes bulged. “Not if I can help it! I have a plan, and if any of you groan about it, I’ll turn you over to the troops. I’d like to see you come up with something better.” He slightly moved the cover. “Everyone take the ankles of one of the men.” He grabbed the short man’s ankles and waited while the others did the same. “Ok. Pull them under the cart on the count of three.” The men looked down. One lifted the gray linen. “One, two, three!”

Five men vanished under a gray lump in the palace wall. The lump lifted and fell a few times, a few oaths and curses were muttered, and grass, dirt, pebbles, and splinters flew everywhere. When the dust and black paint settled, five rather odd-looking troops in purple emerged victorious.

A red-haired soldier dusted off his…her uniform. “Do you really think King Samuel and Sheriff Burnsetti will mistake us for their troops? Three of us have bulges under our coats that aren’t guns.”

“Laurence, fix your mustache.” Jennifer fussed over Laurence’s collar and the mustache he tried to stick to his narrow upper lip with sealing wax. “It looks like it’s growing on both your lips.”

Harriett lashed the belt and scabbard around her waist. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Baby.”

“Yeah,” Laurence muttered as he pushed all the hair back on what upper lip he had, “I hope so, too.” He turned to the others as Donald’s piggy eyes bounced from one set of heaving breasts hidden under military-cut purple coats to the next. “Are we all ready?” There were general “Yeah”s and grunts from Donald.

“Good. Let’s go rescue Balki.” Laurence inserted his sword in his scabbard, but missed the scabbard and accidentally sliced his belt open. Jennifer and Lydia tittered and Harriett wolf whistled as his pants fell to the ground, revealing a pair of diminutive but not-unattractive limbs clad in boxer shorts covered in little red hearts. Donald doubled over in outright laughter. The reporter’s round cheeks turned as red as the hearts as pulled his pants over his legs. “Stop staring and get me another belt!”

A Little While Later, In the Dungeons

The tall, frizzy-haired Sceptosian warden on duty in the intensive security unit of the dungeon blinked. He blinked twice and took a gulp from his wine bottle. He knew he shouldn’t have drunk two whole cantors of burgundy at the ball last night. He was seeing things.

Sheriff Burnsetti lumbered down the hall. At least, it looked something like Sheriff Burnsetti. He could have sworn he saw hay poking out of the bulges in his immaculate purple and gold uniform. His face seemed a little longer than usual, but it sagged in all the right places. His brown hair looked like it was grabbed off of a horse’s tail, though, and his nose was twice its normal size. He clutched Miss Marianne Spencer, one of the rich foreigners who seemed to be taking over Mypos, by her dainty white arm.

“You!” He pointed at the poor man, who fell off his chair with a noisy clatter. “Release the Crimson Eagle’s men! King Samuel ordered me to take them and Miss Spencer to be intoxicated in Sceptos.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” whimpered the man in a high, fearful Sceptosian accent, “but I thought you said Miss Spencer and the Crimson Eagle’s men were to be kept in Pignika Palace under your supervision.”

The Sheriff leaned as menacingly as he could manage over him. “Are you questioning me, Sergeant?”

The tall man fiddled with his collar. “No, sir, I mean, I was just wondering, sir…”

“Well, stop wondering and start wandering!”

The warden led them to a line of small, cramped cells filled with men dressed in the black and red uniforms of the Crimson Eagle. Some played cards for dig-das. Others discussed why every other episode of “Moonlighting” was a re-run. Three were seated around a Nintendo console, playing “Super Mario Brothers,” while several more listened to Wayne Newton croon “Moon River” on someone’s tape player.

One of the men, a handsome blonde fellow with a thin mustache, ran up to the bars. “Have you gotten our pardons from the governor? And do you know how to find the Warp Zone to World 8-1?”

The “Sheriff” unlocked the cell doors. “Shh! It’s me, Balki! Miss Spencer and I are breezing this john, and we’re going to need all of your help before the real Burnsetti wakes up and realizes he has no pants.”

Balki lead the others down the hall. They made it to the dungeon’s entrance when they ran into a group of Sceptosian officers, all armed and looking dangerous. Balki raised his sword flew at the apparent group leader with a loud Myposian battle cry. Marianne screamed and the poor Sceptosian warden fainted as Balki crashed headfirst into the lead officer.

“Cousin Laurence?” Balki gasped as he and the other man untangled their limbs from each other. “What doing here you are? And where did you get such a nice mustache? I’ve always said you should grow one to cover those thin little lips of yours.”

Laurence clamped his gloved hand over Balki’s mouth, his eyes wild. “Balki, quiet! If the Sceptosians know who I am, we’ll all be dead.” He fingered his upper lip. “Do I really look good with a mustache?”

Balki grinned as a dark-skinned guard and a small, plump one helped him and his cousin to their feet. “Perfect! You never looked better.” He frowned. “Except for the picture you showed me of when your sister Elaine and your brother Danny dyed your hair lime green in the middle of the night.”

A tall, blonde soldier took Laurence’s arm. “I hate to interrupt, but we’ve got to get out of here before the Sheriff and the King find there’s no Crimson Eagle to hang.”

“Right, Jen. Harriett,” Laurence said to the dark-skinned officer, “go see if you can find some outfits for the boys. Marianne, Jennifer, tie up the warden and take his clothes.” He frowned at his cousin. “Balki, lose the disguise. You’ll never fool anyone who’s reasonably sober. And where did you get that wig?”

Balki smiled. “From a horse just outside of the dungeon who was nice enough to loan us some of his tail.”

“I have a plan.” Everyone in the dungeon groaned in unison. “Well, I’ve gotten us this far, haven’t I? If King Samuel wants a Crimson Eagle, why don’t we give him one?” He grabbed the wig. “Or, better yet, why not give him two?”

Shortly Before Noon, In the Throne Room of Pignika Palace

King Samuel Gorpleous gazed into the mirror he had built into his throne so he could admire his good looks at all times. He wanted to look his best for this afternoon’s hanging. He loved a good hanging, especially one that would rid him of not only one of the bandits who plagued the wealthy citizens of Mypos, but of his rival for the Myposian crown.

He vaguely heard footsteps tap across the wide, open stone floor. He opened his hand, though his eyes were focused on his huge, even white teeth. “Hey, Harry, nice of you to drop in. It took you long enough. By the way, do you have a toothpick?”

The item someone slapped into his hand was much heavier than a toothpick. A form in a brown caftan, his strong strides reflected in the mirror, handed him one half of a pair of golden royal Myposian dueling swords and poked him in the back with the other. “I’m hardly Harry, Sam.”

King Samuel whirled around to face the brown-clad figure. “Markwright, what the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be under arrest with your wife and Mrs. Winslow.”

“You ever try arresting someone in a house the size of Castle Markwright? It’s the greatest place in the world for a game of hide-from-the-Sheriff’s-men-and-make-them-seek-you.” Robert Markwright held his sword at the King’s chest. “I’ll put this through your heart if you don’t start answering questions.”

The King countered with a clang of Myposian steel. “Didn’t I tell you,” he snarled. “I don’t have a heart.” He jumped out of his throne and slashed at the older man. Markwright barely got out of the way of his blade before making another thrust in his direction.

The two men finally broke apart, panting and gasping for breath. “Sam,” Markwright breathed, “why did you kill Ferdinand Robinadous? You hate Mypos and its citizens. You don’t care about the country.”

King Samuel bent over in pain for a few moments before he looked up at his former friend, his eyes blazing. “That’s for me to know and you to find out, Markwright.”

Markwright narrowed his eyes as he met King Samuel head (and sword) on. “Sam, I’ve made inquiries, here and in America. It has to do with your wanting to strip-mine Mypos for its rich supply of precious jewels and crystal and that little deal you made with the mobs in the US to trade for the ammunition that would allow you to take over all of southern Europe, doesn’t it?”

The King shrugged and dodged Markwright’s whirling blade. “Maybe.”

King Samuel made one last thrust at Markwright, who was clearly wearing down. His sword connected with Robert’s chest, slashing through cloth and flesh. The newspaper owner dropped his sword and gritted his teeth in pain as he slowly collapsed onto the throne. Dark blotches splashed against the wool caftan. “It’s over, Sam,” Robert gasped. “You’re the villain. You’ll never win.”

“That’s what you think.” King Samuel returned his sword to his belt. “I hate to kill and run, but I’m off to see a hanging, the wonderful hanging of the Crimson Eagle.” He made a face at the bleeding newspaper owner as he headed out the door. “ Robert, could you find somewhere else to die besides my throne? You’re ruining the upholstery.”

Markwright closed his eyes and clutched his chest. He knew why Sam killed Ferdinand, and maybe Carlotta. He had to stop him from hurting Balki and the others. He tore the unstained sleeve of his caftan, wrapped the wool around his bloody chest, and stumbled out of the throne room, sword in hand.

A Few Minutes Before Noon, The Courtyard at Pignika Palace

The citizens of Mypos converged in huge crowds around the tree-lined Palace courtyard. Scalpers hawked tickets for a hundred thousand dig-das. Vendors sold pig-gut sausage and pomegranate ale at the concession stands. The wealthy Sceptosian and European nobles perched on metal stands in the back of the courtyard, but the peasants sat forlornly in their carts and hand-woven blankets, penned in by troops and barbed wire. The King’s royal purple-and-gold suited troops surrounded the grassy area where most of the peasants were. Analysts and commentators were sent in from The Wide Island of Mypos. Even more members of the King’s troops and some of the Sheriff’s men guarded the section of the palace between the towers of Mypos, and still more stood on the scaffolding that held the heavy noose.

When the clock in the second Tower of Mypos struck noon, people were told by the King’s troops to move their bloody asses, because the parade was starting. The Sheriff’s men appeared from the stables on horseback, the gold braiding in their purple uniforms shining like the collars on the sheep. Balki Robinadous marched between two horses. His wrists, neck, and arms were bound with heavy rope, and his red blouse was in rags. Despite his attempt at telling a joke about two farmers who walked into a bar and met a pig and a dairymaid, he was pale, weak, and obviously frightened to death. A dainty soldier with fluffy blonde hair and a taller blonde led the young man to the scaffolding.

King Samuel was the last person in the procession, after the Miss Mypos float and the Sallie and Sammie the Sheep balloons. He rode a white horse and wore his finest robe and suit. The crown of Mypos glittered on his silvery-gold hair. He waved to some of the well-wishers in the crowd, accepting a rose thrown by an attractive noblewoman. He handed his horse over to a short, fat soldier with tiny, pig-like eyes who stuck his tongue out at His Utter Coolness’ retreating, violet-garbed back.

The King strode to the scaffolding and turned to the crowd, which anxiously sat (or stood) on the edge of their seats. No one moved. No one blinked. No one whispered to their neighbor or stood up to get coffee or called to the sausage seller for two dig-das worth of sausage, olive, and goat-cheese sandwich.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and the rest of you,” King Samuel began, “we are here today to witness the end of the short, undistinguished career of one of the worst menaces this island has ever known, the Crimson Eagle. I captured him stealing the Mypos’ greatest treasures, its Crown Jewels, and he will pay for his crimes with his life.” The nobles clapped and cheered; the peasants, who were devastated at the loss of their great hero, wept and booed.

Balki stood as tall as he could under yards of rope. “Maybe you didn’t get the right Crimson Eagle. Maybe you captured the one who only does the sword fighting, not the one who does the thinking.”

The King faltered. “How could I not? It’s kind of obvious. You’re tall, you’re a decent swordsman, you’re wearing that red shirt, and you’re strong enough, dumb enough, and dedicated to Mypos enough to burglarize carriages and balls, insult me, and start a revolution in the name of this pile of rocks.”

“Sam!” There was a rise of laughter from the stands and shocked gasps from the grass. Two men, one tall with frizzy hair, one short and paunchy, hurried through the crowd. They ignored the strange looks people gave their boxer shorts, undershirts, and sock feet. “Sam! Wait! I have something to tell you…”

The King glared at his confederate. “Harry, if I wanted to see someone half-naked, I would have rented a Bo Derek movie. At least she’s got the body to be going around without most of her clothes.”

“Balki Robinadous and Marianne Spencer stole my and the warden’s uniforms, freed the Crimson Eagle’s troops, and broke out of the dungeons.” The Sheriff frowned at Balki. “Robinadous, how in the hell did you get here? I figured you’d be half-way to Greece by now.”

“Sam,” the Sheriff snapped, “Robinadous isn’t the Crimson Eagle. He’s just one of his boys.”

“I tried to tell King Samuel last night,” Balki explained, “but he was too busy stretching me like my Plastic Man action figure to listen. I am A Crimson Eagle, not THE Crimson Eagle. A means one, and the…”

King Samuel roughly grabbed Balki by his neck. The crowd quieted again. Several ladies fainted onto nets and softer spectators. “If you’re not the Crimson Eagle, where is the real one?”

“I’m here!” The entire courtyard turned to the back of the Palace. A small figure in a purple and gold uniform, his greasy mustache and glossy brown curls glowing in the soft June sunlight, stood on the roof between a short redheaded trooper and a dark-skinned, tough-looking officer. “I think I’m the person you seek, Samuel Gorpleous.” He tore the mustache off his lip and threw off his purple jacket, revealing a familiar scarlet blouse and a beautifully engraved scabbard.

“That him is!” exclaimed a peasant from the crowd. “It is the Crimson Eagle! I read all his comic books!”

“I thought he’d be taller,” a noblewoman in the stands added.

The dark-skinned officer had to take The Crimson Eagle by the shoulder and shove him off the roof, but he did finally swing over the crowd on a rope tied to a convenient gingko tree, wailing the whole time. “Cousin Laurence,” Balki exclaimed, “whatever you do, don’t let go!” Everyone on the scaffolding dropped to the floor as The Crimson Eagle sailed over their heads and landed in one of the flowerbeds.

King Samuel wasn’t given a chance to do much more than draw his sword before the two blonde officers and the pig-eyed man who took the horses drew theirs and knocked the troops off the scaffolding. Another soldier chased the tall, frizzy haired fellow under a rock, and a third smacked the Sheriff on his posterior with the broad side of his blade. The dark skinned-officer and the redhead fought the troops on the roof, joined by several other men in purple.

The entire courtyard was in an uproar. Plump ladies raided the concession stands after the vendors rushed to the aid of the cousins. Some of the Crimson Eagle’s men cut down the supports holding the stands, which collapsed onto the ground with a crunch of wood and rich people. Other members of The Crimson Eagle’s group freed the peasants from the barbed wire pen.

Balki, Jennifer, and Marianne helped Laurence Wayne out of the gardenia patch. “Are you ok, Cousin Laurence?” Balki asked. “You took a nasty little spill there.”

“Oh, sure, I’m fine.” Laurence rubbed his wounded shoulder. “I always make my entrances swinging on a rope over thousands of people.”

“I told you not to let go!” Balki scolded.

“Look out!” Jennifer pulled Laurence back just in time to avoid a peasant woman with a baby on her back and a noblewoman in a fancy gown dueling with very long pig-gut sausage sandwiches. Balki grabbed one of the sandwiches, took a bite of it, handed it back to the women, and let them continue dueling.

“I think we’d better get out of here,” Laurence insisted. “It’s getting a little dangerous.” He took Jennifer by the hand and led her, Marianne, and Balki across the scaffolding.

King Samuel stopped them before they got halfway to the exit. “You’re not going anywhere, Robinadous,” he hissed, pointing his sword at the quartet. “Let’s have it out right here. Epic swashbucklers always end with the big duel.” He was a mess. His hair was windblown and his deep violet robe was in tatters.

Laurence gulped. “Couldn’t we just end with a handshake and a written agreement not to hurt each other?”

Balki put his hand on his cousin’s good shoulder. “Cousin, my honor and the honor of my country are at stake. You don’t mess around with a Mypiot’s honor! It isn’t nice, and it really gets our dandelions up.” He reached out and, much to his surprise, was handed a sword by someone off-camera.

Robert Markwright stood next to the first unit camera, leaning on his wife, Lydia. “Lydia and Harriett found me bleeding half to death in the halls of Pignika Palace. They helped get me outside.”

He nodded at Balki. “Robinadous, Sam murdered your father Ferdinand and gave the orders to destroy your mother’s hut and burn her to death. He wanted to take over Mypos, strip it of its mineral resources, and exchange the jewels for ammunition to take over the rest of the Mediterranean.”

Balki’s glare would have frozen the volcano on top of Mount Mypos. “He killed my papa and mama?”

“We know about the plan,” Laurence admitted. “Lord Charles Estevez told Balki, and we would have told the world if King Samuel and Burnsetti hadn’t ordered our carriage run off the road and had us fired.”

“What was I supposed to do?” King Samuel whined. “I wanted to take over all of the Tri-Island Area, but Ferdinand stood in my way.” He lunged at the young Myposian artist. “You’re gonna get it in the back, the same way your father did!”

Balki countered with a clang, nearly knocking the Sceptosian King off the scaffolding. “I don’t think so!”

Laurence grabbed Jennifer off the wood planks as the two men fought violently, jumping and yelling and calling each other “idiot Mypiot” and “babstinki.” Marianne and Lydia squeaked when King Samuel shoved Balki against the hangman’s noose. “It’s useless to resist, boy. You don’t know the power of the Sceptosians. If you give up now, I might consider giving you a job as a slave or a swineherd or something.”

“Never!” Balki responded with the clang of steel meeting steel. “One for all, and all for Mypos!” He managed to push the King to the edge of the wooden planks and finally knock the sword from his palm. He opened his shirt to reveal the sheep-shaped mole. “I am Crown prince of Mypos, and you aren’t very nice!”

The crowd instantly stopped hurting each other and gasped in shock. The remaining nobles groaned and the peasants cheered and threw roses and gardenia and pig snout onto the scaffolding.

King Samuel fell to his knees as Sheriff Burnsetti and several of his men made their way through the onto the planks. “Don’t kill me!” the King babbled. “It was Burnsetti’s fault! He hired those two goons to run into Wayne and Robinadous’ carriage in Chicago and arranged with his bosses to have them fired before they could blab our trade deal to the papers. It was his idea to kill Carlotta Robinadous and her son. They were going to encourage the peasants to revolt before we could excavate!”

Sheriff Burnsetti’s eyes bulged. “You sniveling, sneering, snotty snob! You were the one who slayed Ferdinand in the first place, and the whole damn trade deal was your brilliant scheme! You spent almost every penny in the Sceptosian treasury invading the Tri-Island Area!” He jumped at King Samuel and wrapped his corpulent fingers around the monarch’s thin neck.

A dusty black cart pulled by a red mustang and a black stallion trotted in front of the scaffolding as Burnsetti started shaking as much life out of the King of Mypos as he could. “Going my way?” Laurence asked. Harriett, Donald, and Jennifer were with him, still dressed in their Sceptosian uniforms. “Jen and I found the horses hidden in the royal stables.”

Harriett raised her eyebrows. “Baby, let’s get these folks out of here before Burnsetti decides he wants to take out the rest of us while his testosterone is still working.”

The group on the scaffolding climbed into Black Beauty as King Samuel aimed his knee in a sensitive spot between Burnsetti’s legs. Laurence jumped too hard and went straight through the remains of the cart floor. Marianne and Lydia helped him back in as the cart thundered out of the courtyard to the applause and whistles of the crowd that remained on its feet and in one piece.

“Follow them! Don’t let them escape” Laurence vaguely heard Burnsetti squawk as King Samuel gasped for breath. “And get me some pants!”

“So, where to now, C.E?” Donald asked as Balki joined his cousin in the driver’s seat.

“Pignika Harbor,” Laurence explained. “We’re meeting Charles there. He and his father Lord Martino Estevez went to Greece to get the peasants help toppling King Samuel’s reign.”

“I talked to the Greek prime minister before I arrived in Mypos,” Markwright added. “They’ll be more than happy to give Balki and the Mypiots all the help they need in running the Sceptosians off the island. They’ve heard rumors of King Samuel’s tyranny and fear he may try to invade other countries.”

“Cousin,” Balki exclaimed, “look out!” Burnsetti’s troops were already behind them. Burnsetti drove the first one himself, clad in an ill-fitting purple uniform. Gunshots fired above their heads.

“Laurence,” Lydia wailed, “can’t you stop them from shooting at us?” She popped her head out of the cart. “Hey!” she screamed to the oncoming vehicles. “Could you people have a little more consideration? My husband is practically dying here!” Another jolt sent her back into the cart, sitting down hard on the floor.

“Lydia,” Markwright assured her weakly, “I’m fine.” He started to sit up, but clutched his chest.

“Why do the men in this story ignore the signs they’re anything but fine?” Lydia grumbled as the cart swung onto a dark, damp side street to Pignika Harbor and the glittering Mediterranean Ocean.

Laurence squinted in the bright light of mid-day and slowed Chewie and Nightwing to a trot. “I don’t see them.” There were a few boats parked on the docks, but all was mostly quiet.

“Maybe they stopped to get a drink and a Happy Meal,” Marianne suggested.

“Marianne,” Jennifer reminded her, “there is no McDonald’s in the middle of the Mediterranean.”

“Oh, right!”

Three wide military carts roared alongside Black Beauty. Two more carts barricaded the way out of the harbor. “Give up, Wayne,” Burnsetti shouted through a bullhorn. “We have you surrounded.”

“And what if we do’n feel like giving up?” Balki asked, but Laurence shushed him.

“Balki, we’re obviously finished. They finally outsmarted us.” Laurence sighed, but Jennifer saw his hazel eyes twinkle. “We give up, Burnsetti. It’s over. You have us.”

“Baby, what’s going on?” Harriett asked, puzzled.

“You’ll see.” Laurence and Balki climed out of the cart, their hands raised. “I’m almost glad you caught us, Burnsetti,” Laurence said out loud. “I was just about to retrieve the Myposian Crown Jewels and turn myself in. I’m tired of running and tired of all the violence and gunplay in this fanfic.”

Balki gave Laurence a strange look. “You were, Cousin?”

“Yes, I was.” Laurence produced a thin, rumpled scroll from his pocket. “This is the map to the location of the Crown Jewels. I left the Jewels in a locked strongbox on the beach near the marinas for safekeeping.”

“Give me that!” Sheriff Burnsetti snatched the scroll from the young man’s hand and unrolled it. “You buried it on the beach?”

“You did?” Marianne asked. “I don’t remember you going anywhere near the beach during this entire story.”

“I did it in the middle of the night,” Laurence admitted sheepishly. He winked at Balki and Jennifer.

The Sheriff ignored them. He dug in the back of his cart and snatched a shovel. Everyone watched as the portly man in the ill-fitting uniform and his troops proceeded to fruitlessly dig one hole after another on the Myposian beach, annoying sunbathers, surfers, and families picnicking just off the set. The sunbathers, surfers, and families showed their displeasure with the destruction of their beach by chasing the Sheriff and his men into the water and throwing picnic baskets and food at them, chasing them into the water.

One of the surfers, a tall, lean fellow with angular cheeks and a wolfish smile, trotted up to Laurence and Balki. “What’s with the dudes? They’re tearing up the beach like there’s gold hidden in the sand.”

“Not gold,” Balki confessed, “jewels. He thinks there’s Crown Jewels in them thar dunes.” Balki frowned and scratched his head. “Um, Cousin, not to put a damp rag on the party, but what DID happen to the Crown Jewels?”

Laurence took his cousin’s wrist and led him to his dark-painted cart. He pushed the nail on a loose floorboard. The wood swung open to reveal a narrow secret compartment. The amethyst and pearl crown, gold pig and goat sculptures, gold shepherd’s crook, and seed pearl net sparkled in the bright sun. “Oh, dude!” exclaimed the surfer. “Check out the hot rocks!”

Balki took the crown in his hands. “They feel cold to me.”

Lydia’s jaw nearly hit the wood. “You mean the jewels were in Black Beauty the whole time?”

Laurence grinned. “Yes. The engines aren’t Black Beauty’s only ‘special modifications.’ I built these compartments for hiding stolen loot, like the Crown Jewels. The base they stood during the ceremonies on had a special lever that lowered them to the area under the Palace, where Donald and Harriett put them in the compartment as per my instructions. Balki, Charles, and I used the magic act and Soul Train concert to distract King Samuel from the mechanics.”

A twelve-gun cannon salute interrupted Laurence as he boasted to Jennifer how he and Balki came up with the details of his amazing machines. “Um,” shouted Lord Charles Estevez over a bullhorn from the head of the Greek-built ship, “we’re about to come into port. Would you people mind getting out of our way?”

Sunbathers, surfers, troops, cameramen, peasants, and dockworkers scrambled to safety as the swift-moving boats came to a screeching stop in the wood and dirt port. Greek soldiers filed out of the boats and met Sheriff Burnsetti as he emerged, dripping wet and so covered with seaweed he looked like a rubber monster from a bad science fiction film of the 1950s, followed by his equally seaweed-y men.

Charles hurried up to Laurence and Balki. “Dad talked to the Greek king and prime minister. Apparently, thanks to Mr. Markwright and their own secret agents, they’ve known about King Samuel’s plans to take over the Mediterranean for a long time. They feared he’d imperil their trade routes to the Middle East and the rest of Europe and were more than happy to send help to start a revolution.”

Laurence exchanged looks with Balki. He took the box with the Crown Jewels out of the black cart and handed them to his cousin. “These are truly yours now,” he said gravely, “your highness.”

Balki shook his head. “Cousin, you don’t have to be so normal with me! We’re best friends. I want to change the Myposian government one person won’t have so much power. I have some great ideas for a Hut of Representatives, but I’m going to need your plans to make it work.”

Laurence smiled. “You don’t need my plans, Balki. You’ll handle ruling the country just fine on your own. I’m going home to America. I want to find another reporting job, or maybe even write a book, now that I really have a story to tell.” He looked over his shoulder at the others. “How about the rest of you? Are you going to leave with me, or will you help Balki and re-establish Mypos?”

Marianne took Balki gently by the arm. Her smile was barely visible under a thick mustache. “I’m going wherever Balki’s going.”

“Of course you are,” grinned Balki, “my little queen of hearts.”

Laurence nodded. He knew Marianne was crazy about Balki. “Harriett? Donald?”

Donald made a face. “I’m goin’ back to the States. I can’t stay in a place that has no gambling, no horse racing, no betting on the side, and can’t even make a decent pastrami sandwich.”

Harriett shook her head. “I’m leavin’ too. Mypos is a nice place to visit, but it ain’t my kinda place to live.”

Lydia put her arms around Robert. “Robbie and I are going to Greece to get medical help for his wound, then coming back here to finish our summer vacation and give us time to get reacquainted.”

Robert Markwright smiled. “I’ll have to get our top men working on this story for all of the papers I own, especially The Daily Mypiot.” He turned painfully to Laurence. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here, Wayne? I’ll make you the head of your own investigative reporting team. You’ll have your own office overlooking the Mediterranean and will never have to write another puff piece again.”

“Or use cream puffs to blow up a sold rock wall,” Lydia added with a slight grin.

“Odd as it may seem,” Laurence admitted, “I actually enjoyed using cream puffs to blow up a solid rock wall.” He shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, Mr. Markwright, but I think I’ll just return to my old job at the Chicago Express-Times, with a raise and choice of stories.” He took Jennifer by the hand. “What about you? Are you coming to the US with me?”

Jennifer sighed. “My father is never going to believe I fell in love with short former reporter who became a renowned bandit on a tiny island in the Mediterranean, took part in a revolution, overthrew a corrupt government, ruined my best ball gown, saw an explosive made from sugar and cream blow up a solid rock wall, and rode in a cart with more holes than Swiss cheese and a built-in engine.” She took Laurence in her arms and gave him a deep, passionate kiss. “In other words, yes, Laurence, I’ll go to the States with you.”

Laurence smiled dreamily, grabbed her, and kissed her back. Lydia kissed her husband, being careful to not elbow his chest wound. Marianne bent Balki over and gave him a passionate smooch that made every Mypiot within five miles blush redder than the turnips in the carts. Donald puckered up for a kiss from Harriett but only received rolled eyes and an “I don’t think so, Shorty!” for his troubles.

Laurence, Jennifer, Donald, and Harriett hugged everyone, including the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin-Man, good bye. Laurence fed his beloved Chewbacca a final crumbled sugar cube and admonished Balki to take good care of him and of Black Beauty, turning the keys to the latter over to his cousin. Balki vowed to watch them with his life. Chewie and Nightwing gave Laurence final good-bye licks.

The troops, Balki, Marianne, Charles, Lydia, and a wan-looking Robert Markwright watched as the GSS Kryptonite floated lazily off into the sunset. Laurence and Jennifer stood behind the wheel, Jennifer leaning dreamily on Laurence’s narrow shoulder. “Cousin,” Balki exclaimed, “watch out for the...”

The Kryptonite just barely missed a boulder, but the prow smacked into the sun as drifted past. The orange circle fell into the sea with a crash of cymbals.

Balki groaned as the others exchanged amused or confused looks. “Now, he’s done it!”

Marianne sighed. “I love happy endings!” She put her arms around Balki. “Do you think we can really introduce the Mypiots to a new form of government? It’ll be awfully hard.”

“Of course we can, my little falling sunshine.” Balki chuckled. “Don’t be ridiculous!”