Construction for the house began quietly enough. Hern had acquired the building supplies from neighboring carpenters who were curious as to why he didn't want them anywhere near the project. After several wagon trips, the area near the hill entrance was filled with beams, planks, shingles, poles, barrels of nails and pegs, and stone.
Arbiddance sat on a nearby rock cradling the bottle as if it were a fragile infant. Qova stood further up the hill looking up and down the road.
Shit, she thought as she spotted the familiar figure trotting their way on horseback.
"Guess who's coming," she muttered to Hern as he finished unloading the last wagon. "Your friend, Smiley."
Hern turned to the sound of the hoofbeats. The rider crossed the ditch and entered their camp.
"I wonder," the ridculous looking man cried out. "Could you spare a cup of water? For the horse you see. He's not particular in what sort of vessel it comes in."
The rider was a tall, thin man with no apparent muscle whatsover. His head was too small for his body, and his grin was too big for his head. And he always grinned... even in his sleep, Hern once noted. His hands looked like butter paddles at the end of small handles... he stuck one out toward Hern, who shook it.
"I suppose we could water your nag with one of our finest crystal chalices," Hern quipped. "You, however, will have to make do with a trough."
"Oh, that's fine. I'm not too proud," the man laughed and turned to Qova. She always got the impression he was sizing her up for potential dinner based upon the glistening in his eyes. "And my dear Qova... how are you?"
"Well, I was fine until you lowered the tone of this little get-together," she shot back smiling. "You just can't resist fucking up someone's fine day, can you?"
"My dear," the man grabbed at his heart as if shot with an arrow. "Barbs from you are more precious than the sweetest whispers from an entire harem. Speaking of... how would you like to join mine? You'd want for nothing, I promise you."
"I'd rather kiss a naga, but thank you all the same," she beamed. Though it didn't seem possible, the man's smile grew even wider.
Arbiddance seemed to be napping against the rock, or at least faking one. The man cried out "Arbiddance! Still the life of the party I see...!" Arbiddance replied only with a middle finger.
"Yes, that's right. Do it again," the man mumbled through his smile.
"Prince, I hate to break this up," Hern interjected, "but we're about to build a house right where you're standing."
"A house? My word!" he looked quickly around. " I shall, of course, retire to a safe distance lest I be accidentally struck by a hammer or something like that."
He led his horse back across the ditch, unstrapped his mandolin, and began to pluck wildly at it as he bent his knees in time:
O Qova the darkmane
Can drive a man insane
With her gaze and her womanly wiles...
And nary a warrior
Can stand up before her
Or say no to her ruby-red smiles...
Qova looked at him as if his head were two dogs stuck together, turned and slightly smiled to herself as she brought her attention to Arbiddance.
Hern walked off to the side to stifle a grin.
Arbiddance stood up, walked toward the construction site, and began to remove the stopper from the bottle.
O Arbiddance the tragic
Will now use his magic
To build a quaint domicile...
"You're going to want to shut up!" Arbiddance shouted. "This isn't lemonade in here! It's something I can slay you with, so let's pipe down, okay?"
The Prince returned the instrument to the horse's saddle and waited patiently. What he saw next took him an entire week to make into song.