Kertmag the Terrible by Julian Grant

Kertmag the Terrible
Julian Grant

Kertmag the Terrible leaned back in his well-worn armchair and popped up his large, bunny-clad feet. Not real bunnies, as he was Kertmag the Terrible and not Kertmag the Cruel or Unusually Vicious Towards Small Fluffy Animals. These bunnies were slippers from one of the children, he couldn’t remember which one, having saved an awful lot of virgins from a fate worse than, well, him – and once the screaming and upset was over, it usually settled down into a nice enough arrangement with regular meals and snogging and then, of course, children by the usual way.

But Kertmag, like most heroes, and he was a hero despite the Terrible moniker which was a birth-name and not an attribution, ended up buggering off once the sprout or sprouts got too big and the once aforementioned virgin was tired of him. He knew full well that, in theory, heroes seemed awfully good to have around the palace, slaying the occasional dragon or wizard who had gotten too big for their robes, but the never-aging spell that kept him young and muscular and looking pretty much the same year after year quickly bread resentment, upset and unfair comparisons between his unchanged looks and the now slightly-deflated version of the princess, comely maiden or (on one occasion) wood nymph he had saved and bedded. Unlike most of his contemporaries who seemed more than happy to quickly wench-and-run, Kertmag the Terrible was perhaps one of the only of his Guild that actually read and practiced the code of honor as stated in the bylaws of the Heroes Charter. Most of the lads and some of the few lady heroes seemed to gloss over the whole, “are beholden to the maiden most fair for the rest of their lives…” section as most of them at one point or another had acquired an everlasting life spell as one of their first heroic quests. Outside of the Grail, which was the magical equivalent of nipping down to the shops for a fictitious skyhook, life extending spells or magical items were real and came in awfully handy in the hero business. So, a quick grab-and-dash of the elixir of eternal life or the magical gewgaw of great earthly power early on in the hero game certainly made the whole business of vanquishing Visigoths, vampires and Barons with evil intent a lot easier allowing heroes to end the day mostly fresh, unscratched with bunny slippers up before a roaring fire with none the wiser.

But Kertmag the Terrible had long had an issue with fibbing, or outright lying, if he was being really honest about it about the whole extended life properties. It was a well-kept secret within the Guild with none outside of the Local being aware that despite the flames, fangs and magickal attacks, very little real damage could be done to one blessed with life-enhancing elixirs or forever-fine necklaces or long-life bracelets.

Except for decapitation of course.

Once the head was off, well, all bets were off. Same with limbs. If a particularly nasty troll or giant decided to pluck your legs or limbs off, there wasn’t any growing of them back. One-Leg the Unlucky was a prime example of this. It didn’t look very good in the hero business if you show up, helmet polished, armor gleaming on a brilliant white charger or heavily armored goat cart with a leg off. It shows a lack of finesse to the customer and it doesn’t take long for everyone in the town or hamlet or backwards farmland village to wonder what exactly took the arm or leg off and maybe they should be paying less for a damaged hero or at the very least consider looking about for one not so shopworn.

Kertmag still had all his bits – even after the four hundred years or so he had been swinging his blade. He had all his teeth, hadn’t had any complaints about his snuggling and the children he’d littered everywhere certainly seemed to be proof positive that his sword still had the right mettle.

But he was alone once again having realized that here, in his secret bolt hole (that he’d held onto despite the royal weddings, hand fastenings and common law couplings) that he had to do something. He’d done a runner at night on twenty-two such obligations over the years always hoping that his former maiden would think kindly of him in their twilight years. They did not.

When he received the first suit for payment of damages for trust unfulfilled, he was actually quite shocked. It seemed that as the times changed, so did the legal recourse of said maidens who wanted financial compensation for breach of contract. Or to put it in terms that Kertmag could understand once he hired a well-read bookman whose business was law-ing, he owed money to all the women who bore him children over the years and he was fully expected to provide succor and a portion of his holdings from each quest, journey, adventure and/or life-threatening treasure hunt that he inevitably found himself on. He had escaped the first two millenniums relatively unscathed but the last two had been a nightmare of writs, demands and at least three instances of a Sherriff showing up at his door demanding ingots, jewels or currency for one or more of the aggrieved parties.

Which meant Kertmag had to keep working to keep paying former wives and the cycle seemed unstoppable. He was biologically pre-programmed to save the woe begotten, the captured, the kidnapped and mistreated maiden and then rinse and repeat. It was all he knew. His heart, forever keening for the comely and fine hand of the maiden fair, knew no other response than to seek out the companionship of love and then his own sense of duty kept him firmly planted where he continued to produce the financial timebombs determined to explode in due course.

On his last venture out, nine separate requests for payment equaled ninety percent of the horde he had liberated from the Demon Vorvamug leaving him only ten-percent of the spoils. Thankfully, there had not been a virgin in sight or Kertmag knew he would follow his usual pattern and find himself betrothed and abed and inevitably broke.

A knock sounded at the thick door of his home just as Kertmag had settled down with a fine bottle of mead determined to at least knock himself senseless while he could still afford it.

“Can you help me, Sir? Please, Sir!!! My daughter has been taken by the Valkyries of Borag! I have nowhere else to turn…”

Kertmag sighed, the blanket draped over him a poor cover for the face now peering in through the window of his obviously not-so-secret bachelor stronghold.

He stood, tossing off both the slippers and wrap as he flexed to full size as he moved to the door grasping Foehammer, his silver sword. It wouldn’t look proper to answer the call of duty with bunnies on his feet.

As Kertmag answered the call, he knew two things: That he would rise to the challenge and answer this most desperate of needs because he was a hero and was determined to live his life as he knew best. Plus, if he changed his name once this was done and slipped off, he’d leave behind the debts and obligations of Kertmag the Terrible and rejoin the Guild as Rowland the Talented.

Problems solved.


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