"BULSTRODE! Oh, Bully! What have they done to you?!"
Queen Gretel came running into the chamber, having heard (and felt) the crash from halfway across the citadel. Bulstrode was sprawled face-down across the dais, and had evidently landed on several people – the distinctive helmet of the Opposition leader could be seen on one side, while someone else's legs were sticking out on the other. That strange tunnelling thingummy was there too, looking on from the wall behind them. Her husband returned a stony silence, but that wasn't exactly unusual for a stone troll, so it was hard to tell if he was dead or not. Gretel let out a prolonged wail just to be on the safe side.
Lord Fear slowly raised his head, the only body part he was currently able to move. "Could this day get any worse? Someone shut that woman up!" But nobody was in a position to do much about it.
"What is a 'woman'?" asked the wall creature in its musical drawl.
"Something even more infuriating than you," Fear growled.
Bulstrode stirred a little, prompting yelps and groans from assorted henchmen as he shifted his weight. Unsure of what else to do, Gretel glanced around for that most vital piece of first aid equipment: the damp cloth. There was a large basin of water standing at the foot of the dais steps. Forced to improvise, she removed one of her white silken gloves and dipped it in.
Witnessing this, Lord Fear's voice went up a few more decibels. "DO YOU MIND?!"
Her equally fiery eyes met his. "This is all YOUR fault! If only you hadn't sent him up that silly tunnel, none of this would have happened!" She hurled the sodden garment at him with surprising precision, smacking him clean across the face with it. Sheer incandescent disbelief rendered him incapable of anything more than occasional spluttering noises.
"'Ere, Queenie? You couldn't get us a drink, could ya?" piped up a raspy voice from beneath the troll's left arm.
"There's water here, but I'd have to fetch a cup," said Gretel.
"I was finkin' of something a bit stronger..."
"Shut up, Hands!" His employer had apparently regained the power of speech. "If you want to do something useful, woman, get this 20-ton monstrosity off me!"
Gretel pouted, hands on hips. "Maybe if you ask nicely."
"You heard. If you want my help, the least you can do is be polite."
Fear took a deep breath and said, through gritted teeth: "Get this 20-ton monstrosity off me, please."
"...Your Majesty." Gretel pretended to examine her nails while she waited.
He repeated this back to her, though it came out as more of a low hiss. She beamed, still not tired of hearing those words.
"Alllll right then. I'll go and find someone who can help." It didn't take her long; she had nearly reached the door when someone else came through it. "Hello. What's your name, and are you any good at lifting trolls?" she enquired.
The man regarded her blankly for what felt like a very long time. She decided he must have difficulty understanding more than one question at a time, and tried again with "My name's Gretel, Queen of the Trolls. What's your name?"
"I am Grimaldine of the Green," he finally replied.
"Oh, great," came Lord Fear's voice from behind her.
Grimaldine peered round her, smiling broadly as he observed the scene. "What have we here?" Gretel stepped aside to let him past, and he stood facing the side wall, staff in one hand, able to direct his gaze at anyone without moving the rest of his body. "Lord Fear, if I am not mistaken? We meet at last."
"I'm really not in the mood."
"I had thought it would be necessary to constrain you... perhaps even to fight and neutralise you. I see that someone has done the hard work for me!" He turned his head towards Gretel. "Is it you that I have to thank for this?"
"I had nothing to do with it. The whole thing was HIS idea." She pointed at Fear accusingly.
"Actually the tunnelness was my idea," said another voice, accompanied by a wiggling foot.
"And why did I ever think it was a good one?!" Lord Fear glared at Grimaldine. "Go on, laugh it up."
"Thwarted by your own foul schemes. How poetic," said the green wizard. He looked up at the creature on the wall. "And you, my elusive friend? Are you satisfied that this man cannot be trusted?"
"I know he has deceived me," it replied, the melodic rise and fall suggesting a note of uncertainty.
"He has merely been using you for his own wicked purposes. This place is not your home."
"Does that thing belong to you?" Gretel interjected.
"It is called the Brollachan. I am one of its guardians," he said before frowning. "Though alas, I failed in my duty by allowing it to be abducted."
A small gasp escaped Gretel's lips, while half-buried memories of a deep, dark dungeon threatened to resurface. "You should be ashamed of yourself," she shouted at Fear. "That's a terrible thing to do!"
"Really? I had no idea. So glad you're here to enlighten me." He rested his forehead on the floor.
Grimaldine addressed the Brollachan again. "I can bring you back to your own world, but I will not force you."
"If he doesn't, I will," muttered Fear.
The creature's eyes drifted from one to the other and back again, its expression difficult to read. "I hunger..."
"I and my brothers will tell you all you wish to know," said Grimaldine with a smile.
It seemed to be considering the offer. "Then I will go," it eventually agreed.
Grimaldine nodded. He reached into his belt pouch and pulled out a green gemstone, then closed his eyes in deep concentration whilst clutching it tightly. Gretel thought she saw his face turning the same colour as his robes. No, she wasn't imagining it – he was soon enveloped in an eerie green glow. He tilted his ornate staff towards the Brollachan, which took on the same virid hue. "Spellcasting: R-E-T-U-R-N!" There was a flash of light and they both vanished, leaving behind an ordinary plain wall.
"Be it gone, Yer Ludship?" came a voice from somewhere underneath the troll's right shoulder.
Fear rolled his eyes. "I'll have a look, shall I? Oh wait, there seems to be something stopping me!"
As if on cue, the giant figure moved again. There was a rumbling, grinding sound as he gradually drew in his splayed arms and placed his hands at the top of the dais steps, raising his massive torso off the various Opposition members as his arms straightened. Gretel ran closer, though she could offer only verbal encouragement: "That's it, Bully dear! Up you get!" At last his feet were flat on the floor and he could rise to his full imposing height, before holding his head with one hand. Lord Fear and his cronies stood up too and began to dust themselves down, apart from one fellow in a red bandana who sat gingerly examining one of his legs.
"That's the last time I do anything with a stone troll," said Fear, trying to get the circulation back into his own limbs. "I'll use something squashier in future."
Gretel looked up. "Come on Bulstrode, let's get you home. The best thing for a headache is sleep." She headed for the exit, followed stiffly by her husband. "Oh, and to drink lots of water."
He paused, turned, then strode towards the troll-sized cup of water standing nearby. Lord Fear's eyes grew wide as he reached for it. "No! The tuning's very sensitive--" But before he could do anything, the Pool's contents had disappeared down Bulstrode's throat. He winced as the empty vessel was flung across the floor as casually as a chicken bone, wreaking untold havoc on the circuitry.
As the mighty footsteps receded into the distance, there was a sudden whiff of tuna and a gauntleted hand touched his arm. "At least there were no fatalities, Lordness."
Turning his head, Lord Fear surveyed his pathetic excuse for a team from beneath his thundercloud eyebrows. "Don't speak too soon."