“Kick their warrior butts!” she screamed.
“Apply your boot to their common rears!” King Dehn shouted.
“Roger, roger, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, Brent Coleman can!” chanted Mavis.
“No defeat! No defeat! No defeat!” countered King Dehn.
“EEEEEEEE!” squealed Mavis, when Brent dunked another shot.
“FAIL US AND LOSE YOUR SPURS!” roared King Dehn.
And the whole game went downhill.
The knights hadn’t seemed to be shy about physical blocks before, but now it got ridiculous. Roger was only half as big as either of them, and he was doing his best to not get the ball snatched away--or worse, let himself be squashed.
“Unnecessary roughness!” shouted Mavis, waving her hand in what she thought was a referee like way.
“TEACH THEM THEIR PLACE!” bellowed King Dehn, clearly enjoying the new flavor.
“What!?” snapped Linda, when one of the knights went down hard. On top of Roger.
“No tackles!” said Mavis. “Even I know that basketball isn’t a tackle sport!”
“Your pardon,” said the knight. But the minute he said it, Mavis knew that he was about to do something mean.
And he did.
He ground he his boot into the back of Roger’s knee as he stood up.
Mavis jumped up so fast she had to sit right back down, before she fell down.
Linda was out on the court in less then a second. “You’re a--a disgrace to knights everywhere!” she spluttered. “You are a dishonor to chivalry! You are ejected from this game!”
The knight looked from Linda, to Brent, who was helping Roger limp to the sideline. “Dude, that was uncalled for,” Brent said firmly. “You’re out.”
“What is this?” cried King Dehn. “You think it unfair that our knight has bested you?”
“Your knight didn’t best him,” snapped Linda, whirling on the king. “Your knight squashed him! That’s against the rules! He’s out--he gets kicked out of the game!”
“You are a very feisty maiden.”
“I’m Latina. Deal with it.” Linda put her hands on her hips.
“Are you alright?!” asked Mavis, rubbing Roger on the back, and trying to look at his knee, and feeling a little panicked.
“It just hurts really, really bad. Nothing crunched. Like, I don’t think it’s broken.”
Brent came back out onto the court, his arms crossed. “You eject that knight, or you forfeit the game.”
“We do not see--”
“I don’t care what you see!” roared Linda. “You’re a great big, overgrown--”
Brent held up his hand. “We’re not asking. We’re telling. New knight, or you lose. Basketball has a long and noble history in our realm. It is a matching of skill with the ball, it is a test of stamina and speed. It is not something to be won by random violence or vengeful cruelty.”
Brent made it sound so heroic, Mavis felt bad for thinking basketball was stupid all of those years.
King Dehn seemed impressed, too. He leaned back in his chair, and stroked his beard. “We will replace the knight, and honor this great tradition. But you may have to forfeit, instead of us. You cannot play this great game of ‘two on two’ without two champions, can you? And who will replace Roger?” he smiled smugly. “The fainting girl? She could not play in the first place.”
“Oh, shut up!” snapped Linda. “I will.” She was furiously putting her hair up into a ponytail.
“You?” said King Dehn, Brent, Roger, Mavis, the imps, and the knights, all at once.
“Don’t everybody have a heart attack!”
“You play basketball?” gasped Roger.
“Varsity team, state champs.”
“Females are permitted to compete in this?!” cried King Dehn. “Wha--”
“Scared?” interrupted Linda. “You should be. Because once I get my hair out of my way, this female is going to whup your champion’s butts!”
King Dehn sat with his mouth open, looking rather stupid.
Linda flipped her new ponytail. “Come on, tin cans, let’s finish this!”
It was a whole new ballgame, now that Linda was in it. She was like a fury unleashed on the court, darting here, darting there, smashing the ball through the hoop. Once she and Brent connected, they were dunk city, and nothing the knights could do seemed to change anything. The net was still swooshing from the last basket, Mavis was still hoarse from cheering, and Brent and Linda were still high fiving, when King Dehn held up his hand for silence.
“I have never seen such a display of skill,” he began, and this time no one teased him about forgetting to speak in the third person.
“It is a pretty great sport,” said Roger, beaming at Brent and Linda.
“But don’t think I did all of that for your entertainment,” puffed Linda. “That was for my wimpy cousins--family is family, after all. And someone’s got to take care of business.” Her eyes suddenly narrowed, and she looked at King Dehn suspiciously. “You aren’t going to try and back out of the deal, are you?”
“We are a monarch of our word,” said King Dehn. “I will permit you to make your change to The Book of Things that Are.”
Mavis felt a huge weight come off her shoulders. Everything was going to be all right. But when she reached out for The Book, both King Dehn and Harnswiggle shook their heads.
“You cannot change something written about yourself,” said Harnswiggle.
“Which is a stupid rule,” said Bollygoggle.
“But it is a rule,” said King Dehn.
“Then can I do it?” asked Roger hopefully.
King Dehn seemed to think a minute. “You must not change anything written about us or our realm.”
“Of course not,” agreed Roger.
“Then very well, you are more responsible than the imps.”
Harnswiggle and Bollygoggle did not even protest. Their eyes were focused on The Book that Roger was now holding and opening in his lap. But everyone looking at him was making him nervous, so he turned around on the bench and licked the end of his pencil. Why did people lick the end of their pencils? He didn’t know, and they tasted disgusting. But people did it, and it seemed…
His eyes froze, transfixed on the page in front of him. “It's all being in Mavis’ head,” read a line, in very uneven pencil. But it was what was written above it that made all of the air escape from Roger’s lungs.
“Mavis is dying.”