Vern took a swallow of ale. “Now, how may I guide you, O Beefy One?”
Hallucination or not, Erik needed to find his friends. Once they were all together and out of danger, they could figure a way out of this strange world. “Well, I’m looking for an item. I assume it’s, you know—magic.”
“Good, good. I’ve got plenty of contactsh in the magic item industry,” said Vern. “What kind of item?”
Erik recalled the Ghost Queen’s warning: Thou shouldst speak of thy quest only at need, and choose thy guides with care. He wondered whether he’d chosen with care. Vern seemed to be rather talkative… and a little flaky. At the same time, he did seem eager to help.
“It’s sort of complicated,” said Erik. “I need it to rescue my friends, who’ve been imprisoned in a magic castle. The castle is trapped between planes or something.”
“Cool. Are any of your friendsh babesh?”
“Um, yes. Two babes, I mean girls, and two guys.”
“Awesome! Well, what do you need? A holy avenger sword? An amulet of the planesh? Maybe the legendary Ring of Gax?” Vern waggled his eyebrows.
Erik leaned forward. “Nothing like that. It’s a sort of… snake bracelet.” He glanced around the shadowy tavern. “Can we go somewhere else? I’m not comfortable talking about it here.”
“I suppose,” said Vern. “We don’t want to tip anybody off. But before we begin our grand adventure together, you need a good character name.”
Erik shook his head. “I don’t need a name, Vern. I need to free my friends. They’re probably being starved and tortured while we sit here eating burnt egg rolls. My friend Zane is just a little guy, and not very healthy to begin with. He needs me. So far you haven’t guided me at all, except to show me where to get bad Chinese take-out.” Erik leaned his head in his hands. “We’re wasting time here!”
“Patience, grasshopper.” Vern tapped his lips. “How do you feel about dying your hair red?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because Erik the Yellow doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
“I don’t think so.”
Vern scrunched his face in thought. “How about Geoffrey the Great? You know, like Shir Geoffrey Chaucer?”
“Who?” asked Erik, only half listening.
“Chaucer! Tell me you’ve never read The Canterbury Talesh.” Vern paused, reflecting a moment. “If you haven’t read it, don’t bother with The Wife of Bath’sh Tale. It isn’t what you’d expect.”
“Don’t remind me about baths. And no, I don’t feel like a Geoffrey. Geoffrey is a giraffe.”
“Okay, fine. Something Swedish then, I mean, Norwegian.” He rolled his eyes. “How about Bjorn the Axe-Man Borg?”
“He’s Swedish, Vern. Anyway, I don’t play tennis.”
“Too bad.” A sly smile crept over Vern’s face. “What about Chuck Norrish, then? Nobody beatsh Chuck Norrish.”
Erik shook his head.
“All right, Mr. Terry Brooksh,” said Vern, folding his arms. “Let’sh hear one of your great ideash for a cool name.”
Erik noticed a posse of rough-looking characters milling around near a fire exit. They glanced every so often in his direction, trying without success to look uninterested. Erik didn’t like the way they fiddled with their weapons.
“Vern, I think we should leave. We can talk back at Katharine’s room.”
Vern squinted an eye. “Nah! She’s an awesome babe, but this is guy’sh talk. It’d be like playing Dungeonsh and Dragonsh in front of your mother.” Vern shuddered. “Anyway, we’re not moving until you pick a freaking name!” He leaned back in his chair and almost fell over.