orth until the lands of the blue giants, west until the mountains beyond which no man had ventured and lived to recount the tale of his journeys, south to the border of the duchy of Greater Paroxysm, east to the shores of the mysterious sea of dragons - these were the lands of Lord Apostrophe the Wise. A legendary warrior who had fought the infidel in the holyland, the Franks on the continent and a particularly troublesome band of conservatively-dressed young men who traveled from castle to castle selling magazines and claimed to be working for God, Lord Apostrophe was respected by all who knew him, feared by those who opposed him and only asked about the story behind his unusual name by his closest friends after they’d had a few more pints than were good for them.

Contains polysorbate 80?

Lord Apostrophe had been graced with a daughter of great comeliness, a beauty of legendary renown who was sung of in ballads and mildly tasteless sea-chanties the length and breadth of Lord Apostrophe’s realm. Her hair was like a wave of golden foam upon the sands, it was said, her face like that of an angel with a bit more makeup than was arguably called for, her breasts like ripe fruit in a particularly revealing dress. When she walked, all eyes were upon her. When she spoke, great cries of delight would erupt from those around her.

In fact, when she spoke, all her friends made as much noise as they could. They’d been asked to do so by Lord Apostrophe himself, who appreciated that his daughter was a bit light above the neck, and would do well to have most of what she said drowned out by someone shrieking the current prices for freshly- slaughtered pig flesh at the top of his lungs.

When Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter came to be of age, she asked her father when she might marry and grace his court with grandsons to carry forth his noble line. Lord Apostrophe considered this, realizing that any grandson born of his half-wit daughter would be more likely to pursue a career as an itinerate frog-gelder than a noble warrior. None the less, she was of an age when a husband was called for, and she would have the finest husband the country could afford her.

So it was that Lord Apostrophe sent forth his heralds and messengers to all the hamlets, villages, crofts, farms and hovels of his realm to announce a great tournament, at which a husband for his beautiful daughter would be selected. Young men of noble birth and a reasonable pile of cash were invited to test their mettle against Lord Apostrophe’s finest knights. The winner, it was proclaimed, was promised the hand of Lord Apostrophe’s daughter, and all the other bits it was attached to.

The day of the tournament rose fair and bright, and upon the field of honour all watched with breathless anticipation as fifty of Lord Apostrophe’s knights appeared from their tents. Their armour gleamed as they strode, the earth shook with their footfalls, maidens in the galleries surrounding the field grew faint at their approach. This latter condition might well have been attributed to their knightly aroma, as few had bathed during the previous week.

Road rage of our forefathers...

Amongst Lord Apostrophe’s knights stood the immortal Sir Percival Bloodaxe, slayer of the invisible hoar-dragon of Underlynch, slaughterer of the savage legions of the dreaded Scots warlord Ironnose MacStrumpet and frequent customer of the house of ill-repute at the far end of the castle; Sir Tristram the Unspeakable, who had single-handedly felled the entire army of the legendary viking Olaf Olafsen Olafsensen Olafsensensen, before he was beaten up by a pack of really mean girls; Sir Bertran Angst, who would have mightily fought the Frankish hoards of Normandy save for his ill-defined dread of the uncertainty of his place in the universe; and Sir Bob of No Fixed Address, who played a wicked game of mumbly-peg.

The air grew hushed. Lord Apostrophe rose from his seat, followed moments later by his beautiful daughter. All eyes were upon him as he signaled his heralds to blow the fanfare. The trumpet blast stilled hearts throughout the assembled spectators. Dozens of hands felt around in their pockets for small bottles of pills.

"Good sir knights," called Lord Apostrophe. "Upon this field shall be selected the bravest, fiercest, most noble and worthy warrior in all the land. Whomsoever shall defeat thee shall have my daughter in wedlock, and shall be taken unto my house, to be bestowed with lands, chattels, beasts, forests and a room with a really nice view." He raised his mailed hand dramatically and cried, "Let the contest begin!"

The first of the contestants strode onto the field, his armour every bit as shiny and impressive as that of the knights of Lord Apostrophe. He raised his visor in tribute to the beauty of Lord Apostrophe’s daughter, whom he clearly was certain would be his before the day was out. Across the field of honour, fifty pairs of steely eyes gazed mercilessly into his own.

"Right, then," the first contestant shouted at the knights. "Which one of you do I have to fight?"

There was a murmur of laughter amongst the knights. Sir Percival Bloodaxe stepped forward. "Who told you that you only had to fight one of us?" he inquired.

The contestant took an uncertain step backward. "That’s what it said in the advertisement," he called back with growing disquiet.

Sir Percival Bloodaxe glanced at Lord Apostrophe, who gestured dismissingly. "Probably a typo," he said.

A great roar went up from amidst the knights of Lord Apostrophe, who stormed down the field of honour to the waiting contestant. The young man in his shiny armour managed a single thrust of his gleaming sword before fifty brave and belted knights were upon him. He was carried from the field with the assistance of a very large sponge.

The next contestant faired slightly better, managing to land a stinging blow upon the helmet of Sir Tristram the Unspeakable before he was dispatched by the war hammer of Sir Percival Bloodaxe. The third contestant was not even granted the opportunity to unsheath his sword before he was surrounded and reduced to a quivering heap of scrap metal and cat food.

Contents: One head. Handle with care. Use no hooks.

As the day wore on, the field of honour became littered with carbuncles of ruined armour, shattered weapons and enough pieces of the young men of the region to interest later archeologists for several decades. No champion had thus far survived the onslaught of Lord Apostrophe’s knights, and Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter had set herself to sewing a sign onto her dress which read ‘virgin for hire.’ Dusk was near upon the hills and the spectators surrounding the field of honour had largely thinned out to a few old ladies who were staying for the buffet afterward, and one gentleman who hadn’t located his bottle of pills in time.

A final contestant stepped onto the field. His armour was ragged and scarred with the blows of innumerable swords. His arms were rippled with ropy muscles. His blade was massive and dark with hardened blood. When he spoke, his voice was raw and commanding.

"I have come for your daughter, my Lord Apostrophe," shouted the contestant.

Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter glanced up from her sewing. "I’ll have that one, father," she said.

"He must first prove that he is worthy of you, my child, by defeating my knights," Lord Apostrophe admonished her.

Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter sighed and returned to her work as Sir Percival Bloodaxe began his by now familiar swagger down the field of honour, his sword held in one mighty fist. The final contestant moved not, awaiting the first of Lord Apostrophe’s champions.

Sir Percival Bloodaxe raised his sword, but the contestant remained where he stood. Sir Percival Bloodaxe swung his legendary blade. The contestant stepped nimbly from its path, dropped to his knees and drove a hitherto unnoticed dagger into a tiny gap in the armour which otherwise protected Sir Percival Bloodaxe’s wedding tackle. Blood stained the armour of Lord Apostrophe’s finest knight as he slumped to the ground, whining piteously.

The contestant stepped over the quivering body of Sir Percival Bloodaxe in time to see Sir Tristram the Unspeakable racing toward him, a mace grasped in his fist, swinging like the very hand of death itself. "Deceitful swine," bellowed Sir Tristram the Unspeakable as he ran. "Ignoble spawn of a Frankish whore and a goat-semen collector. I shall avenge good Sir Percival Bloodaxe and cut your heart from your low-born body."

The contestant raised his sword as if to parry the blow of Sir Tristram the Unspeakable, but at the last moment he merely stepped to one side, extended his leg and tripped the rushing knight. Sir Tristram the Unspeakable tumbled to the bloodied sands of the field of honour, where the contestant brained him with his own mace.

Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter got to her feet to applaud the contestant, who seemed to take no notice of her. Lord Apostrophe stilled her cries and bade her return to her sewing.

"But this could be my husband, Father," she pleaded.

"I feel certain he was just lucky," Lord Apostrophe assured her

The remaining forty-eight knights of Lord Apostrophe roared their incandescent outrage as if they were but a single man with a single mighty voice. They strode toward the contestant as if they had been commanded from the very pits of hell itself, their steel flashing in the dying crimson embers of the sun. The contestant retained his stance, his blade in its sheath, his countenance hidden behind the visor of his battered helmet. The towering dread he must surely have felt as he watched the finest knights in the land approaching to mete out his agonizing death could not be seen upon his face. No voice spoke.

The contestant dispatched the first of the knights who reached him by producing a live badger from a hitherto unnoticed fold in his armour and stuffing it into the helmet of his assailant. The knight ran screaming from the field, wrestling with the vicious little creature which was clamped, unyielding, to his nose. The second knight succumbed to a cry of "look at the size of the melons on that stark-naked noblewoman in the stands," afterwhich the contestant stuck him from behind with a spear. Four more knights fell as one when the contestant emptied a bag of fleas into their armour and they discovered how difficult it is to scratch through a suit of mail and a quarter of an inch of mild steel.

If I were any cooler I'd freeze.

A particularly enraged knight lunged toward the contestant with a war hammer in one hand and an axe that could have easily cut a cow in half in the other, roaring oaths of the death that the contestant would know for his work this day. Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter cried out once and then mercifully swooned. The contestant dispatched the fearsome knight with nothing more than a screwdriver, tightening the joints of his armour until he was rendered immobile.

One by one, and then in groups, the brave and renown knights of Lord Apostrophe fell to the hand of the unknown contestant, until not a single one stood between him and Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter. When the last of them lay at the unknown warrior’s feet, his wrists bound behind him with furry leather handcuffs and his confused, enfeebled voice crying "please don’t whip me again, oh mistress of pain," the contestant strode forth, pausing before and Lord Apostrophe. With a grand flourish, he raised his visor to his new lord.

Lord Apostrophe gasped. He had thought to gaze upon the smiling, rugged features of a young knight of leonine heart and breathtaking good looks, but what stared at him from within the helmet of the contestant was none of these things. The man’s face was scarred by many swords, and his right eye was missing. He lacked an ear and several teeth. His smile was wily and venomous.

"By all the gods above," exclaimed Lord Apostrophe. "You... you can be none other than Sir Boxwood Snipe-Weasel of Greater Paroxysm."

The contestant bowed slightly. "That would be I, my lord," he agreed.

"But you are a legendarily vile and unprincipled knight," Lord Apostrophe continued. "You are known throughout the land to be treacherous, cunning, deceitful and nasty. It is said that you never face another man honourably, but always prevail through trickery. You are known to lie, cheat at every opportunity, employ the lowest and basest forms of combat, kick below the belt, pay women of mean station to infect your opponents with lover’s itch and you belch noxious substances. You are not at all what I had in mind when I organized this tournament."

Sir Boxwood Snipe-Weasel of Greater Paroxysm was silent for a moment, and when he spoke, it was with a measure of amusement in his voice. "I find that difficult to credit, my lord," he said. "Judging by the way you arranged this tournament, only a man of unsurpassed treachery, cunning, deceit and nastiness would have stood the faintest chance of retiring from the field with the traditional compliment of limbs. Only a man prepared to fight dishonourably and to prevail through trickery might have hoped to continue the manly sport of breathing at the conclusion of this contest. Only a man with the most fluent command of lying, cheating and the basest forms of combat could have aspired to win this day and the hand of your beautiful daughter. I’m afraid the legend about my paying women of mean station to infect my opponents with lover’s itch is merely a myth, but now that you mention it, I’ll have to keep it in mind."

Sir Boxwood Snipe-Weasel of Greater Paroxysm paused for a moment, and then continued. "In short, my lord, when I heard of this contest I was certain that you could only be seeking an utter bastard, as only an utter bastard could win it. If you’d wanted a wholesome, chivalrous son in law, you probably should have organized a spelling bee."

Lord Apostrophe shook his noble head in despair. "My daughter so desired a handsome, brave knight to take her as his wife," he mused.

Sir Boxwood Snipe-Weasel of Greater Paroxysm glanced at the unconscious form of Lord Apostrophe’s beautiful daughter and nodded his head. "She’s probably in for a bit of a surprise when she wakes up," he agreed.

I'm an endangered species... take a hike!

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