Forgive the awkward formatting; I hope it doesn't make the text too hard to read.
The King watched Sir Matt and Sir Zap trot off to his right, heading toward the south side of the forest. It was hoped that by entering the forest by the main road, they were more likely to meet some creatures and cause a ruckus. This disturbance would allow the King to enter relatively unobserved from the less conspicuous northwest side, out of sight of the town. All seemed calm and peaceful as he entered the forest. The King shifted the bag slung over his shoulder, muttering something about having to carry extra baggage.
While he had intended to fight any enemies by sword, the Queen had insisted that he take the bag handed him by the Court Magician as he made preparations to leave the castle. The King had obliged her by taking the bag. Peeking inside, the King saw the usually mess of random items that was suppose to help him accomplish his mission. Once, the man had given him a sheet of aluminum foil, some bananas and chocolate, and a mystic fire-lighter. He ended up getting lost in a wilderness and eating the bananas and chocolate, catching a ride from a passing dragon by attracting it with the shiny foil, and giving the mystic fire-lighter to the dragon because the creature was afraid of its own flame and enjoyed cooked meals instead of raw. Another time, he had been given a spindle, some hay, and a bag of peas. Unfortunately, the damsel he was rescuing had a horrible fear of pointy things--said she fell asleep for one hundred years at a time if she so much as pricked her finger--and he never found out what the hay and peas were for as his horse got hungry and ate them. This time, the Magician had given him a bouquet of buttercups, two boxes of truffles, and a bright yellow package with a "pull tabs in emergency" label on it.
Suddenly, several creatures that at first appeared to be large mosquitoes came buzzing and laughing out of the trees. “Brownies!” the King exclaimed as several small javelins stung his unguarded nose. His horse reared, ejecting the King from his seat, and galloped out of the forest. The Brownies all cheered at this victory. None noticed the buttercups that had fallen out of the King’s bag and scattered on the ground. The pollen spread in the air as the flowers rolled to the ground. Immediately, the Brownies began to rub their eyes and sneeze. Soon, they couldn’t see where they were flying so began to crash into the trees. The Brownies that could evacuated the area immediately.
“Why, I do believe they are allergic to the flowers!” the King exclaimed. The area was as deserted as it was when he entered it. He bent down, picked up a not so mangled buttercup and placed it in his chain mail shirt. “Looks like the Court Magician got something right for once.” He found an ill-trodden path and followed it deeper into the forest.
After a while, the path took him through a clearing, and split at three big boulders. The trees overhead were so thick they blocked the light from the sky, making the place quite dim and spooky. Before the King could decide which way to go, the boulders uncurled themselves and became three big trolls, each wielding a spiked club. The King drew his sword to defend himself. “You won’t need that,” one of the trolls said. “Just pay the toll.”
“And what would that be?” the King asked.
“A bite off your arm!” bellowed one.
“No, a nice juicy thigh,” said the other.
“Or, just some caramel truffles,” the last one said. “We rarely get those, and they taste ever so much better.”
“Well, I just so happen to have a box,” the King drew the package of chocolate out his shoulder bag. He extended the box to the trolls. “Would you kindly tell me which way to the Slimy Swamp?”
“To the right!” they said as they wretched the box from his hand and ripped the pink ribbon off. The King rushed passed them to the right and continued his journey.
After following the path for about thirty minutes, the foliage began to change from oaks to pines and finally to large cypress trees, their knees rising out of the algae covered water of the swamp. To the King’s right was a lichen covered log, floating in the still water. On second glance, the log was certainly green, but not lichen-covered—it was a crocodile, sunning itself in the last rays of light coming through the gaps in the forest ceiling. The King was startled to see it so close that he jumped and cried out. This woke the sleeping crocodile, who in turn jumped and yelled when he saw the King.
“Oh please, don’t tell them I was sleeping on the job!” he began to plead with the King.
“Sleeping on the job?”
“Yes, you see,” here the crocodile leaned in close to the King and whispered, “We’re having a bit of trouble with some other creatures in the Forest—“
“Another Leviathan?” the King interrupted.
“No, not a Leviathan, but a situation of similar direness. The Great Croc is currently conversing with the three Princesses of Butterball—“
“Whom I have come to collect,” the King cut the poor Croc off again. “What’s the meaning of capturing them like this?”
“They weren’t captured!” The Croc became defensive. “They agreed to visit the Great Croc at his invitation—“
“And they didn’t tell me about it?”
“The Great Croc invited the King and Queen too. The Royal Jester, who was with the Princesses, said he’d extend the invitation himself.”
That great joker, the King thought. I’ll…deal with him when I get back. He cleared his throat. “Well then, please take me to the Great Croc, and my daughters.”
The croc blinked in surprise. “Oh, yes your majesty!”
With the Croc’s permission (whose name was Bryce) the King seated himself on the animal's back, and they swam to the small island in the middle of the Swamp, which served as the central court of the Great Croc. There were several Crocs standing around talking, some wearing gold medallions, embellished leather vests or suits of armor. On a large flat rock at the far end of the island lay their leader, the Great Croc. He was chatting with the three Princesses of Butterball.
“Daddy!” they exclaimed when they saw him coming towards them. They leapt up and wrapped their arms around his neck to greet him.
“Guess what?” Princess Butterfly exclaimed. “The Great Croc wants to send some of his warriors to live in the Castle moat again!”
“And give us swimming lessons and take us fishing!” Princess Butterfinger jumped up and down.
“That’s not all,” Princess Buttercup explained. “He’s having Minotaur trouble, and wants you to defeat the Great Minotaur in battle.”
“What?” the King asked, confused.
The Great Croc let his formidable tail slide over the rock. He explained the situation more coherently. “The Great Minotaur, as you know, is the ruler of the east side of the Perilous Forest,” the Great Croc pulled out a map of his domain and spread it on the rock for the King to see. “Our Swamp borders on his realm, and there is a small part where our swamp bottlenecks and spread out again. He has taken hold of this part, where it joins the Gleaming River. This is a major problem, since that is where most of our fish supply comes from.”
“We have already tried negotiating with the Minotaur, and meeting him in battle, both which did not end well. So, I thought I’d call upon you for assistance, and accept any help you decided to give. I realize that the alliance between the Crocs and Butterball has not been honored for some time, but I was hoping you would keep it.”
“Of course,” the King replied. “Glad to help an old friend in trouble.”
“The Princess Buttercup has already given a suggestion that I think will work,” the Great Croc said.
“Yes—I suggested a contest between warriors of opposite sides!” the eldest princess said gleefully. “Not a joust or duel—they’re too boring and dangerous. More like a race with obstacles. You know, swim the length of the swamp with your armor and sword in hand, a wrestling match with a troll, and outwitting the Brownies. And make so there’s no holds barred on the contestant’s side, meaning, they can’t do anything to hinder the other contestant, but can do anything necessary to overcome the obstacles themselves. What do you think?”
“Brilliant!” the King exclaimed. “Could we make it a relay race? That way one warrior won’t have to do it all—it could be quite tiring, to swim with your armor on and sword in hand. In my younger days I could do that, but now, I might not have the strength left to wrestle a troll afterwards. But not even all young warriors can do that. Splitting the challenges up will make it fair for everyone.”
“Sounds excellent to me,” the Great Croc was satisfied. “I shall issue a challenge to the Minotaur immediately. Bryce! Prepare a flag of truce, and send the Scribe to me.”
Bryce nodded his head and crawled quickly away.
“Your Excellency—two of my knights came into the forest by the main road today,” the King told the Great Croc. “Did any of your people happen to sight them or know where they might be now?”
“No, but I can inquire after them,” the Great Croc replied. He called to another Croc. “Giles! Go with Bryce and inquire after the two knights of Butterball.” Another Croc slithered away, following Bryce.
A Croc supplied with a writing kit soon appeared. After laying out a large, thick sheet of parchment and inking his quill, he indicated that he was ready to transcribe the Great Croc’s challenge to the Minotaur:
To the Great Minotaur, Ruler of the East Side of the Perilous Forest, and fashioning himself owner of the Croc’s Bottleneck,
From the Great Croc, Ruler of the Slimy Swamp, to whose People the Croc’s Bottleneck really belongs, and the King of Butterball, ally of the Croc People,
To settle the current border disagreement concerning the area of land commonly known as Croc’s Bottleneck (for a reason), we challenge you to a contest today to take place at half-past three in the afternoon. The winner shall claim ownership of Croc’s Bottleneck. The details are listed as follows. Please reply by half past one this afternoon.