Green peppers had seemed like an obvious alternative. They were the same color as apples, after all As a rule, PDQ gave most green things a rather wide berth when it came to his own meals, so it probably shouldn't have surprised him that he'd made a mistake.
He slumped against the moldy dungeon wall and kicked his leg to make the shackles sing. They were rusty, but most of the iron down here was. The damp was wreaking havoc on his nose and throat. Calling the king Adelbert the Fair was definitely a misnomer then. If PDQ ever learned to write, he would have to keep a record of correct history with fitting names. Adelbert the Vengeful Wet Blanket. It had a certain ring.
PDQ coughed. The sound was like a splintered gate being eaten by a goat with glass teeth, but the worst bit was the feeling it left in his throat. He was convinced that three more days of this would leave him with a throat you could plant tomatoes in.
The tail end of his coughing fit echoed around him for a few moments after it was over. There was music in it, just like there was music in everything, and it did a good deal to make PDQ smile. Often the music around him was a discordant tangle of misfortunes, but it had a great beat.
"Excuse me, but you sound almost dead. Are you?"
And now he was hearing voices as well. That made it more interesting. He smiled at the darker, albeit less smelly end of the cell and said, "Not quite yet. Have the rats bagsied my liver yet? It's still a pretty good one."
A rat body flew at him in a lazy arc, ending its journey with a cold sort of slap as it hit the stones by his ear. PDQ flinched at the sound. He'd gotten used to the rats, but he preferred them alive and retaining the capability to scurry away so he wouldn't have to look at them for too long.
"There aren't any rats anymore," the voice said. It was a woman's voice, lit up by satisfaction and rich with maturity. If PDQ had ever had a grandmother, he decided that she would have sounded just like that, still spry enough to box the ears of a bear. "Besides, I don't think they bagsy bits of people. Probably they just share."
PDQ tried to inch away from the rat's limp carcass. "Oh. That's very sensible of them."
It was never quite possible to tell what time of day or night it was in the Vengeful Wet Blanket's dungeon, as the windows always let in the same amount of weak light. It turned everything a sort of blue-y shade. He squinted through it as a figure departed the corner.
She was just tall enough to be a dwarf, which was appropriate, as she seemed to be one. A long scraggly beard covered the front of her dress, but her muscular arms were bare. What parts of her skin showed were streaked with the various filth of being locked underground, without bothering to be scarred or even particularly wrinkly. In the blue-y light, she held a sort of otherworld beauty. A hood shadowed her face, but her nose, possibly functioning on pure pride, jutted out of the dark mask.
For a moment, PDQ just stared at her in awed silence. True, if he'd been standing, she would have just been able to meet the gaze of his knees, and he'd seen less dirt on a patch of farmland. He wouldn't win any medals for good looks himself, though. He never seemed to go more than three days without at least one black eye, he was missing a couple of teeth for similar reasons, and he had the dress sense of a beggar's underpants.
The dwarf pulled back her hood, revealing sharp unforgiving features and curly dark brown hair in the process of turning gray. Her nose was still the proudest part of her face, set between two deep-set eyes that were currently judging him. He waited for them to pass a guilty verdict. "What're you called?" she asked, snapping him to the forefront of consciousness.
"Er, PDQ Edric," he said, then waited for her to ask the question.
She wrinkled her nose. It was like watching a landscape shift. "Petey what?"
Alright, one of the questions. He liked her already with that one. "They're letters," he explained. "A p, then a d and a q. It makes my name shorter."
"So give me your whole name, then."
He scratched his head. When his fingers came away green and slightly moldy, he scooted away from the wall. He quickly realized that this brought him closer to the dead rat, and moved accordingly. The dwarf woman glared down at him impatiently. "Um, it's
Well, my whole name?"
"Yes, and then I'll tell you mine, if you like."
"Oh." He would like that. He liked knowing people's names. It lessened the likelihood that they would kick him. "Pretty Damn Quick."
Then, "Come again?"
"Pretty Damn Quick Edric. That's my whole name." First, actually. He was afraid to tell people his family name.
She started laughing, and PDQ liked her rather less. When she stopped, she had to wipe her eyes. "Ah. I think we'll get on famously, Edric."
Older people had a habit of addressing him that way, and he didn't like it very much. However, there was nothing for it. He turned enough that he could kick the rat away, then moved over and offered the woman the dryer bit of space on the floor. "Have a seat, Miss."
"Oh, polite, are you?" She gave him a smile that was about as tender as frozen nails. "Good survival trait, that."
"Thank you," was all he could think to say. "Are you going to tell me your name now?"
She sat in the spot he'd given up for her, then settled into it almost gracefully. "Of course. I'm Griselda Galuska."
PDQ's stomach rumbled loudly. "That's a long name."
"Oh you're one to talk. Pretty Damn Quick Edric just rolls elegantly off the tongue, doesn't it?" She didn't wait for a response, which was just as well, as PDQ didn't have one. "You've been here for a few days."
"Have I? It's hard to tell."
"Never mind." The fetid air retreated as Griselda opened a flask of even nastier smelling liquid. She swigged it, then put the flask back in her sleeve. "D'you want out of here?"
PDQ did his best not to look at her as if she were dim. It was almost too difficult. "Do fish swim?"
"Of course they do, but we aren't talking about fish, or how they get around. We're talking about you."
"Yes I want out!" He balled his fists and kicked his feet out. The shackles banged against the stones and bruised his ankles even more. He felt he had suddenly lost the right to consider Griselda the dim one. "What a question, though
She took out a pipe, then began smoking something that smelled worse than whatever was in the flask. PDQ wondered if she had an escape plan that didn't include leaving the cell in a physical sense. "It's a sensible question. I've got a plan, and it only needs one, but it can include two, if you're brave enough."
He chewed on his bottom lip, which was chapped and predictably tender after days of low water rations. The accurate way to reply would be to indicate in some way that he was only brave when it coincided with the definition for stupid or reckless. Other than that, he was a shameful coward. An inefficient coward, obviously, but he had never claimed to be intelligent.
Smoke from the pipe curled into the air, bluer than some skies PDQ could remember. He watched as it twisted almost into shapes, then gave up and dissipate before reaching the low ceiling. He couldn't even stand up straight in the cell, hence his preference to sit.
"How much is enough?" he asked.
"Good start," Griselda said. "Come on."