The banquet hall was filled to capacity; foreign dignitaries, wealthy merchants, and members from two royal families had gathered together to celebrate the occassion. Light music, relaxed conversation, and the warm aroma of the feast mingled pleasantly in the air. All present were completely at ease, reveling in the festivities and the chance to forget their troubles for a while.

One princess, seated at the end of a the long table, was particularly enjoying herself. An attractive young knight from the neighboring kindom had seated himself near her, and their polite conversation had turned quickly to flirtatiousness. Each smiled and giggled happily, thoroughly enjoying the other's company.

It was, indeed, a joyous occassion. However, all came to a screeching (yes, screeching) halt, when the Princess' high shriek suddenly split the air. Also, and not entirely by coincidence, one of the harpist's strings snapped with a discordant twang.

"YEEEEEEEEEK!" the princess repeated, leaping onto her chair. Everyone in the room turned to her with wide eyes and furrowed brows. Some got to their feet.

A moment of silence and a few consternated glances passed, and then her father spoke up. "By Shiva! What's the matter, dear?"

The princess did not respond; she only stared fixedly at the floor in front of her chair, shaking like the proverbial leaf. Her friend the knight, too, seemed transfixed by some strange sight thereabouts, and said not a word.

Eventually, curious to see what could be so terrifying, a young man (the son of a merchant, as it happened) rose from his seat and strode toward the head of the table. Upon his approach, something small and brown darted out from beneath the tablecloth, then scurried to the far side of the room. The thing had been in plain view, and all had seen it for what it was: a common field mouse.

Eyebrows lifted in surprise. Blank looks were briefly exchanged. Then composures were lost as the full impact of the stereotypical scene struck the onlookers. Stray fits of giggles burst forth throughout the room, despite all attempts to suppress them.

"Oh... oh dear, Your Highness!" The merchant's son exclaimed, so overcome that he could scarcely speak. "Truly a... a horror!"

He snickered loudly for some seconds, leaning against the table as he shook with mirth. Then, encouraged by the laughter echoed from others around the room (and ignoring the angry beckoning of his father), he straightened up and continued.

"Shall I... ha... check to see if there are any more Dire Mice lurking under there?" The general mirth grew louder as the rambunctious wag made a show of kneeling down, lifting the tablecloth and peering cautiously beneath with his dagger drawn. The princess and knight, for their part, remained rigid and speechless.

It occurred to the young knave, as he was dragged beneath the table by a rubbery green tentacle, that the mouse had looked to be in an awful hurry.


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