Seventeen

So Spot, Brian, and Mimbleshaw went to the rendezvous.

"Your Majesty," said Mimbleshaw. "May I present Princess Lillian of Knifeland. Her team will escort us to your climactic showdown."

"Feel free to call me Lily, Your Majesty," she said. "And please excuse our delay. As soon as we change a flat tire, we'll be on our way."

"—the jack, the jack," said a player who needed to be rescued from beneath the van.

"Your Majesty, please hear our tale," said Lily. "Two of our team members were injured. Your servants may be able to help us in our time of need."

"Servants?" said Brian.

"Your Majesty," said Lily. "My family — the Royal Family of Knifeland — and the Royal Family of Sporkland are the descendants of early Viking colonies on the American continent. Aggressive competition damaged my family's commercial enterprises in the distribution of disposable utensils. The only way to restore balance to our books was to arrange a marriage between Prince George and myself. To dominate as a united front the market for single-use edged and hybrid cutlery."

"Me servant?" said Brian.

"But marriage," said Lily, "is a ridiculous solution for anything. For the sake of duty, boys are discouraged from learning the kind of worldliness true respect is based on. And raised instead to be adored, girls take resentment most boys have no chance to ever experience, and girls will turn against even each other to avoid. By discouraging dedication in girls and encouraging intolerance in boys, marriages create victims where they start with none. So it seems only fair to stall for time. Since we measure what's fair with games, I gave a dare we were fortunate the Sporklanders were too proud to refuse. I will keep my freedom for as long as I remain unbeaten in a soccer match each year. With a team against any team the Sporklanders can gather."

"Me human," said Brian. "Humans no serve dogs."

"So how may we be of the assistance?" said Spot.

"However fine a team of players Sporkland gathers," said Lily, "their captain, George's sister Betty, can't quite match me for leadership. We can still beat them even absent two players. But if our team doesn't pass the player minimum, within the age and humanitarian rules, we won't qualify for the match."

"Maybe," said Brian. "Maybe you can say we have to serve dogs a little bit. But all that means is being responsible. Not for humans to beg from their dogs."

"Will you help us, Your Majesty?" said Lily. "Will you loan us your escort and boy to sneak in as replacements?"

"So Your Highness wants us to help Her cheat," said Mimbleshaw.

"Well, you and the boy can't replace my players for kicking and running," said Lily. "We won't impose on anyone then call ourselves strong for it. We aren't cheating by any kind of theft. It seems fair to call it instead a bluff."

"Very well then," said Spot. "No longer is the Kansas City next for us to visit. Your team may play the kick game with Messieurs le Brian and Pimplebottom."

"Speak," said Brian. "Say master. I'm not his servant. I haven't agreed to anything."

"Do it, human," said Mimbleshaw, "and you can help yourself to a knighthood."

"A dog can't make me a knight," said Brian. "You even said yourself he still needs his crown."

"Aw, please? Come on," said the other players, who chased away Brian's resentments by intimidating him with their exuberant, teenage girl emotions.

"What?" said Brian. "Hey, I, oh you quit looking at me already..."