“There will be the slight matter of my fee for this service.”
The tall man extended his hand with palm upwards.
“But Mr. Gregorious…” the wizened old fellow said.
“That would be ‘Sir Gregorious.'”
“Sir Gregorious, you know we are a poor folk here on this world. I thought you Knights of Orion were heroes.”
Gregorious lowered his hand and raised his chin at an angle to the ceiling of the tavern. His cape rustled behind him, revealing a few spots worn through the old fabric.
“Of course the Knights of Orion are heroes! For centuries we have protected humanity from the terrors of the void! Struck fear into the alien hearts of our enemies! Upheld the right!”
The old man shrugged his shoulders.
“Then why would you need payment for ‘upholding the right’ and dealing with these space-pirates? If the crop shipments don’t get through, the whole planet’s economy will collapse!”
Gregorious lowered his chin and tapped the battered blast-gun holstered at his waist.
“Arms cost money. Provisions and fuel for my ship cost money.”
“We can offer you fuel and food at no cost, but we have no weapons to speak of. And unless the freighters get through, we will have no money.”
“Might there be any security you could offer pending the money arriving? Collateral of some kind?”
The old man hunched closer over the table.
“Well, I have been reading up on the history of the Knights. Was there not a time when a Knight’s only reward was the favor of a fair maiden?”
Gregorious’ eyes widened and his mouth fell open.
“You can’t be serious. That was a long time ago.”
“Nonetheless,” the old man said, “the provision remains in the rules of your order. You are required to accept the request of a fair maiden in return for a kiss.”
“Well, perhaps this task is not for me at the present,” Gregorious started as he began to turn away from the table. “Perhaps another Knight will be along soon?”
The old man pointed a finger. “Shawnalee…”
Gregorious found his escape blocked by a young woman. She was nearly as tall as he was, and sported a shock of flaming red hair. Her green eyes were framed in a perfectly symmetrical face.
“Sir Gregorious,” she said, “couldn’t you please take care of those nasty space-pirates for little-old me?”
Her broad red lips approached his face.
Gregorious was so stunned he forgot to move out of the way.
The old man chuckled.
“Sir Gregorious, my granddaughter Shawnalee has made a request of you. Even provided payment in advance.”
Oh no! thought Gregorious.