Seeking a solution to a perplexing personal problem, the delectable Demoness Metria asks for help from the wise Magician Humfrey. But before he will help her, she must perform a perilous mission: Rove the length and breadth of Xanth in search of a suitable jury for the trial of Roxanne Roc, a notably noble and virtuous bird charged with a most improbable offense.
Exciting, exhilarating, and brimming with hilarious high jinks, Roc and a Hard Place is Xanth at its most enchanting.
“[A] lighthearted series . . . many outlandish characters, adventures, jokes and plays on words.” —Publishers Weekly
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It was a nice castle, with high turrets, solid walls, a deep moat, and an elevated office suite whose picture window overlooked the nearby community of nymphs. Fire cracker plants grew around the wall, useful for starting fires in the mornings, and the crackers tasted good too. The connected orchard had pie trees of the most sinfully delicious varieties. The mistress of the household was exactly as beautiful, devoted, and accommodating as her husband desired. A man could hardly ask for a better situation.
Except for one or two small things. "Where is your worser half?" Veleno muttered, looking apprehensively around.
"Don't worry," the Demoness Metria replied with a smile as her scant clothing shimmered into nothingness. "I sent Mentia off to see the Demon Grossclout about our other problem."
She pretended not to hear. "Grossclout's such an intractable cuss that it should take her days to pry any kind of an answer from him."
"That's a relief!" he said, looking more than relieved. "It's not that I want to be critical, but —"
"But Mentia is slightly crazy," Metria finished. "And you married me, not my worser half. But because she did fission off from me, being disgusted by my new goody-goody attitude after I got half your soul, we can't keep her away. She's the half of me you naturally don't like — the soulless half, dedicated to making your life half-muled."
"Horsed, equined, donkeyed, asinined —"
He kissed her. "I think I could fathom the word if I concentrated. Let's make hay while the sun shines."
She looked perplexed. "Hay? I thought you had something else in mind." A tantalizing wisp of strategically placed clothing appeared.
"I love it when you tease me," he said, picking her up and carrying her to the master bedroom.
She assumed the form of a nymph. "Eeeeek!" she cried faintly, kicking her marvelous bare legs in the nymphly way. "Whatever am I going to do?"
"You're going to make me deliriously happy, you luscious creature."
She inhaled, enhancing what hardly needed it. "O, sigh, how can I escape this hideous fate?" she wailed cutely, kissing him on eye, ear, nose, and throat.
They fell together on the bed, in a tangle of limbs, faces, kisses, and whatnot. "You are the best thing that ever happened to me," Veleno gasped around the activity. "You're just the most wonderful, beautiful, lovable, exciting, fantastic person in all Xanth!"
"You damn me with faint praise," she muttered, clasping him with such ardor that description would be improper.
Another demoness popped into the chamber. "Oh, there you are, Metria!" she exclaimed. "No wonder I couldn't find you around the grounds. I have brought you what you most vitally need."
Veleno stiffened, but not in the way he desired. "Oh, no!"
Metria looked up from what was occupying her. "At the least opportune time, of course. Do you mind, worser half? I happen to be busy at the moment."
Mentia peered closely. "Oh? Doing what?"
"Making my husband deliriously happy, of course, as only a demoness can."
"When not being annoyingly interrupted," Veleno muttered.
Mentia peered again. "Sorry. I thought that was a grimace of pain on what's-his-name's face. Are you sure you are doing an adequate job, better half?"
"Of course I'm sure!" Metria said indignantly. "He has not complained once in seven hundred and fifty times during the past year."
"Oh? What about that groan he groaned just now?"
"That was when you appeared!"
"Well, if you feel that way, I'll just depart with what I brought, and never never return."
"Oop, no!" Metria cried with alarm. "I need it!"
Her husband, somewhat bemused by the interruption, put in two more words. "Need what?"
"Never mind," Metria said. "It's a soldier matter."
"A what matter?" he asked.
"Secluded, cloistered, isolated, remote, detached, obscure —"
"Whatever," she agreed crossly.
"But what could be private from your husband?" he asked somewhat querulously.
"Yes, whatever could you be suspiciously concealing from your trusting spouse?" Mentia echoed.
"Can't we have this discussion some other time?" Metria demanded, frustrated.
"Of course, dear," Mentia agreed. "I'll pop back in during the next century." She began to fuzz out.
"No, wait!" Metria cried. "Now will do after all."
"Why, how nice," Mentia said, smiling with something more than good nature. "But don't you think you should introduce us first?"
"Whatever for? He knows who the mischief you are, from ever since you returned from that madness with the gargoyle."
"Yes, but he may have forgotten. I've been away a whole hour, you know."
"That long?" Veleno inquired with resignation.
Metria gritted her teeth. There was nothing half so annoying as half a demoness! But she knew her worser half would not give over until she had her half-baked way. "Veleno, this is the Demoness Mentia, my soulless worser half, who represents what I was like before I got half-souled, except that she has no problem with vocational."
"Idiom, language, speech, expression, locution, utterance, articulation —"
"Whatever. Instead, she's slightly crazy."
"Yes, it's my talent," Mentia agreed proudly.
"And, Mentia, this is my husband Veleno, formerly a nymphomaniac, but he hasn't touched a nymph since I married him and took half his soul."
"Yes, but hasn't he looked at nymphs out the window, with a glint in his —?"
"Pleased to meet you," Veleno gritted, drawing free a hand and extending it. "Now will you begone?"
"Charmed, I'm sure," Mentia said, forming a pair of pincers on the end of her arm.
"Ixnay," Metria murmured warningly. "Mortals are protected from harm in this castle."
"Oh, that's right," Mentia agreed, disappointed. The pincers became an ordinary hand, which shook Veleno's hand. "That was one of the conditions of the restoration. Well, now that your mortal man and I have been properly introduced, I will give you what you most need, Metria."
At last! But Metria still wasn't easy about this. "Veleno, dearest, why don't you take a little snooze for the moment?" Metria suggested dulcetly, covering his eyes with her hand.
"But what could you need that I have not provided?" he asked, frowning.
"Yes, I'm sure he will be really, truly interested in this very important secret matter," Mentia said, sitting on the edge of the bed, so that her thigh touched Veleno.
"Oh, all right," Metria said, really crossly.
"Have no concern, dear, I will explain it excruciatingly clearly," Mentia said. "What I bring is information to help abate your incapacity, so you won't be a failure anymore."
"What incapacity?" Veleno demanded. "My wife has made me deliriously happy almost continuously since we married."
"That is the problem," Mentia said. "She has helped you with the chore of summoning the stork seven hundred and fifty —" she peered again "— and a half times this year, and more times during the prior year when I was too busy to be with her, unfortunately, and yet the stork has not gotten the message. She is clearly inadequate in this department."
Veleno pondered, slowly realizing the truth of this statement. "That hadn't occurred to me," he said. "I was too delirious to think of the stork. But how could it fail to get the messages?"
"That is precisely what Metria wants to know," Mentia said. "Whatever could be wrong with her to bomb so badly in so many attempts? Whatever could make her such a sore loser? Especially when I could so readily have —"
"Nuh-uh!" Metria and Veleno said together.
"So she sent me to ask the most intelligent creature she knows, the Demon Grossclout, for advice," Mentia continued without concern, "and he instantly delegated me to convey that essential advice to her. Naturally I delayed not half a whit to honor that stricture. Her failing is simply too serious to permit any delay."
"Thank you so much, Worser," Metria snarled.
"You are so welcome, Better. I knew you would want to attend to your washout without delay." Mentia's form fuzzed, and assumed the likeness of a giant lemon, then a cooked turkey. "I am thrilled to have been of so much help."
"You haven't been of much help yet," Metria said grimly. "What did Grossclout say?"
"Oh, that. He says you should go ask Good Magician Humfrey."
"But Humfrey charges a year's service for a single Answer!" Metria protested. "I don't want to pay that! That's why I went to Grossclout."
"Grossclout did add a few words," Mentia said. "I believe those words were mush-head, cheapskate, and serve her right."
"That's Grossclout, all right," Metria agreed. "He still holds a grudge just because I chose to sand my nails in his dull magic classes at Demon U."
"Actually, that was I who did that," Mentia said, smiling reminiscently. "Back when we were inextricably bound together as alternate aspects of a single demoness. Those were the days! But I did not see fit to remind the Professor of that." She paused reflectively. "I might be able to remember a few more of his words, if it's really important," she offered helpfully.
"Thank you so much, no," Metria said. "I think I have fathomed his altitude."
"Manner, disposition, temperament, bent, inclination, penchant —"
"Attitude?" Veleno inquired.
"Whatever," Metria said crossly.
"From the height of his eminence," Mentia agreed. "Well, if you need no further assistance or advice on technique —"
"None!" Metria said.
"Too bad." Mentia faded out.
"You want the stork to deliver a baby?" Veleno inquired as Metria resumed activity.
"Yes. It's what married couples do. Raise children."
"But demonesses don't get babies unless they want them."
"Precisely. I want one." She looked away. "I suppose I should have told you, and I can't blame you for being angry."
"But I'm not angry."
"You aren't? But it might interrupt the delirium, and give you the solid obligation of raising a child."
"Exactly! I want a family, now that it occurs to me."
Metria gazed at him with adoration tinged substantially with relief. "Wonderful!"
Now he was thoughtful. "The stork must figure that our signals aren't serious."
"Which is ironic, considering how strong we have made them. I've just got to get the stork's distention!"
"The stork's what?"
"Observation, mindfulness, notice, focus, application —"
"Whatever. What do you think I should do?"
He considered. "I think you should go to ask the Good Magician."
"But then I would have to leave you alone for a year."
"Surely you could return on occasion. It might mean you could make me deliriously happy only three or four hundred times in that year, but I think I can survive that deprivation. After all, I want you to be happy too."
"You dear wonderful man!" she exclaimed, and proceeded to do the impossible: to make him twice as delirious as before.
But before she went, she checked around the premises, debating with herself, because her worser half had decided to unify for the occasion, now that there was a chance her life would become interesting again. 'Do I really want to do this?' Metria asked herself.
'Why not? It isn't as if you have anything important to do around here.' Mentia had fissioned off in disgust when Metria married, got half a soul, and fell in love, in that order. Her worser half claimed to have been on a grand adventure with a gargoyle, and helped save all Xanth from madness, but that was surely an exaggeration. She had merged as soon as Metria stopped being nauseatingly nice to her husband.
'If you had half a soul, you would have a different alti — attitude.'
'Praise the Demon X(A/N) that I have not been corrupted with any portion of a soul,' Mentia agreed. Their dialogue was silent because it was internal; no one else could overhear it. She pointed with their left hand. 'There's a sand worm; step on it.'
'I will not,' Metria retorted. 'That wouldn't be nice.' She lifted the worm carefully with their right hand and inspected it. It was, of course, made of sand; if direct sunlight or water touched it, it would powder or dissolve away. So she put it back in a dry shaded section, and watched it wiggle off.
'Disgusting,' Mentia remarked to no one else in particular. 'But you can redeem your demonly nature by squishing that June bug.'
'No way. Kill a June bug and the year loses its most romantic month.'
Mentia grimaced with the left side of their face. 'I'd rather have you half- bottomed than half-souled.' She looked around, using Metria's left eye. 'I see that go-quat tree is fruiting.'
'So is the come-quat tree,' Metria agreed. 'Veleno likes them, when he's coming and going.'
'Which is he doing when he's alone with you?'
'The opposite of what he wants you to be doing.'
But Mentia could not be shamed. 'Here is my favorite: the grapes with an attitude.'
'Sour grapes,' Metria agreed. 'Your kind.'
'So why are you dawdling around here, instead of getting moving to the Good Magician's castle?'
'I'm just not sure it's right to leave my husband on half rations.'
'There's all the food he needs, growing right around the castle here.'
'Half rations of delirium.'
'Oh.' Mentia looked around again, until the left eyeball was oriented completely to the side. 'Let's make it easy, then. See that winged nut tree?'
The right eye swiveled. 'Of course. The nuts are almost as nutty as you are.'
'If the right wing nut flies first, we stay right here. If the left one flies first, we pop over to see the Good Magician.'
'That would be a crazy way to make such an important decision.'
Metria sighed. It was as good a way as any. 'Agreed.'
They watched the two nuts quiver. The right one spread its wings. Then suddenly the left one lurched into the air and flew across to the nearby bolt tree. 'How romantic,' Mentia said, amused by what the boldest bolt did with the nut.
'Why don't you find it romantic when Veleno and I —'
'Once is amusing. Seven hundred and fifty times is droll.'
'Not when you're in love.'
'I'm glad I'll never be in love. Let's be on our way.'
Metria couldn't dawdle any longer, even if it did seem somewhat nutty or screwed up.
The Good Magician's castle looked ordinary. Its wall and turrets were set within a sparkling circular moat, which in turn was inside a ring of mountains. Neither would be any problem for a demoness to pop across.
But Metria was unable to pop across. When she tried, she bounced off an invisible barrier. 'Dam, I forgot!' she swore. 'The old fool has a shield against demonly intrusion.'
'That's what you consider swearing? That's not even worthy of the Juvenile Conspiracy.'
Worse, she was unable to fly or dematerialize in this vicinity. Obviously the Good Magician had improved his defenses in the past century or so. 'We'll have to plod across the way mortals do.'
Metria plodded. As she approached the ring of mountains, she saw that they were in the shape of huge loaves of sugar. Fortunately the slope was not too steep to prevent her from climbing. It was a pain, having to leg it instead of pop or float it, but she wasn't going to let it balk her.
She crested the mountain — and abruptly lost her footing and slid helplessly down toward the moat. Here the sugar was loose and granular, offering no purchase. Soon she was unceremoniously dumped into the moat.
And promptly booted out again. She sailed back over the mountain and landed on the ground beyond. The grass hopped out of the way before her derriere struck; it was the grass hopper variety.
"That's boot rear!" she exclaimed aloud. "The moat is filled with it."
'I think I begin to see a pattern here,' Mentia remarked. 'I think I'll leave you to your challenges.'
'Oh no you don't!' Metria retorted. 'You talked me into this nuisance; you'll help me see it through. Besides, I don't trust you with my husband while I'm away. You might promise him heaven, and give him hell, and I'd get the blame.'
'Curses! Foiled again.'
Metria tackled the mountain again. From the outside it was solid sugar, easy to climb. As she approached the crest, she trod extremely cautiously, but found no break in the steep sandy slope. The moment she stepped on that, she would be dumped into the moat with a kick.
This was definitely a challenge. That meant that not only would she have to struggle to find her way past this one, there would be two more beyond it. "What a pity!" she swore in frustration.
'What a pity!' her worser self mimicked. 'That half soul has denatured you.'
'So it made me into a nice person,' Metria retorted. 'So what's wrong with that?' a(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Roc and a Hard Place"
Copyright © 1995 Piers Anthony.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
#19-- thats right #19 and still marching onwards towards hilarity "One year after the events of Geis of the Gargoyle, Demoness Metria, whilst making her husband Veleno deliriously happy, finds that the stork will not acknowledge her summons. Seeking to summon the stork, Metria (and her worser half, D. Mentia) are sent on a quest by the Good Magician Humphrey. Metria is then given a task by the Simurgh: Deliver a bag's worth of summons to their respective citizens of Xanth in order to hold a trial for Roxanne Roc. All that remains is to find out why Roxanne Roc is being held trial as Metria meets with many old Xanth characters, Grundy Golem, Sorceress Iris, Magician Trent, Gray Murphy, Jordan the Barbarian, Desiree Dryad, and many more!"
Metria who now shares a soul with her husband, wants to have a child but no matter how hard she trys, the stork wont come for a visit. so, after a long time of thinking, metria heads for Magician Humphrey's castle to overcome his obstacles and find out why the stork won't pay her a visit, and instead she's intrusted with a task to find people all around Xanth (and find out why the stork wont pay her a visit) to put Roxxane Roc on trial.... but why u ask.. read the book =)
I loved this book as much as I loved all of his other books. Piers Anthony is the best fantasy/Sci-fi author I know of. The books puns and all the magical things in the book make it a genius master mind of books. READ IT!
this book was great.the puns were cool and the trial at the end had a real surprising ending.i recommend this to anyone who has,or hasn't read xanth books before. you rule piers!!!
With humoring puns, and non-stop anticipation, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. Mr. Anthony has one of the most creative minds I have ever witnessed in writing, and it truely shows in this book.