[Just for fun – Like all my ramblings this is not meant to be at a final write – I do enough editing for my books I do not need to stress over 10 rewrites for my blog. It has been a tough week for a lot of people and I thought I would post this now and hopefully bring some smiles to a few]
Senphen Clinkleclank inhaled, the biting cold air catching on her throat and threatening to spill over into a cough that would be her undoing. Eyes watering she locked her mouth. Gagging and gurgling she felt as if her lungs would burst.
Nibs beside her twitched his whiskers as he watched her turn red.
With a final shudder, Senphen dropped to her knees and with a wheeze managed to control her miscreant cough.
As fortune would have it, the dwarves below her had begun shouting, calling their bear cubs from across the clearing. A chaotic melee of confused pets swarmed in a mass of fur and claws as each of the critters attempted to obey the call of their master’s voice. The chief hunter stood, red faced as Senphen had been, his hands on his hips, as he yelled multiple instructions to the neophyte hunters he trained.
From her vantage point she took careful notes of the instructions. Her warlock’s grimoire had a surprising amount of space for writing hunter tactics in it. She felt a pang of guilt as she flicked through the pages. Hidden in the margin, between the rituals and spells, was her secret passion; the tactics of all she had managed to observe from her secret vantage spot. Senphen Clinkleclank would be the first gnome hunter, of that she was sure.
“If only my parents understood,” she grumbled to Nibs. “They want me to summon a demon!”
Nibs chattered back at her, his eyes wide with the thought.
“Exactly, who would pick a sulphur-smelling imp over an otter?” She ruffled Nib’s head.
By now the caterwaul of braying bears and cursing dwarves reached a crescendo that rattled the icicles on the branches of the pine overhead.
Grif Wildheart attempted to sort out the mass confusion. He ordered his massive bulk of a bear Olgah into the fray. Her weight shook the earth has she ambled in and plonked herself down amongst the tangle of cubs and dwarven hunters.
The big bear sat with a stoic look upon her face as the maelstrom of bodies bounced against her and fell flat on their backsides. She yawned a toothy yawn. Olgah was a veteran of the first day of hunter’s practice and this one was no different to all the others before it.
“I bet you would obey my call,” Senphen fed Nibs a tasty treat. “We will show them.”
“Training over for the day Nibs.” She called to her otter as she wriggled backwards on her belly to ensure no one would spot her spying.
In all the excitement of the chaos below she forgot that she had been precariously perched on the lip of a rise. With a whoop of astonishment her feet slid out from under her sending her tumbled downwards to disappeared under a rambling bramble bush.
She lay blinking, winded, staring up at the enveloping foliage. The berries were long since picked leaving only countless thorns and the occasion leaf on tangling vines. Suppressing a well earned yelp, she attempted to scrabble forward but only succeeded in showering herself in ice and snow as the thorns dug into her clothes and held her fast.
“Nibs. I’m stuck!” she hissed, beckoning her otter to aid her.
Nibs for his part leapt towards her, sliding down the hill as if it was a game. Upon reaching the opening he trotted down to her and continued along her back and proceeded to fossick in the pocket she kept her treats in, his head disappearing completely as he raided her supplies with a happy chirp.
“Nibs you oversized weasel, get your snout out of those treats and come help me!” Sen squealed in frustration, kicking her legs out and succeeding in tangling her feet further into the briar.
Stuffed from his gorging Nibs managed to stagger off a short distance before flopping down on his back, his paws up, his belly extended from the days worth of treats he had chomped. A glazed, yet happy expression upon his face, he settled himself for a well earned nap.
Glaring daggers at her wayward otter Sen worked at her own rescue. She kicked her feet from her shoes, leaving them as an offering to the brambles. She pulled her legs inside her robe, gasping as her toes dipped into the snowy surrounds. With legs secure she repeated the process with her hands until she had transformed from gnome to a squirming sack.
Thankful that her robe was an oversized hand-me-down from her brothers, she wiggled, like an emerging butterfly from her cocoon of clothing and was born again, bramble free, in her undergarments.
“Trolls backsides it is cold!” she shivered, using her favourite curses she had picked up from watching Grif train his pupils.
Nibs opened an eye and gave an encouraging chirp before rolling up and trotting down the trail homewards, his belly waddling to and fro as he gambolled.
“No more treats for you!” she called after her traitorous pet.
Why had she declared she wanted to be a hunter?
Her father had bristled, his comb-over wiggling like the tendrils of an agitated viper’s nest. “Gnomes cannot be hunters!” he had declared with a roar that belied his short stature.
Her mother had added, as she supervised her imp stacking the dishes from their supper. “It is not a career for a young gnome.”
Her father continued, pacing up and down, his forward-jutting moustache reminiscent of a pair of troll tusks. “Your grandfather would lose a bolt from the great cog of afterlife to hear you suggest such a thing.”
“Be reasonable sweetheart. The Clinkleclanks have always been warlocks and you madam will be the finest.” Her mother hugged her dejected shoulders as she delivered a plate of pastries to the table.
Senphen had taken one and munched on the sweet berry tart, mulling over her options.
“Cheer up Sen. I have a gift for you!” Her father patted her arm, presenting a silver-bound book. “It is a fine novice grimoire, perfect for your warlock spells.”
She mumbled her thanks as she took the tome. Clutching it to her chest she munched on the last of the pastries before standing.
“I should go read this,” she had lied, feeling a pang of guilt at her parents’ enthusiastic agreement.
“Yes buttercup, off you go.”
“Do not worry about your chores, important magic to be studied,” her father patted her head and kissed her on the nose.
Since that day she had led a double life, a gnome of two callings. Each morning she would rise and head out to the warlock academy. There she would daydream about running with Nibs through the wilds of Dun Morogh on some important task assigned by the lords and ladies of Ironforge.
During the breaks in study for food and spell practice she and Nibs had darted away and spent their time watching and learning from Grif and his troops.
“Running through the wilds indeed,” she muttered darkly. How about running through the wilds bare foot and in your underwear!
“Demons don’t raid your treat satchel!” With a snort she added, “And you are heading the wrong direction.”
She turned and trudged up the embankment, snatching her discarded tome before striding out along the ridge.
Nibs caught up with her and she staggered onwards, her teeth felt like they would break with all the chattering.
“Hooommmm is tttooo fffaar,” she shivered at Nibs. “Dwwwarfffs cccloserr.”
Biting winds picked up, further adding to her misery. She thanked the Light that the dwarves practised close to Kharanos. Any further and she doubted she could make the distance without losing a toe to frostbite, or worse.
Nibs darted ahead, cavorting through the billowing snow and back again as he delighted in the inclement conditions. Sen felt her limbs going numb, her breath bit at the back of her throat and her eyes were beginning to close as the weather whipped into a blizzard around her.
Blustering squalls of snow drowned her in a blanket of white, wintry cold.
She battled to keep heading in the right direction.
Her limbs frozen, her head spinning, she tried to comprehend why the road was not in sight. It took several moments for her to realise that she was kneeling in the snow.
Shivering through frozen lips she fell forward into the snow. “I’m going to die,” she breathed. Too tired to be sad she just felt a pang of disappointment. But I need to live to become a hunter.
Snow cradled her in an icy embrace. The world turned black as unconsciousness stole her away into dreams of warm fires and summer days.
Wood smoke, beer and roast pork intruded on her dreams.
At first they wiggled their way in between heroic battles; dashing forward to hold the breach she would spy a plate of sliced pork and a foaming mug of ale drift by before vanishing under the boots of orcish invaders. Of all the crimes the orcs committed, trampling her dream food was the most grievous.
Then the food itself became her dream. Sen found herself swimming across lakes of ale to beach upon an island of crackling, a stream of apple sauce fountaining from the centre. Always she would try and scoop, nibble and scoff the delicious food and always it would dissipate, turning to sand between her fingers.
Dwarven songs and the clink of coins drifted around her.
With a half-open eye, she groggily peered at her surroundings. Overhead carved wooden rafters conjoined in the centre of a low ceiling. Everything was clean, sturdy looking and decorated with runes.
Am I dead?
Wiggle your big toe. Her mother always said that was the best way to tell if you were dead.
She gave her toes a cautionary attempt which was rewarded by a heavy weight that pushed down upon them.
A whiskery face rushed into view with a joyous chirp. A wet nose was enthusiastically pressed against her. The snout followed by the entire otter as Nibs, rolling over her face, gave her a rapturous if not overwhelming, greeting.
Coughing through fur, paws and tail she managed to shift Nibs from her face enough to see.
“Nibs, breathing good,” she wheezed.
Nibs by this stage had managed to smooch her with such vigour that he slid down her side and disappeared over the bed, tail wagging as he vanished.
A door opened, light and noise streamed in. The sound of laughing, music and feasting swam over her.
Her stomach grumbled in response.
A brown-haired dwarven woman moved to the bedside. “Ah lass, you are awake.”
“Yee dear wee ferret has been all a bother. Bless the Light that you are awake. Had I not grabbed yee when I did… Oh I daren’t think more upon it.” She patted Sen’s hand before busying herself picking up things that Nibs had scattered during his wait.
“He is an otter,” Sen managed between pulling out random Nib’s hairs from her mouth.
“Aye you don’t say?” The woman righted a side table. “And what kind of wee critter is that?”
“An otter?” Sen leant against the fluffy pillows. “I guess it is a cousin to a beaver or water rat or other river creature. I don’t know exactly. I found her as a baby and raised her.”
“Oh yes, we do get a few beavers about the loch,” she ducked out of the door while still talking, returning with a tray food which she placed on the table.
“Beer-braised boar!” She presented the plate; piled high with an island of meat swimming in a sea of rich gravy, a flotsam of vegetables bobbing on the surface.
“Thank you so much!” Sen enthused as she took up a spoon. Her stomach greeted the sight of the meal with a grumble of which Olgah would be proud.
“Feedin’ good people is what we do at the Thunderbrew,” the dwarven woman cheerfully proclaimed. “There may be a wee tankard of ale to be had too.”
Sen nodded between mouthfuls, shovelling food with one hand and part patting, part fending off Nibs with the other.
“Once you’re feeling on the mend we can send you on your way, none the worse for your snowy adventure.”
Sen pushed the bowl away, closing her eyes and enjoying the warmth from the meal as it radiated through her. Nibs took the opportunity to lap gravy off the abandoned plate. Sen did not have the energy to prevent him and the dwarven woman appeared unbothered by his table manners.
“Oh, I am sorry.” Now replete, she belatedly remembered her manners. “I am Senphen Clinkleclank. Although most people call me Sen.”
“Well a fine greeting to you Miss Sen. I am Enohar Thunderbrew. By chance I was upon the road when your otter came racing out of the snow. He pulled at my boots and darted away. Made it clear I should be followin’ him.”
“Nibs did that?” Sen hugged her otter. “Usually all he does is steal my food.”
Sen muttered, “Under garments are not suitable attire to find oneself in a blizzard.”
“Aye. My uncle thought it might have been a warlock hazing. I said bandits for sure, even warlocks wouldn’t have someone running in a snowstorm.”
“It was an accident.” Sen failed to suppress a blush. “Hard to explain…”
“Do not worry yourself. You wouldn’t be the first to stagger from the Thunderbrew in little more than your undergarments. Why my uncle told me that last week he caught a drunken lad from Stormwind dancing on the mail box, naked as the day he was born!”
“Well…” Sen coughed. “Thank you for the aid. I should be heading home before my parents get worried.”
“The snow’s still fallin’ and the wind’s still howlin’. Should clear by mornin’. Best you rest up and we find you some clothing more suitable for the bracing climate of the Dun.
Enohar opened a sizeable dresser in the far corner and rummaged through the clothing. “Not many of these will fit me but Ma keeps them for some reason.” She pulled out a collection of dresses, most of them about Sen’s general height and at least twice as wide.
“Something here should suit. It is not a robe but will it do?” Enohar picked up a white dress adorned with a floral design of interlinked mountain daisies.
Sen nodded, doubtful that even wrapped around her twice that it would stay. “Do you have anything smaller, err gnome sized?”
“Gnome sized eh, well you are a wee waif that is true.” Enohar stroked her chin in thought. She moved back to the dresser, throwing the doors wide open and stepping back to survey the sizeable collection of keepsake clothing.
Sen scanned the wall of dresses without much enthusiasm. Dresses are not the garb of hunters after all. With a gasp she spotted it; tucked a the back, a neatly folded suit of black leather.
Gnome sized leather.
“Ah Enohar,” her heart beat fast, fearful that the answer would be no, “The leather. At the back. Would it fit?”
“Leather,” Enohar looked puzzled, “I thought you warlocks always wore robes?” she stroked her chin once again.
“What if I was not a warlock? I did not say I was one.”
“Oh no, I don’t suppose you did. We all thought, on account of the book I found beside you.”
I should have left that in the snow. Sen cursed. “Well,” she paused. “The book is mine but it’s,” she hesitated. “Mine only to deliver, to the gnomes,” she hastened, trying not to blush at the deception.
“Oh I see. Well that does make it easier.” Enohar reached in and fetched the leather armour, placing it in Sen’s hands.
Sen swallowed hard, the fine quality of the gear was evident. Without any adornment, the armour felt soft and flexible with impossibly neat stitching, better than any robe she had ever owned.
“This is too fine,” she concluded. “It would be wrong for me to take it.” She handed it back, her hands shaking.
“No lass, take it.” Enohar shook her head, “Do you think the wardrobe needs more clothes gathering dust in it? The leather was made for me by my Pa when I was a wee child. I had a mind to enquire about joining SI:7 but well I fell in love with brewing before I had a chance. No offence to the good men and women who follow the fine career in SI:7,” she added with wink at Sen.
“No. No offensive at all,” Sen desperately tried to recall who or what SI:7 was.
“Well all settled then. Did you want to try it on, see if you like the cut?”
“Absolutely!” Sen leapt out of bed, wobbled and desperately gripped the side table to prevent herself from falling.
“Careful, you have been asleep for a while, and your body took a bit of a beating.” Enohar offered a steady hand.
Sen nodded, eyes closed, breathing slowly as the dizziness faded.
Once she had ensured Sen was not about to fall over, Enohar returned once more to the closet and dug through a pile of clothes on the floor before pulling a quilted vest out of the mound. “This is for under, nothing more unpleasant than leather chafing,” she declared.
Still recovering from the head spins Sen sat on the beds edge and allowed Enohar to dress her in the quilting. The padded armour smelt like dusty wardrobe and pine needles but Sen did not mind one bit.
Overcome with excitement she struggled to sit still as the leather was attached, straps tightened and adjusted until the fit was near perfect.
“Too tight?” Enohar worried.
“No!” Sen beamed happily. “Its perfect. So wonderful it took my breath away.”
Enohar gave the amour a final tweak.“Ah, you are welcome then.” Patting her on the back she declared, “You are a right and proper a SI:7 agent now.”
“When you are ready you should come out to the main inn. Share an ale and warm your toes by the fire while we wait for this storm to blow over.” With a cherry wave she collected the food dishes and headed out the door, balancing the crockery in the palm of one hand.
Sen spent a while moving in the amour, feeling it stretching and creaking around her. It was a lot bulkier than she had imagined and despite the quilting it chafed around the neck and at the joints.
Armour just takes time to get accustomed to. Which I will she resolved as she tugged at the offending bits.
“Senphen Clinkleclank, Ranger of the Dun, SI:7 agent of I do not know what that is… Master Hunter and keeper of the terrifying Attack Otter Nibs! This, Nibs, is where we start our legend!”
With the otter trailing after her she strode out of the bedroom to forge her destiny.
Destiny it turned out started in a smoky room full of singing, dancing and drinking dwarves.
A raucous cheer greeted her as she entered the ale house.
Nibs upon seeing what awaited turned tail and retreated to the sanctum of the bedroom.
Before Sen could retrieve her otter a monstrously-bearded dwarf thrust a tankard, brimming with ale into her hand. A second dwarf with a near equal festoon of facial hair stood to allow her a place on the bench. Clutching the ale in both hands she sat down and much to her relief discovered Enohar was sitting opposite her.
“Thunderbeards are a boisterous bunch and we pride ourselves on the beer we brew and the friends we gather to help broach a keg.” She clunked mugs with Sen, coming dangerously close to knocking the mug out of Sen’s hand with the forceful impact.
Sen leant forward, straining her voice above rowdy music that an impromptu band of revellers were producing. “You…thanks…more.” she shouted through a somewhat melodic song.
“Tis quite a storm out there lass,” the wall of beard beside her rumbled.
Sen nodded, trying not to stare at where the dwarf’s shrubbery of eyebrows conjoined seamlessly to his side burns, his hooked nose cresting through the hair like an island in the sea.
“Sen…Sen!” Enohar’s calls snapped her from the mesmerising sight of the dwarf laughing merrily, causing his facial hair to wash across the table. His beard entangled cups, cutlery and a crust of bread in its wake before retreating back, depositing the loot onto the dwarf’s belly and then with a bounce onto the floor.
If anyone else found the sight alarming they were far more skilled than she at hiding it.
“Sorry Enohar, the songs and sights, distracting.” She took a sup of her ale, the popping bubbles of foam coupled with an unexpected bitterness washing through her mouth.
Well ale is not exactly what I had expected, she took another gulp, this one was more liquid, bitter, cold and refreshing. Not exactly what a blizzards’ night required but then dwarves and ale are like gnomes and cogs – never far apart.
“Sen,” Enohar leaned over the table in order to be heard above the ruckus – the rest of the table were up and swirling around in a cheery jig that shook the inn’s foundations and had the cups on the table dancing along in time.
“I have a ride for you on the morrow. If you do not mind a detour to Ironforge, Jarven’s got empty barrels to collect before delivering stout to Gnomeregan. He is happy to have you along for the ride.”
“Wonderful!” Sen enthused.
“Barring the blizzard not clearing, Jarven will meet you outside after breakfast.”
Sen’s head buzzed with the heady combination of the day’s excitement and hastily slurped ale.
What would her parents make of her new garb?
How could she convince them to let her keep it?
What if she told them that she had run away and joined SI:5… or whatever they were called.
I hope they are not too worried about me.
Often I was away for a few days at a time with warlock school.
“They will be fine,” she told herself with a nod.
A slurp or two more of ale and she found herself dancing a merry jig with one of the younger dwarves. Even tho she was dancing with his belly more often than not the music was merry and she found herself giggling as she spun and swirled, occasionally even in time to its beat.
The rest of the night passed in a blur of songs and more dances. In the early hours of the morning she stumbled, singing a dwarven ballad and collapsed into bed.
Grabbing Nibs in a hug, she smiled.
This has been – this has definitely been – the best day, ever.
Thankfully in all the revelry she had not managed to finish her ale. Even the amount she had consumed made her stomach a touch unsettled and a dull ache lurked at the back of her eyes. At some point she had managed to remove her leather but how or when she had no idea.
With a groan she sat up. Nibs was curled into a ball at the end of the bed gave her a toothy greeting. “Remind me to avoid staying up late drinking and dancing with dwarves.” She rubbed the back of her head head, willing the pain away.
As if summoned by the groans, Enohar threw open the door. “Good morning Sen!” She greeted her with a cheerfulness that Sen struggled to reciprocate with so little sleep.
Sen yawned sleepily. Dwarves, it seemed, did not suffer the same post-party malaise as did gnomes.
Enohar placed a plate overflowing with a breakfast of pancakes, sausages and scrambled eggs on the small side table.
“Day’s dawned fine, fresh and cool. Perfect weather for travelling, so eat up quick and once you are dressed I will introduce you to Jarven again. Just in case you have forgotten meeting him last night.”
Sen blushed, “There were so many people.”
“Aye, the clan can fill the tavern on a good night and well, with a storm and all there is naught to do but down some ale and have a shindig. Jarven is a good sort but he is keen for the road so we best not spend all day getting you ready. Ironforge is a few hours by wagon and Gnomeregan is at least half a day’s travel beyond Ironforge.”
With a nod, Sen tucked into her breakfast, discovering that she was hungry even with a grumbly stomach.
As Sen ate Enohar gathered up her armour and placed it on the bed before heading back out to the main room. She returned momentarily with a pack and a warm woollen cloak.
“Canna’ have you catching a nasty cold sittin’ outside all day,” she explained. “Packed a lunch.” She patted the pack. “No need to go hungry. Save your coppers for better things than the food stalls in the Ironforge markets.”
Sen hastened to swallow her mouthful, managing to half thank, half cough in response to the gifts.
“Oh, I nearly forgot these,” Enohar produced a brace of daggers in a black leather sheath that matched her armour. “You must have made quite an impression on Hogral last night. He left these for you.”
Fighting back tears, Sen marvelled, “I should get caught in blizzards more often. The generosity of the Dwarves is astonishing.”
“No need for that now. As I said earlier, we Thunderbrews’ pride ourselves on fine hospitality and even finer ale. I’ll pass on your thanks to Hogral next time I see him.
Enohar placed the weapons on the bed beside the amour before turning to leave once more. “I’ll be outside helping Jarven with the ponies. Do try and hurry lass.”
Sen took a final bite of her breakfast before scrabbling out of bed to don her gear.
In no time at all she was dressed; battle ready, blades at her side. In her new garb she felt like a hunter, she smelt like a hunter and her armour even rubbed like a hunter’s should.
With Nibs at her side she raced out the door to find Enohar and Jarven.
In the early morning the tavern was devoid of patrons. The innkeeper and his workers were busy sweeping floors, righting furniture and doing all the various preparation work required for the night ahead. Sen realised she had no idea what it actually took to run an inn but she was sure it would require considerable effort.
The innkeeper greeted her with a cheery wave, “Enohar is outside helpin’ with the loading,” he directed before returning to his chores.
“Many thanks!” She called as she hurtled up the stairs and out the door.
Sen was greeted by the remnants of the blizzard; a biting and buffeting wind that clawed at her exposed flesh. With a shiver she pulled the cloak about her tightly, warding out the frigid gale as best she could. Despite the sun overhead the day was struggling to get above freezing.
“Senphen, over here!” Enohar called from beside a covered wagon.
Attempting to avoid slipping on the inn’s icy front steps, Sen cautiously made her way across the snow to stand beside her. Enohar was tying down the last of the straps which held stout oaken barrels in place in the wagon’s bed.
“Senphen, allow me to introduce you to Jarven Thunderbrew.” She extended a hand towards the top of the wagon where a grey-bearded dwarf was packing away a brace of quivers which was filled to the brim with feathered quarrels.
Jarven stopped his work to wipe his balding head with a cloth. “Aye lass, we met last night but t’was a knee-raiser like days of old and I bet you danced with a ‘undred dwarves before the end.”
“Please to meet, err re-meet you.”
“My dear cousin here says you need a lift to Gnomeregan and I would be happy to have the company.”
Sen nodded. “I have family there and a delivery to make,” she confirmed.
“Well, you will have to ride in the back with the barrels. This wee seat was obviously not made for a dwarf of my girth and stature.” He gave the wooden seat a slap with the cloth.
“Of course, in the back is fine.” Sen looked at the exposed waggoner’s seat and shivered again.
Enohar helped her up over the sideboards and into a comfortable space besides the barrels. Nibs scrabbled up the back and curled up on her feet for warmth.
“Next time your work brings you near The Thunderbrew make sure you drop in and share a pint with me.” Enohar gave her a warm hug goodbye.
Sen returned the embrace, “And if you find your way to Gnomeregan make sure you drop in and share some of my mother’s fine pastries and a warm apple cider.”
“All right, ’tis not a wake,” Jarven chuckled. “Time to be off. Ironforge awaits and the roads are not to be travelled at night.”
With a crack of his whip the wagon lurched forward as the four shaggy ponies slowly began drawing it along.
Enohar gave a final wave before heading back to the inn.
Sen watched her go with a pang of sadness.
Her nest amongst the cargo was snug and thankfully out of the wind. She bunched up the cloak and used it as a pillow. The swaying of the wagon combined with her lack of rest from the night’s revelry soon had her dozing.
The sound of wood scraping on wood woke her with a start. Sen sat bolt upright, panicked as she tried to work out where she was.
Through groggy eyes she watched as a barrel was pushed towards her and then another as dwarves loaded on empties.
Her muscles protesting at moving, she stood up with a groan and surveyed her surroundings.
The mountains towered above her, their icy peaks gleaming in the mid days light. Cut into the closes cliff side was a gigantic gate set with a gold-gilded anvil and encircled with gleaming dwarven runes.
Beneath the gates a chaotic throng of dwarves, gnomes and a handful of humans intermingled in a maelstrom of shouting, cursing and pushing as they attempted to enter or leave the city. Many of the travellers drove carts pulled by ponies or rode armoured rams with brightly flapping pendants upon their horn tips. In amongst the chaos scampering dogs darted under wagon and around people to snatching at dangling food stuffs before scampering away.
Sen soaked in the sights and sounds, her mouth open in wonderment.“So this must be Ironforge.”
Peddlers outside the gates were busy in negotiation for various goods, haggling over prices with equal measures of cursing and cajoling.
Jarven was assisting with the loading of the last barrels. “Hey there lass. I wondered if you would wake in time to see the gates of the greatest city in the world.”
Sen gazed up at the fortifications. They enveloped the side of the mountain in an impressive array of towers and buttresses that were bristling with siege weaponry.
“Never fallen. Hordes have tried, none have breached her mighty gate.” Jarven puffed out his chest with pride.
“Are we not entering the city?” Sen looked at the full wagon bed.
“Nay, it would take a week to get through the gates alone. We generally stick to trading in the surrounds. It’s safe enough and does not require a lot of effort. One day when you have time you should come back. The main forges alone are well worth the price of entry.”
Sen wistfully watched the comings and goings of the throngs of people. One day indeed. Ironforge would be a grand adventure. I am sure there are enough secrets in its stones to keep a gnome busy for a lifetime.
“We best be off lass, the next part is a touch isolated and slow going if there is fresh snow.” Jarven clambered up to his seat. “I have managed to procure a little more protection though,” he pulled a triple-barrelled blunderbuss from a leather satchel. “You can never have too many barrels, my Ma always said.”
He gave the gun a loving pat, “Mind you, firing all three at once will kick like a mule.”
The gun looks as heavy as it does terrifying. Sen wriggled across to get a closer view. The weapon was designed for a person a lot larger than her. Although to its credit, it had a myriad of cogs, gears and cranks, enough to satisfy even a gnome.
“Family ‘eirloom. Had it fixed up by the engineers. Cost a pile o’ gold but to my family, it is priceless.” He gave it another pat before slipping it into the satchel.
Jarven sat the gun beside his crossbow and quiver before taking up the reins. “All right, enough dilly dallying, time to get you home and this ale delivered.”
With a flick of the reins, the ponies began clopping onwards.
Sen shuffled back to her gap and flopped down. Nibs stirred from the ball he was curled into, unfurling a paw and waving it in protestation at being woken.
“Sorry Nibs. The space is a little more cramped with all these empty barrels.”
Nibs wove in between her legs and onto her lap and resettled, using her belly as a pillow.
“Fine for you,” she muttered as she rested against the sideboard and watched the journey.
The wagon descended into a forested valley encircled by the rugged peaks of the Dun Morogh range. The roadway they were on zig-zagged down the mountainside before branching into the dense pine forest Sen had spied from above.
She leaned her head out the side, watching the sights of the forest, breathing in the scent of pine, winter orchids and last year’s mulching needles. The air was still cold but in the shelter of the great forest it lacked the bite that made exposure so unpleasant. She absent-mindedly patted Nibs as she gazed at the trees going by.
The day drifted on.
As they continued the forest broke into scattered woodlands before re-forming into a forest again as the roadway reached a narrowing in the vale. On both sides of the road towering ice-clad cliffs jutted upwards, their peaks encrusted with heavy snow.
“Whoa there!” Jarven called to his horses, pulling hard on the reigns and bringing the wagon to a shuddering halt.
Sen scrabbled up, peering over the cargo as they stopped. “Something wrong?”
“I’m not sure lass. Trees over the road up ahead. They do come down in heavy snow but they also come down when trogs, trolls and other nasties are about.”
Sen peered about the surrounds, nothing moved as far as she could see, “What do we do?”
Jarven jumped down and fetched a wood axe from a bracket on the side board before striding off towards the tree. “Sit tight. I’ll go check if it’s passable.”
“Nibs, scout for danger,” Sen ordered, dropping the otter into the snow.
Nibs gave a squeak in protest and darted back into the wagon via the back board.
“You are a terrible sc…” Sen with a gasping gulp froze. In the woods beyond the scrabbling otter, big brutish creatures had cast aside heavy blankets from under the snow, snatched up axe and spear and stalked towards her.
Nibs launched into an empty barrel.
“Oh, so trolls eh. Want to be stealin’ my ale! Well I have anoth…” Jarven’s blustering was cut short by a heavy thwack!
Shaking with fear Sen snatched open the lid of the barrel and scrabbled to joined Nibs in hiding. Once in the barrel she pulled down the top. Her heart raced as she waited, fearful that the trolls had spied her. That even now they would be readying their axes to cut her out.
She closed her eyes, trying to push out of her mind all the stories about the terrible things trolls did to gnomes.
Gruff voices caused her to jump. Trolls were talking directly above her.
Fighting the urge to scream she pulled free a dagger,, her fingers trembled but she she forced herself to grip the handle firmly. One strike then we flee. If we are lucky we can escape into the forest during the confusion.
She held her breath, waiting for the barrel lid to be torn open, for the tusked face of a troll to leer in.
Waiting, heart racing, breath short and sharp.
Movement, the wagon turning and beginning a bumpy journey forward. With a thud a heavy sounding object was thrown across Sen’s barrel. She attempted to lift the lid a sliver but whatever it was on top of them was far to heavy to shift.
“Don’t panic Nibs. Don’t panic.” she whispered while fervently pattered the otter . Nibs in turn curled up and was soon snoring softly.
“There are levels of don’t panic!” Sen grumbled as she sheathed her blade.
The wagon continued along with them trapped inside it.
Onwards it rolled, through potholes that jarred her bones, flinging her into the side of the wagon and waking Nibs with a indignant chirp.
Then the little light that filtered into the barrel was gone. The sounds of the trolls became muffled and the wagons creaks and groans echoed about.
Abruptly they stopped.
Sen held her breath.
Had they heard Nibs snoring, or squeaking?
Were they abandoning the wagon?
Had they arrived at their destination?
Countless questions burst from her mind, it was all she could do to push them away and focus on listening.
Heart stop beating so loudly.
Breathing stop being so loud too.
Nibs stop snoring.
Chains rattled and wood on wood scraped. The bed rocked as someone clambered aboard.
“Dis where ya get off Dwarf. Da boss has a special treat for ya mon.”
Sen narrowly avoided bursting out of the wagon as the weight was unexpectedly removed from the lid.
He must have been thrown across the barrels.
Which means he is alive.
He can rescue us.
Wait we need to rescue him first.
Nibs woken by the commotion up top gave the top of the barrel suspicious sniff.
“Unload da cargo, we be needing dat later.” The troll announced.
The sound of scraping barrels surrounded her.
Then hers’ moved. Sen held on tight to the rim of the lid, hoping that it would not spill off as it was dragged off with an audible grunt of effort.
“Bring empties for fire, stack da rest.”
The journey was full of bumps and thumps as well as a very unpleasant rolling along on the side that could have easily culminated in a barrel full of sick gnome. But just as her stomach was about to revolt with a tumbling thud it was placed down and with a final lurch, was still.
“Do not stack things on my lid,” she fervently hoped.
By luck the trolls seemed to have little appetite for ordering their stolen goods. Once the goods were unloaded they tromped away, their voices fading into the distance.
She hunkered down, too afraid to move until she was sure there was no one lurking near by.
Straining to detect the faintest sounds.
A distal echoing of trollish activities, barely audible.
“Nibs, I think it is safe,” she gave the lid an experimental poke. It did not move.
Trying to quell a rising sense of dread she gave it a harder push. It still did not move.
“It is stuck!” She pushed with all her might but it did not move an inch.
“What are we going to do Nibs,” despair and fear began nibbling away at her thoughts, tangling them in near-paniced confusion. “We need to escape. We need to rescue Jarven!”
Nibs sniffed at the top suspiciously then began scrabbling at the base, he paused mid scrabble to offer a consoling chirp before resuming his pawing.
“We can not dig through wood.” Sen poked at the floor despondently. The floor moved a little.
“The lid, we are upside down!” she grabbed Nibs excitedly, “You clever otter, clever otter!”
Nibs gave her an affectionate head bunt, whiskers tickling her nose.
Sen pushed against the side, “We are going to have to tip the barrel over Nibs.” she directed the otter who resumed his scratching at the floor.
She heaved and was rewarded by the barrel rocking with a satisfy teetering. Again and again, push, push and PUSH.
The barrel tumbled forward, rolled, bounced and crashed into a stack of hides before spinning to a stop.
Sen off balance, landed face first into snow.
Nibs sat upon the barrel lid, unmoved by their sudden freedom.
Sen sat up, spitting out snow and brushing her leathers down. “Part one of operation rescue us all. Complete.” she noted with some satisfaction.
The store room they found themselves was cut from an ice cave. Half the visible sides were natural and the other half looked crudely worked with a sharp blade. All around piles of furs, barrels, animal parts and dusty jars lay haphazardly jumbled in amongst rope, canvas and a life-sized stuffed badger.
Illumination was provided by a tarnished lantern held an brass sconce in the wall. An oily flame in it flickered between candle-light and nearly extinguishing.
Creeping across the cave floor she reached the only exit from the room. A shadowy corridor winding its way out of the room and into the troll lair its floor transformed into muddy slush by the passage of many feet.
“Nibs, stay close and keep quiet.” she sneaked along the passageway, keeping her back to the wall, pausing each few minutes to listen for dangers before continuing onwards.
If there was not a large amount of angry trolls somewhere, this could be fun.” she concluded as she reached a fork in the corridor. The ground underfoot had been churned in equal measure giving her no indication as to which path to take.
“Nibs, find Jarven. Sniff him out.” she commanded.
The otter tilted his head at her.
“Animals, they track. Track Jarven with your otter senses!”
She swore Nibs raised an eye brow at her but before she could levy the accusation he darted off to the left at such a rush that Sen had to scramble to keep up.
Tearing along through the narrow passage they ran until Nibs stopped abruptly before an opening. Sen managed to snatch hold of the wall catching herself in time to avoid flying into him.
“By the Light. Give me warning next time.” she panted.
Nibs trotted off into the cavern and sat in its centre and gave a happy chatter.
Recovering her breath Sen staggered in after him to discover he had lead them to a junk yard of broken furniture, burnt canvas and a myriad of unidentifiable bits.
However the wagon, actually sections of the wagon, were jumbled up in a heap against the wall. Discarded on the mound was Jarven’s crossbow and leather satchel.
“Well Nibs, close enough.” she patted him in passing as she clambered up the wreckage.
The crossbow was unloaded but the quiver of quarrels would surely be close if required. In the bag was Jarvens blunderbuss. Its gleaming brass and iron undamaged by its abandonment.
“Crossbow or blunderbuss Nibs?”
Nibs sniffed the air but offered no further opinion on the matter.
“Well as Jarven’s mother said; the more barrels the better.” She grabbed the blunderbuss, gasping at the weight of the weapon as her arms and back protested. With wobbling feet she half-fell half-scrabbled off the pile dragging the gun behind her.
“Why do dwarves make everything so heavy!” She cursed as she heaved it up, resting the barrel against her shoulder and the butt in her hand as she had seen the hunters do during drills. The weight was too much for her to hold and she sat the gun back down on the ground to ponder how to carry it.
Had the gun not been Jarven’s families prise heirloom she might have been inclined to drop it. Even being the most amazing gun she had seen she was tempted to drop it.
No. Jarven needs his gun.” she resolved as she picked it up in both hands and staggered back to the corridor.
“Which way?” Sen scanned both ways. The murmurs of trollish chatter drifted faintly from the left.
“I guess Jarven will be with the trolls. Let us find trolls but not too many. Please not too many.”
She pushed onwards, trying to shake the feeling that one troll was probably too many trolls.
Nibs lead, darting forward and back as she slowly, with frequent pauses to rest, huffed and puffed after.
As they progressed the sound of trolls chanting grew louder and louder. The very sound chilled her, had she not been sweating profusely from the effort of lugging the lump of a weapon she may have turned and run.
The thought of fleeing was far to much to bare under her current load.
Slowly, one step, then another, try not to fall over. She repeated to herself as she struggled along.
They past several quiet side openings but Sen ignored them. Following the trolls, that is where Jarven will be.
Oh I hope he is.
She fought more panic.
If he wasn’t there, she would find him. Nibs was tracking after all.
The chanting was clear now, booming voices, stamping feet.
The corridor opened out into a semicircle of ice that formed a lip into a larger cavern.
She sneaked forward, peering over the edge.
Beneath her, several metres down, was a handful of trolls spread out before an icy embankment. On top of the rise sat a black stone altar. Jarven lay across the rock, his limbs bound with rope and mouth gagged for good measure.
Towering over him with a long gleaming knife in hand was a huge troll. The creatures blue skin was encrusted with tattoos and his head was capped with a mop of hair filled with feathers, bones and what appeared to be living spiders.
Beyond the troll a crevice opened in the earth, its jagged sides stained dark with the blood of past sacrifices.
The lead troll bent down over Jarven, running his knife down his nose. “We gonna use your guts, your bones and summon a big old elemental. One of the dark kind, one that likes flesh, something to burn you inside out with.” The dwarf spluttered in fury but the bonds held him tight.
“Good, you got da fightin spirit, dem old elementals like that, tastes like chicken, and dem love chicken.”
“Nibs we need to save him, but how!” Sen desperately searched for some way to fight a horde of trolls and rescue the dwarf.
I need a rope, or a glider or those boots uncle Dreben wore!
Nibs gave a sharp squeak of alarm from behind her.
She spun about to see a troll standing at the door way.
“Oh we gots a rat for da pot.” it grinned wickedly, its sharpened teeth gleaming like a wolves. “Time to die, I got a family to feeds!” drawing a hooked sword the troll closed.
“Nibs attack!” Sen screamed, trying to aim the blunderbuss.
Directly at her, running up her leg and wrapping himself around her head in fright.
“NIBS!” she screamed, off balance. Her fingers fumbled as the troll launched itself with a battle cry.
KAAARBOOOM! The blunderbuss roared into life, death and fury as Sen’s finger’s pulled the triggers.
All three triggers.
The ringing in her ears drowned out most of the ensuing chaos.
Her stomach churned.
The troll disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
The ledge disappeared as the kickback launched her skywards. Flying backwards, powered by the three barrel rocket she watched through watering eyes as the cavern behind her shattered apart. With a thunderous roar ice and snow fell from the ledge and ceiling. A large section of the roof collapsed down upon the panicking trolls, burying them in a frozen, crushing death.
Onwards, for what felt like an eternity she flew.
A softer landing that she expected as she slammed into the face of the head troll. With a scream he flew backwards. Teetering at the edge of the sacrificial pit and then with a cry was gone, tumbling into the maw to his doom.
She lay there, stunned, unable to move. Nibs shook his whiskers free of snow before scampering on to the altar and started chewing at the bindings that held Jarven.
The ringing continued, her vision spun.
An out of focus face before her. Blinking it drifted into the familiar face of Jarven. Nibs chuckled happily from his shoulders.
“By the Light lass, who are you?” Jarven’s mouth was open in wonderment, “I haven’t seen a rescue like that before. Shooting across the blinken’ sky like a gnome rocketeer and boom, smack in that old trolls snout!”
The pain was getting unbearable, she could feel unconsciousness rushing towards her.
“I am Senphen Clinkleclank, SI:8, Gnome Hunter, first class.” she wheezed out as everything went dark.
“Right you are lass, right you are.”