The bright orange orb descended behind the mountains of Lithgon, its rays
absorbed the blues and greens reflected from the Sea of Ruce and touched
the sky with a shimmering canvas of color. Braden leaned against a birch
tree and gazed at the evening’s first star until darkness engulfed him.
His thoughts wandered back to earlier in the day when a messenger had
delivered a scroll.
He and Bramber sat in the
shade of a willow, a worn blanket protecting them from the damp ground.
The air smelled fresh after the rain had washed the pollen away. With
their picnic finished, empty containers and food-covered plates lay
scattered in the center of the blanket. Meadows of delicate pink, yellow,
orange, and purple wildflowers bathed them in their fragrance. Braden
picked a few and tucked the delicate petals into Bramber’s long, golden
A messenger from the
village ran through the grasses and up the dirt trail, handing Braden a
paper scroll tied with a strip of leather. Out of breath, he struggled to
give his message. The boy began, “This is for you, Braden. Master Ilgrin
said a raven delivered it to him this morning. He said it was very
important. I’ve been searching for you all morning. Mistress Bramber’s
mother told me you’d come to the meadow. I came here hoping to find you.”
Braden took the scroll.
“You may run back to Master Ilgrin and tell him you were successful. Thank
you, Jonstrap.” Braden pulled a small leather bag out of his pants pocket.
He pulled the leather string to untie it and poured a few gold coins into
“Thank you, Braden.” The
messenger put the coins into his own pocket and headed for the village.
Happy with his tip, he took his time, stopping to smell the flowers.
Braden lay on his back,
snuggling close to Bramber. He unrolled the scroll and read it in silence.
His sapphire-blue eyes gave away his puzzled thoughts.
“What is it, Braden?”
Bramber spread her hand on his arm. “What sort of message does a raven
carry? Is it from one of the Lords?”
Braden pulled a few
strands of her hair from her mouth. “Yes. It’s from the Lord of the
Heavens. He wants me to meet with him at his temple a week from today. It
doesn’t say why, just that if I don’t go, many will perish.”
In return Bramber ran her
gentle fingers through the back of Braden’s dark brown hair. “Will you go,
my darling?” She stroked his cheek.
Braden jumped up, pulling
her with him. He towered above her. “I must go. The Lord of the Heavens
wouldn’t send for me had it not been just as he says, a matter of life and
death. I shall leave in the morning. Come. I must prepare. I’m sorry to
spoil our picnic.”
“Our picnic was not
spoiled. I treasure every moment with you, Braden.” Bramber took his hand
and the two walked towards home in silence.
* * *
In the evening, when the twilight sky cast its dark
shadows on the land, Braden stood at the front door of his cottage,
wondering what changes were coming to his life in the next week. Crickets
chirped, singing tunes to one another. Frogs croaked to their mates in the
nearby ponds. A breeze blew; the rustling leaves humming a lullaby to the
animals of the valley. “Time will tell.” His hand slipped into his pocket;
the scroll lay safe in its depths. Turning to see the last lamp turn off
in the villager’s windows, Braden closed his door and hoped for a good
* * *
“Would you shut up!” A deep voice roared across the
“But Corin, I just wanted to give you some advice.” A
high-pitched squeaky voice answered.
“Listen, Fingal, I didn’t ask for your advice and I
certainly don’t need it, nor do I want it. I’m going and that’s that!”
Corin flopped himself down on a tree stump, causing pieces of decaying
bark to fall into the grass springing up around it. Tiny beetles scattered
after being exposed on the bare patches of the trunk.
“If you’re going, so am I.” Fingal’s pouted; his long,
pointed ears drooped. He fell to the ground next to Corin’s feet. His
chubby fingers tightened into a ball and he shoved them under his pudgy
chin. The two sat, stubbornly quiet in thought. Fingal’s ears stiffened
as a thought blurted out in words. “Corin, where did the scroll come from
anyway? Who brought it? When did they come? How come I didn’t see someone
“I dunno. It was lying on the doorstep this morning.”
Corin reflected for a moment. “I wonder why the Lord of the Heavens wants
to see me. What is it that’s such a life or death problem? I don’t need
this right now. I was going on a much needed holiday next week to Kamwirth.
Instead, I’ve got to go to Zolfin…alone!” He looked at Fingal with raised
eyebrows. How did he ever get tangled up with this dwarf anyway? Corin
shook his head back and forth and stood to leave. “You need to stay here
and take care of the house. What about Grogan? Who’ll feed that mangy mutt
if you come with me?” Corin smelled of camel’s hair and he wore no
mustache or beard.
“Please let me come! Please, can I come? I won’t get
in your way. I promise.” Fingal begged, getting on his fat knees and
grasping Corin’s loose-fitting gray pants. “I’ll run to Jiggo Rabil’s
house and take Grogan with me. Jiggo loves dogs, especially Grogan. I’ll
ask him to watch the house too.”
“Are you trying to pull my pants off?” Corin shook the
pest away from his leg. He stood six-foot-four-inches tall, with long,
light brown hair that fell down his back to his waist. Around his forehead
he wore a leather band. After years of sweat, nothing but a worn, thin
strip kept the hair out of his eyes. He rubbed his rough cheeks; he was
much in need of a shave. His thick and bushy eyebrows shaded his emerald
green eyes. Corin felt for his pet mouse, Suska. He kept it in his pocket.
Nobody, not even Fingal, knew he had it.
Fingal gazed up at the
giant. He, being only three-feet-two-inches high, admired the size of
Corin’s bulging muscles. His strength offered Fingal a sense of security.
Fingal wasn’t much to look at, as most dwarves aren’t. Besides being
dwarf-sized, his curly black hair grew down the sides of his face, leaving
not much on top except for a few baby-fine strands criss-crossing his
scalp like strands of barbed wire.
His eyes looked like two
black pearls. Fingal’s face sagged from hundreds of wrinkles; each fold of
skin was soft, like a spring leaf. His burlap pants, thin, beige, and
filled with small holes, barely held together by threads, hung loose and
baggy. The supply of grain kernels kept in his pockets for a midnight
snack attracted many rats which had nibbled through the dwarf’s pants.
Fingal had the scars to prove it. His shirt, once white, now lay
underneath layers of dirt and sweat. On his feet he wore a simple pair of
sandals, woven from palm fronds; his three toes wedged tightly around the
Corin glanced at the
pathetic looking dwarf. “Oh, all right, you little worm. You can come. But
don’t cause me any trouble. We’ll leave in the morning for Zolfin. That’s
about three days walk if we don’t stop much. Now leave me alone. Go ahead
and have a talk with Jiggo about the house and that mutt. I’m going to
“Thank you, Corin. I promise I’ll not be a pest. I
really do. I’ll stay out of your way and I won’t….
* * *
Hair grew in patches from his thick-skinned body and
the wiry strands swarmed with gnats. Several landed on his tongue, which
hung out of his mouth, slimy and covered with little purple bumps. Instead
of swatting them away, Gorbal pulled his tongue back and wiped his forever
dribbling nose. His disk-like ears picked up sounds from far away. Gorbal
plodded through the muddy bog, sloshing about as the dark brown ooze
squished up through his chubby bare toes; tripping him with every step.
Mud coated his entire body, including the tuft of cinnamon-red hair on top
of his fat, round head. “Ohhhh, if I ever get out of this alive, I’m gonna
kill him.” Gorbal snarled and spat. “Doesn’t he know gnomes don’t belong
in bogs or swamps?”
“Gorbal, he sent us for some bog mushrooms. It’s your
own fault you’re covered in mud, not his,” Cafania lectured him, pointing
her finger in his face.
“Who asked you anyway, Cafania? You shouldn’t even be
here. Shouldn’t you be teaching the Edelfon children how to count or
something like that? This is man’s work, not a woman’s!” Gorbal looked at
his friend. Nearly twice his height and tall for a woman, her
sandy-colored hair, cut short, framed her oval face. Her skin, soft to the
touch and a healthy pink color, set off her eyes. They sparkled like
dew-covered violets in the morning sunlight. She wore tight black pants
that looked painted onto her body. Her creamy shirt was tucked in at the
waist and on top she wore a gray vest, knitted of wool from a wilfon lamb.
Tiny hairs stuck out all over, irritating Cafania’s skin and causing her
to scratch herself often. Her shoes were made of sturdy leather and
carried her through all terrains, though they were now covered with bog
Gorbal looked down at his
clothing. A simple pair of chocolate-brown pants, tied with a drawstring
at the waist and a granite colored, long sleeved shirt hanging loosely was
all he wore. Aside from his canvas shoes, which stayed around his ankles
with the aid of pieces of frayed rope, he had few other possessions.
Interrupting his thoughts, Cafania, in her sweet,
charming, yet sarcastic way, reminded Gorbal, “The Edelfons are no longer
in this land.” Hesitating, she continued, changing the subject. “Oh,
Gorbal, I forgot. This was delivered to you and me this morning.”
“A scroll? Who delivered it and when?” Gorbal scowled.
“Funny thing. A raven
dropped it in my hands when I went outside to fill the bucket from the
“Well, read it to me,” he
Cafania sat on a large
rock and unrolled the scroll.
Gorbal looked around for
something to sit on. Finding nothing better, he fell into the mud.
Cafania shook her head
Looking back at her and
shrugging his shoulders, he said, “What the hey! A little more mud ain’t
gonna hurt now. Is it?”
Cafania read the scroll out loud. “Gorbal, the gnome,
and Mistress Cafania, you are both commanded to appear at the temple of
the Lord of the Heavens in the land of Zolfin in one week. Many lives
depend on your arrival. Your talents are desperately needed.”
Gorbal scratched his head with his sticky, muddy hand.
“What is that all about?”
“I don’t know, Gorbal, but we’d better go. It’s from
the Lord of the Heavens. We’ve no choice, not really. Let’s leave in the
morning after you’ve taken a bath.” She looked at the mud clumped in
Gorbal’s hair. “I’ll take my bow and arrows. You’d better take your
‘hocus-pocus’ book.” A concerned look crossed Cafania’s face.
Angry with her comments, Gorbal rebuked her. “It isn’t
a ‘hocus-pocus’ book. It’s a book of ancient spells written in a secret
code. I am the only who knows how to read it.” Knowing full well that he
had never looked at the book and was lying his head off, he went on. “My
father taught me, as his father taught him, and I will teach my son, if I
ever have one.”
“Well, whatever it is, let’s take these bog mushrooms
back to Conrad, get our money and then get some sleep. It sounds like a
busy week ahead of us.” Cafania rolled up the scroll.
* * *
Neither noticed the dark shape lurking only yards
away, nor did they see the glowing red eyes glaring at them. The wolf
listened to all they said. From years of wandering the land, he’d learned
to understand most languages. He turned and ran towards Zolfin, desperate
to know the reason for the importance of the gathering called by the Lord
of the Heavens.