Two men hide in lakeside shrubbery on a ground slick and muddy.
The air is chilly and their breath comes out like thick fog. They both stare across the lake at a palace framed by a sun escaping the encroaching night behind nearby mountains leaving brilliant shades of reds and oranges in its wake.
The palace is an odd place really, with many built on attachments that don’t make any sense. Pipes and wires and whirling gears, spinning blades and the occasional screechy grinding noise that doesn’t sound healthy.
Even the lake seems wrong. It bubbles in places and looks thicker than water should and there is a smell in the air that seems to affect the brain.
A huge tent has been erected filled with banquet tables and lit with yellow glowing lights that don’t appear to be candles. They glow in an eerie non-flickering way, some fading out and then suddenly exploding back to life.
Small dark gnome shaped figures set tables and scramble to get ready for the party.
Tod is starting to feel even more uncertain.
“Let’s do this!” Dwayn exclaims. He wears course burlap clothing, frayed and functional. The fabric is dotted with many stains and one huge ominous black splotch that runs up the right sleeve. He is a man with infrequent hygiene habits and at present he is growing several weeks worth of scruff that lays on his face like scrub grass.
He smells like stale mead and rotten fish mixed with the musk of unwashed man.
He stands on the muddy ground barefoot leaving prints in the mud with every press of his giant feet.
Tod finds himself looking at his partner’s lazy eye. The blue one that droops. He quickly glances back to the other steely gray mean one. “They are just gnomes,” wondering again if it was a good idea to even be doing this with a complete stranger, who he got drunk with at a tavern in a town ten miles down road just two nights ago.
It was just a comment really, a throwaway, he remembers swaying and almost falling to he floor. Dwayn caught him with one huge well calloused hand, “whoa there buddy.” he said, “Need me to wipe yer arse too?”
And somehow that meant that Dwayn felt obliged to follow him around all the next day and eventually needle out of him knowledge of a gnome royal wedding.
“We should rob it.” Dwayn exclaimed.
And Tod said, “nah.”
“No,” Dwayn said getting angry, “We should rob it.”
Tod nodded with a stupid smile on his face which in his memory makes him cringe.
Few even want to be associated with gnomes, or the tinker race as most folks call them. Small and constantly busy on a project, “borrowing,” materials and tools and generally making a mess of things.
Tod thought of them as dwarves, with little to no actual use.
At least dwarves could swing heavy iron around. The only iron Tod ever saw a gnome swing was at the end of one of their tiny hammers.
But Tod wasn’t very worldly and outside of the Infantry of the Seventh Earl of Northdom he has little experience doing anything other than picking knights off horses as a hookman.
When the Earl was killed and his lands swallowed by Lord Earfington the Eighth, he escaped being gobbled up by the Earl’s army, by sneaking away.
He at least got to keep his armor, green-dyed quilted gambeson and matching sallet with thick canvas inserts on the shoulders elbows and knees, not much, but at least better then nothing. He has leather booties on his feet that are well worn and a bit past their prime, but h came from poverty, a dirt farm in the South, so he considers anything covering his feet a step in the right direction.
He stole an iron longsword off a dead knight in his last battle and it has since turned red along the edges and brittle. Tod wonders how much use it will actually be in battle. He has it tucked into his belt and feels like it is constantly getting in the way. He misses his hooked halberd which he could easily plant in the ground between battles.
Dwayn carries a club. Just a wicked looking branch with several thick knots circling the wide end. Some bark remains but soon it will fall free leaving the wood naked and leaking sap. In Dwayn’s hand the weapon looks puny, but Tod has hefted it and knows otherwise. It has to weigh at least three stone.
As the night crests with a full moon, the duo sit and wait.
Soon a hundred or so wedding guests trickle into the tent.
Then a mighty roar of cheers and applause the bride and groom appear.
A troupe of musicians begin playing what Tod could only assume is gnomish folk music because he has never had the misfortune of hearing it before.
From a distance the group plays their instruments with much gusto but little ability and the resulting sound is ghastly.
“Shall we?” Dwayn questions, already standing and beginning to skirt the bank of the foul smelling lake.
Tod hangs back. His stomach knots. His heart feels like a bolt of lightning in his chest. His hands quiver like a pudding fresh from the oven. As Dwayn gets several steps further on, he debates whether he could sneak away and let his ‘partner’ handle the assault without him. Tod isn’t sure what good he is going to be able to offer anyway. He can barely swing the sword tucked into his belt and he feels about ready to vomit.
But Dwayn turns around and pounds an open palm with his club and demands, “Come!”
So Tod does, withering under the huge man’s crooked eye glare.
The trip around the lake leaves them both covered in mud and huffing for air. Under the cover of the heinous music they make their way to to the open tent of revelers.
Standing just on the safe side of light spilling from the tent, they watch open-jawed.
The party is complete chaos.
The troupe of players is actually just a group of instruments that one gnome operates by blowing into a horn. Each breath make the instruments play and works an apparatus that pulls on the tail of one frayed and miserable looking cat.
It’s amazing the collection of sounds even resemble music.
Their attention is removed from the ‘band’ when a small harried gnome in a sweat-soaked tuxedo runs up to a table, climbs on top and leaps to the lantern in the middle where he winds a crank for a good minute. Then he jumps down and sprints to the next table to wind that light, which as he reaches it just begins to dim.
A loud ping and steam-whistle attracts the duo’s attention to a large buffet table. On the table huge plops of food fall from copper pipes running from the palace above. The food is either steaming or smoking and mainly looks inedible. Most of the guests agree and few if any partake and piles of the offerings over flow their serving dishes and have begun to drip onto the floor.
Mixed with the smell from the lake, the tented reception is awful with stink.
A squealing gnome jets across the middle of the reception attached to a two wheeled contraption. His out of control locomotion is stopped as he slams into one table and then another before flying off and is caught by the bodies of four unaware gnomes.
They all stand, brush themselves off and continue talking as if the fifth gnome isn’t lying on the floor completely stunned or dead.
Todd isn’t sure which.
He turns his attention to a gnome who walks up to a crumb dusted table. He points a small canon at it and clicks a button on its side. With a small honk a brush and dust pan shoot out. The combo cleans a swipe of the table and then are pulled back into the canon. The gnome hits the button again, aimed at different section of the table and the broom and bin shoot out with another honk. Todd watches him for several minutes, the brush and bin going in and out, in and out, in and out and still not even leaving half the mess on the table cleaned.
He marvels at the dysfunction and nearly laughs until distracted when he feels a pull on his doublet.
He looks down and sees a gnome in shiny iron armor holding a miniature pike, “This party is for invited guests only, might you have an invitation?” his voice squeaky but firm.
Before Todd has a chance to answer an explosion forces his attention further into the tent. The entire party is obscured by a cloud of sharp smelling smoke. The detonation echoes across the lake and back. Startled, Todd moves his eyes to the lake and is surprised to see the pike armed guard, arms flailing, flying across the waters attached to a flaming rocket.
Looking back into the tent, he sees eight or nine gnomes gathered close together laughing as if witness to the funniest joke ever told. In front of them is a still-smoking launch pad.
Todd touches at the hilt of his rusty longsword unsure what brandishing a weapon would even accomplish here. He turns to ask Dwayn, but the man isn’t standing next to him. Instead he is already five hundred yards back the way they came, seeking freedom from the mayhem with every ounce of strength he has.
Todd whispers a thank you to The Yellow God and turns to follow his former partner, a bit more certain gnomes are never to be trusted.
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