The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 8)

          Igdryll opened the door to his house and let his hammer drop on the floor beside the entryway. Whatever magic it once held was spent. Hanging his hat on a peg by the entrance, he closed the round, oaken door and sat on his unmade bed. Puffs of dust skittered into the pale light of the room. Evening approached. His walk back with the Elder was silent and he thought about the implications of what was said, or rather, what wasn’t said. Igdryll never gave much thought to notions beyond the day-to-day events that primarily occupied his time. A job done half-well and a mug twice filled had been contentment enough.
          Igdryll looked out the window. A few folks meandered about but as the glow of evening dwindled, the street was largely absent of the usual bustle. He took his boots off, letting them clunk to the floor and rolled into bed. He stared at the ceiling, counting the cracks and the cobwebs over and over until sleep finally came.

          “Igdryll,” an unfamiliar voice said, “Igdryll.”
          Igdryll was awake now but couldn’t open his eyes. He tried to get up but his body was paralyzed.
          “Igdryll,” the voice repeated.
          “What?”
          “Open your eyes now.”
          “Can’t open…” Igdryll’s eyes flew open and he looked around. He was in a lush garden. It was dark and a sliver of moon hung in the indigo colored sky. Stars were strewn above like flecks of glittery powder. The Milky Way, brighter than Igdryll remembered, arched above him. A heavy perfume from what he guessed was a flower clung to the warm night air, it’s cloying scent broken only by an occasional light breeze.
          “Where this,” Igdryll asked.
          “You’ve been here before. This is the chamber inside the council.”
          “Who speaking to me?”
          “We are the Nameless Ones, the Bornless Ones. We have been with your people since the beginning. We help ensure your legacy remains unbroken.”
          Igdryll touched a leaf on a low hanging limb. It felt real enough but it shimmered in a strange manner. Birds chattered back and forth in the distance but he couldn’t see them. Their calls sounded shrill and ethereal.
          “Walk with us, Igdryll.”
          Igdryll couldn’t see anyone but felt compelled by something to move forward. An invisible but tangible presence guided him down a cobble path into a copse of hoary cedar trees, their ancient trunks twisted and braided. Within the center of the stand of cedars stood a large stone with a water filled hollow. Tendrils of moonlight danced across the surface of the basin.
          “Drink of this,” a woman’s voice said.
          Igdryll was not generally keen on drinking water from old stones but felt compelled by some unnamed sense of responsibility to do as he was told. Cupping his hand, he scooped the cool water and brought it to his lips. As he drank, he felt the cool moisture crawl throughout his body seeking out every hidden recess of his veins. He felt a crushing feeling in his chest and he fell to the ground, the scent of rotten cedar filling his nostrils. ‘What’s happening,.’ he thought. The icy feeling slithered from his chest to his neck and up into his head. His eyesight went dim then danced with sparkly dots of light. His blood flowed feverishly, thumping and occluding his hearing. Paralysis slowly crept from his toes to his legs and then to his arms.
          “I’m dying,” he whispered. There was no response.
          He tried to cry out but his voice was nothing but a hoarse rasp. His body stopped responding. The whooshing of blood hammered his skull, slowed, then stopped entirely. A still, velvet blackness encompassed his being and Igdryll remembered nothing else.

          The next morning, Igdryll woke up, took his hat off the peg and placed it on his head as he had done innumerable mornings before. He went to Dallver’s to drink his breakfast as per his custom. The streets were empty. The door to the pub creaked and chattered as he opened it.
          “Mornin’, Igdryll,” Mr. Dallver said.
          “G’morning, Mr. Dallver.” Igdryll took the pint Mr. Dallver extended to him and sat down at a corner table. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and anyone who would have taken notice of Igdryll would not have suspected that he had lain dead last night for nearly two hundred years.

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The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 7)

          “What the hell happened?” Dave asked.
          The two of them stared at the pickup truck, a few whorls of smoke escaped from underneath the raised hood. The truck wasn’t a total loss. It looked like just the distributor caught fire. The two of them had managed to quickly extinguish it but whatever had caused the explosion had also blown out all of the windows in the cab.
          “I dunno,” Roger said, “lemme call Donna.” Roger walked up to the top of a nearby dirt mound to get a better signal. “Hey, honey. All right, I guess. Yeah sure. Hey listen, can you give me and Dave a ride back to town? It won’t start. Uh huh. Not sure. Yeah, an hour’s fine. Kay. Love you, too. Bye.”
          Roger walked back to the truck. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and banged one out. Lighting it, he inhaled deeply and exhaled.
          “Thought you quit,” Dave said.
          “Eh.”
          “Gimme one, would ya?”
          Dave pulled a cigarette from the pack that Roger extended. He lit it off of the other lit cigarette. They stood for a moment in the crisp air, their fogged breath mingling with the smoke.
          “You know, I’m beginning to think this place is cursed or haunted or somethin’,” Dave said. “That thing yesterday and now this. My luck ain’t great but it’s never been this bad.”
          “Donna be here in about an hour. Let’s see if we can get the dozer started again and finish that back cut. The ground’s s’posed to freeze later this week.”
          “All right.”
          They walked across the clearing to the bulldozer. Dave climbed up into the cab, turned the key and it started. The machine rumbled and as he put it into gear and tried to move the machine forward, the sound of twisting metal shrieked through the valley. The bulldozer lurched and stalled.
          “Shit,” Roger exclaimed. He walked around to the other side of the bulldozer. “The track’s completely off.”
          “It’s not a complete showstopper,” Dave said as he climbed down, “but it will take us some time to get another one out here. I’ll call and see about gettin’ some parts. Take at least a week, I figure.”
          “Eleven, twelve hundred.”
          “Yeah. At least.”
          Dave sucked on his cigarette and threw it into the dirt. Exhaling, he shook his head and squatted down next to the track. He ran his fingers across the broken metal, clean and bright against the other muddy parts. He noticed something. Among the tangled metal shavings, he noticed what appeared to be small footprints. His eyes followed the trail of steps to the field. ‘Rabbit or squirrel,’ he thought. But part of him wasn’t entirely convinced.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 6)

          “For this to work,” the Elder said, “I will need to cross us through the Vale. That means they could see us easier so you must be very careful. Crossing the Vale also means…well, you’ll see.”
          The Elder raised his staff and chanted words similar to what Igdryll heard earlier at the council door. This time he did not lose consciousness but, instead, suddenly felt very ill. As the Elder’s chant reached a crescendo, Igdryll felt something wash over his body, like a cold breeze, and his senses dulled as if he had drunk too much cider. Darkness enveloped him for a moment and then he could see again, it was as if all of the world’s colors had been muted. He vomited.
          “That sometimes happens, Igdryll. It’s nothing to worry about.”
          “Why no warning?” Igdryll asked while wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
          “Not everyone has that reaction. Listen, we are in the mortal sphere now. Things are different here. You probably noticed the colors are dull. Sound is heavier, uglier. Also, we can’t speak with other creatures so easily.”
          “I don’t like it here.”
          “Fear poisons this world. That is what you are feeling.”
          “What a darkish place.”
          The Elder walked through the field with Igdryll. They used the tufts of grass stalks as cover. A rabbit darted and all three of them were startled. They continued, making their way to the edge of the field. They were now less than twenty feet away from the two Tall Men and their moving house. The noise from the machine sounded like the growl from some beast and shook the ground.
          The Elder held up his staff, it flashed and the house shuddered and stopped. A close silence fell over the valley. The two Tall Men could be heard talking back and forth. They walked around the machine, occasionally climbing up and down parts of it and scratching their heads while they conversed.
          “Now, do you see those wheels, Igdryll, and the metal band that goes around them?”
          “Aye.”
          “Okay, I will send the two Talls away and I need for you to smash those pieces apart. Got it?”
          “Got it? That’s forging stupid talk. How my wooden hammer break up that metal craft?”
          “Here.”
          The Elder took Igdryll’s hammer from his belt and gently blew on it. The implement glowed softly. He handed it back to him.
          “It’s heavyish now,” Igdrll said.
          “It will work now.”
          The Elder raised his staff again and chanted. Nothing seemed to happen but then in a far off corner of the work site, a loud whump reverberated through the air followed by a rising tendril of black smoke. The two men ducked, then turned towards the source of the explosion. They both ran off towards it.
          “Okay, Igdryll.”
          Igdryll ran across the clearing. His hat fell off, he stooped to pick it up and continued running. He stopped at the base of the machine. ‘It’s farking huge,” he thought. He raised his hammer and brought it down on the track. A hollow thud traveled from the hammer, up his arm and into his skull.
          “Fark,” he shouted, “it no working!”
          “Keep going!”
          Igdryll raised the hammer again and brought it down, more gingerly this time. The metal gave way slightly as if it were ice cracking. Encouraged, he struck again and the track shattered.
          “Ha!”
          He continued, smashing more of the track, the guides and even several items that the Elder hadn’t pointed out. He was making good progress on the house’s scooper thing when he heard the Elder shouting. He turned to look. The Elder was waving frantically and pointing towards something in the distance. The bigger Tall Man was walking towards the machine.
          “Shayt,” Igdryll said as he turned and ran back across the field. He slid to a stop next to the Elder and turned to look. The Tall Man was climbing onto the top of the house. He grabbed something and walked back towards the direction from where he came.
          “That was close, Igdryll.”
          “Should I go back?”
          “Nay. That’s enough. They are crippled for now.”
          “But what about sendin’ ’em to the Spirit?”
          “Not today, Igdryll. We need to get back now.”
          Igdryll thought that the Elder looked very tired. The two of them retreated into the underbrush and walked towards the river. As they approached the Vale, the Elder raised his staff and Igdryll passed out. He woke a moment later and he felt normal again. They were both back on the other side of the Vale again. Colors and smells returned to normal. The oppressive fear subsided.
          “I need to sit for a moment,” the Elder said. He sat down on a smooth stone near the river and closed his eyes.
          “You okay, Oldish?”
          The Elder breathed deeply for several moments before opening his eyes again. He looked at Idgryll and smiled.
          “I’m okay, Igg. We aren’t what we once were.”
          “What you mean?”
          “Our magic grows tired which means I grow tired.”
          Igdryll sat down next to the Elder. The two of them gazed out at the river saying nothing for several minutes.
          “Are you dying, Elder?” Igdryll asked.
          The Elder turned to Idgryll. “Let’s go, Igg.”
          The Elder stood up and walked to the river bank. Igdryll followed.
          “Remember, relax,” the Elder said.
          “Aye.”
          The two of them floated back across the river. Igdryll felt much more comfortable now as he what to expect. They both landed on the far side safely and walked into the woods together.
          “Why you no answer?” Igdryll asked.
          “I think you know the answer, Igdryll.”
          “We’re all dying, aren’t we?”
          The Elder didn’t answer and the two of them walked back to the village in silence.

The Adventure of Igdryll the Gnome (Part 5)

          Morning broke cool and still. Fog clung to the village. Igdryll was awake, had been awake for most of the night. He sat down on the edge of his bed and looked outside through a grimy window. A few were out going about their business but most were still asleep. There are younger folks in the village who would have been better suited for this type of business.
           ‘Why those bones choose me?’ he thought.
          He stood and walked to a nearby table. Moving clear some papers and a broken hammer, he picked up a jug of cider and poured himself a drink into a tin cup. A knock at the door.
          “Who be it?” Igdryll asked.
           “It’s time,” the Elder replied. “Let’s go.”
          Igdryll opened the door and let the Elder in. An assortment of woodworking tools, a plate of half-eaten bread and cider bottles emerged in the gloomy morning light let in through the open door. An ancient looking clock sat on the fireplace mantle. The Elder glanced at it.
          “I think your clock stopped,” the Elder said.
          “Didn’t stop. Never started.” Igdryll rummaged through a pile of clothes on the floor. “Just a sec’, oldish.” He paused. “So what does I bring to war anyhow?”
          “Well, a stout heart, fortitude, spirit…”
          “I’ve got a hammer,” Igdryll said lifting it up from underneath a shirt. “I bringin’ a hammer.” He slipped the mallet into his belt, grabbed a walking staff from beside the door and they left.

          They walked in silence together through the village. A few pockets of activity stirred here and there but the main road was vacant. As they walked past the Old Tower which marked the village boundary, an old toad stared at them a moment before hopping off into the undergrowth.
          The Elder quietly hummed. Igdryll recognized the tune. It was sung during the Great War in the ancient days, or at least that is what his Gram told him.
          “So why you need me, anyways?” Igdryll asked.
          “The bones advised it.”
          “Farking bones. I mean yesterdays you went alones and did finely. What difference will I make?”
          “I am an old man, Igdryll, and this type of magic, war magic I mean, doesn’t come easily to me anymore. The council knows this and advised that I find help. You see, many moons before you came to us, our folk lived in a far off land…”
          “Yeah, I know this, the Eldervale. So what?”
          “So,” the Elder continued, “the Tall Men came. One or two at first, then families, then villages. At first we lived side by side in relative peace. Some even became our friends, in a manner of speaking. But, you see, Tall Men live short lives and have short memories. Friends became foes and it was decided that we should cut off any contact with them. The council was created and through great and ancient magic created the Eldervale to shield us from the Tall Men. It protected us for many moons thereafter and they forgot about us. We became myth and that was our greatest protection. But their great machines found us again and we left.”
          “They find us again?”
          “Aye. Some in the council wanted to reach out to them and see if their ways had changed. Others disagreed. A vote was taken and war won.”
          “Wouldn’t friends be easier?”
          “We are almost to the Stream.”
          The clouds had cleared and dappled sunlight danced across the mossy forest floor. A cool breeze vacated the heavy morning air. They continued for a few more minutes in silence. The Old Gray Stream emerged ahead. The Elder crossed over the water in a shallow spot and waited as Igdryll crossed. They continued on until the sound of the Great River could be heard ahead. The Elder stopped and motioned for Igdryll to be quiet. The two of them crept forward and peered through a copse of sycamores. Through the undergrowth they could see the yellow colored moving house.
          “No,” the Elder said.
          “What?”
          “There are two tall men. I sent that chubby one to the spirit yesterday. I was sure of it.”
          “To the spirit? You never said that yesterday.”
          “He fell. I saw him. They are such fragile things.”
          “Well, now what, oldish?”
          The Elder watched the two men as they went about their business of clearing dirt. He motioned Igdryll forward and the two of them approached the bank of the Great River.
          “I’m going to do something, Igdryll,” the Elder said. “Stay very calm.”
          “Uh, what…” Igdryll slowly rose into the air. “Holy fark, oldish!”
          “Stay calm or the magic will break.”
          Igdryll managed to regain his composure. He slowly floated out over the river. Below him, whitecaps swirled and tore at the rocks reaching up from the water. Looking behind him, he could see the Elder also floating about a stone’s throw away. Igdryll closed his eyes.
          ‘One, two, three, four…”he counted.
          At twenty-three, Igdryll’s feet felt firm ground beneath them. He opened his eyes and saw that he was safely on the other side of the river. The Elder shortly joined him.
          “Okay, oldish,” Igdryll said. “Why didn’t we just floatish our happy feet here all the way from the village?”
          “As I said, Iggs.” The Elder paused, short of breath. “I’m old and my magic is old.”
          The Elder climbed the embankment and motioned for Igdryll to follow. At the top, they could hear machinery running and the Tall Men shouting things in a strange language. They walked closer to the noise until they reached a clearing. Using an elderberry bush as cover, the two of them watched the moving house take dirt from one spot and move it to another spot.
          “What they doing?” Igdryll asked.
          “I think they are building a house.”
          “A dirt house?”
          “Aye. Not good.”
          “So what’s the plan?”
          Igdryll felt more adventurous now. As he watched the Tall Men work in the field, he now felt like he was part of something much larger than himself. Like he was a warrior in one of the ancient battle stories.
          “We need to break their yellow house,” the Elder said. “I think I know how but I will need your help.”

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 4)

          The Elder stood on a podium at the base of the steps in front of Town Hall. Word spread quickly in the town, particularly after Igdryll mentioned what happened to Tragdyll. A crowd gathered and they were eager to hear more. War was big news, the only news really to have occurred in many months. The last event of any interest was Oyroll’s mushroom barn burning down.
           “Quiet now,” the Elder shouted. “I know war is an unhappy business but it is a business we must do.” The crowd pressed closer. “Now, I have gone to the Vale and seen for myself of what Igdryll and Evelya spoke. I have ill news,” the Elder paused. “It’s Tall Men.”
          The crowd gasped. Adralla, the town’s oldest woman, fainted.
          “No one likes to send anyone, not even Tall Men, to the spirit,” the Elder continued. “But, I fear it may necessary.” He waved his staff to silence the crowd. “Now, the Council commands me to go back tomorrow and for this they say I need volunteers to come with me.”
          Everyone fell silent as the Elder scanned the crowd but he only encountered averted gazes.
          “Very well,” he said. “I will consult the bones.” He removed a small pouch from his belt and shook several small bones into his gnarled hand. “Behold,” he said while lifting up his hand.
          He closed his eyes, mumbled something and threw the bones onto the dirt before the crowd. He opened his eyes and stared at the jumble. The bones trembled, then spun before settling to a stop. The Elder smiled.
          “The bones have chosen,” the Elder paused. “Igdryll Tradagast.”
           “Fark me, oldish!” Igdryll shouted from the back of the crowd. He pushed his way to the front and glared at the Elder. “Them bones didn’t ask me, so it don’t count none. I’m not cut for warish activities.”
          “Now, Igdryll,” the Elder said. “The bones have spoken and, as always, spoken true.”
          “How says? Only you can read them anyhows. Coulda said we need to eat more acorn stew or hurl our poos at each other.”
          “The matter is settled. We leave in the morning.” The Elder descended from the podium and walked up the Town Hall’s steps.
          “Wait, now. You said volunteers. Who more?”
          The Elder turned. “The bones said just you, Igdryll. They seem to fancy you a great deal.” The Elder opened the door, went inside and the door slowly closed behind him.
          “Great,” Igdryll said.

Harold’s Hats and Murder Emporium

          “Well, Harold, people just aren’t buying hats like they used to,” Mitch said.
          “Hell, I know…but what do you suggest?”

          At that moment, a rail of a man in a tweed suit walked by leading a small child by the hand. The man tugged firmly, too firmly, at the boy’s hand as the child winced in pain.

          “C’mon, you lousy humgruffin!” the finely dressed man shouted to his bespectacled child whose tears threatened to overwhelm the little one’s rosy cheeked face.

          Harold and Mitch looked at one another and thus was born, ‘Harold’s Hats and Murder Emporium.’

The End

The Adventure of Igdryll the Drunken Gnome (Part 3)

           Few have seen the inside of Town Hall. Just beyond the front doors leading to the inner chamber is a larger oak door that is covered in carvings of ancient heroes and verses from scripture in the Old Tongue. Beyond these doors is the council chamber, unseen by most. The council itself consists of the Elder, who serves as the mouthpiece for the group, and six others whose identities are unknown. This arrangement isn’t questioned by anyone in the village because, by consensus of popular opinion, the council is never wrong. Also, the town has remained prosperous for as long as anyone can recall. The only murmurings against the Council occurred many years ago when some spoke out saying the council wasn’t real. In response, every year on the Spring equinox, six cloaked and hooded figures appear on the roof of Town Hall. It has become quite a festival.
           “Igdryll, leave the drink,” the Elder said.
           “The mug I leave but the drink, I take.”
           Downing the remaining cider, he set the mug down on a nearby table. The Elder rolled his eyes.
           “Now listen, Igdryll. Be truthful with the council. They will see into your heart,” the Elder paused. “And, they know of your doubt.”
           “If they see my heart, why they need to talk to me, eh?”
           “It’s complicated. But they need to see that your words and your heart match.”
           The Elder knocked on the door with his gnarled staff and the doors shuddered slightly before slowly swinging open. Stairs led down into darkness. The Elder took a torch from a basket, whispered something and blew on it. The pitch smoldered briefly then ignited.
           “Come now,” the Elder said. “You may not believe but you must respect.”
           Igdryll followed the Elder down. As they descended, the steps went from being carefully hewn treads to careworn stones and then pure, living rock. Igdryll stumbled. ‘Cider’s takin’ hold,’ he thought.
           They descended several hundred feet before they reached another door, this one carved from rock. It matched the scale of the doors at the top of the stairs but lacked the adornment. Still, they possessed a simple beauty.
           The Elder walked up to the door and turned back to Igdryll. “It’s important that you understand that beyond these doors is not a place in the usual sense of the word. Time and space do not, well, work in quite the same way. It will be a bit disorienting.”
           Igdryll nodded. “All right, then.”
           The Elder turned back to the door and spoke, softly at first, then the speech became chanting. The timbre drilled into Igdryll’s head. He tried to shut it out but it seemed to pervade his entire being. Igdryll remembered something. When he was twelve summers old, he had a strange dream. He felt asleep but awake at the same time somehow. His body felt as if some energy was sliding through it. As much as he tried, he could not move and it felt like he was being watched by some entity. As the Elder continued the chant, Igdryll’s sense of horror grew and he felt exactly the same now as he did those many summers ago during that dream, or whatever it was.
           “Nay. Stop,” Igdryll said. The Elder did not respond. Everything went black.

“Igdryll,” the Elder said. To Igdryll, he sounded very far away. “Igg, come on now. Wake.”
           “What the hork happened?” Igdryll sat up staring absently at the stone entryway to the council chambers.
           “You did fine,” the Elder said.
           “Did what fine?” Igdryll stood, swayed but regained his balance. “What you talkin’ about now?”
           “The Council found your truth. We must prepare now.” The Elder ascended the pathway, his torch fading as he rounded a large boulder. Igdryll stood in place, still dazed. “Come now.”
           “Prepare? For what?”
           “War.”