Shal ah Galad, the Spear of Light, the Vengeance of Priceptine the Archangel of Wrath has been delivered.
Whether it was surrendered to the right person or not might be contested, true.. The deed, however, is done and the companions are ready to return back to their own time.
There’s just one minor hold-up..
That’s it, then?”, said Cora and there was a tired quality in her voice.. Tired and relieved. There really had been little in the way of fighting in this particular venture of the prophecy, but it had been intense.. Emotionally intense and she felt all the pain and joy, ‘suffered and lived’, as Brom had so eloquently put and it weighed down in on her as she sat between Seressa and the hobbit..
..in the filthy, stinking trash, and she wondered;
How did the heroes in the great sagas do things?
Cora was a barbarian and sagas held a major part of her culture, after all..
How would they have handled it all?
Would they be sitting in some foul-smelling city waste after having accomplished such a noble deed as returning the weapon of a great archangel?
The Archangel of Wrath, no less!
Shouldn’t there be some sort of a joyous celebration post such deliverance? That’s what heroes did in the sagas, right?
Instead, they were sitting in the stink..
Perhaps she could ask the hobbit, Brom, to write a saga about this? Someone wrote all the others, after all.
No, no..! She then thought. Brom would add the ‘stink’ as well because Brom was.. Brom, and that would totally destroy her cool!
Being ‘cool’ was in the first chapter of ‘How To Be A Tundra Elf Barbarian’ manual..
Though, it is possible Cora was taking the whole ‘cool’ thing quite literally.
Cora wasn’t fame-hungry or anything, but she did believe good deeds ought to leave a mark. Bad things certainly did as she thought of the frostbitten scars on her back.
A small saga, then?
What was a small saga called anyway? Sagie? Sagatie? Saggy? No. That sounded suspiciously like something that sagged and for no self-respect girl was anything sagging, good!
Alright. Cora, though. Perhaps she was not just emotionally concussed, but fully concussed!
“How about we hire a room or three and enjoy a night of the great city life? I haven’t held an audience for ages!”, Brom offered. “I do feel we could indulge ourselves a bit.”
“You’d love that, wouldn’t you? Lack of attention must be eating at you..”, grumbled Tonic.
“It isn’t like you wouldn’t.. like to indulge yourself, I mean..”, he replied expansively. “You are a bit fragrant, after all.”
“Are you telling me that I stink?”, scowled the gnomic girl darkly.
“No, I am telling you, we all stink!”, smirked Brom.
“You are going to live a long, but lonely life if you persist on this line of thought, young Brom.. Telling a girl that she stinks, is not smart. Telling all the girls in range that they stink, is abysmal!”, said Seressa lightly.
Brom coughed as he gave the towering girl a sidelong glance. Lucky he had Cora sitting between them.
“All I am saying is that we could all use a nice, hot bath, while we have our clothes laundered, then have a nice hot meal, perhaps followed by a visit to the taproom —a classy one, mind you, then get some sleep in a warm bed for a change. Cora could use a new pair of pants too.. I despair every time she scratches herself in those filthy man pants!”, he mumbled.
Cora didn’t say anything. Brom, it seemed, liked to talk.. too much sometimes..
Seressa tried to get up, hissed in pain, and sat back down.
Cora got up, her face graced with shame, and helped the very tall, very dark girl to her feet while Seressa gasped and hopped on one leg as she held on to the barbarian girl with one hand and pressed at her ribs with her other, splintered arm..
“I am sorry Seressa.”, mumbled Cora as the tall girl held on to her.
“No, luv. I am sorry. Your shame is heartfelt but misplaced.”, replied the tall, dark girl with a choked voice.
Cora Sleet stared at Seressa’s dark, unfathomable, and beautiful face.
“Had I been smarter, and more considerate of my friend than blindly follow my animal instincts, I could have saved us all a lot of pain.. and the shame you shouldn’t be feeling in the first place.
I am.. I become stupid when I see Tonic getting pounded. Happened too many times and too often in the past. She learned to ignore most of it, but that didn’t really help her. It just kept hoarding and it festered..”, she said with a hoarse voice. “I wish.. I wish I was there when her parents gave her away to her uncle..”, she added. But this time, there was a fierce, vicious, and a murdering quality in that voice.
“And I, dear Seressa, should have been mindful of my manners.”, replied Cora, her own voice soft and throaty. “I shamed my father, my mother, and my ancestors with what I did to you.. You are my friend. And will be my friend and I will be indebted to you for the sins I have done to a friend.”
And she did something she hadn’t done for a long, long time.
She reached up and kindly embraced the very tall and very dark Seressa, pinks, and all..
And made sure Seressa got just as much; pale braids, whirling tattoos, and furs..
Brom got up and went to Tonic and held up his hands.
Tonic scowled up at him.
“I am not hugging you, boy!”, she scoffed.
“Well, I’d thought I’d give it a try anyway.”, he smirked.
“I think you got all you wanted from your last groping!”, she snapped.
“You are never going to let that go are you, girl?”, mourned the hobbit.
“Not until I have leeched you dry.. And you will let me do it too.. AND WILLINGLY!”, she gave Brom a very evil smirk.
“Actually, I merely wanted to help you up. You haven’t moved an inch ever since you sat on that slimy whatsit!”, said Brom lightly. “You seem stuck!”
Tonic scowled up at him. Again.
“Seressa can help me up.”, she sniffed.
“Dear Seressa can’t even stand up by herself, let alone help you..”, smiled the hobbit and held up his hands again.
“I promise..”, he said, “..I won’t bite.”
“I promise..”, deadpanned the gnomic girl. “..that I will if you try to grapple me again!”
“No, no.. Done that once. And found out everything I wanted to..”, he said shamelessly.
Arcantonic Palecog’s face went red as she blushed furiously.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”, she hissed. “You think mine are too small?”
“I just know, I will suffer for what I will say next. Yet I must. Because that is what friends are for; to tell us our shortcomings with brutal honesty!”, smiled Brom.. quite pleasantly actually.
“Do enlighten me and suffer!”, bit the gnomic girl.
“Sir Gordigon missed so much of you, miss Tonic. I heartily feel sorry for him!”, said Brom with an honest, straight face and without waiting for her furiously blushing response, grabbed her hands and with a ‘slop’, pulled her little ass out of the oozing muck!
✱ ✱ ✱
Yep..”, Tonic said quietly. “..as much as hate to agree with the unscrupulous little weasel, we could all use a bath, right about now!”
“I totally agree, luv.”, said Seressa as she sniffed herself.
“We do indeed. Perhaps my timing was off, there..?”, admitted Cora, with a deflated face.
“Ow, no, luv. I got your hugs and it’s for keeps!”, said the tall, dark girl brightly.
“So it’s alright when you girls say you stink, and not alright when I do?”, grumbled Brom.
“Very astute, Master Bard. But a tad too late.”, Seressa smiled. “You, sir, are in my BLACK BOOK for the second time.”
Cora waved her hands in his direction in a ‘No, don’t..” sort of gesture, but the hobbit totally missed it.
“Ow? When was the first?”, he asked gullibly.
And ended up getting scowled by three sets of angry eyes glaring down at him.
Cora, for his stupidity.
Tonic, for his stupidity.
And Seressa, for his stupidity..
“The time you taunted me about the size of my breasts!”, she hissed spitefully at Brom.
“Well.. that was stupid of me.. and.. uhh.. very misinformed!”
Cora smacked the hobbit across the back of his head..
..just so he’d shut up and perhaps save what was left of his pride!
“I yield to the injustice of numbers stacked against me!”, mumbled Brom and started walking.
“Where do you think you are going?”, scowled Tonic.
“To earn back my pride..”, Brom shot back and continued without pausing.
“I think we hurt his little feelings.”, said Tonic heartlessly.
“Yes.. yes we did..”, agreed Seressa, but not as heartlessly as her pair. “..I believe we must make amends.”
“We must?”, asked Tonic. “But why?”, she added desperately.
“Because my BLACK BOOK also has a twin;
THE BOOK OF AWESOME DEEDS!
And what he said about my actions being guided by my heart, was a masterpiece..”, she replied fairly and started after the hobbit, limping as she did.
“Yea.. I am sure he said that with all the good intentions..”, mumbled her pair.
“Tonic, luv. I do not judge people upon second guesses. That never helps.”, said Seressa with a suppressed grimace as she continued to limp. “He has nothing to gain from me but what he sees.. Which really isn’t anything he can help. I know my pinks are outrageous. I weigh my desires against convention; I shall keep wearing as I please until I lose!
He chose to honor this, in his own way, even though I left him with little choice in the matter. It only took you two years to feel remotely comfy with me.. and you are my pair.”
Tonic scowled at the cold truth and shut up!
Cora was astounded —amazed, really— at the twisted logic of the very tall, very dark girl.
It made little to no sense.. From a logical point of view.
But apparently, for Seressa, what mattered was what others chose to do, then why they chose to do them.
The ‘why’ was merely the missing words in a fill in the blanks sentence;
Sure, it would be more fulfilling if they were filled, but weren’t essentially needed to make sense.
Provided you had just a bit of imagination.
It was a brutal way to ‘like’ somebody.
But she ‘chose’ to do it, anyway..
For Seressa, it was easy making enemies. Making friends, not so much.. Keeping said friends, however, required effort and sacrifices, and she was willing to make those sacrifices, no matter how great or costly they might be. For Cora; a broken arm, half a half of a dozen shattered ribs, a dislocated knee, any number of dark, ugly bruises hiding all over her dark body and a whole slew of unmerciful pain..
All for the sake of making one, singularly prominent and fundamental point; that she, Cora, was her friend and friends cared..
In a sense that required only a twisted kind of logic, Seressa was a good, kind-hearted girl that deserved a bit of that sacrificing too..
Cora picked up her pace and carefully shouldered the tall, dark girl, relieving her off her limping leg, but as a silent agreement of saving one another’s face, she did not offer to carry her.
Brom led them out of the back alleys and passed a moderate-sized temple with an old, cracked marble tablet that read; Alls Temple, and they came to a wide, well-lit street. It was so wide, in fact, one could march whole platoons back and forth without having to bump into one another, which was probably the idea.
It was early in night hours and the streets were neither empty nor deserted. This was The Great Arashkan City and she never truly slept. The shops and bazaars were closed, but the night was teeming with life as couples, families, gangs of youngsters, troops of city guards were seen everywhere and other than a few curious eyes, seldom did anyone take notice of a small group of odd four.
Halflings and gnomes were common here and their closest neighbors were elves, to begin with. As for Seressa, her natural, dark skin gave her all the cover she needed, despite her pink hair and pink dress. She looked more like some weird pink apparition with a long, pink ribbon floating in the air amidst the three.
“Does he even know where he is going?”, whispered Tonic skeptically.
“Yes, I am sure he does, luv.”, replied Seressa.
“How? He already admitted he’s never been here before!”, harshed the gnomic girl.
“It’s a bard thing, dear. It’s their own kind of magic. Something neither of us have..”
Cora didn’t say or question Brom one way or another. Sure, the hobbit had his quirks, but who was she to question that? Besides, she knew absolutely nothing about this city.. Nor any other city for that matter!
And Brom led them across the wide street and into a much more cultured section of the city; The Richarc District. It seemed he was moving with the surety of someone who had come here many times before. So much so that he managed to impress even Tonic when he led them into a luxurious looking bathhouse.
With a short exchange of coins, he pointed to one side of the bathhouse to the ladies and silently left for the other side, reserved for men.
Fearing more embarrassment from the ladies, he didn’t loiter, but when he came out, he felt totally refreshed, much, much lighter, and in his newly laundered and pressed clothes..
..and ended up waiting for nearly two hours for the girls!
“All that mouth they gave me—”, he started..
“—was worth it!”, finished a soft, throaty voice.
Brom turned around..
For he came face to face with the dreamiest eyes he’d ever seen; Cora Sleet!
Her face was even whiter than he’d ever remembered. And her full lips were so dark red that the contrast to her skin made them even more pronounced.
Her hair glowed like snow in a full moon and her tattoos seemed to move in some mystical pattern as she approached him. There was a glitter in her deep, glacial eyes; brief as it might be, Cora was happy.
The barbarian girl might not be conventional in her singular beauty, but as a whole, and all cleaned up, she made a devastatingly striking figure leaving Brom to ogle like a boy!
“Well, now..”, she said. “..since I merit such a stare, I think a show of gratitude is in order.”
With that, she hugged the hobbit!
“Your idea of this bathhouse thing was the best thing I have experienced in my entire life.. We never get to have such luxuries in the tundras.”
“Uhhh.. Will I merit perhaps a kiss when I show you the feather beds, then?”, he blurted.
“From me, yes!”, came a voluptuous voice behind Cora, and a very dark hand tapped her on the shoulder.
“My turn, girl, make room!”
Brom beheld Seressa Wraiven and truly for the first time for what she was; a creature so dark, Brom was not sure whether it was the night that swallowed her, or it was night because of her!
Curling and vining all the way down the small of her back, her pink hair seemed so vivid and ablaze, that it seemed like her dark face was the hearth and her hair was the smoldering fire in it!
With her, in her clean pinks, Seressa looked nothing short of some majestic queen of the Astral Voids.
And out of the voids, the queen came and kissed the hobbit, her long, hypnotic tail coiling lazily.
“The bath was awesome..”, she said simply. “..I can breath without the rattle, and my knee feels like a good run.”
“Well,”, coughed Brom, blushing bright red. “that’s good to hear. Yes, good to hear indeed.. But let’s not make that ‘good run’ just yet. Standing still and.. uhh..”
“Gawking?”, Seressa inserted helpfully.
“Staring.. I was going to say staring, but gawking is fine too!”
“I am still not hugging you!”, said Tonic from behind Seressa.
“Never crossed my mind, really.”, replied the hobbit, eyes still fixed on the very tall, very dark girl.
“But I appreciate your efforts.. BROM BUMBLEBRIM!“, she said stiffly.
Seressa turned and looked at her pair.
Brom did not see the face Seressa gave to Tonic, but it must have given the gnomic girl quite a fright.
“Whot? I thanked him didn’t?”, she tried.
“No, luv. You did not. You patted him on the head and that was not a nice thing to do. He is not a manservant and certainly not a puppy! He is a friend.. He is my friend!”, Seressa said softly, but with a steely determination that told her pair, she was not going budge an inch on this matter.
Her shoulders sagged, her pale pink face drooped, her eyebrows arched down and she pouted!
‘A girl that evil shouldn’t be this cute, damit’, though Brom. ‘Just look at that pout. It’s an evil pout. Pout of Evil Cuteness!’
“It’s alright Seressa.”, said Brom. “When she believes I am worth it, I am sure she will choose to be my friend as well. My side of the door is open. Until then, she and I can stay.. coworkers, then?”
Arcantonic Palecog scowled at Brom.
But there appeared the slightest presence of gratitude in that scowl..
And surprise, perhaps?
Brom was a hobbit.
And hobbits loved a few things that made them a hobbit; their homes, their gardens, her numerous meals, brunches, tea times and lunches, their deep sense of lazy accomplishments, their merry songs.. and their love for their freedoms.
And hence, he understood two related and rather important things about the scowling gnomic girl; that she didn’t like being told what to do, and she didn’t like being forced into things, even though she might actually want the said things.
It didn’t make sense, but then, the whole thing had nothing to do with sense but a nice hot bath, after all..
There was just no need to turn it into an agenda..
“A meal, then?”, he offered. “I can smell freshly baked bread and potatoes, roast fowl, kababs over coal, charred midgetoes and possibly some soft clams and warm-buttered shrimps with chilled cider!”
“You can smell all that, all the way from here?”, Tonic asked mutely.
“All that, all the way from here, miss Tonic, all the way from here.”
Cora covered a dark, cherry-red smile with her pale hand.
Seressa never had to.
No one could see the darkness that was her!
✱ ✱ ✱
I am sooo full, I can’t take another bite!”, groaned Tonic as she happily rubbed her brand new potbelly. Whatever kind of magic that Brom drew upon that night, he had made sure he shared it with his friends; the fresh-baked bread, the hot potatoes, the roast fowls, the kebabs, the charred midgetoes, the cuisined clams, and the warm, buttered shrimps in spiced sauce were consumed with dreamy eyes and mindless appetite.
Seressa had eaten some of everything, while Tonic went for the fowls and the potatoes. Brom himself went for the clams and the shrimps as they were slightly harder to get at Bowling Hills. Cora had gnarled down the kebabs and fell in love with the charred midgetoes!
“What are these little red magic things?”, she’d said and bitten into another midgetoe.
Brom had to admit. Watching the tundra elf bite savagely into the little, charred tomatoes was better than actually eating them!
“They are called ‘tomatoes’, my dear Cora. This variety is known as ‘Midget Tomatoes’ because it is much smaller, and sweeter than its original size, but that’s a bit of a mouthful to pronounce, so it is more commonly known as ‘Midgetoes’. You like them, then?”
“I could marry you for the night, just for these!”, she said, blushed, and then laughed.
It was good seeing her laugh. It certainly was unique, in the sense that it was a ‘first’.
“Time for some entertainment, I suppose. The owner of this establishment offered a rather substantial discount if I would be kind enough to perform in his humble home.”, he said, reaching for his old lyre.
“Guess I’ll have to earn it, now!”
Brom got up, grabbed his stool as well, slowly walked up to the moderate-sized stage, set the stool down, made sure it was stable, sat down, closed his eyes for a moment as the inn patrons quietened, took a deep breath, opened his eyes..
..and started doing real magic with his lyre!
The kind that would never come out of a spellbook.
✱ ✱ ✱
Holy crap!”, exclaimed Arcantonic. “Is he.. Can he do that? I didn’t even know it was physically possible for a lyre to produce sounds like that!”
The moment Brom had fingered the strings of his lyre, a wild, zapping, zigzagging, and zinging tune had started.. And in an instant, it had consumed the inn!
(Stop this video yo listen to the other)
It was a savage tune. A beastly, intriguing, itching, rapid, and a very nearly asynchronous tune.
It was a tune that reached each individual at their most, basic level. It was a tune he had been working on during his sojourn in the Great Northern Tundras and it was a tune that was the culmination of that frozen land as he saw it, beheld it, and understood it; wild, free, endless, and tormentingly beautiful!
And it seized everyone, hit them over the head, concussed them, and left them stunned and bewildered..
In the space of a few minutes, the hobbit owned the inn and her patrons alike. And yet, for the next half hour, he rode the tunes until the lyre wept and Brom, once again fell in love with the old relic, left to him by his long-gone lost ones..
By the time he finished, the inn was dead silent.
“Well, I see that I have garnered all your attention!”
The patrons, the innkeeper, the serving girls, the cooks, Cora, Seressa, and Tonic all jumped up screaming with an incomprehensible inner fire!
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”, said Brom as he got up and bowed with a professional blush.
“That composition is still a work in progress and it is possible I will call it, ‘The Endless White.’ When done, it will still have no words, I am afraid, for I have traveled far and deep into the Great Northern Tundras and I have all but failed to find the words to do her justice.”
Cora’s eyes teared.
She didn’t know why, really, but Brom’s words touched her somewhere deep..
..very deep and very tender.
And suddenly, Cora felt she was already in her own saga..
..and she wanted this song to play should it ever be told..
“But before I leave, I would like to sing one song with words —a work also in progress because it is still being lived, in the most literal sense!”, said Brom and settled back onto his stool.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘Time!‘”
You cannot see it,
you cannot feel it,
taste it, smell it, or hear it.
And yet, it wears the hand,
takes the sight and the sound
and bends the spine!
You cannot fight it,
you cannot resist it,
beat it, wound it nor slay it.
You can only yield to it..
It is cunning,
it is stingy, ruthless, pitiless
It turns a spark into a fire, and fire into ash.
It grinds mountains to dust.
It gathers trickles into oceans.
It gives birth to rebellions and liberties
and brings down empires..
It gives meaning to patience,
diligence, and vigilance.
It is the key to mortality
and the lock to eternity.
One day we are,
one day we are not.
It is hope and it is despair..
and never kind.
It is what tells us
that the moment we are born,
we have started dying..
It is there,
it is inevitable,
it is unyielding and
Tic by toc,
it graves away,
leaving less than what we were.
Whatever we have built,
it shall down.
Whatever we have done,
it shall sow..
One would think we’d give life
the meaning it deserves..
It is the link between places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of
relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
✱ ✱ ✱
Is she alright?”, asked Cora as she stood in the hall way, up the stairs to their rooms in the inn. “I have seen her sad.. but crying like that?”
“I do not know what’s come over her. This is quite a first for me too.”, replied Seressa and look down thoughtfully at Brom.
By the time Brom had finished his song, everyone in the inn had been enthralled and silently awed by it. Though not an exception, Tonic had displayed the least expected of reactions from her; she had suddenly burst into manic and desperate tears and was just unable to stop! She kept blubbering and slobbering and crying like there was no tomorrow!
In the end, Seressa, her pair, hand simply scooped her up and carried her upstairs to their room like she was her little baby girl.
That was nearly an hour ago and the little gnomic girl was still weeping and hiccupping uncontrollably!
“What? I swear I didn’t do anything. You know me that much, Seressa. Yes, me and her, we bicker all the time, but I wouldn’t go as far as to break her down like that! I mean, that would be just mean.”, exclaimed the hobbit.
“Hmm..”, Seressa said. “..must have been something about the song that set her off, then.”
“Perhaps. I’ll admit, I wrote that song during my two-year travels.. Sometime between Bowling Hills and Shakehands. Many deep thoughts come to mind when traveling alone, under the vast emptiness of stars, or shivering in a ditch in the dead of winter while hiding from bandits, or watching beautiful dryads bathing in a summer lake. Bit by bit, with time, that song wrote itself in my mind.”
“Watching dryads bathing in a lake, huh?”, asked Cora with one eyebrow raised.
“It wasn’t something I had planned, Cora. I was just passing through Gulls Perch, a place very close to a cute town called Serenity Home and I heard the splash of water and the sweet laughter of maidens.”, Brom tried to explain.
“And because they were girls, you went to investigate.. I see.”, said Cora with mild amusement.
“Look, you don’t encounter dryads and just shrug it off, alright. They have a natural charm and attraction, quite unavoidable, really..”, he said.
“The hobbit is correct.”, Seressa mused. “It’s a fey thing. They use it both for defense and to attract mortal males for mating purposes.”
“For what?”, said Cora shocked. Then she slowly turned to Brom, her eyes blazing. “BROM BUMBLEBRIM! You didn’t!“
“Why is everyone always saying my full name like it’s an ultimatum!”, scowled Brom.
“Look.. It isn’t like everyone else does it any differently, you know.. Elves, gnomes, hobbits, humans, dwarves, tieflings, orcs.. We all comb our hair, brush our teeth, put our pretty dresses on, be it bone or stone, we bejewel ourselves, use eyeliners, paint our faces, or draw pictures on our bodies, wear rings on as many places as we can put or hang them, and groom our beards.. to look better, stronger, or prettier to attract the attention of those we find endearing to us. It does not matter what culture we come from, nor into which one we are born. The matter of fact is, we all do it! We try to be the honey for the bee! Why is it a problem when a fey, a very pretty fey at that, does it? But to answer your question, Cora, and as a matter of fact, no, I did not! Not that I wouldn’t have minded.. Dryad girls are extraordinarily pretty and alluring, to begin with.. And they can be single-mindedly persistent and persuasive if they want you! Add the magic whammy effect they have on it, and you got yourself an awesome date! But I got.. uhh.. bit!”
“You got what?”, Cora asked, her eyes still burning.
“Bit!.. As in, bitten!“, replied Brom, his face a bit confused. “Happened before. During my travels, I mean.. Every time I got distracted or sidetracked, I got bitten.. Like I had a destination to reach within a certain time gap, And no, I don’t know by what. Never managed to catch the little critter. Was annoying as hell, though!”
“You defied the charm of a dryad?”, asked Seressa, bewildered. And surprised.
“Well. I suppose I did. Though I can’t claim full credit. They weren’t aiming specifically at me..”, he admitted.
“There needs be no aiming when it comes to pretty fey like the dryadkin, Master Brom. Any mortal would have sat there and watched them, entranced in fascination until they ebbed, and the forest claimed their bones..”, she said thoughtfully as she watched the hobbit. Then she hit him with one of her awesome smiles and said. “I.. I am happily impressed. You, sir, never cease to amaze me..”
Then he coughed and to Seressa he said, with no less than a determined expression on his face, “Seressa, my dear, let me go in there and talk to her..”
Seressa cocked an eyebrow.
“I am her pair, luv. I should—”, she started.
“—not be the one she breaks when she comes around..”, finished Brom. “I don’t know your pair half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of her half as well as she deserves, but it seems to me like she’s someone who does not appreciate being the center of attention nor be embarrassed by way of humiliation. Which is something that she pretty much just did. Let me talk to her and anything she says to me, won’t break me. We hobbits are a resilient bunch, you know!”
“I am already impressed, Master Brom. You don’t really have to try so hard..”, she replied with an inscrutable expression on her unfathomably beautiful, dark face.
“He might be right, Seressa. And we blurt things when we are angry. Things that might clue us in as to what it is that is troubling her.”, said Cora. Then she smiled and held Seressa by the hand. “Why don’t you and I share a room tonight and have a heart-to-heart girls night. Or at least you can try and explain to me what that actually means, and we let the hobbit brave this one..”
And she dragged the very tall, very dark, and very worried Seressa to another room down the hall.
“You.. You want a heart-to-heart girls night.. with me? No one’s ever asked me for a heart-to-heart girls night, before..”, asked Seressa a bit surprised.
“Sure, why not? So long as you tell me what it is.”, Cora tried for a smile.
“There are some rules though. Core rules to any and every girl’s night.”, said the tall, dark girl seriously.
“Ow? What kind of rules?”
“We must both wear sloppy pajamas or pretty skirt dresses!”
“What’s a paja— thingy?”
“It’s a pair of very unladylike but very soft and comfy pants that show the top half of your butt for no particular reason. We put them on, then we talk trash and eat bad food all night long, then hit each other with pillows and wreck the room!”
“But don’t worry. We don’t have any pajamas to air our butts, so cute mini dresses will do.”
“You are just making things up to make me wear your skimpy little pinks!”, accused Cora.
“Would you?”, asked Seressa sincerely.
“But those are the rules!”, she pleaded.
“Let’s ask Brom. I am sure he would know if there are such rules!”
“I AM NOT GETTING INVOLVED INTO THAT CONVERSATION.. SERESSA, PLEASE STOP YANKING MY FRIEND. AND CORA, JUST WEAR THE DAMN THING!”, barked Brom from the other side of the hall.
“See?..”, said Seressa happily as they entered their room and firmly closed the door behind them, leaving Brom alone in the hall..
“Well, crap!”, said Brom, once they were gone. “I thought I’d get slapped down with that stupid idea! What the hell am I even going to talk with that mouthy little demon! Bloody hell! I could have been in THAT room with two pretty girls in skimpy little pinks, yet I get to be in this one!”
For a long moment, he stood in the hallway, glaring darkly at the door to a night of misery and abuse.
“Indeed, sir Brom. Your stupidity truly amazes me as well..”, he said to himself, and went for the little demon’s lair!
✱ ✱ ✱
Brom had decided that the best way to handle an unhandlable situation was to handle it by not handling it! Which turned out to be a rather smart idea, really, as the foul-mouthed little gnomic girl spent the next hour still bawling face down in a feather bed. Looking at her, one could safely bet, she could roll in one direction all night and still never fall! The bed was practically six times her size and eight times her length and there she was, beating her pillow with those tiny fists of hers and kicking the mattress with her feet.. As opposed to jumping up and down on it with glee! She was like the mosquito that woke you in the middle of the night. Tiny, but irritating as hell! And when she’d finally come around, she’d noticed the hobbit..
And gone ballistic on him!
As Cora had so finely put it, Brom stoutly ‘braved’ all the verbal abuse and some not so verbal abuse. But he finally put his foot down when she’d dumped the full content of the washing pan on his head!
He had grabbed the large flower pot near the window, and dumped its content on the gnomic girl!
“Alright, miss Tonic..”, he said sternly. “Unless you want to start breaking objects over my head, in which case I will return fire with equal fervor, stop!”
“You.. you would hit me? A girl? With hard objects? You are a cruel, cruel little man, Brom!”, she said spitefully.
“Wouldn’t make much sense using soft ones, now, would it? And if you want to be treated like a lady, or even a girl, you better start behaving like one.. Or at least fool us like you are one..”, he said sternly.
“I thought bards and hobbits were a genteel lot!”, pouted Tonic.
“Miss Tonic. I think you are confusing ‘genteel’ with ‘idiot’. If we bards.. and hobbits, didn’t give as much as we took, our race would have gone extinct ages ago.. and there wouldn’t be a single bard left to sing a fart!”, Brom said harshly.
“So is your behavior..”
“Where’s my pair? Where’s Seressa..”, said Tonic, crossing her arms under her chest.
“She said ‘I have a headache, not tonight!”, replied Brom, blandly!
“She said… ow never mind.. She and Cora decided they wanted a night off.. Exempt of both of us! Apparently, moms and dads need a break once in a while too..”
“Are you alright? I can understand you are doing sarcasm on me, but I have no idea what you are talking about..”, said Tonic a bit baffled.
“I am saying, they are blaming me for your disposition and expect me to clean up the mess!”
“Well.. It was your fault.. You and your stupid song!”
“That song took two years in the writing. Please show some respect to the effort, if not to me. And I know, you didn’t find that song stupid at all. I had a unique point of view to observe everyone’s faces while singing it.. Including yours!”
“The ‘so’ is, it was at the very end you broke down.. just when I sang the final verse!”
It is the link between places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
“Something in that.. What? Ow. My. Gosh! Are you going to start again?”
Tonic had started again..
But not the bawling, slobbering kind like before..
A silent, tears-only kind of crying.
A heartbreaking sight to behold and Brom felt like slapping himself..
‘Damn. Evil. Little. Cute. Demon!’, he thought.
“I want him!”
And just like that, she blurted it out!
“Ow kay!”, said Brom, carefully. “You want.. who?”
“Gordigon. I want him!”
“Ahhh.. the prince boy..”
“I don’t want no prince, nor a boy.. I want Gordigon!”
“Alright..”, said Brom though he had no idea what to do with it. Consolidating and moving whole crowds was his thing. Blaming the heart of an annoying little gnomic girl for an impossible love, was something else.
“This is sooo a Seressa thing!”, he silently muttered.
“Perhaps you should give it some time, miss Tonic. I am sure it will all be.. fine?”, he said but even he knew how lame that sounded. He really felt he was off his game here.
“He is missing me!”, cried Tonic.. “Right now, he is missing me?”
“My dear Tonic, you can’t know that!”, said Brom a bit perplexed.
“Yes.. yes I can! Here. Look!”, she said and of her artificer’s satchel, she pulled a hard scroll case, slapped off its cap and drew out a tattered scroll, and shoved it in front of the hobbit’s nose!
“What am I looking at here?”
And she pointed at a specific verse on the scroll.
It read; “Those who love us, will miss us..”
“Ow kay..”, said Brom again. “It’s a nice sentiment. Beautiful, even..”
Arcantonic gave the hobbit an incinerating look that made him flinch.
“This was written by an angelic being. The one that we gave that spear to.”, she said as if stating the obvious.
“You really can be daft, Brom!”, replied Tonic with scorn.
“That was a bit harsh, don’t you think? I am here, willingly and by my own choice, trying to help.. and understand.”, said Brom in an offended tone.
“I am sorry.”, mumbled Tonic quietly. “But my point stands..”
“Which is?”, said Brom, still not understanding.
“Do you think, an angelic being would scrabble just some random nice words? This is clearly a message for me, telling me he is missing me!”, she said and started crying again!
It took quite some time for Tonic to settle down.
Against all his wishes, and feeling like he was about to grab a live eel, Brom silently, and very carefully embraced the little gnomic girl as the two of them sat on the floor.
“If.. If you mention this to anyone—”, began Tonic, with swollen eyes..
“Never happen!”, Brom said promptly. “Feeling any better?”
“I feel.. I feel diagonal!”, she said.
Brom had no idea what she meant except that diagonal was something between standing still and lying down.
“Uhh.. wasn’t that scroll given to Seressa and was in her possession?”, asked Brom, sort of to steer the topic off to somewhere else.
“It.. It was..”, blushed Tonic.
“YOU STOLE HER ANGELIC AUTOGRAPH?”, blurted Brom.
“No I didn’t..”, replied the gnomic girl, indignantly.
“Then how come it’s here, with you, as opposed to not being here, and with Seressa?”
“I only took it for safekeeping. She.. she was going to keep it in her bodice, damit!”, Tonic said in a tone that found that whole idea very much scandalous.
“Ahhh..”, said Brom with a dreamy voice. “I wish I was a scroll now, and not in your possession!”
“You, sir, are an unscrupulous ass!”, sniffed Tonic.
“But a good, unscrupulous ass.. You got to admit. You are not crying and you are feeling better now.”, smirked Brom.
“Yes.. I suppose I am. How did you even convince Seressa to go and let you stay with me?”, she sniffled.
“I lied to her..”, Brom smirked again.
“I lied to her.”, repeated Brom. “I told her you’d be upset after making a scene downstairs and start saying stupid things and hurt her feelings but that you couldn’t hurt mine.. since, you know, we are not friends and all.. Just.. coworkers!”
Tonic leaned away from the hobbit and just stared at him.
“You.. you are weird!”
“And you are one to talk..”, deadpanned Brom. “C’mon. Get some sleep. You will feel much better in the morning and then we can leave and go back to our miserable, freezing cold tundras where a bunch of naggy old hags awaits us.”
“I.. We can’t leave just yet..”, Tonic mumbled.
“Why not? We did everything we came here to do, haven’t we?”
“Not yet. We.. I have two more things to do..”
“I have to meet two people..”
“Arcantonic.. Please.. That was not part of the prophecy. It’s really dangerous to meddle—”, said Brom but got cut off..
“Don’t you think I know?”, replied Tonic harshly. “Seressa might be an anthropologist, but I am an archeologist. I am not at all like her. She.. She gets people. Understands them.. Ironic really. The way she can understand human nature so much better than they understand themselves yet isn’t even one!
I, on the other hand, just dig their remains and pompously assume to know what they were like!”
“So you are basically a glorified grave robber, then? Or a gravedigger, to put it in more acceptable terms..”, snickered Brom.
But decided to ignore that remark.
“All my diggings and research and studies of past cultures and civilizations told me things.. Many things.. But one of the most important things I learned was that at some point, they failed. And miscommunication was the base reason for all their failures!”, she said mutely.
There was a mordent silence as Brom struggled very, very hard not to say exactly what crossed his mind!
Yes, if he said it, it would be the truth.
But it would also hurt the girl.
And possibly be lethal on his part.
Brom chose not to speak.
Not all truths were meant to be said.
“So you want to change prophecy protocol based on some educated guess?”, he asked tentatively.
“No damit.. I.. uhhh.. Yes! I suppose that’s true.”, scowled Tonic.
“Alright. Whom, when, and where?”, he asked.
“Just like that? I would have thought, I don’t know, threaten you or something..”, Tonic said both relieved, and astonished.
“Miss Tonic. As frightening as you think you are, your face is just too cute to instill the necessary fear to move a lazy hobbit in the dead of night.”, he replied seriously. “So who are these people that you feel you must meet?”
“One.. One is the daughter of that Ri Grandaleren dude we met in our first prophecy.. Princess Alor’Nadien ne. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know, but she is here, in the city..”
“I.. am not sure.. I just feel I must meet her and.. and make amends. I knew her mother, Nadine Graciousward.”, she said quietly.
“You know Rise Nadine Graciousward? The human queen of the high elves of High Woods? Wow, girl. I am impressed. That lady is supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world!”, said Brom astounded.
“Yea.. Go straight for the pretty face!”, said Tonic acidly!
Tonic, however, did not.
“I feel like I must meet her.”, she said with a lost voice. “And apologize to her for all the.. not so nice things I said about her mother, Nadine, even though she’d saved me from my uncle’s dungeons and chose to spare me even though I reeked with the stench of his pet demons.. She showed kindness to a little, broken creature she never knew..”
“You don’t really have to go into the details if you feel uncomfortable talking about them, you know.”, Brom said, amazed at the gnomic girl’s broken past.
“No, I don’t want to go into any of the details and yes, I do feel uncomfortable, but I will.. Just not now.. Not tonight..”, she replied mutely.
“Alright, who is the other?”
“Umm.. the other is a gnome.. His name is.. uhh.. Gnine Tinkerdome..”, she mumbled.
“Tinkerdome.. why does that name ring a bell— Ow. My. Gosh, girl.. Is he?”, said Brom nearly choking on the thought.
“Please, Brom. He must be told to get back what is his by birthright! And do it fast. And more importantly, I can’t be the one telling him this. He must not see me.. Like, at all!
You must be the one to tell him this and you must be very convincing!”, pleaded the gnomic girl.
“You must also tell him, it wasn’t his fault. That it was an attempt to end his line and had he not survived, they would have succeeded..”
“What? What wasn’t his fault? What attempt?! You aren’t making any sense, girl!”, said Brom.
“Brom.. Please! Just tell him what I said.. when we find him. He will understand. I can’t tell you more. Some, because I don’t know myself, some because I shouldn’t.. Hells bells, I don’t even know how I know most of the things I know.. Please. You.. You must trust me!”, pleaded the little gnomic girl desperately.
Brom ‘hmmed’ a bit as his sloth nature frantically sought a good excuse to weasel out of this, quite ridiculous venture!
And then, he felt it.
A sharp, stinging bite at the upper end of his leg, just where he couldn’t see..
‘Damit! Not again!’, he silently cursed.
But as opposed to the many other times before, this bite had been..
It certainly lacked the sense of compulsion that it always gave in the previously bites.
‘Why bite at all, then?’, he thought.
And then he understood.
This time, the little critter was merely telling him that it would be up to him.. That it would be his choice to make, but also warning him that the choice would be an important one.
Tonic’s heart seemed in her pale face as she clenched her tiny fists at her chest and held her breath, while she waited for the hobbit to make his decision.
“Gimme a moment to go and grab my stuff.”, he grumbled finally.
He rose and silently went to the door.
As he reached for the knob, he heard Tonic from behind.
“Brom.. I.. I know I can be an ass.. But you must know, I don’t do ‘coworker’!”
“Eh?”, said Brom.
“I said, I don’t do ‘coworker’. I do pair, enemy or friend.. Already got a pair. Already got enemies..”, she said quietly.
“Friends, then?”, said Brom with a solemn face.
“Friends, then..”, she replied.
“Just so you know, Tonic..”, said Brom, looking directly into her eyes.
“Whot?”, asked Tonic, mutely.
“As unscrupulous as you may think I am, I don’t do ‘one-nighters’. I do strangers, neighbors, and life-timers! Already got all the strangers out there and the neighbors back at home..”
Tonic stared at the hobbit, trying to discern the possible meanings behind his words.
Then she remembered what her limping pair had said that very night;
“Tonic, luv. I do not judge people upon second guesses. That never helps..”
And Seressa knew people didn’t she?.. She understood them!
It wasn’t like any of the second-guessing, she’d done in her life had ever gotten her anywhere..
‘Why should it start now?’, she thought.
Though there was a tiny blaze in her eyes, Tonic silently nodded in assent.
Brom Bumblebrim smiled and opened ‘Tonic’s side of the door’..