Fantasy Fiction posted June 20, 2022 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 


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Rozlyn prepares to meet some old friends

A chapter in the book Chasing Gnomes

Chasing Gnomes Ch.3 - Cuppage

by Fleedleflump


PREVIOUSLY in Chasing Gnomes... [in the voice of Rozlyn, our protagonist]

Life's not been going so great, recently. There's little work for a lone female mercenary, money's tighter than a dwarf stuck in a chimney, and I command less respect than the beggars on Belly Row. Oh, and my only friend right now is EllJay - a gnome-hobbit crossbreed who's so cute, it's hard to hold a conversation without heaving in his face.

That's why I was desperate enough to break into the local crime lords' home and try to steal a precious artefact. Unfortunately, they caught me before I could collect what I went for, and I was forced to escape ... down the privy chute ... with EllJay in my oversized chest armour, and me protecting my modesty with an arm and a lethal glare.

Suffice to say, our landing was not for the faint of nostril, and I'm now even worse off because I lost my fighting dirks and pissed off the kind of folk who'll stick you on a spike and keep you as an ornament. What fun it is to be me!

AND NOW, in Chasing Gnomes...


------

"Seriously, Benchmark - just fix it! My chest is not inflatable. It does not require storage compartments." I snatched my armour from his grasp and stuck one cup on his head - way too large to be a helmet, even for someone as self-satisfied as Benchmark. "If I filled that, my back'd be the shape of a crone's fingernails. I'd be walking round looking at my own belly button." I paused to think for a moment. "Well, I wouldn't because my bloody tits would be in the way!"

Benchmark was Pennylast's sole blacksmith. Currently, he was wearing (along with my metal bra) his trademark expression of mildly amused patience.

He pulled my attire from his head, giving it a suspicious sniff, and perched amiably on the anvil beside him. "Give the lad a break, Roz. He looks up to you - literally. When a boy's his height, he gets a different perspective on a lady's, erm, proportions."

"You let him read the wrong bard's tales, my friend. They've given him warped ideas. If you're not careful, his hammer wrist will be worn out before he reaches maturity."

"Are you sure you don't need the space to grow into this?" I could see his shoulders shaking and couldn't resist a smile myself.

"Last time I tried to fight in this, I ended up collecting stuff. Before I knew it, I was a thief as well as a troublemaker." I shrugged. "Come on, just recast it in a slightly more realistic size and I won't demand a refund for the materials you'll reclaim."

He was sniffing it again. "Are you sure you haven't used this for purposes other than intended?"

"What do you mean?" I tried to maintain my poker face. I'd scrubbed that armour's exterior for hours - no way it still had poo on it.

"It ..." he flinched. "Ugh, it smells like happy children."

"Oh, that'll be the gobbit." I held up a hand as his mouth opened, the amiable expression turning closer to baffled. "Don't ask because I won't tell you."

He snorted and echoed my shrug. "Fair enough. Give the lad a couple of days and he'll have it sorted for you."

"Oh, and tell him to take the codpiece off, will you? I'm getting bored of telling people I don't have a penis." I picked up two fresh weighted dirks from a display. Not as fancy - or as sentimental - as the ones I'd lost, but they'd do in a scrap. "Put these on my tab."

He raised his eyebrows. "Pay me when you collect your armour, or I'm keeping it as collateral."

I nodded and strolled from the shop.

Mid-morning in Pennylast assaulted my senses as I headed through the market square. It was the kind of town loads of people visit but nobody remembers the name of. Sitting on a convergence of two major crossing roads, it was a wretched hive of scum and villi... It was a hub of markets, taverns (read: brothels) and mercenaries. It was dusty, noisy and uncouth.

And it was home. At least, it had been for a couple of years. I'm not 'Rozlyn of Pennylast' or anything like that, but this place has served me well. There's always a merchant coming or going with a vulnerable wagon in need of protection or theft, or a scheming lady seeking fun or revenge. It's that kind of neighbourhood - if you're not dead, you're a player. And if you're not playing, you're as much use to this town as a sandcastle gatehouse.

I had no idea how to get myself out of the hole I was in. Without the item I'd been sent to steal from the Barristons, I was about as welcome in this town as a push-up bra in a witches' commune. Maybe that was the answer - stick on some warts, develop an evil cackle, and find myself some sisters to dance naked round a cauldron with.

I was heading for the Dragon's Tail - a local's tavern with a reputation so bad, even the landlord gave it a wide berth. Local legend had it that every other part of a dragon's anatomy was already in use as a tavern name, meaning there were some interesting venues I probably didn't want to visit.

When I threw the doors open, I caught the proprietor Olaf doing his best to duck behind the bar. He saw me see him and there was the briefest hesitation as he apparently debated continuing to hide, regardless. I raised my eyebrows as I crossed the common room towards him and he shrugged, standing back to his feet with a resigned expression on his face.

The Dragon's Tail smelled like an old barbarian's jockstrap that someone dropped into a cabbage stew and kept bubbling in the pot for days. Combined with a layer of greasy grime that invented its own texture and conversations so fruity they belonged in presentation baskets, it did a good job of keeping tourists and casual visitors at bay.

"Greetings, good inn keep!" I said, laying an elbow on the bar and instantly regretting it.

Olaf scowled. "You better not be meeting that Duchess in disguise again." He swept an arm around at the assorted rowdiness. "Don't matter how many cloaks you put on her, this lot can smell a girl from four score feet away."

"Really," I said, arching my eyebrows to distract him from my attempts to unstick my forearm from the bar. It didn't work. "What am I then?"

He winced, apparently not having been ready to answer that. "Well, you know - you kind of don't count 'cause they're scared of you."

"Scared of me but not that apron of yours. Seriously, Olaf, do you use it to wipe up everything in this place - even the privies?"

He folded his arms, although I noticed he did so well above his voluminous belly, where the biggest, darkest stains resided. "Sometimes, there just isn't a cloth to hand. Don't blame me if people don't fancy you. You're the one who threatened to cut off Rapey Ralph's knob." His eyes turned aside as he said the last bit.

I finally pulled my arm free with a grunt of effort and that repulsive sound of released suction. "I feel like my justification for that is already encapsulated in your sentence." Olaf thrust his belly forward and, after a moment's pause, I relented and wiped my arm on his apron.

His eyes went from defensive to kindly and it suited him better. "Never mind, Roz. You don't want attention from these guys anyway. My point is, you caused me trouble last time and I'd rather avoid it again. You want a plate of parsnips?"

"Better make it a tray, and another of ales," I said, thumbing in the door's direction. "And the bigger table. I have some of the old crowd meeting me."

"Not with that gobbit, I hope? They'll tear him to shreds!"

I chuckled, nodding. "Well, he needs to toughen up." He slid me two beers and I escorted them to a table in the corner, perching them in the areas that still looked most like wood. This was the table least likely to be both occupied and listened in-on, on account of it being in the middle of the floor. Dragon's Tail patrons generally favoured shadowy booths, apparently not realising their plans could be easily overheard from the next booth along.

As I took a slurp from my beer, trying not to make lip-to-tankard contact, I wondered - was I doing the right thing, or was this a worse idea than barbed wire toilet roll?



Recognized


I hope you enjoyed the read.

UK English - Fantasy Comedy

CHARACTERS

Rozlyn - Mercenary, human, currently down on her luck, taking any job to pay the bills. She's telling us the story, so don't be alarmed if she occasionally talks to you!

Little-John (LJ) - Gobbit (the tragic lovechild of a gnome and a hobbit) - skinny and cute, particularly small. He's a master lockpick and only looks like a child.

Benchmark - the only blacksmith in Pennylast. Has a habit of allowing his teenage apprentice to make armour and may or may not be a swindler.

Olaf - Proprietor of The Dragon's Tale tavern - owner of the dirtiest apron found outside a pig's whorehouse, and purveyor of weird parsnips.

Bariston / Billy Bass - Charming young crime boss brothers, hard to tell apart - one famously charming, the other famously psychotic ... or is that both of them...?
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