Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chapter Seventy-One

Wasting no time in his victory over the tiger, the Dwarf jerks the spear-point from its skull. Weapon held before him, he stalks into the throne room, a scowl marring his face.

They’ve come all the way here, to the farthest edges of the hottest desert, to “help the prince.” And what have they found? A city destroyed. A palace unlocked. And a throne room overrun.

He scans the wide and airy room, empty save one person in the corner. Once she was a graceful young woman. Reaching pathetically toward the ceiling, she would climb the wall if it weren’t so smooth. Her fingers constantly pry at the stone, digging for any sort of handhold.

She doesn’t notice that one foot has lost its soft, curly-toed slipper, and most of her blue silks have ripped away. Evidence enough for the Dwarf that she is dead.

But what’s kept her distracted from the living prey that’s come through her door? Doesn’t matter, really. He gestures to the still-cowering Wolf in the corridor that the room is safe.

“Keep an eye on her,” he mutters. “And make sure no one comes in after us.”

Without waiting for an answer, the Dwarf walks over to the scant remains of a body. He has no need to be cautious - its head is missing. Most of it is missing, in fact, probably eaten long ago by the tiger.

Probably wasn’t the prince. Not in those street rags. And his curved sword doesn’t seem special in any way.

Blocking out the scratch-scratch-scratch from the blue-silked woman, the Dwarf takes out the golden key and frowns. All this work, all this trouble, for nothing.

The Wolf chuckles to himself, causing the Dwarf to look up.

“What’s so funny?” he whispers.

“Look,” says the Wolf. He points with one claw up to one of the alcove windows.

“That’s what she’s grabbin’ for - her lunch,” says the Wolf, and then the Dwarf’s eyes make it out. He’d taken it for a shadow, but it’s a small... something. Curled into a tight ball on the small ledge. Beneath, the woman reaches and scratches patiently.

“Oh, for the love of...” the Dwarf snorts and mutters to himself, and moments later cleans her blood from his blade.

He looks up at the shape. “Y’can come down now,” he says, but it doesn’t move.

“It’s too weak,” says the Wolf. His nose twitches - the better to smell with - and he smacks his lips. “Or scared. Yeah, come on down so we can eat you, instead."

The Dwarf gives a disapproving grunt.

“What?” snarls the Wolf. “You had no problems with eatin’ kittens and the like.”

“That was different. You killed ‘em, I just ate ‘em. They couldn’t defend themselves, but that’s the way of the world. Don’t mean I have t’like it.”

It ain’t fair, thinks the Dwarf, but who ever said the world was? None of these people asked to die. No one ever does, yet they still die. And the living have to survive somehow, too, don’t they?

“But that thing,” says the Dwarf, with a turn of his nose at the window, ”it survived. It deserves better. Besides, we got plenty of food and water here.”

“Bah,” spits the Wolf. “He wouldn’t have been more than a mouthful, anyway.”

The Dwarf raises his polearm, blade in his hand, so that the handle taps gently on the windowsill.

“You all right?” he growls, not unkindly.

The creature stirs and looks down at the Dwarf with bulging brown eyes. Then it gazes at the Wolf, who is sniffing doubtfully at a platter of long-rotted fruit.

“He ain’t gonna hurt ya,” says the Dwarf. Balancing the weapon with one hand, he fishes in his pockets with the other. Finally pulls out some pecans - sour, though - he’d found somewhere.

The brown eyes widen even more, and it reaches out with a tiny, stick-thin arm for the polearm’s handle. It takes several seconds, but finally it wraps its spidery limbs around the pole, and the Dwarf lowers it.

“Good boy,” he says gruffly. He takes the waterskin off his shoulder as the monkey desperately eats the pecans. They are almost as big as its head.

“Eat up, but don’t drink too much or you’ll regret it. Just a little at a time does the trick.”

“It can’t talk,” says the Wolf.

“Just keep an eye out,” says the Dwarf.

“Now tell me,” he says, as the monkey gazes at him with rapt attention. It sucks greedily from the waterskin as the Dwarf reaches around his neck and produces the golden key. “Do you know what this opens?”

And the Dwarf smiles thinly as the monkey nods.