Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Three

“What the heck is it?” asks the Wolf.

“It’s a lamp, you idiot,” says the Dwarf.

They stand before a small alcove, so nondescript in this delicately wrought throne room that they would have missed it entirely had it not been for the Monkey’s pointing paw.

Now the tiny creature curls around the Dwarf’s neck, combing through his ragged beard for mites. Its eyes dart constantly toward the Wolf.

“This is what we were sent to find?” asks the Wolf. “That’s gonna help the prince?” He kicks at a pillow, then looks at the lamp once more. “That’s it?”

“Looks like it.” The Dwarf’s voice is gray, bitter.

Moments before, he’d greedily unlocked the alcove, only to find a tarnished brass lamp, not even big enough to light a room through an entire night.

“Maybe it’s one of those magic lamps,” says the Dwarf. He peers into the alcove, but there’s no secret catch or lever to reveal a better treasure.

“Maybe it stays lit for a long time… but even then, who needs it? Or maybe it burns with the all-consuming fire, and it’ll kill all the dead forever.”

“Those exist?” asks the Wolf.

The Dwarf shrugs and scowls. “Doubt it. Never heard of humans knowing about the all-consuming fire. And if they had,” he adds with grim satisfaction, “they would’ve accidentally burned themselves up long ago.”

“Just like the buildings outside,” says the Wolf, and it grins.

The Dwarf’s eyes widen. The Wolf’s always been a fool, but even fools get it right once in a blue moon. The entire desert city laid to waste, and not by mere fire. Dragonfire, he’d thought, but maybe that wasn’t the case. They didn’t find a dragon within the palace. They found a lamp.

“How does it work?” asks the Wolf. He is salivating again, but only the Monkey notices. It whimpers and tries to hide beneath the Dwarf’s beard.

“Not sure. It’s dangerous stuff. Dangerous but useful. That’s how we made Excalibur, you know.” He brings the lamp closer and studies it sharply, shrewdly.

His eyes suddenly gleam.

“What? What is it?”

“No human made this lamp. It looks like garbage, but it ain’t. It was made to look like this. It’s... you wouldn’t understand, but it’s the finest, most perfect piece of junk that was ever made.”

He holds it high and admires the dents and scratches on its cheap brass exterior. No self-respecting Dwarf would create such an ugly thing, of course, but someone had a very good reason for making this lamp so horrible. Underneath, like a diamond in the rough, hides a perfect piece of craftsmanship.

“It’s fire,” says the Wolf. “It’s your all-consuming fire, isn’t it?”

The Dwarf hesitates and licks his lips. “Could be.” There’s a flint and steel in his pockets, and his hands tremble with the thought of lighting the lamp.

All-consuming fire! The finest, truest fire, that which can destroy anything and everything that isn’t pure. And, they say, that which is forged in the fire lasts forever and can never, ever be broken.

“Best we go outside to test it,” the Dwarf says. “This place would go up like tinder if it gets out of hand.”

The Wolf nods eagerly, and all but pushes the Dwarf from the alabaster palace.

Outside, the Dwarf blinks and scowls at the shining sun.

“Light it, light it!” says the Wolf.

“Not here,” says the Dwarf, and he surveys the ruined city before finally choosing a collapsed hovel. Like the others buildings, it had been destroyed long ago, but he should be able to set fire to the rubble. And, more importantly, it’s far, far from the palace.

“Keep clear,” he says, and firmly unwinds the Monkey from his neck.

It whimpers and points up toward the Wolf, but it goes ignored. The Wolf only has eyes for the precious, ugly lamp.

Quickly, the Dwarf rips some dried weeds from the ground, and moments later has a tiny fire burning.

The Monkey chatters louder and jabs its finger upward, but all the Dwarf’s concentration is on the lamp. He tries to keep his hands steady as he touches the spout to the budding flame.

Then, at the last moment, he puts it on the ground, safely away from the fire, and drapes his beard over his shoulder. “Lot of careless Dwarves probably made that mistake,” he mutters.

The Wolf, salivating openly, tries not to breathe, for his powerful breath could blow the fire any which way.

Still the Monkey points upward and now it shrieks, and finally the Dwarf and the Wolf are aware of the shadow descending over them.

“Pray tell,” comes an elegant, cold voice, “what are you doing with my lamp?”