Today I wanted to share an excerpt of a short story that I’m working on. It follows a dwarf named Korrigan and is in the same universe as A Moonlit Task. Tomorrow I have a my first guest poster so stay tuned on that!
The Sacking of Gildebrand Manor
by Tom Hansen
My name is Korrigan, and I’m the last dwarf on Earth.
-The Korrigan Chronicles, 1:1
“All hail Meikawl, Grand Boyar of the Southern Pittsburgh Clan!” Gikmol’s high-pitched announcement nearly made me spill the wine carafe. Twenty-seven goblins each one bowed to their knee in unison. Wooden stools and small benches scraping against the grubby granite floor rang through the small hall followed by deathly silence but for the muffled burble of the boiling water wafting in from the kitchen.
I knelt, face in the muck, careful to keep the wine from spilling. The carcanet around my neck slid up to bump into my jaw.
Meikawl’s bassoon-like huff grew louder with each shuffling step. He grunted as he squeezed into the doorway but made it through unscathed, unlike the time a few weeks back where he’d gotten so stuck that it took three goblins and a stick of butter applied liberally to the boss’s folds to get him free.
Gikmol had since scrounged up a plane to shave back the doorway one swipe each day. The doorway was noticeably rounder now. No one dared mention it’s new shape.
Pausing to catch his breath, Meikawl finally spoke in his scratchy but booming baritone. “Welcome brothers. So good to see you all.”
Meikawl stroked his jowls with a greasy hand while staring across the banquet hall. Candelabras hung from the low ceiling, bathing the dirt walls and wooden support posts in dim light. The silence was palpable as everyone waited for the boyar to take a seat.
He turned his head in my direction. “Korrigan, get some drink flowing, we have much to discuss.” He motioned to his aides to help him sit down on the thick bench at the head of the table.
Both my knees both popped as I got up. Five hundred years on this earth does that to a dwarf.
I stepped to his right side and poured a generous helping into his silver goblet, then bowed and took a step back.
He addressed the crowd once more. “Shame so few showed up.” He huffed as he craned his neck across the small room. “A terrible shame indeed. Narbit, where are your brother and his wife? And the younglings?”
Narbit was one of the smaller goblins, barely five years old this summer. His abnormally elongated ears were waiting for his body to catch up. Hints of tusks were just beginning to form at the corners of his mouth. He’d be eligible for mating next spring if he could pass the trials.
Narbit’s eyes went wide with nervousness as he shrugged to form the words. His ears flopped around over his head like a rabbit.
The boyar chuckled. “No need to fear, son, what news from the northern farms?” He grabbed his goblet with a meaty hand and took a long pull. I immediately refilled it as soon as he placed it back down on the table.
Gikmol stepped closer to the boyar’s left side, opposite from me. “We are graced with a representative of Boyar Doodah’s. It seems Gildebrand Manor is vacant.”
Gikmol bowed generously gain before taking a small step back. The boyar grabbed a gnome from the basket to his side and tossed it into his mouth, munching for a moment.
“Korrigan,” he whispered, cocking his head to the side. “See to it our guests are taken care of.”
I nodded my head. “Of course, Boyar.” His rarely given code to give out the good wine rather than the watered down was clear. I topped his goblet off and turned back through the curtain into the kitchen. I would need to bring up more of the good wine from the cellar.
By the time I got back up with the new keg, the meeting was in full swing. I placed it on the table in the kitchen and peeked my head around the corner to check on the boyar’s wine level.
The boyar sat back in his chair, swirling his empty goblet. A larger goblin from the Eastern Goblin Clan stood on the table so all could see.
I parted the curtain to refill the empty goblet, but he waved me away.
“Their cups are dry.” Meikawl’s eyes drifted toward the masses around the table.
I bowed as I backed up.
I grabbed the pitcher and began filling goblets along the way, starting from the boyar’s left.
“Grand Boyar Meikawl.” The larger goblin bowed deep, the tips of his ears touching the rough-hewn wooden table. “It seems that Gildebrand Manor is vacant.”
“Vacant? And how do you know this?”
“It seems that it has been empty for a week now, your majesty. We sent a scouting party to check, but there was not a soul to find. Boyar Doodah of the Eastern Clan wishes to organize a raid. I was sent to relay the message.”
“Korrigan.” The Boyar’s voice was rough and gravelly, a symbol of his maturity and girth.
I swallowed. “Yes, Boyar.”
“Haven’t you been to Gildebrand Manor?” His question had an edge to it that shook me to my core.
Everyone knew the name. Count Hennig von Gildebrand, Grand Judicator for the Eastern Vampiric Collective, was a name that halted conversations by the mere mention. He only awoke to settle major disputes between clans when the lesser judicators couldn’t resolve something.
Gildebrand had been asleep for the last hundred years, and everyone knew that to wake him from his slumber was to bring the wrath of the old ways upon the eastern seaboard.
I swallowed again, suddenly wanting to have a drink of wine. Why was I singled out amidst a sea of goblins, all above my stature? Memories of the place flooded back. There were different ways of being a slave. Pouring wine and bathing your master weren’t the worst of jobs in the world.
“Aye, I been there.” My voice rang hollow.
Gikmol stepped forward. “Your highness, perhaps we shouldn’t be taking advise from a skyvy.” He spat on the ground. “We have larger matters to discuss.” He stared at me with vitriol.
The boyar dismissed him with an acknowledging wave and a nod. “Aye, Gikmol. I suppose.”
He held up his goblet for everyone in the hall to see.
“This goblet was part of a peace treaty between the five goblin clans and the judicators, marked hundreds of years ago. They took our land, and one of our clans, in exchange for not exterminating our entire race. But I say, if the cat’s away, the mice should play.” He slammed his goblet down on the table.
This got a roar from the goblins in the room. “Korrigan.” He turned toward me. “Get me another goblet and bring up three casks of the Nightrind Blue. We’ve got some planning to do.”
I swallowed as I nodded in compliance. This was how wars got started.
I should know, I’ve started three myself.
“Korrigan, fetch my robe.”
He guffawed to my reply, patting his bare stomach. “Call me Meikawl in here, please. I don’t much like the title anymore. Doesn’t seem to suit someone of my girth.”
He sighed as I finished dressing him. He had a curious look on his face as I went about my chores, like he was waiting for me to ask him something. I led him back to his couch and began mopping up the water around the large tub.
“Oh, Korrigan, I’m getting too old and fat for this life.” He sipped from his goblet while listening to the raucous bustle coming from the banquet hall. “This may be my final raid.”
“But sir, you have plenty of life left in you.”
He chuckled at that. “You are a good man, Korrigan. I wish you would see yourself the way I see you.”
I wrung out the sopping rags into the tub. “Nay, sir. I’m where I need to be. Too many ghosts of the past hunting me.” I stared into the tub, watching the swirl of dirty water spiral down the drain while painful memories flooded my mind. “Life is less complicated.”
He replied by sipping his wine.
One toss of the bone dice nearly a decade in the past and my life was sealed to a creature that only lived a dozen years. I began stripping down his bed. The party would head out at first dark to meet with the other clans in front of the manor. Meikawl wished to retire while the rest of the goblins partied all day.
“Sir, your bed is ready.”
He had the silver dagger in his hand again. It used to live on his belt when he was younger, now it lived between the couch cushions. Too many nights spent staring into its hypnotic surface. He held it up the lamplight bouncing off its side, illuminating the dwarven runes on its surface.
He finally said the phrase that I’d heard a thousand times before. “Seek the true name.”
I looked away, not wanting the reminder of my past.
“Dwarven magic should remain with the last of their kind.”
I touched the carcanet around my neck. “Sir, I’m your slave. I gave up my possessions when I gave up my freedom.”
He waved his hand dismissively and was about to say something when the door burst open.
Gikmol stood in the doorway, his face flushed with too much drink. He paused a moment, taking in the sight of the two of us. Meikawl with the sacred dagger in his hand and me with my hand around my carcanet.
“You’re not thinking about freeing the skyvy, are you, Your Highness?”
“What is it, Gikmol?” Meikawl replied. He slid the dagger back into the ornate leather sheath and stuffed it back into the cushions.
“The party is leaving early; seems a snow storm is coming above ground and we need to beat it to the manor.”