Her screeching voice ricocheted inside his battered brain, “Grognick, where are you going?” she demanded, “Come here this instant!”
Grognick gritted his teeth in pity for the surrounding homes ever subjected to her bellowing inquiries. That Robospier had moved suddenly after mere days in the palatial lodgings next door had come as no surprise to any living nearby; kindly neighbours had felt sorry for him, the unkindly chuckled that he had not been warned in advance of purchase.
“Only to zee shops I go my precious crème brulée, only to fetch your chocolat for zee day.”
Her flesh enchased eyes narrowed, “Kiss me goodbye.” Mollified by his answer her voice had lowered to the gentle volume of an enraged bull gortog.
Grognick steeled himself to approach the mound of heaving flesh that had replaced the voluptuous beauty he’d married. He took the egg shaped fingers extended imperiously in his direction and gently kissed each in turn. “I shall hurry away my darling fondue only to return zee sooner to your longed for company.”
He left her lounging on the velvet sofa scattered with silken pillows glowing warmly in the light of imported crystal lamps and he ran to the mercies of rough wooden tables, dirt floors, and a great, beauteous, magnificent, and hopefully endless supply of harsh wine.
Grognick nodded unhappily to the lovely barmaid; just one more glass and he would let her shoo him out the door and off to the clutches of his beloved wife. He must suffer of course. He’d been gone for hours, evening had settled in quietly long ago. She would berate and cry and demand and torture him for days. Next season on a day when he had behaved admirably and she had little to castigate him for, she would smile in pleasure and dredge up this day and begin anew. He nodded to himself in drink-filled misery. Oh yes, it was the way of the world, no? Sing to a donkey, and he will fart to you.
He accepted the glass of wine from the barmaid and placed it on the table next to the one he already had. She turned and walked away and he watched her swaying hips. She was truly a beauty. How had he missed her charms on his arrival? She was a plum, a peach, a firm pear to be hungered for. She moved behind the bar and his gaze lowered to stare with unfocused eyes between the glasses of wine held in each hand. How could a gnome of such promise as himself come to this circumstance he wondered?
It was true, the cowl does not make the monk, but that his innocent and beauteous bride had been only stupid and greedy had shocked him to his core. It had taken him time to realize that, but oh, such little time he moaned to himself. Yes, he nodded again in silent resignation, he had agreed to the marriage and promised anything in the rush to lie in the arms of his goddess…. and found himself instead lying with… he shuddered. He could forgive her stupidity, he could forgive her meanness, but the combination of an empty mind filled only with malice was not to be bourn!
But bourn it he had. He had planned to marry for the grandness of love and create great machines for the roasting and baking of the finest delicacies. He would become the greatest chef the world had ever known. He would find his pleasure in the arms of a loved wife and give pleasure to others in the finest morsels and meals. However, a goat must browse where he is tethered; what he did instead was learn to lie and slink away and live each day in a fog of unhappiness. He raised a glass of cheap wine and drank it down in one gulp.
But he, he, was not as stupid as she; oh no, there were no spiders on his ceiling! He grinned lopsidedly and raised the other glass of wine in a toast to himself. One day soon, it would all be over. He had money, not in the stratosphere she had it to be sure, but a nice sum he’d hidden away before their marriage. In the early spring coloured days of their romance he’d thought only to spend it in some magnificent surprise for her. Now he viewed it as his salvation.
His hoard had grown nicely too, funded all unknowingly by his beloved wife. She wanted not a great chef in her life, but a great soldier. She demanded he take endless hours and days of training in swordsmanship, wrestling, horseback riding, military and strategic manoeuvres, blacksmithing, anything she could think up that would make him a better man in her estimation. He chuckled. Her stupidity made it all so easy. He would take a few classes, run home with a new term or two to dazzle her and get her gold refunded to him when he cancelled the classes. With careful investments and the drinking of this swill – he grimaced at the wine he held – he had managed to squirrel away coppers here and silvers there for many years.
Soon he would be able to live carefully for some time. He could take up fishing and sit on the banks of quiet lakes hearing only the breeze as it passed him by. He could learn to cook, to really cook! He would need to work eventually, something to help fund his training and the development of fine kitchen utensils. He would become a great inventor and chef. He would amaze the nobles of two continents and be in great demand! He would find a buxom beauty and marry and have five children and teach them to…..his dreams shattered in brittle shards around him. She Who Must Not Be Neared would never allow him to leave their marriage. Her father would likely have him killed if he ever tried. There would be no divorce and future marriage and children for him.
He thought about the child he already had. He knew She Who Must Not Be Neared would enjoy making much of his betrayal and the leaving of their precious child, but he could not help but wonder…was the baby was even his? The child was born at least three years after their last horrid encounter. He knew little of such things but wondered if gnome children really gestated for over three years. Perhaps she had hired services? Forced a servant to…? Awww, such cruelty! He shrugged, his child or not it had only been around for a few months; it had not really made much of an impression. He doubted he would miss it.
Grognick tossed back the last of the harsh wine and a shiver of distaste coursed through him. He would find courage someday, courage that did not enter his mind only with drink, and leave before he was too old to create the new life he longed for. Then he would drink only the best wine.
He pushed his way back from the table, hopped off the chair, squared his shoulders, and lifted his chin above the height of the chair seat. The barmaid grinned as she watched him. Mon Dieu he thought, see, he had not lost all his charms yet, still his very presence could charm the ladies and make them smile; there was still time! It is the old kettle that makes the best soup, yes?
The night had fallen warm and overcast. No moon lit the sky, no stars glittered to lighten the oppressive feelings he harboured. Grognick walked slowly toward home, leaving behind him the poor and dangerous sections of town and headed for the grace and riches and security of his own neighbourhood. That poverty seemed the kinder deal was something he’d come to terms with long ago.
Light footsteps echoed around the corner ahead of him and a long shadow, a greater darkness in the dark, announced the presence of someone heading his way. Grognick heard with some distant part of his mind a sort of snuffling that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. It pulled his attention from his internal moaning to look in curiosity for what could be making such a noise. He slowed, awaiting the thing making such disturbing sounds to turn the corner.
She stepped into the warm glow spilling from a window. She was magnificent! A femme fatale, a force majeure! Surely a Goddess come to save him would be less beauteous! Her dark skin spoke of exotic locations and mysterious spice. Her darker hair fell to her shoulders in a wave of pleasure to be caressing such a body. Her eyes glowed a deep golden honey and slashed his heart like lightening rending the night air. And those legs! Grognick went weak with desire. She had legs that went on for miles. Oh, to have her lying down, to have himself kissing his way up those inspiring columns all the way to …. Grognick collapsed in a faint.
Moments later, he opened his eyes and beheld the creature of his dreams watching him with her head tilted. At her side stood a creature from nightmares! Grognick scurried to stand and moved back; his eyes wide, flicking back and forth between his hearts’s desire and his mind’s torment.
She smiled slowly at his discomfiture. Her hand strayed to stroke the scaly creature standing at her side. It had appendages growing… could it be… from its back… that arched over its head and quivered most unbecomingly in Grognick’s direction. It raised its snout and he heard again that snuffling sound that had drawn his attention before. Perhaps it was a dog? But a dog born from the pits of hell! Grognick took another step back.
“Don’t fear my little pet.” Her voice was smooth, warmed wine that flowed through him gently and set his veins on fire. “You have little he would have interest in.” Grognick forgot the hellish creature and looked all the way up to her face. He stood in mute silence, a worshiper at her feet.
She watched Grognick a moment and began to laugh. Music filled his soul. A large smile grew across his creased face. “You are zee dream, no?” he whispered to her. “I must pray that never again zee light comes to wake me!”
She raised one eyebrow in amusement at his comment. “You do not long for the light little gnome?”
“Not if it would take such beauty from my sight. I would sleep zee sleep of eternity to keep you always in my vision!”
She laughed again. “Then you shall buy me a drink small creature of great speeches. And tell me more.”
The gentle evening settled around him as he cast his line into Crystalwind Lake. A breeze was picking up and it rustled the leaves of the ancient tree he leaned against. The scent of warm grasses and cool water filled his mind with peace.
Much had changed for him since that fateful night. They had talked until dawn; then, he had taken his money and ran, never to see his darling wife again.
The warlock woman Demonah had told him of powers that amazed and awed. He looked in some distaste and a little fear at the small monkey like demon chittering crankily at his side. Ah well, it was noisy but it offered him power and freedom. He suspected it had its own reasons for serving him, but, it was as they say, the motive of the strongest is always best, who was Grognick to argue or complain? Good or evil… he shrugged; at night all cats are grey.
A fish tugged at his line and he stood in excitement and reeled in his catch. He smiled happily at the large fish. Such a life! He gently removed the fish from the hook and placed it back in the lake. “It ees your day of luck!” He had a room and a hot meal awaiting him in the small village not far from here; he had little need of food. He packed up his gear and headed for Crystalwind Village in the gathering gloom.
Grognick waggled his eyebrows at the human woman serving him dinner. He pushed back his newly dyed hair and stroked the large moustaches he was growing. He took great pride in his new look. His grey hair was now a rich chestnut brown. He kept his moustaches curled extravagantly and waxed to perfection and he dressed well. He was sure his own mother would not recognize him! He prayed daily his wife would not.
He offered the waitress a piece of gold. “Zee wine that is grown in zis land, it is of greatness, yes; you must bring me another glass.” He paused and raised his eyebrows again. “And you must join me for a drink my beauty. What ees your name?” She looked at the small gnome and could only grin at his ambition and silly accent. “I am Lealaya.”
“Oh, what pleasantness you heap upon me! A name filled with zee music of tumbling rivers! It soars like zee flies of butter! Come my lovely chateaubriand, join me.” He raised his near empty glass in a toast to her beauty. “Me, zay call Erostos.” A radiant smile filled his face. “I am zee Warlock of Love.”