Ladies and Gentlemen, and Scoundrels of All Ages! Here’s another free-standing piece for y’all to enjoy. Why? Because it’s my blog and my birthday, and I can. That’s why. So instead of belaboring the comments with well-wishing, how about enjoying another story?
As always, the story is my own creation. Link, don’t copy. But print it off, if you like it, and read it by firelight to a scoop of your boy trouts. But don’t sell it, or claim it as your own. Just enjoy!
The sun rose early over the village. Its warm rays illuminated the thatched roofs of the round bungalows of the inhabitants. A raven croaked in the forest, and the village began to awaken.
First to appear was a pair of hunters as they emerged from the forest. The tall leader held a stout hickory staff in his right hand, which he spun in front of him. He was just entering his prime and his bronze skin set off a head of long silky black hair. His soft golden eyes flashed in the rising sun. His name was Borrero, and the world was his.
Borrero looked back at his companion, a sable-haired kid somewhat younger and smaller than he. Manzer had the same tanned skin and prominent face as Borrero, and the same powerful build. He stretched his lanky arms above his head and cracked his knuckles. A loop of stout hemp rope slid down past his elbow, coming to rest on the sleeve of his leather tunic. The world was his as well.
The rope jerked, and Manzer dropped his hands quickly, catching the loop in his hand and pulling the captive animal back onto the path. It was no easy task. After a short struggle, the beast submitted, and they led their quarry into the village. It was a gryffin.
The creature blinked at the unexpected severity of the sunlight around it. Its leathery wings were bound to its tawny sides, and its left foreclaw was hobbled in a loop of the rope collar. Had the ropes been other than hemp, the gryffin might have torn away, but the fibers burned its tender skin, and it submitted. The hunters brought it to a long, low stable, and led it to a dim stall at the far end. Along the way the air was filled with the smells of others of its kindred, for the villagers bred gryffin to be sold in the valley, and occasionally supplemented the herd with wild stock. This was the stag barn, and the long ears caught the hostile barks of each of its new rivals.
Borrero fed it a cut of venison, and the boys left it in its stall.
“I heard you were back, Borrero. Did you catch a stag, or another doe?”
A slender girl was silhouetted in the doorway against the early light. She wore a long cotton dress which hung to her bare feet, and her flaxen hair floated in a sunlit halo around her head, bringing out the narrow points of her ears to distinct advantage. Manzer ran his bony fingers through his own hair, and emitted a long, low whistle.
“Good morning, Jenna,” he said. “If you’re so anxious, it’s a stag. Do you sleep well when I’m away from home?”
Jenna slapped his arm playfully. “You know I had to sit up with that little doe in the ladies’ barn last night and deliver her twins. These first pregnancies are always the worst for the animals; you know that.” She added as an afterthought: “And you also know I sleep perfectly fine whether you’re home or not, so stop it!”
Borrero smiled. This happened every time he went into the forest. He knew his sister enjoyed the petty fussing and worrying over him. And he gave her every opportunity he could. She was only a couple decades younger, but in so short a time as that, by local reckoning, she’d be a lady in the tribe.
Manzer scratched his long, flat chin from his Adam’s apple to the thin whiskers under his lower lip, and pulled on his sideburns, making them stand up from his cheeks. Failing to distract Jenna by this ruse, he left the stable and returned to his own home. But he did not stay there. Slipping a comb from his bedside, he crept out again, and went down to the stream to wash. He flared his wide lips and slurped deeply of the running water, and scrubbed his upper body all over. He washed his hair. Carefully he combed it into smooth locks falling against his shoulder blades. He combed out his sideburns again, and they plumed into sleek catlike whiskers. Manzer checked his reflection in the stream one last time, tilting his chin down to view the long bridge of his nose, and combed a forelock down over his left eye. His face was a ruddy span from ear to eye-tooth, and every bit of it handsome. He smiled as he thought how the tiny marmosets always looked like so many wee grownups, wearing tails but no clothes. They were a little hairier, too, but didn’t grow it as long in proportion. Those out-of-style little people abounded in these woods. Pleased with his appearance, he returned through the village.
Hoofbeats sounded on the quiet road that passed by the tiny hamlet, and he saw Borrero and his sister beside the highway, as a scout cantered up on a great dun mare. The messenger dismounted and handed his reigns to Jenna. Manzer saw the obvious implications of this, and he didn’t like it. Running to the stream again, he chattered through his teeth, and whistled with impatience.
The noise had its desired effect. Soon the trees and shrubs around him were full of marmosets, chattering like he was, and coming to see who started it. He lunged at one. It bolted away from him. He caught the next one, however, and holding its mouth between thumb and forefinger, he cupped his hands around it and retraced his path homeward.
“Shush, stupid fairy,” Manzer whispered to his captive. “Settle down in there. Here, I’ll let you see out──there you go.” He opened his large hands just enough, and a fuzzy orange head popped out where the nose had once protruded. Manzer curled his fingers on the neck, and stroked the monkey softly. The face, a perfect mimic in form of his own, only glared at him.
He had come now to the inn, where the stranger──a knight on the border guard──was putting up his horse. Seeing Jenna in there with her brother──seeing the eyes between the knight and Jenna──Manzer could not stand it. He crept up behind the doubleted knight on soft sandaled feet. Borrero caught his eye, and Manzer raised a finger to his lips. The tiny imp saw its chance. A tiny fist caught a handful of Manzer’s growing beard, and pulled. The cry Manzer let out broke in upon the conversation, and all eyes were on him. Blushing, he tried to hide his former mischief with petty folly, and with a forced smile Manzer placed upon the end of his own nose that marmoset he had destined for the knight’s. At the sight of it, Jenna doubled over in laughter. The monkey spit forcefully in its captor’s eye, and leapt from its broad perch to the shoulder of the maiden of its captors’ affections. Then to the ground, across the inn yard, and it was gone.
The border knight was not impressed in the least.
“What are you doing, young chap, frolicking at a time like this. There’s danger moving on the road, d’ye hear me?”
Manzer looked at the messenger with his long, dour face. Neither he nor Borrero smiled back at him.
“What’s moving on the road this time? Some band of outlaw Ruhig?” From Borrero’s expression, he knew it must be worse than even that.
“It’s gnomes again,” said the knight. “And they have allies this time.” Even Jenna looked up with some concern.
“Who are these allies, I wonder,” spoke the maiden aloud.
“And well may you ask,” said the border guard, who had seen the gnomes’ party firsthand. “They’ve got men with them! Humans!”
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There is more Jumpgates to come. Stay tuned.