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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Two

       Last updated: Monday, October 13, 2003 02:03 EDT



    CHAPTER II. A Dramatic Rescue. An Unfortunate Misunderstanding. Encounter With the General. A Father's Chagrin. At the Kutumoff Mansion. A Temptress Advances!

    Suddenly a great cry of glee issued from Mario's lips.

    "It's the dogs! Fangwulf himself! We're saved!"

    In his excitement, Mario reigned in the troika so abruptly that the sleigh skidded to one side and slammed to a halt. Zulkeh and Shelyid were hurled off into a bank of snow. By the time the apprentice had extricated himself from the snow bank, the advancing dogs reached the sleigh. Shelyid gaped in astonishment as the pack of huge-canined huge canines raced past, baying like the Hounds of Hell, their gleaming eyes fixed with frenzied zeal on the now-rapidly-retreating giant hunting weasels and their Godferret masters. In the van of the dog pack loped a creature so monstrous as to defy all attempts at sane and rational description. The very saliva which drizzled from the horror's dagger-like fangs hissed and steamed where it struck the snow.

    "Go, Fangwulf, go!" shrieked Mario, capering about on the driver's seat like a madman.

    Shelyid was dumbstruck as the pack of dogs caught up with the weasels. The giant mustelids made a feeble attempt at self-defense, but their whines and whimpers were cut short—as were their torsos, throats, limbs, indeed, every portion of their sinuous bodies.

    The Horror of Horrors leading the dogs, however, took no part in the rending of the weasels. Even as the lordly lion disdains the rabbit which crosses his path as he chases the antelope, so did Fangwulf maintain the single-minded ferocity of his pursuit of the Fangs of Piety. The rearmost Godferret looked back, his face as pale as the winter, just as Fangwulf made his leap onto the hindquarters of the horse which bore his prey. The horse whinnied in terror and collapsed. The Godferret disappeared into Fangwulf's maw in no more than three bone-crunching bites. A second later, Fangwulf was off in pursuit again. Four seconds later, the scene of horror was repeated. A second later, Fangwulf was off yet again.

    The fate of the remaining Godferrets is unknown to your chronicler, for at that moment both prey and predator disappeared from sight. But I estimate conservatively—judging from the slowly fading sounds of shrieks and snapping bones—that few if any of the Fangs of Piety survived to tell the tale of their encounter with the fangs of the impious Dog of Dogs.

    Shelyid turned back to the wizard. Zulkeh was now sitting up, shaking his head. 'Twas clear that the mage was stunned in both body and mind. The loyal apprentice bent over his master, reaching forth to aid the wizard to his feet.

    At that very moment, a horseman pounded up to the scene. A studious-looking, well-formed youth sprang from the horse. His pince-nez spectacles flew off the youth's nose, but the lad took no notice. He advanced upon Shelyid in a most fearsome and vigorous manner, waving his quirt above his head.

    "O horror!" cried the youth. "The poor old man—assaulted by this vicious beast!"

    And so saying, the youth began a fierce lashing of Shelyid's hunched person, crying all the while:

    "Back, you brute! Back, I say!"

    For his part, after a brief moment of surprised immobility, Shelyid hunched further under the blows of the quirt. He dug out his beloved contract and began a feverish examination of its pages.

    "Just like I thought!" exclaimed Shelyid suddenly. "'The short-statured-but-fully-qualified-apprentice may not be disciplined by third parties. All rights not specifically granted to the master are thus understood to belong to the apprentice."

    Shelyid tucked away the contract and glared up at the youth.

    "That includes self-defense!" shrilled the dwarf.

    The youth had ceased his thrashing of the gnome as soon as he heard human words issuing from Shelyid's lips. He stared down at the gnome with a look of great puzzlement on his face.

    Puzzlement now gave way to shocked surprise, as the small but not feeble Shelyid tackled the youth about the knees and brought him to the ground. A moment later, youth and dwarf were writhing about in a most unseemly display of wrestling and grappling. When the dust—I should say, snow—cleared, Shelyid was on top of the youth, pinning him with a half-nelson while he essayed the dubious project of forcing the youth's left leg into his ear.

    Fortunately for the impetuous youth, Mario intervened.

    "Hold on there, young fellow," chuckled Mario, as he hauled Shelyid from his victim. "What we have here is a misunderstanding. Harry here can't see a thing without his glasses. He must have thought you were a beastly minion of the Godferrets."

    Mario coughed delicately. "You are, after all, a bit on the furry side."

    "It's not my fault," grumbled Shelyid. The dwarf glared over at the youth—Harry, his evident cognomen—who was groping about in the snow drifts for his spectacles.

    "They're over here," muttered the gnome, stumping off to a spot some few feet distant. The apprentice retrieved the pince-nez spectacles and handed them to the youth.

    "Thank you," said Harry. He placed the glasses on his nose and peered at Shelyid.

    "You're a dwarf," he said.

    "A very ugly, hairy dwarf," corrected Shelyid.

    "I didn't say that!" protested Harry.

    "Then why'd you start beating on me with your whip?" demanded the aggrieved apprentice.

    Harry looked embarrassed. "Well, in the heat of the moment—my spectacles came off, you see—"

    "So?" The dwarf was clearly not mollified. "D'you wander about in barns at night, beating on cows 'cause they look like they might be bears?"

    Harry flushed, stammered, straightened his shoulders. Very broad shoulders they were, too, contrasting quite oddly with the scholarly visage.

    "Look, I'm sorry. What more can I say?" The youth rubbed his neck. "You're quite the wrestler, for such a little guy."

    The anger on Shelyid's face was replaced by a cheerful grin.

    "Oh, yes! I've been taking lessons from Greyboar the strangler. He says I've got a great natural choke."

    "I can well believe that," said Harry ruefully. "And now, if I might ask, who are you and what are you doing here?"

    As the wizard was still groggy and only semi-conscious, it fell to the apprentice to explain the nature of Zulkeh's quest. This the dwarf did, in a manner which seemed to leave young Harry more confused at the end than at the beginning.

    "Never mind," said the youth, waving his hands with despair. "I'll take you to my father. Oh, I'm Harry Kutumoff, by the way. General Kutumoff's son."



    And so the remainder of our heroes' journey to the estates of General Kutumoff passed with no further adventures. At length, they drew up in a clearing in the forest. To one side of the clearing stood a ramshackle hut. As the sleigh drew up, a plain looking man stepped out of the shack. He was puffing on a short and very vile-smelling cigar.

    "Father," announced young Harry, "these people are the wizard Zulkeh and his apprentice Shelyid. It seems they have some business with you, although I couldn't make much sense—"

    "Yes, yes, I know. I've been expecting them."

    At these words, the wizard—his senses regained—peered suspiciously at the General.

    "Expecting us?" queried Zulkeh. "How so?"

    "Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld passed through here some weeks ago. He said you'd be coming along shortly."

    "Bah!" oathed the mage. "The man's a lunatic!"

    The General shrugged. "True enough. But then again, you're here. Just as he babbled you would be."

    "I'll be off then, Father," announced Harry. Father and son stared at each other for a long moment. There seemed an air of strain and discord present.

    "Off to the library?" demanded the General.

    Harry shook his head. "The salle d'armes."

    The General's face reddened slightly. "Worthless wretch," he muttered. He hurled the cigar into the snow and stalked back into the hut. For his part, Harry clenched his jaws and yanked his horse around. A moment later he was galloping off.

    "Such a disappointment that boy's been to his father," clucked Mario. "No matter how many times the General chides him, Harry refuses to accept his responsibilities as the future General Kutumoff."

    "He seems a serious enough lad," commented Zulkeh.

    "That's the whole problem!" snorted Mario. "The boy spends his entire time in the library studying history, geopolitics, military strategy and tactics. Either that or practicing weaponry in the salle d'armes at the mansion."

    Shelyid frowned. "What's wrong with that?"

    "He's supposed to be boozing and wenching in the alehouses—consorting with thieves and ne'er-do-wells, and such like!" Mario shook his head mournfully. "Can you believe it? The boy's never been arrested in a tavern brawl—not once! Hasn't got a single barmaid in trouble, even. What kind of behavior is that for the future General of the Mutt, I ask you?"

    At that moment, the General stuck his head back out of the door to the hut. He glared at Mario. The sleigh driver's lips clamped shut.

    "Are you coming in?" the General asked Zulkeh. "Or would you rather stand outside in the snow listening to the idle gossip of teamsters?"

    Somewhat guiltily, Zulkeh hastened into the shack, Shelyid at his heels. The heretic Alf followed, with the Tullimonstrum perched on his shoulder.

    The interior of the hut was no more prepossessing than the exterior. The General motioned them to sit on various crudely hewn chairs and stools surrounding a table.

    "What can I do for you?" he asked Zulkeh. The mage began to explain the nature of his quest, then—noticing the presence of the heretic—stopped and glowered at Alf.

    "Is something wrong?" asked the heretic innocently.

    "By whose leave do you eavesdrop on my discussion with General Kutumoff?" demanded the mage furiously.

    "I'm not eavesdropping. Eavesdropping implies sneaking around, listening at corners, and so forth. Whereas I'm sitting here in plain sight, filled with open curiosity."

    Before Zulkeh could say anything further, the General interrupted.

    "Who are you?"

    "I'm the heretic Alf."

    The General pursed his lips, whistling softly.

    "The one who claims the Puissant Pop never happened? Says the universe is probably eternal—is still evolving instead of running down—entropy's a crock? Something to do with plasma physics, as I recall."

    "That's me."

    The General whistled again. "Boy, are you in deep shit. Surprised you haven't been stoned, or burned at the stake, or something."

    "Well, actually, things were getting a little toasty not too long ago, but—"

    "We are not here to listen to blithering heresy!" snapped Zulkeh. "I am on a perilous quest, here to discuss matters most fell and deep with the General and—I must ask you to leave!"

    "It's cold out," replied the heretic nonchalantly. "Warm in here. Nice hut, by the way."

    "Thank you," replied the General. He held up a hand to forestall Zulkeh's gathering outburst.

    "I don't really see the harm in having the heretic stay in the hut," commented the General. "I assume you're here to talk about Joe, and such-like murky and dangerous topics."

    Zulkeh nodded his head stiffly.

    "So what's the problem?" asked the General. "Alf here has already placed himself utterly beyond the Pale." The General whistled again, shook his head. "What I mean is, he's hardly going to run to the police! If he were an ax murderer or a serial rapist, he might risk it—but him? Denied the Puissant Pop? Cast aspersions on entropy? Not a chance! There's a price on his severed head anywhere in the world except the Mutt. And the only reason we don't have one is we don't have money."

    Zulkeh stroked his beard. "Well, yes, that's true. And 'tis true as well that even if he did run to the authorities they wouldn't believe a word he said." The wizard glared at the heretic. "Denied the Puissant Pop! Bah! As well deny the sunrise!"

    Alf grinned impudently. "Well, of course! The sun doesn't rise. The earth rotates."

    The General intervened again. "Let us leave all this aside. I'm not really the one you want to talk to anyway. If you want to mess around with Joe stuff, you'll want to talk to Uncle Manya."

    Zulkeh nodded his head. "Quite true, General. You will take no offense if I say that conversing with Uncle Manya is the purpose of my journey here."

    "None at all. Why don't we go up to the house? My wife can make the arrangements for you to visit Uncle Manya. He's under lock and key in his own house, I'm afraid. Crazy as a bedbug."

    Zulkeh frowned. "Are the rumors then true? That Uncle Manya is insane? I had hoped it was perhaps some subterfuge on the part of his family. Wolfg—the lunatic thought you might have told him to act crazy in order to give your dogs a rest from chasing Godferret assassins."

    At that very moment, uncannily enough, the monstrous form of Fangwulf slouched into the hut. The General ruffled his fur.

    "Nonsense!" laughed Kutumoff. "If you don't believe me, ask Fangwulf here. What do you think, pooch? Are you all tuckered out from chasing Godferrets?"

    The flame of infinite fury glowed in the monster's eyes. The deafening roar which shook the hut left all present with ringing ears.

    "Guess not," muttered Shelyid.

    The Tullimonstrum twittered in Alf's ear.

    "What'd he say?" asked the General.

    "It's actually not a 'he,' General," said the heretic. "It's an it. And what it said was that the dog's canine teeth are 5 and 3/16 inches long, which, according to the Tullimonstrum, is a new world record."

    Fangwulf looked smug. The giant "dog" licked the Tullimonstrum's—face?—with an enormous tongue. The Tullimonstrum twittered again.

    "What's he—it—saying now?"

    "It says that Fangwulf's tongue is 9 and 5/8 inches long, which is another new world record." More twittering. "It also says that the foul reek of the dog's breath requires a whole new record book. It recommends not striking any matches in the area."

    Fangwulf positively swelled with pride. The General laughed, pulled out a cigar, and struck a match.

    "Nonsense," said the General. "That's not explosive gasses you're smelling. It's the decaying product of Fangwulf's appetite. Cows produce methane from eating plant life. Fangwulf, as you may have surmised, is not a vegetarian."

    The General rose. "But come! Let's head on up to the house." And so saying, Kutumoff stroke out of the door. Mario was still waiting in the clearing with the sleigh. A minute later, the entire party was heading off.



    The sleigh pulled up at the front door of a truly gigantic mansion. Kutumoff led the way into a large vestibule. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and uttered a piercing whistle.

    The sound of footsteps was heard. A small middle-aged woman entered the vestibule, her arms outstretched.

    "You must be the wizard Zulkeh! We've heard all about you! Welcome to the Kutumoff house!"

    "And the little one must be the Shelyid fellow," came a throaty voice from behind Madame Kutumoff. A young woman—an adolescent, actually—lounged in the doorway, leaning against the frame. Her face was very pretty, framed in long auburn hair. Her figure was youthfully slender, but transparently female—the more obviously so from the casual manner in which her dress was arranged. She held a flask in her left hand, from which she took a slow sip. In her right hand, she held a cigar, from which she drew a long puff. Her bright green eyes never once left Shelyid.

    "Have you been drinking since the sun came up?" demanded the General.

    "Of course, Father."

    The General beamed. "At least one of my children has a proper respect for family tradition!"

    The girl left the doorway and locomoted herself toward Shelyid. "Locomoted," I say, because to describe the depraved young creature's swaying, undulating, sashaying progress as a "walk" would be an insult to the proper stride of virtuous women the world over.

    Shelyid was standing still, stiff as a post. He gawked up at the girl as she leaned over him.

    "I'm Polly Kutumoff," the girl announced. The sultry tone of her voice was Sin Itself. "I heard all about your adventure in Prygg. Such a roguish gnome! Fed a Crud to a snarl, I hear."

    Shelyid's eyes were now big as saucers. The girl ran her fingers through the mass of hair on Shelyid's head.

    "I like my men short and furry," she purred.

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