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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Three

       Last updated: Monday, October 13, 2003 02:10 EDT



    CHAPTER III. Military Evaluations. A Formal Dinner in Formal Attire. Familial Discord. A Pubescent Siren's Unseemly Conduct. A Dwarf Faints. A Dwarf Recovers. Family Traditions Explained. A Scandalous Proposition!

    Despite the wizard's protestations, Madame Kutumoff insisted on entertaining our heroes with a formal dinner before taking them to visit Uncle Manya. Despite the General's protestations, Madame Kutumoff insisted that her husband join them at the dinner also.

    "You can leave off gnawing a bone in the hut with your cronies for one night, dear," she said firmly. "Besides, you need to get reacquainted with the formalities. We just got a letter from Field Marshall Böring von Totenberg. He's coming for a visit next week. [NOTE: DOES THIS WORK? IF SO, TOTENBERG'S VISIT NEEDS TO BE INCLUDED IN THE STORY.] Rather a long visit, it sounds like. And you know what a stickler he is for protocol."

    The General grinned. "Good old Bö! Can't stay away from the action."

    "Would that be Field Marshall Totenberg of the Royal Goimr Army?" inquired Zulkeh.

    "Retired now," said the General. "Forced retirement—his seventh, I believe. There was a great public outcry following Goimr's defeat in the last war with the barbarians, you know."

    Zulkeh nodded. "Yes, yes, it was quite the scandal. A pity, really. The Field Marshall's a military genius."

    "Of course he is!" boomed Kutumoff. "Smartest general I ever met. Not his fault he's never won a war. Never won a battle, actually."

    "Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "What general could win a war saddled with the Royal Goimr Army?"

    Kutumoff bestowed an approving look on the mage.

    "Well spoken, sorcerer. Not many people understand that. Poor old Bö always gets blamed for his unbroken string of defeats."

    "Bah!" oathed the mage. "His tactics at the Battle of Joe's Pond were brilliant—especially the double envelopment. Worthy of Hannibal Sfrondrati-Piccolomini himself!" Zulkeh stroked his beard. "Mind you, I'm not sure it was quite prudent to essay such a cunning stroke on the battlefield with the Goimric army. The Royal Goimric officer corps can't tell their right hands from their left. The Goimric troops can't tell their hands from their feet."

    The General shrugged. "That's what I keep telling Bö. 'Keep it simple,' I tell him. 'Keep it simple.' But Bö's brain always runs away with him."

    "The affair was a total fiasco, as I recall. The wings of the encirclement swept too far and fell upon themselves. Mutual rout followed. Still, the Goimric army inflicted severe casualties on the barbarians."

    Kutumoff nodded. "A full 20% of the horde died laughing. Half the rest were incapacitated for weeks."

    "Yes, yes, most fortunate. The ensuing plunder of Goimr was briefer than usual."

    Shelyid was frowning. "When was this, professor? I don't remember Goimr being plundered."

    "Four years ago, Shelyid. Of course you don't remember! The pillaging barbarians never got as far as our part of the city. Silly savages. When will they ever learn?"

    "The fishwives, wasn't it?" asked Kutumoff.

    The mage nodded. "Indeed so. The barbarians began the usual rapine. Then one of the cretins stole a fish from a fishwife's cart, and the cry went up."

    Shelyid turned pale. The General and Madame Kutumoff shuddered.

    "Truly, it was a horror," spoke the mage solemnly. "The Goimr fishwives were in full fury. The slaughter went on for hours. Only a handful of the barbarian horde escaped from the city."

    Another shudder swept the room.



    The formal dinner was not a great success. Things began badly right from the start. The General entered the formal dining hall in a most disreputable uniform. A private's uniform, in point of fact—stained, baggy, missing a few buttons.

    Madame Kutumoff was furious.

    "I requested a formal uniform!" she cried, glaring fiercely.

    The General looked down, puzzled. "This is my formal uniform, dear."

    "Then where's the mud on your boots?" demanded his wife.

    The General looked down again. "Sorry, dear," he muttered. Kutumoff left the room. When he returned, not five minutes later, he tracked a trail of mud and slime over the pristine floor.

    "That's better," sniffed Madame Kutumoff. "But I do wish I didn't have to remind you every time."

    The food was excellent. But there was a strained atmosphere in the room. Most of that derived from the black looks which the General frequently bestowed on his son.

    "Stop using your fork!" he bellowed at one point. His son looked guilty, and began eating his meat with his fingers. For the most part, the bespectacled youth tried to remain inconspicuous, sitting at the very end of the table next to Shelyid.

    And there lay the other source of tension. For the Kutumoff daughter, the vixen Polly, insisted on sitting next to Shelyid in defiance of her mother's seating arrangements. Throughout the meal, the pubescent temptress swilled from her wine glass, becoming progressively inebriated as the evening wore on. Despite this disreputable drunkenness, however, her attentions remained fixed on the hapless dwarf even as the lamprey clings to its prey. She demanded a recounting of every detail of Shelyid's adventures in Prygg, which Shelyid stammered out.

    At one point in his halting recital, Shelyid fell suddenly silent. The gnome's eyes bugged out. His jaw fell open. Sweat began beading his brow. Investigation by my apprentices revealed that the teenage Circe was stroking his leg with her foot.

    "I love adventures and escapades," whispered the juvenile delinquess. She leered. "This is such a huge house. Unoccupied rooms all over the place. Nobody's been in them for years."

    Sitting on Shelyid's left, Harry Kutumoff chuckled. "You're doomed," he whispered.

    Following the meal, the shameless hussy lit up a cigar. Her mother immediately protested.

    "There's no smoking in the house, Polly, except in the smoking room."

    The girl sneered. "Doesn't apply to me. I'm the rebellious offspring."

    The General glared at his son. Harry flushed, but remain steadfast.

    "I hate tobacco smoke," he said. An expression of great pain came upon the General's face.

    Madame Kutumoff persisted in chiding her daughter, which created a most unpleasant scene for several minutes, until Polly sprang to her feet and cried: "That's it! I've had enough of this crap! I'm running away from home!"

    And so saying, the girl raced out the door. Much to Shelyid's relief, or so it seemed judging from the expression on the dwarf's face. Or perhaps not—judging from the expression on the dwarf's face when Polly re-entered the room a few minutes later and resumed her seat next to him.

    "I forgot," pouted the girl. "I can't run away from home until I'm disgraced."

    "That is the tradition, dear," agreed her mother. "But it won't be long now. You're almost fifteen."

    "Good girl, my daughter," growled the General. "Hasn't missed one of the traditions yet." Harry looked away from his father's glare.

    After the meal, when conversation had dissolved into small knots, Shelyid turned to Polly with a frown of puzzlement on his face.

    "Why are you going to run away from home?" he asked quietly. "Your parents seem like nice people, except your father's kind of hard on Harry."

    "Of course he's hard on Harry," replied the girl. "He hasn't given up hope yet, even though Harry's broken his heart a hundred times."

    She bestowed an unfavorable look on her brother, who was sitting in a corner by himself reading a book. When she turned back to Shelyid, however, the frown was gone, replaced by a great smile and a glint in her eyes.

    "The reason I'm going to run away from home is that I going to be fleeing in shame and disgrace. I'm going to be pregnant, you see?"

    Shelyid's jaw dropped. "But—who's the father? And why doesn't he do the right thing?"

    The glint in Polly's eye was now a gleam.

    "I don't know yet. Some outlaw, no doubt. And that's why he won't do the right thing, of course. He'll be a social outcast, unfit for polite society. A highwayman, maybe. Or a lying, thieving Gypsy. Or"—the gleam was now a ray of blazing light—"a desperate and despicable dwarf on the run from the law."

    Shelyid fainted.



    When he came to, Shelyid found himself lying on a sumptuous bed in a large and well-furnished bedroom. His inspection of the chamber was brief, however. No doubt the gnome's discovery that his head was resting in Polly's lap had something to do with the brevity of his examination of the bedchamber.

    "Are you feeling better?" she asked. He nodded his head mutely.

    "You'd better get up, then," said the girl. She shook her head sorrowfully. "I'd like for you to stay, but your boss said that as soon as you recovered I had to bring you downstairs so you can go with him to Uncle Manya's house. He seems like such a fierce old man that I think we'd better do as he says."

    "Oh, yes!" cried Shelyid, leaping hastily from the bed. "The professor'll be furious if I'm not there to carry his sack."

    "Come back here!" barked Polly. Young female though she was, the Kutumoff tone of command was in her voice.

    Shelyid meekly obeyed. Polly motioned him to sit next to her on the bed.

    "Why are you so nervous around me?" she demanded crossly.

    Shelyid gulped. Several times, actually. "It's—well, it's just— What I mean is, you're such an awfully pretty girl and I'm, well, I'm just a dwarf. Actually, I'm probably the ugliest, hairiest dwarf in the whole world."

    "I don't care," said Polly. She put her arm around Shelyid. "I think you're nice. You're certainly a lot nicer than that lot of young cads who've been hanging around the house since my fourteenth birthday, with their tongues hanging out."

    She made a face. "That's the problem with family traditions. Every worthless Tom, Dick and Harry within a hundred miles knows 'em too. I swear, the sweaty little clods practically show up at the door with their peckers in their hands." She laughed. "One of them actually did! Mother was quite firm with him, though."

    Shelyid blanched. "Did she—like, set Fangwulf on him?"

    Polly giggled. "Of course not! It'd be beneath Fangwulf's dignity, anyway. No, she just horsewhipped him. She was really quite thorough about it, too. 'You're supposed to seduce my daughter, you cretin!' she told him."

    Polly sighed. "I've really been starting to get quite desperate. When I was eight years old, I made Rascogne de Sevigneois promise me he'd show up when I was turning fifteen. He'd make such a great father for the bastard! But I don't think he's going to keep his promise. The rumor is that he's got a girlfriend now."

    "La Contessa," piped Shelyid.

    "You've met her?"

    "Oh, yes." Here Polly insisted that Shelyid tell her the whole story of his encounters with the notorious highwayman. When he finished the tale, Polly glowered.

    "I knew it! I just knew he wasn't going to keep his promise. It's been so awful. I don't want to get pregnant by any of these goofs who've been lounging around in my mother's salons. But I'd pretty much resigned myself to the inevitable. I couldn't bear to break Papa's heart, not after all the grief Harry's caused him."

    The girl smiled. "And then you showed up! Oh, you're perfect. It'll be the best scandal in generations."

    Shelyid began coughing fiercely. Polly pounded him on the back.

    "What's the matter, Shelyid? You said yourself I was pretty. Don't you like me?"

    The dwarf's face blanched.

    "I think you're really, really nice, actually," he squeaked. "But it's just—I never—I mean, I don't know—"

    "You're a virgin."

    Shelyid nodded, mute.

    "Oh, that's wonderful!" exclaimed Polly. "I am too. Part of the tradition."

    "Really?" squeaked the dwarf.

    "Of course. Why would I run off in shame and disgrace if I was already shamed and disgraced?"

    Polly sprang to her feet and hauled Shelyid to his feet.

    "Well, I'm glad that's settled," she said with a great air of relief in her voice. "It's so hard acting like a vamp when you're fifteen years old. Such a nuisance, really. But you'd better go back down. The old man's probably in a fine snit by now."

    "Oh, yes!" cried Shelyid, scurrying toward the door. "The professor's most impatient wizard in the world."

    As he started through the door, Polly's hand pulled him back. A moment later Shelyid was enfolded in a firm and eager embrace, replete with a kiss. Now that the girl was no longer trying to act the part of an experienced seductress, the kiss was fumbling and inexpert despite its quite evident enthusiasm.

    "I'll see you later," she whispered in his ear.

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