--Chapter Five: Dwarf Tales

Isa did not spend much time worrying about the Desdon spy. For one thing, she had already done everything she could do about the situation, and now all she had before her was time to wait. Also, activity quickly picked up in the tavern; vacation season was officially underway.

Two nights after Cerie had left, several people from the woodlands, heartlands, and east gathered here to rest on their respective ways past each others’ paths. On this particular evening, a minstrel and two gnomes were competing to be the center of attention. Some of the easterners had never seen a gnome before, so the miniature couple attracted many eyes... But the entertainer knew his trade well and told stories all night for the crowd.

Isa had heard most of the minstrel's tales sung before, in one variation or another, so she was among those most interested in the gnome couple. They were small enough to share a single bar stool (once they were able to climb up onto it). Isa thought they looked absolutely adorable.

“Are you traveling together?” she asked as she poured them each their drinks and set small fish platters before them.

“Yes we are,” answered the blond-bearded male. “We’re going away to get hitched, you see.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Isa could not hold back her excitement. “But... don’t they do woodland weddings in the forest? Why do you have to go elsewhere?”

“We’re eloping,” explained the female. “Bonz is from an oak tree. My family lives in a maple. They said it’d never work out.”

“That so?” said Isa. “Why would trees make a difference?”

Bonz answered, “Well, it doesn’t really. But eloping is so much more exciting than a regular wedding anyway. Isn’t it, honey?”

“You bet!” She pecked him on the cheek.

“Actually,” said Bonz, “there is a real reason why oaks and maples don’t get along. The colors on each tree don’t quite turn the same colors in the autumn. That makes them look odd next to each other—not good for decoration.”

Isa still did not understand. “And this is... enough to keep people from getting married?”

The bride-to-be said, “Not people, silly. Gnomes. It means a lot to some gnomes that trees of a leaf stick together. We’re breaking convention!”

“Down with the system!” Bonz agreed. “Dezzi and I are headed south to catch some more warmth. We won’t go as far as the mountains, but I figure the moment we find a quiet town with a chapel that accepts gnomes, we’ll get married. Then all that’s left to do is find a tree to call home. We’ve agreed to look for an elm of some sort. That way there’ll be no more of this oak-maple mess.”

Isa thought about this briefly. The Windmill Road did not have a chapel; the nearest one Isa knew of was in Brook Shore, a day’s travel south. These gnomes would not have to wait long for their wedding.

An applause went up throughout the tavern; the minstrel had just finished a story titled, “The Dragon and the Sword of Destiny.” He was now going to start another tale: “The Sword of Destiny Strikes Again.” Isa smiled and shook her head lightly. She had never heard a single fictional story that did not involve the words “destiny,” “fate,” or “prophecy” in some capacity. What if—just once—there would be a story where absolutely none of the prophesied events came true? Then it would be much more realistic... In addition to this flaw of fate, Isa also noticed that lately, minstrels seemed to be getting lazier and lazier...

“Once upon a time,” the man in front of the fireplace sang, putting flute notes at the end of the phrase to fill in the beats. “...Oh, once upon a time in the southern mountains...” (flute) “...there was a Sword of Destiny, and according to an ancient prophecy, it was destined to strike again!”

Then he paused for dramatic effect. The crowd let out a series of noises, some of which were intelligible as “Wow!” or, “Then what happened?”

“Then...” sang the minstrel, resuming his flute. “Then one day, suddenly...”

He paused a second time, his whole body crouched but tense, his eyes wide open. The crowd silently but anxiously anticipated the climax.

The minstrel yelled, “...Suddenly... IT STRUCK AGAIN! The end.”

The crowd roared again in cheers. Isa rolled her eyes.

One man in the audience then asked, “But what did the Sword of Destiny strike?”

The minstrel answered, “First, I will get some dinner for myself. Then, in one hour, I will tell the third tale of my trilogy: ‘The Sword of Destiny Strikes the Rock of Fate.’ Then, and only then, will you get the answer to your question!”

Isa turned back to the gnomes. “That minstrel has the easiest job in the world...”

“Oh, I wouldn’t think so,” said Bonz. “Seems to me it’d be pretty hard to tell a story that bad and get so much applause. I think that’s what most of the people are clapping for anyway.”

Dezzi said, “Yeah. I mean, if it were any less believable, it would’ve had dwarves in it.”

Isa laughed. “Dwarves? You mean like from children’s tales? Ha ha, yeah, that would be something.”

Everyone knew there were no such things as dwarves.

Another man at the bar heard Isa’s comment, though, and he too laughed. “Hey everybody!” he yelled. “We don’t have to go without a story for an hour! This lady says she’s got one about dwarves!”

Quickly, all eyes were on Isa, and the people were demanding their story. Isa’s coworkers looked at her with awkward smiles that suggested both confusion and a sentiment of, “This ought to be good...”

Isa looked at Dezzi briefly, but neither said anything. Without warning, Isa leaped on top of the bar and almost bumped her head on the ceiling. She looked over her audience. She had no instrument, so she would have to rely on spoken word.

“This...” she said, “is a tale titled, ‘The Dwarf and the Prophecy.’”

The crowd showed signs of approval. One man nodded nudged someone who appeared to be his wife and said, “I’ve heard this one before. It’s good.”

“Once upon a time,” said Isa, “there was a dwarf. And at the same time, there was a prophesy that the dwarf would one day battle a fierce dragon.”

If she did not have everyone in the room’s attention before, she did now. “The dwarf had only an axe, but it was a trusty one he’d used many times. The day came to pass that he went into the mountains to search for rare mountain timber—because that’s part of what dwarves do—when suddenly, the dragon ATTACKED!”

The whole room reacted in horror. Isa was starting to get into this...

“The dragon ROARED and breathed fire all over the landscape. But the dwarf leaped out of the way just in time to dodge the white-hot flame. He ducked behind a rock to hide for a moment, and while the dragon was looking for him, he snuck to around one side. When he saw his chance, the dwarf ran out and wielded his axe for one fateful blow.

“The dragon saw him as he was about to strike, and the monster shuffled with surprising speed to one side. This time, the dwarf did not have any rock to dive behind! The dragon inhaled mightily, intending to roast its prey in a wave of dreaded fire. The dwarf had only one option: with all his might, he threw his axe at the dragon’s heart...”

She paused here for that ever-so-precious dramatic effect.

“And then the dragon dodged and exhaled, and all of the dwarf was consumed in flame. Said the dragon afterward, ‘That’s what you get for not having “destiny” in your name.’”

Nobody knew how to react to a story like that. All anyone could know for certain was that it would take quite an effort from the minstrel to top it...

Ah, but alas: the minstrel, knowing he had been outmatched halfway through the story, had already crept out of the tavern and was now riding out of town in the dead of night.

Isa’s only regret from the affair was that the minstrel had forgotten to pay his tab.

Meanwhile, in the southern mountains, a dragon named Crispo watched the surveillance video from his high-tech lab, hidden beneath the peak of Mount Bertrice. He always kept an eye over the goings on in Incria, Desdon, Pril, and this little but highly active village called The Windmill Road, since the vast majority of dragon slayer wannabes would introduce themselves in one of these locations before attempting a later attack. In short, the network of cameras, which his imp minions had placed in the cities, provided quite a convenient amount of information, which helped to protect him from surprise slaying. It also helped him find people traveling alone whenever his food supply was running low.

Tonight, though, he did not watch purely out of the interest of self-preservation or hunger... As Isa finished her tale, he almost welled up in tears of joy. He wished he were in that bar to ask questions like, “And how delicious was the dwarf?” But unfortunately, he was too far away for her to hear him.

The answer, therefore, was left to his imagination. He went to his king-sized adjustable electric bed that night and had some of the best sleep of his life. That tavern lady sure could tell a good bedtime story...