File GSB-045: Redemption

Griggin didn’t notice Bieslook looking up at him. They were walking side by side on the way from Brewnall Village to Kharanos. Griggin’s face was grim. He was not pleased with his own performance, and that always made him irritable. He sighed.

“Why are you sad, Griggin?”

Griggin looked down on Bieslook, smiling.

“What makes you think I’m sad?”

“Your face. Are you all alone?”

“Oh my, no. I have a wife. I have two children.”

“Are they in Khanos?”

“Kha-ra-nos,” said Griggin. “I don’t think so. I told them to go to Ironforge if I didn’t show up in a day.”

Bieslook looked at the ground.

“Sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?”

“I walk too slow.”

Griggin laughed. “Don’t be sorry. You’re walking very well, actually. If you keep it up, we’ll be in Kharanos before night.”

“Are there Dwarves in Kharanos?”

“Oh yes. There are many Dwarves there.”

“Papa says they fight all day and drink beer all night.”

“Oh I’m sure they do more than that. They have to eat and sleep sometime.”

“I had Papa’s beer once. It made my head feel funny and Papa shouted at me. Then I was sick.”

“It’s a grown-up drink,” said Griggin.

Bieslook stepped on next to Griggin, saying nothing for a while, looking at the snowy ground in front of her feet.

“Do you drink beer?”

“Now and then. I much prefer strong coffee to strong beer.”

Griggin stared at the snowy mountains ahead. Sometimes inexperienced Warlocks tried to silence the demon voices in their heads by drinking. It never worked. If you drank too little, you merely weakened your defences, which allowed demons to run free in your head. If you drank too much, it only gave you a few moments’ respite, before it led to the whole range of problems all heavy drinkers have, and you’d have demons egging you on to destroy yourself. Demons were quite happy to serve a Warlock too weak to summon them. It was one of the preferred ways to avoid being summoned.

“Beer makes you stupid,” said Bieslook.

Griggin nodded. “That is correct. Too much beer makes you very stupid indeed.”

“Can’t you have beer that doesn’t make you stupid?”

Griggin laughed. “Well, I think you can, but that tastes like a horse already drank it once.”

Bieslook looked at Griggin, an expression of outrage on her face. “They give it to horses? That’s mean!”

Griggin opened his mouth to start to explain the joke. He looked at the little girl walking next to him, realising he’d have to watch his jokes a bit around little Bieslook.

“True. That’s why I never touch the stuff. I believe in inebriation without cruelty.”

 

Griggin arrived in Kharanos with Bieslook asleep riding on his back. Probably best to stop here for the night. If he’d been alone, he would have pressed on to Ironforge at once. With this little girl along, that was impractical. He needed to be with Lenna and Nix and Trixie. Griggin walked up to the tavern in the Thunderbrew Distillery and waved at the Dwarf behind the counter, who was drying tankards and glasses.

“Good evening, Sir,” said Griggin, in his best Common. “Do you have a room for two?”

“Ach, no lad,” said the Dwarf. “We’ve been having lots of ye Gnomes, and I’m booked solid. I hear something bad has happened in Gnomeregan.”

“Invasion of Troggs,” said Griggin. “Big one. Hope the militia is on top of it.”

The inkeeper put the beer mug back on the spike behind him with the others, then turned back round to Griggin.

“Didn’t ye hear? They stopped the invasion alright. Some wee bunch of jobbies set off a big nasty bomb in the middle of town. One of those things that burns ye all the way through without fire. Stopped the invasion alright, but it also killed a load of the good Gnomes.”

Griggin could only stare.

“Who… who would do such a thing?”

The barman took another mug out of the bowl and started drying it.

“Some Gnome by the name of, let me think… Mekka… Mekkathingy.”

Mekkatorque? Do you mean to say that Gelbin Mekkatorque set off a radiation bomb in the middle of town?”

“That’s the one.”

Griggin found he was standing there with his mouth hanging open, and closed it. He shook his head.

“I don’t believe it. Nobody in his right mind would set off a weapon of mass destruction in his own town!”

“Well, then perhaps he wasn’t in his right mind. It’s what everybody keeps saying who passes though here.”

Griggin shook himself. There were more important things than possibly erroneous messages from Gnomeregan. He looked down at Bieslook, who was tugging at his sleeve.

“What is it?”

“Have to go poo,” said Bieslook.

“Ah.” Griggin looked up at the bar Dwarf. “Where are the, um, facilities?”

“Cludgie’s oot the back. Yer in luck, I just added paper.”

“Deep joy,” muttered Griggin. They had celebrated the day that Trixie first disposed of her duties properly with cakes with pink icing. He sighed. Here we go again.

 

Griggin was standing in the snow, Bieslook next to him, negotiating with a Gnomish mechanostrider merchant over the price of a second-hand one. The Mechanostrider was one of the great inventions of the Gnomish Engineers. It looked vaguely like a flightless bird, and could carry a Gnome at speeds up to thirty miles per hour. Griggin liked them. They didn’t contain especially complicated technology, but a lot of the ingenuity had gone into details like, oh, adjusting the gyroscopes so as not to have them fall flat on their beaks. Coordinating the motion of their two legs to account for changes in terrain. Good solid engineering grindwork. Trial and error and slow but steady progress. If he could afford it, he’d be able to make it to Ironforge before tomorrow. He had the covers open, and peered at the engine.

“Sixty silver,” said Griggin.

“No,” said the merchant.

Griggin pointed. “Those packings are going to have to be replaced sometime in the next three-hundred miles. Also, it’s the low-power model.”

“Eighty,” said the merchant. “This is a classic. Fix her up and you can sell it for a mint to a collector.”

“A relic, you mean. It’s only of any value to masochists. I just need it to take me to Ironforge.” Griggin sneered. These striders weren’t very popular even when they were new, and known in Gnomish as Truttenschudders. “Alright. Sixty-five.”

“Seventy, and I’ll fill her up for you.”

“Done.”

Griggin counted out his money, and was given the control box. He pressed the button, and the strider sputtered to life. With some apprehension, Griggin got on, and pulled Bieslook in front of him. He turned on the headlamps.

“Pleasure doing business, Sir,” said the merchant.

Griggin only nodded. He kicked the strider into gear, and it trotted off in the direction of Ironforge, its metal feet clunking on the bridge.

“Bieslook? Warn me if you see any road signs for Ironforge.”

“What’s a road sign?”

 

The Mechanostrider clunked its way noisily through the night on the road to Ironforge. Bieslook had loved the ride, watching the trees and bears and panthers whizz by. Finally, despite the rough ride, she’d fallen asleep between Griggin’s arms. Griggin looked down on her face, pale in the moonlight, eyes closed, peaceful. He sighed. How many more orphans would come out of this war? He still couldn’t believe it. Gnomeregan, such as he knew it, was gone. It was too much to contemplate. His old house, the taverns where he’d discussed coffee with the barkeep, the little shop of horrors where he’d produced the water heaters with Marvin, all turned to glowing radio-active waste. By, of all people, Gelbin Mekkatorque, the Gnomes’ High Tinker. Up to now, Mekkatorque’s reputation was beyond reproach. He should have known better. He did know better. Then why?

Griggin sighed, and steered the strider round a bend in the road. The controls had too much give in them. He had to really persuade it to go round corners. It needed a bit or tender loving care. Taking apart, cleaning, putting back together again, corroded parts replaced, a bit of a polish, to bring it back to its former glory, such as it was. This model was the first one to include the then-revolutionary Variomatic transmission. Even the strider they’d put in front of the cart had something better now. One of the nice quirks was that it could go as fast backward as it could go forward. These things had dominated the All-Gnomeregan Backwards Races, where idiots raced their striders in reverse. It made a grinding sound and Bieslook stirred. Alternatively, it needed a brief flight off the edge of a sufficiently high mountain. There was a reason he’d only had to pay seventy silver for it. All it had to do was take him to Ironforge. Back to Lenna. If it could just do that, he’d reward it with some nice new engine oil.

 

Griggin parked his strider and collapsed it in front of the Stonefire Tavern in Ironforge. Bieslook was still asleep in his arms, though she was probably about to wake up. He carefully deposited her on a bench and put his cloak over her. Then, he walked up to the bar.

“Good morning. I need a jug of really really strong coffee. I’ve been riding all night.”

The Dwarf laughed, and turned round to the coffee jug. Griggin waved a hand.

“Stronger than that. Engineer strength, please.”

“Ye gods! Ye don’t think I know my stuff?”

Griggin didn’t feel like arguing, and accepted a mug of coffee. He tasted, and gave the Dwarf a mournful look. The Dwarf didn’t even notice. Oh well. They still had the DE2000. Griggin closed his eyes. If they’d got here already and nothing bad had happened to them. What in the world had possessed him to leave them?

Next to him Bieslook stirred, and suddenly sat up.

“Papa?”

Griggin turned round. “Yes, dear?”

Bieslook looked at Griggin. “You’re not my Papa,” she said in that wonderful, beautifully clear voice that all young children have. Then she burst out in tears. “I want my Papa.”

All round the tavern, Dwarves were looking at Griggin, not saying anything, mind, just observing. I’m sure everything is all in order. Griggin looked at Bieslook, who was wailing at full lung strength, face to the wall. Griggin gently picked her up, held her to him. Put his hand on her hair. Closed his eyes.

“Your papa had to go, sweetheart. He’s not here anymore. But I am.”

There was a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see the barkeep standing over him. In his other hand was a banana.

“For the wee bairn,” he said.

Griggin smiled and offered the fruit to Bieslook, who took it. The wails of anguish subsided into quiet sobbing. Griggin pulled out a handkerchief and wiped Bieslook’s nose.

“Now what do we say to the nice Dwarf?”

“Thank you.”

The barman grinned. “Yer welcome.”

Griggin looked up. “Refugee. Her father was… lost in Gnomeregan.”

“Ye hear a lot of that these last few days. Best of luck to ye.”

 

Bieslook’s hand felt warm in Griggin’s, as they walked towards the part of Ironforge called the Commons. Bieslook had put away her banana at a remarkable speed, and devoured a bowl of porridge. Some of the colour had returned to her face.

“Are you feeling better?” asked Griggin.

“Yes,” said Bieslook. “Thank you,” she added.

Griggin laughed and went to his knees in front of her.

“You’re welcome. Now. We need to find my wife. She should be somewhere in this city. Her name is Lenna.” He sighed. “Now how am I going to find her in this place?”

Bieslook looked round. Before she could speak, someone called Griggin’s name, grabbed his shoulder, and pulled him to her, head on his shoulder, gently shaking, not saying anything.

Griggin put his arms round Lenna.

“Well, that was easy,” he said.


“I’ve found us a place to live,” said Lenna. “Lucky to get it, too. Rode into the place, Saw the ‘for rent’ sign up, went for it and done. I think nobody wants this because it’s too noisy.” Lenna looked at her husband with glowing eyes. “It’s got only two rooms, but it’s got very high ceilings.”

“Oh. I’m forgetting my manners,” said Griggin. “Meet this young lady. Her name is Bieslook.”

Lenna chuckled, looking down at the girl.

“Griggin Steambender. We’re only apart for two days, and already you trade me in on someone younger and prettier?”

“Yes,” said Griggin, “And quite shamelessly so. I found her in Gnomeregan. She’s lost her family, so I took her with me.”

Lenna went to one knee, and looked into Bieslook’s eyes, a friendly smile on her face.

“Hello Bieslook. I’m Lenna, Griggin’s wife. Has he been treating you well?”

“Yes, Miss,” said Bieslook. “I rode on the strider. We saw bears, but they couldn’t run as fast as we could.”

Lenna’s eyes turned to Griggin.

“Bears?”

“Some polar bears in Dun Morogh. Nothing to worry about.”

“They’d already eaten someone else,” said Bieslook, “So they weren’t hungry and just wanted to play.”

“I see,” said Lenna. “Griggin, does she have any family left?”

“I don’t know,” said Griggin. “I fear the worst for her father. I suspect he cast some kind of sacrificial spell to clear the room they were in. I don’t know if she has any more family.”

Lenna looked at Bieslook. Poor girl.

“What’s your father’s name?”

“Papa,” said Bieslook.

“I know, but what do the other Gnomes call him? What’s your last name?”

“Bieslook Sparkmantle, at your service.”

Lenna laughed. “Lenna Steambender, at yours.” She took a breath. “Sparkmantle. Hold on. Is your papa called Vernon?”

Bieslook nodded.

“You’re Vernon Sparkmantle’s little girl? Oh my.”

Griggin frowned. “You know her father?”

“Of course I do. He was one of the Mage trainers in Gnomeregan.” She looked up at Griggin. “He taught me how to do an Arcane Explosion. He used to be a battle mage, until his wife Iris died. He blamed himself, so after that, he would only teach, not do himself.”

Lenna put her hand on Bieslook’s head, stroking her dark hair.

“You’re coming with me. I bet you’re hungry. Griggin hasn’t fed you, has he?”

Bieslook frowned. “Got a bananana.”

“Well, let’s see what we can do.”

 

Griggin walked into the door, to be greeted by shouts of delight from Nix and Trixie. Trixie leaped at Griggin, and head-butted his chest.

“Dad! Can I have the top bunk now? Nix always has the top bunk. It’s my turn.”

“Well, I made it,” said Nix. “I’m not having you drop on me in the night. I didn’t dimension it for someone your weight.”

Trixie whirled round and kicked Nix soundly in the shins.

“You’ll take that back, Nix Steambender.”

Griggin shook his head.

“Son, do I really have to come home for the first time to find you have not over-dimensioned an essential element of the house infrastructure properly? A top bunk should be able to hold at least three Gnomes of normal stature, if not four.”

“Oh yes, Dad, but I’d have to over-dimension it at least ten-fold to allow for ow!”

“I can kick harder than that, Bro.”

Bieslook tugged Griggin’s sleeve.

“Are they fighting because they are in a Dwarf town?”

Griggin gave Bieslook a quick look, then took a deep breath and shouted.

“Quiet down, everyone! We have a guest. Everybody, meet Bieslook Sparkmantle. She’s going to stay with us until we can find her family.”

Only now did Trixie and Nix notice the small girl standing close to Griggin. They looked at each other for a few moments. Trixie grinned and punched the air.

“Yes! Three girls, two boys. That means girls rule!”

“Dad! Do something!”

 

The old table was slightly too large for the room they had put it in, but they had crammed it in somehow. Nix and Trixie were sitting at it with the new addition to the family. Griggin and Lenna had wandered off to the Gnomeregan authorities in exile, to register their presence here, and Bieslook’s.

“So,” said Trixie. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Nix groaned. “Trix, how much did you like answering that when you were her age?”

“Most stupid question in the world,” said Trixie. “And now it’s my turn to ask it.”

“I want to be a Mage,” said Bieslook. “Like Papa.”

“Cool,” said Nix. “Our mum is a Mage. She can shoot fire like nobody’s business.”

Bieslook nodded. “I can shoot fire.”

“You? Oh come on. You’re way too young to do that! They don’t let you until you’re much older.”

“Papa taught me.”

Nix shook his head.

“No way. Girls your age can’t shoot firebolts.”

Bieslook sniffed. “Can too!”

Trixie reached behind her, into the kitchen, and grabbed the coffee jug. She refilled her cup.

“Look cutie, it’s not like we don’t want to believe you.” She added some sugar to her cup. “But we don’t.”

“Papa taught me,” said Bieslook. “Can show you.”

Nix grinned. “Oh alright. Watch where you point those hands, though. I like my eyebrows. Shoot out of the window.”

Bieslook got up.

“Oh this should be good,” said Trixie.

 

“Well,” said Griggin, “we’ve arrived. Amazing really, how they didn’t even want the forms in triplicate.”

“It’s the war,” said Lenna. “They’re shell-shocked. Makes them go soft.”

“Possibly,” said Griggin.

They reached their new house. Griggin looked at it. For a Dwarf, it was far too small. It had probably been someone’s office at some point. They had to walk up a few stairs to get to it. It looked out on the Commons, and was quite near the tavern. There was a constant coming and going of travellers. Most travellers being Dwarves, this meant constant shouting, the march of iron-shod feet and the roar of engines. No matter. Griggin could sleep through anything. He was swaying on his feet. He put his arm round Lenna.

“So. What do you think of our new arrival?”

Lenna put her head on Griggin’s shoulder.

“She’s adorable. Vernon was a good man. I’m sure she won’t be any trouble. Vernon had a brother named Magis. I’m told he’s making for Ironforge as well. When he does, I’ll ask him what to do.”

“And until then, we can keep her warm, clean and fed,” said Griggin. “Remember when Trixie was her age?”

“Our young Warrior princess,” said Lenna. “They grow up so fast.”

Griggin frowned.

“Can you smell something?”

 

Lenna looked round the room. The cloud of smoke had dissipated, leaving only a persistent smell. The expression on her face meant Trouble. Big Trouble. Her offspring were standing in front of her with big, startled eyes.

“Why, if I may ask, is there coffee all over the curtains?”

Trixie swallowed.

“It’s the first thing I got to hand to put them out.”

“Put them out?”

“They were on fire,” said Nix.

Lenna looked at her son, her face carved in stone.

“On fire. How did they come to be on fire?”

Nix looked at Trixie. Trixie looked at Nix. At the exact same moment, they pointed. Bieslook was sitting on the lower bunk bed, whimpering quietly with her head in her hands.

“Ow. Head hurts.”


Griggin lay in bed, cuddled up behind Lenna. He had his arms round her. The children were already asleep, including Bieslook, who’d had some soothing willow bark tea for her headache and fallen asleep on the sofa. Nix had already drawn up plans for a third bunk in the large room and kitchen. What the place lacked in floor surface, it more than made up for in height. It would do. Griggin pulled Lenna a bit closer.

“I missed you.”

“Me too,” said Lenna. “Let’s not split up again for a while.”

“Good plan. Tomorrow, I’ll start looking for a job. And I still have to plumb in the applicances.”

“Good luck,” murmured Lenna. “They don’t have steam or hot water connections in this place.”

“What? That’s ridiculous. What are they, cave-dwellers? Do they bang rocks together to make the flames come?”

“Probably,” said Lenna. She pulled Griggin’s arm a bit closer and sighed. “They do things differently here.”

Outside, a company of Dwarves arrived in the city. They blew their trumpets, announced themselves, then stomped off.

“Well, in that case it’s high time that we dragged them kicking and screaming into Modern Days. Do they even know what showers are?”

Lenna laughed. “They bathe in ale. They may expect you to do the same, just to fit in.”

Griggin chuckled. “Well, let’s start with hot and cold running water. I have Marvin’s designs for the Optimal Prime. It’ll take me a while to decypher, but then… Ironforge will never smell the same again!”

“Good,” said Lenna. “I’m sure we will settle in here. Isn’t it strange? We were probably the first refugees out of Gnomeregan. There’ll be more before too long, I just know it. We got so lucky getting this place. I almost feel we don’t deserve it.”

Griggin’s fingers moved slowly on Lenna’s stomach.

“A new chance. A fresh start. We have to set a good example for Bieslook. She may be the most important thing to come out of Gnomeregan with us.”

“The poor girl. I can understand why Vernon taught her the spells she knows, but she is so young. There’s going to be Rules about using them. With the first one being Don’t. It gives her such headaches.” Lenna looked over her shoulder. “It could kill her if she tries too many times.”

Griggin nodded quietly. “My love, you know I’m not a religious man, but still, I believe this girl is a gift. She is innocent, even though there has been sadness in her life. We must protect that innocence at all costs, as long as she is with us.”

“Aww… Does that mean not making disquieting noises in the night?”

Griggin chuckled.

“How much willow bark was in that tea?”

Lenna grinned in the dark.

“Lots.”


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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