File GSB-057: Attraction

Lenna gently let Bieslook down onto the ground, then dismounted and collapsed the mechanostrider. She looked round the small town of Kharanos. It had been a while since she was here, running away from the Gnomeregan troubles, in a small cart containing all their possessions, not quite seeing eye to eye with the authorities. She put a hand on Bieslook’s hair. My goodness, the girl was going to need a haircut again. What were they feeding her, fertiliser? With a private sigh, Lenna walked into the tavern. She didn’t often go into such places anymore. Lenna walked up to the bar. She could smell the ale and wine. The barman put down the book he was reading and gave Lenna his friendly barman’s look.

“Good morning, love. What can I do for ye?”

“Tea, please, and a glass of apple juice for the little one.”

“Coming up.”

Lenna accepted her mug of tea, added milk and looked round. She didn’t spot any obvious mages.

“‘Scuse me?”

“Aye, lass?”

“Have you seen a Mage called Magis Sparkmantle here?”

The dwarf laughed. “Practic’ly lives here. If he stays any longer, I’ll start charging him rent. He’s usually up in the room to the right of the stairs, going out.”

“Right. Thanks. Coming Bies?”

 

“Uncle Eustace!”

The Gnome mage looked round, to see a little girl with a healthy pair of lungs barrel down towards him. Dropping his staff, he grabbed Bieslook under the arms and lifted her into the air. Lenna stood a way off, grinning.

“Eustace?”

Grand Master Wizard Trainer Eustace walked up to Lenna. He turned to Bieslook.

“Now my girl, I’ve told you. Nobody fears the dread mage Eustace. That’s why I call myself Magis. It’s more, what?”

“Sor-ce-rous,” said Bieslook.

“Precisely. Have you thought of a name yet?”

“Howl,” said Bieslook.

“Hmm. Good name, but isn’t that more of a boy’s name?”

Bieslook’s face fell.

“I liked it. I want a walking castle.”

“Oh well. Plenty of time, girl.”

He gently set Bieslook down on the ground.

“Good morning, Miss Greenhollow. It’s been a while.”

“Mrs. Steambender, these days, Teacher.”

“You’re married? Excellent! Grown all respectable then? There were times when I did despair.”

“Yeah,” said Lenna, not wishing to go into details.

“I heard about Vernon,” said Magis Sparkmantle. “I will miss him.”

“Yes. He sacrificed himself so that Bieslook could live.”

“I thought he might do something like that. They say that the difference between bravery and foolishness is timing. My brother did always have a good sense of timing.”

Lenna simply nodded, and said nothing.

“So Mrs. Steambender, what can I do for you?”

“Well, you’re Bieslook’s next of kin. So we thought, maybe she’d be better off with her family than with us.”

Magis Sparkmantle looked at his niece’s face, somewhat sticky from the apple juice but otherwise perfectly adorable. He shook his head.

“Our parents are no longer with us, and neither are Iris’. I think Iris had a brother, but I’m not sure little Bieslook even knows him, and I can’t take her in, really I can’t. I am to go into battle when we re-take Gnomeregan, and many times before that. It will be dangerous. Orphaning her yet again would be unhelpful.”

Lenna nodded.

“So apart from you, she has no family at all? Friends?”

Sparkmantle sighed, shook his head.

“Actually, looking at the two of you together, I don’t think she’d even want to leave.”

Bieslook’s eyes suddenly grew large as saucers.

“Leave? Do I have to leave?”

Lenna kneeled in front of Bieslook.

“Well, that’s why we went looking for Uncle Eustace, don’t you remember?”

“You want me to leave?”

“Well, no, but…”

Bieslook wailed. She buried her face in Lenna’s cloak and wrapped her arms round her middle, as far as she cold reach, clutching as hard as she could.

“Don’t want to leave!”

Magis Sparkmantle grinned at Lenna.

“What do you think her opinion is on the matter?”

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

“You don’t have to leave, sweetheart. You don’t have to.”

Bieslook sobbed.

“Don’t want to leave.”

Lenna gently, softly, put her fingers under Bieslook’s chin, looked into her eyes.

“You don’t have to.” Tears were in Lenna’s eyes. “You can stay with us as long as you like.”

Bieslook and Lenna looked at each other, Bieslook’s lips still trembling. A hand appeared between them, rattling a paper bag.

“Jelly-baby? You can have two if you want.”

“Thank you,” said Lenna and Bieslook together.


Trixie walked into the mess hall, popularly known as “The Trough”, steeling herself. She was certain, and things could only get worse if she waited too long. Her eyes searched for Barry. He wasn’t in the spot where he usually was. “I’m sorry, Barry, but I don’t think…” Oh damn. She’d never done this before. Let them off gently but firmly. She walked to the other end of the Trough.

She almost missed him. He was in a dark corner of the room. The reason she almost missed him was that he was staring deeply into the eyes of some blonde girl, talking to her in a low voice. Trixie’s jaw dropped.

“What by the Titans…”

Barry looked round at Trixie.

“Uh, what by the Titans?”

Trixie waved a hand in the general direction of the girl.

“What by the Titans is this?”

Barry frowned.

This, is a private conversation.”

“But… What about last night?”

“Well, what about last night? You had fun didn’t you?”

Trixie fell silent. Her eyes burnt.

“Oh come on,” said Barry. “Just because we did it once doesn’t mean you get to call yourself my girlfriend. I mean you’ve got nice tits and all, but I like girls who know their stuff, like Emily here.”

Trixie cast a quick glance at the creature. Her hand was behind Barry’s back. She looked up at Trixie and gave her a look that made Trixie’s knuckles itch. Trixie looked back at Barry.

“Look,” said Barry. “You were there, you were practically begging for it and I didn’t mind. Nobody else around. Easy as two and two.”

Trixie said nothing, for ten red hot seething seconds.

“Sod you and the ewe you rode in on.”

Barry laughed.

“That would be you?”

Barry never knew how close a brush with death he’d had that moment, but some things are too bad even to blow up about. As if a switch had been thrown, Trixie flicked from seething to deadly calm. She bent over to Barry so she could whisper in his ear.

“See you at sword practice.”

“Get lost, two-and-two.”


Lenna walked into Griggin’s shop, Bieslook in tow. Bieslook looked with gleaming eyes at the power-tools, hot pipes and sharp saws. Griggin lunged for her, sat down on a stool and pulled her onto his knee. He bounced her up and down, looking at Lenna.

“Found Magis Sparkmantle, then?”

Lenna nodded.

“What’d he say?”

“He said he was going to lead far too dangerous a life to take on a young girl. I think I believe him.”

Bieslook squirmed, looking at the pretty glow under Griggin’s lead melting crucible. Griggin pulled her closer.

“No other relatives?”

“Well, Magis hinted that she might have an uncle somewhere, on the Mother’s side. But she doesn’t know him.” Lenna looked into Griggin’s eyes. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I don’t want to give her up.”

Griggin looked down on Bieslook, who had, with impeccable timing, turned on her dreaded Aura of Cute. Griggin ruffled her hair.

“Do you think you can put up with us for a while longer?”

Bieslook cuddled up closer to Griggin. Griggin looked up at Lenna, held out his hand to her. Lenna sat down on Griggin’s other knee. She wrapped her arms round her husband and Bieslook at the same time. The only sound that was heard was the faint gurgling of water in the pipes, and the hissing of steam. Lenna looked into Griggin’s eyes.

“Sausage stew tonight. Don’t be late.”


Nix sat on his bed. A small lantern attached to the top bunk cast a gentle glow on the Embedded Writing and Drawing Surface on his knees. He was working on the blueprint for an unpickable lock. It was incredibly complex, which according to Dad usually meant that your design sucked. Nix didn’t let that discourage him. Designs should always be as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Without any warning, a pink whirlwind entered the room, blew up the ladder to the bunk above Nix and settled with a thump that made Nix’ light swing. Nix looked up at this unwelcome disturbance of his concentration.

“Oi! Easy! There’s people trying to work here!”

“Sod you. Leave me alone.”

Nix stared at the bed above him.

“Trix? What’s up?”

“I said leave me alone.”

Nix added two and two, and came up with Barry.

“Oh gods. Pothole on the road to bliss?”

“What part of ‘leave me alone’ don’t you understand?”

“Fair enough,” said Nix, and looked at his drawing, trying to catch the elusive idea in his head. His finger followed the lines. There was a thump above him. Nix looked up.

“Could you have a heartbreak quietly? This is complex stuff here.”

“Shut up.”

Nix looked back at his drawing, spotted a mistake and erased a few lines. Unfortunately, that meant that several parts were now floating in mid-air, supported by nothing. Damn.

“Bastard.”

Nix sighed, and rolled up his drawing. He put the Embedded Writing and Drawing Surface back in its place against the wall and lay back, eyes closed, bits of metal revolving in his mind. Great streams of Gloom came trickling down the wall. It would never work. It was all useless. A stupid idea in the first place. Nix sighed.

“I told you he was dodgy, didn’t I?”

“Shut up.”

“What’s he done?”

There was a rush of bedclothes above and Trixie’s face appeared.

“He’s dropped me for some little blonde floozie, that’s what.”

Nix shrugged. “Hope they’re happy together. Better off without him.”

“Sod you. If I’d known, I’d have dropped him before…”

Trixie stopped, rolled back onto her bed. Nix frowned.

“Before what?”

“Nothing.”

Nix stared into space.

“You didn’t,” he said. He thought again. “You did, didn’t you?”

“Mind your own business.”

“Suits me.”

Trixie’s face appeared again over the edge of the bed.

Don’t tell Mum and Dad.”

“Fine,” said Nix.

Trixie scowled. “And no weaseling by telling only Mum or Dad.”

“Oh, would I?”

“Yes.”

“Right, I will not tell anybody at all. Happy now?”

Trixie rolled back onto her back with a grunt. It was quiet for a moment.

“Thanks.”

Nix lay back with his hands behind his head. What if he put moving parts in the key itself? In the bed above, Trixie stirred again.

“I should never have gone to that damn quarry.”

“Quarry?”

“Sword practice on the Troggs there.”

Nix took a deep breath.

“You know, I’ve never seen the point in blowing up frogs. You have to blow into something you stick up a frog’s bum, it hurts the frog like hell, and as a reward, you have a round nearly dead frog.”

“It was stupid.”

Nix didn’t see the point in either arguing or agreeing.

“Cheap booze, too,” said Trixie.

“Always is,” said Nix. “That’s what you get with losers who can’t afford the good stuff.”

“Huh. He could, though. Too good to waste on the bumpkins, my foot.”

“Trix, not that I’m defending the git, but that’s no way of keeping out of trouble.”

Trixie’s voice sounded angry.

“I wasn’t trying to keep out of trouble. It’s just that he had to be such an arse about it afterwards.”

Nix said nothing. There was the rustle of bedclothes above as Trixie turned over.

“So all afternoon, he’s been finding other people to practice swords with. You’d almost think he didn’t want to play with me anymore.”

“Imagine that,” said Nix.

“Yeah. But he can’t run away forever. One of these days, there’s going to be nobody left to practice with but me.”

There was a rustle as Trixie rolled onto her back, glaring at the ceiling.

“And then,” she said, “I’ll hurt him.”


The Ironforge Gnomish Network for the Investigation of Thermal Energy stood in a semi-circle round their device. Its little wheel was spinning fast, and puffs of steam came out of the exhaust. They were all grinning at each other. Water from a large tank was being pumped down the shaft, down to where the rock was hot enough to boil it. Then, the steam would come back up through the second pipe, powering a normal steam engine. At the moment, that steam engine’s energy was mainly used to pump down more water, but their calculations showed that the efficiency of the machine would increase as they scaled up. For now, though, all they needed to keep the wheel spinning was water.

“Lady and Gentlemen,” said Griggin, “I think we have a proof of concept.”

Chint grinned. Just because he could, he’d put a steam whistle on the thing. He pulled the chain, and the shrill tones of the three-tone whistle filled the small cavern.

“That’s the signal for barrel time. First round is on me!”

Anton shook his head. “You all go. I’ve been up all night getting this ready, and I don’t feel up to partying. I think I’ll just take a few extra measurements, and head off.”

Nix, Chint Waterspray, Griggin and Beatrice walked to the pub, talking about their machine. Now that their designs had proven sound, they could expand their vision. It was only a matter of time before all of Ironforge would have hot and cold running water, thanks to the hard work of I.G.N.I.T.E.

“Well the King has to say yes,” said Nix. “And all he’ll ask is if it’s safe.”

“To which we’ll say that yes Sire, it certainly is,” said Beatrice. “There really isn’t anything that can go wrong. Mr. Stonehand’s drills are doing a great job. We can measure how deep we need to drill by sending a bottle of water down with the drill head. When the steam comes out, stop. Easy!”

“Yeah,” said Nix. “And when the red hot lava comes out, you know you should have stopped a few minutes ago.”

“Good point,” said Chint. “Remember people, the youngest member always operates the drills.” He put an arm round Nix’ shoulder. “That’ll get you lots of merit marks at your engineering classes.”

Nix always liked it when his elders put their arms round his shoulder. Griggin gave him a Look.

“Give it back, Nix.”

What?

“Whatever you took from Master Chint’s pocket.”

“Oh that’s not fair! What makes you think…”

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” said Griggin.

Nix scowled, and handed Chint his wallet back.

“Just practicing, Sir.”

Chint stared, took back his wallet and walked a few steps away from Nix. Beatrice giggled, and bent over Nix. She was wearing a rather low-cut blouse.

“I don’t have my purse with me, but I won’t expect you to believe that. Feel free to search me.”

Nix turned red up to his ears and fled.

 

It was rather late when Mr. Firebrew finally turfed them out and they stood outside the Stonefire Tavern. Nix had a happy smile on his face, and was swaying on his legs. Chint was yawning. Griggin had allowed himself two pints of Thunderbrew, then switched to non-alcoholics. Demons make short work of drunken Warlocks, and a rampaging Voidwalker would quite have spoiled the evening. Beatrice was leaning against the wall, with her eyes closed. She slowly opened them and looked at each of her companions in turn.

“That wine was nice,” she said. “I may have had a glass or two too many.”

“Bottle,” said Chint.

“Same difference,” said Beatrice.

“Well, I’m off home,” said Chint. “Remember Bee, lots and lots of water before you go to sleep.”

“Pff! I’m an experienced lush. I laugh in the face of hangovers.”

Griggin looked at Beatrice, a worried look on his face. The woman looked like she’d end up in a ditch if she tried to go home on her own. The problem was that some of the ditches here were filled with molten rock. He waved Nix to him, and whispered in his ear.

“Can you make it home without me? I may have to assist Mrs. Glowpipe home.”

Nix looked at his father.

“‘m Not drunk,” he said. “What makes you think I can’t find my way home?”

“I can count,” said Griggin. “Three point four pints is one above your usual maximum. However, Mrs. Glowpipe may have exceeded her considerable maximum by a much higher margin.”

“Don’worry,” said Nix. “Wan’me to tell Mum where you’re off to?”

“If you would,” said Griggin.

Griggin half led, half carried Beatrice home. She leaned up against him, and Griggin could feel the heat of her body. Her face was flushed, and her long, light brown hair fell in waves over her shoulders, and in front of her eyes. She looked up at Griggin and smiled.

“I don’t usually do this,” said Beatrice, “But tonight is special.”

“Really?”

“Yeah! We cracked it! We can make steam, darling! We can make the waters flow hot and cold!”

“We certainly can,” said Griggin. He made some quick mental calculations. It should take him five and a half minutes to get this woman home and hand her over to her husband. He could do that. Beatrice stumbled, and Griggin had to grab her to keep her upright. She giggled, and grabbed his arm.

“Oh Griggin, where would I be without you?”

Good question, thought Griggin. They walked into Beatrice’s street, and up to the stairs. Beatrice looked up at the stairs, and leaned back into Griggin.

“Oh boy,” she said. “Here we go.”

Beatrice took a few steps up the stairs, then swayed on her feet. Griggin jumped forward, took her by the shoulders and gave a mighty push. He frowned. He wasn’t built for this kind of work. He had his Demonic personnel to get physical. He had lifting equipment in his workshop. You’d need some kind of chair on a rail to transport incapacitated people up the stairs. Or, you could simply avoid getting smashed. Counting the number of bottles you consumed was what the ancient Gods had invented mathematics for, after all. They managed somehow to get to the top of the stairs, and Beatrice leaned her head against the door, fumbling for her keys. She opened the door.

“Wanna come in for a minute?”

Griggin opened his mouth to say ‘no’. Beatrice’s eyes looked back at him, moist.

“Please?”

Griggin took a breath, and followed her inside.

“Is Anton asleep already?”

Beatrice looked over her shoulder.

“Probably not,” she said. She walked into the room. There was the hiss of gas and the clicking of the lighting mechanism, and with a little pop, the gas light came on. Griggin looked round. There was no sign of Mr. Glowpipe.

“He won’t be back till early in the morning,” said Beatrice.

Griggin looked at Beatrice’s face. There was no anger in that look. The anger had long since gone. If there had been shouting, fighting, that, too, had long since spent itself. Only a lingering sadness remained. Griggin looked away, embarrassed.

“Hey.”

Beatrice gave Griggin a little smile.

“I have to confess something.”

“Confess?”

Beatrice walked slowly up to Griggin.

“I’m not as drunk as I looked back there.”

“Um,” said Griggin. That seemed to cover it.

She was very, very close now. Her eyes were dark brown, glowing at him with a fierce light. She put her hands on Griggin’s shoulders, then round his neck. She pulled him closer, closing her eyes. Griggin raised his hand between them. Beatrice opened her eyes. Her hand was on Griggin’s hair, fingers moving slowly. Griggin shook his head.

“Please?”

“I can’t,” said Griggin. “I don’t want to.”

Beatrice’s eyes became moist.

“Just this once,” she whispered.

“No.”

“I won’t tell. Honestly. I just want to feel someone’s arms round me again. Feel wanted. I don’t want to sleep alone. Not tonight.”

Griggin gently put his hand on Beatrice’s cheek.

“I wish I could help you. But I can’t.”

“Why not, damn it. Anton wouldn’t mind even if I did tell him. He can hardly complain.”

“Lenna,” said Griggin. “Lenna would mind. It would destroy her.”

“So don’t tell her. What she doesn’t know, can’t hurt her.”

“I have known her since I began to live. She would know. I would know, and that would be enough.”

“What are you afraid of? That she’d shoot fireballs at you?”

Griggin’s face became hard as stone. He dropped his hands by his side.

“I’m not afraid of Lenna’s fireballs. What I’m most afraid of is the look in her eyes when I’d tell her. Her fireballs would be a mercy after that. I will not. I cannot.” Griggin briefly closed his eyes. “I must go.” He turned round to leave.

“Hey.”

Griggin looked round. Beatrice had dropped her blouse to the floor, and stood there, half naked, looking at Griggin. Griggin shook his head sadly.

“I know,” said Beatrice. “Just wanted you to know what you’re missing.”

“You’re beautiful,” said Griggin. “You deserve to be loved. But you’re not mine, and I’m married. Good night, Beatrice.”


Griggin softly walked into the bedroom, to find Lenna sprawled all over the bed, arms wide, asleep. He looked down on her. There was only about a quarter of the bed left. Try as he might, there was no way that he could curl up in such a small space. He dropped his clothes neatly on the chair, and gently took hold of Lenna’s arm, trying to roll her over. She snorted in a most un-ladylike manner and woke up, grinned at Griggin.

“Oh look what the cat dragged in! Honestly Mr. Steambender. All-night boozing and womanising? I’d expect better of you.”

Griggin sighed, and got in bed with her. He moved up close behind her, put his arms round her and pulled her to him. Lenna wriggled her bottom, but Griggin seemed a bit distracted.

“Lenna?”

“Hmm?”

“I am very glad I have you.”

“And me. What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“O good. Something’s up with Trixie, though. She looks like one long streak of misery.”

“Oh? Any idea what it can be?”

“Not a clue. Problems of the heart, trouble at school, general feelings of unpleasantness. Anything. But I will find out.”

Griggin nodded, and wrapped his arms round Lenna in precisely the way that they fit so well, pressed his cheek against her hair.

“Good night, lief.”

“Good night.”


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

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: