Heroes And Fools
Margaret Weis,Janet Pack,Miranda Horner,Giles Custer,Tod Fahnestock,Jeff Grubb, Nancy Varian Berberick,Paul B. Thompson,Kevin James Kage, Nick O’Donohoe, Linda P. Baker, Richard A. Knaak, Jean Rabe,Douglas Niles,Roger E. Moore,Don Perrin
The proprietor of the Crossroads Inn looked nervous. He had good reason. Besides his regular noon patrons and the usual handful of strangers in his establishment, there were also eight Dark Knights and a kender. The regulars and guests sat to the left in loose knots around small tables, whispering to each other and throwing furtive glances toward the dark forces; the Knights lounged around a trestle board to the right, intently listening to their leaders; and the kender roamed the bar, occasionally bursting forth in song in a voice rendered seventeen times louder than normal by the amount of dwarven spirits he’d imbibed.
The innkeeper shook his balding head. Not an auspicious day, although the ale the Knights were drinking had lent an extra jingle to his money drawer. He wiped down the bar with a damp rag, making a detour around the kender who had finally fallen asleep with head curled on his arms. He tried not to listen to scraps of conversation, especially those coming from Takhisis’s troop.
“We need to post notices for maps of this area,” Khedriss Mennarling, commander of the strike force of Dark Knights, was saying. “A good target is rumored nearby. If these rumors prove to be true, then we will have the test we require.”
The kender stirred groggily. “Mapsh?” he muttered into the bar, his pronunciation still under the influence of dwarven spirits.
“The reconnaissance will take time,” continued Thrane Gunnar, burly second-in-command of the troop. “So we’ll need to be patient. Luck will be as important as a good map. Maps with information this specific are not common.” The big man’s eyes glittered maliciously as he happened to connect looks with the merchant seated nearest him. His rusty-hinge voice rattled the windows. “You have an interest in our business?”
Everyone in the room tensed. The merchant looked away immediately, shaking his balding head. “No. No interest,” he squeaked.
“Good,” replied Gunnar. “Make sure it stays that way.” He surveyed the rest of the patrons for a challenge. No one met his eyes.
“I got mapsh.” Suddenly motivated, the kender swung up onto the bar and danced across it singing:
I know of the boojum, boojum, monster of the glade.
It swings a club made of a tree, and is silent on its raid.
It has a treasure ages old laid up within its cave.
And it laughs a great and rumbly laugh as it guides you to your grave. . ulp!
Thanks to Gunnar’s swift muscular reach, the small being found himself suddenly sitting in the middle of the Dark Knights’ table, surrounded by eight calculating glares.
“Let’s find out what he knows,” said Mennarling. “Hold him, Drethon.”
Firm hands closed about the kender’s upper arms. He squinted at the fingers, but couldn’t believe that pale sausages possessed such strength.
“Even if he knows nothing, we can have some fun with him,” growled Gunnar, slapping the captive hard enough to make his ears ring. “He’s probably not worth our time. Kender only take up space that can be occupied by better people.” He leaned toward the short creature, threatening. “What’s this boojum you’re singing about, and where does it live?”
“Hi, my name’s Thistleknot Tangletoe.” With his eyes slightly crossed, the kender thought the Dark Knights looked truly peculiar. Thistleknot tried to fix his sight by pulling at the corners of his eyes, but it didn’t work.
“What? Oh, yesh, the boojum. Well, it’s huge and furry, and very fierce. Everybody knows that.” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “An’ everybody knows its favorite dessert ish kender. More’s the compliment!”
One of Mennarling’s eyebrows cocked. “Where is this legendary beast?”
“Oh, you’re close, it’s right around thish area. Thash why the trade route changed. There washn’t much left of a certain caravan after the last boojum raid, so they moved the road south. The old way runs deep in the forest. No one ‘ardly goes there anymore.”
Gunnar rumbled, “Do you happen to have a map?”
“I thought you’d never askh!” caroled Thistleknot, reaching for a bulging pouch and spreading out a beautifully detailed parchment. “We’re right here, at the Crossroadsh Inn.” His finger wobbled. “The boojum haunts thish vicinity.” They could see it was not far away, labeled simply “Boojum” in red, underlined twice. “The ‘X’ marks its cave. An’ you gotta be careful when you get there.” He brought his fingers to his lips and whispered. Mennarling leaned forward slightly to hear and to examine the tiny but precise printing. “There are lots and lots of trapsh!”
Mennarling looked at Gunnar. “Can we trust him?”
“Kender maps are some of the best on Krynn.”
“Is the monster real, or just a legend, though? You come from this area, Relthas. What say you?”
The woman warrior considered. “As I told you, I’ve heard of this boojum all my life, sir. It may be legend, but things have happened to livestock and people that have never been thoroughly explained. Piles of bones have been found next to trails. Persons have disappeared. Sometimes the bodies are found with expressions suggesting they died of fright. I’ve never seen it,” she said slowly, “but I, for one, believe the boojum does exist.”
Tangletoe danced next to the map. “I know of the boo-jum, boojum-” he started to sing. Drethon silenced him with a cuff to the ear.
Mennarling nodded, satisfied, and rose. “Then it is decided. This boojum will become the test subject for Her Dark Majesty’s new death machine. We’ve saved a lot of time by discovering this kender and his map.” He threw a few coins on the table, grabbed up the chart, turned toward the door, and added, “If boojums like kender so much, bring this one along for bait.”
“Heeeyyyyyyy!” Thistleknot howled as Drethan hauled him backward off the table by collar and belt. When the Dark Knight shifted his grip, however, Tangletoe scooted for the portal, leaving a ragged piece of collar in Drethan’s hand.
“Stop him!” boomed Gunnar.
Thistleknot managed to dodge the only Dark Knight between him and the outside. He skidded across the porch and raced toward a hand-drawn cart with a big closely swathed burden, the only refuge in sight despite being guarded by three-no, four-humans.
Tangletoe dove beneath the canvas, instantly intrigued by his whereabouts. He worked his hands beneath the ropes at the largest end. “Metal,” he muttered. “Heavy. It’sh bigger’n me. Wonder if it’s hollow. Whatsh thish, writing? Too dark. Wunnder what it shays? Yeoww!”
One of the guards had him by his heels and dragged him out. “We’ve got him,” he announced to the rest of the Dark Knights as they charged from the inn.
Gunnar grinned through large, square teeth. Mennarling nodded. Tangletoe tried to duck but was too slow. Gunnar’s fist slammed into his chin, and the kender saw multicolored stars.
“Boootiful,” he managed to say, and knew no more.
Tangletoe awoke abruptly, his sense of being in a different place than before tingling along his nerves. Blearily he tried to think where he had been and where he was going. Certain clues presented themselves to his