Jeff Crook



Although the events described in this report are true, the dialogue has been slowed to protect the sanity of the reader.

— The Literary Treasures and

Racial Heritage Guild of Mount Nevermind



As they strolled along the strand, the gnome in the red jumpsuit with gold braids on the sleeves led the way with a purposeful (if short-legged) stride. The other two-a shorter gnome similarly dressed, and a green-vested kender-followed behind, delighting each other by singing the opposing parts in the accidental decapitation scene of the gnomish opera In the Hall of the Mountain Dwarf, otherwise known as The Nibelugnut. The shorter gnome roared the role of Turpidus, the dwarf toolmaker, while the kender’s shrill (though not unlovely) tones told of the dismay of the lovely and hapless Jadander as the vegetable polisher escapes her control and careens through the marketplace of Thorbardin.

“Thy hand, Jadander?” Turpidus laments as his bearded head wags free of his neck. “Oh! Lay me in the earth.”

The shorter gnome was dressed like his fellow-a tight red jumpsuit of close-knit material, with gold braids circling the cuffs, and the Tarbrush-and-Bilgepump symbol of the Maritime Sciences Guild sewn over his left breast pocket. He differed from the taller gnome only in his height, the amount of white hair on his rather bulbous head, and the variety of things protruding from the dozen or so pockets covering every available inch of free space on his jumpsuit. Where his companion’s pockets were nearly empty, except for a small, clever whistle neatly outlined on his right buttocks as he walked, the shorter gnome’s pockets were bulging with scrolls, papers, parchments, quills, pens, compasses, as well as what appeared to be an astrolabe.

The kender wore a pair of faded yellow leggings tucked into his boots and a furry green vest, which he asserted was made from the hide of a behemoth. As he strode bouncingly along, his kender throat warbling with Jadander’s lamentations, he absentmindedly spun the inevitable weapon of the kender race-a hoopak staff. Its copper-shod tip glinted circles in the light of the westering sun, now beginning its descent toward the ocean.

Ahead rose the dry, rocky hills of northern Sancrist Isle, and beyond the hills, a single mountain: Mount Nevermind, home of the gnomes of western Krynn.

Their path along the beach did not lead toward the mountain. It led instead toward a pile of black boulders that split the beach like a wall, from the hills down into the surf, and around which the turbid ocean crashed and foamed. Tiny red crabs danced along the flat wet edges of the surf, back and forth, back and forth, waving their big pinchers over their backs.

Jadander’s solo having come to an end, the kender immediately launched into a frighteningly realistic imitation of a gnomish bladder horn playing the old sailor’s ditty “Merry It Is,” but only a few ear-shattering notes into his tune, his voice trailed off into a sigh of wonder. His companions stopped, and the shorter gnome pointed toward the distant rocks.

From beyond the black, seaweed-draped boulders shot a small dark object, roughly spherical and trailing a beard of fire. They heard a faint roar, like a great army cheering its champion as he rides out to deliver a challenge. The object scribed a perfect parabola out over the surging waves and fell with a thunderous splash a quarter mile out to sea. A little puff of steam marked the place where it fell. The cheering passed into groans of disappointment, which eventually tapered off into the percussion noises of hammers and the sighing of saws.

“There they are,” the shorter gnome stated, lowering his hand. The three started forward again, but without musical accompaniment.

They continued along the beach, the taller gnome in the lead, his compatriot immediately behind him, the green-vested kender bringing up a meandering rear guard. The kender strayed this way and that to inspect an unusually shaped bit of driftwood, chase a red crab, or pick up a seashell and drop it into one of his bulging pouches.

“Is there any buried treasure along this beach?” he asked as they neared the boulders amid the continuing sounds of construction.

“No,” the lead gnome answered.

“How do you know? Have you searched? There might have been pirates once…”

“There are no pirates in these waters,” the taller gnome answered without turning. His thin white hair stirred restlessly in the wind as he walked.

“Smugglers, then,” the kender pressed, “or shipwrecks.”

“Actually, we don’t allow shipwrecks along this shore any longer,” the shorter gnome explained. “We’ve sunk a variety of safety precautions into the seabed offshore, which should prevent any future disasters.”

The hammering and sawing stopped, and with a much louder cheer, another dark flaming object climbed heavenward beyond the boulders. This one was bigger, and scribed a higher, grander curve against the sky before it, too, crashed into the sea a quarter mile out. The cheers tapered off into groans. Soon came more hammering and sawing.

Where the enormous black boulders marched down into the surf, the beach narrowed to less than fifty paces from the stony feet of the hills to the water at low tide. The sand here was smooth, flat, wet from the receding tide and the constant spray from the boulders, and made for easy walking. The sounds of hammering and sawing echoed noisily from the cliffs beyond the black rocks.

Suddenly, two black-armored warriors appeared from between a pair of boulders. By the skull designs on their armor and on the horses” tack and barding, they appeared to be Knights of Neraka. Formerly known as Knights of Takhisis, they were the evil counterparts to the noble and goodly Knights of Solamnia. They spurred their horses directly at the three companions, their faces twisted into hideous grins. The two gnomes quickly scuttled crabwise out of the way, dragging the reluctant kender with them, while the horses thundered past, flinging gouts of wet sand from their hooves, and galloped off into the distance, vanishing around a bend in the coastline.

The kender lay on the wet sand staring after the Knights before finally rising and brushing off his elbows. “You’d think they were trying to trample us on purpose,” he said. He settled his pouches about his waist and picked up his hoopak from where it had been smashed into the sand by a heavy, iron-shod hoof.

“They mostly don’t even notice we are here,” the shorter gnome said. “Mostly.”

“Except when they want something from us,” the other added grimly as they continued on their way.

Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that the black boulders, which had appeared from a distance to be almost touching, were in fact widely separated, with numerous small tidal pools lying between them. The hoof- prints of the Knights” horses were plainly visible in the sand, as were the thousands of faint, spindly prints of the hundreds of birds-mostly plovers, spoonbills and waders-now working the pools.

But what most interested the three, drawing gasps of delight from the kender and nods of approval from the gnomes, was the scene spreading beyond the boulders. The hills drew back from the beach and climbed ever higher. This left a wide, sandy bay, like a great amphitheater, walled on the northern side by tall cliffs that were home to many thousands of gulls. Hundreds of gnomes could be seen scurrying all over this beach and the surrounding hillsides, some dragging freshly cut trees down from the hills, others hauling barrels from a ship

Вы читаете Conundrum
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату