Friday, November 27, 2009

The Other Slipper

This story was one of Ashley's favorites. The editor of Sein und Werden also liked it enough to contact me a few months after initially rejecting it, asking if it was still available for her fairy tale themed issue.

The Grand Duke sat in the drawing room of the chateau, pretending to doze, while the hideous Tremayne daughters grackled like gulls over a crust of bread. The lovely young maiden he’d expected to find at this house hadn’t arrived, and he’d begun to suspect Lady Tremayne of hiding her. Not that he would dare accuse the minor noblewoman of anything so uncouth as kidnapping. Still, he suspected that she suspected he suspected her. Even so, he didn’t allow his mounting nervousness to show, instead feigning a regal ennui, while all the while his insides drew up like a tax collector’s purse.

To give himself breathing room, he had already read the entire proclamation, though that certainly wasn’t necessary, and now he was allowing the daughters all the time in the world to try to squeeze their enormous flapping feet into the tiny slipper. He was rapidly losing hope that the girl he’d come to find would ever show. This didn’t change the fact that he simply couldn’t leave without her – it was more than his life was worth.

Lady Tremayne stood nearby, smiling obsequiously and watching him narrowly. The daughters fought like baboons over the shoe, while the Grand Duke nodded and made snoring sounds in the armchair. What would he do if she didn’t show? He’d be ruined. Exiled! Or worse!

“Drusilla dear, give Anastasia a chance,” Lady Tremayne said in her soft, oily voice.

“But she’s already had her chance! Now it’s my turn!” Mme. Drusilla screeched like a fishwife.

“Quietly, girls,” Lady Tremayne admonished. “You’ll wake His Grace.”

Finally, one of the girls nearly broke the precious slipper, causing the Grand Duke to leap out of the chair in alarm. And so, of course, he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He reluctantly prepared to depart. Hobbs the footman rushed to open the door for him. Once beyond that portal, all his careful plans would come crashing down. He felt the door was opening upon a prison cell rather than the bright morning air. He paused with his foot upon the threshold and turned.

“You are the only ladies in the household, I presume?” he asked hopelessly.

“There’s no one else, Your Grace,” Lady Tremayne responded smoothly.

He sighed in resignation. His failure would likely cost him his head. “Quite so. Good day,” he said, stalling a moment longer, searching the room one last time, praying she might be hiding behind a tattered tapestry. “Good Day,” he repeated and turned to go.

And then he heard her familiar lilting voice calling to him from the top of the stairs. “Your Grace! Your Grace! Wait!” she cried as she hurried down. “May I try it on?”

Masking his relief with a haughty demeanor, the Grand Duke strode toward the stair. Lady Tremayne looked aghast, but quickly recovered. “Oh, pay no attention to her. She’s only the scullery maid,” she said as she stepped into His Grace’s path.

“Madame, my orders were to interview every maiden!” the Duke said petulantly and pushed by her.

“Come my child,” he said to the lovely young girl now descending the stairs toward him. She was blond, angelic, barefoot and dressed in shameful rags. One glance at her dainty feet and tiny pink toes and he thought his heart would stop.

At a sign from the Grand Duke, Hobbs the footman rushed forward with the slipper. But Lady Tremayne, in a final act of desperation, cruelly stuck out her walking stick and tripped him as he passed. The slipper tumbled through the air and smashed into a thousand pieces on the marble floor at the foot of the stairs.

“Oh no!” the Duke cried, seeing all his plans smashed into as many tiny shards as the glass slipper. “The king! What will he say?”

Lady Tremayne smiled in grim satisfaction.

“But perhaps, if it would help…” the girl began.

“No, no! Nothing can help now,” the Duke wept as he picked up the fragments of the slipper and clutched them to his breast, almost forgetting himself in his grief. “Nothing!”

“But you see, I have the other slipper,” the girl said as she removed a tiny glass shoe from the pocket of her tattered apron.

The Grand Duke leaped to his feet, took the slipper from the maid’s hand, and guided it onto her tiny outstretched foot. It fit as though made for her. Lady Tremayne gasped in surprise. Mmes. Drusilla and Anastasia burst into anguished tears.

“Oh, no!” they wept. “Not her!”

The Grand Duke was saved! “Come with me, my child, at once,” he shouted joyfully. “Away, to the castle! The prince and the king await!”

Hobbs the footman took the slipper as the Duke lifted the barefoot young woman over the shards of the first broken slipper and danced with her to the door. The Tremayne girls cried like a pair of peacocks hanging upside-down while being beaten with buggy whips. Lady Tremayne clutched at her throat as though all the air had been sucked from the room.

The Duke set the beautiful young maid on her feet outside the door. She turned and looked back at her step mother and two step sisters. “Goodbye, Step Mother,” she said sweetly. “I shan’t ever forget you.”

Taking her by the hand, the Duke led her to his waiting carriage – a small, black four wheeler with a pair of restless white horses in silver harness. Hobbs rushed ahead to open the door for them, while the driver lifted the reins and smiled as though at some secret joke. The Duke and the maid climbed into the carriage. Hobbs handed the slipper to the Duke, closed the door, and climbed on behind. The driver cracked his whip and the carriage lurched into motion.

Cinderella looked back at the chateau where she’d spent her entire miserable life, and at the three people who had made her entire life so miserable. They stood at the door, the sisters loudly blaming each other and exchanging frightful thudding bare-knuckled blows. Lady Tremayne stared after Cinderella as though she suspected the girl of arranging the whole unlikely affair.

Cinderella sank back in the soft cushions of the carriage seat and propped her feet in the Duke’s lap. “Christ, I’m glad that’s over,” she sighed. “Do you know, the bitch actually locked me in the tall tower! I was sure she recognized me in that dress last night.”

“But that was a brilliant stroke, Cindy, pulling out the second slipper when the old bat tripped Hobbs and broke the first one. I could have murdered her then, I swear to God,” the Duke said as he massaged Cinderella’s dainty pink toes. “Hobbs really is a clumsy oaf. I shall have him hanged when we get home.”

Cinderella glanced around at the inside of the carriage, frowning. “Why are you riding around in this ratty old heap? Where is your carriage?”

“Still being repainted,” the Duke said. “We could hardly drive up in that white-and-gold monstrosity from last night. People might suspect our collusion.”

As the Grand Duke sat with Cinderella’s feet in his lap, he recalled the first time he’d seen her – barefoot and lovely, walking through the market with a new mop, a string of louts stumbling over their tongues behind her. She was enchanting to behold, even amidst such squalor. But more than her exquisite beauty, her dainty feet were what truly captured his heart and his imagination, the way the mud squeezed between her toes, the shapely curve of her ankle.

He’d ordered his coachman to follow her at a safe distance until they were well outside the village. On a lonely stretch of road leading up to her family chateau, they’d caught up to her. The Duke offered her a ride and she’d accepted with a shy smile. A perfect picture of innocence, childlike and pure, she’d climbed inside and sat down with the mop between her mud-spattered legs.

But she, of course, had seen through the Duke from the very beginning, taken the measure of him and guessed at his most secret desires. “Take me for a ride,” she’d said even before the carriage set off. “I don’t want to go home right away.”

“Won’t your mother be worried?” he’d asked.

“My mother is dead. I live with my Step Morther. But I don’t care. All she can do is beat me when I get home,” she’d said with a sigh. “She’ll do that no matter when I arrive.”

“Your step mother beats you, child?”

“Every day,” she’d said. “My step sisters, too. I wouldn’t mind so much, if only they were pretty. For you see, they make me undress first. My wicked step mother believes that sin is best driven out when the sinner stands naked as Eve beside the Tree of Knowledge with the fruit still upon her lips, ashamed and exposed.”

The Duke had sat up at this news, his mind whirling. He had rapped the roof of the carriage and shouted directions to the coachman.

They’d gone to the deer park behind the castle. The old king never hunted there anymore and the prince was away at school. And as Cinderella crouched there on all fours on the floor of his grand coach with her bedraggled skirt flung up over her back, she’d whispered huskily into his ear, “Oh Dooky Dooky, tish I’m tea.” And he’d gone mad, simply mad, promising her anything, everything within his power.

They planned the whole thing that night, right there in the coach in the middle of the deer park, surrounded by trees and rutting deer. Mostly, Cinderella had planned it, with here and there a suggestion from the Duke. The glass slippers, especially, had been her idea. But for the most part, she wasn’t sure how or even if the Duke could pull it off, not until last night when the dress and slippers arrived at the back door, with a note saying that a coach and four would pick her up after her step mother had departed.

“What are we going to tell everyone now?” the Duke asked as Cinderella dug her toes into his crotch. He squirmed with delight and lightly stroked her trim ankles.

“People are suckers for romance and magic,” she laughed. “We’ll tell them my fairy godmother visited me, fixed me up with the coach and four, footman, coachman, dress and slippers. That I had to leave the ball before the stroke of midnight because that’s when the magic spell would end. And that I lost a slipper as I fled.”

“They’ll never believe it,” the Duke said.

“Oh, but they will, Dooky dear. People love fairy tales, gobble them up by the bookload. Every scullery maid from here to Provence dreams of being carried away by a handsome prince. By tomorrow night, they’ll be singing my story throughout the kingdom – but only if you tell them, dear sweet Dooky of mine. You’re my fairy godmother.”

“Fairy godmother indeed!” the Duke laughed thoughtfully.

Digging her toes deeper into the Duke’s pants, Cinderella continued, “The king did as I expected, ordering you to find the maiden who wore the slipper and declaring that she would marry the prince. That was the whole point of my leaving the slipper behind.”

“I see it now, though at the time, I wondered why you insisted on glass slippers,” the Duke said.

“Glass slippers can’t be stretched. And who else in the kingdom has feet as small as mine?”

“Or as delicious?” the Duke groaned in delight. “Besides, the prince is simply mad about you, can’t live without you, he says. So you’re set.”

“That’s another thing that worried me, Dooky,” Cinderella said. This pet name of hers gave the Duke a wonderful tickly feeling inside. He pressed himself against her probing toes and she smiled. “How in heaven’s name did you know the prince would fall for me? Everything hinged on that, and to be honest, I had my doubts.”

“Well, you are a lovely girl, my child,” the Duke said a bit breathlessly. “But if I may be so bold, I happen to know that the prince and I share a… particular fancy,” he said.

Cinderella raised her foot and twinkled her pert, fleshy digits before the Duke’s nose. “These?” she giggled.

“Indeed!” the Duke sighed lustily. His tongue darted out and briefly probed between her toes. “That’s another reason why the glass slippers were so perfect. I knew as soon as the prince caught sight of your marvelous toes, he wouldn’t be able to resist.” He slurped her big toe into his mouth and sucked it greedily.

“Oh, those horrible slippers! I couldn’t get out of them soon enough. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy dropping that slipper on the stair so it looked like an accident. I thought I was going to pull the damn thing off.” She extracted her toe from his mouth like a cork from a bottle, then returned her foot to his lap. He stiffened in his seat and bit his lower lip. His monocle dropped from his eye. “Even so, the Prince might have chosen another girl before I even arrived at the ball. There must be a hundred girls in the kingdom with small feet,” Cinderella said.

“Thankfully, yes, though none so tiny or so fine. I must confess, I resorted to magic, my love,” the Duke said shudderingly. “Before the ball, I slipped the prince a love potion infused with your pubic hair. Just to make doubly sure this would work.”

“Oh Dooky!” Cinderella shrieked. “I wondered what you wanted with that! I thought it was just another of your silly fancies.”

“I love it when you call me Dooky, Cindy,” the Duke sighed.

“And I love you, Dooky dear. Once more unto the breach, before I’m married? For old time’s sake?”

He nodded and rapped his knuckles on the roof of the carriage. “To the deer park!” he shouted.

Cinderella slipped out of her skirt, while the Duke unbuttoned his trousers. She untied her apron and flung it on the seat. The Duke leaned back to watch her while he fondled himself. She ripped her blouse apart so that the cheap buttons popped in every direction. One struck him on the monocle with a tiny tik.

“I won’t need that anymore,” she giggled and flung the tattered blouse out the window of the moving carriage.

“Put on the apron, my dear,” the Duke said. “It becomes you.”

She obliged with a sly smile, then resumed her seat across from him, settling her long blond hair so that it lay across her small, pert breasts. She picked up the glass slipper, considered it a moment, then hung it from his noble rod of office.

“It’s yours,” she said. “A gift from me to thee.”

“Thank you, my princess,” he sighed.


In the years to come, Princess Cinderella never forgot the Grand Duke and all he’d done for her. Neither did she forget her step mother, the Lady Tremayne, or the shrill harpies that were her step sisters, Drusilla and Anastasia. The story of her ill treatment at their hands had already spread far and wide by the time her honeymoon was over. But everyone was amazed at Cinderella’s generosity and kindness, for she always made sure that the Lady Tremayne and her two wretched daughters were invited to the very best parties and balls.

T’was not kindness that inspired Cinderella to place them at the top of her invitation list. Well she knew that Lady Tremayne had spent the last penny of her father’s fortune years ago and could ill afford the expensive dresses and jewelry required of those invited to the castles and chateaus of the kingdom’s nobles. Cinderella made sure that only a pittance of the allowance the king allotted to Lady Tremayne, as a royal cousin of the princess, ever found its way into her grasping claws. Instead, every Christmas she sent the lion’s share of Lady Tremayne’s allowance to the Grand Duke, wrapped up in a bundle along with a generous supply of her own soiled underwear. Mme. Drusilla and Mme. Anastasia grew ever more hideous as the unkind years passed, and they never married – Cindy made sure of that as well. And so at each party the three Tremayne women arrived wearing patched rags and paste jewels, and the entire kingdom thought Cinderella a saint for inviting them.

But Lady Tremayne knew, even if her idiot daughters didn’t, that Cinderella’s kindness was the cruelest punishment of all.

© 2007 Jeff Crook

Friday, November 06, 2009

Across World Bubbles - Le Grande Finale

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

"And that is exactly how it happened," Tasslehoff said as he leaned across the bar at The Inn of the Last Home in Solace. His very dear friend, Tanis Halfelven, smiled into his beard and tried very hard not to laugh out loud. But Caramon, another of Tas' dear friends, could not control himself. He roared right in the kender's indignant face.

"It's true, every bit of it!" Tas complained. "The Mouser's lightning bolt struck the iron rod and suddenly I found myself sliding across a cellar in the castle of Lord Gunthar uth Wistan. I crashed into a rack of crystal flagons. You should have seen the look on Wills the butler's face. I thought he was going to explode.

"So after I left Lord Gunthar's castle - he was very sorry to see me go, by the way - I made my way to Mount Nevermind and returned the boots of speeding to Delorianiusian, their gnomish inventor. Then I came straight home, only stopping once in Palanthas to visit Lady Crysania. She invited me to tea."

"I'm sure she did," Caramon snickered.

"And these boots," Tanis said. "The gnomes invented them and they actually worked?"

"Not exactly," Tas said with a slight blush. "It was probably my fault, but I was supposed to be able to travel at the speed of sound. I always wanted to hear what I sounded like, so I thought I could say something, then rush around in front of it to see how it sounded. And I actually did get to hear my own voice - in Ninguable's cave, only I think the rocks did something to my voice because my voice is really much deeper than that. Isn't it? Anyway, the boots needed an additional boost of energy to work and that's why I had to get struck by lightning and how I ended up in Lankhmar adventuring with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser."

Le Finis

Across World Bubbles - Pt 8

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

By a slim shaft of light shining from the black lantern at his knees, Mouser examined the run sent to him by his wizardly mentor, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. Although he prided himself on his sorcerous skills, the Mouser hadn't the first clue what spell reading the rune might unleash. That it must be a spell of tremendous might and power, he had no doubt, else Sheelba wouldn't have bothered him with it.

He only paused for a moment to wonder about Ninguable's vague warning against it. These two archmagi, Ninguable and Sheelba, were great and ancient enemies in all things magical, insanely jealous and suspicious of one another, and forever trying to out do the other in the placing of impossible geas and quest burdens upon Fafhrd and himself. He knew the wisdom of never ignoring one of Ning's warnings, particularly since a maddening premonition of disaster had come upon him less than an hour ago. So strong was his premonition that he would almost have broken the rune tablet across his knee, were he not even more curious than frightened to try it out.

Hearing shouting voices and a cry of pain, the Mouser glanced around the chimney behind which he hid in time to see a peculiar line of fire streaking across the rooftop toward him. "Vile sorcery!" he hissed as he gripped his rune. "Best to battle sorcery with sorcery."

At the same time, he heard Fafhrd bellow, "Now, Mouser! Now!"

He threw open the grate on his black lantern and shone the shaft of light full on the magical tablet in his hand, and in a sonorous voice that made even his neck-hairs prickle, he intoned the rune inscribed thereon. It began to twist and flame, sparkle and bedazzle (a sure sign of progress), while in his mind he felt the compulsion to lift his hand and point to where he desired the thurmatalurgical blast to fall. So he pointed at the rapidly advancing line of mystical fire.

A flaming blue levinbolt erupted from the Mouser's fingertips, splintered across the dark and smoky sky, and converged upon its hapless target, illuminating for one horrific moment the startled face of the kender before it blasted him to smithereens.

Mouser stood aghast, the breeze of the blast blowing to him the acrid scent of scorched iron and burned hair. Moments later, Fafhrd slid to a stop beside him.

"I saw the blast, Mouser. Good work," his friend congratulated him. He glanced around for the kender and said, "But where's Tasslehoff?"

"I'm sorry, Fafhrd," Mouse sighed. "I've done it again, it seems."

Read the Grand Finale

Across World Bubbles - Pt 7

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

After what seemed an eternity, the black bag was ripped from Tasslehoff's head. He'd been trussed up and bound most cruelly, heaved and hauled by malicious hands, then force to lie in such an imprisoned state for hours upon a cold stone floor. Tasslehoff had nearly perished of boredom. Someone went through all his pouches without his helps, all the while asking him questions in a language who couldn't understand in the least.

For his part, he heaped upon their heads the blackest curses imaginabler, drawing deeply upon his vast repertoire of taunts, but they didn't understand a word he said, while the few insults he managed to sputter in his awkward pigeon Lankhmarese lacked the true power and creativity to produce the sort of results he desired. However, his shrill voice alone was enough to set the teeth of his captors on edged, so after the first hour they gagged him.

Now, he stood in an office, blinking in the light of a bank of black candles. The gag was cut from his mouth. Before him sat a man of ponderous girth and weighty jowls, who sucked gravy from his fingers as he considered the kender before him. His name was Dravis, and he was third sub-lieutenant in charge of riff-raff at the Thieves' Guild in Lankhmar. He'd never seen a kender before, but he had heard news of one, quite recently in fact. Tasslehoff would have been insulted to know he was riff-raff.

"Tell me again, Tasslehoff Burrfoot of Solace-on-Krynn," Dravis said in pigeon Lankhmarese. "What business have you with thouse two notorious freelancers, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?"

"What do mean you?" Tas asked. "And how do from I'm where you know?"

"I know many things. It is my business to know them. I know, for example, that you carried upon your insignificant person a letter of introduction to those aforementioned scoundrels, penned by that sorcerous villain, Ninguable of the Seven Eyes. What exactly is your connection to him? Is the Grandmaster of Forgeries considering an assault upon the Guild?"

"Am I supposed to know how?" Tas asked. "Mouser the Gray Fafhrd and were going to home me find the way help, all is that!"

"Oh, come now. I think you know all too well. I heard about your little foray of freelance robbery from my Guild brothers in Ilthmar. From what hell did you crawl, you little thief, and what are your intentions here?"

"Thief!" Tasslehoff shrieked in his mother tongue. "Why you low-born, chicken-hearted, son of a goblin and a..."

"Aieeee!" Dravis screamed as he ducked under his desk. "Guards! The hell-spawned imp tries to cast his infernal spells upon me!" Four brawny thugs dashed into the room and snatched Tasslehoff up my his knees and elbows. "Take this monster to the roof and garotte him!"

Kicking, screaming, hurling curses and insults in a voice pitched to make dogs howl in agony, Trasslehoff was hauled down torch-lit passages and up narrow, steep stairs. He was still furious about being labeled a thief, and by a thief, no less! At the end of a long hall, the guards stopped, and one of them used a tall iron rod to push up a trap door in the ceiling. Another propped a ladder in the hole and a third climbed up on the roof while the fourth maintained his hold on the kender's topknot.

"Hurry up," said a muffled voice from above, so the guard began to climb, dragging Tasslehoff by his hair up the ladder. As he neared the top, a huge hand reached down, grasped Tas by the collar, and hauled him up. He was roughly deposited on his feet. Tas gasped at the giant figure towering over him, grimly silhouetted against the newly-risen gibbous moon.

"Ffrd!" he cried through his gag.

Fafhrd grinned as he kicked the trap door, smashing the guard across the head. They heard him tumble down the ladder with a great cry. The first guard who had gone up lay sprawled on the roof, his eyes rolled up in his head. Fafhrd quickly untied the giggling kender, ripping the ropes apart as easily as Caramon had ever done.

Suddenly, the trap door flew open again, shoved below by the iron rod. Swift as a bolt of lightning, Fafhrd snatched it from the guard's hands and smashed him in the teeth with it. He tossed the rod to Tas and jumped on top of the door to hold it down.

"See that tall chimney yonder," he said to Tas.

Tas looked and saw the one he indicated. "Yes, do I?" he said.

"You run that way as quick as you can, whilst I guard your retreat. Mouser's over there, and he'll cover us both with blasts of his sorcerous artillery.

"Thank you," Tas said as he gratefully shook the big Northerner's hand.

"My pleasure, little imp," Fafhrd answered. Two leaden missiles whistled agrily over their heads, and Fafhrd returned their fire with his long bow, even as the door beneath him began to thump and crack with the blows of many hammers.

A dagger-wielding thief crept from the shadows of a rooftop water tank. Perhaps he'd come up through some other hole, or perhaps he had been guarding another section of the roof. Tas swung the iron rod at his knees and was rewarded with a terrific roar of pain. Still gripping the rod, he ran toward the chimney where the Mouser waited. At the edge of the roof, another guard leapt into his path, but with a deft thrust of his pole he sent the poor fellow plummeting to the alley below. A clay sling bullet buzzed his topknot. He planted the pole at the roof's cornice and vaulted over the narrow gap, landing at a full run, blazing a trail in his magical boots across the next roof.

Read Part 8

Across World Bubbles - pt 6

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

After having separated to baffle pursuit, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser met in Dim Lane before the iron-reinforced curtained doorway of the Silver Eel, possibly an even more seedy tavern than the Lamprey. Fafhrd pushed aside the heavy drapery, admitting his compatriot into the close confines of the smoky common room. They took up their abode in an empty booth and ordered wine to slake their heroic thirsts.

After they had drunk, Fafhrd removed a scroll from his belt and laid it on the table before the Mouser. It was a most unusual scroll, crafted of some silvery scaly material, neither parchment nor metal. It reminded the Mouser of dragon skin. "I found this in my pocket," Fafhrd said.

The Mouser gingerly lifted the thing with two fingertips and unscrolled it. They leaned their heads together to read:

Greetings Gentle Son,

Let us suppose for a moment that you and your gray companion were lost in a strange world quite unlike those others you've visited, in that upon arriving there you knew nothing of it, neither its cities nor its languages, its peoples or its gods. And let us suppose that you met there a most kind and generous host who took you in and treated you as though you were his own beloved sons, and that this adoptive father happened to be the greatest wizard to ever have lived in any of the known or unknown worlds...
They scanned ahead a bit, then read...

Take care of this small wanderer from another world. Protect him with your very life, and as a great personal favor to me, help him find his way home - a world with the uncouth name of Krynn (please don't laugh). He is a greater weaver of preposterous lies and bald-faced forgeries than even your friend and accomplice, the Mouser Gray. But before you send him on his world-hopping way, the three of you might see to a small matter, that of a princess in Ool Hrusp who has gone astray and threatens to remain unmarried upon assuming the throne from her decrepit father: a sort of virgin queen, if such a thing can be imagined. Also, if it is not too much trouble...
The narrative continued for several more feet, detailing various impossible quests for the three to undertake, if they were in the neighborhood. The letter was signed with a seven-armed swastika, one of the many sigils used by Ninguable of the Seven Eyes. Also, there was a postscript, hastily penned:

P.S. Beware of Sheelba's rune!

"He must mean this," the Mouser said as he laid a small clay tablet on the table. One edge was caked with a gray and salty mud, and its upward face was carved with a queer rune. "I found it in my pocket, not unlike your scroll."

"Nimble little fellow," Fafhrd commented.

"So where do you suppose this Tasslehoof has gone?" Mouser wondered.

"Tasslehoff: two ef's and one oh. Ning's handwriting is atrocious. I suspect the creature was nabbed by those Guild bravos, thinking he was our accomplice." Fafhrd rubbed his head as though it ached him, then took another long pull of wine. As he thumped his cup to the table, he sighed, "I suppose we shall have to rescue him, lest Ning place a curse on us."

"Another foray against Thieves' Guild?" Mouser groaned.

"It would seem we are forever doomed to enter that accursed den," Fafhrd said.

Mouser thoughtfully tapped his teeth as he reread Ninguable's missive. "Perhaps after we've rescued him, we could take the chap straight home, bypassing all of Ning's quests. This Krynn sounds like an interesting place, though I don't quite understand what could be so wonderful about a dish of spiced potatoes."

"Different people, different customs. I wonder why Ninguable even bothered to mention it."

"Most likely to fire our curiosity. Flights of dragons in the sky, he says. Preposterous. It might be worth investigating, if only to debunk it," the Mouser said. "It's a wonder old Ning doesn't have a cave somewhere that leads to Krynn."

"He probably does. He just wants us to come to him before he tells us of it. Shall we hie ourselves to Thieves' Guild?" Fafhrd asked.

"If we must," Mouse said.

"Besides, the little thief has stolen my dagger."

"Mine, as well."

Read Part 7

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Across World Bubbles, Pt 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

At the corner of Cash and Whore, in the city of Lankhmar, there stands a tavern seedier than most, known to its patrons as the Golden Lamprey. In nearby Plague Court, a shadow passed unnoticed in the dark and slipped up Bones Alley, skirted a drunk (or perhaps it was a corpse) and stopped outside the door of the aforementioned tavern. It dodged aside as a man in browned-iron cuirass staggered outside, cradling a jug of fortified wine and mumbling to himself.

Strangely, the drunkard appeared to sober instantly upon breathing the fog-shrouded night air. He unbent his back, whistled thrice like a shrieking night hawk, and darted down Bones Alley where his whistles had been answered by two hoots of an owl. After observing this odd assignation of bird imitators, the shadow ducked through the curtained doorway and revealed itself to be none other than Tasslehoff Burrfoot, though being unfamiliar with the kender race, at first no one paid him any mind.

The common room was thick with the smoke of a dozen different fires, be they candles or torches or strange, water-bubbling pipes smoked by dreamy-eyed men of the Eastern Lands. The air reeked with centuries of sour wine, sourer beer, and spilled blood. A dancing girl, clad in nought but a girdle of copper coins, sauntered past the kender, causing his eyes to start from his head (to think of Tika so dressed, or undressed). She gave his pouches an appraising glance as she fingered the tiny, razor-sharp blade secreted in her limited attire. A score of villains sat about the room in various stages of debauchery, from roaring to snoring.  Tas scanned the room, finally spotting a pair of men closeted in a far corner booth almost hidden within the pall of smoke. They perfectly fit the description given to him by Ninguable of the Seven Eyes.

One was a big, strapping fellow with coppery-red hair and ominously bulging biceps. He wore a barbaric assortment of piecemeal armor, thick copper torcs on his arms, and a big, dangerous sword almost as long as the kender was tall. His companion in wine was a short, wiry chap clad entirely in gray, from his ratty gray boots to his mousy gray hood. At his side he wore the slimmest of rapiers, likewise sheathed in furry gray, and between pulls on a leathern jack of red wine, he fiddled with a needle-sharp dagger. Tasslehoff instantly recognize the twin expressions of monstrous boredom upon their faces - an affliction he soon hoped to remedy.

During his brief stay in Ilthmar, Tasslehoff had picked up a basic grasp of pigeon Lankhmarese, and so as he strode confidently across the room, he called out to the two heroes in the corner booth, "Ho, Fahrad! Hist, Mouser Gray! I've wizards mentorly from your greetings!"

But the objects of his greetings understood him well enough to know that their respective sorcerous grandfathers had need of them, probably to perform some impossible quest of derring-do which only they could do. This small, elfin creature with its bulging pouches, atrocious grammar and barbaric accent was obviously a demon conjured from some diminutive hell and sent to retrieve them.

Fafhrd broke for the front door while the Mouser dove for the back. Tasslehoff nearly split himself in two trying to chase them both. But the Mouser found his exit blocked by a crowd of club-wielding thugs, while Fafhrd escape was similarly stymied by a gang of sword-brandishing bravos.

"By Cat's Claw," swore the Mouser, "what have we done to earn the Guild's ire this time?"

"By Heartseeker, I know not, but they've employed the Slayer's Brotherhood to make us pay for it," Fafhrd replied.

Tasslehoff, with his limited understanding their language, was rather slow in responding. "By Rabbitslayer, take us not alive they will!" he cried. Before he could further declaim his warrior solidarity, the twain crushed him between them, as they took up familiar positions back-to-back and prepared to face the onslaught.

"Who the devil was that small chap, anyway?" Fafhrd asked as he drew his sword.

"Mog only knows," Mouser said as he brandished his own. "Some imp of Ninguable's sending, I deem. I don't see him anymore, but I feel his hands in my pockets."

"Likewise. He must have more arms than were first apparent." Now completely surrounded, their stalkers prepared to attack. "On guard, Gray One, they seem to have some grudge against us."

And so began one of the more terrific battles in recent Lankhmar history, during which those two most notable swordsmen, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, barely escaped with their lives. But they gave better than they were dealt, littering the floor with corpses and filling the night with screams. For some months afterwards there was a noticeable shortage of brawny cutthroats for hire, as well as a sharp drop in muggings, burglaries, and midnight robberies. As for our two heroes, an otherwise boring evening had taken an exciting, if mystifying turn.

For Ninguable's imp had vanished as quickly as he'd appeared.

Read Part 6

Across World Bubbles - Pt 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

So it was the next day that Tasslehoff set off for fabulous Lankhmar, with specific instructions to avoid, at all costs, vile Ilthmar and its rat gods. Naturally, that is exactly where Tas went first, as he very much wanted to meet a rat god. He soon became embroiled in a scandalous adventure that is still denied in the most vehement language by the government of that ill-famed city.

After his escape from their attempt to sacrifice him to their shark gods - who were second only to their rat gods, Tasslehoff was once more on his way to fabulous Lankhmar. In his pouch he carried letters of introduction, delicately penned on a scroll of dragon skin, to the pair of heroes he was supposed to find. He crossed the Sinking Land, very much puzzled why it should bear such an extraordinary name, until it began to sink, much to his delight and consternation. Luckily, he still had on his magic boots and so was able to escape the demise suffered by Pharoah's army in another time and another world.

His boots brought him safely and speedily to the Causey Road through the Great Salt Marsh on a day when a brisk noreaster was blowing; the gale had all the huge salt spiders sailing through the air depending from their spiderwebbery parachutes. Tasslehoff ducked and dodged them as he walked, looking rather like a short, drunken sailor who hadn't got his land legs.

As he neared the Marsh Gate of the great city of Lankhmar, the sun had begun to set and the brisk noreaster had blown itself round to a sultry southwester. He found the road blocked by some poor peasant's hut that had been wrecked by the gale. It lay on its side in the middle of the road with its four stilts sticking up in the air, like some huge dead dog. Before it sat its wretched owner, grieving over his loss. So heavily robed and cowled was he that Tas could see neither his face nor his hands.

"I'm so sorry about your house," Tas commisserated. Now, Tas, being a stranger to this world, didn't know that nobody, but Nobody, lived in the Great and Extraordinarily Dangerous and Deadly Salt Marsh, except Sheelba of the Eyeless Face - the other greatest sorcerer in all Nehwon and bitter rival of Ninguable of the Seven Eyes. So he was completely unprepared for the rude response he received.

"What do you care?" barked a harsh voice from deep within the hood.

"Well, I..." Tas stammered. "Look, you, I was only trying to help!"

"You want to help? Give me a chicken foot, or get lost," the rude and strangely hooded creature shrieked.

"A chicken foot!" Tas exclaimed. "I have the very thing." He sat down in the middle of the muddy road and began to joyfully rummage through his pouches. All kinds of interesting new things had fallen into them, and what with the exciting misunderstanding back in Ilthmar and his harrowing escape from certain doom, he hadn't had time yet to go through them. With giggles of deltight, he pulled one oddity after another from his pouches, each one stranger than the next, and taking time (now that his voice had recovered) to explain in great detail the history and lineage of each new surprise to the ever-more-irritated archmage.

At long last, at the bottom of the fourth pouch he discovered that which he sought. "One chicken's foot, slightly used," he said as he flourished the grisly relic before him. "I seem to remember there was a voodoo priest from tropic Klesh whose performance I was priveleged to witness in the bazaar in Ilthmar. For some strange reason, he couldn't understand a word I said, and this led to the most unfortunate..."

"Thank you very much," Sheelba snapped as he snatched the chicken's foot from Tasslehoff's grasp. The archmage shuffled over to his shattered hut and attached the foot to the base of the fifth - and broken - stilt. It grafted itself to the wood as if by magic. With a shudder of strange life, the entire hut scrambled to its chicken feet, much to Tasslehoff's delight. A ladder dropped down from the doorway and Sheelba ascended with a movement unnervingly spiderish, and there in the darkened doorway he sat, or squatted.

"You're welcome," Tas said. "And goodbye," he waved sadly as the hut strode off into the swamp. Before it had gone completely out of sight, it turned. Something sailed out and landed with a thump at Tasslehoff's feet. He picked it up and found that it was a clay tablet carved with a single, strange rune. Looking at it made his insides turn upside down, so he quickly looked away.

"Find the Gray Mouser," a scratchy voice called from the distance. "Likely he's drunk to the point of uselessness in a tavern called The Golden Lamprey. He'll be in the company of an equally useless sot name Fafhrd."

"But Ninguable has already sent me to find them," Tas said.

"Ha!" Sheelba laughed like a cracking stone. "Give him that rune; the Mouser, not Fafhrd. Tell him Sheelba sent it with very deepest regards and under no circumstances should he attempt to use it." He laughed again, briefly, with a sound like shattering glass. The hut turned and vanished into the thorn and seahawk trees which grew thick as weeds throughout the Great Salt Marsh.

Read Part 5, if you dare

Across World Bubbles - Pt 3

Part 1

Part 2

Tasslehoff sat back and enjoyed the swirling lightshow of pale stars swirling in the darkness. Truly, they were lovely, forming all sorts of interesting constellations. Eventually they began to fade, until there were but seven faintly-greenish orbs which outlined the shape of an hourglass. This gave Tas quite a start and he stood up, ready to run if need be. "Raistlin?" he whispered, somewhat nervously.

"Come closer, my child," answered a sugary voice. The stars swam apart, forming a rough circle. "Allow me to ascertain what manner of creature you might be. What manner of creature might you be, anyway?"

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot," Tas said. He extended his hand toward the faint lights. "I'm a kender."

"A kender? A kender. Where have I heard that name before? Hmmm. I receive ever so many visitors. Tell me, kender, where are you from?"

"I'm from Kendermore," Tas said. One of the glowing stars moved ahead of the other six and examined his extended hand. Tas realized with a gulp that it was some sort of eye. "Lately of Solace?" he offered when the owner of the eye, or eyes, didn't answer. Finally, he said, "Krynn?"

Four more eyes shot and looked Tas up and down, topknot to toe, while a fifth peered suspiciously over the kender's shoulder. "Krynn, you say!" the septioccular creature chuckled. Tas heard a peculiar scratching noise which he imagined to be two or more thorny old hands rubbing together. "My goodness, aren't we a long way from home!"

"Are we?" Tas said. "Why, yes we are. I mean, I am. I think." He shoved his hand into his pocket and tried to be as casual as possible for a kender. "Where am I, by the way?"

"Where are you? Specifically, you are in the secret caverns of the greatest wizard who has ever lived - Ninguable of the Seven Eyes, whose splendiferous presence you now behold before you..."

"But I thought Fistandantalus... er, I mean Raistlin, was the greatest wizard who ever..." Tas began to say.

"Bah! A mere upstart. Pray do not interrupt. As I was saying, specifically, you are in my cave. Locally, you are east of Ilthmar. And generally, well, generally I must never tell you where you are. No, never," the darksome creature chuckled.

"Why not? I'm not in The Abyss again, am I?" Tas cried.

"The Abyss! Heavens, no. What would make you think such a thing? Are you quite sure you're not an adept?"

"No, I'm quite certain I am a kender, though I was a mouse once. That was the time I was in the Tower of High Sorcery. I would love to tell you..."

"That does sound interesting," Ninguable interrupted. "Perhaps some day you will have time to regale me with your unlikely tale. But first you must tell me about your being in The Abyss. I recall, you specifically said in The Abyss again. What did you mean by again? It is not often that one receives information from The Abyss - so few escape it," he cooed as he edged his ponderous bulk closer.

"Well, first I think I should start at the beginning," Tas said, realizing with sudden delight that here before him sat, or squatted, a person, or creature, or something anyway, who had never heard a single one of his stories. Ever!

"Please, the beginning is as good a place as any," Ninguable agreed as he edged even closer.

And so began one of the most unusual and unprecedented conversations that has ever taken place on, or in, any of the known worlds. Its proportions were epic, lasting one day and one night for each of Ninguable's seven eyes, and by the end of the seventh night, poor Tasslehoff's voice was little more than a hoarse croak. Incredibly, he had exhausted all of his stories, and for perhaps the first time in recorded history two of the most unlikely of events occured at precisely the same time - a kender stopped talking even though no one told him to, and Ninguable of the Seven Eyes, Gossiper of the Gods, found himself speechless. Tas slowly toppled onto his side and fell asleep.

Of course, this world of Nehwon (and many another) had gone to pot during those seven days without Ning's careful tinkering. He needed a hero or three to put things right. Before him snored one - namely, Tasslehoff Burrfoot of Krynn - and he knew just where he could acquire the other two.

Read Part 4

Friday, October 23, 2009

Across World Bubbles - Pt 2

Read Part 1

The sun scorced the desert sands and the barren hills baked in the midday heat. A desert iguana, not unlike many another desert iguana in many another desert in many another world (yet somehow strangely different and unique), rested in the shade of a smallish boulder. It swivelled one of its eyes around to gaze in longing at a nearby cave which seemed to promise blessed coolth and dampness. At the same time, its other eye peered at a peculiar disturbance of the air beyond its shade-rock.

It was not quite a shimmering, though certainly it shimmered, or even really a shining, though bursts of light occassional shone through it. It was more a quivering of the air, a charged surging of potentialities, a throbbing, paper-thin aneurism upon the very membrane of space-time-reality. Suddenly, it exploded with howling gusts of wind, booming bowls thunder, stabbing spears of rain, and a small, screaming figure who dashed across the desert sand, up the hill, and into the cave without stopping. The rupture in space vanished with a pop like a cork from a bottle and all that remained to show that it had ever been was a wet patch of sand (already beginning to dry), a trail of smoke (already beginning to disperse), and the blackened, lightning-blasted corpse of the iguana (already being eyed by a circling vulture).

Tasslehoff Burrfoot, kender of Krynn, dropped his warped copper pole upon the stone floor of the dark cave. It took several minutes for his vision to clear, but finally he was able to see his hand before his face. And as interesting as that might have been at another time, there was before him and all around him a wonderful new cave, so he stood up, squeezed the water from his topknot, and chose a passage (of which there were dozens) to explore.

Soon he was hopelessly lost and infinitely happy. Everywhere he went, tiny glowing eyes peered at him from fissures in the floors, cracks in the walls, and recesses in the ceiling. All the while he heard an incessant series of skitterings and chitterings, shufflings and snufflings, and even an occassional flappering that brushed his pointed ears. Yet he never saw the source of these noises or the bodies of those whose eyes glowed so uncannily in the dark.

He tried to speak to them, but his voice would echo back to him from the strangest directions, and more than once he thought someone behind him had said, "I say, hello there!" only to realize it was his own voice returning like a gnomish rangaboom. In any case, whenever he spoke the eyes would only disappear, so he eventually stopped trying to communicate with them, despite the ten hundred questions banging around between his ears.

Even if he couldn't see the creatures of the cave, having them around made the place feel a little less lonely. It wasn't that he was scared, but he had begun to feel slightly uncomfortable, as though the floor had suddenly become too hot to walk on. So he began to trot, just to break the monotony of walking, not to mention warming his chilled, soaked limbs. He chose passages at random, turning this way and that, and soon his trot became a run and then his run a dash, until finally he fetched up with a headlong crash into a low-hanging stalactite that some careless person had left hanging in the way.

read part 3

Across World Bubbles - Dragonlance/Nehwon Crossover Fan Fiction

Note to the lawyers . These characters are some of my very favoritist characters is all of fictiondom, and fifteen years ago I wrote a fun little story about them. This is FAN FICTION, so LEAVE ME AND BRITNEY SPEARS ALOOOOONNNEEE!

There was a storm brewing over the Kharolis Mountains, a storm such as no one in Solace had ever seen. Thundred rolled down the valleys like an army of rampaging giants and children cowered with their parents beneath their blankets. The wind roared and howled in the treetops like a dying dragon and huge waves surged across Crystalmir Lake to smash against the shore. Everyone in Solace was safely huddled in their homes -- everyone, that is, except Tasslehoff Burrfoot.

The storm crashed and banged against the sky, but Tasslehoff stood in the very teeth of it, high up the slope of a mountain overlooking the lake. His pouches flapped in the lashing wind. His ridiculous topknot snapped like a whip in the gale as he squinted his mischievous eyes against the rain and gazed at the raging heavens. On his small feet he wore a fantastic pair of boots - the seemed made of a thin, flexible metal and glowed with their own light. In his hand he held a rod of shining copper, at least twelve feet long and topped by a streaming copper wire.

Judging that the moment for his experiment had finally arrived, Tas checked the lacings of his peculiar boots, adjusted his pouches and settled them into their proper places, and smoothed his topnot against his neck. Lifting the copper rod before him as though bearing a flag in a parade, he began to run. Down the side of the mountain he flew, faster and faster, until his feet became a blur of light and fire began to leap from his footprints, leaving a trail of burning puddles behind him. No horse could have matched him, no coursing leopard, not even the fastest unicorn flying on magic hooves. He outpaced them all until, with a tremendous flash and a defeaning crash, a blazing bolt of lightning struck the copper rod and Tasslehoff Burrfoot vanished from this world of Krynn.

read part 2

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Legally Dead - Dragonlance Fan Fiction

Before I became a Dragonlance author, I was a Dragonlance fan fiction author. Back then, there weren't any websites for fan fiction and we carved all our stories on stone tablets, which I sent to Dragon magazine. None were ever published there, but one of my fan fiction stories was eventually published in a Dragonlance anthology. It was The Restoration and the anthology was Relics and Omens. But that's another story.

I wrote Legally Dead sometime in the early 90s, which was before Dragons of Summer Flame came out. The setting of the story is Solace, after Legends but before Summer Flame.

Mama always said no good would come of that marriage, but some people wondered what business was it of hers anyway? Mama always had something to say about everything and everybody, whether they wanted to hear it or not, and it got so that people just quit listening to her and started shunning her. But she sure hit the goblin on the head about that Widow Burrfoot.

People called her Widow Burrfoot long before Uncle Tas was declared legally dead. You may have heard of Tasslehoff Burrfoot. From what he says, he saved Krynn from almost certain destruction at least five times, been to the Abyss and met the Queen of Darkness, seen the Kingpriest of Istar, and was close personal friends with Paladine. He wasn't my real uncle, as he was a kender, but Mama said he might as well have been my uncle as I seemed half kender anyway, because I was always losing what I needed and finding what I didn't. My pants had big pockets in those days and they were always full of useless junk.

Anyway, this Widow Burrfoot caused no end of talk around Solace. Mama said she behaved like a harlotous old gully dwarf, always running around on poor old Uncle Tas and him just sitting there taking it like a whipped dog. What he was thinking marrying a full grown human woman - that's what everybody wanted to know.

And boy was she ever full grown! She had half the men in Solace falling over their chins that day as she rode into town on the back of that horse, with Uncle Tas leading it by the halter and grinning like the goblin that drank the grog. But the widow (she wasn't a widow yet) just sat in her saddle scowling down her nose as though she didn't like the looks of Solace at all.

She was from Haven, and that's where Uncle Tas had met and married her. He always said he clearly remembered the first part, but not so much the second. He said that in Haven she had been a debutante in the hoidy-toidy, whatever that is. Mama said it meant she earned her keep by handing out towels to people after they visited the outhouse, like what you see at the finer inns in Palanthas.

I remember that first day like it was my Day of Life Gift. Mama and me were walking home from the market, me with a basket full of vegetables and Mama with a mouth full of nonsense, when we met them on the road from Haven. The widow wore these long white gloves that came up to her arm pits and a tall wizard cap with a bit of somebody's drapes hanging off the point. I suppose that was her hoidy-toidy uniform. Mama just looked at her and said there was no accounting for what a kender might bring home.

Uncle Tas had retired from the adventuring lifestyle and had opened this shop that he called Burrfoot's Museum of Krynn, where he kept some of the strangest and most wonderful things you ever laid eyes on. People would come all the way from Palanthas just to browse. Uncle Tas did business like a kender. If you found something you liked in his shop, you could take it, provided you left something behind.

One time I caught this old muddy boot while I was fishing in Crystalmir Lake. Uncle Tas wanted that boot, because he thought it might have been the boot that Flint Fireforge had lost that night they were escaping Fewmaster Toede and his toadies. He traded me a magic ring for it, a ring he said could turn you into a mouse. It was a most special shop that way, chock full of stuff you never would have thought of, and Uncle Tas had a knack for discovering the fascinating history of anything you might bring in.

But sometimes people didn't have anything to trade, so they would buy what they wanted. Pretty soon, Uncle Tas had become one of the richest people in Solace. Of course, him being a kender he didn't have much use for money except to buy presents for his friends or rounds of ale at the inn. He also donated a good bit of money to the Shrine of the Hat in Haven, which is where he met his wife. The kender had shrines to Paladine all over the place. There was the Shrine of the Feather and the Shrine of the Golden Span and of course they had the Shrine of the Fireball, until it blew up. But for all the money he gave away, Uncle Tas couldn't help making more. His shop was always full of customers, like gully dwarves in slop jar, Uncle Tas would say.

When he had about as much money as he could stand, Uncle Tas decided to take a vacation to Mt. Nevermind, where the gnomes live, so as to get some peace and quiet. I think he just wanted to get away from his wife, as she had started to run around with every sort of ruffian and scoundrel you care to name. He didn't take her with him, that was for sure. Maybe she didn't want to go, and I can't blame her, from what I've heard of Mt. Nevermind.

The widow stayed on minding the shop. You couldn't trade things anymore and all she wanted was money and lots of it, and she even tried to make me give back my magic mouse ring. I don't have to tell you, business slacked off pretty darn quick. After about a year, she closed up the shop and moved back with her family in Haven, 'to wait for Tasslehoff' she said. But he never showed up.

Part 2
© 2009 Jeff Crook

Legally Dead - Part Four

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

"Uncle Tas!" I shouted. "What are you doing here?"

And do you know what he said? He said, "EEEEEEAAAAAWWWWWWW!" I just about messed my britches. I yanked off those spectacles and there before me stood that mule that had busted up the auction.

"You wait right here," I said to him. "I'll go get somebody. I'll find Palin. He'll know what to do. They're selling all your stuff on account of you're dead and all."

I found Palin up near the front. They were getting ready to start the bidding on the magical stuff. I pulled on the hem of his wizard's robe.

"What is it, Ruell?" he said. 

"Come on. I need to show you something," I said.

"Can't it wait? I want to bid on a wand."

"No, come on," I said. I tugged and pulled until he finally gave up and followed me. He was a lot older than me and he was a wizard, but he was still young enough to listen to a kid and not turn him into a frog or something. I took him over to the tree where Uncle Tas was tied up. "There," I said.

Palin took one at the mule and said, "Reull," in the most disappointed voice I've ever heard come out of a person's mouth who was not my Mama.

"Here, look at him through these spectacles," I said. He heaved out a big, heavy sigh and took the spectacles and held them up to his eyes. Then he dropped them, he was so surprised.

Uncle Tas said, "EEEEEEEAAAAAAWWWWWWW!" and commenced to bucking and kicking.

"It's a good thing I've got the right spell memorized," Palin said. He pushed back his sleeves and went to work. Magic has always been a wonder to me, and seeing him cast that spell just about stood my hair on end. But when he was done and the smoke had cleared, there stood Uncle Tas with a rope around his neck and a bit in his mouth. He spit the bit out on the ground.

"Can you speak?" Palin asked him.

"I'm almost afraid to try," Uncle Tas said.

Well, I can't begin to describe the uproar when Uncle Tas pushed his way through the crowd, jumped up on a table, and snatched a magic bowl his widow's hand. Caramon Majere took one look at him and fainted dead away. The Widow Burrfoot screamed, grabbed the till, and ran off. That gnome, he just kept right on auctioneering like nothing had happened and they had to pull him down and stuff a rag in his mouth just to shut him up.

Seems when Uncle Tas had set out for Mt. Nevermind, he met up with a wizard just outside of Solace. He said he should have been suspicious from the start, because the wizard actually acted like he needed a traveling companion. Uncle Tas said there was something about him that seemed familiar, but he couldn't 'put the beard on the dwarf' and every time he tried he got a headache and a compulsion to think of something else.

They made camp that night and went to sleep by the fire, and when Uncle Tas woke up the next morning he was a mule. The wizard put a stall on his head and led him to the nearest farm, where he traded him for a bag of apples and a rusty bucket with a hole in it.

"And never have I spent a more miserable three years," Uncle Tas said. "After you've pulled a plow in the hot sun all day long, a mule isn't quite as grand a thing to be as you might imagine."

The Widow Burrfoot had hired the wizard to charm Tas into marrying her and then to get rid of him so she could sell his stuff. Though nobody remembered it, she had visited Solace about six months before and seen the musuem and how valuable it was and how Uncle Tas was practically giving his things away. After she took over, business got so bad (because she was such a greedy skinflint) she decided to auction it off instead, but to do that she had to wait three years to declare her husband legally dead and take full control of his estate.

A lot of folks wanted to know if they had to return the stuff they had bought, but Uncle Tas was only too glad to get rid of it, as it freed up space in his museum for the acquiring of new things. He let me keep those magic spectacles. Nobody ever saw the Widow Burrfoot again, and three years to the day of the auction, Uncle Tas had her declared legally dead. 

© 2009 Jeff Crook

Disclaimer - This story is not part of the official Dragonlance canon and was never intended to be so. It is fan fiction. The author has not been contracted or compensated for writing it. Yadda, yadda, yaday.

Legally Dead - Part Three

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

It just about broke my heart seeing that "harlotous old gully dwarf," as Mama called her, setting up for the auction. All sorts of strangers were coming and going, and where they came from was anybody's guess. The Widow had to have been given notice of the auction weeks earlier, but the trial was only the day before. The evening after the trial, me and some of the other kids in town had our own little memorial service out behind the museum. We talked about Uncle Tas and all the things he had given us and tried to remember all his best stories. Inside the museum, the Widow and her out of town friends were throwing a party you could hear all the way to Crystalmir Lake. Some of the older folk in town came by to shake their heads and suck their teeth, but Tanis Halfelven noticed us sitting in the trees in the dark and he came over and sat down with us. I showed him my magic mouse ring, and he told us stories about Uncle Tas that we had never heard before.

But we just couldn't get over it, Uncle Tas being dead and all, and the Widow about to sell off all his things. It was enough to make a person misdoubt the whole human race. I wished I was a half elf, too, and I told him so. Tanis just smiled. He was a great comfort to us.

The morning of the auction was sunny and breezy. They had set out all of the stuff from the museum on tables on the lawn and everything had been marked and tagged with a number. There was a list of all the numbers and what items they went with, and the items were divided up according to nature and value: art, jewelry, magic, and so on. She was even selling all the most worthless junk, the chicken feathers and bits of twine and river pebbles, which was what Uncle Tas had always loved best.

In addition to the strangers, there were people from all over, more even than were at the trial, and there were horses and mules and wagons clogging up the lanes, and the folks were browsing through all the things and talking about Uncle Tas. I wandered around, looking at this and that and trying not to cry. The Widow had her a whole throng of security men with ropes and cudgels securing the perimeter to keep the kender away. I could feel their eyes on me the whole time.

Just about the time they were ready to begin, a mule broke his harness and got in among the tables. He knocked everything over and kicked and bawled, the Widow screamed like you wouldn't believe, and her security men jumped all over it wailing away with their cudgels until the farmer showed up to claim his animal. The Widow threatened to sue him for damaged goods. The farmer led the poor beast away and tied it to a tree, but by this time it was already noon and they still had to set up the tables and straighten everything out, so everybody went home to find some lunch. Mama brought onion and apple sandwiches.

I sat on the grass and ate my sandwich and watched them sort through the mess. Then I walked around and looked at the tables the mule had missed. There was one table that big piles of junk piled into crates with a single tag on them. The gnome saw me fingering the merchandice and came over to make sure I wasn't stealing anything. I asked what this stuff was and started rattling off like an avalanche until I clapped a hand over his mouth and asked him to slow down.

So he said it again, real slow and deliberate, like he thought I was thick in the head. "These items are being auctioned by lot," he said. "What you see is what you get so you can pick through it's junk mostly but as this is a kender estate there might be a rare treasure tucked away in all this so we call it a grab bag even though its a bag not a box." She showed me a few things and kept talking, mostly about himself.

He was from Mt. Nevermind, so I asked if he had ever met Uncle Tas.

And he was off and running again. "NoIdidnotbutitispossiblehecouldhave..."

I put my hand on his mouth again. "He would have been there three years ago," I said.


"He must not have made it," I interrupted.


I wandered away and left him talking. Once a gnome got going like that, he no longer cared if anybody was listening. I rummaged through the items on several more tables until I came across a true treasure stuffed into an old pillow case. It was one of Uncle Tas' pouches, and it still had stuff in it! I wanted it like I've never wanted anything in my life, so I looked around until I found the Widow Burrfoot. She was setting up a table of magic items.

"Mrs. Burrfoot?"

"What?" she shouted, then she saw it was only me. She ran her hand through her hair and sighed as though at the tattered end of her last nerve. "What do you want, boy? Just look at all this stuff? How could one person have accumulated so much stuff?"

"He was special," I said. I held up the pouch I had found. "Can I trade you for this?"

"Sorry, no trades," she said. "Coin of the realm only, and beside, this is an auction, not a trading post. You'll have to bid on that if you want it."

"But it came from a grab bag," I said. "I don't want the rest of the stuff, just this pouch."

She rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth. "What have you got to trade?" she said.

"I'll trade you my magic ring that you've been wanting," I said. Her eyes lit up and I knew I had her.

I took my new old pouch and sat under a tree. Folks started heading back to the auction. I saw Palin Majere pass with his father and mother. Me and Palin were third cousins on my father's side. Poor old Caramon, he was taking things mighty hard. Him and Uncle Tas were about as good a friends as can be, they'd been through so much together. His nose was red and his eyes were swollen and Aunt Tika led him by the elbow as though he couldn't see where he was going. Things just wouldn't be the same around Solace without Uncle Tas. That was for sure.

You wouldn't believe the history that was in that pouch. There was a map of some rooms that was labeled Pax Tharkas. There was some writing on it that said Here is where Tanis found the sword of Kith-Kanan and I almost got eaten by a giant slug. That was fun! On another part of the map it said Here is where Fizban died. That wasn't fun. And next to it, in a darker ink, it said No he didn't!

The auction started and everybody finally realized why the Widow Burrfoot brought that gnome. He was the auctioneer. If ever there was a job suited for a gnome, that was it. I wish you could have heard him go.

I found all sorts of other maps. One was of part of Thorbardin and one was of Tarsis when it was beside the sea, back before the Cataclysm, which meant it was really old. Down in the bottom of the pouch I found an old piece of parchment rolled up around something. I unrolled it and saw that it was a page torn from a book, but the writing was so faded you couldn't read it. It had been wrapped around a pair of wire-frame spectacles. I put them on to see what they looked like, and all of a sudden I could read the writing on that old torn page. It was all about good dragons and looked like it had just been written.

Boy, wouldn't the Widow be kicking herself if she found out she traded a pair of magic spectacles for a dumb old magic ring that turns you into a mouse. I left them on my nose and walked around town to see what else I could see through them. For the most part everything looked just the same as it always had - the same trees, the same houses, same roads and shops. A few of the signs over the shops had other writing on them, which I guessed were the old names of places that had been painted over or weathered away. All in all, it was pretty boring and the spectacles, being so strong, were starting to give me a headache. Still, I thought, there might be something interesting at the auction, so I headed that way.

The place was pretty crowded and the auction was going good. You couldn't hardly find a way through all the wagons and mules and horses. The lawn was crowded, but there was also a good-sized crowd of kender sitting together off to the side, surrounded by security men. Off to the other side, there was a lone kender tied to a tree, and I figured they had caught him walking away with something valuable. He looked so miserable sitting there, without his pouches and a rope around his neck, I went over to see who it was.

When I saw his face, I just about fell over. It was Uncle Tas!

Part 4

© 2009 Jeff Crook

Monday, September 28, 2009

Legally Dead - Part Two

Read Part 1

The Widow Burrfoot showed up back in town three years to the day after Uncle Tas disappeared. She had a lawyer with her this time, a little spindly chap with a cough like somebody chiseling out a tomb. And she had a priestess of Gilean to judge the law, and she also had a gnome with her, but couldn't nobody see what he was for. The priestess posted a notice at the Inn of the Last Home, stating that a hearing would be held in three days, where it would be determined whether Tasslehoff Burrfoot, a resident of Solace, could be declared legally dead.

Now, when a man, dwarf or elf has gone missing for three years, he can be declared legally dead, but nobody knew for certain how long you had to give a kender, even an old one like Uncle Tas. Mama said that sometimes older kender go through a second childhood, and with it comes a second wanderlust, in which they feel compelled to return to all the places they saw in their first wanderlust and see how things have changed. Mama had a tremendous store of such wisdom, but I don't whether she was right because, as I have said before, half the time she didn't know what she was talking. It was hard to tell when to believe her because she was just as sure she was right whether she was right as rain or as far from the truth as the other side of the world.

People came from far and wide to hear the trial, because Uncle Tas was an original Hero of the Lance and they knew all his friends would be there. There were so many that the inn filled up and they had to move the court outside. It was a wonderful autumn day, as cool as you could want, with woodsmoke in the air and the smell of mulled cider barrels wafting through the trees. Days like this always reminded me of Uncle Tas. You'd find him sitting on a beer barrel under the tree beside his museum, telling stories of his adventures.

The judge opened her book, took up her pen and began to write. As she wrote, she called for any witnesses who could offer proof that Tasslehoff Burrfoot was still alive. Mama stood right up and told her theory of the second wanderlust. She said she never had much use for kender, but she hated to see one "wrongfully done in by the law." The Widow Burrfoot only scowled from her chair, but the judge copied it all down.

As Mama finished her explanation, the judge looked up from her book and said, "Do you mean to tell me this Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a kender?"

"Ain't you never heard of him?" I shouted from my seat at the back.

"Well, this does shed new light on the matter," the judge said. She turned to the Widow. "Mrs. Burrfoot, you failed to mention that your husband is a kender."

"I didn't think it mattered," the Widow said.

"I'm afraid it does. You see, there is no legal precedent for declaring a kender legally dead. There has never been any pressing need, as the estate of a kender is rarely disputed." The judge scratched her head and flipped through a few musty law tomes she had brought with her.

The Widow's lawyer stood up and cleared his throat. "May it please Your Honor," he said, "there is one case mentioned in the Chronicles of Astinus which, I am sure, has merely slipped your mind and would have occured to you at any moment." The Chronicles of Astinus was only the most holy work of the priesthood of Gilean, so I imagine the judge was not a little embarrased to be reminded by a lawyer of something written in her own book.

"Ah yes," she said. "I had forgotten. Please, do me the honor of reading the case for the record." She resumed writing.

The lawyer smiled and cleared his throat again. "It was a criminal case, not a civil dispute. It seems that a certain kender was accused of burglary..." At this, a roar of protest went up from the kender in the audience. The judge gave them a stern look and they quieted down. The lawyer continued, "This kender's defense was that he had been lost, wandering as he put it, for over three years, and since the statute had expired, he should have been declared legally dead. And if he were legally dead, then he could hardly have committed the crime in question. The case was resolved when the kender managed to have himself declared dead through another court."

"That would be Uncle Trapspringer," said a kender in the front row.

"Given this information, I believe the statue should be applied equally for all -- man, elf and kender alike," the judge said. "So unless anyone can come forward and offer evidence that Tasslehoff Burrfoot is still alive, I will be forced to rule in favor of Mrs. Burrfoot."

No one said a word, not even Uncle Tas' friends. The entire assembly was completely quiet, except for a mule somewhere that started braying like the trumpet of doom. It was as though we were witnessing Uncle Tas' death, right before our eyes. He had been, for so many of the people of Solace, especially us kids, such a huge part of our lives, and now a stranger was about to bring an end to all that. It was as though an age of the world was about to pass away.

The judge closed her book and put away her pen. "Mrs. Burrfoot, I regret to inform you that your husband is dead," she said.

The Widow Burrfoot stood up and faced the silent, stunned assembly. She said, "Tomorrow there will be a public auction on the lawn before my late husband's Museum of Krynn. You may begin viewing the objects for sale at sunrise. The bidding will begin at noon."

"Doweworknow?" her gnome asked.

"Yes," she said.

Part 3

© 2009 Jeff Crook

Friday, March 20, 2009

Adam's Hot Dogs at the End of the World

In celebration of Extraterrestrial Abduction Day, I decided to post this story. It was rejected by Baen's Universe and Strange Horizons before being picked up by Nature magazine, and ultimately, for inclusion in the Futures from Nature anthology alongside stories by such giants as Arthur C. Clarke, Frederick Pohl, Michael Moorcock, Greg Bear, and many others.

It was published in Nature under the title Hot Dogs at the End of the World, but in the anthology the original title was restored.

Adam considered the sky. It wasn’t even blue anymore, just a sort of washed-out gray. The tall pale man opposite him thoughtfully chewed a bite of hotdog, the bitten remainder of which he held about mid-chest, just slightly above Adam’s head. Adam noticed a spot of yellow mustard on the man’s red tie. His suit was black, as were the sunglasses resting on top of his wavy blond hair. His almost-colorless blue eyes remained fixed in an unblinking stare that Adam still found somewhat unsettling.

“What you say is true,” Adam continued, “but the conflict between theology and interstellar travel isn’t just with the book of Genesis. There’s Revelations to consider. Of course, Norse mythology also includes an end-times myth, Ragnarok and all that, but there are so few Oden worshippers these days, it seems pointless to include them.”

“Entirely,” the Nordic-looking man mumbled around his hotdog.

“Uh… entirely what?” Adam asked.

“Pointless,” the man said. Adam noticed that the spot of yellow mustard had disappeared from the man’s tie.

“Wonderful technology,” Adam muttered before continuing. “But as you know, UFO researchers always assumed that the government actively concealed the existence of extraterrestrials to protect the church, referring of course to the question raised by Genesis – if there are extraterrestrial civilizations, why aren’t they mentioned in Genesis? The Brookings Institute is supposed to have done the original sociological study that has guided disclosure policy since the middle of the last century.”

“That’s true,” the Nordic man said.

“It is? Oh, yes, but in my opinion the answer to the Genesis question wouldn’t bring down the church, would it? One could always argue that Genesis never says aliens don’t exist, either.”

“Obviously,” the Nordic man said. He finished his hotdog. Adam removed another one from the grill, bunned it, squirted a line of mustard down its pink and char-blackened length, and handed it over the grill to his guest.

“Obviously. So the real sticking point is Revelations,” Adam said. “Do you want a beer or something?”

“Yes,” the Nordic man said. Adam opened a longneck using the bottle-opener feature on his grill spatula. A shadow of a smile twitched the corners of the tall man’s narrow mouth. “That’s a useful device,” he said as Adam handed him the beer.

“So, as I was saying, Revelations and all the other Armageddon philosophies,” Adam continued. “I mean, if there are other worlds out there where a man… being… whatever… can be born, live and die without ever setting foot on earth, that kind of pulls the end-timers’ teeth, doesn’t it? Without an end-times in which sinners are judged and the righteous rewarded, western religion becomes rather pointless. God destroys the world – big deal. Sure, a few billion people die, but in the big picture, it’s a minor occurrence. Planets explode every day, am I right? Whole star systems go nova, trillions of intelligent life forms wiped out in the twinkling of an eye no matter how moral or immoral they are or were. It’s physics, and a lack of sufficiently advanced technology to detect the impending Armageddon and-or to escape it by fleeing their doomed planet.”

The Nordic man ate his hotdog and drank his beer without blinking. Adam noticed that the man’s bottom lip (which was somewhat fuller than his almost-fleshless upper lip) tended to get sucked into the neck of the bottle when he drank, making a comical squeaking noise when he pulled it out.

Adam glanced at the cloudless gray sky, his voice rising as he tried not to laugh, “And since these end-times religions self-perpetuate by exerting control over their congregants by holding or withholding the metaphysical keys to heaven, take away the end times and what are they left with?”

“Where do you purchase these?” the Nordic man asked, gesturing with his beer to the half-eaten hotdog in his hand.

“I make them myself. Secret family recipe,” Adam said. “The beef is Kosher.”

“They are delicious,” the tall man said. “I’ll mention them to the Minister of Culture.”

Adam smiled. He felt his point had been made. The back door opened and a small, light-gray alien stepped outside. “Thanks, Adam,” the alien said with obvious relief. “I was about to bust.”

“Not a problem, Thraz. Did you remember to flush?” Adam asked.

“Oh. Sorry.” The alien blushed a deeper shade of gray and glanced at the Nordic man, who was still examining the uneaten remainder of his hotdog.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it,” Adam said. “Your pee dissolved the toilet last time. Try explaining that to the plumber. You want another beer or something?”

“Thanks, no. I’m driving. Well, see you later,” the small alien said. He climbed into the metallic-green, lozenge-shaped spacecraft parked in Adam’s backyard. The Nordic man ate the last half of his hotdog in one bite, set the empty beer bottle on a fencepost, and climbed into the spacecraft without so much as saying goodbye. Adam was used to this. The tall ones seemed unemotional, but the little guys were friendly enough.

Adam waved goodbye as the door materialized and blended seamlessly with the hull of the ship. The craft rose silently to treetop level, then shot off toward the encroaching sea, leaving behind a rainbow arc that shimmered in the washed-out sky for a second or two before fading. Adam smiled and popped an olive into his mouth as the sound of waves reached his ears.

High tide again, and getting closer every day. So much for that covenant.

Yes, interstellar travel is a lovely way to escape the end of the world and all its moral obligations, Adam thought with a rising sense of hope and purpose.

© 2006 Jeff Crook