Bill dropped his satchel at the foot of the bed and heaved a great sigh of relief. Twelve days of sleeping on the ground, bathing in the occasional cold pond or stream, and at last, there lay a real bed. It was a thing of beauty.
As he sat, Kris leaped onto the bed, squealing in delight. He smiled at her as she bounced up and down on it, giggling. Simple pleasures, he assumed.
“Boingy, boingy, boingy, boingy!” she tittered.
Bill shook his head as he leaned down to unstrap his boots. Each bounce of the Elf seemed to draw his hand to far, his fingers clutching for and missing the buckles repeatedly.
“Sweety,” he said at last. “Do you mind?”
She grinned and fell onto the bed, sprawling across it as soon as she hit. He nodded his thanks and got a decidedly wolfish smile in return that made him hesitate.
“This ones gonna be noisy,” she purred, hugging her self in a rather suggestive manner.
He cocked an eyebrow. If there was one thing Bill had learned about his lover in the years they’d been together, it was to not refuse when the mood struck her. It could depart as quickly as it arrived, and there was no knowing when it would return.
“Is it now,” he grinned, leaning across the curvaceous Elf.
She giggled, fingers tracing the planes of his battle worn face with gentle caresses that made him feel like the most handsome man in the world. The smolder in her eyes thrilled him the way nothing else could, and filled him with a fire no drink could quench.
Naturally, someone knocked on the door.
“I’ll get it!” Kris declared, slipping out from under him like a wet eel.
“Hmm…” Bill groaned and sat up, hoping against hope the manic Elf’s mood might return later. She skipped across the room, already having forgotten about it all, as she reached the door and yanked it open.
“SURPRISE!” she shrieked.
The young man on the other side nearly fainted. His hand flew to his chest, grasping, and he swooned. Kris just smiled.
“I have a letter for William Wick,” he finally managed.
“Wrong room,” Kris told him with chipper lilt and slammed the door in his face.
“Hmm…” Bill wondered as the Elf pirouetted back to the bed and plopped in his lap.
“I’m William Wick.”
“I thought your name was Bill!”
“It’s the same thing.”
“No it’s not, silly Billy.”
He sighed and set her aside, despite her protests, and went to the door. Luckily, the young man was still there, looking terribly befuddled. Bill could relate.
“I’m William Wick,” he told the lad.
The boy thrust the letter at him and fled before the Elf could return. Bill watched him go, then shrugged. He’d planned to give him a tip, but no matter.
Returning to the bed, where Kris knelt, he studied the envelope curiously. They had only just arrived, so unless the message had been held for some time, he couldn’t fathom how it had found him so easily. It wasn’t like they frequented the trade city of Evemont, making the entire thing very odd. Upon seeing the signature, however, Bill felt much of his confusion drift away.
“It’s from Bollin,” he mumbled softly.
“Who’s Bollin?” Kris asked. “Does he make balls?”
Bill blinked a few times as Kris cocked her head to one side and grinned at him, looking utterly vacant for a moment. Sometimes, she was entirely too literal.
“Bollin is my mentor,” Bill told her. “He’s the one that took me off the streets of Bas and trained me. Closest thing to a father I’ve ever known.”
Kris leaned against him, chin on his shoulder, and looked down at the envelope. “Bollin Anvileye,” she read slowly. “Sounds like a Dwarf.”
“He is,” Bill chuckled.
Kris gasped. “Your daddy is a Dwarf?”
“What? No,” Bill told her.
“Whew,” Kris sighed, wiping her forehead. “For a minute there I was scared.”
Bill nodded his head slowly. “Okay.”
“So, you gonna open it or what?”
Bill gave her another, brief, look of concern. He wasn’t sure what went on in her head on a good day, but now and then, he was kind of glad he didn’t know.
Breaking the seal, he pulled the letter free and unfolded it. Immediately, he began to laugh.
“What’s it say?” Kris asked.
“I’m across the hall.”
“No you aren’t,” Kris giggled.
“No, that’s what it says.”
“What what says?”
“You’ve got mail!” she squealed.
“Who’s it from?”
Bill knocked on the door across the hall as Kris tried to climb his back for no discernible reason. Not that he was complaining. He did like the way it felt, after all.
The door flew wide, revealing the stout form of Bollin. The Dwarf grinned up at him past his long gray beard, the lamp light reflecting off his balding head. To Bill’s eyes, he was a welcome sight.
“My son!” Bollin exclaimed.
“Bollin,” Bill replied.
“What’s that on your back, boy?”
“I’m a monkey!” Kris squealed.
Bollin stammered for words. He ultimately failed.
“This is Kris,” Bill told him. “She’s my friend.”
“So I see,” the Dwarf replied as Kris rested her breasts on Bill’s head, looking oddly triumphant.
“Hop down,” Bill told her.
She hit the floor, looked at the Dwarf, and gasped. Finger jerking toward him, she told Bill in the loudest whisper she could manage with out insulting the concept, “He’s got a pineapple on his head!”
“Does he?” Bill asked.
“I’ve a what?” Bollin struggled.
Kris darted into the room, staring at the Dwarf intently. He looked very uncomfortable. Bill folded his arms across his chest.
She produced her stuffed rabbit, seemingly from nowhere, and held it up, waving its small legs as she began circling Bollin. The Dwarf coughed. Bill said nothing.
“What are you doing, woman?” Bollin finally asked.
“Shh!” she shushed him. “Bunny has to sniff you.”
Bollin looked to Bill, but saw the big man was just watching passively, and unlikely to save him. He eyed the mad Elf and her pink rabbit, thinking perhaps his student had learned to hate him somewhere along the way.
“Sniff me, ‘eh? Why?”
Kris gave him an exasperated glare. “To see what you smell like, of course! Geeze, don’t you know anything?”
He rested a hand on Kris’ shoulder. “I can vouch for him.”
She thought about that for a minute. “I guess that’s okay.”
The Elf menaced the Dwarf with the stuffed, pink rabbit for a second more. He recoiled slightly, then felt absurd for having done so.
“Minuet!” she screamed at him.
“What?” he shrieked.
“Kris, what have we talked about?” Bill cut in.
She pondered that for a moment. “Fountains aren’t bathrooms?”
“The other thing,” Bill replied.
“Don’t scream at people?”
“That’s the one.”
She smiled at his praise and turned back to the Dwarf, giving him a flawless curtsy. “My apologies, Master Anvileye. I have forgotten my manners. It is a pleasure to meet he who raised my love to be the fine man that he is.”
Bollin stared at her in shock. Bill patted her head. Kris drooled a little.
“Boingy!” she shrieked, running to jump on the bed.
“Bill, by all the Fates that be, who is that woman?” Bollin asked.
“Long story,” he replied. “Perhaps we can discuss it over dinner?”
Bollin grinned at that. “Smart thinking, son. My belly has been rumbling all day!”
“So, nothings changed then?”
It took several more minutes to get Kris off the bed.
In the common room of the inn, they found a table and seated themselves, making casual small talk. Bill inquired how Bollin knew to find him, and the Dwarf laughed, saying only that he kept a close eye on his favorite pupil.
When the waitress came, Bill ordered the pork ribs, Bollin making that a second. Kris begin to wail horribly over the fate of the baby pigs, drawing more than a few curious stares from the other patrons.
Bill ended up ordering a salad. For no reason he could grasp, Bollin did as well. The young lady taking their orders delivered the drinks, two ales and a water, and fled quickly. Bill made a mental note to leave a nice tip.
“So, William,” Bollin began.
“Who’s William?” Kris asked.
“He’s William,” the Dwarf replied, jabbing a finger at Bill.
“No he’s not,” Kris replied, also pointing a finger at Bill, since it seemed like fun. “He’s Bill.”
“It’s my middle name,” Bill told her.
“No it’s not,” Kris pouted. “That’s Lawrence.”
“Bill,” Bollin began again. “How have you been, son?”
“Can’t complain,” Bill replied.
Kris produced a straw and began blowing through it into her water.
“Good, good,” Bollin said, looking at her strangely.
“So what’s this about?” Bill asked him. “I know you didn’t look me up just out of fondness.”
The Dwarf shrugged. “It could be that.”
“You aren’t that sentimental,” Bill replied with a smile.
Bollin grinned at that. “Fair enough, son. The truth then.”
“My waters farting,” Kris said.
Bollin stared at her for a long time. She just smiled and kept blowing.
“The truth is, Bill, I’m getting old,” Bollin told him, tearing his eyes from the crazy woman.
“Dwarves don’t get old,” Bill replied. “They just get tougher. Your words.”
Bollin chuckled at that. “I was younger then, and thought as much. I can’t lie to myself anymore. I am getting old, and worn. I’m coming to the end of my road.”
Bill shook his head. “You’ll outlive me, and I won’t hear any more about it.”
“You may not want to, but I need you to, son,” the Dwarf pressed. “I’ve set back a decent little nest egg, and plan to retire from this life we lead. Get a nice place in the mountains and unwind my last days getting drunk and remembering my glory.”
Bill gave him an unpleasant look. “This is absurd. You say that every time I see you.”
“I mean it this time, my boy,” Bollin told him. “I’m weary, William. So very weary.”
“Bollin,” Bill started, but the Dwarf waved him to silence.
“The only good thing I’ve ever done in my life is you, boy. Only thing I’m truly proud of.” Bollin shook his head.
“I know a couple of people that might debate that,” Bill retorted with a smirk.
Bollin waved that off with a gruff laugh. “Nothing against your sisters, my boy, but you have always been my favorite. Don’t tell them that, mind you. They both think they are.”
“Probably because you tell them they are,” Bill chuckled.
“Ah, let an old Dwarf spoil his children,” Bollin replied with a bit of a flush. “All of you are my pride and joy, truth be told. Not like that ill begotten brother of yours.”
“We won’t talk about him,” Bill replied emphatically, looking at Kris and getting only her vacant smile in return. “Not ever.”
“Fair enough,” Bollin sighed. “Before I drag my rusty carcass off to lose myself in memories and ale, I’ve a job that needs finished. I’d like you to help me with it.”
Bill blinked. “You’ve never asked me to help you with anything.”
“Well, damn, son,” Bollin growled. “Haven’t you been paying any attention at all? I just told you, I’m getting old!”
“I know, but…” Bill shrugged, barely able to believe what he was hearing.
“You talk funny,” Kris said suddenly.
Bollin stared at her for a minute. “I’ve no idea what you mean.”
“You don’t use enough ayes, or nays, or lasses, or dinnas, and frankly, you don’t roll your r’s very well at all. I’m pretty disappointed.”
Bollin shook his head. “I still have no idea what you’re talking about, but if you don’t stop blowing through that straw, I’m going to take it away from you and put it someplace you’ll never want to reach to get it back!”
Kris stared at him, then turned to Bill. “I think his pineapple is spoiled.”
Bill shrugged. Bollin glared.
“I have to go pee,” she announced and left the table.
“Son, please, tell me what you are doing with that woman?” Bollin pleaded.
Bill shrugged. “It’s a long story.”
“Make it short.”
“I owe her,” Bill replied hesitantly. “When she needed me most, I failed her, and she’s like this because of me. The least I can do is look after her till her mind comes back to right.”
Bollin sighed heavily. “Always did have a good heart. Not much in the way of brains, but a good heart.”
“What’s the job?” Bill asked with a smile.
The Dwarf nodded. “Right. So, this local merchant lord, Kelvin Brannan by name, has been having a bit of trouble with bandits on the south road.”
“The Steelsinger gang,” Bill nodded.
“You’ve heard of them, I see,” Bollin smiled. “Good boy, keeping your ear to the ground.”
“What sort of man is the client?”
Bollin shrugged. “Decent enough sort. More good than bad, I’d say. Has a pretty wife, three kids, and a fine house up in the Trinit District.”
“What’s he asked you to do?”
“Go kick their heads in a bit,” Bollin answered. “Seems they have it in for him in a serious way. Can’t say as to why, but from the word on the street, it’s to do with him refusing to pay their ‘insurance’ prices.”
“I see,” Bill thought, rubbing his chin.
“I knew you were coming this way, and waited about for you, thought if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you’d lend an old Dwarf a hand.” Bollin settled back in his chair.
“Of course,” Bill said. “I’ve got work lined up here, but my contact isn’t due to arrive for at least a week, so I don’t see why I can’t toss in. What’s the pay out?”
“One thousand gold coins,” Bollin replied.
Bill whistled. “That’s a solid amount of money.”
“Enough to call this my last job for, that’s a certainty,” Bollin chuckled.
“Okay then, we split sixty forty?”
“Fair enough, if you don’t mind contributing to my drinking fund.”
“That’s my boy.”
“Your daddy’s a Dwarf?” Kris screamed, having only returned.
Two days of hiking brought the trio to the area the bandit gang roamed. Bill already missed the bed. Kris hadn’t stopped talking the entire time. Bollin wondered if a Dwarf’s head could simply explode.
Night had fallen as they made their way through the trees and bushes, drawing up on the gang’s encampment. With stealth a necessity, Bill had managed to get Kris to use her quiet voice, a detail Bollin was eternally grateful for.
Cresting a rise, they saw the camp easily. Dozens of fires burned amidst dozens of tents. They could easily make out the forms moving about the sprawl, Bill counting around thirty, just that he could see.
“Good bit more than we expected,” Bollin muttered.
“Do you hear what I hear?” Bill asked suddenly, cocking his ear to the wind.
“A child, a child, crying in the night?” Kris asked him back.
Bill and Bollin stared at her curiously. She smiled, liking all the attention.
“Actually, yeah, that’s exactly what I hear,” Bill finally said.
“As do I,” Bollin growled, digging his spyglass from his pocket.
He studied the camp for a long time, scanning across it slowly, before pausing. He shook his head, handing the glass to Bill who trained it where the Dwarf pointed. A rough looking man was dragging three children behind him in chains, two boys and a girl.
“Brannon’s children,” Bollin grunted as Bill lowered the glass and handed it back. “Seems the Steelsingers are tired of hitting his coin purse.”
“Babies,” Kris said softly.
“This complicates things a good deal,” Bill told his mentor. “We’re going to need a new plan.”
“Agreed,” Bollin replied. “I’ll come from the south, try to reach the little ones. You hit them from the north and draw their attention.”
“You’ll need to wait till I’m there and have them engaged, or else they’ll spot you,” Bill pointed out.
“This isn’t my first time, son,” Bollin told him gruffly.
“I’ll send up a signal,” Bill grinned.
“Oh, my boy, I’ve seen you fight,” Bollin chuckled. “I think that their screams will be signal enough.”
Bill laughed. “Okay, then, Kris, I need you to…”
Kris was gone. Bill glanced about, suddenly fearful, before spotting her at the same time Bollin did. The Elf was marching on the camp.
“Crap,” Bill growled, shoving the Dwarf. “Go! GO!”
Kris stormed the camp, her staff billowing great gouts of fire, burning all it touched. Men screamed as they were engulfed, and she left them to die without even blinking.
She was not in a rage, but determined, her face set, her eyes hard, as she chanted, calling on her spells and the very spirits of the woodland to do her bidding.
Men came at her, and were entangled in vines that drug them down into the earth. More charged, and were smashed by great shards of ice that fell from the cloudless night sky.
Archers fired at her, and she frowned, turning their pitiful wooden arrows back on them, transforming them into vipers as they flew. Their screams were music to her ears.
More men came, brandishing their weapons. She turned them into trees, then commanded them to rise up, impaling their former fellows with their branches. With a wave of her hand, she turned others into doves, which flew away.
They cowered before her, and she showed them pity, letting them die by fire. They were nothing. She was a Goddess, and her vengeance knew no bounds.
By the time Bill reached the camp, there was little left of it. Those who had not already died screamed for mercy. He paused, his heart twisting in agony.
His Kris, his beautiful mad Kris, had found herself again. He could think of nothing else, save the pain and horror he knew was flooding her mind, her past rising up and devouring her whole.
“By the Fates,” Bollin gasped, wandering to Bill’s side. “What is she?”
“Kris!” Bill bellowed, storming through the camp. “KRIS!“
He found her soon enough, within the only tent that did not burn. The guards outside it lay on the ground, bloated as locusts continued to crawl from their mouths. He bowed his head, asking only that she forgive him.
He stepped inside and saw her, kneeling, the merchants three children gathered to her. They lived, and wept, clinging to her.
“I got the babies, Bill,” Kris said. “I got the babies.”
He looked at her and felt a knife in his heart. Bollin stood by him, eyes wide with awe.
“They’re safe now,” Kris choked out past tears. “I got the babies.”
Bill sat on a stone bench, Bollin by his side, and watched as Kris chased the children of Kelvin Brannon around the wide yard, laughing.
The merchant lord had thanked them, and paid double for the safe return of his children. Bill glanced at where he stood with his wife, and smiled. Their eyes knew only love for the three little ones.
“William,” Bollin said softly. “Who is that woman?”
“Krysthalanis Shirafilannia Ar’Verum,” Bill replied, watching her as the children tackled her.
Bollin stared at him in shock. “Tell me you’re joking, son.”
“I take it all back,” the Dwarf sighed. “You’re the mad one.”
“Does she know who she is?”
“Not really. She can’t remember anything for long.”
“This isn’t right, boy.”
“I was asked to care for her, Bollin. I couldn’t say no. Not after what I cost her.”
Bollin stared at the man he loved as his own son. “This can’t go on, you know that.”
Bill sighed. “I know. And it won’t. Her mind will right itself in time. When it does, I’ll take her home.”
“And what of you, then, son? What will you do?”
“Billy,” Kris yelled, waving at him. “Come and play with us!”
“I don’t know,” Bill admitted as he stood. “But for now, I’m going to go play.”
Bollin nodded sadly, watching his son go and play chase with the mad druid and the human children. His boy had chosen a hard road, and one with no happy end. It tore his heart, but he knew, anything less, and he wouldn’t be Bill Wick.
The old Dwarf got up, and joined them.
©-2016 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No doves were harmed in the writing of this short story.