Saving the Shore: Scene Eight

© 2007 Hank Quense

The next morning, Frido sat in his office contemplating the complexities of saving the Shore. Last night, Mamzer, embarrassed by his spell casting, had announced a five-year sabbatical and left. Dementia and Gimlet also left the Shore at the same time. The yuks were now unopposed.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae burst into the office.

Frido’s heart thumped in his chest.

“Ya gotta help us.” Freddie Mac’s face contorted in pain.

“Yeah, it’s all yer fault.” Fannie Mae held a hand against one cheek.

Frido frowned as he studied the faces of the two yuks. “You look different.”

“We gotta get our teeth pulled,” Freddie Mac said. “Quick. And all me guys got the same problem.”

“It’s ’cause of that mucky magic.” Fannie Mae grimaced in pain as she spoke. “That sweet stuff rotted our teeth. Please help us.”

Frido felt the hair on the his neck and feet stand up. The yuks needed his help! The salvation of the Shore was at hand. “Why should I help you?”

“It’s the nice thing to do.” Fannie Mae whined and looked like she was about to cry.

“Perhaps,” Frido said, “if we agreed on your construction projects?”

Freddie Mac glared at him. “Dat’s blackmail, ya little runt.”

“Drop the houses. Build just the roads and the casino. No deal, no teeth pullers.”

Freddie Mac started to argue until Fannie Mae punched his arm. “Do it.”

“And I don’t marry her sisters.” Frido pointed to Fannie Mae.

“I’m gonna go bankrupt,” Freddie Mac moaned.

Frido ordered his bailiff to escort the two yuks to the closest teeth puller.

He sat back in his chair and relaxed for the first time in days.

The Shore-shrub, bursting with yellow blooms, sat in a fertile flower bed.

An hour later, the two yuks came back. “How about ya let me put up a few buildings for stories and shops. I gotta get some rent money.”

Frido’s eyes widen in surprise. A few shops would offer more jobs and may even attract visitors to the Shore. Especially with the new roads in place to ease travel. “That strikes me as a good idea.”

“Good. ‘Cause then we gotta way to stop her sisters from moochin’ off me.” Freddie Mac looked pleased.

“What’s that?” Frido asked, perplexed.

“Me sisters’re gonna open fast food restaurants inna new shops,” Fannie Mae beamed.

Frido ran through the names of available doctors in the Shore. The list wasn’t long enough, he decided, to handle an epidemic of food poisoning cases.

Some of the Shore-shrub’s leaves turned yellow.

The end


Next month, the serialized story will be sci-fi: Poetry Power.  A space pirate a discovers and new and unanticipated use for poetry.

Saving the Shore: Scene Seven

© 2007 Hank Quense

Frido, his three companions and Wygga, each carrying one of the rings, set out the next morning. Mild weather and blue sky would have made for a pleasant walk except Frido was too nervous and depressed to notice the weather. If Freddie Mac or Mamzer won the day, his Shore would lose. A stalemate between the antagonists was his only hope.

A half-mile from the river border of the Shore, they heard the thud of axes. The smell of wood smoke drifted along on a mild breeze. From the crest of a rise that overlooked the river, they saw a mob of yuks working on the road. Large cauldrons of black stew bubbled over fires and emitted an acrid stench. Freddie Mac roared orders and Fannie Mae, wearing a red wig, flirted with the workers.

“We better assemble the rings,” Wygga said. She twisted the yellow one and it clicked open. Mamzer gawked at it. Wygga looped the yellow ring through the blue and back rings and snapped it shut. Instantly, the three rings formed a rigid structure. The dragon opened the green ring, looped it through both the black and red rings and closed it. The rings now formed a solid, two-rowed configuration. She handed it back to Mamzer and said, “After you use it, I’ll take it apart and carry it back to my den.”

“Now you see why I needed the owner’s manual,” Mamzer said to Frido.

Frido snorted.

“How do I cast a spell without getting a nosebleed?” Mamzer asked.

“You’re safe now that it is put together.”

“Let me talk to the yuks before you do anything,” Frido said, as he set out down the rise.

“Enough with the talk,” Gimlet said, “let’s kick some yuk butt.”

Frido approached the river and called out in what he hoped was a stern voice, “Cease your activities. If you come closer, you will suffer the consequences.”

“Hey! Ya wanna fight, do ya?” Freddie Mac’s mouth curled into a sneer. “Even gotta dragon, I see. Looks like it should be inna old-timer’s home ‘stead of bein’ out where it can get hurt.” He turned to his workers. “Get yer weapons. We gonna have some fun.”

The yuks responded with laughter and good-natured pushing and shoving. They fetched spears and curved swords from tents scattered among the trees and formed into two platoons, each forty strong. Fannie Mae walked through the ranks, improving morale.

“This ring thingee better work,” Dementia said.

“Build up a belly fire,” Mamzer told Wygga, “just in case.”

“I can’t. I ran out of coal.”

“There’s plenty of wood around,” Mamzer replied. “It’s fibrous and will do wonders for your digestive track.”

“Wood does taste better but it doesn’t burn hot enough. I won’t be able to snort fire today.”

Alarmed at the sight of armed yuks, Frido made it back up the rise in a state of agitation. His mouth was so dry, he didn’t think he’d be able to talk. The situation had taken a nasty turn and threatened to careen out of control. He had a potential massacre on his hands and he was included in the folks getting massacred.

“Iffen this spell don’t work, I got me a big problem,” Gimlet said.

“Aww, is dwarfy afraid of the big bad yuks?” Dementia asked.

“Naw, I didn’t get to ask about the potty break.”

Freddie Mac ordered his yuks forward. Fannie Mac blew kisses to the troops as they marched past her.

“Iffen Mamzer don’t do somethin’ quick,” Gimlet told Frido, “you’re gonna see more trouble than you ever dreamed of.”

“Cast a spell!” Frido cried out.

“Do it,” Wygga said.

“Now!” Dementia shouted.

“Good thing you got a dwarf with you. Dwarfs always get wizards outta the messes they make.” Gimlet spit on the blade of his ax and wiped it around with his hand.

Dementia wailed:

“He spits on his ax,
Before he gives whacks.
The dwarf’s a pig, and,
Certainly not a prig.”

“Iffen I knew what ‘prig’ meant, I’d probably get mad at you.” Gimlet took a few warm-up swings.

“Well, I guess it’s time.” Mamzer held the rings over his head and mumbled.

“Out loud,” Wygga said. “The rings won’t take silent orders.”

“Cast a spell!” Frido screamed in a cracked voice. “The yuks are almost at the bridge.”

“I command you –”

“In Elvish B,” Wygga said.


“The rings will only obey to commands in the Elvish B language.”

“Umm . . . Flarish . . er . . .sturath . . . warieth . . . lertans . . . herazernt.”

“Fool!” Wygga roared. “You said, ‘Cast a spell and make it brown.’ What kind of magic is that?”

“Look!” Dementia pointed towards the yuks.

Starting at the bridge and moving away from the Shore, the black surface of the road turned light brown. The yuks sank in the material up to their ankles. The front ranks fell forward when they tried to march in the gunk. When they pulled their faces out of the sticky surface, it covered their noses, mouths and eyes. They worked themselves into sitting positions and stuffed handfuls of road into their mouths.

“What did you do?” Frido asked Mamzer.

“He turned the road into marzipan dough,” Wygga said. “It’s made out of almond paste and sugar.”

A red-faced Mamzer looked at his feet and shook his head.

Freddie Mac roared and cursed at his troops who ignored him.

Fannie Mae scooped up a handful of road and crammed it into Freddie Mac’s mouth. “Shaddup and eat,” she said.

“I’m gonna sneak up and slaughter a few yuks,” Gimlet said. “Be right back.”

“No you’re not,” Frido said. “Our problem is over.”

“Wot’re you talkin’ about.” Gimlet cast a furious look at Frido. “When they finish eatin’ they’ll attack us.”

“No, they won’t.” Frido shook his head. “When they finish, they’ll be sick to their stomachs and their teeth will hurt. We don’t have to worry about the yuks for a while.”

“My apologies, Frido,” Mamzer said. “I didn’t think anyone here would have the wit to divine the subtleties of my plan to disable the yuks without violence.”

“Hah!” Dementia keened:

“The wiz says it was carefully planned,
As plain as a face in front of a hand.
He made some sticky brown stuff,
To show us the yuks ain’t all that tough.”

“Enough with the songs, already,” Mamzer snarled.

Frido sighed with relief and anguish. Relief that the situation had ended without violence. Anguish because now the Shore faced slow death from the lack of change. His Shore-shrub stood in rocky, infertile soil.


To be concluded

Saving the Shore: Scene Six

© 2007 Hank Quense


Mamzer spent the next day experimenting. Despite the loss of blood, he persevered through eight configurations. In that eighth one, he built a peg board to resemble the wall in Wygga’s cave. The ensuing explosion brought the Shore fire wagon rushing to Frido’s house. At last, a weary, pale Mamzer dumped the rings on Frido’s kitchen table and announced, “Without the owner’s manual, I’m stymied. I can’t build the proper configuration.”

“Without the rings, we can’t follow our plan to use magic to stop the yuks,” Dementia said.

“To stop yuks, you need dwarfs, not magic,” Gimlet said. “How many yuks are there?”

“My bailiff says about eighty.”

Gimlet bit his lip and pulled his beard. “How many fingers of ten?”

“Eight,” Frido replied.

“Hmm. It’ll take me about two hours to hack through that many. I gotta negotiate with ’em before the battle.”

“Whatever for?” Dementia cocked her head and looked at the dwarf.

“I’ll be needin’ a potty break. All that red stuff drippin’ and sloshin’ around works just like water, you know.”

Frido ignored Gimlet’s battle plans. The fate of his Shore depended upon the two opposite powers balancing each other. Both advocated unacceptable conditions and Frido had hoped to negotiate a compromise position. Without the rings, the Shore was at the mercy of the money-grubbing Freddie Mac.

His musings were interrupted by a sound from the door. When he opened it, his heart jumped into his throat. Wygga stuck her gray-whiskered snout through the opening. Her breath stank of coal. Tongues of flame licked her lips and tendrils of smoke drifted upward. “Well. The whole gang of thieves.”

“Flee!” Mamzer screamed. “Flee for your lives.” The wizard jumped out of his chair. “Er, Frido? Where’s the back door?”

Frido groaned. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, now he faced an angry dragon looking for retribution. If he was lucky, only his house would get burned down.

“Stop yelling,” Wygga said to Mamzer. “I came for my rings. If I get them back, I’ll let everyone live.”

“Might as well give them back,” Mamzer said, “we can’t use them.”

“Of course you can’t,” Wygga said. “You need the entire set before you can use them. One would think a wizard would know that before he stole them.”

Frido’s eyebrows shot up and suddenly he couldn’t get enough air. Possibly, the answer to the Shore’s problems blocked his doorway. He counted to ten to calm his nerves, cleared his throat and said, “If you had all five rings, would you know how to use them?”

“Certainly. Alas, I can’t find a black ring to complete the set. I’m sure it’s been destroyed.”

Frido gestured to the others to stop muttering. “What would you do if you found the fifth ring?”

“First, I’d fix my rheumatism and my arthritis. Then I’d move my den to someplace warmer. That cave under the mountain never gets warm no matter how much coal I burn in the fireplace.”

Frido walked to the table, picked up the black ring and held it over his head for Wygga to see. “Perhaps we can do a deal.” Frido hoped he had found the necessary ingredient to bring the opposite forces back into balance. Trusting a dragon was risky, but Wygga couldn’t make the situation worse than it already was.

Some of the insects on the Shore-shrub fell into the water.


To be continued

Saving the Shore: Scene Five

© 2007 Hank Quense

When Frido returned home, a dejected Mamzer shuffled the rings around the kitchen table.

“How’d the meeting go?” Dementia asked.

“Terrible. Freddie Mac won’t give up on the houses.”

“That’s good,” Gimlet said. “Now I’ll get a shot at carving some yuk heads.”

“He also promised to kidnap me some night and make me marry a yuk gal.” Frido shuddered at the thought.

“That’s terrible!” Dementia said.

“Yeah,” Gimlet added. “With a yuk wife, you’re probably gonna die of food poisoning ’cause they ain’t too good at cookin’. He patted the blade of his ax. “But I’ll make sure you don’t end up with a yuk bride.”

“Any progress?” Frido asked the wizard.

“I’m still taking the measure of the artifact to compensate for the lack of an operating manual. I feel it is time I experimented with various configurations.” He stood and walked to the wood pile where he grabbed a birch log. He balanced the log on one end and slid the rings over it.

“What are you doin’?” Gimlet asked.

“I’ll try a tower configuration. The log keeps the ring tower from sliding apart. If this doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.” He flapped his hands at his companions. “Stand back. I need quiet.” Mamzer pushed up the sleeves of his robe. Frown lines filled his forehead. He closed his eyes and said in a loud, commanding voice. “Begin!”

He squinted with one eye at the rings. Nothing happened. He closed his eyes again and held his arms outstretched, “I command you to respond to me.”

The rings squirmed and rotated slightly.

“Hah!” Mamzer assumed a smug look.

A wisp of smoke rose from the log.

“What’s it doing?” Frido felt the hair on his neck rise. He didn’t fancy a kitchen fire.

“Shush. The rings are adapting themselves to my style of leadersh–”

The log ignited into a pillar of flames, setting fire to a ceiling beam. Frido grabbed a pot of tea and threw the liquid at the blaze, extinguishing part of the fire and drenching Mamzer. Dementia grabbed a towel and beat out the rest of the flames.

Frido coughed from the stink of burning wood and scalded tea. “You almost burned down my home,” he snarled at Mamzer who stood with his head thrown back as if examining the ceiling.

“Nonsense. This beam is hardly scorched.”

“Why’re you standin’ like that?” Gimlet asked.

“I have a nose bleed.”

“Any more testing gets done outside,” Frido said. “And we don’t have much time. My bailiff told me the construction crews are close to the Shore border.”


To be continued

Saving the Shore: Scene Four

© 2007 Hank Quense

Frido walked towards his office in the central market area of the Shore. Ancient oak, elm and plane trees shaded the lane and a gentle breeze blew against his back bringing smells from the beach and the fishing piers. He nodded to every one he saw, all of them half-pints. Produce, meat and fish stalls lined the streets in the market area. In front of two open-air restaurants, folks ate breakfast, drank tea, read newspapers and gossiped. Under the yuk plans, this pleasant and bucolic atmosphere would be replaced by mobs of mixed races.

Frido entered the borough hall and made his way to his office in the rear. He heard the harsh voice of Freddie Mac browbeating his bailiff. A second squeaky voice puzzled him.

“There he is,” the bailiff said, pointing at Frido just before fleeing the building.

“Hey! Ya little runt!” Freddie Mac’s booming voice reverberated through the building. “Ya finally come to yer senses?”

Frido sat down in his office and sighed. Today promised to be long and wearisome
Freddie Mac filled the doorway. As always, the raw ugliness of the yuk shocked Frido. His eyes, black with red irises, radiated cruelty. Green-skinned and huge with a massive bald head, Freddie Mac wore only canvas pants. Clumps of black hair dotted his powerful chest and thick arms. “I brang me girl friend on account of because she ain’t never seen a half-pint before and I was tellin’ her how good they taste when cooked proper.”

Freddie Mac walked into the office and took a seat while Frido gaped at the girl friend. As tall and as wide as Freddie Mac, she carried a large leather purse on a shoulder strap and wore a short-sleeved white blouse with a black mini-skirt. The skimpy outfit left acres of skin exposed, all of it bulging with muscles and a few patches of black stubble. She flipped a hand through her long blond wig and chirped, “Me name’s Fannie Mae. Pleased to meetcha.” She slouched past Freddie Mac and wiggled into an empty chair by a round window with a view of a brook and a stand of silver birches. The chair groaned in protest.

“Aww,” she cooed. “He’s too cute to cook. Look! He’s got furry feet. Betcha my sisters’d love one of ’em.” She elbowed Freddie Mac while giggling.

“Ya gonna give me buildin’ permits?” Freddie Mac asked.

“No. Your plan to build houses will destroy the character of the Shore.”

“Don’t care wot happens to the Shore. I can make a pile of money from rentin’ the houses.”

“I like the idea of the roads, and the casino will provide a lot of jobs, but the houses cannot be allowed.” Frido folded his arms across his chest. “They will increase the population and the pollution.” Frido hoped his voice carried more conviction than he felt.

“Freddie Mac needs the rent money,” Fannie Mae took a foot-long rasp from her purse and filed her three-inch nails, “’cause I’m expensive.”

“The Shore will fight.”

“Fight, shmight. The Shore don’t got any troops and I ain’t changin’ plans ’cause a bunch of midgets get mad.”

“We have allies, you know.”

“The dwarf and the elf?” Freddie sneered at Frido. “And Mamzer? I’m surprised the old fool never blew off a foot wid a spell.”

Frido’s stomach clenched like a fist. How did Freddie Mac know so much about the others? The yuk must have spies keeping watch on his house.

Freddie Mac waved a hand and gave Frido a grin. “I was hopin’ ya would play ball. I bet the next mayor’ll be happy to work wid me.”

“You plan to assassinate me?” Frido had trouble breathing.

“Naw. Ain’t gonna waste a prime candidate by killin’ him. Gotta much better plan.”

Frido felt slightly better that Freddie Mac didn’t plan a murder. “Wh . . what plan?”

“Fannie Mae’s got five unmarried sisters, see. All moochin’ off me. I’m gonna kidnap ya and throw ya inna room wid all of ’em. Ya don’t get out ’til ya pick one of ’em to marry. To live happily ever after.”

“Or not.” Fannie Mae exploded into laughter.

Frido could only gape at the pair of yuks as he shuddered at their hideous plan.

“But don’t get yer hopes up,” Freddie Mac said. “Fannie Mae’s the only pretty one in the bunch. Her sisters are real ugly.”

“Ain’t this a great plan?” Fannie Mae asked. “It’ll be the third sister we get rid of.” She draped an arm over Freddie Mac’s shoulder. “Maybe we can get him to marry two of ’em.”

“Wotta gal.” Freddie Mac pounded her on the back. “Brains and good looks.

The yuks stood up and walked toward the door. Freddie Mac paused and said, “Some night, real soon, I’m gonna come and get ya. Ya should pack a bag so’s ya ready.”

Howling with glee, they left Frido shaking with trepidation.

The outer leaves on the Shore-shrub turned black and curled up.


To be continued

Saving the Shore: Scene Three

© 2007 Hank Quense

Back from the quest, Mamzer laid out the five rings on Frido’s kitchen table. In addition to the black one, the others were colored red, yellow, blue and green. Frido cooked a slab of bacon in a skillet and filled the room with its aroma.

“Now what happens,” Gimlet asked.

“I’m not sure.” Mamzer stoked his chin.

“You have the rings, so use them.” Dementia ran a comb through her hair, removing the detritus of life on a quest.

“The rings are inert until I can properly configure them.”

“So what’s the problem?” Gimlet asked.

“Frido didn’t fetch the owner’s manual. As a consequence of his partial retrieval, I have to use trial and error to find the proper set up.”

“There wasn’t any book in Wygga’s den.” Frido slammed the skillet on the stove.

“How long will this take?” Dementia asked.

“These things can’t be rushed, you see. I’m dealing with an artifact of extraordinary power and I must use caution.”

“I better see Freddie Mac and try to gain some time.” Frido sighed in disappointment. Despite a successful three-week quest, they still didn’t have any means to dissuade the yuk from destroying the Shore. He pictured his Shore-shrub still in brackish water and infested with mites.

Read Scene Two from Saving the Shore

© 2007 Hank Quense

Ten days later, Frido lurked in the shadows of a narrow tunnel and observed Wygga, a red and gold dragon. Very little armor scale remained on her thin, gaunt body. She slept on her treasure pile: several gold coins, trinkets, brass flagons gone green with age, broken plates and well-chewed bones. A coal fire blazed in a hearth carved into the rock wall and a pile of coal lumps sat alongside the fireplace. Coal smoke permeated the cave, tickling his nose. Frido struggled to suppress a fatal sneeze.

On the wall opposite, four rings dangled from five pegs arranged in two rows. The top row had three pegs with an empty middle one. Frido was surprised the dragon didn’t hear his pounding heart. Mamzer’s plan called for the other three to enter the main tunnel and distract Wygga so Frido could filch the rings. The plan sounded good when he was outside the cave but now he had serious doubts about it, and the longer he waited, the more flawed the plan seemed.

“Whazzat?” Wygga’s head came up, cocked to one side.

Frido heard distant, muffled voices.

“Thieves!” Wygga stood up. “I’ll teach them a lesson.” She limped to the coal pile, grabbed a mouthful and swallowed. “Ugh!” Wygga shuddered as she slithered into the main tunnel.

As soon as her head disappeared, Frido slipped out of the tunnel and crossed to the ring wall. He gathered himself into a crouch and sprang up. He missed the lower rings by a good margin. Frantic, he glanced around the cave.

“I thought we were supposed to meet a dragon,” Frido heard Gimlet say. “This one is just an overgrown lizard.”

Wygga roared. Frido wondered if it was from indignation or indigestion. Only the tip of her tail now remained visible.

“Hey!” Dementia said. “You told us the dragon didn’t have any fire left. So why is smoke coming out of her mouth?”

“Uh-oh,” Mamzer said.

Frido found a broken spear shaft.

Dementia sang:


“I don’t mind sticks and stones,
Or even broken bones,
But I don’t like toast,
And I won’t be a roast.”

“That ain’t funny, girl,” Gimlet said.

“Let me know how this turns out,” Dementia yelled. “I’m leaving.”

“Flee!” Mamzer screamed. “Flee for your lives.”

Frido retrieved the lower rings using the spear shaft. His elation at his partial success deflated when he peeked at Wygga and saw her tail moving backward. He jumped and the shaft touched an upper ring. It rocked back and forth.

Frido jumped again and missed.

Wygga’s rump backed out of the tunnel.

“Where’d the lizard get to?” Gimlet yelled. “There she is. Here’s a rock for your treasure pile, frog-face.”

After an angry yelp, Wygga completely disappeared into the tunnel.

“Come now,” Mamzer said. “A dragon this old can’t still be flammable. Move forward you two. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Hey!” Gimlet said. “What’s she doin’ now?”

“Out of my way!” Dementia screeched.

“Flee!” Mamzer screamed. “Flee for your lives.”

Frido tried again. He knocked a ring off its peg and snatched it out of mid-air. Wygga’s hind legs reappeared in the cave. He took a gulp of smoky air and leaped. He hit the last ring harder than he wanted to and it soared off the peg. Frido reached for it, but it was too far away and it landed with a metallic clank.

“Who’s there?” Wygga roared. “Another thief?”

Frido, with three rings looped over his forearm, chased the fourth. He snatched the rolling ring and ran towards the escape tunnel. From the corner of his eye, he saw Wygga’s head turn in his direction. He dove behind a boulder just as Wygga belched a ball of fire. The flames passed over his head to blacken the wall behind him. Frido scrambled to his feet and ran. He reached the tunnel entrance a moment before another blast of flame engulfed it.


To be continued

Saving the Shore: Scene One

This is the start of a new series of scenes from a short story.  If you ever wondered what happened to the descendants of the Ringbearer, you’re about to find out about one of them

Here is the story blurb:  Frido, the mayor of the Shore, struggles to save it from the gruesome Yuks who want to destroy the pristine nature of the area. (Yuks are related to Orcs but aren’t as friendly)

This story was originally published by Glassfire in January 2007

~ ~ ~


© 2007 Hank Quense
Frido knew he had to save his beloved shore, but he didn’t know how. He set a cup of tea in front of the wizard Mamzer who stared at the wall and wove his hands through his long white beard. Frido sighed. Mamzer wasn’t his wizard of first choice, but he was the only one who had responded to the help-wanted ad. Mamzer’s resume indicated he had been semiretired for years and Frido couldn’t find out if that was voluntary or forced. Despite that concern, Frido was desperate and he needed wizardly help.

Mamzer’s preoccupation increased Frido’s nervousness. This morning’s meeting could decide the fate of the Shore and he needed Mamzer awake and alert. Frido cleared his throat, but the stoop-shouldered, large-paunched old man continued to stare into the distance as if in a trance.

A knock on the door startled Frido. Before he could respond, the round door opened and a tall elf-maiden entered. “I seek the wizard Mamzer,” she said. “My name is Dementia.” Her green eyes glared defiantly around the room as if daring Frido to challenge her. She had pretty features and shoulder-length silver hair.

“Come in, my dear.” Mamzer broke out of his trance and smiled at Dementia. “Sit down.” Dementia approached the table and dropped her bow and arrow and a leather-encased harp.

“I’ll get another cup of tea,” Frido said and left the room. When he returned, a fierce-looking dwarf had walked through the door.

“You Mamzer?” the dwarf asked. Broad nostrils filled the space over a small mouth.

“Indeed, I am,” Mamzer replied.

“Name’s Gimlet.” He tossed a large war ax in the corner but kept wearing his helmet with a straw-littered spider web stretched between the two horns. He tucked his henna-colored beard into his belt, glanced at the cup Frido carried and said, “None of that colored water for me, boy. Fetch an ale.”

“Gimlet, that half-pint is our host, not a servant.” Mamzer chuckled. “Frido is the mayor of the Shore and we’re all here to help him.”

Frido gave Dementia her tea and ran off again. When he returned, he handed Gimlet an ale. The dwarf was the same height as Frido but twice as wide.

Gimlet drained the mug in one gulp. “Who’s this?” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and thrust his chin at Dementia.

“Dementia,” Mamzer said. “She just graduated from Bard and Beautician Trade School and will record our quest for posterity.”

Gimlet smiled at the elf and wiggled his ears. They lay amidst a tangle of brown hair that stuck out from beneath his helmet.

Dementia pulled a face but otherwise ignored the dwarf.

“Let’s all sit down and discuss our mission,” Mamzer said.

Frido sat down but couldn’t keep still. He squirmed from anxiety and excitement. There was so much at stake.

“By way of background,” Mamzer said, “the Shore has existed virtually unchanged for centuries. Frido’s ancestor, the famous what’s-his-name, went on a quest, saved the world from evil and ensured the preservation of the Shore. Now all is threatened. Frido, tell us about the problem.”

“It’s yuks.” Frido cleared his throat twice before continuing. “There’s a gang of them approaching the Shore. They’re building roads using black stuff. Asphalt they call it.”

“Road’s ain’t bad,” Gimlet said. “They help you get to wherever you gotta go.”

“I agree,” Frido replied. “The roads will help our farmers get their produce to market a lot faster. But it’s not just the roads. The yuks plan to build houses alongside the roads. They’ll have to cut down thousands of trees to build those houses and an influx of new residents will change the character of the Shore. They also plan to build a gambling casino.”

“Who’s doing this?” Dementia asked.

“The yuk leader is named Freddie Mac. My bailiff says he runs a big loan-sharking operation and is using the profits to build the roads.”

“You’re the mayor. Don’t let ’em build anything.” Gimlet gave a savage nod with his head.

“I told Freddie Mac I won’t issue permits for the houses, but he doesn’t care. My problem, you see, isn’t the roads or the casino. It’s the houses. We need the casino to provide jobs. Jobs will keep our young people from leaving the Shore.”

“Nonsense.” Mamzer tapped a knuckle on the table. “With yuks, one must take a firm stand. Don’t let them set foot in the Shore. Don’t let them cut down a single tree. That’s why we’re here. To stop the desecration of the Shore.”

Frido grimaced. Mamzer had decided his mission in life was to preserve the Shore unchanged. Like Freddie Mac, the wizard refused to listen to Frido.

“This ain’t a big problem,” Gimlet said. “Round up the local militia and drive the yuks to the other side of the Puce Mountains. I’ll help ’cause I love to fight yuks.”

Frido gawked at the dwarf, alarmed by his ferociousness. “The Shore doesn’t have a militia or any weapons.”

“With a bit of gold, I can get fifty armed relatives and finish off the yuks in no time.”

“Fighting never solves a problem.” Frido fidgeted on his chair.

Gimlet rolled his eyes.

“The Shore runs on principles of peacefulness,” Frido added, “not violence.”

“So, let me summarize,” Mamzer said. “To protect the Shore from the yuks, we will employ magic. That will satisfy the half-pint’s abhorrence with violence.”

“You have enough magical power to stop the yuks?” Dementia gave Mamzer a questioning look.

“No, but that is why we’re here. To go on a quest to acquire a powerful magical artifact.”

“Ain’t no artifacts left,” Gimlet said.

Mamzer straightened his shoulders and stared at the dwarf. “I have discovered the location of such an artifact.”

“Hah!” Gimlet responded.

“I’ve spent years researching this very artifact.”

“And then I suppose someone told you where it is?” Gimlet cocked an eye at the wizard.

“Er . . . that merely validated my research.”

“What is it that we seek?” Dementia asked.

“A set of rings. There are five of them but we only need to obtain four, because Frido has the fifth one hanging on over his fireplace.”

“I do?” Frido turned to look at the black metal ring. It had hung there as far back as he could remember.

“Fetch it and we’ll take a look,” Mamzer said.

Frido pulled his chair to the fireplace, stood on it and took down the ring. He ran a finger over the smooth cold surface. He gave it to Dementia.

“Made from pure mithril,” Mamzer said. “It’s black instead of silver because of a spell cast when it was made.”

“What do these runes say?” Dementia handed the ring to Mamzer.

Mamzer held the ring up to the light and peered at it. “Improper use of this device can cause stomach cramps, nose bleeding and/or dizziness. Bah! Standard warning label for a Class III artifact.”

“So tell me, Mamzer, why do we need a smelly dwarf?” Dementia removed her harp from its case and softly plucked the strings.

“The other rings are in the possession of a dragon,” Mamzer replied. “A doughty dwarf axman may come in handy, even if the dragon is old and feeble.”

“Goin’ onna quest with an elf-maiden should be lively,” Gimlet said.

“Puleez! When was the last time you took a bath?”

“Two months ago.”

“Really? That recently?” Dementia arched an eyebrow.

“Fell inna river but I got all wet and that’s what counts, ain’t it?”

Accompanied by her harp, Dementia sang in a deep voice:

“He got all wet,
But not on a bet.
Dare I a hope
The dwarf used soap?”

“Soap! Soap’s for sissies.”

“Your attention please,” Mamzer said. “We must leave immediately so that we can return before the yuks do irreparable harm to the Shore.”

Frido thought of the Shore as a rare, delicate shrub; his Shore-shrub. His job as mayor was to protect and nurture the plant. He had mixed feelings about the quest and about the help he was getting since Mamzer wanted all yuk activity stopped, and then there was Gimlet. The dwarf oozed violence and that made Frido very apprehensive. All in all, the Shore-shrub now stood in a foot of brackish water.


To be continued.