The Challenge

The Challenge

August 10, 2018

Bertram looked out and over the valley from the tower. The valley looked peaceful with the river running through it, the mountains in the background. All was at peace, except here in the castle itself. His family had been running out of food for days now, nothing new had come into the valley and the others were getting restless. Only seven survived, seven out of a host of 200. The future looked dim.

"Look, Bertram!" Mosey called out "I see a wagon, it isn't a caravan, but I do see a wagon." Swinging around to view where Mosey looked he saw the little girl was right. "Sharp eyes little one, maybe they brought food they can share or at least we could buy. The one thing we own is coin. I do hope they are farmers or merchants."

Sam flicked the reins, and the oxen moved on just as fast as they had been moving before he flicked them. "It's alright you huge brutes, it isn't like I expect you to move any faster." Claire, his wife, and business partner looked at the castle in the distance. "I didn't realize anything lived around here, you said this whole area was empty and well deserted." Claire pointed with her left hand "Unless I am blind and making things up, I am pretty sure that is smoke, and most things don't smoke by themselves." 

Sam looked at where Claire pointed and shrugged. "Who knows, I mean at the last town we stopped in everyone there believed the world was filled with angels and demons and you had to be one or the other. I am not expecting everything they told us to be right?" Claire laughed, "Those people are strange I grant you. I would think though being an angel or a demon they would at least know where the next group of people would be living." Sam shrugged, he didn't agree or disagree having been married long enough to keep an opinion to himself.

Pulling hard on the reins the two oxen stopped and stood still. Sam didn't trust animals that didn't want to fight him the way horses usually did, these beasts walked, plodding along and didn't seem to have a care in the world, it felt almost spooky to him. "Well, we can at least stop for the night I guess, it looks like if nothing else we could make camp in the field up ahead. Hopefully, they might want to trade or something, it's been light selling this whole trip."

Bertram made his way down to the gate and walked through, it being left open now, no one worried about someone coming in to make off with the crown jewels or something. Money could buy a lot of things, when you were out of food, well it was simpler to not care about things like gold and jewels. His hands on his hips, saying out of the corner of his mouth "Mosey, don't go trying to steal an apple or do something to put these people on edge. Alright?" "I won't Grandfather, I promise." Bertram eyed the girl. He didn't like to admit it, trying his best not to play favorites even though everyone knew he did. 

"Alright, go on down, be cute, set them at ease," Mosey smirked and dashed off. "I wish I had that much energy." Watching Mosey run like that, Bertram shook his head. "Well, there is something to be said for being young I guess." Bertram watched as Mosey ran up to the wagon and started waving and almost frolicking. "She is the best ambassador." Some others came from different parts of the castle. A few had not eaten in such a long time that they had a bit of a problem walking this far. Deciding by a vote that Bertram their leader and Mosey his granddaughter would get what little reserves stored in the basement. Someone needed to do the buying, and who didn't like a man and his granddaughter?

As a girl came running out of the castle at a dead run Sam asked. "Whoa there little one, what's your hurry?" Tying the reins around the wagon post next to his seat he jumped down A tiny dynamo of energy raced towards him and something had him take a second look at her. She wasn't human, she was a gnome. "I didn't realize there were any gnomes living out this far, didn’t most of the gnomes live in the hills to the south of here?" "Hi, my name is Mosey, you are right, a lot of them do live down south. This is Great Hall; my family has always lived here. My grandfather tells stories about when gnomes held and ruled all the land around here and down to the South Hills."

From around from the back of the wagon, putting a loaded crossbow on the seat of the wagon as she did. "I can't say I know that," Claire replied, wiping her hands down on the front of her apron. "Is your Grandfather around somewhere? We would like to trade if your family has anything?" Mosey clapped her hands in delight. "We would love too" dropping her voice to a conspiracy level "That is one of the reasons I came down, see if you would want to trade. Grandfather says people trust kids, and well I am the only one left." She giggled, waved, and dashed off towards the castle. "That was weird," Sam said to Claire, she shrugged and walked towards the back of the wagon.

Bertram walked out the gate and waved the people at the wagon towards him "Mosey says you might want to trade, so do we, come on in." Sam climbed back into the driver's seat, untied and flicked the reins to get the oxen moving. They did, slowly plodding their way across the valley floor, across the bridge, and into the courtyard. Simon's hand hard on the brake the wagon came to a stop it was then he looked around. The seven people, the seven gnomes he corrected himself, all looked pretty beaten up, exhausted. Pale and sickly looking if one of them had fallen over in a coughing fit it would not surprise him.

The oldest looking but did look healthier than the others walked over. "I'm Bertram, the Clan leader here, you met my granddaughter, Mosey." Sam chuckled, tying off the reins again, hopping down. "We did, she is very..." "Excitable and friendly are the words used the most often." Chuckling "I do have to agree, good words to describe her." With a quick step Sam walked to the back of the wagon, Claire was already there, the back flap of the wagon down. A number of crates had been pulled to the back. Fresh fruits and vegetables were on display. "We have some flour, wheat, corn as well as some meat if you are interested? Plus, we have some livestock, rabbits, and chickens, I hope you are interested?" Bertram's eyes lit up with all the provender. "Name your price, we will take it all." Calling back to the others "We are going to feast well tonight family!"

The bartering of gold for coins went faster than expected, Sam named a price double the normal asking price and Bertram agreed. Not knowing what to do when the first price was taken, Claire stepped in and said: "Sold". With a smile "I like doing quick business Bertram, I think we will be back." Smiling and going towards the back of the wagon "I hope so, we can certainly use the food." Two of Bertram's family members came and collected the rabbits and chickens first. The animals seemed to know what was in store for them, they became excited and noisy, seeming to accept that the stew pot was in their futures.

Within a short amount of time, the wagon was empty of the foodstuffs and taken to the kitchen within the castle itself. Claire noticed right away that the other gnomes, while not looking in tip-top health, looked better after a short time with the delivery of the foodstuffs. Commenting to Mosey "Your family was looking, well sickly." Mosey didn't say anything. "They were feeling under the weather, but you brought all that fresh food, they couldn't help to get better after sinking their teeth into it." Claire smiled, looking over at Sam. "We've done a good thing here Sam." Nodding "We aren't done, well not yet anyway."

Bertram made it apparent that he wanted them, Sam and Claire, to stay for dinner, knowing that it would be hard to leave this late in the day, Sam agreed. "We will have a party." "You are going to have to let me help cook." Peppy, the eldest of the gnome women wouldn't hear of it. "You have done more than enough by bringing us the food, we can't have you preparing it too." The food preparation took some time, well into the night and the sun had set by the time everything was ready. Sam and Claire came in from the wagon having made sure to prepare for the feast.

The seven gnomes had walked around to the front of the feast table in the Great Hall of the castle. The table was loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables spread out to showcase the food. Bertram in the middle, Mousey on the end to the right, Peppy standing next to Bertram, all in their festive garments, including very bright red pointed hats. Bertram began speaking "I am not one to make speeches, but I did want to say thank you for bringing food to us... When Bertram smiled, there was no joy, it was pure evil in that smile. Both Sam and Claire noted the red color from all the gnome's hats seemed to be dripping and that drip looked a lot like blood.

Claire pulled the crossbow from where it hung from her back, barely taking aim she shot at the Peppy, the bolt hitting her in the neck, Peppy's body beginning to shake and dissolve from the blessed quarrel that had pierced the evil gnome's body. All the other gnomes reacted at the same time. Claire reloaded as Sam drew a matched pair of short swords and began to weave a deadly pattern, keeping one blade always in front of him in a weave of metallic death.

The gnomes threw themselves with wild abandonment at the two, Sam blocking, slicing at their flesh, each of the wounds healed almost immediately from Sam's attacks, but each bolt that Claire hit them with, even if was only a glancing blow was deadly to the creatures. One after another fell to the floor, Sam was wounded 7 times, just when it looked like he might fall, when Mosey made a last-ditch attack going after his right leg, Claire was able to stab the little monster in the eye. As Mosey died "But, why, didn't you think I was cute enough?"

Sitting on the floor, surrounded by the dead bodies of the Red Caps, Sam looked at Claire. "You were right, they weren't the wholesome gnomes everyone thought they were. How did you know?" Getting gnome gut and blood off her hands, Claire shook her head. "I didn't, I thought it was odd how quickly they killed the rabbits and chickens, but what set off my tingleys was that how much better they looked after they took them. Eating the poor little things gave them enough to try something. I thought they might go after the oxen too." Sam nodded "Yeah, things really got gnomed up here at the end." Claire just looked at Sam "Really?" Sam whistled "Well, it isn't like I said All's Gnome that ends Gnome now did I?"

I wrote this for a "Friendly" competition, didn't win, it was liked though so it isn't all bad. No gnomes were hurt in the creation of this story

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