When Merrigan found the Gnome

Posted: June 3, 2015 in Fiction

Chapter 1.

Merrigan knew what it was immediately, of course he did. They may have different names in different lands, but everyone recognizes a gnome as something wonderful, and peculiar, and when Merrigan saw one standing on the deck of his ship in the middle of the ocean, he had to catch it.

A gnome is tiny man, a creature both foreign and domestic, a timeless piece of magic as understandable as homemade bread. Merrigan had heard of people seeing gnomes, but never catching one, and he would be the first.  This one was eight inches tall, fully clothed in a vest and trousers, and a pointed red cap, all completely real. The Gnome’s brown orange beard hung to his belly, but he had alert fists, and stood on the toes of his small tasteful shoes; motionless, on the deck of the ship, almost invisible, with his eyes fixed steadily on Merrigan.

He dropped the papers and compass he held in one hand and lunged with ferocity at the gnome, who moved too fast for reason, a blur of pumping arms and stubby legs that shouldn’t make up for the pudgy fellow’s pudge. Before the compass hit the floor, Merrigan had crossed the deck but the gnome had streaked beneath him. He dove beneath a crate. Merrigan upended it with one arm, tossing it aside. The gnome split to one side and juked beneath his pursuer. He leaped for the railing, but fell short, he darted along the edge of the boat, Merrigan close behind. His long agile frame closed the distance, The gnome leaped again for the railing and failed. Merrigan was within an arm’s reach. The gnome doubled back between Merrigan’s legs, cutting back to one side like lightning. He latched to Merrigan’s pant leg and pulled himself to the knee. He pushed off of Merrigan up to the railing and leaped out into the sea in an arc beautiful and perfect and only three feet away.

Merrigan snatched the gnome out of the air with his right hand. A normal man couldn’t have made the grab, but Merrigan wasn’t a normal man, he was a Werewolf, and even though he wasn’t a Wolf now, he was a strapping and vigorous specimen. All Wolves are. He’d never met a regular man who could best him in a fistfight or a footrace, but as soon as he grabbed the gnome, he broke free. The tiny man wrapped his hands around Merrigan’s index finger, and jerked at his grip, tearing the finger in two directions. The bone snapped and the little man tumbled towards the sea. Merrigan furrowed his brow and swung his other hand to catch him. This time the gnome bit him, and Merrigan shrieked, everyone knows gnome bites are toxic.

Merrigan screamed a scream that would have delighted his crew, and possibly cost him his ship; men would not obey a wolf that made sheep noises like a sheep. He pulled his hand back hurriedly and launched the gnome skyward, who cartwheeled in the are, then aligned himself into a dive. Without thinking, Merrigan bounded the railing and dove in after him, his long frame laid out completely, a mangled hand stretched out in desperation. Three fingers wrapped deftly around the gnome, one clumsily clubbed at his side. Merrigan pulled the gnome into his chest as he collided with the water, all of his grace exhausted. The Gnome continued to bite at his hand, and kick and pull and hate. The thrashing and splashing alerted the crew, two faces peered over the side, then two more and two more. “Are you alright Captain?” “Sir!?” The men gathered on deck and readied harpoons, not certain what was happening. Merrigan swam like a wounded fish, and thrashed against something unseen. “Sir?!” they continued.

Merrigan wrested his jacket loose, and folded it over itself. “Sir!” his men screamed now, harpoons at the ready. Merrigan wrapped the gnome in the coat and held it triumphantly in the air as he tread water. The package fought and writhed. “A Gnome,” screamed Merrigan “I caught a gnome!.”

“Drop it Captain!” yelled one of his men. “Everybody knows Gnomes are poisonous.”

The men brought the two on board. The Captain clutched the gnome like a treasure, a treasure that was looking to burst from his chest. “It’s a Gnome!” he shouted “I’ve caught a gnome.” “Drop it,” said James, Merrigan’s First Mate, and oldest friend. “Gnomes are poisonous,” he reiterated.

“I’m not so sure,” said Merrigan, “The little bastard’s bit me all to hell,” he said as he switched his grip on the struggling satchel, “and I feel okay.” He held up his mangled had at a few angles to show James the rips and tears the little man’s teeth had made. Jagged crescent moons littered his thumb and forefinger.

“Sir!” James almost scolded, but the Captain wasn’t listening. He knew his friend was scared.

“Let’s see the Gnome!” yelled Crick, one of Merrigan’s bolder sailors. “A fucking gnome!” shouted another. “Ask him about his gold!” yelled Abel, a sailor Merrigan was pretty sure was stupid. “Those are Leprechauns,” said Merrigan without judgement. At least not in his voice.

Merrigan’s hair hung loosely about his ears, his beard was long and unkempt. His large body heaved and shook with exhaustion and laughter. His tall frame and broad shoulders cut such a fearsome form he was difficult to ever take lightly, even half naked and laughing. He stood there in soaking pants and ruined boots holding a bag full of violence, grinning and hooting. His mouth had too many teeth in it, and they jutted out at crooked angles. His teeth told stories. If someone paid attention to the angles of his teeth, and were particularly gifted with sums, they could deduce when he was lying, which was often. Fortunately Merrigan spoke quickly, and most people are bad at math. Merrigan was strong, and terrible, and the most wanted man in The Empire, and he’d just caught a gnome.

His men circled around him. Some with nets and others with clubs and blades. The gnome’s restraints were a lined jacket Merrigan had been wearing all season, it was worn and shabby but still dramatically big with the high crested collar that made him feel like a captain. Merrigan rarely wore shirts under his jacket, and only cheap trousers. His boots were very nice, and he hoped this swim hadn’t ruined them. Merrigan’s frame was difficult to clothe, and he had learned early that if he wore one thing well it was enough to convey etiquette, and conveying etiquette was all he ever had to do. Merrigan’s boots and belt buckles hinted at civility. If people feared his animal nature, they found solace in his reasonable shoes. The men readied themselves and Merrigan shook out his jacket. The Gnome landed on hands and feet and bolted to the middle of the circle of sailors. Fifteen hard men, all armed and focused, closed in on the three pound man. A net flew at the gnome but he darted to one side, another net sailed and he rolled out of the way. The Gnome feinted at the circle, testing for some escape, but none presented itself. The Gnome spun growling and pulled a small knife from his hilt. Some sailors held nets, looking for an opportunity, others stood there with their clubs cocked, fearing one. The Gnome hissed and the sailors shuddered, still certain he was poisonous. Crick, a bald man with bees tattooed on his skull shifted his weight and told with his posture he was ready to club the little interloper, right when James emerged from below deck.

He was holding a cage the men used for fighting birds or snakeflies. It was two glass panes connected by strong wires with clasps at all four corners of one side. It was strong and too expensive, and exactly what was needed. “I think this will hold him,” he offered. Merrigan knew why he was his favorite. James muscled to the middle of the circle, Merrigan with him, neither took their eyes off of the gnome. James set down the cage and undid it. The gnome surveyed the group and weighed his options. He spit on the floor, threw his knife into the deck where it stuck to the hilt, and trudged into the cage. He tested the wires, stomped on the glass, and sat down, dejectedly. Merrigan fastened the clasps.

The men cheered and lined up to look. Merrigan lifted the cage, the Gnome stayed stone still. “I’m taking him to my cabin,” he said, the men booed and grumbled. A wave of misunderstanding rippled across Merrigan’s face. He never would have believed his murderous batch or hard men would dance and sing about a gnome like children, but they did. And he did too. James called for wine and weed. The men drank too much, even for pirates, and set their sails to the nearest city, only two days away. They wrote songs about Gnomes, and Wolves catching rabbits. The next morning Merrigan was dead.

Chapter 2

Merrigan headed back to his cabin after the appropriate commotion. Merrigan ran a stern ship and his men we’re fiercely loyal, but no part of Merrigan believed fear kept people safe. He was happy they were excited, he would have been offended if they weren’t. They cheered when he boarded the ship, and gathered around him. Twenty-one sailors and swords, a cook, and his first mate, killers all, crowded shoulder to shoulder. Merrigan held his wriggling coat, it writhed with unreasonable strength. “Bring me a cage!” he hollered. Morton and Crick pulled a cage for housing lizards up from below deck, it was wooden with iron bars on the top and front. They propped the cage open and Merrigan shook out his coat like a rug. The Gnome clinched on hem and crawled up the whipping fabric, hand over hand, fast like a spider. He got to Merrigan’s hands with fire in his eyes, and wrenched at the werewolf’s grip. Merrigan pulled a hand back quickly and punched the Gnome in the face, he tumbled back in somersaults, collapsing in a heap. Morton slammed the cage and Crick closed the latches. “Son of a bitch is strong.” Merrigan said to himself, but loudly enough to share. He glared at the cage and the small man in it with an intensity like the bright side of rage. He grinned despite himself.

“He didn’t bite you did he?” asked Crick. “He did,” said Merrigan, “he chewed me up.” He held up his right hand, five or six crescent moons cut from his thumb to his finger. Blood ran from them, mixing with the saltwater, and dripping down his arms. “Gnomes are Poisono-,” Crick started, before Merrigan raised his hand to silence him. The crowd grew silent with the gesture. The racket of men discovering magic was replaced with nothing but the slap of waves. Eyes grew watery. “I’ll be fine,” he dismissed them, but he was nervous. “Turn!” suggested Harrell, a dark skinned islander who’d sailed with Merrigan since before the war, and all through it. “No,” said Merrigan, not looking back to apologize at his curtness. He walked towards his cabin. Harrell and the rest closed in behind him. James snapped to. “Get things around,” He yelled, pointing men to their positions. “We sail now, to the nearest port.” Merrigan nodded approval with the subtlest of gestures as marched forward, holding the soaking coat in his hand. “Bring me the Gnome,” he yelled over his shoulder. Crick and Morton grabbed the cage, The Gnome ran from corner to corner as lifted and tilted, looking for cracks. He lunged at the barred ceiling and hung there screaming in words high and indecipherable.

Merrigan stopped suddenly, “Do any of you understand that?” he asked. The men shot glances at and across from everyone, no one nodded the affirmative. “No, no,” said Merrigan, shaking his head. “I’ll sleep.” He turned and stood up as fully as he could, almost looming over his men. “I’m tired, and I need rest, but we can be to Host Port by morning.” The men weren’t going to Host Port, but that didn’t seem to concern them. They understood their Captain changing course. His men walked in in front of him, and placed the lizard cage on his table. “I’ll be up by dusk, we’ll plan and talk then.” He said, dismissing Morton and Crick, and closing the door behind him. Merrigan wouldn’t be up at dusk. He would be busy dying.

Chapter 3.

Merrigan had told the men to leave him alone, so when there was a knock at his cabin door, he knew it was James. James was his First Mate, and the only person on the boat who knew a damned thing about running it. James was short, and unassuming, and brilliantly intelligent. He was also terribly unambitious and certainly a thief. “Come In,” yelled Merrigan. He was perched over the Gnome’s cage in just his shoes and trousers holding a rapier. He leaned over studying the Gnome and asking it simple questions. The Gnome looked up at him dejectedly. James opened the door with the key he had and walked up behind his Captain. “So,” said James, “let me see him.” Merrigan stepped away. James had brought a bag of surgical supplies, and a bottle of rum. Merrigan grabbed the bottle and poured himself a glass. James hadn’t looked back yet, but asked, “are you sure? with the bite?”

“I am,” answered Merrigan, looking down at the hand he’d bandaged. The broken finger hurt blindly. He continued to forget about and reach for things and curse his stupidity when he bashed into them. The bite were aggravating, but mild in comparison. They weren’t discoloring or puffing or seeping the way poisoned wounds do.

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