When Merrigan Caught a Gnome: chapter 1

Posted: June 17, 2015 in Fiction

Chapter 1.

Merrigan knew what it was immediately, it was a gnome, a tiny man, expected to be magic and most likely poisonous. They may have different names in different lands, but everyone recognizes a gnome as something peculiar, and wonderful. When Merrigan saw one standing on the deck of his ship in the middle of the ocean, he had to catch it.

Merrigan had heard of people seeing gnomes, but never catching one, and he would be the first. The gnome was eight inches tall, fully clothed in a vest, trousers, a pointed green cap, and tasteful shoes, all small and detailed. He had a brown orange beard that hung to his belly, and a big nose. His hands and feet were pronounced, and the former were balled into fists. He was white, or close to white, and had bright green eyes that were keenly aware. He was fantastic in his typical nature. A gnome’s a creature both foreign and domestic, a timeless piece of magic as understandable as homemade bread. He stood there motionless, his eyes fixed steadily on Merrigan.

Merrigan dropped the papers and compass he was holding and lunged ferociously at the gnome, who moved too fast for reason. A blur of pumping arms and stubby legs shot away from Merrigan. Before the compass hit the floor, Merrigan had crossed the deck, but the gnome had streaked beneath him, too fast for even Merrigan’s unnatural reactions. He dove beneath a crate. The Captain upended it with one strong arm, sending it across the deck. The gnome split to one side and juked beneath his pursuer, leaping for the railing. He fell short, but darted along the edge of the boat, Merrigan close behind him. The Captain’s long frame closing 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 to one side like a vein of lightning. He latched to the man’s pant leg and pulled himself to the knee. He pushed off and jumped to the railing, leaping out towards the sea in a beautiful arc.

Merrigan snatched the gnome out of the air with preternatural speed. As soon as Merrigan grabbed the gnome, the little man broke free. He wrapped his hands around Merrigan’s index finger, and jerked in different directions, tearing the finger back and snapping the bones inside. The little man tumbled towards the sea. Merrigan growled his human threats and swung his other hand to catch him. A regular man could not have made the grab. This time the gnome bit him, and Merrigan shrieked. Gnomes are poisonous.

Merrigan screamed a scream that would have delighted his crew, and possibly cost him his ship. He pulled his hand back hurriedly, launching the gnome towards the sky. He cartwheeled in the air, and aligned himself into a dive. Without thinking, Merrigan bounded over the railing and dove in after him, his long frame laid out completely, his mangled hand stretched in desperation. Three fingers wrapped deftly around the gnome, one did so clumsily. Merrigan pulled the gnome into his chest as he collided with the water, all of his grace exhausted. He landed like a bird killed in flight. The Gnome continued to bite at his hand, and kick and pull and hate as they bobbed in the water. The thrashing and splashing alerted the crew, two men’s faces peered over the side, then two more and two more. “Are you alright Captain?” one shouted, “Sir!?” asked another. The men gathered on deck, not certain what was happening. “Sir?!” they continued, readying harpoons.

Merrigan wrested his jacket loose still kicking in the water, he folded it over. “Sir!” his men screamed now, harpoons above their heads. Merrigan wrapped the thing up in the coat and held it triumphantly in the air as he kept treading water. The package fought and writhed. “A Gnome,” screamed Merrigan “I caught a gnome!.”

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

The men brought the two on board. The Captain clutched the gnome like a treasure, a treasure that was ripping out of his chest. “It’s a Gnome!” he shouted “I’ve caught a gnome.”

“Drop it,” said James, Merrigan’s First Mate, and best friend. “Gnomes are poisonous,” he reiterated.

Merrigan was not so sure, “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 hand at a few angles to show the gouges and tears the little man’s teeth had made. Jagged crescent moons littered his thumb and forefinger. James studied them dutifully.

“Sir!” James almost scolded, but the Captain wasn’t listening. He knew that James was scared was scared of things he didn’t understand, and there was no chance he could understand this. James turned and went below deck.

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

Merrigan walked to the middle of the deck. His hair hung loosely about his ears, his beard was long and unkempt. His body heaved and shook with exhaustion and the tremors laughter. His tall frame and broad shoulders cut such a fearsome form he was difficult to take lightly, even half naked and laughing. Merrigan was a Werewolf, and a remarkable Werewolf from a long reigning family. Even though he wasn’t a Wolf now, he was still a strapping and vigorous specimen. He’d never met a man who could best him in a fistfight or a footrace, and very few Wolves, or Bears, or Badgers, but this little guy had exhausted him, and that, was very funny. He stood there in soaking pants and ruined boots holding a bag full of violence, grinning. His mouth had too many teeth in it, and they jutted out at crooked angles. They told stories of their own. If someone paid attention to his teeth, and were particularly gifted with sums, they could decipher when he was lying, which was often. Fortunately for Merrigan, he spoke quickly, and people are bad at math. He was strong, and terrible, and the most wanted man, or Wolf, in The Empire. He had just caught a gnome.

His men circled around him. Some with nets and others with clubs one with a shovel. The gnome’s restraints were a lined jacket Merrigan had been wearing all season, it was worn and shabby but still strong fabric, and dramatically big. It had a high crested collar that made Merrigan feel like a captain, and seemed perfectly suited for capturing gnomes. Merrigan rarely wore shirts under his jacket, and only cheap trousers. As a Werewolf he shifted his form every night, and clothes were a bother he abandoned on the ocean. His boots were very nice, and he hoped this swim hadn’t ruined them. His boots were a vanity. 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. They were the only loot he didn’t share with his crew, those, and the books and maps he took from every ship they sacked.

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 sailed and he rolled out of the way. The Gnome feinted at the circle, testing for escape, but none presented itself. The Gnome spun growling and pulled a small knife from his belt. Sailors stood with nets, looking for an opportunity, others stood there with clubs, fearing one. The Gnome hissed and the sailors shuddered. Crick, a bald man with bees tattooed on his skull shifted his weight ready to club the interloper, when James emerged from below deck.

He was carrying a cage the men used for fighting birds or holding snakeflies. It was two glass panes connected by a series of wires with clasps at all four corners. It was strong and too expensive, and exactly what was needed. They had stolen it, and rarely used it. “This will hold him,” he offered. James muscled to the middle of the circle,and Merrigan knew why he was his favorite. James sat down the cage and opened it. The gnome surveyed the group and weighed his options. He spit on the floor, threw his knife into the deck, and stepped into the cage. He tested the wires, stomped on the glass, and sat down, dejectedly, cross-legged. Merrigan fastened the clasps.

The men murmured and lined up to look. Merrigan lifted the cage, “I’m taking him to my cabin,” he said, the men booed and grumbled. “I need to study this,” Merrigan almost cursed. James called for wine and weed, and the grumbles changed to cheers. The men drank too much, even for pirates, and set their sails to the nearest city, only two days away. Merrigan carried the gnome to his cabin, and called for James, and his finest wine, to come with him. James stooped down and grabbed the stinger sized knife lodged in the deck, and followed his captain. He had a lot to learn about gnomes. This one was going to poison his best friend.

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