When Merrigan Caught A Gnome: Chapter 3

Posted: July 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

As Merrigan drifted off on that sunny morning, he thought about how he might talk to the Gnome. James had taught him that things were the easiest way to share words, that people understood a chair or a hammer more than they might understand summer or being tired. He figured water was universal, or maybe food. He’d have to work with James, and that would be good too. The Captain had things to learn from his first mate on the way clever minds solve problems.

He dreamed of rumors and stories he’d heard before. In the mountain town with the man who’d died from a gnome bite, he’d talked to a man who claimed to trade with gnomes. He claimed the gnomes brought him written orders for amounts of iron, and that they traded fine wine and old coins for it, and that he routinely overcharged them. He’d met a Wererat in a port town that claimed he’d seen a gate to a gnome city that was said stretched beneath the earth for miles and was connected to others lined with gold, he said they went all around the world and down to the fires of Hell. A Werecat Chieftain told Merrigan that he’d seen towns devoured by gnomes, “eaten up” he called it, he said the whole town was undisturbed, doors were unlocked and chests inside of houses were full of goods and gold, but all the people were killed, and eaten, their bones left in neat white piles right next to their folded clothes. The Werecat, was a thick furred white man, as hairy when he was a man as when he was a cat. He had a big fat belly and told Merrigan that the people weren’t cooked or prepared, but eaten up completely. He said gnomes were the spirits of murdered settlers, and lived inside of stones in the mud. He said if you caught one, they just turned to dust.

Merrigan feared that Werecat was right when his small charge became lethargic and dreary. The gnome seemed dusty and deteriorating. If Merrigan had gotten a chance to talk to the gnome, he’d have found flaws in every one of those stories, and found that most of them were outright lies. Merrigan would have found out that Gnomes aren’t mammals, that they aren’t even animals, that they’re something else entirely; almost an insect, but mostly a plant. They were smart, and sharp, and ambulatory. They spoke a complicated language they understood from birth, and only ever really cared about other gnomes. The belly button Merrigan saw wasn’t where the gnome had been attached to his mother’s belly, but where he’d hung from the tree he fell off of, years ago, when he was a baby. Gnomes come into the world every spring, buds no bigger than a berry. They ripen all summer and fall in the fall. They land on their butts and get up and start walking. They’re usually talking by the end of the week, or the very first snow. They know who they are, but not what to do, and they usually get along. Older gnomes find them, take them inside, and teach them things that are important. It’s a busy life, but they seem happy, and proceed into the world with purpose. Through their first winter they figure out what they’ll do, if they’ll be gardeners, hunters, priests, cooks or carpenters. This gnome was a hunter, or maybe a cook, it’s hard to tell when one masters anything. A good hunter knows how to garden, and all great priests are carpenters. This gnome was a tremendous gnome, and if gnomes had legends, he would become one, but gnomes don’t work like that.

Merrigan was right, the gnome was male. There are boy and girl gnomes, and even though they don’t have babies, they do have sex, too much sex if you ask old gnomes, but they probably just forget what it’s like to be young and good-looking. Gnomes have sex and they do make babies, they just don’t have them, at least not in a way Merrigan would have understood. Most gnomes die in the wild. The world’s a hard place when you’re 12 centimeters tall and delicious. Winters are hard, and washing away in a river happens every god damned time they try to cross one. Gnomes are sturdy, and practical and good at surviving, and have no time for getting fat, and not moving. The statue would answer some questions.

That was a she, or it used to be, now it was something more important. Gnomes live to be about sixty, and they they dry out. That’s what they call dying, and it’s accurate. They dry up to dust and fade away. They’re crunchy shells and grey debris that rolls under the earth happily once they’re ready to go. Life for a gnome is important and beautiful, and they’re much too close to it to think that it ends. They know the truth about life, even if it doesn’t make them happier. If a gnome is captured he’ll dry up straight away, and drift off to something more useful than capture. Gnomes will sometimes dry out if food gets scarce, or if they get bored. Gnomes have had funerals, and gnomes that like each other tend to keep each others’ tools or hats when they’re gone, even if better ones are available. It’s terribly impractical, but makes the gnomes happy. Lady gnomes don’t die, at least not from natural causes. They’ll die if they get eaten or frozen or stung by a bee, but not from getting old or bored. A lady gnome lives forever, sort of.

Right around 75, when all the boys she grew up with start dying, a lady gnome dries out a bit too. She’ll get foul mouthed and stiff. Her legs will get creaky, and her head will get foggy, and they’ll tend to let go of old secrets. They tend to hurt feelings and come up with mean nicknames for younger gnomes. They wander off and pick fights and misremember things that were important, but do a really good job at reorganizing what’s important now. They’ll forget any human languages they might have learned, and they’ll struggle with sums, but they’ll talk and sing gnomish beautifully. Over the course of an autumn, usually, an old lady will retire to a corner or a bed, she’ll only take water and smoke, no food, and she’ll dry out to a dusty old thing that looks carved from wood or stone. She’ll go rigid, and quit giving orders, and most of the gnomes will cry, even though it isn’t really sad, just how it goes. A group of gnomes, usually led by a priest or a hunter or a really good cook will pack her onto a sled and drag her someplace special. They’ll walk until they figure out where, and they’ll plant the old lady’s feet in the ground, and guard her for the rest of their lifetimes, and if they do a really good job, she’ll start to take root, and her feet will stretch down to the water in the earth, and her hands will stretch up to the water in the sky, and a new generation of gnomes will fall off her branches and onto their asses, and they’ll get to work gardening and cutting doors to the right sizes. They’ll live in that tree and love her for generations to come. Eventually a tree runs out of babies to make. If they go too long, rude gnomes will make jokes that young gnomes don’t get, but it grows strong and forever. It’ll get thick like a castle, and maybe start a thicket.

Normally a contingency heads out at founds a seed in a place far away. They watch it and rear it and last just long enough to teach the first crop of children. They’ll scratch the name of their old home in the trunk, and set to work making order. Hunters make maps and figure out routes to the water and best places for honey. They’re usually young and most likely brave, and less likely to sleep in the tree. The gardeners live at the base of the trunk, and they’re usually artists and singers, but the base of the tree is where most attacks happen, so gardeners are always good with an ax. They grow and store food in the roots of the tree, cellars full of yams and gourds stay in reserve to feed the city that will grow there. Gardeners brew potions and ales in the tree, and gnome society needs both to run. Gardeners tend to the wounded and cater the parties of the gnomes, because they’re most connected to the tree, and love it best, and realize they are as much a part of it as it is them. The priests are the warriors and the writers. They have a mind for business and tend to talk to man or werewolves when they must, and to whales and the great dragons under the earth when they can. They lead the military and live at the crown of the tree, and train with the sword and organize gnomes in time of disaster. They keep the books of predictions and observations on plants and the weather. They maintain the little order gnomes need. Carpenters are craftsmen and live in the limbs. They make doors and belt buckles and anything else the gnomes may need. Some live in the roots and man forges and kilns. Carpenters are artists and are always looking to improve their methods. Carpenters keep apprentices, and organize gatherings even better than their workshops. Carpenters are obsessed with the wheel, and are deeply offended they didn’t invent it. They draw the wheel on everything, and it’s the one reason they don’t hate humans. The roots are full of cooks, and cooks are total maniacs. It’s their job to feed the gnomes, and they’re very very good at it. Gnomes are usually vegetarian, but cooks keep recipes of every animal they’ve encountered, including man and werewolf. They perfect poisons and weigh in on declaring war. Cooks are restless but rarely reckless, and usually make the plans to set out and establish a new community. They scout the expeditions, and carry the old lady seeds on their backs. Their skills with a knife translate to the wild, and they have a lot of time to explore. If gnomes needed leaders, they’d be cooks. Gnome society is a complicated thing, and one rested inside of that statue.

It was stolen, and the gnome on the counter wanted it back.

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