Gnomes stay sane by knowing what they can control, and accepting what they can’t. Like, you can’t control the weather, you can only plan around it. Or, you can’t control other people’s opinions, only your reaction to them.
Sounds great in theory, but there’s a lot of grey area. Maybe you can’t control the weather, but you can move to another climate. You can’t control other people’s opinions, but you can lie, bribe, distract, or just find new people.
The real confusing part is collective action. Sure, there’s a lot of things outside of my control, but what if we all work together? Maybe we can change things. But who is we?
1 Hour Later (Lighthome Time) - Copycat - Secret Enclave
I nod. “That looks nice, eh?”
We’ve walked up on the gnomic enclave - a cheery collection of mushroom houses stuck around a junction of four mighty branches. It’s quiet. So is Presto. I figure he’s worried about Cy. I had Saga fly us most of the way here, even though it was a very pinchy ride. We’re only walking now because I don’t want to eat a fireball. Gnomes can be jumpy around big birds.
“I guess.” says Presto. “It’s tree fungus. But I guess it’s pretty great.”
Wow, that was almost criticism. We better find Cy.
I’m expecting some kind of guard, but we walk into town unopposed. It’s mostly pretty little homes, but there’s a few bigger mushrooms in the center of town. One has a bit of a ruckus brewing, so I take us there. I’m about to bang on the door, when Cy, Oak, and a platoon of gnomes barf out of the smokey tavern.
“You guys!” Cy grabs us in a giant hug. Oak and the others cheer. “We were just coming to save you!” He reeks of booze.
“Awesome! Thanks!” chirps Saga.
Everybody cheers again. Cy swings us around recklessly and for too long. The town is waking up. By the time I’m back on my feet, there’s a large crowd cheering around us. I don’t believe they’re aware of the daring almost rescue that’s claiming a victory. They’re mostly happy to see Cy. I gather he’s popular.
High fives and little shots of schnapps are exchanged. I have a couple of each. Why not?
We party outside for a bit. Every man, woman, and child needs a word, hug, or shot of schnapps with Cy. Saga and I soak up some of the affection overspill. After-schnapps.
The kids are jazzed to see Presto, showing off their treasures and little spells. Their parents greet him with a smile and kind words, but the older crowd is polarized. Some are thrilled to see him, some are grumpy. Maybe nervous.
Eventually, a group of older gnomes in robes take command of the situation. I’m not sure if beardlyness is a status symbol among gnomes, but if it is, these cats are the big dogs.
“Cyan! Presto! Well met!” yells one of the big beards. “You’re here just in time! The Exodus has almost begun!”
“Oh hey, Willow.” Presto smiles. “We’d have been here sooner, but we weren’t invited.”
“You were fated to be here. Fated to protect us.” Willow lowers his voice to a whisper. “We heard you encountered the Silence. Did you… take care of her?”
A hush descends. They breathlessly await Presto’s answer.
Willow sighs, nods sagely. “That’s unfortunate. Though I suppose it no longer matters.”
“Yeah, who gives a shit!” Oak is yelling for no reason. He also reeks of booze. “Longstrider’s here! Let’s roll out the fucking barrel!”
“Fair enough.” Willow reaches to the sky. “Let the barrels roll!”
And so they do. Big barrels of beer. Little barrels of schnapps. Barrels of pickles, and taters, and mushrooms, and weed. This place is alright. We kill the day, then party into the evening. Eventually parents drag bitter kids to bed, and the old folks move indoors to get serious. Bagpipes, drums, and passionate yodelling. I learn a dance that’s mostly high kicking and heavy drinking. Also, there’s gambling. A card game with bluffing, drinking, and cookie throwing, with an occasional furious blast of competitive patty-cake. I think I’m winning! Nope. I took a cookie to the eye. I’m out.
I leave the table. Haven’t stood in a while. Holy fuck I’m drunk. Scan the room. Cy’s ensconced with a gaggle of old gnome ladies. Quilting, toking, and cackling. Presto’s giving a patty-cake clinic. The gambling has escalated. Last gnome slapping gets a barrel of drugs, two magic wands, and a really fancy vest. I’d say Presto’s favored to win, but Willow is giving him a hard time. Puffing his pipe and countering every furious smack. Damn. I guess I know three gnomes with fast hands.
I crash on a couch between Saga and Oak. Saga’s in dead bird pose. It’s past her bedtime. We should have put her down with the kids. Oak is smoking, drinking, and whisper yelling with a grumpy old gnome.
“He’s not supposed to be here. You were to be guarding the pass.” grumbles Grumpy. “You got drunk and fucked up.”
“How dare you!” Oak is aghast. “I fucked up, and then got drunk! Anyway, it’s for the best. We’ll be needing his help soon enough.”
“He’s more trouble than he’s worth. Not even a proper gnome. A little giant.”
“He’s worth more than you’ll ever be! Why are you even talking to me? Fuck off!”
I’m not liking the mood on this couch. It’s hot in here. I have to pee. I stumble up, and into the night. Kinda. It never really gets dark in Lighthome. I stumble into the shadowy, dusky, twilight that indicates decent people are asleep. Where the fuck is the ladies room? Oh, it’s up a tree. I mean, everything’s up a fucking tree, but it’s farther up. Who puts a ladder to the pisser? That’s poor planning.
I get up, get my business done, stare blearily at the ladder down. Wow I’m drunk. Sleepy. Too much schnapps. I’m all schnappt up. Need a nap. Not here tho. Gotta get down this ladder. I grab for it. Wiff. Trip on a shadow. I’m falling. Oh schnapp.
Strong arms catch me before I get brained. I try to stand, but I’m a wet noodle. The strong arms hoist me into a bridal carry. A rather handsome dark elf smiles down at me.
“Easy, girlie.” says Ignatius. “I got you.”