Ladies and gentlemen, the finale of The Littlest Kobold is just below. I wanted to say thank you once again to Cristina for lending us her voice on this piece. We’re excited to get her take on a couple of other Tellest stories soon—lend us your ears again when our next tale is adapted for audio!
Note: we’re aware that Miss Cristina said Part Four in the intro. Just didn’t get enough time to clean that up!
The Littlest Kobold
A Story by Michael DeAngelo
Narrated by Cristina Cruz
“And you’ve been with them this whole time?”
Leah nodded, averting her gaze from Gwendolyn’s sympathetic eyes. “Every time I try to get away, one of Faroon’s people brings me back.” She turned to Camille then. “We shouldn’t be here. It was bad enough involving you and your family, but if they come here and think Aspica was involved…”
“Nonsense,” Gwendolyn said, standing up straighter. She circled around to the front of the counter and gestured for the children and the kobold to follow her. “This is a noble cause, and I’m sure the rest of the folks who live here would be happy to lend their hand. I can’t do much for you, but maybe we could fashion you a better disguise. No offense to your sling – or to you, Leah – but that won’t hide the fact she makes for one unusually hairy baby.”
Leah opened her mouth to speak, raising her hand, but hesitated. “Actually, I was a pretty hairy baby.”
Gwendolyn laughed as she led her guests to the front of the shop. “So obviously you’ve seen my hobby. I love to make dolls. My husband and I have been trying for a baby, and when we started, I began working on these dolls. Still no baby, but my collection’s pretty impressive, no?”
“You made these?” Camille asked with wide-eyed wonder.
“Well, not all of them,” Gwendolyn clarified. “I purchased the porcelain ones from Sungarden a few years back. But the clothes they wear and all the other knitted dolls… Those are all mine.”
“It’s incredible,” Abraham remarked.
“Thank you very much. And now, if we’re ready, I’d like to prepare an outfit for Miss Leah.”
“An outfit?” the tiny kobold repeated.
“We can’t have you out and about while Faroon’s lackeys are looking for you. Not without a proper disguise, that is.” Gwendolyn reached high up on one of the shelves and pulled down a doll she had purchased, removing its clothes and placing the naked doll on the bottom shelf. Finally, she turned about, proudly displaying a dress that would have been fit for a girl of high regard. Though it was simple with an auburn-tan color, it was bolstered by a lace bodice and sleeves sewn into the top. It splayed out at the bottom in ruffles as well. Gwendolyn held it out next to Leah. “Just your size, too. What do you think?”
The kobold looked up at the shopkeeper with moisture building on the rims of her eyes. She spun on her heel and looked at her young rescuers.
“That’s beautiful, Gwenna,” Camille said. As she finished, she bowed her head, letting her eyes fall upon the pouch that rested on Abraham’s belt. “My father gave us some gold, but I don’t think it’s enough to pay for that.”
“Nonsense,” Gwendolyn said. “I’m not charging you for this. This is a gift to commemorate our friend’s emancipation.” She held out the dress again, delivering it into Leah’s unsteady hands. “Why don’t you try it on? We’ll all look away so you can change out of those nasty rags.”
Nodding, the kobold took the outfit and turned around the corner of the shelves. They could see the light casting the shadow of her body as she removed her cracked, old linens.
“So your parents know you’re here?” Gwendolyn asked.
“Yes,” Abraham answered. “Papa would really love this shop. He really appreciates craftsmanship.”
“Back at home, he carves pieces for games of lords,” Camille said.
“He’s much better at making the pieces than he is at actually playing the game,” Abraham snickered.
“Does this look all right?” the three of them heard. Turning about, they saw Leah in her new dress, its color complementing her dark fur. “I look silly, don’t I?”
Both Camille and Gwendolyn brought their hands to their mouths, but Abraham took a step forward. “You look beautiful,” he said.
“That you do,” the shopkeeper confirmed. “Now we just need the finishing touch.” She kneeled down in front of the kobold and placed something on her head. Abraham stepped around and noticed as Gwendolyn tied the bonnet around Leah’s chin. “There we are. Your look is complete.” She stepped out of the way, letting Camille see her more clearly.
Her mouth opened wide, but it quickly transformed into a smile. “You look like a princess, Leah.”
“This is incredible, Gwenna,” the kobold said. “You’re sure this is all right?”
“I insist,” she replied, dropping to one knee. Leah graciously accepted a hug but averted her gaze when the gesture had ceased.
“Cami, have a look at this,” Abraham said. “I can’t tell… Is that our carriage?”
The young lady cut across the shop and glanced out the window. Sure enough, her father sat in the driver’s seat, and Rion leaned out of the side. “That it is,” she said.
“What opportune timing,” the shopkeeper declared.
Abraham ran to the door and swung it open. “Papa!” he called out.
“Now, you take care of each other,” Gwendolyn said. “You’ve been given a chance to make something wonderful of yourselves.”
“I hope we meet each other again,” Camille said.
“I’m sure we will,” she replied.
Leah exited the doll shop with her hand in Camille’s. Virgil swung the carriage about, and Rion was just finishing leaning out of the other window, much to the dismay of his mother.
“Up and about, kids,” the Destrite patriarch said.
“We wanted to introduce you to Gwenna,” Abraham pressed.
“I’m afraid we don’t have time,” Virgil protested. “Faroon’s voice can still be heard in the northern woods. I don’t want to miss our chance to escape with the little lady. If it’s meant to be, I’ll meet this Gwenna another time.”
“Yes, Papa,” Abraham said as he opened the carriage door.
Jerrick hopped out of the cabin and gave a nod to his siblings and the kobold. As Camille lifted the well-dressed stowaway into the wagon, the eldest boy hopped up next to his father. Abraham squeezed inside, and he and his sister sat on either side of Leah. She looked at Nika, who shared a warm smile with the kobold.
“Nice to be meeting you, ma’am,” she said.
“You’re a precious little thing, aren’t you?” Nika replied. “Even more so up close.”
Leah flashed an awkward grin. “Thank you so much for taking me in.”
Virgil flicked the reins and urged the horse forward. The brother and sister who had ventured to Aspica saw Gwendolyn in her shop, waving them and the kobold farewell. Camille beamed and nodded to her new friend as the wagon pulled out of sight.
* * * * *
Rion had fallen asleep against the wall of the carriage, and seeing him in that relaxed state enticed a yawn from Leah. She sat between Camille and Abraham and across from Nika. The children’s mother caught the last moment of the kobold’s yawn, and Leah shied away in embarrassment.
“Whoa,” they heard Virgil say. At once, the carriage drew to a stop. Everyone in the cabin heard some incoherent mumbling outside. “Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” another voice in the woods assured. Leah’s ears perked up, and her eyes widened at the familiar-sounding man. “Earlier today, one of my friends went missing. I was hoping you might be able to give me an idea of where she might be. Have you seen a kobold running around these parts?”
“A kobold?” Virgil repeated. “This far from Warus?”
“Part uh our circus troop,” another voice snarled.
“Fergus,” Leah whispered.
“Shh,” Camille hushed.
“Sir, I hope you won’t mind, but I’d like to check your carriage for our friend,” George went on. “She has a habit of disappearing into strange places.”
“It’s just my family back there,” Virgil assured. “And we have a newborn that’s just fallen asleep.”
“Don’t make this harder on –” Fergus began to say.
A brief pause interrupted him, followed by the agitated bark and growl of a dog. Leah shivered against Camille’s body. The young lady scooped her up and held her close. Nika leaned forward and grabbed her daughter’s hand.
“The seat lifts up,” she whispered.
Outside, George stepped closer toward the carriage. “I assure you, sir, we’ll be quick and quiet.”
“My little brother is scared of dogs,” Jerrick piped up. “One of them bit him on the hand once.”
“We’ll leave this fella outside then,” George conceded. Not a moment later, the door to the carriage swung open, and he was there upon the ground. “Good evening, folks. Sorry for the interruption, but my… employer would have my head if I didn’t take adequate measures to make sure our friend wasn’t stowing away without your knowledge.”
Nika smiled, cradling Kira against her chest. “Of course. Just us five, though,” she softly spoke.
Taking a look about the compartment, George didn’t see anything amiss. It was just the woman and her four children, as she had said. He began to take his leave when his eyes settled on the seat Camille and Abraham were upon.
“Ma’am, I don’t mean to intrude, but does that seat open into another compartment?”
The briefest of pauses was all Nika would allow. “Why yes, it does,” she said. “Children, would you give the man some room?”
“Thank you,” George said. “You wouldn’t believe how wily this kobold can be.” As he moved into the carriage, Camille lifted the seat. “Thank you,” he said again. He was affronted with the sight of the ruffled dress with the lace bodice.
“That’s just a doll I bought for my sister,” Camille said. “I know she’s too young to appreciate it yet, but I don’t know when we’ll be back this way.”
The circus guard passed a wary glance at the girl, his brow furrowed. He reached into the compartment, moving some clothes aside, and pulled the dress down over Leah’s protruding tail. After a light squeeze on the kobold’s back, he patted her and stood back up.
“I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here,” he said. George looked at the Destrite family members, meeting their wide-eyed stares. With an appreciative nod, he displayed a halfhearted grin. “Thank you,” he offered, his voice cracking just a bit.
As he disembarked the carriage, Abraham shot a surprised and curious glance toward his mother. She shook her head but remained quiet.
“Wait a minute,” Fergus snarled. “Hold Rufus for me. Something doesn’t smell right.” Without warning, the skinny, short fellow hoisted himself into the carriage. He took a quick look around, but his gaze lingered on the baby held to Nika’s chest. He squinted and stepped toward mother and babe.
“You touch my mother or my sister, and you’re a dead man,” Abraham insisted.
That promise stayed Fergus’ hand, but he turned on his heel and peered into the open seat compartment. He saw the dress and bonnet atop the supposed doll. Camille swallowed hard and passed a pleading glance to George. He stood outside, his hand grasped around Rufus’ leash.
Fergus pivoted, bracing his hands on the carriage’s doorframe. “You stupid idiot,” he seethed. “You brought us the wrong way!” He hopped out of the vehicle and approached the circus guard. “I’m sorry, Georgie. The pup must have lost the Hare’s scent a ways back.”
Over the sound of the waking newborn, his companion sighed. “No matter. We always find her,” George replied. “I’m sorry to have interrupted you nice folk. Please be careful as you head up north. It’s getting dark.” He turned to the tracker and his dog. “Let’s go, Fergus. Maybe she went into the town.”
“Good luck,” Jerrick called out. Beside him, Virgil snapped the reins, urging the horse on.
Camille reached over and swung the door shut while Abraham lifted Leah from her hiding spot. When they had travelled a ways, she ventured a glance outside. Turning back, the Destrites noticed the tears that matted the fur beneath her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Camille asked.
With a sniffle, a weak grin, and a shrug, Leah looked up. “I’m free.”
* * * * *
The darkness had lulled them all to sleep. Only Nika was still awake, gently stroking her baby’s soft hair. Crickets outside hummed their tune over and over, so often that it melded together with the silence. When the carriage stopped, the two children opposite Nika shook forward, and Leah nearly fell to the floor from between them both. She stirred and instantly shivered at the thought of the stopped carriage.
A whistle cut into the night, and Virgil cleared his throat. The kobold gave a slight nod and hopped down from her seat. She took off her bonnet and placed it on the seat beside the young lady who had rescued her. A flashed smile was the only communication she shared with Nika before she gave the door a gentle, silent push forward.
Virgil looked down as the kobold came up beside the horse. Together, they looked at the road in front of them. It forked north and east, trees on both sides. Each road seemed weathered and beaten.
“I thought you should know: This path here leads through southern Raleigh,” Virgil said. “If you’re looking to get back to Warus, that’s the road you’d want to take. We’ll be taking that one north to Viscosa.”
“Thank you, Mister Destrite,” the kobold said. She moved along toward where the two roads diverged, each into their own lane of darkness. She gazed down both paths, her eyes unable to see far beyond where she stood.
“Leah? What are you doing?” she heard. When the kobold turned about, she saw Camille standing there beside the carriage. “Where are you going?”
A shrug lifted her shoulders. “I’m safe now… away from Faroon and his intentions.”
“But that doesn’t mean you have to leave.”
All those who were awake heard the door to the carriage shut. When they looked, Nika stood there, Kira still held against her bosom. She nodded and shot a grin to her daughter.
Camille spun back around and faced her new friend. “No one is forcing you to go back to Warus. I know you want to see Brighton Beach again someday, but there will be plenty of time for that. We’d be more than happy if you came home with us.”
The kobold’s eyes brightened at the offer. When the young lady dropped to one knee, she ran to her side. They shared a warm embrace that let her know that even though Warus wasn’t her destination, she was still headed home.
Scooping her up, Camille walked back to the cabin. Nika swung open the door and let her cheerful smile show. As the rest of his family settled in, Virgil gave his sleeping son a gentle squeeze before he snapped the reins.
The Destrites continued along on their journey. And with them was the littlest kobold.