I don’t know why, but last week feels like it was years ago. This winter must just be going on too long. In any case, we have a new portion of The Littlest Kobold to help you thaw out. This next portion of the story takes you to the town of Aspica, which has their own opinions on the Cirque de Malorum. But what would they think of the poor little performer who desperately wants to escape their grasp? Read on to find out.
The Littlest Kobold
“Now, you remember what to do, right?” Virgil asked.
“I think we can handle running through the woods, Dad,” Jerrick was quick to reply. Rion just nodded with an eager grin upon his face.
Standing once more, Virgil tousled his youngest son’s hair. “Don’t forget: Those can’t leave your feet,” he said, pointing at Leah’s torn up outfits tied around his son’s ankles. “We’re counting on them to distract the dog from her scent.”
Jerrick sighed but finally nodded. “Come on, Squirt. This’ll be just like hide and seek, but let’s try and win this time.”
As his sons took their leave, Virgil turned back to the kobold’s room, where Camille and Abraham carefully shorn through Leah’s blanket. The Hare paced on the far side of the room, chewing on her pointed nails.
“Let’s get this reverse kidnapping started,” Virgil said. “What’s the plan?”
Abraham’s eyes lit up, and he rose to his feet. “You mean you don’t have a plan?”
“I have the plan,” Camille insisted. “Like always. Papa, we can’t let Leah walk on the ground or else the dog can track her. So we’re going to make her a sling like Kira has.”
The kobold snarled in protest, cocking her head to the side. “You can’t seriously expect me to lie in that thing like a baby.”
“It’s the only way to get you out of here in secrecy,” the young lady insisted. “We can’t very well go around with you upon my father’s shoulder.”
Clearing his throat, Virgil took a step forward. “As tempted as I am to let this conversation continue, I really do think we should move along with this escape. Let’s make the sling and get out of here.”
Camille nodded and enlisted her brother to help fashion the looping blanket. In only a short while, they had crafted the thing and were ready to try it out.
“All right, Papa. Here.” Together, the siblings placed the sling over Virgil’s head, strapping it across his chest. They tugged on it, assuring it was secure. At that, Camille turned to Leah. “Are you ready?”
With a sigh that shook her whiskers, the kobold nodded. “Let’s get this over with,” she said, raising her arms.
Camille picked her up and placed her in the sling, allowing the kobold to wriggle until she found an agreeable position. Both children looked at her when she furled her brow, staring off at some indiscriminate part of the room. “What’s wrong?” the young lady asked.
Leah hesitated; she brought her gaze to Camille’s again only when she was sure of herself. “This is actually very comfortable.”
With a snicker, the young lady helped her brother drape their father’s cloak over his shoulder, covering the tiny kobold. When she was well hidden, Virgil blew out a sigh and nodded to his son and daughter.
They stepped from Leah’s room, the kobold huddled close to her rescuer’s chest. As they took to the dirt-floored halls, Camille often found herself looking back. She saw there the same look she always saw upon her father’s face: fearlessness. If Virgil carried any sort of anxiety, it certainly didn’t show.
As they made their way out into the light of day, a new sense of purpose washed over them. They turned abruptly from the path, heading away from their camp. Their aim was Aspica, the city of the bay.
* * * * *
Together, the trio scrambled up the hill. Though Leah did not weigh much, Virgil worked at steadying her, and without his hands providing balance, the ascent was treacherous. Camille led the way while Abraham brought up the rear, offering a hand on his father’s back. When they finally rose over the final slope, they were captured by the sight of the city below on the other side.
Aspica was one of the better hidden jewels among Daltain’s cities. It hadn’t succumbed much to industry, only a small harbor on its south side, far from where shops and homes pointed toward the water. Likewise, only one road entered the city along the northeast. A farm there was perhaps the most urban looking plot, for all along the western side of the road, a simple fence stretched on for what seemed like a mile. The sun shed its midday light upon the city.
A voice resonated about the area, carrying so loudly across the wind that Camille was sure sailors could hear it out at sea.
“Find her!” the voice boomed. “I don’t care how far you have to travel or how long it takes. Bring me the Hare.”
They knew it was Faroon who spoke, but it was as if he was right beside them. A glance back down the hill was all they needed to witness the folks pouring out of the circus tent. That canvas seemed darker, as though the clouds had taken root in the sky above it.
Virgil lifted the sling over his shoulder, much to the dismay of the kobold inside.
“Hey, hey! What are you doing?” Leah snarled, almost falling out of the carrier.
The Destrite patriarch situated the sling over his daughter’s shoulder instead. “I thought we’d have more time before they noticed you were missing,” he said. “I’d like to think Jerrick and Rion found a way to escape to safety, but I can’t take that risk.”
“So what do we do, Papa?” Camille asked.
Once the carrier was safely secured across Camille’s chest, Virgil tugged a pouch away from his belt. The contents clinked together, and he handed it to Abraham. “I’m going to go back to camp and find your brothers. Once they’re safe, we’ll take the carriage into town and pick you up. Use some gold to stay hidden. Rent a room at an inn, charter a ship for a few hours. Whatever it takes.”
“Won’t Mama be mad if we spend all the money?” Abraham asked.
Virgil blew out an exasperated sigh. “Try not to spend all of it, please. I’ll explain the situation to your mother. She’ll understand.” Both of his children nodded, remaining silent. “Well? Go on,” he bade.
Turning on her heel, Camille began the descent, hugging Leah against her chest. There was no cloak disguising the kobold then. Their only hope in keeping her hidden was a quick escape. Abraham held his sister’s arm and led her down the hill.
Camille shivered away the autumn air, the planks beneath her creaking and bobbing. The bay was still, save for the gentle ebb and flow of the water against the wooden pier. Leah was still, too, only her shallow breaths reminding the young lady she was still within the sling.
Beneath her boots, she felt the subtle thrum. As Abraham drew nearer with hasty steps, the entire pier shook.
“Still nothing?” he asked.
Camille shook her head. “I haven’t seen a single boat out there. Where would they all be?” She let her words trail off into nothingness, shaking it from her head. “Any luck on your end?” she asked, turning to face her brother.
He gave a slight bow. “Afraid not. Nobody is home. Or nobody is answering.”
“It’s like we’ve come to a ghost town. Where is everyone?”
“You should just leave me here,” a quiet voice spoke out. Leah rolled in the sling until she could peer out to the water. “I’m a good swimmer… I think. I’ll paddle over to the other shore. They might not be able to pick up my scent.”
Camille was already shaking her head. “No. We told you we’d get you to safety, and we will. I’m not going to throw you into the bay just because it’s our most convenient option. Come on, Abraham. We’ll figure something out.”
The siblings made their way from the pier, landing upon the uneven stone street. One by one, they knocked on doors and windows, but just as Abraham had said, nobody answered. A quiet sigh shook the young lady as she rejoined her brother.
“It’s like you said. Nobody is here.”
“So what do we do?” Abraham asked.
“If we can’t find anything…” Camille started to say. “Nobody is here. Nobody to take issue with us borrowing their house for a few hours. Don’t bother knocking anymore. Try all the doors.”
Abraham swallowed hard but nodded his consent. As they rounded the bend, though, he stopped. Camille followed her brother’s gaze and noticed the lantern light that swung about one of the northern buildings.
“That wasn’t on earlier, I’m sure of it,” he said.
“Let’s go. Maybe we can hide out in there,” she replied.
When they arrived at that building, they could see the picture window had been illuminated as well. A trio of children’s dolls had taken up residence there, varying in their presentation. The outer ones were stuffed, knit things, but the center was a porcelain doll that could easily have been mistaken for a small child if it wasn’t so still. Camille knocked, and when she didn’t hear an answer, she pushed her way inside.
As the door swung open, a line of brass bells cascaded up and over, reporting a joyous little melody. Both children and the kobold could hear the footsteps leading their way.
“Alexander?” they heard. A woman came into view and cast a glance at her visitors. She adjusted her glasses then and swept her dark hair out of her face. “You’re not Alexander.”
“Apologies, ma’am,” Abraham said, drawing forth a furled brow from the woman. “Miss,” he corrected.
“We saw the light on, and we thought you might be open,” his sister added. “Everyone else is gone, though. What’s going on in this town?”
The woman chortled and looked away. “Come in and take a seat. No sense telling you about it in the doorway.” She led them inside. Her shop would have been spacious, but rows of shelves made it quite cramped, except for the counter she had among the rear wall. It was almost situated like the bar of a tavern, with a trio of stools at its front. The owner made her way around while she offered seats to her guests.
“I should tell you, stories don’t come for free,” she said, drawing incredulous gazes from the children. With a smile stretching her lips, she continued, “I’ll settle for your names.”
“I’m Camille,” the young lady said as she took her spot upon the stool. She extended her arm, but as she sat upon the cushion, Leah rolled forward. Camille drew her hand back and grasped the sling.
“A-and I’m Abraham,” her brother interjected.
The woman arched an eyebrow but shook the boy’s hand. As she fell back upon her heels, she placed her hands on the counter. “My name’s Gwendolyn, but you can call me Gwenna if it suits you.” She sighed and leaned back. “So no doubt you two just came from the circus.”
Camille froze for a moment but blinked away the tension. “What makes you say that?”
With a shrug, Gwendolyn gazed past the children, peering down the aisles of the shop to the picture window. The sun was beginning to set, leaving a shadow stretching from the glass. “For starters, there’s nothing to do here besides see the town if the circus isn’t here. And you wouldn’t be in town alone if it wasn’t the circus you’d come here for.
“Anyway, with that particular circus, you’ll rarely get both of us. The town doesn’t think too highly of the Cirque de Malorum.”
“Why is that?” Camille asked.
“Well, Aspica is a friend of many people, from the dwarves in the mountains to the werewolves of the Grey Isle. But the Cirque de Malorum, they’re not kind to anyone who doesn’t have coin to spare – or to earn for them. And don’t even get me started on the way they treat their animals.
“From what I hear,” she continued, “things haven’t improved much. So rather than show our support, when they show up in the forest up there, we disappear until they leave. Once, we thought maybe they’d stop coming, but it seems it’s too queer a sight to pass up.”
“Well, I doubt anyone there today will ever return,” Abraham said.
“And why’s that?” the owner wondered.
Camille pressed out a nervous sigh and reached down. “Gwenna, please tell me you can keep a secret.” She didn’t wait to hear an answer before she presented the tiny kobold upon her lap.