Hello friends of Tellest! Today, we’ve got a surprise for you in the form of a quirky new tale from our world. The Littlest Kobold was the story that was written for our highest pledge on Kickstarter last year. It’s taken a lot of fine-tuning, and you’ll likely notice that it’s much more child friendly and whimsical than a good deal of the things that I write. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that everything that happens on Tellest is dark and brooding. Sometimes the tales that are told are just a bit brighter, just a smaller sample of the epic saga that is unfolding.
That said, it is a slightly longer short than that which you may have seen from me lately, so this will be our featured story for the next several weeks. We’ll start you off with two of our main characters below. I really hope you enjoy it!
The Littlest Kobold
In the fading evening light, the forest had taken on a golden tint. Fallen leaves were scattered everywhere, and the branches above were bare. Autumn was a beautiful time in Daltain, but it was also a reminder of the harsh winter to come.
For the littlest kobold, it was a reminder of the crunch of leaves beneath a hasty retreat. Panting excessively, she braced herself on the nearest tree, her furry hand cracked from running on all fours. She looked around to collect her bearings, but she knew better than most that the unfamiliar territory would offer her no sanctuary.
The howl of the hunting dog echoed through the forest. Despite the terror washing over her tiny body, the kobold couldn’t stifle a nervous laugh. What kind of kobold was chased by a dog?
“We’ll find you, Hare!” a voice in the distance called out.
“Better to show yourself now and be done with it,” came another, warmer voice.
Shaking her head, the tiny kobold took one last breath and charged forward. That time she ran on her back legs. Her pursuers had not been dissuaded by her simple trick.
Brown and orange leaves were scattered this way and that, and her tracks would mean nothing to the hunting dog in the far reaches of the forest, though her large triangular ears caught the sound of a stream. The water could easily disguise her scent.
She would be home in Warus before she knew it.
The kobold leaned forward and bent low, charging ahead as fast as her little legs could carry her. That rush of adrenaline was all for naught, she realized, the moment she stepped on the hidden bramble.
A burst of pain surged up her leg, eliciting a yelp she couldn’t stifle. The agony sent her tumbling to the ground, crashing down among the leaves. The dog barked at the sound of her cry, and she knew there was not much time. Climbing to her feet once more, the kobold began forward.
She was promptly upon the ground again, wincing away the pain in her right foot. Hushing a growl, she lifted her foot and gazed upon it. Between the padding just before her toes, a massive thorn was securely embedded and just out of reach for a simple extraction.
The light trickle of the stream sounded so close, but the kobold knew it to be out of reach. Even if she crawled, the dog and its master would outpace her.
“Come out, come out, Hare!” she heard.
Gulping a large pocket of air, the littlest kobold skittered toward the nearest tree. There, she lay on her back and gathered up piles of leaves until she was covered. Sifting through the pile, she made sure even her snout was hidden. She held her breath then, steadying herself in the darkness.
The next few minutes felt like hours. The nearby fauna had stopped chattering, only the sounds of rustling retreats echoing out in the woods.
When the kobold heard the dog’s growl, she knew it to be right beside her. She nearly flinched in terror but somehow kept her composure, even as the scent of the dog’s hot breath permeated the leaves above her nose.
A snicker rose into the air beyond the dog. “Hold ‘im, will ya?” one of the men said.
Several moments later, the leaves were swept away from the kobold’s face. She stared at her pursuer, frozen by fear. He let a wry grin stretch his lips, showing two rows of crooked teeth.
She swallowed hard and sat up. “If you’re looking for the kobold, I think she went that way,” she said, pointing toward the stream. At that, she gathered up the leaves and spread them upon herself once more.
Before she was able to cover herself completely, the two men were already chuckling. The closer one bent down and snatched her by the collar of her vest. “Come on, Hare, back to the circus with you.”
She could offer little resistance, allowing her head to bow and her body to go limp. Her lips parted for a moment, but she could not find the sentiment she wished to impart.
“Oi, what were ye gonna say?” the other man asked.
A brief pause had silence passing in the forest. She finally looked up, her brow furled. “My name is Leah, and I’m a kobold.”
“Aye, little one,” the man holding her said. He lifted her up and sat her upon his shoulder.
The other one tapped his dog on the rump and started away. “But to us, ye’ll always be the Hare.”
* * * * *
The scent of breakfast sausages and toasting bread pressed through the cloth tent. Camille Destrite was sitting up before she woke. As her eyes fluttered open, that delicious aroma was the only thing she could think of. She was sure it was powerful enough to rise over the hills to the northeast.
Stepping out of the tent, she understood she was not the only one awake at that hour. The two eldest of her brothers, Jerrick and Abraham, sat upon rocks that circled the cooking fire, eagerly awaiting their meal. Leaning up against their wagon, her father, Virgil, was occupied by her one-year-old sister, Kira. Free of the burden, her mother, Nika, prepared a hearty breakfast for her family.
The only one not in attendance was her youngest brother, Rion.
“Nice of you to join us, Camille,” her mother playfully jabbed.
“Good morning, Mother,” she returned, a sweet smile upon her face. She reached out, trying to snag a sizzling link of sausage from the pan.
A gentle pivot had Nika away from her daughter. “Oh, no. You’ve already got two strikes against you. You’re the oldest, and you slept the longest – right through your chores. These boys have waited all morning. If you want to eat, you’ll have to help.”
“Papa,” Camille said.
Virgil stepped forward, away from the carriage, with a smile on his face. Nika was quick to turn and face her husband, a challenging stare pointed in his direction. Tightening his grip on young Kira, he fell back against their wagon. “Do as your mother says,” he bade.
Their eldest child blew out a quick, shallow sigh, and her shoulders slumped. “What should I do?” she asked.
“For starters, you can go and get your brother,” Nika said. “He’s been just over that ridge all morning, up before any of us. When you bring him back, you can both eat.”
Stifling a groan, Camille took her leave, abandoning the hypnotizing smell that lingered in her nostrils. She made quick work of ascending the hill and reached the ridge Nika had told her of. The trees were densely packed there, shedding their leaves before winter arrived. If they had been farther south, the heat would have kept them green and in place all year.
As Camille crunched forward, she rose over the final expanse. In the distance, she saw the massive yellow and red tent at the base of the hill, just beyond the outskirts of Aspica. The circus arrived in the fall, and her father had promised his children for years they would one day visit.
Camille stood in awe for a moment, for the circus tent stretched farther than she imagined.
She drew her gaze from the magnificent circus tent and looked to her side. Rion sat there upon a pile of rocks, his knees pulled up to his chest. He faced the tent as well but remained focused on his sister once she arrived.
“What are you doing all alone out here?” she asked, approaching her younger sibling. “Mama made breakfast. Can’t you smell it?”
Rion swallowed hard and looked away. “If I don’t eat, maybe I don’t have to go.”
“To the circus?” Camille asked with arched eyebrows. “Why wouldn’t you want to go there? Don’t you know that’s the whole reason we came all this way? It’s why Papa rented the carriage and put Theodore in charge of the store and –”
“I’m scared,” he interjected, releasing the tight grip on his legs. He slid off the rock and stepped toward the edge of the ridge, looking past the trees at the huge canvas tent.
Camille sat beside him a moment later. “I think you’re braver than you realize. And you know Jerrick and I were only teasing. If they do have a gryphon, I doubt they’d let it swoop down and eat children your age. Now, Kira on the other hand…”
A smile reached Rion’s face. “It’s not that. I –”
“And if you’re worried about the elephants, I’m sure they’re an especially docile bunch. They want to keep their customers coming back, so they won’t allow a stampede.”
“I’m not scared of elephants, Cami.”
“Then what has you so frightened you would willingly avoid breakfast? Mama is cooking up sausage down there!”
Rion swallowed hard and turned to his sister. “There are clowns at the circus.”
Staring at him for a moment, Camille crooked her neck as if to see the madness in her brother’s mind. “Yes, that is usually the case.”
“I don’t think I like clowns,” he said.
Camille sucked in her lips and clasped them together. Despite that, a smile still started to stretch the corners of her mouth. She did her best to stifle a chortle, but when that failed, she turned away from her brother.
“It isn’t funny,” Rion asserted.
Steadying herself, she pivoted on her heel and looked upon her sibling once more. “No, it isn’t. We have a real dilemma here.” A laugh burst out of her as her inflection rose. She covered her face in a futile attempt to shroud her reaction, but Rion stormed off, stomping down the hill toward their campsite. Camille righted herself and caught up to him, grabbing his shoulder. “You don’t have anything to worry about,” she promised, sincerity overwhelming in her tone. “The clowns aren’t there to hurt or scare you, and if any of them did, just know I’d punch them in their foolish faces.”
Her little brother wrapped his arms around her waist, squeezing her in a tight embrace. She tousled his hair and urged him on, continuing his return to the campsite. With a bright smile stretching her lips, she turned once more to see the sprawling circus tent in the valley below.
Camille clapped her hands together and followed Rion back to their family.