Short Stories

STORY # 1
Seven Dwarfs and a Thief
-Based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Published in Ever After - October 2016

“Stop with that whistling,” Brack said, as he stroked his short, salt-and-pepper beard. “You’re breaking my concentration.”
Behind him, six other dwarfs snickered. He chewed on a toothpick as he walked, his jaw clamping down hard. After a long and tiring walk back from the silver mines, he was ready to put his feet up and let the burdens of the day slide away with a swig of warm dwarven cider.
“Oh, don’t be such a grump, Brack,” said  a dwarf with thick, round spectacles. “It will take years off your life.”
“It’s my right to be a grump, Dox” Brack said, pulling his shoulders back and standing straighter, as Dox rolled his eyes. “I’m the leader.”
“Self-appointed,” another dwarf with red hair and a handlebar mustache said.
“What’d you say, Jarn?” Brack asked, stopping suddenly and turning around, causing the other dwarfs to pile up behind him. He pulled the toothpick out of his mouth and flicked it on the ground, his  eyes searching Jarn over.
 Brack noticed mischief behind Jarn’s green eyes, mischief he had been on the receiving end of more than once. Brack’s lip curledin disgust. There was no hope for dwarfs like Jarn.His frivolity would get him killed one day.
“Nothing, dear leader,” Jarn said with a wide smile, breaking the tension by  bowing with a flourish. “Lead on, so that we may follow your stunning example of dwarven manliness.”
“Wipe that smile off your face, you fool,” Brack said, jabbing his calloused finger into Jarn’s chest. “No one should ever be that happy .”
“Right this minute, Lord Brack,” Jarn said, trying to hide his smile behind a serious look, but failing miserably. “Begging your pardon.”
Again, the dwarfs snickered behind him.
“Now, that’s more like it,” Brack said, turning back around. “Proper respect.”
Their father had tried to straighten out Jarn as a child, force him to be more serious, but it was hopeless. Some people couldn’t be changed. And despite Jarn’s irritating personality, Brack tolerated him, because if nothing else, he was family.
“If I don’t figure out a way to pay off our debt to Queen Grimhilde, we will be working the mines until we die,” Brack said. “Or am I the only responsible one around here?”
Seven years of working and they hadn’t even come close to repaying the debt they owed the queen. That debt had helped them reclaim their ancestral home from a robber baron, but more than once Brack had wondered if it had been worth it. Many dwarfs had died due to collapses in those cursed mines, and to Brack’s summation, his brothers could easily be included in those statistics before everything was said and done.
“Ah, the mines aren’t so bad,” Jarn said. “Nothing like the dark to hide your ugly mug.”
Brack let the remark slide, grumbling to himself. His old knees throbbed with every step, the constant climb up and down into the mines having weathered and worn his joints. He looked to the side and saw a weathered poster nailed to a pine tree. Reading it over briefly, he vaguely noted the young woman on it, before crumpling it up and tossing it to the side.
“Bah! That blasted Huntsmen is messing with our forest,” he said to himself.
“Since when did you become the protector of the forest?” Jarn asked, slapping Brack on the shoulder. “You never met a tree you wouldn’t chop down.”
“If I need a tree, I take a tree,” Brack said. “But this is our forest. We have the right to do as we see fit. No one else should be posting things on our trees.”
“You never cease to amaze me,” Jarn said, shaking his head. Brack grumbled again.
 After an hour of walking, their home came into view and Brack breathed heavily in relief. At least he could sit and put up his feet up for a while. His taste buds tingled with the thought of dwarven cider and roasted venison. His gaze climbed as he took in the site of the large structure, rising two stories. Set into a rocky hill-face and thick, pine trees surrounded the house, like towering guardians keeping a silent vigil.
“Home!” said another dwarf with thick bags under his eyes. “Now we can sleep.”
“Sleep is all you ever think about, Havin,” Jarn said with a wink and a smile. “You miss so much in life when you sleep.”
“About a quarter of your life to be exact,” Dox said, taking off his glasses and cleaning the lenses with the bottom of his cream-colored tunic. “Though I suspect with Havin, it is more like three quarters of his life.”
“Good one, Dox!” Jarn said, slapping Dox on the back. “See, you can be moderately funny if you try hard enough.”
“A backhanded compliment,” Dox said, dryly, rolling his eyes. “But a complement nonetheless.”
Jarn chuckled in response.
“I think something is wrong,” said a soft-spoken dwarf in the back, nearly drowned out by the light-hearted banter of the others.
“What’re you blabbering about, Gorin?” Brack asked, glaring back at the dwarf.
Gorin clammed up, his face reddening, as he pointed at the intricately designed door of the home.
Brack turned to face the door once more and noticed that it cracked open. A violent shiver raced through his body. There had been  increasing  reports of bandits lately, but he had dismissed those without much thought. After all, they lived in a fairly secluded location, and who would rob a dwarf, when you would likely lose your life as a result? Staring at the door, however, Brack knew something definitely was wrong. Despite this, he wasn’t ready to openly admit what he was feeling, lest his brothers consider him weak.
“Alright, who forgot to lock the door before we left?” he asked, looking at each dwarf in scrutiny..
There were many mumbles, but no one spoke up, further increasing Brack’s anxiousness. His jaw clenched, the veins in his neck bulging.
“Your face is awfully red, Brack,” Jarn said, pointing at Brack. “Kind of like a tomato. Are you alright?”
“Call it a scientific guess, but I would venture to say he is angry,” Dox said.
“It was probably an honest mistake,” Jarn said, folding his muscled arms across his chest. “Calm down, before your head explodes and we’re forced to clean dwarf brains off of the precious trees you care so much about.”
“Bah! You fools!” Brack said, turning and marching forward to their home. He stopped suddenly in the door, the dwarfs piling behind.
Brack brought his pickaxe down, slapping it into the palm of his calloused hands. He scanned the area, easily adjusting to the darkness of the room. The living room, normally tidy, looked as if a crazed dwarf  had gone on  rampage.  
Someone had come looking for something. Brack realized.
Someone sneezed behind Brack, and he shot the dwarf a dirty look. Brack’s hand clenched the worn handle of his pickaxe, his knuckles white. He hadn’t been forced to actually fight someone for at least five years [, and he still had nightmarish flashbacks. The Princess Snow’s ambitions for power and glory had led to the bloody struggle with Queen Grimhilde, the resulting war leaving scars, both physically, and especially in Brack’s case, emotionally. There was no forgetting the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield. Kowing Queen Grimhilde’s troops were closing in on the filthy Snow, comforted Brack. Snow needed to pay for the atrocities she had comitted.
“Sorry, allergies,” said a tall dwarf with wild blonde hair, wiping his nose with a dirty handkerchief, encouraging  Brack’s attention back to the problem at hand.
“Well, Sneezeball, you just told any intruders that we are here,” Brack whispered. “We’ve lost the element of surprise. Did you forget everything you learned on the battlefield?”
“You know I don’t like that name,” the tall dwarf said between clenched teeth. “It’s Fain,if you would like to remember.?
“There’s no need to bring up the war, Brack,” Jarn said seriously for once. “We all remember it quite clearly. We all lost someone out there. Or do you forget that he was our brother as well?”
“Spread out and search the place,” Brack ordered, ignoring both of the dwarfs, and slipping back into the commanding role he had become so accustomed to during the war.
The dwarfs followed his order without question, each carefully searching the home over.
“In here!” Havin yelled.
Brack rushed toward his voice and stepped through the doorway into the kitchen, his pickaxe ready to strike. He scanned the room. In the center stood a large, oval table with eight elegantly-carved, wooden chairs. His gaze finally fell on the horrified look upon Havin’s youthful face.
“What is it?” Brack asked.
Havin pointed at a half-eaten pie and a plate with crumbs on it.
“Someone ate your pie?” Brack asked. “That’s what you called us in here for?”
“That wasn’t just any pie,” Havin said, running his hand through his golden-blonde hair. “That was a sleep berry pie.” The most delicious pie ever created. I worked so hard on it.
“A dwarf could handle that much,” Dox said, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. “But physiologically, anyone else could end up in a coma. The sleep berry to weight ratio would need to be calculated to be sure-”
“Ah, quit with your technical jargon, Dox” Brack interrupted.
The ceiling creaked, followed by a loud bang, causing all to look up.
“Someone’s here,” Brack said angrily. “Let’s check it out.. Jarn, Havin, Dox, take the east stairwell. The rest of you follow me.”
Following Brack’s orders, the dwarfs organized themselves easily into a battle-ready company, creeping slowly up the spiral straircases to the second floor. They reached the top at the same time and spread out, preparing to flank any would-be attackers. Brack’s eyes scanned the room, looking for any signs of an intruder. His gaze finally rested upon a young woman with wavy, black hair and porcelain skin, lay flayed out across three of the dwarf’s beds.
“Well, I think we found who ate your pie,” Brack said with disgust.
“She looks comfortable,” Jarn said with a wink and a smile.
“She looks dead,” Gorin said soflty.
Dox stepped forward and placed his finger to the young woman’s neck. For many seconds, the dwarfs stared at Dox, waiting for any indication of the status of the young woman.
“No, she has a pulse,” he said. “But as I said, she could be in a coma.”
“She looks familiar,” Brack said, inching closer.
“She is pretty,” said another dwarf with a floppy, purple hat.
“Oh, don’t be a dope, Klain” Brack barked. “She is a human. So therefor, she is ugly.”
“Brack’s right. She looks familiar,” Dox said.
“That’s Prince Snow. Some call her Snow White.” Gorin said sheepishly, his words barely more than a whisper. “The most notorious criminal in the kingdom.”
“Besides starting the war, they say she stole the queen’s magical mirror,” Dox said.
“That’s where I saw her,” Brack said. “All those wanted posters.”
“There’s a large bounty on her head,” Havin said, stifling a yawn.”She’s not only a thief but a war criminal.”
Brack’s usual grimace turned into a wide smile.
“Boys,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I think we found a way to pay of our debt, once and for all.”
There was silence, which surprised Brack, but he paid it no heed. Here was their way out of debt. Maybe he was the only one who cared. Maybe the others like forced servitude in the mines, but Brack had bigger plans for his life. One day he would own those very mines and he could sit and collect the profits. He would be rich enough to never have to work ever again.
“Tie her up,” Brack ordered. “She has a date with Queen Grimhilde.”
When no one immediately moved, Brack turned around. The other dwarfs appeared to be frozen in time. He waved his hands in front of the faces, even slapped Jarn across his face, but none moved. All had their eyes fixed on a tall, thin man holding a ruby pendant.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Brack asked, sizing up the newcomer. “What did you do to my brothers?”
“The same thing I will do to you, if you will just look at the pendant for a moment,” the man said, moving closer, as he swung the pendant gently back and forth.
“Bah, your wizard tricks won’t work on me,” Brack said, charging forward in a sudden burst of speed. “I fought Prince Charmaine’s wizards on the battlefield. You ain’t no different.”
As Brack neared the man, he grabbed a small, round table and quickly and powerfully flipped it up and forward. The man dodged to the side as the table went flying by and slamming into a wall, breaking it into several pieces.
It was just the distraction Brack needed, as he veered the same way as the man, pulling his small pickaxe out and leveling a waist high chop at the man. The man dodged backward as the pickaxe came across, not quite fast enough to avoid a bloody gash across the stomach.
The man’s own blade flashed into his hand from somewhere beneath his long, brown jacket.
“What are you doing in my home?” Brack asked, swinging his pickaxe in a vicious series of slices, driving the man backward toward the stairs.
“I am here to make sure my Queen is safe,” the man said, as he easily parried Brack’s blows.
“Your Snow’s boy, eh?” Brack said. “Well then, that’s even more bounty to collect.”
“You speak as if you have already one,” the man said, “But I am no mere peddler of magic tricks.”
“I don’t care who you are,” Brack said.
Brack charged in suddenly, jabbing his pickaxe forward toward the man. The man dodged to the side and before Brack could react, he was tumbling down the spiral stairs. He stopped about halfway down, his chest burning with every breath. Slowly he stood, using the rail to steady himself. Something flashed out of the corner of his eye and he dodged to the side as a knife flew by his face, nicking him and drawing a line of blood across his right cheek.
Brack roared in defiance and ran back up the stairs. He stopped at the top, his eyes scanning the room over for the man. He closed his eyes and listened, letting his finely attuned senses take over. There was a small shuffle behind him and he spun around, throwing his pickaxe up in a parry as the man’s sword sliced down, the two weapons meeting with a clang. With strength born out of years of breaking rock in the mines, Brack forced the man backward.
“A worthy opponent,” the man stood straight up and smiled. “But alas, I grow tired of fighting.”
He reached a hand in his pocket and drew out another pendant, this one an deep-amber color. He spoke a few words and Brack felt himself pushed backward by a rush of air, causing him to tumble to the floor.
Then the man was on top of him, his blade at Brack’s throat.
“Give up this charade,” the man said. “I am Charmaine, and I don’t lose to pathetic dwarfs.”
Brack shook the stars away from his eyes and growled. ”Get off me.”
Brack closed his eyes and called upon his innate dwarven magic, his skin becoming rock hard, his muscles bulging. It would only last for a few seconds, and would drain him quickly, but this little burst of magic was his best bet. He grabbed Charmaine’s blade, his hand bending the blade. The sword snapped in half, as Brack bucked upward, tossing the man off of him.
With surprising agility, Brack jumped atop a surprised Charmaine and slammed his rock-like fist into his chin, snapping his head back viciously.
Brack could feel his energy waning as he landed a second punch, effectively knocking the man out. He released the magic, his body returning to normal, but his breath coming in rapid, shallow puffs. His insides burned and was sure he broken one, if not a few, ribs in the fall down the stairs.
 Several long minutes past before he could stand. He puffed and panted as he dragged Charmaine’s body over to the beds. Depositing the man, he quickly found rope, tying up the assassin-wizard to the bed, along with the Snow Queen. He searched the man, removing  several knifes, two more pendants and a sapphire ring, tossing them across the room. Once finished, he collapsed next to the bed. It could take a few days to recover from just that little bit of magic use, more for the broken ribs, but it had been worth it to stop the man and protect his brothers. He closed his eyes and felt relief .
“Wow, I thought Havin was the only one that slept on the job,” Jarn said, jabbing Brack in the ribs with the handle of his pickaxe.
Brack grumbled and opened his eyes, looking at his brothers.
“What happened?” Jarn asked.
“I suspect magic,” Dox said, coming closer to inspect Charmaine.
“Who is he? Jarn asked.
“Charmaine,” Brack said, pulling himself back up to his feet.
“The Snow Queen’s assassin?” Dox asked. “How intriguing.”
“Save your intrigue,” Brack asked. “We need to figure out how to get these two to Queen Grimhilde’s castle.”
“Then what?” Havin asked, stifling a yawn and laying down on the bed.
“Then we don’t have to work in those blasted mines anymore,” Brack said. “And maybe with the capture of two of the kingdom’s biggest criminals, we will be given a life of luxury for once.”
The group of dwarfs hooted and hollered in response, each slapping Brack on the back.
Brack smiled.
It felt good to be the leader.

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