Fiction Tuesday – A Customary Evening (The Darned Conspiracy, scene 16)


Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes

The express to No Entry pulled into the port 1 a little after eight thirty. It was one of the last trains of the evening to pull in, and many of the small stands and shops in the receiving area were already closing up for the night.
“Last stop,” crackled the loudspeaker. “No Entry, everyone must de-board.”

Fineflin shook his head. “Non-Gnomes have been able to go into the mountains for the last four years 2. Why are they still calling this place no entry?”

Grimby shrugged. “I dunno, why do elves still like to wear green, even though your forest has been lint colored for the last three hundred years?”

Fineflin stood up, shock on his face. “It’s tradition!”

“Well, there you go. Gnomes have a tradition of keeping the likes of us out. Same way you like green and I wear an iron baseball cap. You can’t argue with tradition, you just go with it.”

“Well… it’s inhospitable.”

The dwarf grunted. “Well, you’d better hope we meet some gnomes who are hospitable, or this is gonna be a long night. Let’s go.”

The partners exited the train and wandered through the station, pulling their luggage behind them. Grimby scanned the area for a while before his fact brightened.

“Ah, there we are,” he said as he pointed to a newish sign which read Non-Gnomish Customs. “Let’s go and see who we meet, shall we?” The dwarf swept his hand in the direction the sign was pointing and stepped back. “After you,” he added.

Fineflin eyed his partner with some mistrust, but then stepped forward and began making his way to the customs line. The dwarf fell in line behind him.

The line into customs wasn’t long at this time of the evening, so the two agents didn’t wait long before a gnome barked out, “Next!” Once summoned the pair worked their way down to a small desk and seated themselves in two of the open chairs. The gnome who summoned the agents looked as though he’d woken up on the wrong side of the bed every day of his life. His hair was dirty grey, his eyes were an impenetrable brown, and the creases which marked his face seemed to have been formed by an ever-present scowl. A name tag on his shirt read, “Hello, my name is Jack.” He’d affixed a note to hang below it which read, “You don’t belong here, go home.”

Grimby took one look at the gnome and breathed a quiet moan. The gnome did not hear this, however, and instead fixed his gaze on Fineflin.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here, elf.”

Fineflin’s brow creased. “I’m sorry?”

“Harumph 3. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it. You elves have been trying to destroy gnomish livelihoods for centuries, and now you’ve put a bill before the governors which will literally bankrupt Gnomes throughout the mountains. And all you can say for yourself is, ‘I’m sorry.’ Like I said, you’ve got a lot of nerve coming here, especially now.”

Grimby cleared his throat. “Look we’re here on IBI business, Director Sills herself sent us. We’re not here to promote elvish politics. Right Fineflin?”

Grimby’s elbow jabbed Fineflin back into coherence, “Not in the slightest. Sintelis is bad lint. We’re just here as part of an investigation.”

“Oh? And what investigation is that?”

Fineflin sat up straighter in his chair, “We’re not at liberty to discuss that matter.”

A nasty grin crossed Jack’s face. “Oh! ‘Not at liberty,’ are you? Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m not at liberty to let you pass through customs! How’s that, Elf? Do you like that liberty?”

Grimby held out his hands. “Uhh, is there a supervisor around we can talk to?”

I am the supervisor you nasty dwarf!” Jack growled back. “Now you two sit here until I can figure out what to do with you high and mighty agents of the throne. Got it?” With that, the gnome stood up, snatched his coffee cup of the desk, and disappeared from sight.

Grimby sighed. “Well, that could have gone better.”

“I’m honestly taken aback a bit. I know gnomes don’t much trust elves, but I’ve never experienced that.”

“Yah, well, the gnomes we see out and about are the ones who leave the mountains. They’ve seen more so a lot of… whatever Jack’s got… gets worked out of them. But I’m betting he’s never even been in the port, much less out in the rest of The Realm. For what it’s worth, I’ve known dwarves almost as bad.”

The elf shook his head. “And I suppose there’s some elves in some Darning neighborhoods who’ve never even seen a penny.”

“Yah, stupidity is… Wait. Really?”

Fineflin nodded, “Oh yes. There are some purists in Darning who don’t even think Gnomes really exist. They believe the other races are little more than dreams.”

Grimby whistled. “Wow. I gotta say, I did now know that 4.”

“We don’t like to talk about it much. It’s a bit embarrassing, to tell you the truth.”

At that moment the partners heard a door slam, followed by some raised voices. They couldn’t make out the words, but both agents grinned as they recognized the voice.

“Ah, good old Sills,” said Grimby with a clap of his hands. “I knew she’d come through.”

Fineflin began to put away his identification papers. “I’m kind of surprised he’s here, though. He doesn’t get back much these days.”

“Who cares? He’s here now.”

The door behind Jack’s desk swung open and the angry gnome came back behind his desk. His scowl had deepened, and his face was red with anger.

“Well, it looks like you have some friends in high places, Mr. Not at Liberty.” He slammed his hand down on a button and a buzzer sounded as the customs gate into No Entry proper was unlocked. “Now get out of my sight.”

The agents moved through the gate, grateful to be out of the presence of the unpleasant gnome. As it shut behind them a voice called out to the left.

“You two are lucky I was around. The last time Jack had an elf pass through customs he let them sit for two days.”

The partners turned toward the voice and saw Bug Moume, their old friend and spouse of the Sovereign, step out of the shadows.

“Now that’s over, let’s eat. I’ll treat and you can fill me in on why Sills was dumb enough to send an elf to the mountains with all that’s going on.”

  1. Prior to the end of the war, the Fifty Peakes Mountains were “Gnome’s Only” territory, which is why the access point to the mountainous territory is named “No Entry.” In order to facilitate trade and interaction with the other denizens of The Realm, No Entry has a fully integrated section which is called “The Port.” No water is involved. 
  2. The gnomes who returned from the war were rather put off that they couldn’t introduce the centaur who pulled them out the line of fire to their family home. About a year after the war ended the Mayor of No Entry signed a law ending gnomish segregation. 
  3. Did you know that sound had a word? I just found that out. Pretty cool, actually. 
  4. Neither did I. And I’m the Narrator!