Deliver some sour gnomish beer to the dark elves
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It all began in the diplomatic office, with an intern, a houseplant, and a Main Square Parrot.
Now, it’s a tradition.
Reprinted in its entirety below is a recounting of the first quest to deliver some sour gnomish beer to the dark elves.
Once Upon a Time in Unsettlement
To say that this quest started auspiciously would be an overstatement. And an outright lie.
|— Amb. Hiko Trelawney|
Reprinted with permission from It Was a Dark and Bureaucratic Night: Collected Stories of the Godville Diplomatic Corps, “Chapter 14: The Day the Bosses Were Away”:
The Unsettlement Consulate was built in 498 g.e. with the idea of providing the rumored residents of the nearby Wastelands of Insomnia with a means of contacting the government of Godville without traveling to Godville itself. The Consulate was... not the best detail. The diplomats that ended up there were the ones that made embarrassing mistakes elsewhere. And not the loose-cannon, everything-turns-out-better sorts of mistake-makers, but the ones who accidentally offer marzipan to foreign leaders who have nut allergies. They ended up at the Consulate because nobody in the Corps actually believed the rumor that there were Dark Elves in the Wastelands or Gnomes in Sleepless Hollow.
In hindsight, Unsettlement probably agreed to host the Consulate since the population was going through record levels of unemployment at the time, because the heat-packing industry had gone through a melt-down. They may have been hoping to corner the proverbial market on an immigration-by-investment program.
I had recently taken my civil service exam and been granted a coveted diplomatic internship. Though I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, enthusiastic about starting my career in the world of inter-species relations, I was stupid. Looking back with my more experienced eye, especially after the events of the Great Boss Emergence, I shouldn’t have put up with half the things I did, and shouldn’t have gotten to do three-quarters of what I did. At least, not on 5 gold coins an hour.
Most of the diplomats who got dumped at the Unsettlement Consulate at first saw it as an honor to open a new consulate, as a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of their peers, so in the early days it was, “Hiko! I need you to stay late. We have to get the policy and precedent shelves ready in time for a surprise 30-day review. There’s never not been a 30-day review. Dawn? What were you doing h— doesn’t matter. Stay anyway, and I’ll authorize overtime.” Or, “Go to lunch, Hiko, but I want you back in the front office in ten minutes. The bosses always arrive when the front office is empty.” And, “Hiko? Is the coffee fresh? Are the memoranda tidy? Good. Come here and take dictation. Central will want to hear about this!” But there was no 30-day inspection, nor a formal vesting of the Consulate staff. The bosses never came to see the Unsettlement facility. Central never responded to the interesting and increasingly desperate missives the Consulate sent. So it gradually became, “I’m not supposed to do this, Hiko, but I have to step out and follow up with the butcher on a trade complaint she filed against the Next Station branch of the Society Preventing Angry Monsters. Stall for me if the bosses show up.” And, “Hiko, you’ve seen me write enough of these. Send a DipNote to Central about our resolution on gangs of organized urchins. No, we haven’t, so you decide what the resolution is.” Or, “Go up to the balcony, Hiko. If you see an ambassador coming, throw a rock at the door to The Mended Drum and I’ll cut lunch short.”
It took a while, but all three diplomats came to accept that they were being left to rot out their careers in the forgotten armpit of nowhere. Then I only saw them once per day, maybe once per week. “Any messages through IPoAC, Hiko? Of course not. Hold down the fort, and don’t bother us unless there’s no other option.”
It was on just one of these days, when I was alone in the Consulate, that a Main Square Parrot flew in and landed on the houseplant. Now, you must understand, this was not just any houseplant. No, this was the houseplant that the thirteenth baronet of the lost fiefdom of thus-and-such gave to the third diplomat on the occasion of honoring her for the assistance rendered on the difficulties of there-so, and you get the idea. I was under strict orders to water it on a particular schedule, using only a particular ceremonial bowl (which looked suspiciously like a can that used to hold tuna), to immediately sweep up any leaves it dropped, and never bruise the stem in any way. So the fact that a parrot was now strangling that stem in its feet as it hung off the drooping tip was a very big deal. I, of course, leapt to shoo it away.
“Yah!” I shouted, flapping the latest circular on ergonomics in the workplace issued by the GDC at it. “Fly, avian! Use those wings!”
The parrot refused to move. Well, other than craning its head upside-down and fixing me with one beady eye.
“Move!” said I, prodding it with a fingertip withdrawn in haste, lest an errant beak seek to latch on.
The houseplant seemed to nod agreeably, bouncing its burden, but the parrot still didn’t shift.
I looked around for a broom to use on the bird (gently, of course— Main Square Parrots are protected), but the Consulate was only equipped with a dustpan and brush, so I reluctantly started rolling up the ergonomics circular. After all, what could be more ergonomic than using the publication to prevent a nasty bite while safeguarding the sanctity of the diplomatic mission? But when I raised the rolled brochure to give the parrot an unbalancing shove, I felt a chill cut to my core and my eyes started to dim.
No, I wasn’t smote by one of the want-to-be-gods of civil service (Mildred, patron bureaucrat of animals, was only a coffee girl at that point). It was our second unexpected visitor. Most people don’t realize, but Dark Elves are not necessarily of dusky complexion. In fact, this one— who I first viewed from my (disad-)vantage sprawled on the floor, startled by his cleared throat— had skin of glowing citrine and hair like a welder’s flame. No, the “Dark” in their name actually refers to a cloud of anti-light they carry around in a vain attempt to counteract the effects of their home territory. That was why things started going dark for me. The cold came from his hands. As beautiful as he and all Dark Elves might be, they have hands colder than a physician’s. And he’d laid one on my shoulder.
The Dark Elf said something unintelligible. I stared. He said it again. Behind and above me the parrot squawked, “What were you doing to that feathered messenger?”
"Trying to, um..." It was awfully hard to swallow, just then, I remember. I scrambled to my feet, mentally grasping for the agreed first contact protocol for the fantasy event that anyone ever did come out of the Wastelands (I'd only just written it the previous afternoon), and gave the official Consulate gender-species-religion-non-specific greeting gesture. Which probably looked even more like an oblong suffering medical discomfort than usual. "Salutations, most esteemed and august personage, and welcome to the Godville Diplomatic Corps Unsettlement Consular Outpost. Your arrival has long been desired, and with great anticipation. I am Hiko Trelawny, D.I. May I have the honor of providing you with refreshments? We have imported artesian spring water from the Sacred Archipelago, and the freshest supermangoes from Egopolis."
The Dark Elf's face was unreadable. Perhaps the first contact speech was too long, because his eyes appeared glazed. How I wished one of the diplomats had reviewed it! The silence stretched. And stretched. And stretched. Then the parrot muttered a squawk and the Dark Elf came back to himself. He blinked at me and rattled off unintelligible words.
I blinked at him. "I don't understand you."
With a haughty glare, he tried again. No joy. I grimaced apologetically.
"Nobody really knew what language you used. I'm sorry, I really don't know it," I said. "Shall I go get one of the diplomats? They might understand, or know what to do."
The Dark Elf sighed and rubbed his eyes. Then he clasped both of my shoulders, stepped me backward, and swung us both around so the Main Square Parrot was between us. In tones of exaggerated patience, he repeated himself again. And to my amazement, the parrot did what I thought I had hallucinated the first time, translating the elf’s words.
“We have a Situation,” he said. “Her majesty the Queen requires the immediate and discreet assistance of humans to intervene with the Gnomes on behalf of both the Gnomes and the Dark Elves.”
“This is above my pay grade. Let me go get one of the diplo—“ I tried, but was interrupted by a rush of Dark Elvish.
“We have no time for that. The elvity and the gnomity are on the brink of war, far past the point where either of us can send a delegation of our own kind. Do you understand? You must go, human that you are.” For a brief moment, his eyes went soft and unfocused, but the parrot clucked and he shook himself awake again. “For three thousand years, Gnomes and Dark Elves have lived under truce on the understanding that a delegation of Gnomes will bring us the sour gnomish beer we need to contain the Spirit of Insomnia in the Wastelands, and will return with the dark, Elvish coffee needed to keep the Sleepless Hollow running at peak production for another year.”
When he paused for breath, I tried to interrupt in turnabout. “Listen, if I go get one of the diplomats now, you won’t have to explain this all again—“
“This year, the delegation did not arrive. It has always been understood that if the Gnomes do not send the beer, they are leaving the Dark Elves and the land to a fate worse than death, and may even seek to siphon the Spirit of Insomnia for their own purposes. It has also been understood that if the delegation is not returned to the Gnomes, the Dark Elves have taken to grinding gnomish bones for meal for the coffee trees. Yesterday, the Gnomes sent up the black smoke accusing us of murder, and the Dark Elf council rashly responded with the light pillar of abandonment.” He grabbed me by the collar and shook me, his eyes starting to bug out like he was about to have a psychotic break. “Her Majesty believes some evil must have befallen the gnomish delegation, but cannot now send an envoy to the court of Gnomes to find out. You must go and get the sour gnomish beer for my people and convince the Gnomes to hold their attack for a little longer. We are down to the last dregs of our barrel, and cannot hold the Spirit long enough to collect coffee without more.”
“OK, OK! I’ll go!” I told him, peeling his spasmodically clutching fingers from my shirt. “Where do I find them? How do I talk to them?”
The Dark Elf seemed to slump in on himself in relief, and sank to the floor. “Take the small messenger. It will get you to the Gnomes, and will translate their words so long as you keep it between them and yourself.”
“I... see,” I said. “Will they try to kill me?”
But the Dark Elf was already asleep, keeled over in a really awkward sprawl. I was torn between straightening him out and the sudden urgency of my first diplomatic mission. The mission won out, and I grabbed the parrot. It did not let go of the plant, instead menacingly opening its facial can-opener at me. I hastily released it, and it bobbed on the end of the plant, shaking its feathers out in indignation. Rooting through a few drawers, I managed to lay my hands on a canvas shopping bag, end result being that (with a whispered apology to the thirteenth baronet of this-and-such) I seated the whole houseplant in the bag and looped the straps over my shoulders like a backpack. The parrot, bobbing on the stem over me like a feathery carrot and stick gift set, promptly marked my clothing with a large, white spot.
To say that this quest started auspiciously would be an exaggeration. And an outright lie.
Something I didn’t appreciate at the time, was that Sleepless Hollow is on the inward spiral from Unsettlement. It isn’t actually all that far as the crow flies, but on the road it is one whole spiral around. I started off at a jog, but soon fell in the mud. Four times. Then I fell into a pit that somebody had dug in the middle of the road. A surprisingly helpful heroine pulled me out, and took the time to advise me that I was supposed to ride the pet, not the other way around. I thanked her, and set back off at a brisk walk. And fell in the mud again.
At least I met no monsters; I was going the wrong direction for that.
When I neared Sleepless Hollow, the parrot who had been contentedly grinding its beak and napping as it rode decided to take a more active role. It grabbed my ear and pulled my head around. I yelled, certain I was about to get an unplanned piercing. The parrot startled and flapped its wings, beating me about the head with them. I struggled out of the makeshift backpack. The bag hit the ground, and the plant pot shattered. As I bent over panting, the parrot glared at me from atop the canted stem and muttered what were probably choice oaths and imprecations in its language.
“What was that?!” I demanded. “I am not a snack! What? Did you want a cracker?! That was my ear!”
The parrot glowered at me, mute, but pointedly looking at me with the eye on one side of its head, then looking at a deer path into Sleepless Hollow with the eye on the other side of its head.
“There? You wanted me to go in there? You could have just told me!”
The “idiot” hanging in the air around the bird was almost palpable. It still took me several minutes to work up the nerve to put my pack back on. And I almost took it back off for good when the parrot took hold of my ear again. But the avian only pulled my head around to face the deer path. It let go when I headed the right direction. Over the next hour following various bunny trails, we developed a shorthand of nibbles for directions. We ended up following a slot canyon that opened onto a gate set in the wall of an earthen ring fort.
It certainly was a hollow, in every sense of the word. It was hollowed into the ground, it contained hollowed-out hills, and trees arched over to shelter the hollow space of air above it. Any traveler could walk right by it and never even notice, and apparently usually did, but for the fact that there was a big bonfire burning in the middle of the whole thing, sending up a column of thick, black smog. I could see the pile burning even through the tightly woven wicker gate, and probably would have been choking on the peat fumes if the training for a diplomatic intern hadn’t specifically stressed a fine control of the trainee’s gag reflex.
This time, the parrot translated for me, too. The blistering words curled the nearest leaves of the houseplant.
“What do you want?”
Several responses went through my mind. I could have gone with the utter truth and said, “I don’t really know.” I could have gone with the foggy truth and said, “Some sour gnomish beer, I think.” I could have gone with the panicked truth and said, “For you to not fight with the Dark Elves and unleash the Spirit of Insomnia, because I don’t know what that will do to my town.” I could even have gone with the hysterical truth and said, “For someone to please let me get a real diplomat involved, because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!” For some reason, I went with wish fulfillment and said, “Take me to your leader.”
I asked for the leader. I got a low-level bureaucrat. He/she/it was ugly, but possessed of a paper efficiency born of years of not being promoted because nobody wanted to lose him/her/it. Today, I could not be happier than when I have been so funneled, but then, at that time, I was a little peeved.
“You don’t understand. That Dark Elf said that the Spirit of Insomnia—“
“Oh, I understand. We go through this every year. Those occult nuts have the only source of some amazing sleep inhibitors, which we need. We worked a trade agreement with them, where we send them a year’s supply of beer and they send us a year’s supply of whatever that stuff is, and we use it to work. Don’t know what they use the beer for, but they claim it subdues this spirit.” The Gnome stacked some papers while the parrot finished translating. That parrot had some skills, interrupting itself. “We’ve always been nervous about those guys. They like to threaten to make us into bone meal, and who makes a joke like that in a trade treaty? Our team didn’t come back, so we went up the agreed signal that we will be making a visit, in force, to retrieve our people. They returned the agreed signal. End of story.”
“You... go through this every year?” I asked.
“Well, not the whole ‘missing team’ thing. That’s new,” conceded the Gnome. He/she/it paused in the middle of marking up some sort of report. “Tolandy just had to volunteer to go the year the Dark Elves actually lose it.”
“But the Dark Elf said your team never arrived. They didn’t do anything.”
“Uh-huh... and that’s what they’d say to lure more unsuspecting Gnomes into whatever they’re doing.” He/she/it flipped the last page over on the report, tapped it together, and slid it into an envelope that got looped shut by a string. Another Gnome leaned around the door frame. “Ah! Brister! Right on—“ And that’s where I lost track of the conversation, because the bureaucrat wasn’t talking in my direction for the parrot to translate. The two Gnomes coughed a conversation and traded bundles of envelopes. The second one left, and the bureaucrat turned back and sorted through the mail. And sorted again. And a third time.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
The mail hit the desk, knocking some papers askew. “Nothing. Just the last place that works around here finally imploding. I managed to work the last of the supply of sleep inhibitor to go to the postal service, but it hasn’t helped.”
“Oh, no... it’s all for me,” said the bureaucrat, straightening the papers again. “It’s just not everything I was expecting. Tolandy had been sending me a “Wish you were beer” postcard from every milestone between here and the Wastelands of Insomnia, and both yesterday’s and today’s are delayed. Given that the team hasn’t returned— I know, I know, they would have beaten the cards, but it’s about the postmarks— I didn’t expect to get one from the actual Wastelands, but the others should have gotten through the system OK.”
“Unless... they didn’t... get... mailed.”
The Gnome gave me a dark look. Darker than a Dark Elf’s cloud. “I don’t like what you’re asserting.”
“What was the last milestone you got?”
The Gnome pulled the postcard out of a desk drawer and showed me. “But it is not important. It means nothing. Our forces will find the team at the Dark Elves’ temple, and Tolandy will come back safely.”
“When?” It was a dumb question. I got the curled lip I deserved. “Fine, fine. But will you get to go along?”
“Do you... have requisition privileges?” Vague nod. “What about leave granting?” Slow nod. “For yourself?”
“I’m allergic to sleep inhibitor. Until further notice, I handle all paperwork, to include schedules, requisitioning, licensing, permissions, and contractual agreements. I know what you’re going to say, and I can’t. Everything falls apart or comes to a stop if I do.”
“And would that be so bad?”
“What do you mean?” The Gnome pushed back from his/her/its desk and fixed me with another dark look.
“Well, if you’re the fulcrum you say you are, the army won’t get moving in the meantime. You can put off any rash actions—“
“The sooner the army moves, the sooner Tolandy comes home.”
“If Tolandy is with the Dark Elves. But if Tolandy is not with the Dark Elves, a whole bunch of people might get killed.” I leaned forward. “Get me a small barrel of the beer. Put yourself on leave. We’ll go out to that milestone and figure out what happened to the team. I’ll continue on to the Dark Elves, and you can come back and report.”
“Or go along.”
“Or go along.”
Gnomish bureaucracy is the same as GDC bureaucracy, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, we were soon back outside the wicker gate, up one little cask of sour gnomish beer.
“Wow,” said the Gnome, whose name I had learned was Rivouret, glancing back over his/her/its shoulder at the gate guard. “That guy is exceptionally cranky. Must be withdrawal.”
The trip back out to the road went a little quicker because Rivouret led the way and I didn’t have a parrot beaking my ear. He/she/it checked a mailbox buried in some scrub beside the deer path and sighed when it was empty, then we started marching up the road in a companionable sort of silence. The mud holes from earlier were still there, but I wasn’t running, so I managed to miss most of them. Rivouret managed to miss all of them.
About half a mile along, he/she/it decided to make conversation. “So... you’re an intern at the Unsettlement Consulate? Why?”
“Well, because I always wanted to serve for the good of Godville, and who gets to talk to more of the inhabitants of the land than a diplomat?”
“No, I meant, why build a Consulate in Unsettlement?”
“In case you or the Dark Elves wanted to talk, I guess.”
“And the GDC only staffed it with an intern? The Dark Elves will probably find that insulting and destroy the town.”
“No, no... this just happened to be a day the three diplomats were out of the office...”
“Uh-huh,” replied Rivouret. “Blame it on Murphy.”
“Excuse me,” said a rumbly, travertine sort of voice. I looked up, and there was a massive, horrible, deadly Psychophant in front of us on the road. He was addressing my Gnomish companion. “Is this person bothering you?”
“No, Hiko is escorting me. Thank you for asking.”
“Can never be too careful, with all these heroes and heroines about,” the Psychophant commented, scratching under its chin with a claw. “Didn’t think any of them could tame a Main Square Parrot, but there’s a first time for everything.”
“I completely agree, Chuck,” said Rivouret. “We’re looking for the team who took the beer delivery to the Dark Elves—“
“That time of year again, huh? Can’t thank you Gnomes enough for doing that.” Chuck stopped scratching. “Getting a good night’s sleep is the difference between me doing a good job and needing another resurrection.”
Now, this example of up close diplomatic relations so early in my career was something I was deeply unprepared to experience. When Rivouret looped his/her/its arm around my shoulders, only my dry mouth kept me from blithering. Today, I count Psychophants among my friends, but then they were scary.
“Yes, well, the team never came back. Hiko, here, says a Dark Elf showed up in Unsettlement with the unsettling news that the team actually never arrived.” Rivouret slapped my back, starting me breathing again. “Either the Dark Elves ate the team, or the team got waylaid. Have you heard anything?”
“I just got back from a vacation to visit Donna and the kids in the Qu'tox Ocean, so I haven’t gotten the latest scuttlebutt, but I’ll ask around for you. When was this?”
“Oh, about a week ago, now,” said Rivouret. “Thanks, Chuck. Good luck, today!” The Gnome steered us further along the street, me stumbling the whole way.
“Riv? Be careful out there. If the Spirit of Insomnia might be breaking loose, you know they might start waking up,” Chuck called after us. Rivouret waved back.
When we were far enough away that Chuck wouldn’t hear, the Gnome ribbed me a bit. “I thought you wanted to be a diplomat, to serve the whole of Godville. You can’t talk to a little monster?”
I swallowed a couple of times and managed to pull my voice out of the dark corner where it had gone to hide. “What... What was he talking about?”
“Oh, Chuck has a working visa. He spends most of the year working here, supporting his family, and goes home to the Ocean for a few weeks of vacation to see them.”
“No,” I said, swallowing again. It would have been nice to crack open the small barrel of beer that I was carrying on my back along with the parrot and houseplant, but a diplomat never opens a tradegood. “Who are they?”
“Something those occult Dark Elves believe,” said Rivouret, shrugging. “Something about the guardians of underground monster cities who dosed themselves with startite to protect their evacuating people. All nonsense.”
The trip went fairly smoothly, if slowly because one or two monsters waylaid us every mile to make sure I wasn’t a problem for Rivouret. I slowly got over my wrenching fear and managed to say a few words, inviting some of them to stop by the Consulate if they ever needed to discuss policy issues or immigration and naturalization options for foreign-born offspring. Some of the monsters even said traditional blessings over the gnomish beer on my back, once they heard what it was for. It was all very nice.
Until we met a Battlesheep named Manny.
“You last heard from them at what milestone?!” he choked. “Just past there, there was an incident. We don’t know what happened. Big hole in the ground, four unconscious heroic types, lots of injured Gnomes. Wreckage everywhere. The Gnomes got medevacked to the Dogville Trauma Hospital. Heroic types staggered home like they do.”
Rivouret grabbed Manny by the wool. “What about Tolandy? Is Tolandy O.K.?”
“I don’t know, Riv. Honest, I don’t. You know they never publish names in those incident bulletins,” he replied.
“Manny, you’ve gotta help me.”
Manny whistled into the underbrush at the side of the road. “Moe! Jack! Get your rusty cabooses out here.” He waited until two other Battlesheep stood by him on the road, saluting. “These nice two-legged types need to get to the incident site pronto. You’re gonna run them up there, blivet style.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” the pair chorused.
“I’ll be holding down the fort, so you get yourselves back here double-pronto.”
Nothing quite compares to a ride on a Battlesheep. In no time flat, Rivouret and I were standing in the midst of the aftermath of a chaotic battle. There was, indeed, a massive hole in the ground that sort of looked like a cave-in had a baby with a meteor strike. There were broken pieces of weapons and equipment strewn everywhere, even hung up in trees. And there were crushed staves and mangled hoops. Piles of them.
“You were right,” whispered Rivouret, his/her/its eyes wider than I thought they could ever get. “That Dark Elf was right. The team never made it.”
I tried to offer comfort with a hand to the Gnome’s shoulder. “Do you want to head up to Dogville and find Tolandy? I can deliver this and go tell the other Gnomes what happened.”
“Are you kidding?” Rivouret asked. “Somebody has to apologize to the Dark Elves, and with as sleepy as everyone is back home, nobody will be out fast enough to fix this problem. And besides, if you go back alone, they’ll all assume you’re working for the Dark Elves and killed me.”
“Oh. Good point.”
“Besides, I can’t do anything for Tolandy now. Either she survived and is getting medical care, or I’ll be arranging a memorial service. But if she survived, she’ll never forgive me if I don’t make a future visit to the Wastelands possible.”
It turned out that the Wastelands were only another thirty steps along the road, and a jog left off the path. And you can tell the moment you step into the Wastelands of Insomnia: suddenly, you feel as if you haven’t slept for two days, but that if you tried to sleep now, you’d never make it. “Rest” immediately becomes a distant isle, a foreign concept to you. The day is too bright, the night is too stark, and all sounds are like knives stabbing your eardrums through cotton wool.
It was the parrot that kept us going. It set up a screeching din that didn’t let up until we had run all the way across dry streams and wet bogs, open planes and closed forests of dead trees, into the sanctuary of the Dark Elves’ temple. Both Rivouret and I fell face-down upon the flagstones in front of a set of steps, and a number of dark clouds converged on us. They contained Dark Elves that pulled us to our feet and pressed cups of something to drink into our hands. Rivouret gasped something that the parrot did not translate, and gentle hands pulled the small barrel of beer from my shoulders. Through bleary, burning eyes, I watched a Dark Elf tap the barrel and pour it into a vessel on top of an altar. Burbling and glugging made it clear the beer was flowing into a larger tank in the altar.
As the cask emptied, the feeling of over-wrought exhaustion lessened. I took a mouthful of the drink and found it to be iced coffee, at the same time that Rivouret shoved his/her/its cup into my other hand.
“Can’t drink that,” he/she/it muttered. “Allergic. Please drink it for me so there isn’t offense given.”
My vision darkened as another Dark Elf closed with us. This one was of jet-on-jet coloration. “The queen summons the two visitors who have come bearing gnomish beer.”
The queen of the Dark Elves sat in a cloud so deeply dark that I couldn’t see through to the person underneath. She summoned coffee for us and said, “Explain.”
I muddled through my part of the story, from when her emissary arrived at the Consulate. Rivouret explained the remainder.
In response, the queen said, “This has been unfortunate. What do the Gnomes propose to do?”
“The Gnomes have nothing to propose,” snapped Rivouret. “We offer our apologies. What do the Dark Elves propose to do?”
“The Dark Elves have nothing to propose. We are at an impasse.”
I waited for someone to fill the silence. And someone did. I was surprised to find that that someone was me. “The Godville Diplomatic Corps has something to propose, provided your majesty has the power to make new treaties?”
“And provided that your responsibility for contractual agreements extends to making new treaties, Rivouret?”
“Right. Then, it is clear to me that the Dark Elves still need gnomish beer. It is clear to me that the Gnomes still need elven coffee. And it is clear to me that this once-a-year delivery scheme has broken down catastrophically for reasons that are not clear at this time. Agreed?”
“The GDC proposes that we set up a continual exchange. The GDC can provide delivery of gnomish beer to the Dark Elves via the vehicle of a quest given to the heroes in Godville City. Dark Elves can send coffee to the Consulate via diplomatic packet, and our couriers will deliver it to the Gnomes while carrying correspondence back to Central. Provided that Gnomes have no objections to avian carriers?”
“We... have none.”
“Right!” I clapped my hands. “Let’s write and sign a treaty!”
The dark cloud managed to look skeptical. “You have the authority to sign a treaty?”
“Well, no,” I said. “Not yet. I’m just an intern. But I’m also the only member of the GDC who has established contact with both Dark Elves and Gnomes. I’m pretty sure that if you insist on working with me, nobody is going to complain.”
The treaty was written, signed, and notarized. The Dark Elves threw in a postcard from the Wastelands for Rivouret’s collection. Rivouret headed toward Dogville to check on Tolandy. The Main Square Parrot flew off to Sleepless Hollow with a report to the rest of the Gnomes. And I returned to the Consulate.
Since then, a steady stream of heroines has been tasked with small deliveries of sour gnomish beer to the Dark Elves, and a steady stream of pigeons has carried deliveries of elvish coffee beans to the Gnomes. A heroine or two may go astray or a hawk might grab a pigeon, but there is always another following behind, so no smoke signals or light rays of war have risen between the Gnomes and the Dark Elves since.
And I can guarantee you that no heroine has ever been greeted home from successfully accomplishing the quest like I was:
”Guard! There’s the intern who beat up a Dark Elf and stole my houseplant!”
Useful Tools to Complete This Quest
- A good night’s sleep prior to beginning.
- A map of Sleepless Hollow and the Wastelands of Insomnia.
- A taste for coffee.
- Further experience with Dark Elves has since informed informed me that this was an episode of somnambulant shock, which many elves suffer when they first set foot outside of the insomnolent influences of their homeland. The only way to completely cure them of it and pave the way for speedy trade and representation negotiations is to give them a cup of warm milk and put them to bed for a 20-hour nap.
- When a Dark Elf touches one’s skin, one learns the true definition of “pitch black,” which can be extremely disorienting. We, of course, did not know this at the time, so I can only thank my lucky stars and all of the would-be gods and goddesses of diplomacy that that first Dark Elf did not arrive during a summer heatwave.
- A psychotic break is the second stage of somnambulant shock, if the elf is not put to bed in short order.
- We still have no notion why the Dark Elves refer to parrots this way.
- Or as the carpet flies, but the GDC had no carpets to spare for the screw-ups in the Consulate.
- It is not actually a diplomatic problem to say this. Gnomes are offended if other species don’t think they’re ugly. They believe their goddess blessed them with unfathomable beauty visible only within their species, and hid her favor from other mortal eyes to keep her people from persecution.
- Gnomes love strings.
- I ended up drinking about a gallon of coffee over the course of the visit to the Dark Elves, since every occasion came with another cup for me and another for Rivouret.
- This is a security measure. The queen only becomes visible when she has to deal with the Spirit of Insomnia.
- I really didn’t have a good grasp of how the GDC operated. Thankfully, the actual diplomats at the Consulate decided to back me up and countersigned the treaty.