Ian strained against the chains to reach the itch on his left shoulder. He didn’t like dwarfs and their stupid little voices so he didn’t answer.
“Human!” the dwarf shouted. “I need someone to talk to. Please. I need company. What is your name?”
Dwarfs are so self-centered and needy, Ian thought. But he could sense the fear, thick and congested, coming from the other cell and, besides, he would soon be dying alongside this creature. So he answered, “Wilkerson.”
“Well, Mr. Wilkinson,” the dwarf perked up. “What do you think about dying today? Are you afraid?”
Ian spit on his wrist beside the shackle hoping to alleviate some of the friction. “What do you mean, what do I think? Not much to think about, really.” Stupid dwarfs.
“But, Mr. Wilkinson. We will not be able to think after today. Tell me. How did you come to be sentenced to death on this planet?”
Ian couldn’t believe his misfortune, and he was sure no one back home would believe how it was he came to be condemned to death on the planet Trine.
“I blew my nose in public,” he quietly answered the dwarf.
“What? I did not hear you.”
“I blew my nose in public,” Ian repeated in a stronger voice. Were all dwarfs hard of hearing?
“But Mr. Wilkinson!” the dwarf exclaimed. “Did you not know that to blow one’s nose in public is a most egregious offense in this world? I am surprised the Trinhaus did not throw you to the Trine Beetle on the spot.” The dwarf couldn’t believe the stupidity of man.
“Let’s just say our people were not as up to date on the culture and customs here as they believed themselves to be.” Ian had looked for a way to get updated information about the Trinhaus back to his sovereign, but it had been impossible after he was captured. He wondered who Queen Lacey would send next. Whoever it was, he hoped they didn’t have a cold.
Desperately needing company, the dwarf repeated his original questions. “So. What do you think of dying today, Mr. Wilkinson? Are you afraid?”
“Why don’t you tell me why YOU were sentenced to death first, dwarf.” In spite of himself, Ian was curious. Dwarfs almost never got caught.
“I was sentenced for a much nobler reason than you, Mr. Wilkerson,” he said in that snooty little high pitched voice Ian hated. “I planted a Brinkt tree by the pond where the Prince often goes to bathe. The maidens were on their morning stroll and saw me, and that is how I ended up here in the dungeon.”
The roots of the Brinkt tree grow twenty feet a day, aggressively snaking underground seeking out a water source. Once they find water, the roots excrete a toxic mineral compound that allows for more rapid water absorption by the tree, but the ensuing chemical reaction renders the water highly poisonous to any mammal for 300 years. One drop absorbed into one’s skin meant instant paralysis and an irreversible lurch toward the grave.
Ian had a newfound respect for the dwarf. The dwarf’s mission had been even riskier than his had been. He was sent by his government to gather intel while the dwarf was sent by his government to assassinate. Maybe not all dwarfs were cowards, after all.
It occurred to Ian that the dwarfs and the humans were on the same page about bringing down the empire on Trine. He never thought he would consider it, but would an alliance between the two races be possible in the future? After all, what the humans needed from Trine and what the dwarfs needed from Trine were different things. There would be plenty for all.
“Dwarf, that was a suicide mission. You had to have known you would be caught working out in the open like that. Didn’t you know you would be caught?” Ian asked the small annoying creature.
“Mr. Wilkinson, that is a good question,” the dwarf said. “I knew I would probably be caught, but I thought death would be a swifter affair. I did not know I would have so long to think about it.”
The dwarf became quiet and introspective. After many minutes, he said, “So. Human Wilkerson. What do you think about dying today? Are you afraid?”
Ian strained against his shackles to stand tall.
“Dwarf, I do not fear death, for I have already turned every day of my life over to it. There is nothing of tomorrow to give, so I have nothing to fear. Every minute and each experience of my life up until this point belong to death already. My childhood. My accomplishments. My promises. My failures. Even the last sentence I spoke now belongs to death. So, you see, dwarf, I do not think of, nor fear, dying today because I am already dead.”
The dwarf thought about what the human said, and was strangely comforted by the words. “Most of my kind do not trust humans, but I was told by a sage when I was a very young dwarf that we could learn much from them if we could only get past our prejudices. I now understand what she meant.”
The human and the dwarf did not speak after that, choosing instead to attentively bear witness to, what would surely be, their last thoughts in this life. Why is it that understanding comes too late? Two imperfect creatures from two prejudiced worlds were able to bridge the chasm of contempt and hatred for a brief time in a dungeon on the planet Trine. Had they only had the opportunity to share this newfound tolerance with their peers, perhaps, just perhaps, the two races would have been able to find a way to work together toward their common goal.
The condemned creatures heard the harsh clank of a key in the iron lock. They were led to the hungry Trine Beetle with bags over their heads and swords at their backs. The dungeon door echoed behind them, obliterating any hope of the dwarfs and the humans forming an alliance to topple the reign of the Trinhaus on the planet Trine.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the short story collection, The Monster In the Closet and Other Stories as well as the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. Kris is also a certified yoga teacher and has just published a collection of essays, After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini.
When Kris isn’t writing at her standing desk, she can be found playing chess, folding an origami crane, or practicing a Beethoven sonata on the piano. She lives in Rock Hill, South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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