Mirkin Topp and the Hair of the Dog

A NaNoWriMo Novel by Phil Gardner

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I live in Brighton, work for the NHS, and write endless stuff online.

Chapter Eight

Bray sat by the campfire, slowly turning the spit on which Mirkin’s prey was gently roasting. The fowl smell and golden brown crispiness of the bird told him it was done. The dwarf looked up at his elven companion.

“Your goose is cooked,” he said.

“Fantastic!” cried Mirkin, rushing over from the nearby stream where he’d been washing his hands for dinner, an action suggested by Bray as an attempt to prove to Nyte that he wasn’t entirely without standards. “Now that’s what I call a meal!” the elf continued, wiping his nose with the palm of his hand, and picking up the bird. Nyte rolled her eyes. The attempt to win her over appeared not to have been wholly successful.

Mirkin was unconcerned, somewhat preoccupied with the magnificence of his upcoming meal.

“Have a gander at this goose,” he said proudly. “It’s a whopper isn’t it?!”

Although reluctant to admit it, Bray had to concede that yes, Mirkin’s goose did indeed put his little guinea fowl to shame, but, he decided, it wasn’t the size that counted, it was how it felt when you put it in your mouth. And the dwarf felt sure that his was significantly more succulent.

Nyte, meanwhile, was a little distracted. Released from her harness for the night, she had wandered over to the side of the wagon where a small pile of feathers lay on the ground – the aftermath of Mirkin’s attempts at poultry preparation. Prodding them carefully with her hoof, the white mare began to look deeply concerned.

“Plucking hell…” she said under her breath.

The others turned to look at her.

“I think we may have a problem…” the horse continued.

Bray looked anxious. Mirkin’s body became covered in gooseflesh. He was such a messy eater.

“What is it?” Bray enquired.

“I’m not so sure the elf’s bird is quite the whopper it appears...” replied Nyte, ominously.

Mirkin continued eating, unconcerned. “Well it sure as hell is finger lickin’ good!” he remarked, smacking his lips with satisfaction.

“What do you mean?” asked Bray of their equine companion.

“These feathers…” said Nyte, “… they look remarkably like the plumage of the Giant Mountain Goose, a wild and fearsome creature with three-inch fangs and a love of tobogganing.”

“Nah,” said Mirkin with his mouth full, “it’s not that big. It’s barely going to stretch to sandwiches.”

“Precisely,” said the horse. “Which means that if this is a Giant Mountain Goose, it must be a baby…”

“No wonder it’s so succulent,” remarked Mirkin.

“… and if it’s a baby,” Nyte continued, “then its mother is not going to be best pleased that you’ve roasted her offspring.”

Bray looked alarmed. Mirkin didn’t.

“Oh relax,” said the elf. “I’ll have eaten the evidence by the time Mother Goose gets here.” He took another bite. “Do we have any tomato ketchup?”

“No,” said Bray. “And if Nyte is right, I’m not sure you should be eating that.”

“What, no ketchup? You’re kidding me…” Mirkin got up. “Here, hold this for a moment,” he said, handing Bray a half-eaten drumstick and heading off in the direction of the condiments box.

It was around this point that the sound of distant flapping began to register with the three adventurers. As Mirkin rummaged around amongst the mustard pots, Bray sat by the campfire, goose drumstick in hand, listening to the rhythmic beating of wings which appeared to be getting louder by the second. Perhaps if he’d stopped listening and looked up, things might have turned out very differently, but he didn’t, and as a result the Giant Mountain Goose which was bearing down on him at high speed, went unnoticed until the very last moment.

His search for ketchup proving to be a search in vain, Mirkin turned back towards the campfire at precisely the same moment that Bray looked upwards. It was difficult to say which of the two had a better view of the event: Mirkin, who witnessed the majestic sweeping dive of the wild goose across the panorama of the night sky, or Bray, who experienced an up close and personal view of the giant bird’s belly as it grasped his shoulders with its webbed talons (an interesting anatomical feature unique to the Giant Mountain Goose), lifted him into the air, and carried him off into the darkness.

Ironically, Nyte the mare would later claim that it was she who had the unrivalled perspective, with the dangling body of the dwarf backlit by the orange glow of the campfire, a viewpoint from which she was able to see that the feathers of the bird did indeed match those plucked by Mirkin from the body of his uncooked lunch, a discovery which gave the horse a certain inner sense of satisfaction. Ultimately however, the issue of who amongst them had enjoyed the most complete overview of the incident remained a matter of pure conjecture.

For now, such debate was put to one side.

“Bray! Come back!” screamed Mirkin, before realising it was a slightly stupid thing to have said. He turned to Nyte instead.

“Quick,” he cried, “let’s get after them!”

Choosing not to add anything to the discussion at this point, Nyte positioned herself at the front of the wagon. She had plenty to say, but along with the power of speech, she possessed an ability to choose the appropriate moment. Mirkin buckled up the mare’s harness with all the speed and urgency of a man whose best friend had just been carried off by an enraged waterfowl.

Within seconds they were off, Nyte galloping for all she was worth, Mirkin wiping warm goose juice from his chin, and trying to keep a hold of the reins whilst reaching in vain for his longbow.

The hauntingly evocative outline of a small dwarf dangling from the claws of a giant goose was silhouetted against the moon, as the furious fowl carried Bray south towards the Bear-Faced Mountains.

Struggling to maintain visual contact with his airborne chum, and with the situation appearing more desperate by the second, Mirkin called to the white mare in front.

“Ok Nyte,” the elf shouted, “you kept the speaking thing to yourself, but if you’ve also got the power to see in the dark, now would be a good time to mention it.”

“Don’t let the fact that I eat carrots cloud your judgement, Topp,” the mare panted, managing to remain aloof despite their breakneck speed and the shortness of breath it induced.

Through a break in the clouds, Mirkin caught a glimpse of the wild goose and gave chase, rousting Nyte with a flick of the reins, and bouncing about in the driving seat as he prayed to the gods of night-time for another shaft of moonlight.

It didn’t come. The wagon rattled and rolled along the road at high speed, but as Mirkin looked up, the dark shape of the Giant Mountain Goose and her stumpy prey passed across the moon for the last time and disappeared behind a wall of cloud, which enveloped the elf’s friend ominously and completely. There were no more breaks in the cloud, and no more sightings of the little dwarf and the big bird.

Gradually, and reluctantly, Mirkin slowed the wagon to a halt. As he stared into the inky blackness, he felt an emptiness inside. It was the loss of a loved one, the metaphorical severing of an essential limb. Or possibly just that he’d only had time to eat half the roast goose. Whichever it was, he felt an overwhelming sense of regret.

“I’ve been a fool,” declared Mirkin humbly.

“I won’t argue with you on that score,” agreed Nyte, still trying to catch her breath.

“If I hadn’t wasted time washing my hands, I could’ve finished that goose, and none of this would’ve happened.”

“What?!” the mare whinnied. “You shouldn’t have shot the thing in the first place! If you hadn’t been passed out in a booze-fuelled coma, you could have shared the guinea fowl, and let me tell you, Mr Topp, no matter how miffed its parents may have been, you do not get ten-foot fanged guinea fowl hell-bent on revenge.”

“Don’t blame me!” said Mirkin indignantly. “It was dark, I didn’t know what I was shooting. For all I knew it was a plump chicken flying past up there.”

“You do not get airborne chickens flying past the moon.”

“Yeah, and next you’ll be telling me there are no kippers in the River Feenix.”

“There aren’t!” the mare cried exasperatedly.

“Whatever,” muttered Mirkin. “The fact remains that the damage was done the moment the arrow was fired, and at that point the best thing I could do to remedy that situation was to eat the evidence. Which I did.”

“You didn’t! You involved an innocent dwarf! If you hadn’t left Bray with his hand on your thigh while you went looking for sauce-”

“I beg your pardon?”

“- it would be YOU dangling from the feet of a goose, not Bray!”

“Hey, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the little fella with the beard. He wanted ketchup as much as the next man.”

“That is not true. Bray was merely taking care of your bird while you went looking for a bit on the side. It was an act of supreme selfishness, and YOU, Mr Topp, are entirely to blame.”

Mirkin shrugged. He wouldn’t admit it to the stuck up mare, but deep down he knew he was in the wrong. He would also never admit just how much the little dwarf meant to him, but the truth was that for all his polemic chat and arrogant bravado, he was crushed inside at the loss of his little pal.

“Well,” said the elf in a subdued voice, “it was a Giant Mountain Goose, right? So the chances are it’s making for the Bear-Faced Mountains. We’re headed that way anyway, so let’s keep going. I’m not giving up on the bearded midget just yet.”

Nyte shook her mane. “Indeed. We can set up camp in the foothills. We may be able to pick up the trail from there.” Despite her words, the mare did not appear too optimistic. “I just hope for your sake, Mr Topp, that we have not seen the last of the young dwarf.”

A tear welled up in Mirkin’s eye. He hoped so too.

With a half-hearted flick of the reins, the white mare stepped forward and the wagon rolled off slowly into the night.