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 Seven

The sun was setting on the peaceful land of Phillysia as Mirkin Topp, Bray the dwarf, and their equine chauffeur Nyte set up camp on the Aero Plains. Two of the three adventurers took an active role in proceedings, dragging wood from a nearby copse, preparing a camp fire, and roasting a small guinea fowl for tea. The third was passed out in the back of the wagon with a mild bout of alcohol poisoning.

The party had made good progress across the plains in a south-easterly direction, arriving at the crossroads where the dusty wagon trail they had been following met the main highway which spanned the Aero Plains from the Benni Hills in the north to the Bear-Faced Mountains in the south. The crossroads had once been home to a cheap motel, which itself had been the site of scandal, intrigue, and a certain amount of wooden acting. But no more. King Pip had personally closed the establishment following focus group reports that it was failing to attract the required number of visitors, and that it was all rather unconvincing anyway. He chose instead to concentrate on its sister business, The Baits Motel, which, whilst it had a habit of inexplicably losing the occasional guest, was run with a far greater efficiency by Pip’s trusted old friend, Norm.

On the particular day our heroes (and horsy heroine) arrived however, the Aero Plains crossroads were no more than just a piece of land where two highways intersected, a surprising feature which it shared with just about every other crossroads in Phillysia.

As the sun had set on their backs, and with the waving king now well and truly out of sight, Nyte and Bray had agreed that the time had come to call a halt to the day’s travelling, and bed down for the night. With the contents of their tinned supplies tantalisingly out of reach, Bray had turned to the limited fresh produce that had been packed for them by the king’s caterers, and had chosen for their first meal a fresh plump guinea fowl. To be honest, Bray wasn’t sure if the bird had been deliberately packed by the royal butcher, or had just got caught up in the cartwheels as they left the castle, but either way the spoke of the wheel served as an effective kebab skewer, and Bray was happy to take advantage.

As he rummaged through a box of condiments, searching in vain for some tomato ketchup, the dwarf turned to Nyte with a look of fondness in his eyes.

“So…” he said, hoping to start a conversation with the snowy mare, “… have you been able to speak all your life?”

Nyte looked disdainful. “I didn’t come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare, if that’s what you mean.”

“No… well… I just wondered how it works with talking horses. I‘ve never met one, you see.”

“I expect you have, young Bray,” Nyte replied. “It’s just that horses are discerning creatures, and rarely speak unless we have something meaningful to add to the conversation.”

“So you won’t tell me the winner of the 3:15 at Haydock then?” came a rough voice from the back of the wagon. The words were followed by the emergence of a groggy elf, who crawled to the front of the cart on all fours, flopped his legs over the side, and sat looking out at his two friends. Well, his one friend and a horse he hadn’t yet bonded with.

“You mean to say,” said Bray, choosing to ignore Mirkin for the time being, “that most horses can talk, but choose not to?”

“Indeed,” said Nyte. “According to a recent poll conducted by Fetlock Fancier Magazine, 97% of horses confirmed that they possess the power of speech. The other 3% refused to say one way or the other.”

“How come I’ve never seen this article then?” Mirkin butted in.

“Fetlock Fancier is subscription only, and available exclusively to hoofed animals,” the horse informed him.

“Hmmm…” said Bray, with a look of calculated deduction on his face. “So The Hooded Donkey has probably seen a copy...”

“I would imagine so,” said Nyte.

“Well bully for ass-features,” muttered Mirkin, failing to see the relevance of their nemesis’ favourite reading matter.

“It’s important to know your enemy,” stated Bray. “You never know when information like this might come in handy.”

“We’re stealing his dog, not buying his Christmas present,” replied Mirkin, unconvinced.

“Ignore him, Bray,” advised Nyte, “you’re quite right to consider these matters. Well done.”

The dwarf blushed at such words of praise from the white mare.

“Well forgive me for not joining in this analysis of old Hee-Haw’s preferred book at bedtime,” said Mirkin, “but is there any chance of getting a bit of food around here? My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.”

“I don’t know what you’re so grumpy about,” remarked Bray, “you’ve had a skinful and a sleep – that’s pretty much your ideal working day.”

“And now I just need a meal to cap it off,” the elf replied. “Can we call out for a pizza?”

Bray sighed. “Nyte’s had her oats…”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mirkin.

“… I’ve had a small bird…”

How long have I been asleep?”

“… and if you want something, you’ll just have to get it yourself,” the dwarf finished.

Mirkin looked on petulantly. “No problem,” he said. “We elves are known for our hunting prowess. I shall fetch my longbow, and bag myself a meal.”

He began to make his way to the back of the wagon, before turning to face his companions once more.

“But in the morning we buy a tin-opener, ok?”

Bray nodded reluctantly, and wondered if Mirkin would really be able to shoot a moving target with a longbow he used primarily for performing music on street corners. The dwarf watched as Mirkin climbed out from the rear of the wagon, bow in hand, and clambered up onto the vehicle’s roof, where he seated himself astride its plastic wood-effect canopy.

“Right,” said Mirkin, “if you see anything pass, let me know.”

Bray looked at the hung over elf atop the wagon, bow and arrow optimistically poised for action, and shook his head, before turning back to Nyte.

“He’s not always like this,” said the dwarf. “He’s just been under a lot of strain lately.”

“You are too accommodating, my dear Bray.”

The dwarf’s heart skipped a beat at the horse’s use of the word ‘dear’.

“The elf should learn some manners,” Nyte continued. “There is no excuse for such rudeness.”

“He’s suffered at the hands of hippos.”

“Hippos don’t have hands. And even if they did, it would not excuse this apparent lack of dedication to the quest.”

“He’s just coping the only way he knows how. With excessive drinking and a spot of yodelling. He doesn’t mean any harm.”

“All the same,” said Nyte sternly, “this is a gravely serious mission, not a wild goose chase.”

Nyte’s words were interrupted by the unexpected twang of a longbow being fired. The pair turned towards the Fab-Wagon, where Mirkin sat peering up into the night sky, the string of his bow quivering with the effect of a recently departed arrow.

“Fore!” cried the elf.

The scene was tranquil for a moment, the quiet crackling of the campfire the only sound. Mirkin sat motionless atop the wagon, eyes trained on the heavens above, then, as Bray and Nyte watched with interest, a look of alarm and increasing panic spread across the elf’s face.

“Bloody hell!” he cried, scrambling to get off the roof where he sat. “Evacuate! Women and elves first!”

Struggling to seize control of his own limbs, Mirkin thrashed about for a few seconds before diving head first off the wagon and landing in a heap on the ground, where he instinctively covered his head with his hands, pointy ears protruding from between his fingers. As he did so, the whistle of a rapidly approaching missile filled the air, and to the onlookers’ astonishment, an unidentified flying object (well, to be honest, it was more of an unidentified plummeting object) came hurtling through the air and smashed through the plastic roof of the Fab-Wagon, inches from where Mirkin had been sitting.

Peeping out from between his fingers, Mirkin looked up cautiously, and, satisfied that the falling objects numbered no more than one, stood up and brushed himself down. He looked at his companions and gave a sheepish smile. They looked back in silence. The elf put down his bow and clambered into the wagon. A few moments later he emerged, holding what appeared to be a dead bird of some considerable size, from the middle of which protruded a familiar looking arrow. Mirkin held it up proudly for the others to see.

“Lunch!” he said triumphantly.