Bitter 305

Finally, Britta had a way to get to the Keystone.

“You know where it is?” asked Britta. “Can you take us to it?”

The dwarf made a deep rumbling growl and Dad sidled closer to Britta, turning to point his arrow at the bigger threat.

“Don’t do that,” squeaked Sidney. “You’ll make him attack.”

She held up her hand, showing the dwarf the ring on her hand, which was identical to the one Sidney was wearing. “Won’t the rings protect us?” said Britta.

“How would I know? Do I look like a priest?” Sidney was wringing his hands and hopping from one foot to the other. “No need to provoke him, is there?”

“Just calm down,” said Britta. “He isn’t going to do anything.” She tugged on Dad’s shirt and he lowered his arrow. It wasn’t like it would have had much effect anyway.

“I knew this would happen,” said Sidney, still fidgeting and unable to keep still. “I told them they should send someone else. I’m not good in high-pressure situations. I’m more of a low-pressure specialist.”

“That’s good,” said Britta. “Let’s keep this as low-pressure as possible. Just take us to the Keystone. Then you can go have a lie-down.”

“How can I do that? Only the High Priest knows how to get there. He doesn’t like anyone touching his kettle. Cast iron, it is, got some real heft to it. Do some damage if you got hit on the noggin, for sure.”

The kobolds had a tendency to use kitchen utensils as weapons, so it wasn’t surprising Derik would guard his kettle jealously.

“Then take us to Derik. We can sort it out between us.”

Sidney’s eyes widened. “Oh no. I can’t do that. The High Priest was very specific, he was. ‘Keep her as far from me as possible,’ that’s what he said. He don’t want you anywhere near him. Nothing personal.”

Britta was used to people having a low opinion of her, but it wasn’t supposed to happen here, too. Sidney’s underwhelming opinion of her was starting to wear thin. “So, what did he do? Tell the dwarf to chase me away? Why do you have to be out here, Sidney? What’s your role?”

Sidney began squirming again. He really didn’t have a very good poker face. “Me? I was just… erm, I was just…”

She could almost see the lies crossing his mind as he struggled to choose one.

“Come here a minute.” She grabbed the kobold by the shoulders and got behind him.

“Here, don’t do that. I wasn’t causing any trouble. There’s no call for violence.” He quickly stopped resisting as Dad leaned forward and placed the arrow tip between Sidney’s eyes. It would do less damage from close up, but it was still a frightening thing to have shoved in your face.

“I’m not going to hurt you.” Britta turned so the kobold was pointed at the dwarf. She pushed him forward while he did his best to dig his feet into the floor and lean back.

As Britta forced the kobold a few inches forward, the dwarf shuffled away from them. If she angled Sidney, she could get the dwarf to move to the side.

“The ring?” said Dad. “The protection acts like some kind of force field?”

Britta let go of Sidney, who immediately rushed around behind Britta. The ring might protect him from the dwarf, but it clearly didn’t have his full confidence.

“Have you been guiding him towards us?” It would explain why the dwarf kept backing off and reappearing to block their way. If the ring’s effect was like bringing two magnets together, you could push the dwarf away from where you didn’t want it to go, and towards where you did.

She looked at the ring on her own hand. It looked the same as Sidney’s. She raised her arms and directed the fist at the dwarf. She took a step forward. The dwarf didn’t move. Apparently her ring wasn’t the same.

If Derik had figured out how to keep the dwarf at bay, then she needed to get him to show her how. At the very least, give her a new ring that worked. She looked at Sidney. Would it be wrong just to take his ring?

“Why are you looking at me like that?” said Sidney. He backed away.

Dad raised his bow again.

“Hey, hey, come on. I thought we were friends. Ring buddies.” He held up his ringed hand, and then sharply drew it back. “This one’s mine. You’ve got your own.”

She must have given away her intention to take the ring. It was all getting very Lord of the Rings.

“All I want is for you to take me to Derik. If you do that, you can keep your ring. It’ll be fine, I promise. He probably knows I’m coming. The prophecy, right? It’s all been foretold. He’s just trying to avoid his destiny, but you can’t. You only end up getting hurt if you try.”

She was trying to reason with him, but it sounded more like she was threatening him. That wasn’t her intention, but she was fine with it if it got Sidney to do what she wanted.

“You just want me to take you to the High Priest?”

She could sense his resolve buckling. “Yes. I’ll tell him I used magic to force you. It won’t be your fault.”

Sidney perked up at the suggestion. “Oh, you can do that?”

“No, but he doesn’t know that.”

Sidney considered her proposal, looking from Dad’s arrow tip to the dwarf, and then back to Britta.

“Okay. I mean, if it’s a prophecy, there’s not much a little kobold like me can do to stop you messing everything up.”

He was coming around, but in the most annoying way possible. She should have let him think what he wanted, but it was hard to resist putting him straight.

“I’m not going to mess everything up,” she said.

Sidney winced. “Yeah. That’s what the prophecy said you would say.”

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.