“Half a year’s supply of ale pissed to the wind, an entire pier sitting at the bottom of the river, and enough splinters in my arse that I’ll be shitting planks for weeks!”
Grendel was furiously pacing the tavern floor, kicking aside shards of broken glass and the partial remains of an exterior wall as he went. He stopped suddenly and turned to face Carver and Maeve, who were kneeling on the floor with their hands bound behind their backs.
Grendel leaned in until he was uncomfortably close to both of them and hissed, “Have you any idea how much this is going to cost me—or, more accurately, you?”
“Look,” Carver began pleadingly, “I’m telling you—we had nothing to do with this. We’d just got back from an excavation and figured since we’re in the area, we’d pop in for a quick drink. Get our wounds sorted before moving on. That’s all.”
“Aye, is that so?” Grendel mused, “Then why is that before the dust had even a chance to settle, you two were already bolting out that door. It’s almost as if yous were trying to keep yourselves from getting caught. And what about that short-arse, the dwelf? Where’s he at then? He was gone the moment he set foot in the tavern—was he the one who did this?”
“Him?” Carver scoffed, “No. Never. He couldn’t even tell a wick from a yarn. He was probably just out taking a piss or something. But I know for a fact that he could never—”
Grendel gave Connla a look, and she immediately tipped the bucket which she had been holding at the ready, dumping whatever was in it over Carver’s head.
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” Carver shouted, spitting out mouthfuls of sludge-coloured liquid. “Was that the spittoon?!”
“Worse,” Connla replied dryly. He noticed a feeling of something wet and sticky on his chin, and he realised that dangling from it was an overly attached nugget of faecal matter.
“FUCK!” He shouted, cocking his head as he tried to wipe his chin on himself. He let out another expletive as the brown nugget became a long trailing smear across his shoulder. He turned to Connla to protest but quickly recoiled when he saw her readying a second bucket as a warning. Carver then shifted his gaze to Maeve, who had remained silent this whole time.
She sat still with her eyes closed, almost in a meditative state. And she seemed entirely unphased by the collateral splashing of brown waste that speckled her profile—which, the Maeve that Carver knew, would have been the first to react, and violently so—and so, he could not help but wonder as to why she was acting uncharacteristically passive. And just as he was about to call her out and tell her to do something, anything, he noticed a very subtle movement with her hands. He squinted and caught a glimpse of what looked to be a glass shard held deep in her palm, just out of sight, and angled towards the rope binding her wrists. He quickly diverted his gaze as not to draw attention.
“Would you look at that now,” Grendel called out with an almost menacing glee, triumphantly kicking whatever lay at his feet, as a waterlogged Cooper hobbled through the tavern door.
The heavy sloshing of Cooper’s footsteps as they slapped wetly against the debris-laden floor echoed throughout the tavern in an almost comical manner. And cradled in his arms like a mewling cat was the dwelf, who was equally drenched and dripping puddles at his feet. The dwelf looked up at Cooper with his large, brown, glistening eyes that were wholly indecipherable, and—before Grendel could continue his triumphant tirade—plopped out of Cooper’s arms, landing with a moist splosh, and toddled over to the table where Carver and Maeve had sat earlier. Grendel, Connla, Carver, Maeve, and Cooper watched the dwelf with a dumbfounded curiosity as he tippy-toed up to reach for his half-pint—which remained, somehow, miraculously, entirely unscathed from the explosion—and then continued to watch as he dragged a stool with long, painfully slow movements, inch-by-inch, often stopping to move whatever debris lay in his path, before the screeching of wood and against wood began again, stopping only when the stool was nestled comfortably next to Maeve. He then clambered up onto the stool and began sipping his half-pint while happily swinging his legs, which hung at least six inches from the ground.
“Who the fuck are you?” Grendel asked with a mixture of sincerity and utter disbelief, directing his question to the dwelf.
“Nugget,” Carver answered.
“… Nugget. Right. Well, Nugget, it be would be a joy if you could demystify this situation and tell us what in pisser’s brew happened here.”
Nugget did not respond. But not only did he not respond, but he also didn’t show any form of acknowledgement towards Grendel and, instead, continued merrily sipping away at his drink.
“He, ” Carver eventually said, “doesn’t speak.”
“Is he mute?” Grendel asked.
Carver shrugged as best as he could, considering his bindings. “Honestly, I don’t think there is anything is wrong him,” he thought for a moment, “physically. I think he just does it because it’s aggravating.”
Carver shot another quick glance towards Maeve. She was still silently cutting away. The rope was now frayed and peeling at the edges, held together only by a few relentless strands of twine.
Then, suddenly, there was clamour of shattering wood as Grendel kicked a nearby barstool towards Nugget—missing him narrowly—and hitting the bar counter with such force that it disintegrated into a cloud of woodchips, raining shrapnel down onto Carver, Maeve, and Nugget.
“Because it’s aggravating?!” Grendel began to pace toward Nugget, “I’ll tell ye what’s fucking aggravating!” He was shouting now, red in the face; his eyes had glazed over. Carver could see that he was past pacifying and that no amount of circumlocution would stall him. He was out for blood.
“Losing my fucking tavern is aggravating,” as he marched, Grendel swiftly reached down and scooped up a heavy plank of wood. “Losing my fucking pier is aggravating,” he was only a few short strides away from Nugget, who continued to sip his ale in happy obliviousness. “And dealing with you bastards is aggravating.”
Three things happened simultaneously. First, Grendel raised his plank above his head to strike down at Nugget. Next, Maeve’s eyes shot open, and her binds slipped off her wrists. She brandished the shard of glass and moved to lunge for Grendel. Then, the ever-perceptive Connla tossed aside her bucket and moved to intercept Maeve. But before any of them could act, Cooper called out from behind.
“It wasn’t him,” he said.