The Outlander's Gift
Time For Doing Is
Word of their arrival had been sent ahead by the perimeter guards. An ancient Gnome stood waiting for them by the entrance to the Burrow of Clan Tartheim.
"You from Outland returned are," he said coldly, not offering a name.
Quiddlepeg raised an eyebrow at the discourtesy and jumped down from the wagon. "I am."
The elder Gnome peered at the wagon. "Others you bring," he accused.
"It my family I bring is."
The old Gnome sniffed. "Outlanders more."
"Azzya of Clan Brindlethimble my wife is and Outlander not," Quiddlepeg snapped.
The elder glared at Quiddlepeg, unable to voice an outright insult to Azzya's lineage, but still clearly certain of her unsuitability to be considered a member of his own Clan.
"Claim I Clan-Right," Quiddlepeg announced, his voice and stance belligerent.
"You Outland troubles here bring."
"I my family here bring."
"You Outlander escort had."
Quiddlepeg shrugged and moved to lower the wagon's steps. "Any Gnome an Outland escort has. The nature of Outlanders is."
"You Outland troubles here bring," the old Gnome accused again.
Quiddlepeg sniffed contemptuously as he assisted Azzya to the ground. "Clan-Burrow Magic so weak is that Outlanders can the Burrow see? It well is, then, Parasyndell, that I returned have. Azzya in Magic strong is."
Parasyndell straightened. "The Burrow its own protects," he said huffily. "Jeron," he called to someone waiting just inside the entrance. "The empty rooms of fourth level will these sufficient house."
Jeron stepped into view and Fred, observing events from under the wagon tarp, shivered. This one was not at all pleasant-looking. He wore a scowl more suited to a dwarf than a Gnome. His beard was just a hair too long, she thought, and just a shade too curled to be anything but arrogant. His curled lip spoke his contempt for them without need of words.
There were two gasps as Fred finally stepped from the wagon.
"An Outland bastard!" Jeron exclaimed. "Why you this here bring?"
For all that he was six inches shorter, Quiddlepeg's fist made accurate contact with Jeron's jaw, sending the younger Gnome flying.
"Quiddlepeg!" The shocked voices of both Azzya and Parasyndell rang clear in the stunned silence.
Quiddlepeg halted, his fists raised, breathing heavily, his expression murderous.
Jeron lay where he had fallen, rubbing his jaw and glaring at his attacker.
Fred was unable to keep silent. "Not Outlander I am," she said firmly, marching down the steps and across the strip of ground to face Parasyndell. "Gnome I am. Waywocket Caramint Ellyglim Fred of Clan Tartheim."
Parasyndell peered down his nose at her. "An Outlander's name you have," he said.
"An honourable name by an honourable person gifted," she shot back. "An Outlander, yes, but one who Gnome custom understands well enough to another's appearance not mock."
She looked the old Gnome up and down, not realizing how closely her own expression of contempt matched his.
"Not Gnome you are, to Clan members a guesting so rude bring. Less than Outlander you are," she spat.
Quiddlepeg snapped out of his rage to scoop his youngest child up, clamping a hand firmly over her mouth. Our own way we will find," he said curtly. With a sharp nod to Azzya, he strode into the Burrow. Azzya, her face expressionless, shepherded her confused children after her husband.
* * * * *
Fred's contempt for 'the Old One', as she persisted in calling him, grew as she explored the sprawling Burrow. They had been given three small rooms in the depths of the Burrow, barely more room in them than they'd had in the wagon.
The first week of their arrival had been hard on her. In punishment for her rudeness to the Eldest of Clan, Parasyndell, she had been confined to their rooms and had had to help Azzya and the oldest sister, Merrissal, settle in. It was her other siblings who were set free to play.
"It will you remind that rudeness not acceptable is," her mother had said severely.
"First rude he was," Fred had complained.
"And rudeness his your excusable makes?"
Fred hung her head. "No."
She had been forced to apologize to Parasyndell in front of the Clan before supper that first night. Parasyndell's only response was a sniff before he turned away from her. It didn't endear him to her at all.
When she was finally released, Fred explored every section of the Burrow. She came back to their rooms on the first afternoon of her freedom fuming.
"Father, rooms above us there are. Rooms enough that you and Mother not eat, sleep and live in one must, nor we sleep piled as firewood must."
Quiddlepeg turned his chair and pulled her onto his lap. She was, he noticed, almost too big for him now. "Three room to keep we have. No more necessary is," he said quietly.
"Is!" she insisted.
"No. Three rooms proper is."
"Why? Three rooms proper for Outlanders is, maybe."
Quiddlepeg looked across the table at his wife.
Azzya nodded reluctantly. "Right to know is, else will from others hear," she admitted.
Quiddlepeg grimaced. "Right all should know is." He looked at Fred. "After evening meal tale told will be, child," he said.
Fred bowed to the tone of his voice. "Long time until after eating is," she sighed.
"Indeed," her mother smiled. "Barely time to siblings find is and faces wash."
Fred gave her a dirty look. "Simple is, Mother." She went to the doorway and put her fingers to her lips before anyone could stop her. She sent out two piercing trills. The sound echoed through the Burrow, followed immediately by several crashes.
Quiddlepeg, trying hard not to laugh in the face of his wife's horror, scooped Fred into his arms and away from the door before she could repeat the performance.
"Caramint-child, forest recall suitable for Burrow not is," he chided.
"Why not? In forest work well is."
Quiddlepeg grinned. "Too loud for small ears of Burrow is," he explained. "Like fox call in rabbit hole is."
Fred giggled. "Fox smart is, Father. No in rabbit hole noise make."
Quiddlepeg tapped her nose as pounding feet heralded the arrival of the rest of the family. "And no in rabbit hole Fred fox noise make."
She pouted. "Yes, Father."
Quiddlepeg chuckled. "Now go face and hands clean make. Eating time is."
The communal eating area was crowded when they arrived, but not crowded enough to prevent a wide berth being given to Quiddlepeg and his family.
"Rude is," Fred muttered as a Gnome shifted in his seat to prevent his coming in contact with the newcomers.
"So Gnomeling is," Merrissal muttered from beside her. "Hush or more trouble on parents you will bring."
Fred hushed. But she didn't bother to hide her frown.
After supper, they arranged themselves comfortably in the main rooms of their quarters, children on the floor, adults on the couch that doubled as a bed. They could hear the laughter and music from the common rooms, as the other Gnomes celebrated another day of Life.
"Not right is, Father," Daya, Fred's next oldest brother, said crossly. "Not let us prepare meal help. Not let us clearing up help. Not let us celebrate."
"Right is, Daya," Quiddlepeg said softly. "Right is and fault mine is."
The children stared at him.
"That bad you not is, Father," Fred stated.
Quiddlepeg smiled grimly. "That bad Father is."
"Why, Father?" Jeron Gnome worse was," Merrissal added.
Quiddlepeg held up his hand for silence as each of his children tried to make their opinions known. "No. Jeron your cousin is and right. I Burrow for Outland left, and father wished not."
"Father yours here is?" Daya squeaked in surprise.
"Father mine at entrance us met," Quiddlepeg announced.
All but one of his children gaped. Fred merely crossed her arms and looked mutinous. She had already been reprimanded several times for voicing her thoughts on *that* particular person and she had no intention of being further confined.
"But why, Father?"
Quiddlepeg sighed. "Because Burrow Law Burrow enough is."
"But bigger world that just Burrow is," another brother said.
"But to Burrow not. And Burrow stay we must." Quiddlepeg shot a glance at his wife.
Azzya smiled reassuringly and patted his hand. "Safe here we are."
"From whom safe?"
Quiddlepeg met each child's eyes, from the almost-adult Merrissal to the twenty-year-old Fred, trying to decide how best to explain.
"Father yours many friends Outland has made," Azzya took up the story. "Friends who Gnomes at heart are. There also Outlanders who like goblins think are."
Halajon, another sister, wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Ew, Goblins."
Peynorin, the oldest boy, asked, "And Outlander goblins we for friends helping seek?"
A silent conversation rustled amongst the children, consisting mostly of raised eyebrows, grimaces, a nod or two and slight shrugs.
"So we here where treated as goblins stay."
Peynorin grinned at Fred's words. "Exactly."
Quiddlepeg and Azzya exchanged worried glances. How to explain the necessity without frightening them?
Peynorin laughed. "Not so serious is, Father. Simple is. Us to prove to Burrow that Gnomes we are. Learning to protect ourselves against Outland goblins we must. Task same is."
"Not like laugh Goblins don't," Daya snickered.
"Not to hurt Burrows jokes made is," Quiddlepeg decreed, suddenly understanding their intent.
"Not is!" Daya said, indignant. "Being Gnome is."
"Father, more than Burrow Gnomes we know," Merrissal added. "More than simple goblin we knowing. At magic, Fred better even than older Burrow Gnomes is. Mother can us more teach and to Father apprentice we be. If Burrow from us not like learning, then shall we each other teach. As before."
"Clan Quiddlepeg of Tartheim we are," Fred said with proud defiance.
Quiddlepeg stared, first at his wife and then at his children. Each face showed the same love, pride and determination. He bowed his head for a moment, fighting for some semblance of control so he could speak. He looked up. "Clan Quiddlepeg of Tartheim we are," he agreed.
The celebration that followed rivalled the one in the common rooms for noise and laughter.
* * * * *
It took the Quiddlepegs ten years to be accepted by most of the Burrow. Quiddlepeg and Azzya were grateful for that. Fred's outspokenness had antagonized more than one Gnome. Especially if it proved that Fred was right. Not that the child took on airs about it. It was just irritating, even for Quiddlepeg and Azzya.
On the bright side, only Halajon, Daya and Fred remained living in their tiny quarters. The others had either married or moved to the Warriors' Quarters, as was the custom for most Gnomes.
Halajon and Daya had proven to be the most skilled at gem-cutting and jewellery work. Fred was too impatient to do either well, but her designs on parchment were flawless. They had been transferred time and time again to the finest clothes, the grandest tapestries and any other fabric to which embroidery could be set.
Quiddlepeg sat at the table, brooding over Fred's latest attempt, a simple bracelet made of interlocking spirals, more mind puzzle than jewellery. "Her designs beautiful are," he said testily, tossing the bracelet down. "But not will she more than this make. Great impatience she has."
Azzya smiled and put her arms around her husband. "Like her father muchly she is. She as much will do, too. In time."
A scratching at the doorway interrupted them.
Quiddlepeg rose, putting Azzya protectively behind him. "Welcome you are," he called.
Jeron entered, his scowl still in place even after so many years. He was one of those who had not forgotten. He tossed something at Quiddlepeg and snarled, "Patrol yours this is says."
He spun on his heel and almost ran into Fred as she came in. He snarled wordlessly at her and swept past.
Fred gave her cousin no more than a passing thought as she saw her parents' expressions.
"What wrong is?" she asked, putting down the papers she carried.
Wordlessly, Quiddlepeg held out his hand. In it, rested a small, flat stone, the etching still clear. A hawk holding a trumpet, with sound billowing out of the trumpet's bell.
Fred's lips tightened. "Mine the gifting was, mine the responsibility is," she said calmly.
Azzya opened her mouth to protest, but Quiddlepeg forestalled her. "And mine the first friendship is, Daughter."
"Yours, also, the face to Outlander Goblins best known, Father. And your, the responsibility of our Clan is. Go I shall." She headed for her room and the pack stored there.
"Quiddlepeg, cannot she go," Azzya whispered fiercely, clutching his arm.
"Stay her here can you make?" he asked.
Azzya sagged. "No. But a child still she is."
"To us, perhaps, her parents. But not stupid she is. Or ill-equipped to as an Outlander live." He patted his wife's hand, trying not to let her see his own concern.
"As her father she is, as you say. Time now for her doing is."