Grimm Tidings

Chapter 15

A town, even a city, is like a machine. Dozens, even of hundreds of actions go on within its walls simultaneously and they must all be running at optimum precision if the machine as a whole is to function effectively. Take, for example, waste disposal. If even one person empties his chamber pot onto the street, then what? Flies and vermin will be attracted. Flies and vermin attract disease and larger vermin who prey on the smaller. Soon street traffic is disrupted because of the insects and animals and efficient movement through the town is impeded. That hurts the markets which in turn hurts the finances and reputation of the town, and soon businesses are closing shop. One emptied chamber pot could turn a well-run town into an infested, plague-ridden ghost town.

So thought Grimestoke as he made his late morning rounds of Tzanasport. As he walked down the gentle hill from the castle, he prided himself on the many improvements he had made in the town – at the Lord Baltrog’s behest, of course – since they had arrived there some years ago. How inefficient the place had been! People used to wash windows whenever they felt like it, and some not at all. Market days used to be on Thursday, which disrupted the commerce of Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning. Clothes were hung on lines in any old order, and there were sometimes line-ups at the water fountain.

He had straightened out all of that chaos. A series of by-laws, complicated, yes, but necessary, were passed about every aspect of public like in Tznasaport and were implemented with brutal, but necessary, force. And what a world of difference it made! As the little man walked towards the central square he marveled at the cleanliness of the streets, the order of the laundry, the tidiness of the store fronts, and the entire lack of dogs. Grimestoke hated dogs. Dirty, noisy animals. That had been the first by-law – no dogs in the town.

Whistling to himself as he made his way down the empty street, Grimestoke paused just before the corner that led into the central square. The reformation of that square had been his masterstroke. When he had found it the square had been little better than a vulgar meeting place for ne’er-do-wells and idle housewives. People used to gather there at all hours to talk and even eat and drink. What inefficiency! What a waste of time and labour! Grimestoke had shut down the food vendors in the square and set strict time limits on how long a person might stay in that public space: six and a half minutes if filling a water container, seven minutes and twenty seconds if you were coming from the south side of the square as it took an extra 50 second to cross the square from that direction. Now the square was a model of cleanliness and efficiency.

Grimestoke stepped into the square and surveyed it. Excellent. Not a gossip or vagrant in sight. He headed towards the southern exit when something caught his eye. Right there, near the west side of the square there was something on the ground! He walked closer. This was much worse than something. This was garbage! Someone had thrown fruit and vegetables on the ground and had stomped them into a mush. And flies were gathering around the pulp! It was too disgusting and inefficient to be allowed.

The gnome scanned the square looking for the vandal who had dared to leave this mess. Who ever it was would soon help test the latest refinement of his new torture machine, but he could see no one.

But there was some thing in the small alley that led off the western side of the square, something on the ground. He headed into the alley and soon came upon the object. It was more garbage, some sort of meat that had been trampled on. Who ever made the first mess came this way and Grimestoke set out to find him or her.

The gnome broke into a run. The garbage was fresh. The person who left it couldn’t be far ahead. In a minute he was deep into the winding alley and heading back uphill in the general direction of the castle. He saw no more garbage until he rounded a corner and almost toppled over a large mound of rags and tatters. He pulled up short and examined the heap. It smelled of sweat and dirt. It looked, in the dim light of the alley, as though the rags were wrapped around something, some sort of large bundle.

Grimestoke gingerly touched the pile with the toe of his boot. Immediately the pile rolled over and the gnome found himself staring into the smiling face of a dwarf. No, not any dwarf. The dwarf. The one from Oakborder. Voltag Grimm.

“Remember me?” asked the dwarf.

Grimestoke spun around to run but found himself staring at the point of an arrow ready to fly from a long bow. The gnome swallowed, and focused his eyes past the deadly point to the person who held the weapon. It was a young man, scarcely a boy. But there was something familiar about him, something very familiar. Take away the moustache and the hood and it could be . . . No. It couldn’t be. Not her.

“How about me?” Yolanthe asked.


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