Gnome Day

The memo went round, everywhere Gryphon Clerks worked.

Attention: Important: Command of the Realmgold: Effective Immediately, Internal Distribution Universal Prompt Required, External Distribution Prohibited with Penalty.

As at midnight tonight, a clarifying law takes effect which defines slavery in such a way that it includes the dwarvish concept of gnomeservice. The effect of this law is to emancipate any gnome who is outside a legally constituted dwarf hold.

Should any gnome or gnomes seek refuge or assistance at your place of work or ask you for assistance in any place or time, you are to provide such refuge and assistance until otherwise advised.

Register said gnomes using form GA-Reg/001.01 (attached) and return to Office of Gnome Affairs as thereon indicated.

Submit any cost claims using cost code GA-000000001-01.

Volunteers sought to open offices overnight, partially paid. Advise availability to Office of Gnome Affairs.

Attention: Important: Command of the Realmgold: Effective Immediately, Internal Distribution Universal Prompt Required, External Distribution Prohibited with Penalty.

Mage-minor signmakers had been at work for days in the cities of Koskant, placing glow-in-the-dark silver gryphons beside the entrance to any office where a Gryphon Clerk could be found. They activated or deactivated when touched by one of the clerks’ gryphons, so they could mark whether an office was attended.

A hat manufactory had received, some time before, a large government order for traditional gnome hats, but sized to fit humans. The dwarf in charge shrugged, and had the hat blocks moved around. His business was making sure that orders were filled, not asking why the Realmgold wanted human-sized gnome hats.

Among the gnomes, no memos circulated. Whispers and, in the noisier factories, handsign had to do instead. But the message was carefully phrased to be easily memorised:

The human Realmgold is declaring gnomeservice illegal from midnight tonight.

If you want to leave, look for the sign of the silver gryphon and ask for help, and you will be helped.

Keep it quiet, pass it on.

 “Something’s up with the gnomes,” said one dwarf overseer to another over a cup of mushroom broth.

“Ah, they’re always muttering about something,” said his colleague.

 

Shortly before midnight, in the industrial district south of the river, large, unmarked steam vans belonging to the Realmgold’s agents chugged quietly to several key intersections and stopped. Their sound went unremarked among the normal brick-building-muffled noises of steam engines, compressors and power tools from the factories on either hand.

Black-clad agents bearing silver gryphons on their chests, and wearing the tugboat-shaped hats that gnomes wore outside to protect them from the sun, slipped quietly from the vans and went to lurk in nearby shadows.

Suddenly, just on the stroke of midnight, first one factory, and then another, started to shut down. The Realmgold’s agents straightened and, against their long-trained instincts, moved forward into the light, where their hats and their gryphons would be visible to anyone coming out of the factories.

As the machines fell silent, from some of the nearest factories they could hear shouting in Dwarvish. First one voice, then it was answered by another, and finally a shout went up from many throats at once. The agents, all of whom understood Dwarvish, looked at each other. The shout had been “shvv,” the Dwarvish word for “victory”.

Moments later, the factory doors burst open and a flood of gnomes spilled into the street, chanting “Shvv, shvv, shvv.” In between the chant the agents could faintly hear increasingly obscene and desperate shouts from the overseers inside.

The agents waved, but the gnomes had already spotted their hats and headed towards them.

A burly, no-nonsense-looking gnome approached one pair of agents and gave a tilt of the head that communicated, “I acknowledge that you’re here in front of me, what now?”

“Greeting,” said one of the agents, in rough but serviceable Dwarvish. “Do you need help or directions?”

“We were going to head into the city,” said the gnome.

“Yes, that’s right. Look for the silver gryphon on any building.”

The gnome nodded and led his people off.

As the street cleared, a couple of dwarf overseers came panting up. “Are you in charge here?” one asked.

“Yes,” said the lead agent.

“Can’t you do something?”

“We’re doing it,” said the agent.

“What? You’re just standing here.”

“We’re providing directions,” said the second agent.

Directions? What about my runaway gnomes?”

“Realmgold says they’re not your gnomes. They belong to themselves.”

“That’s right,” said the senior agent. “No slavery in Koskant.”

“But… but…”

“You have a problem, you submit it to the Office of Gnome Affairs in the morning,” said the senior.

“Since when is there an Office of Gnome Affairs?” asked the dwarf who hadn’t spoken previously.

“Since now.”

“You can’t do this,” wailed the first dwarf. “Our grandmothers will be furious.”

“Office of Gnome Affairs,” repeated the senior agent. “Not our problem.”

 

The Office of Land Registration happened to be opposite the Municipal Theatre, and both had silver gryphons glowing outside. Also glowing were a couple of portable braziers, on which sat large metal urns filled with water. Eight or so volunteer Gryphon Clerks were enjoying a brew-up on the Municipal Theatre side of the street. As the midnight bells sounded from a couple of public clocks, they came alert and took their places by the doors.

Before long, a tramping noise could be heard, coming across the Long Bridge from the north bank of the river. Over the sound of many feet came jubilant cries of “shvv!” and “trr-kn!” (“freedom”).

A middle-aged clerk turned to the youngster beside him, a keen young lad just out of the Clerks’ College. “You’re watching history tonight,” he said. The youth nodded, his eyes shining, and they moved forward to greet the oncoming gnomes.

Spread the word

One thought on “Gnome Day

  1. Did you wonder what happened to that youth?

    I did. I’ve written a short story about it, and I’m submitting it to the Fantasy Faction competition.

    Not to give you any spoilers, but what happens is both terrible and wonderful.

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