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The Desperate Dwarf

Copyright © Ian Irvine, 2011.


Chapter 1

Ike’s Bum


The Desperate Dwarf


In a sealed cave at the heart of a forgotten
mountain, a blind seer sat in the dark between two mirrors that
were reflecting the silvery tendrils of times to come.

‘Find the Gate Guardian who calls himself Ike,’
said the watcher who wasn’t there.

‘I see him, my queen,’ said the seer. ‘He’s
drawing with the magical pen.’

The watcher rubbed a patch of tarnish on her
silvery arm. ‘This pen bothers me. Tell me about it.’

‘Alas, my mirrors can’t see into it,’ replied
the seer.

‘Then make his drawing go wrong!’ cried the
watcher, vexed.

Taking hold of the time tendrils, the seer
wove a new future. ‘It is done.’

‘What else do you see?’

The ever-shifting paths of the future bounced
between the mirrors, then she replied, ‘The thief girl, Mellie,
is a good friend to him.’

‘Turn them against one another.’

The seer’s arm jerked, involuntarily. ‘My queen,
that could backfire.’

‘Do it.’

Again the seer wove the future.

Again the watcher asked, ‘What else?’

‘Fleeing from a terrible storm, Ike is taken
in by a stranger.’

‘The stranger must betray him. Then?’

‘I see Ike all alone, in a hell from which
no one has ever escaped.’

‘Trap him there. And, finally?’

‘He’s in a contest, a deadly contest.’

Make him lose!

The watcher was rising, preparing to break
the connection, when suddenly the stern old seer snorted.

‘My queen, you must see this.’

‘I am not amused,’ said the watcher, stiffly.

‘You will be,’ the seer guffawed.

‘You forget yourself, seer,’ the watcher snapped.
‘Nothing can make me laugh. In two hundred and twenty years, I
have only smiled when inflicting pain.’

‘It’s the Gate Guardian,’ cackled the blind
seer. ‘He’s in Delf, and a spell has gone badly – no, disarsetrously – wrong.’

‘What spell?’ the watcher said, curiously.

‘I can’t say,’ chortled the seer. ‘Take a look,
my queen.’

‘At what?’

‘Ike’s bum!’ The seer wove light into a mid-air

‘His what?’
sniffed the watcher, shocked at the seer’s vulgarity.

Intrigued, the watcher looked, and her mouth
fell open. Certain muscles that she had not used in centuries stretched
her mouth wide. Her shoulders began to heave as a great bubble
of merriment formed deep in her belly and rose ever upwards.

She tried to stop it, to remain her grim, cold
self, but the laughter exploded out in a vast, echoing roar.

‘Ike’s bum! Look at Ike’s bum!’ she hooted,
pounding the wall beside her. ‘He should change his name to Date Guardian.’

The watcher laughed until tears flooded down
her silver cheeks and washed her latest nightmare clean away.



Chapter 2

You Have to Help


‘Never trust a greedy, grasping goblin.’ Mellie
hurled her pack at the stony ground and flopped beside it.

Ike saw nothing but mountains in every direction.
Tall mountains, sharp peaks, patches of grey ice and cliffs that
even sucker ants would fall off.

Aigo’s potion had shown them where the stolen
Book of Grimmery lay. Emajicka had hidden it in Delf, the underground
city of the dwarves. Unfortunately, even after a week of travelling,
Delf seemed as far away as ever, and Ike felt sure their enemies
were closing in, racing each other to find them first.

Who would it be – Nocty the cruel night-gaunt,
Grogire the fire-breathing wyrm, the malicious demon, Spleen, or
the wicked Fey Queen herself? He shivered. Emajicka’s revenge would
be terrible.

He shook off the black thoughts. ‘We must be
missing something about the potion.’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’

‘Aigo said, pour
some on the ground and use what you see

‘We did that,’ said Mellie wearily, ‘and the
yellow cloud showed us the Doors of Delf.’

‘Delf is halfway across Wychwold and time’s
running out.’

‘It’s run out, Ike. The food bag’s empty – apart
from a handful of tongue weevils.’

Ike felt the end of his tongue, which was still
sore from a weevil bite yesterday. ‘But we bought enough food for
weeks.’ Mellie had spent half their bag of gold on supplies and
mountain gear.

‘Pook’s gobbled the lot, the greedy little
runt. He only stops eating to tell another gigantic lie.’

Ike turned towards the boastful boy and felt
such a stabbing pain that he cried out, ‘Come away from there.’

Pook was humming mmm-mmmm-mm and
stretching his right leg as far over the cliff as he could reach.
If he slipped, or the crumbling rock gave, he would die. But Pook,
who had been tormented by the Fey Queen all his life, had no fear
of death – or anything else.

‘I’ve fallen off a hundred cliffs,’ he said,
turning handstands along the edge. ‘I just bounce back up.’

‘It’s wrong to tell lies,’ said Ike, moving
carefully towards the boy. You’d think a kid of twelve would have
some sense.

‘I used to play war games with Emajicka. I
beat her three times in a row.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Emajicka calls me the Fantastic Fibber,’ Pook
said brightly. ‘Also the Platinum Prevaricator and the Magnificent
Munchausen. She gave me a medal for lying.’

There was no point arguing. He was such an
outrageous liar that the Fey Queen might well have given him a
medal for it.

Pook cartwheeled back, his red hair flying.
Ike moved closer, his heart rattling against his ribs. Another
second and he could grab the boy though, if the rock crumbled,
they were both gone. Ike had died a fortnight ago, after picking
up a bolt of frozen lightning, and was not anxious to experience
death again any time soon.

As Pook landed, his left hand came down on
a pebble. It skidded under him and he tumbled towards the edge,

Mellie let out an incoherent cry.

Ike leapt and caught the boy by his skinny
ankle, but the weight slammed him down on his knees and they ground
across the rough rock towards the edge. He clamped on with his
other hand and heaved.

‘Ow!’ cried Pook as his forehead cracked against
the cliff. Still hanging upside-down, he kicked and thrashed his
arms. ‘What’d you do that for, stupid big lunk?’

Ike dumped the boy on solid ground and staggered
away. Mellie was staring, her eyes wet.

‘I thought you were going over as well.’ She
gave Ike a quick, desperate hug.

‘So did I.’

His bloody knees were shaking, he was drenched
in sweat and his throat hurt. He sat down with his back to a boulder,
where it felt safe.

Pook cartwheeled away, humming, ‘Mmm-mmm-mmm,’
as if nothing had happened.

Mellie sat beside Ike, hugging her knees. ‘What
are we going to do?’

His heart was thumping like great wing beats,
reminding him of all their airborne enemies. He closed his eyes
and tried to calm himself. ‘I don’t know.’

‘I want to go home. I’ve got a bad feeling
about my family.’

Mellie’s family were professional thieves,
and good ones, too. Ike still found that hard to accept, especially
when she was doing it.

‘What kind of a feeling?’

Her cheeks went pink. ‘That they’re in trouble
and it’s my fault.’

‘How can it be your fault?’ said Ike. ‘You
haven’t seen them for weeks.’

‘After I dragged Princess Aurora through the
horse poo, she threatened to hang them by their intestines.’

‘”Once I am queen”, she said. Aurora’s in hiding,
and unless we find the book she’ll never be queen.’

‘It must be Emajicka, then. What if she’s taking
revenge on my family, right now?’

‘What can we do, Mellie? The thieves’ inn is
even further away than Delf.’

‘I’ve got to do something,’ cried Mellie, springing

‘If we don’t get the book to Ambra within fourteen
days, Aurora can’t be crowned queen. Then Emajicka will make slaves
of us all –’

‘Or worse,’ Mellie said darkly.

She began to pace back and forth, making little
darting movements with her hands. Practising thievery.

‘What’s the matter with the stupid potion?’
Ike muttered. ‘It’s supposed to show us how to find the book.’

‘You’re not using it properly,’ said Pook,
turning handstands towards him.

‘How would you know?’

‘I’ve invented more potions than Fred the Flying

‘You just made that up,’ Ike said wearily.
‘Like the story you told King Dibblin about the betrayal of the
Gate Guardians.’ Ike desperately wanted to hear the true story
but Pook would not tell him.

‘That was the truth,’ said Pook, bouncing on
his feet.

‘Then who betrayed the Gate Guardians and put
the blame on my parents?’

‘I’ll tell you once you keep your promise.’

‘What promise?’

‘To rescue the children Emajicka stole for
her Collection.’

‘I said I’d try after we’ve
found the Book of Grimmery.’

‘You’ve got to do it now,’
said Pook.

‘Her palace is hundreds of miles away. Besides,
I gave my word I’d find the book first.’

‘Your word isn’t worth a worm’s whiskers.’

‘Says the biggest liar in Grimmery. Go away.’

Pook squatted beside Ike, staring at him with
tragic eyes. Eyes that had seen far more than any child of twelve
should have.

‘Emajicka has tormented the Collected children
for ten years,’ the boy said softly. ‘She makes us have the most
terrible nightmares, then takes them for herself. Have you ever
heard a hundred kids screaming all at once?’

‘No,’ said Ike, his voice croaky.

‘Little Lilpili can’t stop crying. Toree is
covered in purple hives; she looks like an eggplant. And Agbert
hasn’t said a word in nine years. He just stares at the wall.’

Ike squirmed.

‘Emajicka killed all our parents,’ said Pook.
‘We’ve got no one save each other – and you.’

‘Me?’ said Ike, uncomfortably.

‘You’re the last Gate Guardian left alive.’

‘I’m only fourteen, and I don’t have the Gate
Guardians’ Gift. What can I do?’

‘The Fey Queen needs more nightmares all the
time; worse ones. The Collected
children are going mad with terror. You’ve got to help them, Ike – before
it’s too late.’

The worst thing was, Ike knew Pook wasn’t lying