Day Two: Beginnings of a Friendship

(Note by author: I apologize for not posting for the last two weeks.  I’ve been a little under the weather.  I’m doing better now, so without further delay, here is the next Beetle Fire post.  Enjoy!)

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 28, 1794.

Archery practice at last mercifully ended.  By that point my arms and fingers were sore and a large black bruise was forming on my left arm where the string had snapped against it.  My nerves had taken about as much as they could handle, and I still had running, cleaning duty, strength training, and worm gutting on my plate.  Who knew what further tasks accompanied that.

After unstringing our bows and putting away our equipment, Sergeant Noytel barked for us to get into running formation.  Surveying us with a look which spelled misery, his face split into a nasty grin and he said cheerily, “I’ve heard some of you complain about me running you too much.  In my mind that means you just haven’t had enough practice yet.  You have an hour before cleaning duty.  Let us use it wisely.  Forward, run!”

Quiet groans rippled through the trainees.  I myself felt my heart sink.  In light of my current exhaustion I really wondered how gnomish citizenship was enough compensation for all this.  As had been the case the day before my thoughts soon trailed away however, as I became entirely focused on not collapsing.

At the end of that hour most of us were far too tired to grumble.  A couple gnomes had received message running duty in the evening for falling behind during the sprint.  They stood dejectedly in the back, unable to even lift their eyes.

“Alright troops!” Sergeant Noytel called.  “Quick water break, then it’s cleaning duty.  I want the mess halls scrubbed and the pots in the kitchen scoured.  Do it well or you’ll get more cleaning assigned!”

Heading numbly to the kitchen with half the gnomes while the other half went to the mess halls, I was paired up with the short gnome for whom we had the thanks of these chores.  I ignored him at first, but after a half hour he quietly and hesitantly asked if I’d known how to shoot archery before today.  My embarrassment from earlier resurfaced at this.  Even so I calmly replied that I had not.

“Oh.  So you really didn’t know what you were doing.  I’m so glad!” he cried.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked in confusion.

“Well you see, you were drawing the bow wrong.  I feared you had developed that stance as a habit.”

“What was wrong with my stance?”

“Don’t be angry.  I was only trying to help.”

Smiling politely I said, “Forgive me sir.  I was not angry, but only rather tired.  Pray, how do you draw a bow correctly?”

The gnome’s eyes brightened at once.  Taking a long ladle and resting it like an arrow on his left hand, he drew back the handle with his right and placed his right index finger at the corner of his mouth.  “See my hand sir?” he asked.  “It is against and not away from my face.  My left shoulder would be square with the target.  And notice my right elbow?  It is perfectly in line with the arrow, being neither up nor down.  Hold that stance when you shoot.  It should help tremendously.”

“What’s going on over there?  Get back to work!” the sergeant who checked us in yesterday yelled.

Quickly we returned to our duties.  Turning to the gnome a couple minutes later, I whispered my gratitude.

“Glad to help!  Glad to help!  Say, might I inquire your name, sir?”

“Benjamin.  And you?”

“Brodel.  Are you really human?”

I nodded.  We didn’t continue our conversation much longer however, as Sergeant Noytel entered soon after to monitor our progress.  I have resolved to speak more with Brodel later, as having a comrade in this place would help tremendously toward preserving my sanity.

Day Two: Archery Struggles

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 28, 1794.

I last wrote of my first day of training in the gnomish military and the grueling pace at which it started out.  Unfortunately for me I quickly discovered that it was only the beginning.  I was awakened early from my sleeping palate by a startling shout, and despite feeling stiff to the point that I could hardly bend, we each received barked orders by Sergeant Noytel to tidy our sleeping area and get out of the room in two minutes or less.  Somehow we all made it.  But to Sergeant Noytel’s chagrin, the small gnome who had tripped during the ant avoidance course left his palate in a rather sorry state.  Imagine then our surprise and agitation when we each received cleaning duty for his mistake.

Cleaning duty was scheduled for this afternoon.  For now only a mile run, calisthenics, and strength building stood in the way of breakfast.  Many of the gnomes had never gone so long without a meal.

“He’s running us down to the water table!” I heard one particularly stout fellow grumble.

Breakfast was a flavorless gruel consumed in a cheerless hall.  Strangely I was glad of it.  Supper last night had been an unwholesome portion of boiled grub smothered in gravy.  As soon as we were finished it was time for another run followed by archery practice.  I admit I had been looking quite forward to archery.  That is until I was singled out by Sergeant Noytel on the shooting range to demonstrate how to get a bow strung.

“I’m sorry sir, but I don’t know how.” I tried to explain.

“What was that soldier?” Sergeant Noytel yelled.  “I said string the bow!”

Gulping, I took the limb from him and fumbled with the contraption for a full minute, my mortification increasing at every second.  I got it on in the end, though the bow didn’t seem to be bending properly.

“Is this a joke soldier?” the instructor demanded.

“No sir.” I replied, feeling my face become hot.

“Unstring that bow and get back in line!  Worm gutting duty tonight for your pranks!”

I unstrung the bow quickly and hurried to my place among the others.  I could feel their eyes upon me, though I kept my own straight ahead.

“It seems the newborn can’t tell the difference between backward and forward or up and down.  String it like this, human!  Look closely.  I won’t demonstrate again!” he said.  “Step over the bow with your right foot so the handle is behind your knee.  Place the bottom of the bow in front of your left ankle.  Twist your hips to the left, and push the string into the groove on the top limb to your right.  That clear?  Now everyone grab a bow from the rack at the right wall.  Make it quick!  I want them all strung and ready in under five minutes.”

Nothing teaches a lesson faster than humiliation and the threat of being punished with further unsavory work duties.  I was among the earliest to get my bow strung, although it took much of my strength to do so.  Sergeant Noytel walked among us inspecting our bows, and finding them more or less to his satisfaction, he instructed us to retrieve a quiver.  Slinging it across my back like the others, I prayed silently that our instructor wouldn’t call upon me to demonstrate how to shoot.

“Archers approach the line and fire six arrows at the target downrange!” Sergeant Noytel barked.

I again felt my face grow hot.  The only bow I had ever drawn was a stick I’d strung as a child.  It had broken in two after firing only one crudely made arrow.  Moving slightly slower than my fellows, I watched one of them straddle the line, face the right wall, and draw an arrow on the left side of the bow.  I had no time to observe further, as Sergeant Noytel chose that moment to stand where he could watch my progress.

With great trepidation I straddled the line myself, knocked an arrow so it rested on the left side of the limb, and attempted to draw back the string with two fingers and my thumb.  To my dismay the arrow fell off the shelf and string and dropped loudly to the floor.  Sergeant Noytel surprisingly said nothing, but this didn’t alleviate my anxiety.  Glancing rapidly to another archer, I saw that he was using three fingers and no thumb to draw the bow.  Re-knocking the dropped arrow, I tried again.  Drawing the stiff limb as far back as my aching arm would allow, I let go the string.  The result was horrifying!  The string hit my left arm with a painful snap, and the arrow flew less than ten yards and buried itself into the ground halfway to the target.

“What a sorry excuse for an archer!” Sergeant Noytel bellowed.  “Weight training after dinner.  I’ll have no weak girls in my regiment!”

Now with a full day of activities ahead of me I continued to struggle with that bow.  It was a very humiliating experience, though it was reprieved somewhat by the fact that others in the group also received reprimands for poor shooting or simply not firing quick enough.  I hate to say it, but I am quickly learning to despise archery.

Training Camp Beginnings: Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 27, 1794.

(Continued from last post…)  I cannot begin to express the relief I felt when Sergeant Noytel at last called off our run.  Strangely, though I was tired and gasping, I was nowhere near the level of exhaustion of some of the poor fellows in our group.  A couple of the heavier ones could hardly stand.  Even so we were ordered to walk, since we still had some ways still to go to finish the tunnel loop.  I was now quite grateful for the bustle of Shiny’s.  I might otherwise have found myself in a rather pitiful condition.

We stopped only briefly at a watering station before moving on to the next section of the training.  Much of my earlier trepidation had been swallowed up in my struggle to keep pace with our sergeant.  Now it came back in full force.  Leading us into a dimly lit room, he picked up a huge pair of pliers and held them up for us to see.

“Who here thinks he is fast enough to outrun an ant?” Sergeant Noytel sneered.  No one spoke.  “Anyone?  You there, infant, do you believe you’re faster than an ant?”

I paled and quietly answered, “Probably not, sir.”

“What was that soldier?  Speak up!”

“No sir!” I reiterated loudly.

“Why human, how good of you to volunteer first!  Look over there.  This room has several ants, or rather gnomes disguised as ants, hidden throughout.  Can you see them?  No?  You might think since you are human that due to your usual size you could just squish the things when you see them.  I dare you to try it now!  Your objective is to run down and back without a single ant biting you.” Sergeant Noytel flashed an evil grin as he opened and closed the pliers for emphasis.  I shuddered.  “Well don’t just stand there!” he screamed.  “Go!”

I was off like a flash, sprinting the length of the room at a pace I would have marveled to see the day before.  Sounds of running feet exploded into action behind me, and before I knew it I was being pinched viciously on the side of my thigh.  Another set of pliers were almost closing around my arm.  Pain stricken and horrified, in my maddened state I grabbed at the pliers and threw whomever was clutching them against the gnome attacking my leg.  The two of them fell into a pile behind me.  Then, having reached the end of the room, I turned to run back.  But unaware that I was still being chased, I was intercepted immediately by a third “ant” who swung into me with the pliers, forcing the air from my lungs.  I was knocked off my feet a moment later and slammed to the ground where I lay in a heap gasping.

“Next!” Sergeant Noytel barked.

I looked up blearily as first one gnome and then another succumbed to the ant attack.  I apparently fared the best of all of them, though little praise did I receive for it.

“Only the infant fought back?  Are we all children here?” the instructor cried.  “Onto your feet, soldiers!”

We all painfully got up, some more slowly than others.

“You!” he shouted, pointing to a small gnome who had tripped before ever encountering the ants, “What a sorry excuse for a gnome!  Message running duty tonight!”

The poor fellow’s shoulders sagged, but he responded all the same with a “Yes sir!”

Sergeant Noytel paced between us for a minute or two peering at us intimidatingly.  At last he said gruffly, “The reason for this exercise, soldiers, is to demonstrate that it is physically impossible to outrun your enemy.  They are too fast and too strong.  Try outrunning one in battle, and I can guarantee you will not return again to your sleeping palate.  Fighting is the only option.  We stand like soldiers.  We do not waver before the bite.  Yet how can one fight without first knowing where are the best places to strike?”

Moving to another tunnel exit, he barked, “Back into running formation, now!”

Following Sergeant Noytel through another tunnel, many of us were nearly fainting with fatigue.  Luckily at least for most of us it was our final run of the day.  In the last room for training day one we were led to a carcass of an enormous and hideous soldier ant.  Sergeant Noytel left us for the time being to another instructor who took us through a long and tedious lesson on ant anatomy.  I can now name the three main parts of an ant, including the head, thorax (middle part), and gaster (back end).  Much of what I learned I could have gone a lifetime without, including the fact that they have three eyes in between the black ones, and that they are very soft between their mandibles, or jaws.

I never shall get used to seeing insects so up close and personal.  But if I continue to persevere in this soul consuming environment, I’m afraid I will have to learn to live with it at the very least.

Training Camp Beginnings: Part 1

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 27, 1794.

I last wrote of my discovery that gnomes become toads when exposed to sunlight, and my confusion when I realized that I have been running on a twenty-five hour schedule since first arriving in Beetle Fire.  I write this entry from the military common room, since today I began my basic training in the gnomish army.  Having said my adieus to Haxel this morning I set out in low spirits wondering what may have possessed me to commit myself to such a formidable and senseless undertaking.  I arrived outside the military headquarters an hour and a half later, and was met by a guard who asked for my name.  Upon receiving it he opened a large iron gate and unceremoniously waved me inside.  I have never felt so melancholy.

I might add now that gnomes are notorious record keepers.  No sooner had I gone through the gate than I was faced with a gruff old gent with a writing stylus and clay tablet.

“Name?” he demanded sharply.

“Benjamin A. Wolfe, if you please sir.”

“I don’t please.  And what a dreadful surname!  Age?”

“Twenty-five.”

“So young?  We may be the infantry, but we don’t fancy sending actual infants to fight!  Occupation?”

“I work at Shiny’s sir.”

“A drunkard child!  My my, we should have fun with you!”

I was not at all liking how this was going, but to the end I held my peace.  After an endless interrogation as to the names of my deceased parents, my siblings, relatives, and every ancestor I could recall, I was finally allowed to pass through a long hallway to the new recruit check-in.  I was already feeling exhausted, and I hadn’t even started my training yet.

At the entrance to the check-in I received rather a fright, for a huge and terrifying gnome ambushed me and began rummaging through my pack.

“No contraband items here!” he growled, emptying everything into a refuse pile near the door.

“Please sir!” I cried in alarm.  “My pocket watch, journal, and quills are among those!”

“Did you say something, soldier?” he sneered.  Then he became quiet as another gnome approached him.  I was relieved to see it was Midel.

“He may keep his watch, journal, and quills sergeant.  Mind that you respect that.” Midel said sternly.

The sergeant quickly apologized and complied.  Midel nodded to me and walked away.  I did not see him again for the remainder of the day.

Upon Midel’s disappearance I was roughly handed a slate gray uniform by the same sergeant and given barked orders to change into them quickly in a tiny closet to my left.  My own civilian clothes were tossed into the refuse pile.  If it had not been for my friend I would have been void of anything pertaining to my former identity.  I fear any earlier notes on the city would have then been lost.

No sooner had I dropped my pack off at my sleeping quarters, a low, cheerless room filled with sleeping palates, than I was herded at last into a huge cave filled with new recruits.  It was strangely comforting to see that everyone of them appeared as shell shocked as myself.

“That’s the last of you.  Good!” a gruff voice snarled from the front.  My heart sank as I saw the record keeper from earlier.  “My name is Sergeant Noytel, but you will know me only as sir.  I am here to turn you sloppy toads into the fine fighters and protectors this city needs.  My duty is not to watch you children or be your mother, although one of you could certainly use it.”

I deigned not to meet his eyes as he proceeded to look my way.

“You are all soft bellied and weak!” he continued.  “If faced with an ant swarm right now most of you would go running and screaming like a little girl.  The remainder of you would get eaten.  Luckily that won’t last long.  I will harden and shape you like the humans temper steel.  You will not waver at the threat of death.  Your minds will not bend, and your bodies will not brake. ”  He paused to survey us momentarily before barking, “Alright soldiers, into formation now!  I want two lines sixteen deep.  No lollygagging!  What was that soldier?  Excellent, a volunteer!  Worm gutting duty tonight!  Now shut your mouth and get in line!”

I rather pitied the gnome who had dared ask what the lines were for.  I saw him hurry dejectedly into formation a few gnomes behind me.  I hadn’t much time for reflection however, as suddenly we were instructed to run.  Following Sergeant Noytel through a tunnel to the left, I felt my spirits reach a new low.  My training had only just begun, and already we were off at a full sprint.  I’d soon learn that this was actually the gentlest portion of the camp.  Gnomes it seems take their training very seriously indeed.  (To be continued…)

Confusion of the Time

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 22, 1794.

I last wrote of my return to Shiny’s, and of the mess Drendkel had made when he agreed to watch the inn for Haxel.  I woke up this morning, or what I presumed to be morning, and curious of the actual hour, checked my pocket watch for almost the first time since my arrival in Beetle Fire.  I received a slight confusion at this, for I could not figure whether it was six o’ clock in the morning or evening at the surface.  Joining Haxel at his breakfast I sat in silence for a moment before observing that he had risen rather earlier than normal.

“Earlier my good fellow?” he asked calmly.  “Oh no.  Gnomes do not move backward in time, but only forward.  We are rather progressive that way.”

I did not know how to respond, so checking my pocket watch again, I mentioned that it was probably quite dark outside.

“Oh probably not just yet.  But don’t you worry.  It will be dark enough soon.” Haxel replied.

Puzzled I said, “Dark soon sir?  By that I assume you mean in a few hours when evening reaches the surface?”

Haxel stopped eating and stared at me with wonder.  “But my good fellow, evening is on the surface.”

Now it was my time to stare.  “I beg your pardon?”

“Well can’t you tell?  Can’t you feel the sun sinking lower on the horizon?”

“Feel it?  You mean you can feel the sun all the way down here, sir?”

“Of course.  I rather must.  I’m surprised you’re so deadened to it.  Turns the skin a nasty shade of brown, it does.”

I observed then that I didn’t mind a little browning myself every now and then.  Haxel appeared speechless, so I continued, “Really I find it good for the soul.  I even find it somewhat liberating.”

“Good for the soul?  Liberating?” he gasped.  “I suppose if you find yourself all dried up and crawling on your belly it can help your soul become penitent.  But whatever liberation you might find from the experience is beyond me.”

“But one need not be dry or crawling!  Indeed with enough hydration you shouldn’t have problems with either!”

“You can stay hydrated when you become a toad, good fellow?  How remarkable!”  Then seeing my confusion mixed with incredulity he said softly, “You don’t become a toad in sunlight though, do you?  Of course you wouldn’t.  Dear me!  You’re a man!”

I admit my jaw dropped at this and my tongue left me completely.  Haxel went back to eating, and excusing myself I left to gather some   food of my own.  Less than five minutes elapsed before I was back again and ready to speak.  “Let me see if I understand this right.” I began.  “It is currently evening up there on the surface.  You know this because you can feel when the sun is up.  This is a necessary quality because if a gnome happens to venture outside when the sun is up the poor fellow actually becomes a toad.  Am I correct sir?”

Haxel simply nodded.

“But sir, forgive me for wondering, but how is this possible?”

“Don’t rightly know.  Perhaps we’re cursed.” he said sadly.

“And if a gnome becomes a toad is he doomed to stay that way forever?”

“Oh no, goodness no!  That would be terrible!  The toad form remains only until one either finds his way back underground, which is rather difficult because of how disoriented he is, or the sun finally sets.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  How unlucky it must be to be a toad!  Now pray tell me one more thing, and then I promise I will hold my silence sir.  How is it possible that everyone in Beetle Fire could have slept until evening?  When I first arrived the gnomes weren’t sleeping until such a late hour.”

“Well good fellow, you must have chanced upon us on a good day then.” Haxel smiled.  “We gnomes run on a twenty-five hour schedule after all.  It’s quite a natural system.  Most humans when deprived of a sun source tend to follow it too after a while.”

I thought about this carefully, and realizing that on first arriving I woke up near nine in the morning, it all became very clear.  I had been rising every morning an hour later than the day prior.  I had to admit, I had never felt more rested in my life.  Finishing my breakfast I went on to work, thankful that the sun was gentle to my kind and not prone to hideously changing my form every time I happened to see her.

Upon Returning to Shiny’s

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 21, 1794.

I last wrote about my second tour of Beetle Fire, the consequences of which led me to become an ensign in the gnomish military.  Today having completed my stay at Midel’s residence, I returned to the But It’s Shiny Inn with a troubled heart.  Haxel was there to greet me, and with a flustered air pointed out immediately a rather charred section of floor and ceiling near the central pillar.

“Just look at that!  Do you see that, dear fellow?  What do you think of that?” he cried flush with annoyance.

“I…I don’t know sir.” I stammered.  “What happened?”

“Drendkel, that’s what!  Didn’t I tell you he’d find someway to mess things up?”

“What did he do?” I persisted.

“Bloody invited all his drinking mates to light gunpowder, he did!  Stole some from a human settlement a while back and thought he’d amuse them with it.  Nearly took out all of Shiny’s with him, the great lout!”

“Is he all right sir?”

“All right?  Oh of course he’s all right!  Couldn’t have done me a favor by taking himself out with the explosion, now could he?  Oh no!  Instead the idiot ran about like a headless cockroach until his good for nothing son put out the flames.”

“Apparently his son is good for something then.” I mused.

Haxel simply sighed.  A pause followed, and then he asked more calmly, “How was the rest of your visit with Midel then?  I suppose it was to your liking?”

“Oh, yes.” I replied.

“Was it really?  You don’t seem like you truly enjoyed it.  Was his food not to your liking, or  was it his hospitality?”

“Both perfectly fine sir.”

“Well at least on the food part, I’ll wager.  What then, dear fellow?  You are too quiet.”

Finding that I could no longer maintain my silence on the subject, I divulged the whole of the remainder of my stay at Midel’s, ending hesitantly with my decision to join his gnomish army.  Haxel appeared too surprised at first to speak.  But at last finding his tongue he exclaimed, “What?  You let that clumsy oaf sign you up?  I just had good help too!  When are you leaving then?”

“A week from yesterday.”

“Earth alive!” Haxel groaned.  Then calming slightly he said, “I suppose it can’t be helped.  I’ll have to rehire Drendkel’s useless son.  Oh you’ve left me in quite a lurch, you have.  I must admit though, Midel’s branch of militia isn’t too bad.  You should be in fair company.  Midel and I served together as young recruits after all.”

“You served with him sir?”

“Aye.  Would you like to hear about it?”

I responded that I would.  Haxel grinned and a reminiscent light came to his eyes.  “Thick as thieves we were.” he began softly.  “We loved playing jokes on each other.  Once we almost got ourselves discharged by a prank we played on our captain.  It wasn’t as if we did anything that bad.  We only painted all the longbows bright pink and dyed the arrows lime green after all.  Then we filled the quivers with mead so the archers could have a drink while they practiced.  Unfortunately most of it ended up down their fronts since we forgot to warn them ahead of time.  Awe, those were the good old days.

“I wasn’t much of a fighter.  Midel however loved the combat.  We got into so many pickles because of him I couldn’t possibly name them all.  He’d go charging in to battle always too soon, expecting me to run alongside him.  Our captain didn’t know what to do with us.  He kept saying he hoped a swarm of ants would take us out so he didn’t have to deal with us anymore.  One almost did.

“It was just a regular mission, or so we thought.  A colony of carpenter ants had burrowed their way almost to Shiny’s.  Our regiment was dispatched to the scene, and we seemed to be getting it all under control.  Then like always Midel goes charging at the creatures, and I stupidly followed.  We ended up cut off from each other, and I found myself facing soldier ants by myself.  My arrows ran out quickly and one ant snapped my spear in two with its jaws.  Next thing I knew it had my leg.  Luckily for me Midel heard my screams and hacked his way to me.  If he hadn’t I’d have lost my leg and probably my life.

“I got out of that military branch as soon as I could while Midel remained.  It’s served him well I daresay, and I’m sure it should do the same for you.”

Shaking my head at his story, I observed that I would probably not be doing any charging if I could help it.

“And neither should you.  Wisely said.  Good luck to you in this new venture.  Erm…You wouldn’t mind working here until you leave, would you?”

I responded that it had been my intention to do so.  So with a bucket in one hand and a sponge in the other I was set about cleaning the inn from the mess made by Drendkel.  It is no easy task removing char from wood, I might add.  I fear the scar will be permanent and remain with Shiny’s as long as the building itself.  If any curious adventurers happen upon Beetle Fire anytime in the future, look for it.  It is bound to be a circulated story for generations to come.

Another Tour of Beetle Fire

The following is an excerpt from the diary of Benjamin A. Wolfe, circa May 20, 1794.

In my last entry I described the weaponry and trophies in the home of Midel, a general in the gnomish army.  I have been at his residence since just before dinner yesterday, and tomorrow will be my last before I rejoin Haxel at the But It’s Shiny Inn.

Haxel left for Shiny’s this morning, and thereafter I found myself receiving another tour of Beetle Fire, this time with Midel as my guide.  Although I had seen the city for myself once before, I had apparently missed a few of its attractions.  In my unsupervised travels through the city I failed first to count the number of rings which make up Beetle Fire (there are seven), and second to see that not all the rooms built into the outer walls pertain specifically to commerce or government.  Thus I shall discuss the highlights of my tour and some locations I hope I shall be able to access in the future.

I have already described in some detail the first and second circles of the city which contain Shiny’s and the marketplace.  I was surprised however when Midel led me to a stand in an obscure corner of the market which included all manner of sweet breads, cakes, cookies, and other such fair.

“Here dear sir, is the finest confectioner in our city!” Midel announced loudly at our arrival, causing the lady behind the table to blush.

Delighted to find that even gnomes possess a sweet tooth, I eagerly peered over her wares.  Some appeared familiar to me, while others were completely new.  I was particularly intrigued by one which contained several thin layers of cake interspersed with a creamy, sour cream-like frosting.  Upon inquiring about it she beamed, “That sir, is honey cake.  German human nuns from the twelfth century were the first to attempt our gnomish recipe, though they never got the flavor or texture quite right.  The Russian humans I am told came closer, but nothing will ever compare to the ones I bake.  Would you like to try a sample?”

I nodded, and tasting the dainty, eagerly bought a large slice on the spot.  If ever this journal ends up in the hands of a curious reader, I highly recommend trying honey cake at sometime in your lifetime*.  Rarely has a treat left me in such speechless pleasure.

From the sweet stand Midel took me down to the third ring of the city, a place I had before perceived to have only shops and houses.  Imagine my amazement then when he led me through a narrow entrance I had myself passed without notice, and I found myself suddenly in a large and beautiful bathhouse, matched only by the brilliant drawings of Roman baths in Italy.  I could hardly contain my excitement.  It was quickly checked however by disappointment, when Midel explained we were only passing through, since it was restricted to citizens of Beetle Fire.  Besides which as he told me, there were still a dizzying amount of other sights to be seen, and if we paused here we wouldn’t have time for the rest.  Though I felt rather rebellious at this, I knew I had to comply.  After all, it would do no good upsetting the general of the whole gnomish army by ignoring the laws of his land.

It wasn’t until the fourth circle, the level belonging to the government big wigs, however, that I at last fully realized the power in Midel’s position.  For upon passing a group of government officials they suddenly paused mid stride, and removing their stocking caps, bowed low to my guide.  Midel grinned, and approaching them asked in a kindly voice if they knew if the library were open today.

“It is indeed, most venerable sir,” replied the eldest, “but I fear your friend will find it impossible to enter it without a pass of citizenship.”

“Pity.” Midel sighed.  “I had hoped the library held different rules than the school and university.  Good day, sirs.”

The group of government gnomes smiled cordially and continued on their way.  After a moment’s pause I innocently inquired why a public reading house would be off-limits to such as myself.

“Give to the community and the community shall give back to you.” Midel sniffed.  “I cannot complete your tour of Beetle Fire.  Not without you first gaining your citizenship, I’m afraid.”

“Gnomish citizenship?” I wondered.  “How would I go about obtaining that?”

“That requires joining our military.”

“For how long, sir?”

“A temporary citizenship is granted upon the completion of training, but to make it permanent one needs to serve a term of at least a year.”

I balked and seriously questioned if a library, university, or bathhouse were reasons enough to attempt something so rash.  As if reading my mind Midel said calmly, “Sir, let me explain the matter for you again in more understandable terms.  On the third and fourth levels of Beetle Fire all access to the bathhouse, government, library, and school are off limits.  In addition there are the crafts fair, university, and temple in the fifth circle, and the military headquarters in the sixth circle.  You will find yourself restricted from attending all festivals, so if you are at all interested in our culture you will find yourself sadly limited.  Even at times you will find Shiny’s closed to you, so where then will you go?”

I need not describe my struggle at this, which was of some duration.  But needless to say I signed up in the end.  Training will begin a week from today, and only upon its completion six weeks from that will I receive my temporary citizenship.  I can only hope it is worth it.  So much for a simple, relaxing tour of Beetle Fire!

*Author’s note: I have sampled many different varieties of honey cake.  The closest one to what I describe here is Latvian honey cake.  Since Latvia wasn’t a country at the time, Benjamin and the gnomes would have known nothing about it.  For our modern pleasure however, do try the Latvian version if you ever get the chance.  It is positively sinful!