Hodger moaned quietly as they approached Ralphie’s home. It wasn’t grand like Hodger had hoped. It had no lawn and was attached to the rest of the town like every other home Hodger had come across. A sign of an anvil swayed back and forth above the door. Red light shined from the windows, and heat radiated from the door, which was propped open by a stone.
There was a curse yelled from inside, and then lots of smoke billowed out the windows and door. Then there was laughter that could only be described as heroic. Ralphie opened the door fully and let more smoke out before heading inside and disappearing into the smog. The Gnome heard mumbles, and then Ralphie appeared again smiling.
Behind him, his father Rudolph the Great emerged. Rudolph towered above a normal man, and looked like a giant to the Gnome. Rudolph’s hair was cut short, and his beard was dark and trimmed. He wore a leather apron and a white shirt, and they were both covered in coal. His eyes were the same as his son’s, but his look was fierce, as if the look alone could take down a bear.
“My son tells me you are a great, magical Gnome.” Rudolph said, “He says you can aid in breaking the curse upon his sword. I have never heard of a magical Gnome before.”
It was at this time Hodger noticed he was shaking. He attempted to speak, but nothing came from his mouth. Hodger then proceeded to nod, and his whole body nodded with him. Stu flapped his wings releasing himself from Lucille’s grasp. He fluttered down to the ground beside the gnome.
“I am his familiar spirit, Studious. And you will treat my master with proper respect lest he curse your fortune, great hero.”
The hero leaned forward over his son, meeting Hodger’s stare. Hodger’s blood drained from his face and he wanted to run, or at least look away, but he was too scared to do either. Rudolph’s eyes warmed to honey, and his mouth turned into a wide smile, showing perfect white teeth.
“Well don’t be standing out here great Gnome! Stop shivering and get inside where it’s warm!”
Though it wasn’t particularly cold outside to Hodger, he hastily accepted Rudolph’s offer.
At first, inside was what you would expect from a smithy. Weapons and armor hung from the walls. Swords were in a barrel nearby, a glow from the oven on the far end of the room. There were two large anvils next to the oven, and a series of hammers and tools hung nearby. Rudolph, then, pushed a lever up, and then pulled a rope down. Wind roared upwards as the roof opened up, letting the smoke rise out of the home.
Once the smoke cleared, the place looked more like a museum. Rugs and flags were hung and draped with ropes across the ceiling. Shelves were filled with trinkets from all over the world and pictures hung on the far wall next to the anvil. They told the adventures of Rudolph the Great.
Fire and smoke puffed from the glow. Rudolph mumbled another curse.
“I know you’re here for my son Great Gnome.” He said, walking to the oven, pulling out a large, curved blade. He set it on the anvil and started to hammer, “I get my Latin confused with my Greek and the magic isn’t working properly. Can you help me?”
Hodger leaned forward and gulped, looking at the red hot blade, “What are you seeking to do with this, ah, blade?”
“I seek Pluto’s fire. I have dust from the grave of a mighty beast and I infused the silver hair of the rabid unicorn.”
Hodger scratched his chin, “Wh-wh-what beast?”
“One of the Chimera Elders.”
“And how do you know that it was its grave? Chimera’s live an awfully long time.”
“I killed it protecting a village. The other three fled.” Rudolph said, “And I buried it myself. It was the least I could do.”
Hodger’s eyes went wide, “I see.”
Hodger pretended to examine the sword, circling it. He noticed Stu staring at him as Rudolph continued to explain his procedure.
“I really think it is in the lettering.” Rudolph finished as Hodger finished his second lap of the blade.
“Am I missing something?” the hero asked.
“Yes.” Hodger answered, figuring that was the best response.
“What is it, Master Gnome?”
Hodger’s eyes quickly scanned the walls hoping something would come to him. As the Hero went to ask a second time, Hodger looked upon a bronze shield, “Copper.” He said.
“Copper?” The Hero restated, he stood as his look grew quizzical. He scratched his chin, “Because it transfers heat better? Does that mean it transfers magic better?”
The Gnome, “Yes, that’s it. Copper is the steel of the magical world.” Hodger leaned back, placing his hands behind his head, smiling. He was quite proud of this lie. Hodger finished with, “And Pluto likes to be seen.”
The hero scratched his beard, and then the back of his head, “You would know more about magic than I do. This is more of a hobby.”
“My turn!” Ralphie said, grabbing Hodger by the arm and pulling him through a short hallway into the kitchen. He then grabbed a nearby chair, scooted it to the cabinets and climbed up, grabbing a box with a handle of a sword sticking out. He then climbed down, and presented it to the gnome.
“What is this?” Hodger asked.
“A curse has been laid upon it. Look!” He turned the box around, revealing lettering that Hodger could not read. Hodger closed his eyes and turned away, “Read it to me.” He said.
“I, I cannot. I don’t understand the language. I was hoping you could.” Ralphie said, defeated.
“I can’t do that.” Hodger admitted.
He sat down on the chair and pouted, “I’ve been told that when I use this sword, I’ll be a great hero. I can’t use it without lifting this curse.” He sniffed and wiped his nose.
Ralphie got off the chair and dragged his feet back into the main room. As they exited the kitchen, Hodger saw Rudolph taking big cutters to the bronze shield, cutting into one large spiral.
As Ralphie walked by, sniffing again, Rudolph stopped cutting and knelt next to the boy, “What happened son?”
“He said he couldn’t read the language. He can’t lift the curse.”
Rudolph gave a smile, “What were his words exactly?”
Ralphie repeated the conversation, Rudolph lifted him up into one arm and smiled, “My boy, you should be excited. This isn’t the end of your quest. This is the beginning!”
“What?” Hodger and Ralphie said together.
“My boy, never take what magical beings say literally. They must always speak in riddles. I still very much doubt that copper is the key to solving Pluto’s fire, but I followed his eyes until his gaze landed on this exact piece. That must mean something!”
“Yeah?” Ralphie said, hopeful.
“He isn’t saying he can’t help you, he’s simply saying he can’t open the box for you! That is something you must do yourself.”
Ralphie looking down at the gnome, “Is that what you meant?”
Hodger scratched one foot with the other, “Y-yes.”
“The Gnome will venture with you to unlock secrets of the box, and make you into the hero you need to be! And then, then my boy, you will be able to open this box for your sword.”
“Wait.” Hodger said.
“He will be your guide through some of the most dangerous peril and the most horrid creatures you’ve ever seen. But if you two survive, you will emerge a greater hero than I.”
“Excuse me, uhm, what peril?” The Gnome asked aloud. Hodger was ignored. This was the first time he did not like being ignored.
“You mean the three of us!” Lucille said, running forward, “The hero always needs his trusty sidekick Lucy!” She lifted her fist, “Aye!”
“Aye!” Rudolph exclaimed.
“Aye!” Ralphie yelled.
They all looked at Hodger, “Aye?” he squeaked.
They cheered. Stu hopped up onto Hodger’s shoulder, “Got anything up your sleeve for this?”