Hodger awoke the next morning, eyes squinting at the sunlight coming through the window. He rolled over and then screamed, scrambling to put many pillows between him and the nearby chair.
“Good morning,” The chicken said, sitting in the chair, turning the page of the morning paper.
“What are you doing here?” Hodger said, “You got your night of sleep! Now go get roasted like decent poultry.”
The chicken folded the paper closed and set it aside, “That’s exactly why I am here. I know you’re not a Gnome, but you seem to have the uncanny ability to convince people otherwise. I, on the other hand, am an intelligent bird that can’t seem to get anyone to see me more than food, and I need some body’s help.”
“You need my help?” Hodger asked.
“Just to find someone here in Squaddlewog. Then I’ll leave you alone.”
“What’s in it for me?”
The chicken’s eyes turned back to the paper, “I said, I’ll leave you be. Otherwise I will find someone here to kill the evil Gnome lurking within the city.”
Hodger grabbed his candlewax staff and lit it with a lighter up his sleeve and pointed it toward the chicken, “What if I just roast you now and save you from speaking more about Gnomes.
The chicken looked at Hodger, and then at the staff. The chicken then blew out the candle. He turned back to his paper.
Hodger leaned back onto the bed defeated, “What is your name? It isn’t just ‘Chicken’, is it?”
“I am a studious chicken, that’s all you need to know.”
“Then I’ll just call you Stu.”
“Stu!” The chicken exclaimed, “What a preposterous name!”
Just then the door opened, and the smell of coffee and fried eggs came through the door. A young boy followed shortly after, pulling in a tray. He turned to the two guests and put his arms at his sides. He had dirty blonde hair in a bowl cut. His hair hung a little lower in the front, partially covering his blue eyes. His height and stature he looked no more than sixteen. The boy put his arms on his sides and smiled, missing a front tooth in his grin.
Though Hodger’s stomach grumbled and his nose sniffed, Hodger’s eyes could only focus on the gold bangle that hung loosely on the young waiters left wrist. If Hodger got anything from his unknown father, it was the love of gold. Hodger never had the desire to horde it, like most dwarfs, but to use it to buy things like food and more food.
“—And how many sausages, sir?” the boy said, interrupting Hodger’s trance.
“H-how many you got?” Hodger asked.
“Thirty-seven, but that’s meant for all—“
“That’ll do.” Hodger said.
When a slight frown, the boy picked up the pot and set it on a nearby table.
“Anything else?” the boy asked.
Stu requested a small plate of bacon and potatoes, refraining from the eggs altogether. Hodger stood and grabbed the pot of sausages and started scooping them into his personal bag, and then requested more if more should be cooked. The Gnome then helped himself to eggs, bacon, and chilled milk.
As the boy turned from them to start putting things back together, Hodger’s eyes went back to the golden bracelet. He reached for it, and as he grabbed it, a shock went through him and sent him into the bedframe.
The boy didn’t notice, but smelled burning Gnome in the air, and turned. He yelped and rushed to the Gnomes aid, pulling him free from the bedframe.
“I told Lucille not to make those eggs, they were spotted funny!” He said as he pulled the Gnome free. Hodger fell onto the bed.
Stu rolled his eyes at Hodger, then turned to the boy, eyeing the bracelet, “What is your name young man?”
“Ralph, or Ralphie Junior as my friends call me.” The boy said, dabbing the smoking Gnome with a wet rag from his belt.
“Ralph Jr., are you the son of the great Rudolph?” Stu asked, hopping from his chair to the bed.
“The Hero of NorthPost is my pops,” Ralphie said smiling, “Though he is retired.”
“What is the son of a hero doing here?” Stu asked. Hodger rolled over and silently paid attention to his food, begrudgingly avoiding his eggs to thwart suspicion.
“My dad said a powerful wizards come through inns,” He shrugged, “I figure I might as well make some money while I wait.”
“You seek a wizard? Whatever for?” The chicken walked over the bed to Hodger’s bag and picked up a sausage and started to nibble. Hodger audibly growled.
Ralphie didn’t seem to notice, “My sword is stuck in a chest. My father said that only someone with magical powers can get it out for me.”
Stu turned to the Gnome, and raised one of his chicken eyebrows, “Well, it just so happens we are powerful wizards.”
The Gnome went cold and attempted to protest, but choked on his food.
“He is?!” Ralphie said looking at Hodger, “Oh Mr. Wizard, I’d love for you to help!”
“We are.” Stu corrected, “And we’d be happy to help.”
Ralphie jumped up excitedly, “Yes! Thank you! Don’t-Don’t leave, I’ll be back in a half hour. I feel so silly now, I should have noticed his staff!”
“Why did you have to bring all of those sausages?” Stu asked as he and Hodger moved downstairs.
“Sausages don’t spoil. They are good for the road.” Hodger answered.
“You are a dolt. They do spoil.”
“Nonsense, they just turn into jerky. Everyone knows that.”
Stu was going to argue further, but decided seeing a sick Gnome would bring him far more amusement.
As they reached the base of the steps, both Ralphie and Lucille stood waiting. Ralphie smiled from ear to ear as the chicken hopped down the last step. Lucille also smiled, her teeth gleaming in the sunlight. She now wore goggles, the bright yellow eyes now contained. Even so, Hodger avoided looking at her altogether, as his wits told him to always fear demons. Instead, he looked at Ralphie, who now wore a wooden sword at his hip, his golden bangle hanging loosely on the wrist and rested on the pommel of the weapon. Hodger’s ears twitched upon the sight of the bangle, his left shrank and tilted forward while his right ear stretched and pointed outward. The Gnome shook his head and pulled on his ear.
“It looks like everybody’s here!” Lucille said. She picked up Stu and petted him. Stu was not amused.
Hodger nodded and walked in a wide circle around the new strangers paying him too much attention. He got to his exit, “Good day to you all,” he turned and quickly left.
He walked into the late morning air. Ralphie and Lucille followed him out.
“Where are you going?” Lucille said.
“Left.” Hodger said
“Straight to my house!” Ralphie said. “He’s definitely magical.”
“I, uh, meant right.”
“You said you’d help him.” Lucille said, petting Stu.
“I did not say I’d help him, Stu said he’d help him.”
“Who is Stu?” She asked.
Hodger pointed, “Stu’s the chicken.”
“That’s a silly name for a chicken.” Stu said.
“Actually, it works pretty well.” Lucille said, nodding.
Hodger turned toward Ralphie, whose face was full of utter defeat.
The Gnome looked down at his shoes and scratched his left foot with his right, “I-I-I am not the one you seek. I am a Gnome who seeks fortune, not adventure.”
Ralphie wiped his eyes, “If it is fortune you seek, my father has acquired a great wealth in his travels.
Lucille nodded, “No one is as rich as Rudolph the Great, only second to the king of Squaddlewog.”
Both ears perked up.
“D-d-does he have any of those bangles?”
Ralphie looked at his wrist, “Yeah, a lot of’em. This doesn’t do nothin’ though.”
Hodger twitched, “I sense great magic within it. It-it protects you.”
Ralphie raised an eyebrow, “Oh? I never noticed.”
Hodger twitched again, “I have. Th-that’s why I’m a great Gnome.”
Stu rolled his eyes. He then panicked as Lucille grabbed both of his legs tightly and lifted him into the air, turning him like a weather vane.
“Left?” Lucille said, pointing Stu in the proper direction.
Hodger nodded. Ralphie and Lucille took off in a run, Lucille refusing to lower Stu despite his demand otherwise. He flapped his wings in frustration. The Gnome took a match from his pouch and lit his candlewax staff and then walked forward after them.