Penn and his friends were making their way toward the gaming arena. The carnival at Oliveloft always hosted the greatest games, for gnomes loved the spirit of friendly competition. The group of young gnomes, still children really, ran through the crowded streets in a herd. Each one of them carried one of Avie’s small bags of candy. They had been visiting the vendor shops, looking at all the strange devices some of the other races created. Penn was very excited about seeing a real mirror for the first time. It had already been a good day.
As the group neared the gaming area, they saw Popo and Mofead beckoning them with waving arms. Popo had her hair cut short. It made her look like a boy, were it not for her posturing and the way it accentuated her transformation into adulthood. Mofead was still gangly and thin. She was all knees and elbows with a huge head. Perhaps it wasn’t that her head was quite so large, Penn thought as they advanced on the two young gnomes, but that she had such a vast amount of tangled hair. Regardless, the group from Brentwood were all together just in time for their favorite event; the weasel catch.
“You cut your hair,” Attilla remarked to Popo as they walked to the fenced in area where the contestants were readying themselves. “It looks good short.” Popo blushed a little and turned her head slightly from him. He noticed her neck and saw slight goose bumps rise there as a mild wind caught the skin that was accustomed to the cover of her hair.
“Why did you cut it off?” Bodiford asked her in an almost accusatory tone.
“My mom sold it to some weird human who said he wanted it,” Popo answered with a slight show of shame. Her hair had been long as long as she could remember, but times were hard for her family and the man gave them a lot of coin.
Mofead grabbed Bodiford’s arm and joyously proclaimed, “I still have my long hair.”
The gnome yanked his arm away and offhandedly said, “Who cares?”
Penn wasn’t paying any attention to the group, he was checking to see who the contestants were to be in the catch this year. There were always seven, but he only saw five of them. Last year’s winner was not there yet. Graff, a gnome from Oliveloft, had caught the weasel by kicking it as it ran past him. The poor animal died by the time Graff received his undeserved trophy. Penn turned to ask the others if they knew anything about the last two contestants, but saw Graff walking quickly to the starting area.
Penn bolted over to Graff and said kindly, “Hey, try not to kill the weasel this year.” He was surprised when Graff pushed him backwards violently.
“Mind your own business, slug!” the gnome stated and barely slowed as he reached the weasel catch.
Attilla and Bodiford were there in an instant, asking if Penn was alright. He was fine, just a little shocked. Popo, Mofead and the others joined the trio just as an announcement was being made about the game.
“Unfortunately this year it seems that we will only have six contestants in the weasel catch.” The man’s voice boomed from a raised platform which allowed him to see the entire arena so that he could announce what was transpiring for those who could not see. “So, are you ready for the weasel catch?”
“No,” yelled a voice from beside Penn. “We have a guy right here who wants to try,” Attilla stated as he pointed to Penn. The others from Brentwood joined in and shoved the befuddled gnome out from the crowd. Penn was shocked. He turned to his friends to beg them not to embarrass him, but when he saw the proud faces looking back at him he realized that they truly believed he had a shot at winning.
“I don’t think that we can allow a random stranger to join this late,” the announcer said, but was met with a chorus of “boos”.
“Let the boy try!”
“We need seven contestants anyway!”
Gnomes were less interested in rules and more intrigued by the competition. So the announcer asked Penn, “Are you sure you want to do this, boy?”
“Yes,” Penn said without hesitation. He gave his friends a big “thumbs up” and ran to the starting gate. He heard them yelling that he better not let Graff get the weasel again. The image of Graff kicking and killing the animal motivated Penn more than any of the people’s cheers.
The seven contestants were ready in the starting blocks. There were four gnomes, two humans, and a dwarf all ready to start. Each one’s name was called, except for Penn who was just referred to as “the boy”. Regardless of what he was called, he still got the loudest applause from the crowd. Everyone loved to pull for the underdog.
The weasel was brought in from the Pinevale area by a hunter who traveled to Oliveloft every year for the carnival. The trapper sold furs and clothing. He was a large man with a ragged beard. The covered cage was handed over, and the cloth cover was pulled off. Inside was beautiful little weasel with black eyes and reddish tan fur. Its nose twitched as it tried to take in all of the scents. The gnomes always loved the unveiling of the weasel.
Penn stretched and did a few jumps, just to get his legs loose. While he was getting ready, so was Attilla. The clever gnome had taken all of the other’s money and was betting it on Penn. All of the Brentwood kids had played with Penn enough to know that he actually stood a fair chance of winning. It was still a gamble, however. They knew that if he lost they would have no more money for the rest of the carnival. Regardless, every coin the group had was placed on Penn.
One of the humans looked over at Penn and shook her head. “Damn! You got runners legs.” She meant the compliment, and Penn could tell.
“Doesn’t he, now?” the dwarf had obviously noticed the same thing. He leaned in to where only those two could hear him and continued, “Did ya see last year’s winner? He has metal on the toes of his shoes.” Penn and the woman both looked, for they had not noticed. The dwarf was correct, however, and anger started to manifest in Penn. “Guess he plans on punting the little guy again,” the dwarf finished, but Penn wasn’t listening.
“Loose the weasel,” the announcer shouted, and the audience started cheering. The small beast got a head start before the pursuers were allowed to start their game. The arena was fairly large, which gave the weasel a fair chance to elude the chasers. Also, the obstacles and walls would slow down the pursuit.
Finally, the contestants were allowed to start the chase. Penn broke from the starting blocks, but was kicked immediately by Graff and his metal tipped boots. His shin throbbed, and he was certain that it was bleeding. He did not stop, though. Penn would not give Graff the pleasure of knowing that he had indeed hurt him. The crowd shouted angry insults at the cheater. A lot of them had not been pleased with the way he had won last year’s event.
Penn didn’t care. The chase was on, and he knew what he had to do. No one had found the weasel yet, so it was more like a hunt at this point that a chase. So Penn nimbly maneuvered over and under the obstacles, trying to get the scared little weasel to run out. Unfortunately, the weasel was on the opposite side of the gnome. One of the humans had drawn him out, and now it was just a matter of time before someone grabbed the furry little thing.
Penn was quick, and he took wonderful angles on the scared weasel. It was almost in grabbing range when Penn realized that they were running right at Graff and his heavy boots. Graff raised his foot to kick the weasel once again, but Penn was there. Penn slid into the other gnome with enough force to send him head over heels. The weasel was safe, but now Penn had to try to catch back up to it. Graff reached out to try and grab him, but Penn easily stepped over his flailing arms.
The human woman was on the weasel and had a great line on it, but the dwarf cut her off. He shouldered her back as they pressed through a narrowed section of the arena. Penn saw a different approach. Instead of getting behind them, he decided to go over them. He quickly ran and leaped from an old plow to the top of a cargo net. Penn jumped from the net and landed on the narrowing planks. The wood was only about a foot wide, but Penn ran on top of it as if it were an open field. He watched the dwarf and woman battling for position underneath him as he sprinted over their heads.
A perfectly timed jump had him sailing over three bales of hay. As he landed, Penn rolled in a cloud of dust. The crowd went silent until the gnome boy strolled out of the dust with weasel in hand. The dwarf and female came around, one on each side of Penn. The dwarf scratched his head, and the woman just chuckled. The pack from Brentwood cheered loudest of all.
Penn was awarded the trophy, while Attilla collected the money. Penn asked the trapper if he could keep the weasel. The man agreed, but warned the gnome that weasels do not survive well in captivity. It was a good day, but it was time to get back to Brentwood before it got too dark. So the crew set off for home. The real adventure was yet to begin, however.
Attilla gave everyone back their money while they were on the road between Oliveloft and Brentwood. He handed the winnings to Popo, “This is for you and your family.”
“Yeah,” Bodiford added. “That way you don’t have to ruin your hair again.”
Popo thanked them, knowing that the extra coin would certainly help her family. The moment was cut short when someone called out from behind the group.
“Hey,” yelled Graff, “You ruined my plan.” He went straight at Penn, but did not get to him. Attilla and Bodiford both stepped between. “This doesn’t concern you two. It is between me and him.” Graff didn’t understand how things were in Brentwood.
“You want him?” Bodiford asked. “Then you are gonna have your hands full.” Attilla nodded. He was in no mood for talking. He was doing his best to keep his therian instincts from boiling over.
Graff took a swing at Bodiford. It was a mistake. The Brentwood gnomes played for keeps, and the group had Graff neutralized quickly and violently. Penn and the girls were the only ones who did not help the others against Graff. Attilla did not rage into his wereporcupine form that day. He was learning how to control it, Penn observed.
Graff never entered the weasel catch again. Penn won it for the next twenty years, and every year he would keep the weasel. When he got home he would release the weasel by his home. To this day there is a thriving community of weasels around Brentwood.