“His Majesty, King Varian Wrynn, and Lady Jaina Proudmoore have touched down upon the tournament grounds!” roared a herald. “Make way!”
“Ooh!” Widge Gearloose squealed and darted out of the Silver Covenant Pavilion. Ringo and Beli Flinthammer ambled after him, snacking on leftovers.
Standing on the front steps of the pavilion, Ringo scratched the ears of the family’s rams, Sam and Beer Run.
“Hail, Thane,” a black-bearded dwarf said, snapping to attention and saluting, hit boots kicking up a spray of slush as his boot heels snapped together. “Missus Thane.”
Widge squeaked in outrage and came bounding past on four outraged hooves.
“Er, hail,” Beli said, shooting a husband a “who in the Hellfire Peninsula is this guy” look.
“Who in the Hellfire Peninsula are ye?” Ringo snapped, ignoring the sound of his wife clapping her hand over her eyes.
There was an oink of protest and a shivering Widge slipped through their legs, and back into the pavilion.
“Ah’m Baelan!” the dwarf said, puffing out his chest. “Baelan Grimaxe! Ye know me!”
“Ah know a Baelan, aye,” Beli said dubiously.
“Funny-lookin’ human,” Ringo nodded.
“Always needs a resurrection,” Beli continued.
“Now that’s not true!”
“He’s not a dwarf, though,” Ringo finished. “Been hittin’ the egg nog early, have ye?”
Widge came shuffling back through the slush, dejected.
“That’s me,” the black-bearded dwarf insisted. “Other than the funny-lookin’, always-dyin’ parts, that is.”
“How did ye turn into a dwarf, then?” Beli asked, skeptically.
“Ah ha!” the dwarf grinned. “Ah always was a dwarf. Ah was under a curse that turned me into a human.”
The Flinthammers nodded: This would explain all the humans who were always underfoot.
Widge darted by, shaking the slush out of his fur.
“How did ye come to be cursed, then?” Ringo asked, watching as Widge raced back out of the tent again, apparently undeterred.
“Let’s jus’ say that when a willin’ mage says she’s into roleplayin’, ye’d best get the details before agreein’ to anythin’,” Baelan said mournfully. “She wanted ta play ‘the Knight and the Damsel in Distress.’ It was horrible. Ah couldn’t grow a proper beard and couldn’t hold me drink …”
Widge sighed and hopped past them into the pavilion. He raced back out, gnome-shaped again, moments later.
“He’s gettin’ better at that,” Beli mused.
“So, what broke the curse, then?”
Baelan opened his mouth to reply when a screech echoed across the Argent Tournament grounds.
“WOULD YOU LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU LECHEROUS LITTLE GNOME?” roared Jaina Proudmoore.
Widge waddled slowly back to the tent, clearly beaten.
“Huh, how’d she learn to do that?” Beli pondered, following Widge back inside.
“Greetings, Thane!” piped a gnome. “It’s me, Aliarle!”
“Ye’re not a human, neither?”
“Greetings, mighty Ringo!” a dwarf with a close-cropped beard said, saluting. “Robaz the Frail, reporting for duty!”
“Thane!” roared another dwarf. “It’s me, Tilden!”
“All of ye got cursed by th’ same mage?” Ringo said slowly, turning toward Baelan.
“Fergit Ah said anythin’,” the paladin mumbled into his beard. “Ah don’t wanna talk about it …”
“Ah’m gonna need a pint or two to get them images out of me head,” Ringo agreed, leading the group toward the tuskarr refreshment tent.