Herbert looked a little annoyed by the whole affair. But he only sighed and began to talk.

“The governing of our world is handled by five people collectively known as the Triumvirate.” He worked as he talked, folding the clothes that he’d gathered up from the wet floor.

“Okay,” said Dominick.

“Five people from the five great nations. Five nations, five races, coming together for the betterment of all.”

“Tell me about these races,” Dominick said.

“There are six races on Gund,” Herbert said. “There are humans, of course,” he placed a hand on his chest. “Our seat of power is in the east, the City of Riat. Though you can find us in most every nation.”

“Okay,” Dominick said.

“The elves,” Herbert said. “They tend to stick to the central plains. They live a nomadic life following the great herds.”

“Herds of what?”

“Cattle,” Herbert said, turning up his massive nose in disgust. “Stinky beasts.”

Herbert began to go through the pockets of Dominick’s discarded pants, pulling out a few objects and placing them on the table next to the new set of clothes.

“The dwarves,” the long-nosed man continued. “Live in the mountains to the north. Inside the mountains, actually. They’ve spent the last few centuries carving a kingdom out of the very earth. Some say they have tunnels and caverns that reach every corner of the world.”

“Cool,” Dominick said. But inside he shivered as he imagined all of the spiders in those dark and deep places.

“In the forests of the north and west live the trolls. They prefer the company of trees.”

“Trolls?” Dominick said, throwing his best concerned look at Herbert. “Are they friendly?”

“As friendly as the next guy, I suppose,” Herbert said.

“What does a troll look like?”

“Taller than a human, covered in fur.”

“Ah, okay,” Dominick said. “Bigfoot. I saw them out on the battlefield.”

“Yes, they do have rather large feet,” Herbert said, smiling.

“Okay, so that’s four,” Dominick said.

“Yes, there are also the fae.”


“Fairy folk,” Herbert said. “Pixies, Brownies, Dryads and the like. They have no one nation or seat of power. They make their homes in the wild places.”

“You said six races, but only five are represented in the Triumvirate?”

“Yes, the sixth race on Gund are the ogres. They are vile and evil and dwell in the deserts of the west and the mountains of the north. They have sided with Lord Hob.”

“Ogres? Super big, not a lot of clothes, packed with muscles, and smell like death?”

“That’s them.”

“What about the lizard men?” Dominick asked.

“The lizard men are an unholy aberration of nature,” Herbert spit — actually spit — “Lord Hob will have much to answer for on that one when the time comes.”

With Herbert’s proclamation, along with the spit, came an uncomfortable silence. Dominick wasn’t sure how to respond. So instead the two just remained in the room together, each one waiting for the other to speak. Neither did, so the silence stretched out between them like an ever expanding gulf.

Dominick coughed into his hand.

Herbert cleared his throat.

Dominick gave the water around him an ineffectual splash.

Herbert stared at his boots and then began to whistle.

Dominick took that as a queue to get things moving. And he knew just the right way to do it.

“So . . .” Dominick said.

“Yes,” Herbert responded. “Well, I should be off. I’ll have someone bring you in some food very soon.”

“Great, thanks,” Dominick said, sinking back into the hot, soapy water.

Food. He hadn’t even realized how hungry he was until now. When was the last time he’d eaten? Breakfast, probably. That was what, four, five, maybe six hours ago?

It was the one thing, the thought of food, that was able to finally tear him from the bath.

So, his skin wrinkled like a big, pink prune, Dominick emerged from the tub and stood dripping next to the table. But Dominick was not one to go for a towel straight out of the bath, preferring instead to do a bit of air drying first.

So when there came a knock at the door, followed immediately by a woman entering and bearing a tray of food, Dominick greeted her wearing nothing but shock and embarrassment.

The scream that tore through the small room was both shrill and piercing. It was also Dominick’s.

To be continued . . .

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