Gnome Country for Old Monsters, Part Two
Respecting the effort put into dramatic pauses, Hansel and Grendel waited. Gnash finally stepped out from behind the bush, a serious expression on his face.
“Nash!” Hansel exclaimed.
“It’s Gnash, but keep trying. I’m serious, though. You do NOT want to leave a Dear GnaGna letter on the Queen’s throne. You will die, just like the last few dozen unlucky fiancees.”
“Few…dozen?” Grendel stammered.
“She brings a new one home every couple of weeks, announces the engagement, and they try to sneak off. No one has ever gotten away. NO ONE. You had better get used to the idea of being the King of Gnomes.”
“I don’t think Grendel should be forced to marry someone under threat of death,” Hansel said. “I mean, we’re not even supposed to hug people if they don’t want us to.”
“I didn’t say it was right,” Gnash spat back, “I just said it was wise. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”
Hansel scoffed. “Yeah, well, let’s compare notes about my last week sometime.”
“She doesn’t seem like she would actually KILL people, does she?” Grendel said wistfully.
“SHE doesn’t. It’s Agnton.” A shiver visibly passed down Gnash’s entire body.
“So this Agnton—” Grendel said.
“SHHHHHHHHHH!” Gnash shushed. “Don’t say that name.”
“But you just did.”
“I know. I’m very upset with myself. Do you want me to be upset with you?”
“What?” Hansel was getting confused. He saw Grendel’s eyes narrowing and fangs emerging, which would be a bad idea before they had a plan. Plus, Gnash was trying to help. He narrowed his own aquamarines, shaking his head slightly. Grendel’s upper lip twitched in a little snarl and relaxed. He shrugged and didn’t eat Gnash.
“Sorry,” Gnash said, “I sounded just like him. Don’t engage with him, he’ll confuse you to death.”
“Literally?” Hansel asked. Anything was possible now.
“No, he has a lot of knives and no empathy. Anyway, you better go back and pick out a boutonniere, Mr. Monster Man, or you’ll regret it!” Gnash stepped back behind the bush. Hansel could still see him, but he didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He jerked his head to the right and he and Grendel walked further into the woods.
“What do you think?” Hansel whispered.
“I guess getting married isn’t the worst thing in the world, I mean, I’d get to be King, right? I always wanted a boutonniere.” Grendel hadn’t let go of the dream.
“Let go of the dream,” Hansel said. “You don’t just fall in love at first sight, and you don’t get married just because the other person wants you to.” He was pretty sure his dad was told he was getting married somewhere along the road to Hellen the stepmother.
“You’re nine, what do you know about love?” Grendel groused.
“More than you, I guess,” Hansel shot back.
“Well, I’m hundreds of years old, and I’m going back to talk to her, because I’m the grown-up. So there.” Grendel flounced around and walked back toward the Heart of Gnome Country.
GnaGna was busily overseeing the preparations for the wedding. Flowers were garlanded everywhere, causing Grendel to stop with a sharp intake of breath, both hairy hands to his hairy chest.
“It’s BEAUTIFUL,” he breathed. Hansel was going to lose the monster to his love of flowery decor. Some dead animal parts and it would be just like home.
“OH, there you are, darling!” GnaGna drawled. “Come over here and let them try on your ensemble!” Grendel skipped across the field, injuring several gnomes rather severely. Other gnomes quickly carried the broken ones away.
Hansel stared at GnaGna, wondering what it was so captivated his monster chaperon. The gnome Queen must have felt his eyes on her, because she turned to look directly at him. The look she gave him was blank, assessing. None of the syrupy charm she poured over Grendel was spared on Hansel. She raised on tiny eyebrow slightly, then turned back to her handmaidens.
Hansel had a wedding to stop. He just didn’t know how.
That night, there was a feast with many toasts to the happy couple, most of which were generic and well-rehearsed. Several names were accidentally used instead of “Grendel.” The gnomes who toasted GnaGna and Chewbacca, GnaGna and Wolfman, GnaGna and Baloo…they all disappeared shortly after their stumbling toasts and frightened apologies. Hansel was seated next to Grendel. The food was good, so Hansel tried to ignore the festivities and make up for several days of poor eating.
“And without further ado, here’s Hansel!” cried the gnome coordinating the toasts.
“What?” Hansel yelped, spraying half-chewed berry pie over the table.
“It’s time for your best man toast,” Grendel hissed. The entire crowd was looking at him expectantly. Agnton, who’d been standing behind the Queen through the entire feast, moved a few steps closer to Hansel.
Hansel mushed up his remaining mouthful of pie and swallowed. It seemed like they should have told him before now. The adult world was full of assumptions about what you should know and do.
Hansel stood up, wishing he hadn’t filled his stomach quite so full. “Hello, everybody.” The gnomes did not respond. “I guess I’m supposed to talk about what a great guy Grendel is and how happy he’s gonna be with NaNa—”
“GnaGna,” Agnton growled. Hansel closed his eyes and breathed in.
“Sure, like you said.” He had no idea what correction they were making. “Anyway, the Queen is obviously quite a catch, and Grendel, he can eat anyone who gets in her way.” The gnomes in the crowd looked puzzled. No one mentions that the groom can eat you in a toast. Hansel looked at Grendel, sitting next to him with GnaGna perched on one of his hairy knees, flowers pinned to his chest hair, gazing dopily at his beloved’s blond braids. The Queen of the Gnomes was glaring death at Hansel. His eyes widened and she quickly rearranged her face to something less lethal.
Hansel had to seize the moment. He put on his proverbial big boy jeans, which looked and smelled just like the ones he had on.
“I guess Grendel is probably my best friend right now.” The gnomes smiled again, once again on familiar ground.
“And since he is, I have to say something. Grendel can’t marry the Queen.” Murmurs erupted, and Hansel could feel the tension on the dais. A lot of gnomes looked puzzled again. He needed to be clear.
“As to the marriage of Grendel and NaNa,” he yelled, “I OBJECT.”