They were setting up camp, two days out of Lin Lamorak when a stranger stepped into their camp. Callindra jumped and almost dropped her smoldering pipe; she hadn’t heard him approach which was amazing since he carried a pack that was twice as tall as he was. He stopped just inside their firelight and hailed them.
“Ho the camp! Cn I share yer fire?”
“Of course stranger, we welcome any friendly travelers.” Tryst said, standing and intentionally revealing the heavy hammer hanging from his belt.
“Heh, nah need ta worry lad. If ah meant ya harm yeh’d be dead.” The man walked further into the firelight and
Callindra gasped. This man wasn’t human. He was short and stocky; his arms were as thick as her thighs and he had a long beard woven into two wide braids clasped with heavy silver beads. Dark eyes gleamed from under bushy eyebrows and a leather cap covered unruly hair that was also fell in braids that reached past his waist. She had read about Dwarves but had assumed they were a myth.
“Mah name’s Felix.” The Dwarf said, setting his pack down with a thud that they could all feel more than hear. He pulled a chair made from canvas and wooden poles out of a pocket on the side of his enormous bag and sat down with a satisfied sigh.
“I’m Tryst. This is Vilhylm, Cronos and Callindra.” Tryst said, indicating his companions in turn. “Well met master Felix, we have rabbits roasting and trail bread.”
“Ah ain’t no master.” Felix said, “But thanks fer th hospitality. Ah have some salad greens an carrots t offer in return.” He turned and rummaged in his pack, pulling out a burlap sack of carrots and an armful of fresh lettuce.
“Where did you get fresh produce?” Callindra said, her eyes round.
“So. What’s a Wind Dancer, a priest of the Old One, an Archmage’s apprentice and a Mask Master doin together?” Felix asked with a friendly grin, ignoring Callindra’s question.
“Your eyes see much.” Vilhylm said, looking at the Dwarf from the depths of his cloak’s hood. “How did you know any of that?”
“Was pretty obvious. Yer cloak has pockets of tha right size and yeh cover yer face, tha girl’s a gale in a bottle an has tha winds allus playin tricks, tha boy’s leaking power I ain’t seen since tha last war an if yeh don’t know what tha holy symbol of tha Old One is then yeh need an education.” He turned to look at Callindra, “Is that Karalan Imperialis girl?”
“Yes it is.” She said, feeling a little over whelmed by the concise dissection of their group. “Would you like some?” All things considered she couldn’t help, feeling a kinship with someone who smoked the same leaf as her Master.
“Ah ain’t had the Imperial blend for ages.” Felix said, eyes twinkling. “Ah’d love some.” The Dwarf took a short stemmed pipe with a wide bowl made of dark red stone from a pocket and Callindra passed him her pouch of tac. He packed the bowl and it lit on its own.
“So… where are you headed?” Tryst asked as Callindra turned from their unusual guest to turn the roasting rabbits.
“Noplace special. Just out collecting.” Felix said, puffing contentedly on his pipe.
Cronos looked up from where he was shredding the lettuce and slicing carrots to make a salad. “Collecting what?” He asked suspiciously.
“Whatever ah find that ah don’t have yet.” The Dwarf said with a shrug, “It’s getting harder to find things like tha though. Just tother day though a man played a song he’d composed that he’d never played for anyone else. Tha was an interesting thing to keep.”
“How can you keep a song?” Callindra asked, “That’s not possible.”
Felix stared off into the distance for a moment, streams of smoke trailing from his nostrils. “Wen ya go to tha High Forest don’t go through the Wastes. It’s tha shortest way but it ain’t safe.”
“How did you know that’s where we were heading?” Tryst asked, his hand straying toward the handle of his hammer.
Callindra shifted her shoulders slightly to allow Brightfang’s hilt to fall to within easy reach of her left hand and she could see Vilhylm reaching into a pocket for a mask. Cronos actually drew his longsword with a dangerous rasp of steel. Felix knew too much for this to be coincidence.
“Nah don’t get yer nickers in a twist.” Felix said, folding his massively muscled arms over his chest. “Knowin things is what I do. Tha girl was kind enough to share some of her smoke with me so I gave her somethin in return.”
They still stared suspiciously at him, Cronos taking a half step to the side so as to be in the Dwarf’s blind spot. Felix seemed totally at ease where he sat, still calmly smoking his pipe. “Yer coneys are gonna burn.” He said, looking at the fire. When they still didn’t move he sighed. “I jus visited Tyreen. She mentioned sommat about a group heading ta tha High Forest. Sounded interesting so I caught up with ya.”
Callindra moved to take the rabbits off the flame so their dinner wouldn’t be ruined. She set them of a flat slab of stone nearby to cool and then looked at the others. “If he wanted to hurt us, I think he would have done it already. Cronos, really, put up your blade. From what I’ve read of Dwarves we would likely have a hard time stopping him if he did wish us harm, although I’d love to spar with him… just to see.”
Felix chuckled, “She’s a feisty one ain’t she?”
“What? In Vlarias’s The Art of Combat he mentions a Dwarf holding a doorway against hundreds of foes on his own for an entire day. My Master keeps telling me I need to build up my stamina; sparring with someone with that kind of constitution would be…” She trailed off, embarrassed.
“I ain’t heard anyone talk of Vlarias in years. Tha blowhard was generally fulla hot air, but once ya got a couple of drinks in him he weren’t so bad.” Felix said, “Oh speakin a drink…” He opened one of the many flaps on the side of his pack and pulled out a small keg. Callindra blinked; the pocket he had withdrawn the keg from should not have been able to hold something that large. From the same pocket, the Dwarf produced a pewter ale jack for each of them.
“You KNEW Vlarias? Like personally?” Callindra asked, going over his words in her mind. “He died over fifty years ago. How old are you?”
“Old nough.” Felix grunted and broached the cask with a practiced bash of his fist.
As Felix dipped out mugs of a rich brown ale, Callindra drew her sword and quickly quartered the rabbits. She was so used to using him for everything that she didn’t even think of using a knife. Carefully wiping the blade with a scrap of cloth before sheathing him again.
“Where. Did yeh get one of Beliach’s blades?” Felix’s voice had a dangerous note to it; an implicit threat that made Callindra shiver. Nonetheless she forced herself to look him squarely in the eye.
“He was a gift. My Master gave him to me.” The winds gusted around her, flaring the fire and making her hair whip back from her face. Callindra let herself slip into the Ready Stance; a relaxed seeming posture that would allow her to respond to whatever was coming quickly. “What do you know about the smith?”
“He stole somethin from my clan.” The Dwarf rumbled, “Ah been lookin for him.”
“Well that doesn’t have anything to do with me. I just needed a blade that could withstand my fighting style.” And her magic, but he didn’t need to know about that.
“Fer Beliach ta make yeh a blade yeh gotta visit him.” Felix said, narrowing his eyes. “He’s gotta get ta know yeh so he can make sure the weapon matches. Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I never visited him at all, on the one year anniversary of my apprenticeship my Master gave me Brightfang. He said that Beliach owed him a favor or something but didn’t have time to tell me anything else because the Inquisitors attacked…” Damn it, there she went again. Why couldn’t she keep control of her tongue?
Felix stood from his chair faster than his bulk would suggest was possible. With effort, Callindra matched his speed, performing a perfect backflip over the fire, the winds nearly extinguishing the flames and blowing up a cloud of sparks. She landed lightly on the balls of her feet with Brightfang glittering in her hands. The Dwarf blurred with speed and she struck where she thought he would be instead of where she thought he was.
With a harsh metallic clang, Brightfang stopped as though he had struck solid stone. Felix had caught the blade between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He stared at her up the curved length of the blade, his eyes intense. Brightfang whined in protest then fell silent when the Dwarf flicked the blade with his other hand.
“Yer good girl. What do ya really know bout Glarian?” He said, looking at her with eyes that seemed carved from flint.
Callindra tried to withdraw her sword, but she might as well have tried to lift a mountain. “Who is Glarian?” She asked defiantly. Behind Felix, her companions had drawn weapons and were cautiously approaching them.
“This blade says yer his apprentice. Tha winds say tha same. Nobody else would dare call in favors from Beliach, an besides, yeh have his fighting style in spite of usin a blade a quarter the size of his and yer bonded ta this pigsticker.”
“I know he’s the best swordsman in the world.” She retorted, “What do you know of him?”
Felix burst into laughter, surprising them all. “Yeh really are fiesty ain’t ya? Ya shoulda been trained by fire with that spirit, but I spose wind fits yeh too. Yeh have a hard road ahead a yeh girl, but ah think yeh got what it takes to travel it.” He released her sword and turned back to the others.
“Na need ta worry. Ah knew it was too easy for me ta find Beliach like this. She don’t know where he is.” With that, the Dwarf returned to his seat, passing between the others as though he had nothing to worry about in spite of the weapons in their hands.
Cronos looked at Tryst, his eyes clearly asking if they were just going to let this slide. Tryst glanced at Vilhylm and Callindra, and she shook her head slightly and sheathed Brightfang. The others relaxed slightly, except for Cronos who still eyed Felix suspiciously.
“So what did this smith supposedly steal from your people?” Cronos demanded.
Felix regarded him for a moment before answering. “He stole the captive demon we used to fire our Adamantine Forge. It happened right at the same moment that we were assaulted by an ancient Black Dragon. We have a hard time thinking it might be coincidence.”
They were all quiet for a few moments and then Cronos sheathed his swords. “Fine. Let’s eat before the food gets cold.”
Callindra released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and took her hand off Brightfang’s hilt and they all settled down for a relatively calm dinner. After eating, Callindra and Felix filled their pipes once more and sat smoking contentedly.
“Yeh cn all sleep tonigh, Ah’ll keep watch in return fer th meal.” Felix said, “Yeh all look like yeh could use it.”
“I’m not one to turn down a good night’s sleep.” Tryst said, “Today was fairly taxing.” The others didn’t seem to share his apparent trust, but still rolled into their blankets without complaint.