By the time Harold heard water, he had grown at little more at ease with the whole situation. While going over the entirety of the morning’s events, he concluded that his entire unease with the situation was because of Harold’s own false presumptions. Alphus came to his father wanting something, so Harold assumed it was something his father was making him. If that wasn’t the case, then there was nothing confusingly shady about this transaction at all.
Except the town guard part. And the part about not revealing where it came from. And the speed in which he had to do it or else.
Harold shoveled all those thoughts out of his head as he caught a whiff of something in the air. Fragrant and intoxicating. It was a smell so fantastic that Harold heard himself let out a soft groan of pleasure as his stomach begged with it’s own grunt.
Someone nearby was cooking bacon.
Stopping and listening a little harder, he thought he could even hear the sizzle, and continued to follow the sound until he saw what he presumed he was looking for. Two horses were lapping at the lake a dozen or so feet away from an exceptionally well made caravan. Painted a deep red, with purple trim, the whole of it looked as if the whole thing had been recently touched up. On most trader caravans, you could see the wear and tear of the road, but this thing seemed perfect.
Standing a bit of aways from it, over a fire was the squat form of a dwarf with his black beard, streaked with grey was tied into a braid that was so long, it was hanging over his back to keep it out of the fire. Dressed in silks fancier than anything Harold ever owned and wearing a square of fabric that kept his hair out of the way, he was the picture perfect sort of merchant you would say on market days.
Harold was about to hail him, but his mind failed to come up with a name. He knew his father had told him something that was likely the man’s name, but what was it? Sweettreat? Sweetheart?
“Hail Sweetteee–” Harold let his voice trail off, hoping the dwarf wouldn’t realize.
The squat man stood up straight, putting down the pan and pulling a dagger from nowhere. “Whoon saiddit?” His accent was foreign and thick.
Harold took an exaggerated step, “Here!” He said, raising his hands as the dwarf turned towards him. He continued through the foliage until he was completely out in the open. Even with a dagger prepared to be thrown at his chest, he felt fine until two thoughts hit him in short order.
The first was, ‘What if this wasn’t Sweetfoot?’
The second was, ‘His name was Sweetfoot!’
“So’in boy’o, sayer name’n be fas beefer ain lettin fly.” The dwarf’s eyebrow was raised and he waited as Harold translated that in his head. He had heard dwarven brogue before, but rarely so thick.
“Are you Sweetfoot?” Harold asked, over-extending each syllable as if he was speaking to a child.
“You’n firs’ boyo. Quick like, eh?” Harold’s eyes watched the dwarf’s body language. He was a small taut piece of pulled rubber, ready to snap. Snapping, in this case, meant 8 inches of metal would be projecting out of Harold’s chest.
“My name is Harold Orian. My father, Fergus sent me.” He watched as the dwarf’s muscles went from thick bands of dagger-throwing fury to more relaxed. He didn’t put his arm’s down, but there was less tension.
“Ahhhh, yer’n the balbh-head. You’n bring’n pay?” Sweetfoot (presumably) slowly put his arms down, and between eyeblinks, the dagger was already hiding somewhere on his body. Harold reached down just as slowly and jingled the pouch on his belt. He had no idea what a ‘blabh-head’ was, but he didn’t think it sounded complimentary.
The dwarf, satisfied in just seeing that the pouch was present, turned back to his breakfast. “So ain Sweetfoot asya say. Youn gon’ wansome?” A flick of the wrist and the bacon flew through the air and landed back in the pan with a crackle and spit of grease.
“Am I going where?” Asked Harold, stepping around so he was on the other side of the fire from Sweetfoot.
“Goin? Eh?” Sweetfoot tilted his head, confused.
“I don’t know where Wansome is. You asked if I was going to Wansome.”
The dwarf laughed loud enough that one of his horses didn’t just perk an ear towards them, but lifted his head as if to make sure his Master was doing alright. “No ye doonse. I was offerin’ a bite. ‘Cha hungry?” And Harold now understand ‘Youn gon wansome’ was “Are you going to want some.’ His mouth was watering at the smell of the bacon.
He smiled, “If you’re offering. I’ll happily.”
“Das a good lad. If’n ye said no… well..” Sweetfoot sized up Harold, as if pondering whether that dagger would have stopped him. Harold believed it would have, but he had never really been tested in that sort of fight before. “You’n ever sit wit me kind?”
Harold shook his head and the dwarf nodded to himself, sliding the bacon to a plate next to he fire and beginning to portion it into two groups. “Well’n ye get ye food’n ta learn tings… a good morn indeed.”
“Me people have’na always been so rich’n the land and rich’n the coin. So when ye meet’a dwarfen man likes meself, ye known’in his motive if’n he offers his food. If’n he don’t… he aint’n no friend an’ wants no part in’ye. My clear?”
Harold nodded, thinking that he was starting to understand a bit more of the dwarf’s tongue. He also thought that perhaps he was clearing up his brogue a bit since he was telling a story. “So if a dwarf offers me food, but I say no, then I’m the bad guy?”
Sweetfoot grinned, “Ahh, pick’n up quick he’is. If’n ye need it, ye speak so an’ have it. If’n ye mean no disrespect, ye say thank ye’… ye take’n at least one bite. Shows me food is good’nuff for ye an’ ye no thinkin’ ye standin above… clear?” As if to punctuate his point, he lifted the plate and offered it to Harold. The bacon had been cut into nearly perfect equal portions. When Harold looked into Sweetfoot’s eyes, he saw the grinning challenge of the entire situation. He wanted to know if the young man was listening and if, as he had been told, he was a ‘bulbh-head’.
Harold reached up and took a piece, hot between his fingers, and took a bite. The flavor exploded in his mouth. It wasn’t just bacon, but salt and a dozen other flavors that he couldn’t place. It was the single greatest piece of bacon that he had ever eaten in his life. Sweetfoot nodded appreciatively of his bite and took the plate back, throwing a piece into his own mouth.
“Take whatcha like boyo, when’n I get to Gate, I’ll be stockin’ up..” Sweetfoot stood up and began to walk over to his caravan. Harold reached over and took another piece of bacon, fighting the urge to not just shovel the whole plate into his mouth with how fantastic it was. He watched as the dwarf walked up to the door of his cart and before he even got to it, it swung open. It was likely magically locked or attuned to Sweetfoot somehow, which was a basic spell you could buy. He went inside and there was the sound of drawers opening and closing.
When he returned, Sweetfoot had a wooden box under his arm. The finish was sanded and lacquored to a reflective shine. He placed it next to him and put out his hand in the universal gesture for ‘Let me see my money’. Harold undid the pouch and watched as Sweetfoot opened it and counted each coin, checking them with a bite. Harold got the feeling that he didn’t entirely trust his father. “Good’nuff. So, now that’cha workin’ fer’ye papa, you gon’ take o’er all this dirty biz?”
Harold laughed, “Yeah, after I deliver the box, my father said he was going to start teaching me how to forge and tell me about everything he does.”
The dwarf paused, and asked his next question carefully, as if he was sizing it up in his own mouth, “An’ whattisit that’cha think’n he does? Puttin’ hammer to steel an’ jewels in hilts an’ the like?”
Harold laughed, “Of course. It’s what my grandfather did and what I’m going to do, and maybe one day what my kids will do.”
Sweetfoot nodded. There was something odd in his eyes as he reached behind his head. For the briefest of moments Harold worried he had misjudged the entire situation and he was about to get that dagger in his chest. It passed just as quickly when he saw the dwarf was simply untying something that was around his neck and hidden beneath his shirt. He pulled out a key on a leather string and tossed it across the fire to Harold. “The key’n the box. Ye give dat t’yer father an’ye tell him our dealings are done. I’m gone down the straight’n narrow’n his was me’las business to handle.”
Harold nodded, not sure what any of that meant. What was clear though was that this was Sweetfoot telling him it was time to end their meeting. Harold stood up and reached over to take the box. “Well, thank you Sweetfoot. I hope one day we cross paths again.”
The dwarf let out a sigh. He was looking at the boy and wrestling with something. Finally, he looked up to the sky and mumbled something in dwarvish. It sounded like it was a prayer or a curse to the gods, but when he looked back at Harold his eyes were firm. “You’n seem like ye’ a good kid…”
Harold lifted up the box slowly. He had no idea how to react to his.
“Imma good judge eh’ these tings, I is. Yer papa ain’no mastermind er nuffin, but he ain’no good guy neither. Now.. Imma be’in this vera spot til’ nightfall. After yer papa tells ye what the family biz’s been, if’n ye feel ye need’n… you run here. I’ll help ye’ out. Un’erstood there Harold?” It was the first time that the dwarf hadn’t called him ‘Boyo’ or something else.
Harold blinked, stunned. He didn’t know how to react to what he had just heard. He put the box under his arm and stood up straight, considering each word. “I.. thanks?” What else was there for him to say?
“Ye’ put’nothin into it, ye get nothin’ out. Iffer some reason we’in don’t see each other tonight, I’ll be’in Gate. Settin’ up a home fer meself. You look me up.”
Why did this entire exchange make Harold’s feet cold? It was like he was, all of a sudden, talking with a long time friend that was seeing him off to war. Part of his brain just wanted to ignore every word that had come out of Sweetfoot’s mouth. Hadn’t his father said something about not trusting dwarves and elves? He wasn’t sure, but he also didn’t like that part of his head told him that there was a truth to the dwarf’s words that he had been hiding from himself.
All that was left was for him to go home and find out which version of his brain was the right one.
He shook Sweetfoot’s wrist, and the minute he was out of sight of the camp, he began to run home with little thought to worries about the guard or anyone seeing him.
The rustle of leaves and snapping of branches hid quite a few sounds. The sound of arrows tearing through branches, arrowheads piercing dwarven flesh, and the dying moan of a man who had turned a new leaf. Sweetfoot was dead before Harold had even made it back to the road.