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An Unexpected Meeting
The rains fell hard in Merridale, Damar noted. It has been cold and wet since he had arrived in the barony nearly a month ago. He wasn't cut out for the cold and wet, he thought, as he huddled under a tree by the side of the mud slick that had once been a well tread horse path. His red-skinned body shivered. He had lived his entire life on Urth. He knew nothing of the hot and dry world that his ancestors had once called home. Damar had never seen Tartarus, all he knew of it was from the tales of humans, who had never been there either.
"This is ridiculous," he muttered under his breath. The deluge continued and he knew that very quickly he would need to find better shelter than an old tree. The trek was slow in the mud and muck, but his pace was quickened at the bright strike of lightning. The knotted old oak was certainly not the place to be in a thunderstorm.
He pushed forward, miserably grumbling at the wet sloshing of water in his overworn boots. The shoddy leather had given their all in the long days of walking, but for boots found discarded behind an old farmers house, they had done more than he could have expected. A hole-ridden riding cloak, also pilferred from some unsuspecting human's farmstead, was failing at its sole duty of keeping the rainwater off Damar's back. His probing tail could feel each and every hole in the cloak as it tried its best to stay hidden. The old coat was once a faded black color, but had long since been washed and was now caked with brown mud and horse excrement. It was a miserable thing to behold, but Damar kept it close to him as he traveled if for only one purpose. The coat had a tall hood that covered the young man's head. He kept it up rain or shine, even in the heat of midday sun. It was the only security he felt in this land. It did more than protect him from the elements, but traveling alone in Merridale, a barony almost exclusively inhabited by humans, it hid his true identity from other travelers.
It was hard to hide his heritage from closer inspection, he couldn't deny that someone within a few paces could easily recognize his distinctly crimson hued skin. But at a distance the hood at least hid the unmistakable outline of the black boney horns that identified his race.
It had been over five millennia since the Tar race had been defeated. They weren't common folk to see in the lands of Lominore, especially in the baronies and princedoms of the east. But even five thousand years had not been enough to bury centuries of pain and hatred. Damar wasn't even purely Tartarean. He bore distinct indications that there was at least some human blood in him. But to most that didn't matter. Even a man only one-sixteenth Tartarean, was still a daemon to most.
Damar cursed himself for wandering this far east. Hindsight is always better, but had he known what type of lands lay to the east of the Great Desert, he would have turned the other way, choosing the wastes instead. He had done his best to avoid contact with humans. Contact with anyone really. Every attempt to communicate with the xenophobic denizens of Merridale had ended rather poorly. He had been refused service, kicked out of taverns, even dragged from a town and beaten. A broken man from a troubled past, stuck deep within a country that neither wanted him nor welcomed him. And yet he pressed onward. Some spark of optimism hidden deep within his shivering frame, or perhaps just foolhardy desperation to find some acceptance in a hate-filled world.
The slosh of heavy footsteps broke him out of his dark thoughts. He spun in the direction of the noise, slipping off of the road, and due to an ill placed wet stone, off of his feet as well. Damar fell ass first into a deep trench half filled with mud. If he wasn't soaked before, he was now, though the only thing hurt by the fall was his pride. The embarrassment didn't subside when a hearty laughter fell over him. It came from a stout figure on the road, a bulky barrel shaped man emerged from the rainy fog.
"Sorry lad, I didn't expect to see anyone on the road, let alone seem them topple tits over tea-kettle into a ditch," the man said from behind a rain-soaked red beard that grew down to his round belly.
Damar had never seen a dwarf in all his life, but if a creature so perfectly embodied every tale he had ever heard of the strange men of the mountain, this was it. A wet leather glove shot forth, an offered hand out of the muck.
The Tar looked up at the wet dwarf in confusion. It wasn't the sight of the odd man that caught him off guard. It took him a few moments of empty bewilderment to realize it was the kind offering of the hand that had struck him as peculiar. Shaking the water off his hood, as well as the fog in his brain, he took the offered hand and felt the strength of two full grown humans hoist his light frame out of the mud.
"Titan," the dwarf stated, his thick fingered hands doing their best to help Damar scrape the mud off his cloak. "Titan Copperbeard."
Damar was out of touch, his days spent on the road avoiding all contact with people, it took him a moment to recognize the introduction.
"Uh," he stammered, "Damar."
The Tar scratched at his face, feeling for errant spatters of mud. He suddenly realized this his hood had fallen back slightly and no longer hid his features. But strangely, the dwarf either seemed to take no notice, or really didn't care.
"Hullo, Damar," he chimed almost musically. "Good day and well met!"
A broad smile peeked out from under the rust colored whiskers, and Damar couldn't help but feel it tugging at the corners of his own mouth.
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It had only been four hours since Damar met Titan, and the dwarf hadn't shut up since. When he wasn't talking, he was singing. Damar was amazed it didn't grate on his nerves, but to be honest, though he contributed little to the conversation, he had to admit he was happy for the company. No matter how strange that company was.
The rains let up just in time for the sun to appear and then dip beyond the horizon. The night would be cold, even for early spring. Damar had been traveling in Merridale since mid-Wyrwane, the first month of the season. All he had seen was cold nights on the road.
A veil of fog clung tight to the ground as the moisture tried its best to evaporate despite the chilled wind. As daylight faded, the damp air stuck closely too them. Damar felt weak and tired. He could tell the dwarf was growing tired as well, his incessant stories and constant belching began to ebb.
"What do you say we make camp here?" the dwarf asked, gesturing to an outcrop of trees on the edge of a sparse forest. He lead the way and soon they found themselves under the thin branches of a small ash forest.
The ground was relatively dry, at least drier than any they had seen all evening. Damar pulled his bedroll from his pack, ready to once again make do with the hard ground for a pillow. Titan dropped his oversized pack and began to pull things from it. Damar was shocked at just how much the dwarf was able to tightly pack into the bag. Out came a simple bedroll, a handful of pots and cups, tiny casks of ale, and even food. It felt like it had been days since Damar had eaten. Many of the towns were few and far between in western Merridale and it had become hard to steal enough food to last him long on the road. He looked at all that Titan had to offer and the dwarf smiled back.
The dwarf was quick to start a small fire, and soon Damar was enjoying foods he had never tried before. As the Tar tucked in greedily to the offered food, Titan hummed noisily as he continued to set up camp. Damar had lived a simple life since leaving his home, he had little beyond a small pack that didn't carry much. Though admittedly, Damar was glad he didn't have to carry as much on the long days of walking. Within moments of finishing eating, Damar looked up to see the dwarf had strung up a simple rope between trees upon which he draped a large waxed blanket.
"There, that will keep out the rain should any more choose to fall," he said contently. Clapping his hands together as if to remove any dust after all his hard work, he plopped down beside the fire and began to eat his own share of the food.
Damar watched the dwarf curiously as he shoveled food into his mouth, not caring how much of it actually made it into the large gaping space between mustache and beard. Gulping down the last of his cup of ale, Titan let out a belch loud enough to echo off a nearby mountain. He laughed heartily, and Damar found his shoulders shaking. Not in a shiver from the cold, but in a silent laughter at his strange new companion.
"If you don't mind me asking, lad, what brings you to Merridale?"
Damar didn't respond right away, he was startled by suddenly being thrust into conversation once again.
"I ask only out of curiosity. I, too, am a stranger in these parts. And strange parts they are. Not exactly the most friendly folk. Even to a dwarf. And who doesn't love a dwarf!?" He laughed again, "Too many humans around here if you ask me. Too much of the same thing gets you no where."
"It is a long story," replied Damar finally. "To be honest, sometimes I ask myself what I am doing here."
"The quandary of every wanderer I suppose," Titan muttered, suddenly introspective. "Well, I must say Damar, I am happy to have met you. Perhaps we can wander this lonely place together for a while. Perhaps we can answer that question someday, at least for one of us."
Damar thought about it a moment. He had become so used to being alone. But when he thought about it, it was not purely out of choice. No more choice than his decision to head eastward.
"Sure," he found himself saying before he had really made his mind up about whether or not he truly wanted this dwarf as company beyond one night.
"Hah!" Titan shouted enthusiastically. "A Tar and a Peb traveling through Merridale! Sounds like the start of a great tavern joke, but if nothing else we will turn a few heads!"
"A peb?" Damar asked, confused by the unusual word. He knew the term Tar all too well, though he didn't care for it, nor associate it with himself, there were far worse things he had been called.
"Sorry lad, old human slang. Short for pebble, I think they meant it as an insult for dwarves. Small. Stones. I am sure you get it."
"Humorously enough, dwarves have a saying, 'even a mighty mountain...'"
Damar perked up at the sound of something in the woods behind them.
"Hullo? Whose out there?" Titan shouted into the darkness.
A small voice, firm but not intimidating, broke the silence of the trees.
"Hey there! I didn't mean to startle you. I mean no harm."
Damar and Titan stood, though the Tar was more anxious to reach for his weapon, a simple wooden staff he had carried with him from home.
"Who are you? Show yourself." Damar said hesitantly.
A slender figure emerged from the darkness beyond the light of the small campfire. At quick glance he would have seemed an ordinary man, thin and unassuming. Carrying a simple pack, not much bigger than the one Damar traveled with, and a carved wooden staff. It was when he reached the clearer light of the fire that his features became more pronounced. He had a narrow angular face with large eyes and high cheekbones. His skull shape gave away his elven blood far easier than his pointed ears that lay back beside braided black hair.
"Hah! You gave me quite a start elf!" Titan said, sitting back down.
"I am very sorry to disturb both of you. You certainly make your presence known. I could hear you clear across the wood."
Damar looked down at the dwarf on his bedroll, realizing how the man's constant noise could be a detriment to his journey if it drew this much attention.
"I am Jamfire Huron, Watcher of Ayne." The elf raised his hand to show his empty palm in peaceful greeting.
"Jamfire?" Titan bellowed. "An interesting name. Titan," he pointed at himself, then to his companion. "Damar."
"Greetings," he said simply. "May I join you? I am afraid the road has been a bit cold and unforgiving for me."
"Us as well," Damar resigned. He felt no threat from another non-human, especially one so mannered and unarmed. He finally returned to sit upon his bedroll. "Have you eaten? We have..."
Damar's voice trailed off as he realized he was really only offering someone else's food.
"No that is alright," the elf replied. "I have my own thank you."
Jamfire held out a piece of elven hardtack bread in a silent offer to his new companions. Damar declined out of politeness and the feeling he had eaten too much strange food already. Titan turned down the food out of distaste for elven cuisine.
"I didn't know there were elves in Merridale. Then again, I didn't think there were dwarves either." Damar said in a surprise attempt to strike up conversation.
"There aren't. At least there are none I have seen. I am from Ayne."
"Where is Ayne?" the Tar asked curiously.
"You do not know of Ayne? It is the great home of the elves! A wonderous forest of magic." Realizing that the young Tar had no clue of this place that he spoke, the elf continued. "The High Kingdom of Ayne lies to the north, beyond the Selich Sea."
Damar understood. A month previously he had found himself along the shores of the Selich Sea which lead into Merridale. The water seemed like an endless ocean and he had no idea that more land existed beyond it.
"So why come here, Watcher?" Titan asked.
"What is a watcher?" Damar interjected.
"Watcher is my profession and my skill. In my forest home, the High King among the trees has overseen the great honor of appointing a select few to become Watchers for the kingdom. Our sole duty is to scout and understand any threats to the kingdom and its forests. We study history, nature, and politics to better deal with the things we see in the field."
"So why Merridale?" Titan repeated.
"I am only a seventh-class Watcher. It is my first season in my appointment for the kingdom. Merridale is seen as little threat to the kingdom in the north. I shall prove them wrong, however. I will seek out danger wherever I can, and bring news back to my king. It may be a boring post, but I do not take my appointment lightly. To do so would result in never rising to first-class, or worse...death."
Damar's mind wandered at the mention of death. He recalled so many things about his past. The events leading to his current journey swirled in his head until he managed to reign himself back in.
"I'd like to more, but maybe it can wait 'til tomorrow?" the dwarf said, a gaping yawn opening his red beard like a pit.
Everyone settled in to sleep and before Damar's eyes could even close, he could hear the grumbling snarl of the dwarf's deafening snoring."He really doesn't ever shut up," the Tar mumbled.