Missy took a pair mithril goblets with ancient battle scenes engraved on them and two mithril earrings with rubies in the center in mirror bright settings. She didn’t want to take too many items and cheapen the price of mithril but she wanted enough to whet people’s appetite for more and to demonstrate the range of objects the dwarves could fashion from the priceless metal. Like other men throughout the ages, Ralt was content to let her take the lead on their shopping expedition. So long as they came back with enough pepper to get rid of the bears, he was happy.
They spiraled down to the gates of Far Point just before sunset. As before, the guards stopped them and demanded a copper for each of them. Ralt noticed them eyeing his staff, wondering at its brilliant moonlit color, pale and pure. One of them remembered Missy.
“Hey,” he said as the gates swung open for them. “You’re the dwarf woman they call ‘Missy’ aren’t you?”
She nodded, then added, “But now I’m wife to Emrys Giant Bane, High Advisor to King Durin who taught us to forge mithril once more.”
They stared at her in shock at Ralt nudged his pegasus through the gate. He glanced over his shoulder at her. “So much for subtlety,” he noted. “You and Storm will get along great.”
She thumped his head with her knuckles. “We want people to know we have mithril and can make more of it.”
He winced, then shook his head. “Yes but I thought we’d wait until we were at the store to announce it. These are the kind of things we need to discuss before we do them.”
She was instantly contrite. “I’m sorry beloved. I thought I was helping.”
He reached back to hug her. “You are. But,” he gave her the evil eye, “Grior is right, you do speak out of turn sometimes.”
She thumped his head again. “He also says when I speak, I speak rightly.”
He slid off the pegasus in front of the Buffalo’s Head Inn and helped her down. “You do. Learn to control the timing of your speech and you’ll be a woman beyond compare.” He kissed her lightly. “Come on, let’s get a room with that comfortable bed then go do some trading.”
Lon, the inn keeper, spotted Ralt as soon as he came in. He came hurrying over, wiping his hands on his apron, twisting his head to see if Storm and the others were with him. “No more trouble,” he begged. “I just got the last of the broken furniture replaced.”
Ralt pressed a gold coin into his hand. “No trouble,” he promised. “My wife and I want your best room with the most comfortable bed for one night.”
Lon halted in amazement, both at the coin and Ralt’s announcement. “Wife? But I heard you were part-elf. What are you doing marrying a dwarf?”
“I am part-elf.” He clapped the inn keeper on the shoulder. “And marrying her has made me the happiest man on Gaia.” He held up his left to display his wedding ring. “Plus, we got married the Elder Earth way, one man, one woman till death do us part.” He glanced around the semi-crowded main room. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and was watching them. “It works out pretty well for everyone concerned.”
Missy wound her arm possessively through his. “That it does,” she breathed warmly. “That it does.” She saw women around the room staring at her with rapt attention.
Lon stepped back, looking at them with fresh eyes. “We’ve been hearing all manner of strange tales about the dwarves lately. You’re different than you were before,” he told Ralt. He glanced at the staff in Ralt’s hand. “That’s different too. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was silver.”
Ralt glanced at Missy, then raised his voice slightly. “True silver,” he said, “Mithril, forged by the new king of the dwarves, Durin, son of Drangor, Third King of Thangadrim.”
A collective gasp sounded in the room.
“Me people are killing the giants up on Mount Wainsford,” Missy added before they could collect their wits. “We’ve come to trade mithril for what we need to finish ‘em off.” She pulled the earrings and goblets out of her pouch and held them up for all to see.
Ralt took over. “Once the giants are dead, King Durin will open a new trade route through these mountains.” He smiled thinly at them. “Far Point is about to become very important.”
He glanced at Lon. “Now, about that room . . .”
“Why are ye dressing for war?”
Ralt and Missy had made full use of the comfortable bed in their room, finally falling asleep in the wee hours of the night. Despite the late hour when he went to sleep, Ralt found himself waking up at the crack of dawn as he’d done every day since returning from their rescue mission to save Krista. At first, he’d tried to go back to sleep but eventually he’d learned to treasure those early morning hours when he could study his spellbooks in peace, practice his spellcasting, and later, spend time on his growing swordplay and archery skills.
This morning was no different. He’d already washed, finished with his spellbooks, and as Missy woke up, was dressing for their outing to the Bulging Barrel general store where Durin had first met his kinfolk here in Far Point. She was correct to notice his preparations for war.
Metal armor interfered with spellcasting if too much of it was worn but hard boiled leather armor didn’t. Over his shirt but under his jerkin was leather armor. Long leather bracers, reaching from his hand nearly to his elbow, graced each arm as did matching bracers on his legs below the knee. As she woke he was donning his open-front robe, tying it closed across the chest to hide his armor. It fell to his feet and covered his arms down to his thumbs.
Ralt finished tying his robe. “We’ve both announced to the world we have mithril with us. That’s enough to tempt anyone. We’re powerful, but only two. We should have brought some guards with us but we were so eager for time to ourselves I never gave it a second thought.” He brushed his hands over the robe so it hung properly. “I hope I don’t regret it.”
Missy slipped out of bed and into the tub of steaming water he’d prepared for her. “You could have at least waited long enough to join me in the bath.”
He knelt beside the tub, shaking his head gently. “I’ll stand guard while you wash, my lady.” He held out his hand as he stood, Shadow Flame leapt into it. “I’ve endangered your life enough already, I’ll not make it worse.”
She touched his hand. “Ye worry ‘bout me more dan any I’ve ever known.” Her emotions betrayed her, bringing her old accent to the fore.
He looked down at her. “I never thought I’d marry, although I always wanted to.” His tone was wistful. “Then I met you and fell in love practically overnight. I couldn’t stand to loose you, Missy, I don’t think I could survive it.” He looked away, embarrassed by his confession.
She bit her lip then turned her attention to the bath. In less than an hour she was dressed, wearing a tight vest of chainmail under her shirt. She reached up, touching his face gently. “I’m ready. Lead on, my lord and my love.”
He smiled and opened the door.
They walked hand-in-hand to the Bulging Barrel, pointedly ignoring the growing crowd following them, arriving just as Burl, the owner, was opening the door. His son, Trevor, was rolling barrels out onto the wooden porch for display. Both paused expectantly as Ralt and Missy approached.
“Hail and well met,” Burl said formally.
“Hail and well met,” they echoed together.
Burl paused, then cleared his throat. “Ahem. I, ah, hear you need something from my store and have something – valuable – to trade for it.”
Ralt glanced over his shoulder. The people in the Buffalo’s Head must have carried the tale to everyone in town if the crowd in the street was any indication. “We do.” He nodded at Missy. “Show him.”
She had a talent for theatrics, he had to give her that. As she produced each item from her pouch, she did it with a flourish that displayed it in the morning sunlight to its best advantage, allowing everyone on the street to catch a glimpse of pure mithril. For most of them it was probably the first and only time they’d ever seen it. She set them down on top of a barrel then stepped aside so everyone could take their time running their eyes over them. The eyes of every man were drawn to the heroic designs on the goblets while the women focused greedily on the beautiful jewelry.
Burl, facing the crowd, saw their reactions too and knew he had a guaranteed sale no matter what price he asked for the precious items. His fingers twitched, counting his money before he had it. “Bring them inside,” he said abruptly.
Missy scooped them up, glancing sideways at Ralt. He was facing the crowd, staff at the ready, face as hard as iron. She stifled a smile. During their honeymoon he’d demonstrated his glamour spell for her but she thought he looked scarier the way he was now than any spell could ever manage. He followed her into the store, backing up, never taking his eyes from the crowd in the street. Once inside, he locked the door to keep them out.
Missy gave Burl and Trevor an apologetic shrug. “Gold and mithril can tempt anyone, it’s best not to push it too far.” She laid out the four items she’d brought.
Burl nodded. “Aye.” He straightened, refusing to acknowledge the small fortune sitting before him. “So, what is you need from me that you’re willing to pay for it with mithril?”
“Pepper,” Ralt answered shortly, eyeing him to see his reaction. He wasn’t disappointed.
The shop keeper’s jaw dropped. Pepper was expensive, growing in only a few select places around the world, but what they’d brought in exchange was overkill. This time he did look at the mithril and waved his hand over it. “Are you planning to buy me out?”
Ralt and Missy nodded in tandem. “The giants keep bears as guard dogs,” Ralt told him, “but pepper, ground up fine and blown in their faces will burn their eyes and noses. According to one of the dwarf lords who’ve joined us, they’ll run from it like a scalded cat.”
Burl shook his head in disbelief. “Pepper is the most expensive spice in the world and you’re going to throw it at bears? You’re crazy!”
Ralt chuckled, remembering an old joke. He shook his head. “Poor people are crazy.” He tapped one of the mithril goblets. “We’re eccentric.” Missy clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a sudden attack of giggles.
Burl scowled at them. “It’ll take me months to get more pepper!”
Missy ran a caressing finger over the earrings. “You’ll be able to afford it.”
His scowl deepened. “That’s not the point and you know it, Eira Rivers,” he said, using her full name like a mother scolding a child. “I won’t have any pepper for my regular customers.”
If he intended to put her on the defensive, it didn’t work. “Does anyone else in town sell pepper?”
“Then you’ll be able to afford to ignore them,” she quipped. She leaned forward and laid a gentle hand on top of his. “You’ve got the only pepper in town and in a few moments you’ll have the only mithril. That puts you in control, not them.” She inclined her head at the crowd out in the street.
A faint smile played across his lips. “You’re a shrewd woman, Missy Rivers.” He glanced at Ralt. “Although, the way I hear it, you’re a wizard’s wife now, so maybe that explains it.”
Ralt laughed. “She was shrewd before I married her.”
She gave him a brilliant self-satisfied smile. “And don’t you forget it, Mister Giant Bane.”
Trevor, silent until now, gaped at him. “Giant Bane?”
Ralt shrugged, not wanting to get distracted from their mission. “With giants it’s kill or be killed. I didn’t want to be killed.” He turned his attention to Burl. “So, do we have a deal?”
Burl nodded. “Trevor, go get all our pepper.”
Ralt stopped him. “And we need it ground as fine as you can.”
“Sure. I’ll even throw that in for free.”
An hour later they walked out of the Bulging Barrel carrying two minas of ground pepper. They had to push their way through the mob trying to get into the store to bid on the mithril goblets and earrings. Once they were clear, Ralt hefted the bag experimentally. “Where did Burl get this much pepper? Even paying with mithril, this was nearly an even trade.”
Missy shrugged, unconcerned with Burl’s trade sources. “As long as it stops the bears from eating me people, that’s all I care about.”
Ralt put the bag away and brushed a gentle hand across her cheek. “Shrewd and practical. Who couldn’t love that?”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him back toward the inn. “Flattery will get you everywhere, my lord, but right now me people need this pepper. Let’s be gittin’ it to ‘em.”