There is always at least a small feeling of apprehension when it comes to meeting new people, especially foreigners. In my past life, being able to speak two languages helped to propel me into the ever awkward position of impromptu translator when it came to just about all cross cultural gatherings between people who spoke English and those speaking Korean.
Like, ‘Hey, can you help me order this?’ or, ‘Yo, be a bro and help me talk to that girl, cuz damn.’ and of course ‘Food is the language of all people, treat these savages to something nice.’
Haha. Wait, no. That’s the current situation.
First contact between what we deem as Ferals is a tricky business, but usually begins in one of three ways.
One, the tribe in question has become aware of the massive technological disparity between us and attempt to adhere to diplomatic overtures. Historically this is the most common type interaction the Dhurger have had with the indigenous races of this land as we cut, bashed, and shot the overgrown monster population to pieces during our expansion.
Two, a tribe is aware of the tech difference, but short term thinking and arrogance wins out and hostilities begin soon after. This doesn’t happen all that often, at most it’s probably only occurred less than half a dozen times since we dwarves were transported here. Ferals can be superstitious and at times arrogant, but they aren’t dumb. Generally.
Three, the poor people have no idea what the funny looking sticks made of wood and metal are. In this case, most still attempt communication or retreat, but there have been attacks that increased in frequency as the kingdom grew outward and the further away tribes began to make contact with the sons and daughters of Dhazad.
Fortunately these strange, never before closely witnessed people seem to be of the first variety. Or at least that’s what I’m betting given the wary gazes the small group of three Feral… Elves are eyeballing the guns strapped to myself, Master Hunter Gurber Longclaw, and the Head Dwarf, Lokir Ironhand. It’s entirely likely that these have been the people we’ve been seeing flitting through the jungle in recent years, meaning they’ve had ample time to learn about what a firearm could do besides make loud noises resembling those of cracking thunder.
Currently my party and I had set foot outside the imposing and more than likely alien stone walls of Hearthholm. Given the three elves had stayed out in the open for the better part of two hours, they seemed agreeable enough to want something, but cautious enough to not come closer even after we had opened our gates and beckoned them forth. Thus we had to go to them.
Although the folding table and six wooden sliding stools I was carrying on my back wasn’t part of the equation, I had volunteered my services with the utmost seriousness I could muster.
Because Elves god damn it.
And maybe because I could eventually get them to bring pepper to me instead of having to go into the jungle and drown in my own sweat. However long it took to get a form of reliable communication up anyway.
“They look similar to ancient rune carvings of Men, but not. Much as demihumans and beastmen do to a degree.” My great uncle mutters to himself as we exit the gates, glancing from the corner of his eyes towards the equally frowning wolf beast. “Have you ever seen their get before Master Huntsman?”
Old Gurber shakes his head minutely, responding with an uncertain growl lowly from the back of his throat. “Never. I’ve heard old children’s stories about blue skinned demons with knife-like ears, but that’s the closest thing that comes to mind from my travels. Nothing like them where you dwarves are from?”
“No. Races of flesh and blood were a rarity, and of those only the truly hardy could survive that place. Humans certainly didn’t.” Lokir responds gruffly and visibly struggles not to tug his beard at the memory of our apparently hellish homeworld.
Dhurger are good at fighting and digging into solid stone. For good reason I’m told.
As we got closer and their features became clearer, I can’t say that I’m disappointed. As a whole all three fit the archetype of tall, comely, young, and slim. There isn’t a magical air or anything about them, but it grows ever more apparent that my mental image of what an elf should look like is correct, but ever so slightly wrong.
The two men as well as the woman have dusky, tanned skin and long hair pulled back into complex looking braids threaded with charms made of wood and bone. Their hair is actually quite fascinating, the color is a muted green but the shade of it subtly alters to lighten or darken depending how the sun is exposed to it. Their bodies are mostly unclothed save for loincloths and what look to be ceremonial ornaments of fire bleached bone and leather covering their chests.
It is the woman that steps forward as we near, placing an arm chorded tight with muscle tone and covered in an intricate full sleeve tattoo across her chest to tap her thumb and forefinger against her bared shoulder. She speaks what sounds like a greeting, caution glittering behind her large, amber eyes. Yet they burn with curiosity unbidden, almost appearing taken aback at the visage of the old wolf and the venerably grey dwarf.
Great uncle does much the same, regally placing an arm across his torso to hold his flowing beard in place before bending forward minutely. “Lo strangers. We sons of Dhazad do greet you. Our halls are welcoming and our axes sharper still.” Rising from his ceremonial greeting, Lokir straightens and gestures to me slowly with placid movements.
“Lo there.” I say simply with a nod and begin to work.
The elves watch with no little perplexion and a small amount of caution as I put the stools and table down on the ground. With deliberately slowness I go about snapping together the locking mechanisms of the table and stools to change them from storage to active use configuration. One of the two men tilts his head and whispers towards his other male companion momentarily before he is chastised with a sharp word from the woman who continues to watch with an ever growing focus.
Scary lady you brought along dudes. Good thing you don’t wear pants.
Ignoring the small byplay, I place the table down between us and place the seats down on opposite ends of the table. I unslung the satchel I’d brought with me and opened to reveal a set of finely detailed ceramic plates that I carefully slid onto the table. With them I also set down a series of steel cutlery to include forks, spoons, and chopsticks as well as rune inscribed drinking horns.
From the way the elves’ glances were growing into longer looks they were quite confused at this mysterious ritual indeed. The woman however made a small noise of understanding when I brought out a keg of apple cider and began filling the drinking horns.
The more talkative of the two men made a surprised sound when I twisted the spigot and allowed the frothy liquid to flow into a mug, followed by two more slightly louder exclamations when the runes on the drinking horns began to glow a dull blue and the cider within immediately chilled to a level where the temperature difference made the ivory frost over.
“L’fieo?” The woman narrows her eyes and makes to move her hand towards the chilled cider but visibly controls herself and glances towards Lokir with what I assume is a questioning look.
“Go ahead lass, cider don’t bite much.”
Taking his words as permission, the elf leans forward and pokes the cup.
Her surprised expression and words are expected. The way her thumb traces over the runes as well.
What none of us saw coming, was the way the woman scrunched her nose cutely before haphazardly pulling one of the bone charms hanging down her torso and glaring at it with narrowed eyes. The tattoo covering her right arm from knuckles to shoulder lighting up in lines of green and taking on a bluish hue even less so.
What first began as the smell of sweet fruits filling my nose quickly turned into something that reminded me of the nearly forgotten scent of a modern day freezer. The greenish blue glow trailing like live circuits wrapping around her arm turned entirely into the color of glacial melt followed by the bone charm held in her fingers beginning to frost and emit cold fog.
“L’fieo!” The woman proudly states placing the charm on the table and sliding it towards us with an excited smile.
Did this girl just reverse engineer a rune into a live spell!?
“Hrm hrm. Impressive.” Great uncle mutters, running his hand along his beard with a raised eyebrow as his free hand picks up the charm. “Well? What are you waiting for boy? Set the table for our guests.”
I turn to grab the basket at my feet and prop it on the table. The two elders have already seated themselves in the meantime and have gestured the elves to do the same, which they have done. The formerly stoic and cautious woman seems more like an excited young teenager than a grown woman as she watches Lokir with hawk-like eyes when he brings out a small chisel set, his monocle, and a rock he picked up from the ground.
The painted, tattooed, and mostly uncovered girl leans forward uncaring about modesty as Lokir begins to gently tap the beginnings of a rune into the small stone. The two other elves shuffle in their seats awkwardly when the she elf begins to lowly mutter to herself at every stray mote of magic sparking from the chisel and into the body of the rock.
“It’s going to be a while lass. Why don’t you have something to eat while I finish a small demonstration?” Uncle Lokir grunts, focusing completely on the rune being chiseled in front of him and nodding his head towards the basket.
The green haired girl blinks, looking towards where Lokir was gesturing to see my raised eyebrow and face filled with no little mirth. Rather than react with any sort of embarrassment, the woman visibly ignores my presence once more stare at the magic the elder dwarf was crafting without comment.
Hey. Excuse you.
One of the guys at least seems interested in the basket. He presumably asks a question and I mime eating a drumstick to which he responds with an ‘ahh’ of understanding.
It’s the moment I uncover the cloth covering the basket and pull out the still warm roast and bowl of fried potato wedges that I get a stronger reaction from all the elves present.
First, girl that was formerly entranced in Uncle’s rune carving sniffs. Next her eyes are invariably drawn towards the plates of food I’m placing onto the table. Next is the unseen, but most definite buildup of saliva if the involuntary swallow I see is any indication. The final nail in the coffin signifying my victory is the growling of a toned belly that hasn’t had anything to eat for who knows how long.
Yes. The power of food compels even the most brainy of nerds foolish elf!
“Ah… oiu’kondu? Shor’kat sinchenyis?” The she elf swallows again, looking at the marinated roast with a gaze full of uncertain desire.
“I don’t really understand what you’re saying at all so just eat this and we’ll figure out if you’re not supposed to consume meat later.” I respond with all seriousness.
I know that I’m gonna have three happy guests as soon as my knife slides into the meat and the juices begin leaking. Amber, gold, and purple eyes remain locked at every piece of food that is placed on their plates and while they have a little difficulty with the utensils placed before them, eagerness makes up for lack of experience in this case.
The meat and potatoes are consumed quickly and messily. The cider is polished off just as quick as are seconds and refills. I don’t feel disgust at their lack of civility in regards to eating habits, not when I get to watch such delicious expressions of surprise, enjoyment, and rapture at every unmeasured bite that is pushed into loudly chewing mouths as fast as the food can be swallowed.
Well, I don’t have ready access to sugar, but honey makes one hell of a substitute for fried doughballs.
“Do you like it?” I ask airily with a smile, entirely hiding the smug grin I’m feeling in my chest.
I think I know the answer to the question when the tanned and tattooed elf girl responds with her word for what I believe is ‘magic.’
“L’fieo…?” Wide, sparkling gems look down at my shorter form in a gaze that is absolutely bubbling with respect, uncertainty, awe, and mystification.
My Little Elf! Food is Magic!