If you haven’t noticed the title of the chapters, the last chapter is the conclusion of the mini-arc of the meal series, which sets the setting for the rest of the arc.
***June 6th, 965 A.F. (Night)***
I was surrounded by the darkness of the night. Since it was drenched in sweat, the moonlight was able to reflect off of my skin, sparkling in the evening. I stared down at the most treacherous crisis that I have ever faced. This was worse than the time where I fought with Smaug, armed with nothing but a hammer in the Lonely Mountain. My mind raced as I tried to find a solution and cursed to myself as I remember the sequence of events that led me to this situation.
(Author’s Note: Insert flashback fade out sequence here.)
Before we head off to our house, Cecilia and I decided to talk to our parents about our relationship. Practically speaking, I have proposed to her, and she accepted. Even though we aren’t considered adults until 15 years old, it wasn’t unusual for dwarves to be engaged and married earlier than that. We just need our parents' consent at this point to seal the deal. I doubt that they would disagree with our engagement.
When I reached home, I saw both of my parents getting ready for dinner. They were a bit annoyed that I was late, causing them to worry. But when I told them about everything, their dissatisfaction was demolished. Instead, they started to tease me and asked me for more details about my relationship.
“So our son got himself a little girlfriend without telling us? He sure has grown up.”
“You said you are with that Webber’s little girl right? I think I saw her once in the chief’s meeting. She is quite a cute one.”
"Ajax, how did you guys meet?”
“Ajax, you better take good care of her!”
For the rest of the night, I was bombarded with typical parent questions about their future daughter-in-law. It was annoying, at the same time, fun. I never experienced something like this before. My mother decides to celebrate by making extra desserts for the occasion. Because of that, preparing dinner took her a bit longer than usual. By the time dinner was ready, it was late into the night already. I was starving by then and couldn’t wait to dig in.
After giving our thanks, we finally started eating. I wolfed down all the food in front of me. Even with his mouths full, it didn’t stop Duncan and his questions about my future with Cecilia. He started to ask about my plan to make money in between chewing his food.
“So, you are going to pay for Cecilia’s tuition as well? With both of your tuition combined that 60 gold coins at least. You probably want a bit more gold just in case of an emergency too. How are you planning to make that?”
“You are going to brew ale? Those won’t make much.”
“Nope. It is something better. I know how to make ale more delicious. It will be something new and I will sell it under the name of Belhern Village. Something fit for a king to drink.”
Duncan raised an eyebrow in suspicion. Usually, the upper echelon drinks only wine. Much like the printing press, wine was crafted only by the Royal Brewery and it is also heavily regulated. For me to proclaim that I can make an alcoholic drink that is fit for a king is unheard of.
“I will make a test batch tomorrow. You can taste it for yourself. By the way, everything that I do, you have to keep it a secret. This secret exists between only the 4 of us. You cannot tell them even if a relative or a close friend asks. I cannot let other people know how it is made.”
“Of course, I can keep it a secret. Speaking of ale…”
He slammed his mug of ale in front of me with a thud. A few drops of the alcohol split out of the mug from the impact.
“To celebrate your future engagement, here is your official first drink into adulthood. You better finish it, even if you think it’s disgusting.”
“Dear, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“He will have to get used to it soon anyway. Everyone would start offering ale to you once you are an adult. He can't turn them all down.”
I gulped audibly while staring into the cloudy brown liquid. Remembering how disgusting it tasted, I don’t even know if it can be qualified to call it an ale. Not wanting to disappoint Duncan, I made up my mind to drink it. I closed my eyes and chugged the whole mug in one go. I can still feel the warm sludgy ale with a hint of sourness sliding down my throat. Particles from the unfiltered drink stuck to my teeth.
“Congratulation on officially becoming a man, son!”
“*Cough* I am never doing that again. *cough*.”
We finished dinner on a high note with the long-awaited apple pie. Everyone was extra stuffed from the dessert. After supper, I dug around the house for suitable parts to make a mini-distillery. I have a week before the big distillery gets delivered to me from the blacksmiths. Seeing that I have never done it before, I want to do some scaled down tests before I go full size and distill a whole barrel of ale in one go. I hope that “crafting” from my abilities includes crafting alcoholic drinks.
It was well into the night and I decided to hit the sacks. Suddenly, just as I was about to change into my pajamas, my stomach rumbled. It was not rumbling because I was hungry, it was quite the opposite. It was rumbling because it needs to expel the demon from within. I ran downstairs and into the outhouse as fast as my little dwarf legs could carry me. When I got there, I ripped my pants down and squatted over the hole. I barely made it just in time. I started relieving myself with a sigh.
“It must be those damned god-awful disgusting ale.”
It was only a matter of time until I finished. With nothing to do on hand, I started to miss the days when I was back on Earth where I can whip out my smartphone while doing the duty to pass the time. But then, I remembered that there was something I could do. Seeing that it was safe to use it since I was alone, I pulled out the enchanted silver ring of holding that my mother gave me and started messing with it. I haven’t tried using it before, but she told me all I have to do to activate it is to concentrate on the ring itself. Then, any non-living item it touches will be automatically stored. To retrieve the item, all I have to do is simply activate it and think of the item. To deactivate it, simply imagine the word stop while focusing on the ring. It will also be deactivated after one minute of activation as a safety feature. She said that there is no limit to how many items it can hold, rather, things could be lost in the ring simply because you forgot it was in there.
To test the ring, I decided to use the handkerchief I had on me. I concentrated on the ring. When I did that, it displayed a greenish glow. I assume that it is in an activated state. I held the handkerchief next to it and like magic, it vanished into the thin air. I tried to retrieve the item next by thinking about the handkerchief and it reappeared in my hand. I attempted to do it several times before tragedy struck.
With a plop, the ring dropped into the centre of the hole. I could still see the ring’s glow. It was still activated and I could see clearly what was happening inside. The dark brown sludge that was in the hole started to form a vortex with the ring as its centre. The ring was sucking up everything.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! HOW CAN I DROP IT!!!”
With a slurping and sloshing sound, the glow finally faded away and the ring finally deactivated, returning everything to pitch black. Staring down at the hole, I was drenched in sweat.
(Author’s note: End flashback sequence.)
I wiped myself clean with some primitive toilet paper made from hemp before opening the door to the outhouse. With the help of the moonlight, I could see a bit of the reflected light from the ring.
“Do I have to climb down there? No, you are smarter than this. Think, Ajax. Be calm and think hard, make a plan. Act on the plan.”
I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
“Ok, first. I need something long with a small hook at the end. That’s easy. There were some rakes in the barn. It should be long enough to reach down there. I need lights to see what I am doing so I will grab a lantern from the house. I would also need lot’s of water to clean everything up. Ok, Ajax. Go!”
Since it was the closest, I went to the back of our house where we store water. When I got to there, I found out that all buckets were bone dry.
“Damn it! Of course, it had to be empty.”
Without thinking, I took the empty bucket and went to the centre of the village. In hindsight, however, I should have gotten the lantern first.
On the way to the well, I tripped over everything. Even on the way back I fell and spilled all the water in the bucket. I had to make a second trip. Not to make the same mistake, I went into the house to grab a lantern before heading to the barn for the rake. When I finally collected everything, I headed back towards the outhouse.
When I reached there, the door of the outhouse creaked in the eerie silent. Even the moon suddenly seemed to produce an uncanny glow. I stopped in my tracks when I noticed something moving from inside the hole. A hand grabbed the edge, pulling the rest of the body out. It was a humanoid figure with long hair covering its face. Its whole body was coated in sludge. It started to crawl slowly towards me. I stared at the scene as it was reminiscent of a certain scene from a famous horror movie. Does dropping the enchanted ring into the feces summon some sort of ghost?
“It’s ok, all I have to do is get someone else to watch the tape and I will be all right. Wait a minute, there is no tape, video player, or tv!”
Before I started to panic, the “ghost” called out to me.
“What are you doing just standing there, Ajax? Come over and help me.”
“Who else do you think it was.”
“What are you doing in there?”
“I heard you yelled in the outhouse that you dropped something. I figured it was the ring. Why else you were yelled so loud. Where did you go anyway?”
“I went to get tools to fish it out.”
I showed her all the tools that I got from running around the village.
“Right. You can do that. Your mom is an idiot.”
I brought a change of clothes for her and fetched more water from the well for her to clean herself. We decided to tell dad that she accidentally slip and fell into the hole to hide the existence of the ring. Dad took care of the cooking for the next few days because of the smell from mom.