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A new month means a new round of the Fab Four Fables. This month I had the honor of starting the story, and anyone who knows me knew that I would select either Fantasy of Sci-Fi for the genre. At the end of my story I will pass the baton on to another member of the Fab Four to continue the story. And, if you are new, the Fab Four is made of myself, Eric, Shannon, and SAM. So, without further introduction, here is A Merchant in Oria:

Genre: Fantasy

ox-wagon jpg    Kheldar had grown up hearing legends about the magnificence and glory of the eastern Dwarven kingdoms. They had captured his heart and his imagination since he was a toddler, paying close attention every time his father told the stories about his adventures there. His siblings always preferred tales of warriors battling dragons and other monstrous beasts, but Kheldar was different. Which probably explained why now, twenty years later, he was following in his father’s footsteps as a traveling merchant while his brothers were all knights in the king’s court.

He had tried for years to get enough trade to take him down the Great Silk Road, but the economic demand for his goods kept him bustling around the southwestern reaches of the continent. Kheldar knew that, in time, his occupation would allow him to see the beautiful kingdoms and cities across the world. But he had still been impatient to see the dwarves. And now he was on his way, traveling down the Great Silk Road, with a wagon full of wood and cloth and spices to trade for gems and ore.

His oxen were getting worn down from the years. He had inherited them from his father, just like he had inherited the wagon and tarps. He hoped this would be the trip that would pay for some much-desired upgrades. Hand-me-downs were great for apprenticing and establishing himself as a novice merchant, but if he wanted to really hit the big time he needed to look the part. He heard the dwarves were overly generous with their payments when they took to the merchant. He had no doubt he could charm the lot of them.

The band of merchants he started his travels with had all left along the way; they were still seeking profits closer to home. And they would find some profit in their trade, but he knew that they wouldn’t be capable of fathoming the riches he’ll have loaded for his return trip. He might need to trade in the oxen long before he made it back home. These ones wouldn’t be able to handle the load, at least not for more than a day or two. Kheldar grinned when he remembered the warnings that Aang, the oldest of the merchants, tried to pass along to him. Kheldar knew they weren’t true, because his father never included that in his stories about the dwarves. There was no way they murdered humans in the streets. That sort of activity sounded characteristic of the troll tribes in the northern mountains, not a civilized kingdom of blacksmiths and jewelers.

Besides, the dwarves honored the merchant’s code of protection that was put into effect during his grandfather’s lifetime. They wouldn’t dare kill him and risk starting a war.

*    *    *    *    *

Three days later, exhausted and covered in a combination of earthy elements, the kingdom of Oria came into view. His energy came crashing back into his mind and body at the sight of the magnificent kingdom, but his oxen failed to share his enthusiasm. They meandered along the road, stopping a few times to rip up some fresh grass to chew, at an unbearably slow pace.

It was just as splendid as he had always dreamed: castle spires and entire neighborhoods were chiseled into the surrounding mountains, encircling a large area. Groups of dwarven workers passed in and out of open mine shafts, digging for fresh gems and ores. The pounding of hammers against anvils rang through the air, reaching his ears miles before he reached the city gate. The only thing he hadn’t imagined was the massive pillar of charcoal smoke hovering in the air, seemingly bereft of movement.

For some reason the presence of the smoke bothered him because it contradicted the image his father had presented to him. Did he simply fail to mention that detail, or was this a new addition since his father’s last trip? Kheldar tried to shrug it off as they rolled into the city limits.
Dwarves on either side of him stopped and stared as his oxen plodded along the road. Clearly they weren’t used to visitors. Kheldar flashed his youthful, charming smile and waved to them in an attempt to win them over and warm their demeanor. It didn’t have the effect he expected; their faces darkened with sinister scowls and they crossed their arms. He continued to present a positive image as he rode deeper into Oria, trying to ignore the poor reception. He noticed the occasional house or building that had a sign on the door saying “Humans not welcome”. Could Aang have been right about the dwarves?

After a while Kheldar realized the inevitable: he would need to ask someone directions to the merchant’s guild. He dismounted from his wagon and walked over to one of the local’s houses. The top of the door reached up to his chest. The house was so low to the ground that he could see the dust and debris collected on the roof of the building. He hunched down to knock on the door and ask the citizen for directions.

The door opened and a stout dwarf stood beneath the frame. Thick black hair hung down below the shoulders and their beard dangled over their belly. Muscles bulged beneath a beige cloth tunic and calloused hands clenched into fists. Kheldar stammered slightly, squirming under the intense glare of the dwarf.

“Um, excuse me, sir-” Kheldar said. Before he could continue the dwarf slammed a fist into his jaw, leveling him on his back.

“I’m not a sir,” the dwarf said, spitting on Kheldar before she slammed the door shut.

*     *    *    *    *

THE RULES:

1. No one will be privy to the story until it is posted.

2.The next person won’t know who they are until they are tagged, when the post goes live.

3. The person publishing the most recent part must adhere to the following:

  • choose the next person to write the story
  • keep the title and stay within the genre provided
  • provide an image of their choice at the top of their post that relates to their piece
  • the story must continue as a whole and not combined with any other prompt or meme

4. There is no word count or time limit.

And so now comes the unveiling of my choice to have…Eric write the next portion of this story.