Hralf, Hewer of Sagas

Hralf? Yeah, I knew Hralf. Better than most, probably.

I first ran into Hralf in Old Peldentown, going on thirty years ago. I’m new in town, see, arrived just that morning, and I’d spent the day walking about and seeing what was what and where was where. I’d been exploring the marketplace, and I was running along between the stalls, dodging passersby, you know, when I foolishly glanced over my shoulder to look for trouble.

You should never go looking for trouble. It doesn’t pay. Just keep your eyes straight ahead, and keep running as fast as you can, and let trouble take care of itself. But I went looking, and it was a mistake, and Wham! I ran right into a brick wall. A pair of them, actually, with fur on. I had to take a moment to puzzle over this; masonry isn’t usually upholstered where I come from. But I didn’t have time to ponder it deeply, because my concentration was broken by a bellow in a voice so deep it made my teeth hurt.
“Blood and bones broken!”

It seemed to come from miles over my head.

“Nothing to do with me,” I thought, and made to keep going—and then something took me by the scruff of my coat and jerked me into the air. Next thing I knew I was dangling at arms length, eye to eye with—

Well, with Hralf, naturally. Who else would it be? But I gotta say, I’d never seen anything like him.

First, he was huge. I mean, huge. I’ve been around, I’ve seen all kinds of Big People…but this guy was maybe eight feet tall. And then there was the fur. And the mane. And the fangs. Dude was a lion, basically, if you know what I’m saying. The mane was black and the fur was tawny, and since he wasn’t wearing anything to speak of above the waist there was a lot of it on display.

He studies my face, and I watch him do it because I can’t do anything about it.

“I do not know you, do I?” he says.

“No, sir,” I say.

A strange light comes into his eye. He reaches into a small sack hanging on his right hip—well, I call it small, but you must remember that it was a very large hip—and pulls out, I kid you not, a stone tablet.

Which he hands to me.

“Would you like to read one of my sagas?” he says. “You would. I am certain you would.”

“Um, yeah, sure.” That’s a rule, never argue with crazy people. Giant lion dude wants to hand me a stone tablet instead of tearing me to pieces, I’m gonna take it and call myself lucky.

Damn thing is heavy. I study it as best I can in my elevated state.

“I can’t read this,” I say, and his eyes narrow, and I hurry to say, “I don’t know the language!”

“It is the language of my people,” he says.

“And who would those be?”

He strikes a pose, head back and chest out, and intones, “The Lords of the Veldt, the masters so mighty—”

He’s got more to say, I can tell, but he’s interrupted by a guy in an apron, a rude fellow I’d chanced to meet only a few minutes earlier. There’s a city guard with him.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” says the guard, to Lion Dude, not to me, “but this man is a thief. Could you put him down, please, so I can arrest him?”

So Lion Dude looks down at him, slow and easy, and scratches his chin with a claw he’s extended from the index finger of his free hand, and says “No,” in a rumble that makes me shiver. “Finders, keepers. Get your own little man.”

“But sir,” begins the guard, and Lion Dude roars, he roars so loudly that I drop the tablet in order to clap my hands over my ears. Lion Dude, he snags the tablet on the way down and puts it back into his sack. He’s quick, is what I’m saying.
I’ll give the guard some credit, he stands his ground, even if it’s just long enough to say, “Yes, sir.” The shopkeeper, his apron’s flapping in the distance.

And then Lion Dude, well, he tucks me under one arm and stalks off, me counting my blessings and him chanting something screechy and guttural in that subcellar voice of his.

Once we’re away from the marketplace I start to try to reason with him, you know, propositions like, “Gosh, this is uncomfortable,” and “You can put me down now, big guy,” and “Hey, look at the time!” and like that, but he pays me no mind at all.

That’s a lesson I learned real well: once the mighty Hralf gets to declaiming, he won’t stop for anybody. You just gotta be patient and wait until he runs down.

So he carries me along, down one street and then another, attracting no end of attention from passersby, and I’m starting to worry that some poor soul is gonna dump a slop bucket on us from an upper-story window just to shut him up when he hits a big finale and turns sharply into a dark doorway.

It turns out to be a tavern, my first bit of good news since leaving the marketplace. He dumps me on a table, overflows the bench next to it and hollers, “Two!”

I get myself seated, because I will not sit on the table even if the furniture is made for Big People, and by the time I’m settled a guy in a stained tunic is putting two leather jacks of ale in front of us.

I grab mine, and glad I am to have it, but Lion Dude just looks at the jack and then at the guy.

“I do not know you, do I?” he says.

“Uh, ah, no, but I’ve heard—” says the guy.

Out comes the tablet. “Would like you to read one of my sagas? You would, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, well, pretty busy today, ah—”

“I see.” Lion Dude puts the tablet away, leans toward the guy, and says in a soft menacing voice, “Then you would like to bring me a drink big enough for the last Lord of the Rolling Veldt. Wouldn’t you.” And then he shows his fangs.

The poor guy’s eyes get big and he gulps and he stammers and he looks about ready to, well, you know, and by that time a fat guy in a clean tunic rolls up with what looks like an oaken bucket filled with ale, except I see it’s got a handle on one side.

“I beg your pardon, mighty Hralf,” he says, putting it gingerly on the table. “He’s new, he didn’t know. Please keep the other.”

Lion Dude, or Hralf, I should say, he nods and extracts a few coins from his sack and lays them on the table. The fat guy snags them, then takes the first guy by the ear and drags him off. Hralf pushes the second jack in my direction.
“Don’t mind if I do,” I say. He nods and takes a deep drink from his bucket.

“Now, little man,” he says, “Hralf has need of you.”

“Hralf, is it? That’s you?”

He strikes a noble pose, which is a hard thing to do when you’re sitting at a table that’s too small for you in a two-copper dump of a tavern.

“Hralf, am I, the hewer of sagas, last of the veldt lords. Insults have angered me, avenged will I be.”

“You don’t say. And you need my help with this?”

“Yes, little man.”

“Halfling.”

He raises a mighty brow.

“I’m not a man, I’m a halfling.”

He gives me a look that encompasses the entire tavern and the street outside, and might not settle down until it reaches the outskirts of Old Peldentown. “You are all little, little man.”

“Touché,” I say. But I’ve got more than enough ale, and moreover he’s buying, so I say, “You wanna tell me about it?”

Up comes his chin, and he looks into the distance. “My land is the veldt, dry and discomforting, the land of the lords, my people that were. Plagues came upon us, each man and each woman, my people they perished, and I am the last. Yet glory is lasting, and great are the deeds, the doings so mighty they did ere they fell. They must be remembered for my tribe’s lasting honor, and I must dispose of a man who dismissed them.”

He went on like that for while, and I drank my ale, and finally I raised my jack and said, “OK, I think I got it.”

He looks at me.

“You’re from the outlands, to the south.”

He nods.

“Your tribe died of plague, all except for you.”

He nods.

“You’re writing sagas about them so no one will forget
them.”

He nods, and I carefully don’t point out that nobody will forget them because nobody knew anything about them to begin with.

“But somebody here in town insulted their memory, and you think I can help you with that.”

He nods.

“I’m pretty tough,” I say, “but I’m no bully boy, and no assassin either.”

He nods. “But you have other skills,” he says.

I get quiet. “So you want me to steal something from somebody.”

He nods.

“So who is it,” I say, and take a wasted mouthful of ale—wasted because I spit it out again when he says, “A publisher.”

“A publisher? Really?” I say when I’ve regained my composure. “You can’t overawe a publisher all by your widdle self?”

He gets a kind of sheepish look on his noggin and buries his snout in the bucket. I hear a muffled word that sounds like “injunction” emerge from the depths.

I’ll save you all the declaiming. The sad story runs as follows.

Our boy Hralf waltzes into town, sack of tablets in hand, and goes looking for publishers to make his sagas a household word from Old Peldentown to the back of beyond. No, scratch that. He’s got the back of beyond all sewn up already, and anyway there’s nobody left there now that he’s gone. And he can’t find a single publisher willing to take him on. First, you know, there’s not much market for sagas these days. Light ballads, sure, the occasional folk tale, broadsheets galore, monographs on this and that, the occasional hymn, all very popular. Sagas, not really. And worse, he says they have to be published in his own language. He’ll translate them into the common tongue, too, naturally, but “The songs of my people, the voice of the veldt. These two are together, so sunder them not!” The publishers don’t like that.

And then the last straw, he says they have to be published on stone tablets. Nothing else will do.

“And the publishers didn’t go for that? Imagine that,” I say.

“Simple it would have been, for a dwarf such as that.”

“Wait a minute. The publisher’s a dwarf?”

He nods, “Of earth and stone knowing, a chiseler by trade, the skills he has suit him my tablets to carve.”

I have to take a moment to get a grip.

“Did you tell him that?”

“Of a certain I did, I—”

“You called him a chiseler. To his face.”

He nods. “An ire then took him, the insults were flying, his beard it was flapping, my tribe he despised.”

“And you want me to do what?”

“Steal his treasure, of course.”

“Hit him in the pocket book, eh?”

He nods. It’s quite a sight to see, I should say, because when his head nods his whole mane nods too, about a half-beat behind.

“He’s a dwarf. They live pretty much forever, you know. Take his treasure, he’s not going to let it go.”

“But I need it to publish my sagas.”

“So, a practical caper with revenge but in passing—oh, lord, now you’ve got me doing it.”

He looks at me funny. “Doing what?”

“Never mind. He wealthy? He’s a successful business dwarf?”

“Of course. Only the best to laud the veldt lords.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

I started on the second jack of ale. Usually two half-pints is my limit, but hoo-boy. These barbarians don’t know what they’re messing with.

“He’s going to have doors with magic locks, you know, and chests that eat thieves, and guard-things, and an oubliette to keep unwanted guests in.”

He shakes his head.

“No?” I say.

“No oubliette.”

“No?” I say.

“Not anymore.”

“No?” I say. “Oh.” I say. “Injunction,” I say.

“Yes,” he says, and drains the bucket. “More!” he bellows over his shoulder.

I wait until the guy in the stained tunic staggers out with another bucket of ale.

“What’s in it for me?”

“Glory so grand, and—”

“Gold? That next word was gonna be ‘gold’, right?”

“If you must.”

I scratch my chin.

“Well,” I say, “I guess there’s no harm in taking a look.”

He gives me the address and says he’ll be waiting, so I toddle off in the direction of the commercial district. As I see it our dwarf Copperbane (yes, that’s his name) probably has two stashes of gold: one of working cash he uses to conduct business and one he curls up with at night. He won’t be happy about losing either, but if I snaffle the working cash that’s probably enough to suit both Hralf’s needs and my flat and sorry pocketbook, and I probably won’t get Copperbane’s entire clan hunting me because I made off with some kind of dwarvish heirloom.

Once I get there I see that it’s no good. The publishing house is pretty fancy looking, all columns and runes and nifty details, but it’s basically a block of solid stone. I’ve seen banks that didn’t look so secure. The entrance is blocked by thick iron doors with bronze banding and locks that are so enchanted they ought to glow in the dark. And the windows, hey, the windows: we’re dwarves, who needs windows? Heaven help them if the place catches fire, but it’s pretty much all stone inside, too, probably. If I were a dwarf I might tunnel my way in, but you know I think someone would notice.

So off I go to look at the place Copperbane calls home, and wouldn’t you know it it’s more of the same. Oh, he’s got a fancy wall around his place, and a bit of a garden, but I think that must be a leftover from the previous owner. Any living that gets done here, gets done inside. I manage a bit of a sneak around the outside, but there are no gaps anywhere.
Back I go to the Wounded Rat, or whatever Hralf’s local tavern is called, and report in. Hralf looks like he’s about to declaim at me, but I get him calmed down. “I can’t attack his buildings,” I say, “but there are other ways.”

The next day I station myself outside Copperbane’s house and wait for him to head off to work, so I can see how he gets from hither to yon, but he never comes out. “Dwarvish holiday,” I say. But when I swing by Copperbane Publishing the doors are open and workers are coming and going.

I stop one of them. “Mr. Copperbane in today?” I ask.

“Oh, yes,” says the dwarf. He’s wide and he’s got a forked red beard that’s taller than I am. “He works as hard as any from the time the doors swing open until they swing shut.”

I saunter toward the door, trying to look like an author, and try to step inside. Next thing I know I’m flat on my back, seeing stars. The dwarf with the beard helps me up.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “We’ve had some problems, and now nobody but employees are allowed inside. I should have said. Could I maybe take a message for you?”

I shake my head. “It can wait,” I say. “Right now,” I say, “I need a drink.”

And I find one in an establishment just across the way, and I wait, and I watch. Hralf has described Copperbane to me: short for a dwarf, about as wide as he is tall, balding but you can’t tell because he’s got this golden helmet he wears, and with a black beard pleated down his front with thick gold rings. In short, he’s the very picture of dwarvish prosperity. And just before sunset the big doors swing closed, and I still haven’t seen him.

Now, Copperbane Publishing is on a block by itself, and there’s only the one door, see? I’ve been all around it. So either Copperbane can fly, or there’s something else going on; and I’ve never met a dwarf who can fly for more than one or two mostly useless flaps of his beard.

So that leaves only one thing. I think about where I am sitting, and where Copperbane’s house is, and the likely path between them, and the slope of the land, and where what’s left of the river Pelden runs in its distress, and I do some figuring.

And that’s why, a few days later, Hralf and I are studying a wall in one of the more squalid of the Old Peldentown sewers. And not just that wall, but the wall opposite, and the ceiling above.

We’re hipdeep in muck, or rather Hralf is, because me, I’m sitting on his left forearm.

“You see that wall over there?” I say. “That’s old human brickwork, what you can see of it under the mold. Been there for a hundred years at least. But this here, this is dwarf-work, and much newer. Along he comes, he and his crew, digging along, and you know, muck flows downhill. It all runs to the Pelden. Where he started, and where he was going, he was going to hit this somewhere. So what does he do? He walls it up again, and goes over. I’m betting there’s a small building, a house, maybe, just over our heads, that’s all boarded over. Nobody goes in, and nobody goes out. But Copperbane, he goes through. Waddaya reckon?”

“Ordure and offal, my nose to be nobbling!” says Hralf. “Can we go, now?”

“Yeah, sure. If you go about fifty feet that way, there’s a vent I can climb out of. You’ll make better time through the rest of the sewers without me.”

It was worth a try, but I didn’t expect him to go for it, and he didn’t. At least he didn’t start declaiming at me. It’s hard to declaim at the top of your lungs when you can’t hardly breathe. Then we got cleaned up, and by the time he had finished—and the less said about that the better—I’d been and come back.

“Sure enough,” I said, as I climbed onto my bench at the Wounded Rat. “There’s a house. Not much to see, and the front door is walled over, but I found what’s left of a trapdoor on the roof. Looks like the rain’s been getting in for years—the whole place is falling to pieces except for Copperbane’s precious tunnel running right through the main room. It’s good dwarvish stonework, but I expect between the two of us we might be able to break in.”

“A pox on all publishers, their tunnels to travel!” he says. “Crowbar and pickaxe, our prey to be having!” Then he calls for more ale, which comes pretty quickly, though not as quickly as it could have considering how the place was clearing out when I came back.

In the end we wait for two weeks, until the Dwarven New Year. There’s always lots of tall goings on in Short Town during that period, and all the dwarf-owned businesses are shut up tight for the three days it lasts. I don’t know what they get up during those three days, not being, you know, a dwarf, but I figure it’s a perfect time to break through that wall and see what’s what and where’s where. If you know what I mean.

In the meantime, I sit back and watch Hralf work on his sagas. Every day he grabs a slab from the big stack in his lodgings and starts banging on it with his hammer, chanting softly to himself. It’s cute the way he nibbles on the pointy end of his chisel when he’s stuck for a word. He hammers away until he fills it up, kisses it, and tucks it into his sack—which I’d like a closer look at, ain’t no way there’s room in there for more than one or two of those tablets, and he’s shoved over a dozen in there just in the time I’ve known him.

And then we go and drink ale by the bucket and half-pint.

On the big day we rise before dawn and pass quietly through the streets to the house where the tunnel is. I’d been worried that it’d be a job keeping Hralf quiet, but Lion Dude makes no more noise than I do, and with those claws of his he’s onto the roof before I am. After that, well, things get a little louder for a bit, the upper floors having the integrity of a Dramurian pawn broker during Customer Dissatisfaction Week. I couldn’t stop the neighbors from hearing, but they haven’t seen us and by the time Copperbane starts asking questions I plan to be a good two-and-a-half days from Old Peldentown.

Breaking into the tunnel, that’s easy. I’ve got my wits about me, and also a bit of this and that; Hralf has a pick and a crowbar; and between the two of us we make short work of it, good dwarvish stonework or not. I’d figured that’s how it would be—Copperbane might be wealthy, but enchanting a mile’s worth of tunnel, well. And a bit of this I’d been saving for a rainy day muffles the banging quite nicely.

We wait for the dust to settle, and then I peek inside. “Hey, this is nice!” I say, and it is. The tunnel’s plenty tall enough for me, and wide enough for three dwarves together, which is pretty darned wide. The floor is neatly tiled, the walls and ceiling are plastered smooth, and there are lights hanging every couple of yards. Not torches either, but real dwarvish glow lamps. And not a spider web anywhere!

Hralf crawls inside after me, muttering something about “little men,” which is no surprise. Copperbane wasn’t building for giant lion dudes, and the poor guy has to bend himself horizontal just to fit.

We get our next lucky break when we get to the publishing house. There’s a door, sure; and it’s locked, yeah; and it’s a dwarvish lock, true; but it ain’t enchanted. And by the time we get there, what with stooping and crawling, and banging his head on every third lamp, Hralf, he’s not too worried about sneaking—and he’s a darned good chiseler himself, if you know what I mean.

It takes a little while, but soon enough the door falls away to reveal a basement room and a greeting party of snarling, slavering watch-things, attracted by the noise. But they don’t last too long. Not much into reading, your typical watch-thing. It’s surprising, if you think about it—they’ve got the attention span for a good long saga, but I guess they just don’t have the interest.

Also, I’ve never taken a Lion Dude with me on a job before, but I decide that I could get used to it.

Now, if this were a bank our troubles would just be beginning. I’d be expecting tripwires, Eyes of the Seven, magically activated security gates, pit traps, and all manner of other devices for delivering us up, as a whole or in pieces, to the managers on their return. Here, not so much.
Oh, there is a pit trap near the main entrance, but I gather it’s been out of commission since Hralf’s last visit. Hralf strikes a pose while he shows me what’s left of it.

We find Copperbane’s office without too much trouble—no big deal, just follow the fanciest stonework—and to no one’s surprise the vault is nearby: a little room, convenient to the boss, containing nothing but a great deal of enchanted stone work and an iron door big enough even for Hralf. I leave Hralf to his own devices while I get busy with the lock, and that’s a mistake. Lion Dude has never had to learn not to go looking for trouble, and like I say, when you go looking for trouble you’re sure to find it.

After half-an-hour or so of fiddling the door swings open, and I’m feasting my eyes on chest after chest of gold coins and wondering how many we can fit in Hralf’s sack next to all those tablets, and how many are likely to bite us if we try to open them, when I hear a bellow.

“BLOOD AND BONES BROKEN!”

I figure we’ve been discovered, and not having a sack of my own I’m out of there in a jiffy. I trace the bellows down the hall to a kitchen of sorts, keeping a careful eye open for dwarves and their ilk—but all I see is Hralf, standing in the middle of the room. He’s breathing hard and staring at the floor by the wall. I follow his gaze, and there it is.
It’s gray and square, and it’s blotched with spilled tea, and it’s holding the door open.

Hralf bends over slowly and picks it up. His eyes are bright as he holds it tenderly in his hands. He looks it over, then washes it under the water pump, trying and failing to rid it of the tea stains. He dries it off on somebody’s cloak that he finds hung over the back of a chair, and tucks it carefully into his sack.

And then he breathes deeply, and again, and then he gets a look in his eye that I haven’t seen before, and there’s just enough time for me to think, “Oh, shit!” before he grabs me and bolts for the tunnel, roaring like a lion possessed.

That’s a ride I don’t really want to remember. There I am, clutched to Hralf’s chest by one mighty arm, watching the tiles go by just under my nose as he gallops along, nearly horizontal, bouncing up and down and and not just hitting but smashing every other ceiling light. I leave my stomach behind as we go up the stairs, past the hole we made in the wall, and back down again, Hralf’s breath is coming faster and faster until he’s puffing in double-time, loud and hard and almost deafening. And it all goes on much longer than you’d think possible.

Hralf slows as we emerge into a larger room, and I notice he’s fumbling about in his sack. He heads up a broad stairway, and I catch just a glimpse of a hallway before we burst into a courtyard, a courtyard that’s dangerously full of dwarves.

He tosses me into a potted plant by the door, and as I scramble behind it I see he’s got the tea-stained tablet in his massive hand. All eyes are on him as he scans the room, his chest still heaving: dwarvish servants with platters and trays, dwarvish guests at long tables, dwarvish musicians in a gallery just above his eye-level, and across the way, on a raised platform and under a canopy, old Copperbane himself, plaited beard and crested helmet and all.

There’s a moment of stunned silence, broken only by the sound of Hralf’s breathing; then he’s in motion, his right arm swinging like a discus thrower’s, and between breaths he hollers his battlecry: “YOU SHOULD! HAVE READ! THE SAGA!

He lets go of the tablet and it goes spinning over the heads of the assembled guests, straight and true, and it’s a good thing Copperbane ducks because the tablet snaps the crest right off his helmet, hits the wall behind him, and rebounds so hard it knocks his chair over onto its face with him underneath it.

And then Hralf wades into the crowd.

“DAMNED LITTLE MEN!” he cries, and after that it gets ugly.

The nearest servant drops a platter of tidbits and launches himself at Hralf’s knees. Hralf snags him and sails him into the gallery, taking out a harp, two flutes, and a cello.

“A pox on all publishers, all printers be pummeled!”

The next servant is sent skidding down the length of a table, knocking trenchers left and right and increasing the smell of ale tenfold.

“Dwarves in their diggings, stingy with headspace!”

Two of the guests, looking quite fine in matching square ensembles of brown velvet, rise up, and letting the remains of their breakfast fall to the floor rush him from both sides. He takes one in each paw-like hand, scattering gold buttons, and slams them together before tossing them aside. One smashes into an array of kegs, and the other ends up headfirst in a giant cake by the opposite wall.

“Uncultured critics, all literature lacking!”

By this time Hralf has moved into the middle of the room. Dwarves are flying everywhere, and I see Copperbane, peeking out from under his chair. Hralf starts bellowing out one of his sagas, stopping every other line to translate it into Common, and I gotta say, his word choice is unique but Lion Dude’s got rhythm for days.

Dwarves—city dwarves, anyway—they don’t usually start trouble, but they aren’t shy about finishing it. It looks like Copperbane’s entire clan is present, and this is no tavern brawl where guy A hits guy B who gets knocked into guy C who looks around and hits guy D by accident. There are the dwarves, and there’s the enemy—that would be Hralf—and then there’s me, and while I don’t think much of guilt by association it’s hard to blame them for jumping to conclusions.

Hralf is a whirlwind but dwarves are sturdy, and there’s loads of them, and before long they swarm him and he goes under. Then there’s just me, and I raise my hands and try to look harmless.

It’s a good thing for us that Hralf’s tablet didn’t take Copperbane’s head off, or we’d have been looking at the Big Swing. As it is, it seems we did them a service. The brawl doesn’t usually start until the third day of heavy drinking, but by giving the assembled guests a common target, Hralf has prevented the usual hard feelings among the in-laws.

In the end the beak gives us thirty days in the Old Peldentown lockup for disturbing the peace. While we’re there I give him some advice.

“Hralf? I’ve been thinking.” I say.

He stops trying to pull the chain out of the wall of the cell, and looks down at me. “What is it, little man?”

“I’m not sure you’re cut out for a life of thievery.”

“Perhaps you are right,” he says. “But I must publish my sagas.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve got a cousin, he works for an arcane reclamation outfit, up the river in Clutterback City. Last I heard, they were looking for some muscle.”

“Tell me,” he says.

“There’s not much to tell. They send out teams, they go dangerous places, they fight nasty creatures, and they collect magic artifacts. And instead of getting locked up, they get paid for it!”

Hralf thinks about this, and as he’s thinking he tries to scratch his nose for the five-hundreth time today, which he can’t because the chains are too short.

“Tell me more,” he says.

“Well, you could raise some cash that way. Save your coppers, and then, you know what you wanna do? You wanna buy a beat up old temple to some god who’s down at heels, spruce it up a bit, and mount your tablets on the walls. And then anybody who wants to can walk in off the street and look at them. No publishers, and nobody but you likes carrying around stone tablets anyway, am I right?” I nod vigorously. “You know I am.”

Hralf doesn’t say anything, but he starts humming under his breath.

So we do our thirty days and leave town. He heads upriver, and me, well, I head in the opposite direction.

I’ve run into him now and again over the years. Last I heard he’d settled down in a nice little temple in Brightwater, eating chowder and annoying the locals. He’s probably still there, if you’re interested. And if you’re really lucky, maybe he’ll ask you to read one of his sagas!

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