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Chapter 6

The group spent some time pondering an answer. They were all in fine health—somewhat to their own astonishment, after the harpy attack—and even Dubricus had recovered from his earlier wounds. There seemed no reason to delay their next action.
    "In fact, these walls feel as if they are confining me, I am itching to adventure again," he added. Are the woods calling you? Robin almost asked, but restrained herself.
    Brother Martin excused himself to check on how the bakery had fared in his absence. Dubricus took a closer look at the runes and decided that the jade pieces might be badges. There was another rune repeated on all of the weapons, which he thought might be a clan mark.
    "Do we have any reason not to trust this dwarf, other than the fact that he runs a pawnshop?" Harrick wanted to know.
    The human shrugged. "Dwarvish reputations are not among the best, but of this particular individual, the times I have heard things said about him I have heard nothing more than the usual scandalous rumors about dwarvish behavior, which those of us who are of a more enlightened past have learned to overlook." They had all agreed that they shouldn't try to sell the items at the Keep, where they would have no way of knowing if they were getting a fair price. "If we are not selling it to him, it will have to be stored somewhere. You said you had cleared out a locale back at the caves? Would that be trustworthy? Or we could bury it...."
    "We could put it in the well," Harrick suggested, an idea that appealed to the others. They would put the loot in an oilskin, hammer a spike into the wall of the possibly-bottomless well, and chain the bag to it. Anything that could find it there, deserved to steal it.
    They turned their steps toward the pawnshop (also the locksmith's) tucked beneath the overhanging walls, in hopes of learning more before they returned to the cave-riddled valley. Summer had arrived, almost unnoticed in the midst of their adventures, and the morning was warm. They passed through the open front door into a room divided in half by a long counter. On the far side stood what they presumed to be the owner, hands braced on the countertop. Obviously a dwarf, he was standing on something to give the illusion of near-human height.
    "Good morning, sir," Terzin greeted him.
    "How are you?" he replied heartily.
    "Good, thank you."
    "Glad to hear that."
    "We were hoping to have something appraised."
    "Well, by all means, come in and close the door. People hereabouts call me Mouse."
    The adventurers introduced themselves.
    "And I am Dubricus." He stood at the door as if guarding it, arms crossed and scowling slightly. It looked for all the world as if he was trying to be intimidating.
    "Yes, Dubricus, I know," Mouse replied patiently.
    There was no one else in the shop. Terzin pulled out the crossbow and set it on the counter.
    "That is an excellent piece of workmanship," Mouse observed. "May I?" At Terzin's nod he picked it up to examine more closely. "You're the group of people who have been traveling out to the caves, correct?"
    'We're among them," Terzin replied cautiously. "I think there's a few others in town."
    "Well, there were, but... weren't you going to be traveling off with the other group, Dubricus?"
    "I decided it would be wiser to bide my time. I see that I was correct," he answered sternly; the others could only wonder at this display.
    "Hm. Clan marking."
    "Do you know whose?" Jared asked.
    "I can find out. Give me a moment." He hopped down from his platform and disappeared. They could hear him rummaging around before he walked under the counter's pass-through (where a human would have lifted the hinged section), carrying a small book. "Truk!el," he informed them, showing them the rune on the page.
    "Who are they?"
    "Very strange," the dwarf shook his head. "They're a primarily scholarly clan, more than anything else. Less mercantile, more history. Heavily influenced in the odder aspects of dwarvish religion, which I hold no truck with," he added, a touch primly. He tossed the book back up to the countertop and walked back around to the other side, climbed back onto his perch.
    "As a point of academic curiosity, what would 'the odder aspects of dwarvish religion' be?" Harrick wanted to know.
    "Odder aspects... well, they're odd," he began awkwardly. "Obviously, it directly involves the use of the Summer Gods, but imagine how the Summer Gods would mutate to people who never see the sun."
    "Okay," he nodded, thinking about the implications.
    "There's a lot of heavy importance to family discipline, to clan honor, the religious structure itself when you get down into the deeper caves; all the gods have different names, and there's a highly structured family setup for them. Who's in charge, who isn't, what their positions are within the clan.... Like I said, the deeper you go, the stranger it gets. I'm from one of the surface clans. That's all enough for me."
    Terzin cleared his throat. "You haven't answered my question: how much is this worth?"
    "Well, it looks like it's in excellent condition," he judged. "If I'm any judge of runes, it looks like it has an Elemental enchantment on it. What is the current going rate...." Mouse looked through another book. "I could probably give you 160 pennies for it. Mind you, I don't quite know who I'd sell it to, except immediately turn it over to the town," he admitted.
    "If we were to find a member of the—Truk!el," he stumbled on the click, "how interested would they be in getting it back? Would they want it very much back, or would they be indifferent, would they kill us for it...?"
    "For something like this? They'd be interested to have it back. They'd probably offer you more than I'm offering you right now to get it, if only because it's a family heirloom. But this is just a crossbow. Now, if you have one of their clan honor battlehammers, or a clan chain, that would be different. But a crossbow, you could carry it around in the street and they'd look at it and they'd say where did you get it? and they perhaps might get belligerent with you about it, but more likely they'd offer you a deal. In the deeper clans, your weapon becomes your honor," he informed them. "The crossbows not as much, but the hammers and picks, definitely. What else is in the bag?"
    Terzin pulled out a jade piece, deciding that he wouldn't show him the hammer.
    "Luck!" Mouse exclaimed, adding, "That's the rune," in response to their puzzled expressions. "Did you find this with the crossbow?"
    "We found that in a nest of harpies. It was a fairly unpleasant afternoon," he understated when Mouse looked somewhat astonished.
    "Obviously didn't bring much luck to the person carrying it," Robin remarked.
    "It's a mercenary marking," the dwarf explained. "Groups will go out, especially if they're hiring themselves out as mercenaries somewhere, they'll pick one of the 144 runes, mark something with it and they'll all carry it."
    "So it's one of the runes for a warrior?"
    "Mercenary," he corrected firmly, adding something in Dra'ka. "The words are very different. There is no direct word for warrior; one of the words for warrior means that you are a person bound to defend the clan, the other one is a term that means you are someone who works for money."
    "I see. How much would it be worth?"

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