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Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #2265370
A dwarf's adventure
I'm not an author. I'm just a translator from Russian.
See an illustration is here https://invir-lazarev.livejournal.com/1506.html

The Deal
A short story by Summer Lenz

I am one of the dwarves of Chechemeka or, as it is called in the old tongue, Uza. In our clan, to get married, a dwarf must give his bride an unusual gift. Some of us prefer unusually shaped and sized gold nuggets, while others are masters of a craft and offer our mastery as a gift. Both of these are difficult and take a long time to obtain, but they are quite achievable. However, as a graduate of the Mining Academy, I decided to present a new mineral deposit to my beloved.
I wandered through the desert every weekend with a theodolite, a pickaxe, a shovel and a sample bag. I came back at dawn before my shift, covered in dust and thorns, with a dozen kilograms of waste rock in my bag.
No one believed I would succeed. My rivals were haunting my bride’s threshold. She herself had already lost faith in me and said that she would choose another, but I went deeper and deeper into the desert, until one morning I found myself ten kilometers from our mine. It was the first time I had returned in a good mood; in my bag were quartz, pyrite, tourmaline and sylvanite. Perhaps the mine that I found was not the richest, but it was worth working, I felt. I couldn’t wait to get back home and brag about it. On my way home, I had no warning of what was coming, and at first I felt quite safe.
“What’s the big deal?” I thought carelessly. “It's like Guanajuato here. There are a lot of people and cars and life does not stop even during the day.”
Living alongside people had made dwarves forsake the habit of keeping our eyes always open. We forgot that we were the people of the night. So, I ventured to return home in the sunlight and almost paid with my life for my carelessness. I took a shortcut through a thorny forest of huge, man-sized prickly pear cactuses. If I had found myself in a similar cactus forest on a moonless night, I would surely have fantasized about a lot of things; for instance, that a long time ago, even in pre-Columbian times, my ancestors or close relatives could have lived here.
However, at that moment I didn’t think about such lofty subjects. I got thirsty and stopped at the nearest cactus to pick one of the violet-red fruits, bursting out of the fleshy green leaves like pimples. In the dwarf dialect, they are called “nochtli”. People should not pluck these potato-sized berries with their bare hands: the thorns penetrate the skin and cause unpleasant itching. But dwarves with their tanned calloused skin are not disturbed by thorns. I grabbed the first fruit I came across and with all my strength turned it counterclockwise. Normally doing this is the easiest way to separate them from the leaf, but not this time. The fruit didn’t come off, and the prickly pear suddenly howled in a terrible voice, grew twice as big as it had been, and I realized that I had almost torn a wart from the ass of a cactus troll. Unlike an ordinary troll, who is afraid of the sun and is turned to stone by its rays, the cactus troll is active only during the day. All green, fleshy and prickly, he walks around in the desert, far from busy roads, but if hungry, he can come close to human habitation.
On a moonlit night or on a cloudy day, the cactus troll is slow and hunts only by ambush. By the new moon he turns into a termite nest, but as soon as the first rays of the sun touch his fossilized skin, the cactus troll comes to life and becomes fast and deadly again. Fortunately, these mighty, evil creatures are near-sighted, not too smart and very rarely produce offspring. They eat anything that breathes, and the whole thing at that, with bones, guts, boots and tools. If something gets into the troll, the is no hope of ever getting out. They even never crap. But even such omnivorous troglodytes have a favorite dishe - us, the cactus dwarfs. Knowing the habits of our enemies, we can disguise ourselves perfectly, and from time immemorial, we have preferred to work at night.
We could, of course, build one or two mineral oil refineries and scare off monsters with gasoline exhaust, but dwarfs, like trolls, do not like hydrocarbons either. Therefore, most of us continue to mine precious metals and gem-stones the old fashioned way. But up to that point I had only heard about trolls and seen them rather crudely drawn pictures. It just so happened that no one had ever managed to take a picture of the monster, and all existing pictures were drawn by human beings based on the blundering accounts of the dwarves who survived attacks. It’s funny for humans, of course, but our nation holds sacred a taboo on the drawing of all bad things. But what can you do if the legend says that the troll came into being from the cactus not on its own, but because a dwarf artist, overeating fermented nochtlies, drew eyes and a huge toothy mouth on a cactus? The image came alive. We also do not draw rattle gremlins, fire snakes and harpies. The latter two are fictions of the old world, and none of the cactus dwarfs really believes in harpies, but still we do not draw them.
I did not really want to look at the troll either. I had left behind my bag of samples and tools and made a dive for shelter into the nearest cactus bush, hoping with all my heart that it was not the partner of my casual acquaintance. They say that trolls walk in pairs and that they are not just hunting companions, but husband and wife. Fortunately, I landed exactly in the center of a young prickly pear, which had barely begun to bear fruit, and I immediately pretended to be one of its leaves. Dwarves have known how to transform for a long time. You don’t want to be eaten, so you pretend. Although there haven't been any troll attacks for a long time, the ability to transform has become as much a cultural tradition as a safety measure to avoid drawing monsters’ attention. Hide and seek is traditionally a dwarf’s game. Therefore, I had some time to calm down, figure out what to do next and get a good look at the troll. He also had gotten over his surprise and carefully sniffed the path around him. However, to describe him is really quite difficult. Imagine a tall old prickly pear that can walk. The accumulation of leaves up top is the head, and the toothy mouth in the middle of the muzzle opens like a flower, but it is such a flower that a human head or even the body of a dwarf could fit into it completely. The eyes are also similar to the fruits of the prickly pear, but the troll does not have a nose as such. He can listen and sniff with his ears. The body is yellowish, wrinkled and noticeably shriveled, and the legs do not spread wide, as is commonly thought among the dwarves, but simply hang listlessly along his body. I immediately realized that the creature had been starving for a long time, and that was its reason for wandering so close to the mine, where there is a great opportunity to stumble upon not only dwarves, but also people. A federal highway lies only a mile to the north. I had almost started to feel sorry for him when suddenly, he spoke to me.

“Dwarf, where are you? Your armpits smell so delicious. Respond, dwarf, and I will tell you where there is gold.”
His voice was high and crunching and similar to the screech of a brake-block on a mine cart’s wheel and the sound of a shovel sharpened by a steel file at the same time; I would not forget it until the end of my days. But what struck me the most was that the monster asked me in Ezar - the native language of the dwarves of Uza. Frankly speaking, I myself didn’t really speak my native dialect, mostly Spanish and English, but I understood absolutely everything.
“What the...,” I yelled out, and the troll immediately turned to the sound of my voice.
“Little dwarf, I can hear you. Come with me; I will show you the gold.”
Cursing my big mouth, I carefully detached myself from the cactus and slowly crawled to a neighboring plant. I still have no equal in hide and seek, and at the time, I was the champion of Mexico, so the troll did not notice my manoeuvre. However, he got dangerously close to me. I had to keep crawling, holding my breath, and only stopped when I was behind the troll’s back. But he had already carefully sniffed the prickly pear, which I had just been hiding behind, and was whispering loudly, “Come out, you little coward. There is a lot of gold here. I am not lying".
Trolls, like dwarves, can’t lie, but they also do not reveal the whole truth without purpose. The troll might mean only a wedding ring left over from the peasant he had eaten a hundred years ago. To find out what kind of gold the troll was talking about, it was necessary to ask the right questions, but I could see where any conversations with the troll would lead. For me, weakened from starvation, he was too fast, and his sense of smell was getting stronger. Therefore, I decided to crawl away as far as possible, and only when I could no longer distinguish the monster, I said loudly, “I live at the mine. You're not going to surprise me with a shiny trinket,” and I quickly ran away. Before I could melt into a trunk of a Joshua tree, the troll broke through the thick prickly pear like a pickaxe through sand and began to sniff at the place where I had just stood.
“You are a sly little one,” he muttered, feeling about on the ground with his grubby paws. “I know what you want. You think I’ll let you know exactly where the gold is. Well, I’ll tell you, but for that, I want to find out how a little rascal tastes.”
With these words, he jumped and landed right next to me. I could reach out and touch his legs, if at that moment I could even manage to move. Then the troll would surely have eaten me if it wasn’t for a rattlesnake. The snake had heard the clatter of the monster from afar and crawled out from harm's way into its pit under the tree in which I was hiding. When the troll landed next to the pit, the snake thought that it was being hunted by him and made a preemptive strike. The rattlesnake’s poison is dangerous for humans and deadly for dwarves, but for the troll it is only painful. While the monster, which was furious because of the bite, devoured the snake, I ran away a decent distance. I hid among the desert cactuses and listened. The troll was still roaring, cursing the snake and me as well. I heard him smashing the Joshua tree I had been hiding in, but I didn't want to turn around. It was necessary to run away as far as possible, but no such luck; I quickly got tired and stopped to catch my breath.
“Here I go,” I thought, “the sun is not even at its highest point and I have already miraculously survived twice. The third time I may be unlucky, so it hardly makes sense to try to figure out where the troll's gold is hidden.”
Anyway, I had already found a deposit, although it is a pity that the samples were still inside my bag. Of course, it was necessary to return for them, but no dwarf could run away from a troll with a bag of stones on his shoulder, even if the stones were precious. But even empty-handed, I would be easy prey for the troll as soon as I came out into the open. Of course, in an open place a human house can be quickly found, which means that I would put in mortal danger not only myself, but also the people. Stopping a cactus troll is very difficult; he’s practically bulletproof, poison does not kill him, pain only makes him angry and anger makes him stronger. Even if he does not eat you, he could easily kill or cripple you.
All I could do was find shelter in the cactus thickets and silently wait for the dark. It's easy for a dwarf to find shelter - any bush will do. The problem is scent. I had already confirmed that the troll had a fantastic sense of smell and he would pursue me until he found me. It was necessary to do anything possible in order to throw the troll off the scent. If I had a can of gasoline with me, its pungent smell would have distracted the troll for a long time, but I didn’t have a can. I decided, if I should return home, I would tell everyone that dwarves should never go on exploration without a bottle of fuel and that on all the dwarf routes we should make caches with a supply of gasoline.
“Dwarf, Dwaaarf,” I heard the voice of the troll in the distance, “Don’t hide, you little crook, I’ll find you anyway.”
I again pretended to be a leaf of a prickly pear. My nose rested on a ripe nochtli and I realized that I had no time to eat a single fruit. Maybe I could grab a quick bite while the troll is far away? The fruit was slightly overripe and its juice came out in all directions and splashed me. The smell would lead the troll to catch me for sure, unless ...
I threw the nochtli in the direction from which the troll's voice came the last time.
“Gotcha!” he barked, but then his glee gave way to a disappointed howl. It seemed that he had grabbed my bomb. I didn’t let my enemy come to his senses and started shooting nochtlies all around. The air quickly filled with the heavy sweet scent of the fruit. The troll howled with desperation. He realized that I had masked my smell.
“I will eat you piece by tiny piece, you little rascal!”
I was elated by my success. I happily rolled in cactus berries and decided to return for my abandoned bag full of samples. Convincing the dwarves that a new mine had been found was possible only with strong evidence. We have a thousand and one reasons not to start digging in a new place until the old one is exhausted. Rest assured that after the dwarves leave, nothing is left inside the earth; nothing could even grow there. Almost all the deserts of the world are traces of the dwarves. But if a deposit is found and given to someone, it must be mined. Most mounting mines are the result of a marriage, the creation of a branch of a family. I was going to establish a new dynasty, on the condition that I survive, of course.
Do not think that I did not remember where I got the samples. I could find my way back even with my eyes closed. But I was not the only one who wanted to win the hand and heart of my chosen. She had ten more dwarf-claimers, all of them as great as they come. They were all from good families and each one had much to offer. Any of them could ask her to marry at any time, but my next day off was only next week. That was why I decided to take a chance and return for my bag. There was no bag in the place where I had thrown it. My samples and theodolite and the shovel were all gone. I stared in disbelief. I crawled along the ground, trying to find even one little pebble. My efforts, as you can probably guess, were in vain. The troll had taken them. Obviously, he needed my things as bait for me. I was so desperate that I was ready to shout out the most desperate curses and let the troll find me, when suddenly the same crunching voice rang out behind me, “Have you lost these?”
I slowly turned around. The troll stood very close to me. In his left paw he was clutching my bag and in his right my shovel; the theodolite seemed to be lost
“My boss will definitely not give me a raise for this,” I thought for some reason.
The troll sniffed my bag and a shiver ran down his body. I saw the muscles tighten under his flabby skin. Mentally, I said goodbye to my bride. My eyes involuntarily rose to the sky and at the same moment my mouth seemed to open by itself and I shouted, “Stop!”
The troll involuntarily stamped his feet.
“You promised to tell me where the gold is,” I demanded.
The enemy grimly curled the petals of his lips and said, “Hmm, you have it, hmm… in your bag.”
“You're not even a very good liar!”
“How dare you, food! That night you were digging ten paces from me. I have been following your trail since sunrise. Do you think I was coincidentally waiting for you here, on the way to the old tunnel?
The tunnel. How could I forget about the abandoned tunnel - the former hide-out of teenage dwarves. Of course, I had never been there. Chechemeka left that place half a century before my birth. But I knew about this old tunnel.
“Well, you guys live there?” I asked.
“We hunt there,” the troll answered reluctantly. “Why do you need to know that? I'm gonna eat you now.”
“Suck it!” I answered rudely and did a runner. Any other time, my maneuver would have failed, but before shouting “Stop!” I saw that a huge black spot was approaching the sun. We dwarves live underground and don’t know much about celestial phenomena, but even I knew what a solar eclipse was. While we were talking, the moon had increasingly obscured the solar disk, and when I took off running, a shadow had covered the valley.
I can’t even remember how I ran under the stars which suddenly flashed over me. The world around me was blurred and the only thing I saw ahead was a reflection of a dwarf lantern above an entrance to the tunnel. Such lanterns burn even in an abandoned mine, so that the nation of the night remembers where their home is. Fortunately for me, it was a straight shot to my house. The star’s light quickly faded away, the sky brightened and soon I heard the clatter of gigantic legs behind me. The troll, immobilized for a short time by the absence of ultraviolet radiation, had come to life, and now he was rapidly catching up with me.
So, once I saw an entrance to the underground, I shouted from afar a password in the Ez’aro language and literally ducked into an barely opened automatic door. A panel gate behind me did not have time to close. The troll stuck his paws into the gap and in one move tore the door out of the groove, but the lock was made deep for situations just like this and the sunlight did not penetrate further than the length of the troll's paw.
“Food, come back! Come out - or else..!”
“Dream on!” I answered.
The troll stuck its face inside.
“A deal is a deal!” he growled.
“What kind of a deal?”
“I said that I’d tell you about the gold before I ate you. You demanded that I tell you and you got an answer. It’s your turn to fulfill the deal.”
It might come as a surprise to a human, but the words of the troll did not run counter to the truth. I demanded he fulfill the promise and he had. If he does not eat me, he will be considered to have told a lie. A lie or unfulfilled promise put a curse on a liar.
“I will fulfill my promise,” I said. “Just give me back my shovel.”
The troll's muzzle disappeared and immediately my shovel fell at my feet - an old beat-around iron grafter with a firm handle and a pretty ground down point. The tool with which I was going to fulfill my promise. Before doing this, I pulled off my shirt and tore it into ribbons, then pulled a belt from my pants and tightened it around my left leg below the knee. I held its end in my mouth. I took the shovel, raised and lowered it several times, aiming.
“Hey, what are you doing there?” the troll stuck his face into the tunnel again. It was at that moment that I slashed my own foot. Describing the pain that I experienced is meaningless. After the blow with the shovel, I immediately fell to the ground and screamed, clutching my crippled leg. The troll, grinning, watched as I was bleeding.
“Get out, you bitch!” I yelled, bending over in excruciating pain.
“The deal!”
I grabbed the stump of my foot and threw it at his muzzle. The troll did not dodge. His whole head suddenly turned inside out. The petals of his lips unrolled so wide, he caught a part of my leg on the fly and then swallowed it with a loud squelching sound. I did not vomit, on the contrary, I even got up, pulled myself together and began to bandage the wound, cursing loudly in Spanish and English.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” I asked the troll when the bleeding had finally stopped.
“The deal!”
“I have fulfilled everything, you dumbhead! It was about tasting me. You’ve tasted me. So, you didn't like it?
“Uh…” The troll rolled his eyes for a moment, considering my answer, and when he realized that “to taste” did not mean “to gobble up completely”, he cursed.
“Enough, the diner's closed. Get out of here!” I said.
“But I can still get you out of your hole,” he said.
“You’re welcome to try! I would love to crumble you into small pieces and add you to the concrete. I’d be missed by nightfall. They would organize a search for me and when they found you, they would put your petrified body in a cage and then put it on display at the Museum of Anthropology. I’m not in a hurry. Now I know where the gold is. My foot will grow back in a year. So, I have won anyway.”
“You are not tasty!” shouted the troll, offended.
“Well, spit it out then,” I shrugged.
The troll just shook his head. Then some rustling came from outside and his muzzle disappeared again. I crawled to the far wall of the gateway and, just in case, melted into it and closed my eyes. Judging by the light from the entrance, I was asleep for almost three hours. My leg throbbed with a dull ache and the bandages were pretty wet. I could hear the loud snoring of a troll outside, but also a strange clicking noise. I couldn't believe that it was a helicopter. Of course they would search for me, but I did not think that the rescue operation would begin before it got dark. Overcoming fear and pain, I crawled to see what was clicking out there. The closer I got to the source of the sound, the more I realized that it was not a helicopter. The clicking was uneven, irregular, like a ratchet on a rack jack. I looked out. The troll was lying in the sun and sleeping like a rock. My bag was lying next to him. A little to the side I saw my pickaxe, and then I noticed the source of the clicking. At that moment I felt really weird. A troll cub was playing with my theodolite in its tiny paws and slobbering over it with its small petal-lips, which made a weird clicking. The little troll had no legs yet. It sprouted out from the belly of its parent, from his nasty yellowish folds, and it was also ugly, but for some reason it did not cause disgust, just curiosity. However, I did not want to take risks while watching the game of the little monster. I crawled back deeper into the tunnel, where I lay down again at the far wall. I was about to fall asleep again when I heard a thin, prolonged creaking. The snoring stopped immediately. After a few seconds, the troll looked into the tunnel again.
“Dwarf, you alive in there?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
“Dwarf, I need to eat you.”
“How about the magic word?”
"Thank you, I'm not interested."
“Dwarf, you don’t have to be such a bitch, I need to eat. I’m ... I'm going to have a baby.”
Then a thin creaking sounded again.
“Ah ... Is it crying like that?” I asked when the creaking had stopped.
“It’s asking to eat.”
I was silent for a moment, then said, "Hmm, you have a cute kid."
“The child can not be born if I do not eat,” said the troll. “If it is not born it will eat me alive, but without legs it cannot go anywhere and would start screaming a scream that would carry for miles. Humans and dwarves would come to the sound, wait for the new moon, and split the unborn troll into crushed stone.”
“Even if all the trolls were crushed, you'd get no tears from me.”
“Ah, most of us are gone now,” the troll replied. “You and humans have crushed trolls into dust, but those that survived mostly died of starvation. We are the last. In order for the baby to be born, I need to eat a dwarf.”
“So you need to gobble up a dwarf so that you can survive and be able to continue to eat the dwarves?”
“You killed trolls so that we would not disturb you in your gold mining.”
“But why do you disturb us?”
“Because after your mines have been emptied we have nowhere to live and nothing to eat. We could assimilate only flesh, and after you have gone no living creatures remain.”
“You do eat carrion.”
“And what else do we eat?”
If I had not received higher education, I would have just fallen around laughing in the monster’s face in response to all his accusations, but at the academy I had taken a history course. These were exactly the same claims dwarves made against people before the conclusion of a peace treaty.
“Why did you say nothing?” I asked.
“Would anybody listen?”
I would spit in this ugly muzzle; rest assured, I would have done so if I had not seen a troll child.
“I'm offering you a new deal,” I said.
Eh, it was like a sophisticated cynical suicide. My mobile phone was out of batteries and out of range. There was no way that the troll would take me to the mine. He would be killed by shots fired from the tank. There was only one way to call for rescue. Old tires were lying at the entrance to the tunnel; apparently, the teenagers used them to block the automatic door. We set fire to these tires with great difficulty. When a huge black ball of smoke had burst into the sky, a ball of smoke which the mine rescue services would have easily seen, the troll and his child chewed both my legs off.
As you can see I survived - a rescue team showed up in time. The new gold mine that I presented to my bride at that time still makes a profit. Since then, I have discovered two platinum deposits and three fields with rare metals, and founded the largest steel group in the world. But every year at this time I come to the old tunnel so that the troll and his growing child and then his own child, and his child’s child, can bite off my legs, because trolls need dwarf flesh to be born. In turn, the trolls harm neither dwarves nor humans. I have no right to demand that my children, grandchildren and my great-grandchildren do the same. But the pride of my life is the Deal with the troll.

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