AR 1211-12 Rissa the Dinner Guest

Rissa took a deep breath and knocked on the door. A moment later, the door was opened by a bald-headed dwarf whose black beard was lightly flecked with silver. He wore a red dressing robe with fancy gold embroidered trim, matching the gold of his earrings. The robe was tied about the waist, but it left a large V-shaped section of his prodigiously hairy chest exposed.

“Good evening, Mr. Redfist,” Rissa said politely. “I was wondering if I could speak to Professor Ulfred?”

The dwarf spoke with a gravelly voice, but nonetheless without the typical accent most dwarves had when speaking the common human tongue, “Arissa, good evening to you too. Sorry, Ulfred’s not in right now. He’s over at Professor Trent’s cave for their weekly chess game.”

“Oh, okay, sorry to bother you,” Rissa said, disappointed. She had promised Yari that she would talk to one of the professors about her encounter with Gaia, and Professor Ulfred was the only one she felt comfortable enough with to have that conversation. Even still, it took quite a while for Rissa to talk herself into coming here tonight. She knew having to wait until tomorrow would mean having to start the whole process of summoning her courage all over again.

Sensing her disappointment Ulfred’s companion asked, “Is something the matter, honey?” “Kind of,” Rissa said.

Bull Redfist opened the door wider. “Come on in, then. I expect your professor home soon. You are welcome to wait for him.”

Rissa thanked him and entered. The apartment was appointed with rich furnishings and eclectic artwork representing the styles of a variety of different races and cultures. Bull gestured welcomingly toward a plush sofa and Rissa sat down.

“You have a lovely home.” Rissa said. It was one of those polite things her mother always said when entering anyone’s house for the first time. But Rissa really did mean it. The place felt very comfortable, pleasing to the eye and other senses as well; delicious aromas of cooking food wafted in from an adjoining room.

Her host picked up a goblet from a nearby table, “Care for some wine?”

“Um, okay,” Rissa said surprised by the juxtaposition. “It’s unusual for dwarves to be drinking wine instead of ale.”

Bull gestured around his home, “As you can see, I’m not your typical dwarf. You are welcome to stay for dinner, if you like. I’m making roast pheasant with a citrus-herb glaze and a goat cheese and mushroom risotto.”

“Rissa toe? Are you making that up?”

“Risotto,” Bull corrected, enunciating every syllable clearly, then added with pity in his voice, “Oh, you poor child, you’ve never had fine elven cuisine, have you?”

“Not so much,” Rissa shrugged.

“Well you’re in for a treat. Don’t get me wrong, I love Eliza Happyfeet’s good ol’ Halfling home cooking that you grew up on. And here at school, Elda’s meat’n’potatoes ain’t bad. But once in a while you need to try something a little different, to really indulge your palate.” The dwarven tailor poured some wine for his guest and then excused himself into the kitchen for several minutes.

Rissa took the opportunity to explore up close the various trinkets on shelves around the room. Leaning against a bookshelf there was a rune-covered staff with a bent crook at the top looking rather like a question mark. Rissa touched the wood shaft and reflexively snapped her hand back. The staff was vibrating, as if it contained great magical energy. On the shelf next to the staff was an oval amber pendant with an ash leaf incased inside the amber. Then there was a gnomish music box, and next to that a gnomish image-maker picture of Ulfred, Bull, and an odd-looking gnome with an arm that looked metallic rather than organic. The haphazard architecture and brightly lit shop signs in the picture’s background suggested the scene was the fabulous city of Domesnardt. That thought made Rissa miss her friend Quac. She hoped that he was doing okay after the death of his family. Maybe someday she would get to travel to the City of Gnomish Wonders and see all those miraculous sights, not the least of which would be her friend as king of the city.

Bull Redfist re-emerged from the kitchen. Still looking at the ultra-realistic picture, Rissa spoke. “Mr. Redfist, do you mind if I ask: how did you and Ulfred meet?”

“Please, honey, call me Bull. Your parents introduced us, actually,” he said, sitting down in an armchair opposite her. “You’ve probably heard the story about how they found my Ulfred trapped inside a huge piece of amber.” Rissa nodded, and the dwarf continued. “Well I wasn’t there to witness that sight. But they brought him back to our ship. I will never forget first setting eyes on him. I thought, ‘finally a human with a beard!’ Honestly, I don’t know why so many human men shave their faces. The other humans on the ship—your father, his friend Ver-Ver—just looked like overgrown boys. But here, this new guy looked like a real man. Then they introduce him as ‘Butterfly’ and I just about died. No, this mature, masculine fellow couldn’t have a pansy-ass name like that! But they say he had amnesia and didn’t know his name. And for some inexplicable reason your father thought that Butterfly would make a good nickname.

“Anyway, soon after he joined our crew, he and the other heroes were doing a mission where they needed to have disguises. Since I have a little knowledge of theatrics, I did the make-up for all of them. When I was working on Butterfly’s disguise, I noticed his neck and shoulders were really tense, so I offered him a massage, we got to talking—oh he was so sweet and innocent back then—we had a little wine, one thing led to another, and…and I really shouldn’t say any more to one of his students!” Bull said with a wink.

Rissa was intrigued by his story and she couldn’t pass up the chance to ask more questions. “Did you always know you were, um, y’know, more interested in men than women?”

Bull chuckled. “Ever since I first got hair on my bal—uh—chin. Yeah, I’ve always been attracted to the male physique. Granted, I went through a phase where I tried courting lasses, because, well, tradition! There’s a lot of pressure to have a family and make babies. But before long I realized all that smooth skin just wasn’t for me. I was going to be me and tradition be damned. Unfortunately there weren’t any other men in the clan that thought that way.”

“What did you do? You don’t mean…before you met Ulfred were you never, um, with a man?” Rissa winced a bit, pretty sure that that crossed a line of politeness.

“Oh no, girl, there were a few flings here and there. A handful of my other clansmen were attracted to me too, they simply wouldn’t admit it out loud. In Dwarf society—and from what I understand, humans are this way to some degree too—we hold masculinity as an important value. That’s why our beards are so important to us.” He stroked his own beard for emphasis. “It’s something that sets us apart from womenfolk—not that there is anything wrong with being a woman, honey—but dwarf men are quite fond of their masculine identity and are loath to be seen as feminine in any way. And if someone finds out you are lovin’ on a man, the next question they wonder is ‘which one of you takes the female role?’”

Rissa opened her mouth to speak but Bull cut her off with a chuckle. “No, honey, I am not answering that question! Suffice it to say that the other gents didn’t want to be accused of being effeminate, so they always wanted to keep their rendezvous with me hush-hush. That meant keeping everything to occasional quick encounters, or if I was really lucky, a whole night of passion once in a blue moon. And then in the morning they go back to their wives and children.”

“Sounds lonely,” Rissa observed.

“Yeah, it was more lonesome than you can imagine,” Bull said, looking distant, as if recalling a painful past. “I had more or less given up on ever finding true love. And then Ulfred came into my life and the world changed. He’s a gift from the gods, indeed.”

“I think my brother’s in love with a boy,” Rissa blurted out.

“Oh really?” Bull said leaning forward like a master gossip. “Do tell!”

Rissa was happy to indulge him, “Well, Yari has a girlfriend that he is all lovey-dovey with, but then there’s this boy, Sardi, that he acts the exact same way around”

“And what’s this other boy’s reaction?”

“He acts all lovey-dovey right back,” Rissa replied. “But it’s just like you say, they won’t admit they like each other. I’ve brought it up a few times and my brother gets mad at me and says they are not boyfriends.”

“Well, honey, let me give you some advice,” Bull said sagely. “Whether they are or not, or whether they go there someday in the future, that’s really up to them. They don’t need to keep you informed. It’s very possible he’s not entirely sure yet what he wants or who he is. That’s not unusual. This is a time in young lives where a lot of strange and wonderful things happen, full of brand new feelings and emotions. Each person has to figure things out for themselves, without their sisters butting in.

“If he is going through what I went through, it can be a very, very difficult time. Maybe he will want to talk to you about it, maybe not. But he certainly won’t if he thinks that you are going to make fun of him, or blab to anyone else who might make fun of him. So make sure he knows deep down that you won’t. And if he still doesn’t say anything, that’s his business. Don’t get offended.”

“I guess you’re right,” Rissa said. “I wish Yari would come talk to you. It might help him figure things out. But how do I suggest that without him taking offense?”

“You don’t,” Bull said flatly. “From what you’ve described, he’d probably be upset if he found out you talked to me about this. It’s very personal, you see. Now I’d be happy to talk to him, if he wants the benefit of my experiences, but he needs to make that decision, not you. And there’s also the possibility you are reading too much into it. He may not be attracted to boys at all. So I’d let it be.” Bull rose and patted Rissa on the knee before heading back into the kitchen once again.

Letting something be was not something Rissa did very often, and she didn’t like the sound of it too much. Rissa did not have long to ponder that thought alone. The exterior door swung open and Professor Ulfred walked into the room. He spoke a dwarven phrase, a rough equivalent of “Honey, I’m home.” Then he noticed the girl sitting on his sofa. “Oh, Rissa, what brings you here?”

Rissa took a deep breath. It was time to switch topics to one that gave Rissa far more apprehension than her brother’s love life. “I’ve been hearing voices, in my head. I’m afraid I might be cursed, or possessed by a demon, or something.”

Bull walked out of the kitchen with a goblet of wine in hand for Ulfred. “Whoa, honey, no wonder you looked so distraught when you showed up here. You’re not kidding are you?”

“No.”

“I’ll let you two talk then. Dinner’s almost ready though, so don’t you go on so long that the bird dries out!” With that Bull took his leave.

Ulfred sat down on the sofa beside Rissa. “Tell me what’s going on.”

Rissa told him all about the encounter in the secret cave, and the entity that spoke to her mind. When she mentioned the name Gaia, Professor Ulfred’s face went white. He repeated her name as if she was an old acquaintance he had not heard from in a long time.

“Is it bad?” Rissa asked timidly. “Am I tainted with evil or something?

“No, I don’t think so,” Ulfred said. “Gaia is not evil per se, nor is she considered good. Some druids pay homage to her…I remember their ceremonies.” His voice drifted off for a moment, lost in a memory.

Coming back to the moment, Ulfred continued. “Gaia is an elder goddess, some say older than the Aesir and the Vanir, and aligned with neither them nor the fiendish powers. She remained neutral in the God’s War, as she typically does when there are such conflicts. But like all gods she has her own agenda, mysterious as that may be.”

“But what if it’s a demon pretending to be Gaia?” Rissa inquired. “Or a curse put on me by…” she couldn’t say Professor Trent; he and Ulfred were friends. “…someone who doesn’t like me.”

Ulfred nodded. “I don’t detect any sort of malevolent presence on you. But to be on the safe side, I can cast a Remove Curse on you, which should end any demonic possessions as well. If the voice you are hearing truly is Gaia, though, it will not prevent her from continuing to contact you. Just remember, you still have free will. You don’t have to listen to her or do anything that you don’t want to do. “

“What if I decide I do want to help her?”

Ulfred sighed heavily. “Then be careful. Getting wrapped up with a god can be like a child playing with fire. Sometimes you may get burned.”

Bull leaned on the door frame leading from the kitchen. “One thing that’s not getting burned is my pheasant. Dinner is served!”

Relieved to know she was not evil, Rissa turned her senses once again to the wonderfully appetizing smells filling the room. She could hardly wait to find out what Rissa-toe tasted like.

AR 1211-12 Rissa the Dinner Guest

Thraes BPRiordan