The creature set a murderous pace. The Halfling was not prepared for this. He had been conserving his strength, resting often and finding what shade he could in valleys and behind rocks. But if he wanted to keep up, and claim his status as the one who discovered the creature, he was forced to trudge along in the constant burning sun, cutting a more or less straight path home. His greatest fear was that he would fall behind or even die before he got home, surrendering the glory to the next person to stumble across the creature. That thought kept him plodding along.
The creature, on the other hand, seemed completely unaffected by the blazing sun. He wasn’t even sweating. He just kept his shadow in front of him and kept marching, having been assured by the Halfling that this strategy would take them to his home. The creature never even bothered to take off the sweater, though he could be seen to scratch at the coarse fabric from time to time.
Finally, after what seemed like days but was closer to hours, the creature called a halt. The Halfling collapsed where he stood, too tired by the relentless sun to even think of looking for shade or setting up the awning he carried. The creature walked back to where the Halfling had collapsed, peeled the
smaller man’s pack from the back of his sweat soaked shirt, and pulled out trail rations and the awning. He swiftly assembled the poles and canvas over where the Halfling lay in a daze. Then he sat down outside the shadow and helped himself to some of the Halfling’s rations.
After a bit of quiet munching he decided the Halfling wasn’t coming out of his swoon without help, so he took a canteen and poured a trickle of water into the mouth of the dazed young man. Unfortunately a bit of it went up the Halfling’s nose and, while it was effective in waking him, it didn’t improve his mood.
Sneezing and spluttering, the Halfling shoved the canteen away, spilling some of the precious liquid.
“Whadja do that for!” he mumbled past his thick tongue.
“It was an accident, I was simply trying to give you a drink and missed.”
“I can drink on my own, thank you” muttered the Halfling, grabbing the canteen. “I don’t have a whole lot of water left, don’t waste it trying to drown me.”
“If I wanted to kill you, would I have put up your awning? I know your brains are baked from the sun, but try to think a little bit. I need you to get me to your home. And to speak well of me to your leaders. It was an accident, get over it.” The stocky creature sat back on his haunches in the bright sun and scratched at his side through the thick sweater.
“Fine, fine.” The Halfling wasn’t quite ready to give it up just yet, he was in a bad mood after being forced to chase the creature through the hot sun and wasn’t feeling particularly trusting or charitable. But he realized he wasn’t going to gain anything from arguing and the creature’s words made some sense to his sun addled brain.
In one of those leaps of logic only possible when completely exhausted, he realized he didn’t know the creature’s name, or if it even had one. He’d simply been calling it “the creature” in his head. Finding out the answer suddenly became unreasonably important to him, it was probably the heat, but he latched on to this idea and popped the question.
“My name? Well, yes, that would be the logical thing to do. Sorry, hadn’t really come up in conversation, had it?” The creature grinned, and the Halfling wasn’t sure he was going to answer for a second.
“Bairloch. Its short and simple, but a good Dwarvish name.” The creature said, adding another piece to a slowly assembling puzzle.
“What’s Dwarvish?” The Halfling asked, realizing yet another question his exhausted and boiled brain had neglected to ask. “Is that what you are? What your people are called? Dwarvish?”
The creature just looked at him for a few heartbeats before responding. He knew, intellectually, that his people weren’t known outside his homeland, but the thought of not knowing what a Dwarf was was entirely alien to him. After all, he knew what a Halfling was.
“We are Dwarves,” he finally answered. “I am a Dwarf, my people are called Dwarves, our creations and customs are called Dwarvish things. Like you are a Halfling, I am a Dwarf.”
“Never heard of Dwarves.”
“Of course not, that’s the whole point isn’t it? That’s what’ll make you famous. You’re the first Halfling to discover a Dwarf.”
It took a second, but the Halfling eventually put another question together in his mind. “How’d you know I was a Halfling. If I’ve never heard of Dwarves, how have you heard of Halflings?”
Bairloch chuckled and smiled as he answered. “That, my young explorer, is a long story and if I were to tell it here you’d likely die of heatstroke or thirst before it was done. And you likely wouldn’t believe me. But there may be time for it once we reach your home. Though I know your natural Halfling curiosity will fill the hours between here and there with a million more questions, they’ll just have to wait.”
The Dwarf stood, though to be honest he didn’t get a lot taller from when we was squatting. “So, are you ready to get moving?”
The Halfling took another pull from the canteen to wash down his dry ration. “I guess, the sooner
we’re home, the sooner I’m famous. But try to take it a bit easier on me, or I won’t be much good to you when we get there.”
“I’ll see what I can do. I’m almost as impatient as you are to get there. My task is urgent and I wish to be about it, and this isn’t the only delay I’ll have to face before it truly begins.” Bairloch the Dwarf was stuffing rations into the pack as he spoke.
The Halfling moved to disassemble the awning, dreading the return of the full sun but knowing there was nothing he could do to avoid it. It hammered back down on him, seemingly stronger for the time he sat in the shade. He groaned loudly as he packed the canvas away.
“By the way, explorer, you’re not being too polite.” The Dwarf grinned at him as he adjusted his pack over the bulk of his sweater.
“Huh?” grunted the Halfling. He felt like his wits were already being chased from his head by the glare of the sun on the parched earth.
“You haven’t told me your name. Its only fair after all. I really should hear it from you before it is captured in song and spoken across the Halfling lands.”
“Oh, yeah, guess that makes sense.” He stuck out his hand, and the Dwarf’s meaty paw closed around his. “Dunlin, my name’s Dunlin.”