Red Maple: A Welcome Worn Thin

The day had been pleasant, but in the mountains this can change quickly.  Klaus thought pressing on was worth the effort  rather than stopping to prepare a campsite.  The more chilled he became, the burly man thought of how strong his body is, and he could survive something as paltry as cold air.  The people at the last farmhouse were decent, at least at first.  Their pitiful whining over needing to conserve food for the winter, rather than feeding him what was wanted.  Such poor hospitality deserved punishment.  He chuckled at the thought of them keeping warm by the embers of their home.

Klaus began to curse their stinginess when his stomach began to growl.  Big men need more food than others.  Everyone knows this to be true.  Besides, his travels were over rough terrain, obviously needing more energy to keep going.  He was sweating, but hadn’t noticed until the inside of his clothes began to get sodden and the chill air were causing the moisture to chafe against his flesh.

Although his body was becoming lethargic, thoughts of ignorance, foolishness, and the lack of consideration of others kept the mind plowing ahead.  He needs to eat consistently and often, why can’t people understand?   That one village who did not appreciate him catching the little thief.  Eating the sausage role was a suitable reward anyway.  And that ingrate shopkeeper tried to have him arrested!

Klaus was struggling to move forward when the smell of cooking food reached him, giving the man a needed burst of energy.  Hopefully they are properly hospitable, he thought.

Entering a sheltered grove, Klaus saw a large fire.  Spits were being turned, grease dripping from into a pan, each drop sizzling and perfuming the air.  A cauldron was bubbling with some sort of stew and some type of flattened bread was cooking on hot stones.  Staring at this feast took precedence over the camp’s inhabitants until o9ne of them threw a stick at him.

Looking around, the traveler found that a group of short people were surrounding him.  Presumably it was a mix of men and women, but their leathery skin made the distinction difficult.  They were all the size of children, but looked ancient, their bodies gnarled and twisted.  Klaus stared around at the group in astonishment, then began to laugh.  The riotous humor ended suddenly when the closest of the creatures swung a fist at the back of the man’s leg, felling him like a tree.

Landing hard, the breath rushed out of Klaus’s lungs causing a fit of wracking coughs as he tried to suck in breath. The small people laughed, the uprorious sound shaking snow from the branches overhead.  Klaus remained prone on the ground until his vision cleared before tryting to stand.  When he did, his hand wrapped around a burning log from the fire.  The laughter began anew when he raised it up to begin striking the horrid little things.  One pointed at the log and Klaus, looking at it in puzzlement, realized that the wood in his hand was replaced with a snake.  He shouted and threw it to the ground.

 The large man was confused and felt a growing uncertainty regarding these people.  One had returned to the cauldron over the fire, speaking softly while stirring the contents.  He didn’t recognize any of the words and began to grow angry that they were hiding things from him.

“Speak properly,” he shouted, “I cannot understand the words dribbling from your feeble lips!”  Klaus felt that it was a sharp rebuke and looked around at the others, but received only narrow-eyed scowls.

One of the people, standing on creakin, twisted legs, gestured at him with a blackthorn cane.

“You are a churlish creature,” he said, the words wheezing from ancient lungs, “and overly proud of your girth.  Being big from muscle is not the same as being big from overindulgence.”  The words struck like a sharp slap.  Klaus swole up, standing to his full height, never noticing how much he sucked in his gut, 

“You insult the wrong man, weakling!  I crush my enemies and take what I need if it is not offered with hospitality!”

The one stirring the pot scooped out some of the stew in a ceramic bowl.  It was offered to him in silence, mollifying the large man to a small degree.  It was rudely done, but the bowl was large and the food smelled wonderful.  He sat with a grunt, scooping out meat-rich mouthfuls with his fingers.  The heat did not bother him, either on the fingers or the tender flesh of his mouth.  This did not fill much of Klaus’s mind which could only focus on sating his rising hunger.  The first bowl was insufficient, so he refilled it himself, dipping the bowl into the cauldron again and again.  The hunger would not leave him.

Soon, the large pot was empty and Klaus was running his hand along the bottom to get every last morsel.  He was oblivious to the small people’s silent mirth, watching him gorge on the pot of hot laundry.  He greedily chewed and swallowed old socks and rags.

“Nordri,” one says to who had offered the bowl, “that was an artful choice.  Will his hunger ever be sated?”

Looking at Nordri, the dwarf named Buri grinned.

“He will never find a thing to fill his belly, but will try to eat everything he encounters.  The loss of some laundry is well worth the punishment he received.”

The troupe of dwarves sniggered as they left, disappearing into the foliage, leaving Klaus to scrabble around, searching desperately for more food

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