The Best of the Mage (Page 46 and 47)


Dublin Core


The Best of the Mage (Page 46 and 47)


Science Fiction


These pages describe the beginning story of The Dwarf Who Knew Too Much by Harry Dolan.


Rizky Suwoto


The Best of the Mage (Number 8, Fall 1987)


Colgate University Student Association


Fall 1987


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Science Fiction

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Harry Dolan's "The DwarfWho Knew Too Much" is a light-hearted piece of heroic fantasy that has been kindly received by readers throughout the United States and as far off as the Soviet Union. Closer to home, the story garnered the author Colgate University's Lasher award for short fiction.
The Dwarf Who Knew Too Much
by Harry Dolan
I was sitting at the end of the bar sipping hot chocolate when the dwarf walked in. I saw him in the mirror that Slippery Ace kept over the sink where he washed his mugs so he could watch his customers and make sure none of them hogged the pretzels. The mirror was polished silver, and Ace always joked that he'd know if a vampire came into his bar because he wouldn't see any reflection. Not that he was expecting vampires, or dwarves either for that matter, but Ace always liked to be prepared. I pointed out once that he'd never know if a vampire snuck up to the bar and tried to steal his pretzels, but he didn't see the humor. It must have been about an hour past midnight because most of the respectable patrons had gone home while the shady types had yet to arrive. In that quiet interlude the dwarf strolled through a maze of vacant tables and climbed onto the stool next to mine. He slipped off his sturdy leather boots and sat cross-legged on the wooden seat. Ace rinsed one last mug, then turned away from his sink and stood there wiping his hands on an apron that could have used a good rinse itself. He stared at the little man as if he were staring at a tick and trying to decide whether or not to brush it off. Clearly, he was having trouble making up his mind. "What's a matter, Ace?" I asked. "Don't you serve dwarves?" "Naw!" he bellowed, grinning to thank me for the straight line. "Ya gots to bring your own!" His massive body shook as he pounded on the bar and howled
with laughter over his joke. I tried to look apologetic, but the dwarf was unmoved. He observed the barman's fit patiently, his bearded chin resting on his hands and his calm gray eyes flickering with just the faintest trace of amusement. I took advantage of the distraction and palmed a handful of pretzels, stuffing. them in my shirt for later. When Ace at last composed himself, the newcomer spoke. "If it pleases, sir, I'll have a cup of Ekkothian Red, your finest vintage." Ace nearly broke down again. "Sorry, pal. We don't get much call for the fancy stuff." "I see. How about Arjorie?" The barman yawned. "Never heard of it." "Saldarian Blue?'' "Nope." The dwarf hesitated. "You do carry wine?" "Sure," the big man replied. "Stomp the grapes myself. Would you like that strained or with the seeds?" "Strained, I think," the dwarf said, wrinkling his nose. "And on the rocks." Slippery Ace rolled his eyes. "This is fantasy, babe, not science fiction. You want ice? Come back next winter."
Bertrand the Yellow floated over from his booth near the side exit and ordered another mint julep. "And a bowl of black coffee for Mephistopheles," he added, "I'm afraid he's overindulged again." Looking across the room I could see the wizard's black cat sprawled out on a table in a puddle of feline vomit. His fur was slicked with sweat, and his quivering body reflected eerily the
dim, wavering glow of a candle that was dripping wax on his fluffy tail. As Ace went off to heat up the coffee, Bertrand fiddled with his sleeves. His garish yellow robe fairly glowed in the dim light of the tavern. He nodded at me and I nodded back. Then he noticed the dwarf. "Good Sir," he began, placing his hand gently on the little man's shoulder, "I have a spell that could add several inches to your height-" "Friend Wizard," the dwarf said, not missing a beat, "I have a dye that could remove that annoying glare from your robe." He made a show of squinting as he drew a bottle of brown liquid from his pouch and handed it to the bewildered mage. "My compliments." Bertrand blushed and mumbled something incoherent, then turned to see if his drinks were ready. He was still holding the bottle, and Ace thought he was offering it as payment. "No dice, wiz," he said, waving his hand. "I'm not interested in your latest concoction. I prefer cash.'' The mage recovered himself and offered a silver coin. Ace dropped it in the cashbox and held out his sweaty palm again, nodding toward the unconscious Mephistopheles. "Hit me again, Bertie," he said. "If I gotta clean up cat barf it's gonna cost you extra."
I watched the dwarf examine his wine for a long time before he finally got up the nerve to taste it. He took a swig and swirled the stuff around in his mouth before he swallowed. I couldn't tell
whether he approved or not, but he didn't throw up right away and that's a good sign. "This isn't entirely bad," he said to me, observing my interest. "In fact, I'm certain it would make an excellent disinfectant." I smiled. "I usually stick to chocolate, though the beer is fair if you like that sort of thing.'' He nodded and pushed his cup aside. His ruddy brown features seemed vaguely familiar, and I felt I should have recognized the embroidered insignia on his tunic. He didn't have the air of a warrior, but there was an impressivelooking mace strapped to his back. "Was that really dye you gave to Bertie?'; I asked, just to see where it might lead. "Certainly. I am a travelling merchant who deals in fabrics and dyes." He was observing me intently now as if he were trying to place me. "That's odd," I said, trying to ignore his scrutiny. "I didn't think the city traded with dwarves for much of anything besides weapons, and of course precious metals and gems." He picked up his cup, turned it around, and set it down again. "Fact is, your fine city does not. Your king seems to think that dwarves have nothing of value save swords, gold, and diamonds. But I'm part of a delegation of dwarven merchants come to convince him otherwise. We offer tools, livestock, textiles, foodstuffs, liquor, and more; but we've had little success." "Why so? Surely the king recognizes--" "We have not been able to see your king, and in light of the recent tragedy it doesn't look as if we ever will." The tragedy he spoke of was the murder of the king's son just five days before. It had been on my mind as well, and his words brought it all back to me: the guilt. My fault, mine. I could have prevented it . . . "You were not responsible." I blinked and came out of my reverie. My hands felt numb; my knuckles were white from clenching the bar. "What?" I stammered.
"You were blaming yourself for the prince's death." "So I was. But how could you know without reading my mindor are you a gypsy dwarf?" ''There's no magiCĀ· involved," he said with a kindly smile, "only simple deduction. In fact, it's elemen--- er, obvious, my dear fellow, once you understand the steps that led me to my conclusion. In the course of my travels I have found that one can learn a great deal about the people one meets merely by observing their appearance and actions. "For instance, your general build and bearing indicate to me that you are a professional military man, and the few scars visible on your forearms confirm it. This particular scar is most curious: it could only have been made by the thrust of a Kirinji stabbing sword, a sharply pointed triangular blade designed to inflict a wound that will not readily close. It is a weapon used solely by the soldiers of Kirinj, and from the apparent age of the scar I surmise that you fought some years ago in the war against that kingdom.'' "So I did," I said, rubbing the old wound. If only that were the last I'd seen of the Kirinjis ... "And you must have done quite well for yourself, for you were appointed to your king' s elite guard." That gave me a start, and I looked around to see if anyone had heard. Ace was never fond of the government, and if he'd known I was a Royal Elite he would have spit. But no one seemed to have noticed, and the barman was arguing heatedly with a Jad Ranger over the price of a cup of herbal tea. "How did you know-?" "Come, come! Your sword gives that away. It is of a special type forged by my people under a commission for your Royal Elite Guard." He paused to stroke his beard contentedly. "As you may have guessed, weapons are a hobby of mine. . . . But let me go on. The stubble on your chin tells me that you are in fact no longer a member of the Elite Guard, and the more recent scar on your cheek tells me why. And when."
The little bastard was right. As a Royal Elite I had always been clean shaven: it was regulation. Only after my discharge had I let my beard grow. And he was right about the scar, too: in the R.E.G., visible facial scarring had become grounds for immediate dismissal. The king's brother Farris was vain about his appearance and when he'd taken command of the Guard he'd decided that his men should be handsome as well. The cut on my left cheek, running from eye to chin, was the official reason for my discharge. Of course, there was another ... "You have that same look again, the look of shame and guilt," the dwarf said softly. "Relax. You're going to break that mug the way you're squeezing it. That's better. Let me finish. You were guarding the king's only son and heir on the night that he was killed. You received that wound on your face and were later struck unconscious, as is evidenced by the barely discemable bruise on your temple. When you awoke, the boy was dead. You have been brooding over the incident ever since. Am I correct?" "Yes . . . yes, you got it all, every detail ... " "Not every detail, I daresay, but I would like to hear your account, if you'd care to talk about it." Damned if I know why I decided to trust him. "All right, let's get some fresh drinks and fmd a quieter spot." I called Ace over and ordered two hot chocolates. The barman looked suspiciously at the dwarf's empty wine cup: no one had ever finished the stuff before. "What'd ya think?" he asked. The dwarf smacked his lips. "Magnificent! Exquisite! Unparalleled!" he said. Only the last was true. He tossed two gold coins on the bar and watched Ace's jaw drop. Then he climbed down to retrieve his boots from the floor where the bitter wine was still seeping into the cracks.
The seedier late-night crowd had drifted in, but we managed to find an isolated booth. The dwarf settled in across from me and

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