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The Outlander's Gift

Part 1

A Half For A Whole

The two traders sat by the campfire, now only glowing coals. A lantern hung from the wagon behind them, lighting their backs, but leaving their faces in shadow. The talk had turned from business to politics when the smaller figure put out his hand for silence. He cocked his head, listening.

"Caramint?" he asked in whispered Common. "What do you awake, child?"

A shadow separated itself from the wagon behind them. A small figure, clad in only a homespun nightshirt, came to cuddle next to the speaker.

"My sleep has me left, Father," the young Gnome said.

Quiddlepeg hugged his youngest child, hiding a smile. "And you thought it here was?"

She nodded, peeking shyly out at her father's Human guest. She had never seen one from the ground before. They were so big!

Quiddlepeg chuckled. "As see you can, there naught but guest and I is. Do you to sleep go, Caramint child."

"Pleasant dreams to you, young one," the Human's bass voice rumbled politely.

Caramint stared at him. His voice was as soft as a Gnome's, but as deep as a Dwarf's. She peered closer, just to make sure he was Human. He didn't smell like one, either, she noticed. He smelled clean.

Quiddlepeg frowned slightly. After a moment's hesitation, he introduced them. "Ulfred Trader--" He glared at his now-giggling daughter. "Ulfred Trader, this rude personage my daughter-youngest is. Waywocket Caramint Ellyglim of Tartheim," he warned. "Fair greet my friend, Ulfred Trader." He pronounced the name 'All-Fred'.

Caramint giggled again.

"Child," her father warned again.

Caramint dutifully sobered and curtsied. "My pleasure your acquaintance to make, Ulfred Trader." She giggled again, stifling it quickly.

As she rose from her curtsy, the burly Trader gaped. He'd already noted that, unlike most Gnomes, this child had dark hair, a rich walnut colour in the firelight. He glanced quickly at Quiddlepeg's pine-coloured hair and beard. The Gnome nodded, grinning slightly.

"Garl Glittergold has blessed us with a joke."

What was most startling, however, was the child's eyes. They weren't the clear blue he'd been expecting, but a reddish-brown, like that of fine whiskey. They seemed to glow in the dim light.

Quiddlepeg's harrumph broke the spell the Gnomeling had cast over him.

"Pleased I am your acquaintance to make, also, Lady Caramint," he said in heavily accented Gnomish. He switched to the less guttural Common. "It would please me also to hear the reason for your laughter."

Her reaction startled him. She blushed furiously and her eyes opened wide. Ulfred looked to Quiddlepeg for enlightenment.

He, in turn, was glaring at his daughter, his own expression one of extreme embarrassment. "Tell him, child. On your head the dishonour is."

The child faced her parent. "But not dishonour to make The People laugh is, Father. The Way is. Not so is, Ulfred Trader?" She spun back to the Human, her expression anxious.

Not quite sure of events, Ulfred answered her seriously. "The Way as I know it is, yes. But to share the laugh also The Way is. Not?"

Caramint blushed again. In a very small voice, she said, "Is." A pause. "Your name is, Father's friend. Sound like a small sneeze is." She looked up at him, eyes widely earnest, eager that he not misunderstand her. "Too small a name for one so big is."

Ulfred's laughter boomed across the clearing, startling the sleepers in the wagon into wakefulness and making the donkeys start and wicker. Quiddlepeg and Caramint both clapped their hands over their ears, Caramint's face shining with delight.

Above the hubbub of voices, Ulfred agreed that his name was, indeed, too small for himself. "But it is my only name, Lady Caramint. It The Way of my people is."

Caramint's eyes grew round. "Only one?" She looked to her father for confirmation.

Quiddlepeg nodded, still not pleased with his child's rudeness in laughing at another.

Her eyes welled with tears of compassion. "Father, such a thing not right is. Could you another name him give?" She glanced at Ulfred, who had gone quite still. Unlike the child, he knew the enormity of an Outlander being given a Gnomish name.

Quiddlepeg, too, had gone rigid. He looked over to his wife, standing at the foot of the wagon's steps. His other children, he noticed, were peering out from under the tarp in sleepy curiosity.

Mistaking the adult shock for contemplation, Caramint continued. "Father, he one of my names could have, if not enough names in Name book there are."

Quiddlepeg stared at his daughter. "You would a Clan name him give?"

She frowned, considering. "No, perhaps not, Father. Much too big for ordinary Gnome names he is." No one laughed.

"What name would you him give, then, child?"

Caramint studied Ulfred, walking around him to see him from all angles. Ulfred's mouth twitched as he watched her. His amusement faded when he caught sight of Quiddlepeg's worried expression.

Her circle complete, the young Gnome stared thoughtfully into the Human's face. It was big. Like the rest of him. The sun-bronzed face had bushy, caterpillar-like eyebrows that wiggled when he spoke. His eyes were dark, almost black, and slightly crossed. His hooked nose reminded Caramint of a hawk. She traced his lower lip with one finger, marvelling at how the curve of mouth matched the curve of beard when he smiled. Curly dark hair and beard met, framing the face, Caramint thought, like the picture of a lion she'd once seen. Or like an egg wrapped in furs, she thought, clamping her lips down on another giggle. And in just as much need of her care and protection, too, she thought.

Caramint glanced down. A few feet away lay a small, flat stone, not large, but big enough for her purpose. She squatted by the fire, stone in hand. She held out her hand to her father, who put carefully put his belt knife into it. With the tip of the knife, she sketched the outline of a bird of prey holding a trumpet in its claws. From the bell of the trumpet, she tumbled what could have been rocks, clouds or sound.

Quiddlepeg watched his daughter carefully. As she sketched, her mouth moved. She'd only learned that cantrip recently. He tensed, ready to rescue her should it malfunction. Moments later, he let out the breath he'd been holding. The stone had gleamed for a second. The Arcane Mark was in place.

Caramint stood up, wiped the blade on her nightdress, earning her an unseen frown from her mother, and returned the knife to her father. Very formally, she approached Ulfred. She placed the stone into his cupped hands. "Ulfred Trader, friend of my father and friend of mine, too big for one name you are. I thee with another gift. You Hawk Brumbletrumpet are, friend to my father and friend to me." As she said the name, the image on the stone flared briefly. "If you a friend need, this symbol of friendship send and a friend will you have."

The trader stared from the stone to the child and then at Quiddlepeg. The Gnome nodded slowly.

Ulfred focused on Caramint, waiting anxiously for his response. He took a deep breath. "Waywocket Caramint Ellyglim, daughter of Friend Quiddlepeg and friend to me, honoured am I to accept your Naming. It a pleasing Name is."

Caramint's face split into a huge grin.

"But," Ulfred leaned closer, his voice growing both conspiratorial and sheepish. "But I no Name to give you have. And no great wit to one make. Sharing mine you would?

Caramint laughed and clapped her hands. "Oh, yes! Could I? Nice a Human name is."

Ulfred leaned back. "Hmmm...," he mused. "I don't think you're quite big enough to be 'all-fred'. Not yet, youngling." He grinned. "Half-Fred, perhaps?"

Caramint put both hands over her mouth and giggled. "Oh no, Hawk Brumbletrumpet. Half of 'all-fred' just 'fred' is," she finally managed to get out.

Ulfred slapped his knee and roared with laughter. "Very well, young lady, 'Fred' it is." His voice deepened. "Daughter of my friend and friend of mine, I thee with a friend's name gift. Fred you are, daughter to Quiddlepeg and Azzya. And good friend to Ulfred Trader."

He took a small pin from inside his vest, ignoring the elder Gnomes' gasp of surprise. "If you a friend need, this symbol of friendship send and a friend will you have." To the cheers of the younger Gnomes, he pinned the small lyre to her nightdress collar.

Azzya approached, her mouth set in a tight line and her eyes shooting daggers at both males. "A Naming well is, but past bedtime for Gnomelings is. Come, Waywocket." She held out her hand to her daughter.

"I Fred now am, Mother. A good name is."

Azzya smiled thinly. "A name is, child. Your farewells say."

Caramint hesitated. Flinging her small arms around Ulfred's neck, she kissed his furry cheek and whispered, "A good night to you, Hawk Brumbletrumpet."

Ulfred hugged the child awkwardly. "Pleasant dreams, Fred," he said in a choked voice. "Always, pleasant dreams." He released her to her mother's care and sighed.

The two sat, lost in their own thoughts, as Azzya settled the children again.

"Was wise that?" Quiddlepeg asked when the wagon at last fell silent.

Ulfred looked serious. "You won't accept our help, Quiddlepeg, and that's probably for the best, all things considered. But we owe you. I owe you. And more for my debt than the Guild's will I do what I can to keep you and yours safe."

Quiddlepeg stared at the Human for a long time, measuring, weighing. "Never Caramint has asked a Name to gift."

Ulfred looked confused. "Never? Not even her brothers and sisters?"

Quiddlepeg shook his head. "Why now one to wonder must." His expression had taken on a hard cast. "And a stranger to touch, as well."

Ulfred looked up, astonished. "Quiddlepeg! You don't think...? That I...? That she and I....? By the Gods, man! She's your daughter!" His mouth worked as his blush robbed him of further speech.

Quiddlepeg brushed the tears of laughter from his face. "Not so I think . Not now, Ulfred." He rose from his seat. Even standing as straight and proudly as he did, the Gnome was no taller than the seated Human.

He stuck out his hand. "Then well met indeed you are, Hawk Brumbletrumpet."

They shook hands as warriors do, clasping each other's wrists between their two hands.

Resuming his seat, Quiddlepeg and Ulfred talked long into the night, making and discarding plans. By daybreak, Ulfred was gone and Quiddlepeg and his family were northbound, heading to the Clan Burrow.

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