tagSci-Fi & FantasyCultural Exchange Ch. 04

Cultural Exchange Ch. 04

byTenou©

As always, thanks to all those of you who support and encourage me. You are the ones who make this possible.

Constructive criticism is appreciated. Comments shaped as "this is stupid" or those who just point mistakes to say "I'm smarter than you" don't waste your time writing them so I don't have to waste my time deleting them.

Kudos to my editor SexyGeek for his help in giving a better shape to my ideas.

Enjoy this chapter, it may be the shortest up to now but it may be the best too.


*******

Not long after breakfast the next day, the house was assaulted by a swarm of servants and tailors carrying tools and rolls of fabric to prepare wedding costumes, both for Ralya and for me. The women took Ralya upstairs and the men started working with me at the ground floor, taking measures and comparing them to the list of suits they had already stored at their shop. The costume consisted of a tunic and trousers, both in white with golden embroidery, but when I asked about the shoes I was told that it went against the tradition. It seemed very rushed, but in lapse of two or three hours, they had brought the closest pieces to my size and signaled the adjustments they needed.

I was starting to get dressed again when I was called to the door by a delivery boy. When I opened it, I was handed two small jewel boxes. As instructed by his master, the boy told me to open the black one first. It contained a broad ring made of a black and shiny metal, with a crown of vines surrounding the white crystal with my personal emblem at the center. I don't know how it was done, but it looked like the icon was floating inside the crystal, not engraved on its surface. Following Zirilla's command, I put on the ring the moment I received it. I took a local coin from the bag I received the day before and threw it at the boy, asking him to deliver a sealed note I prepared the night before saying that I was going to need soon another ring like the one I had ordered for my fiancée.

After dressing myself properly and hiding Ralya's ring, I went to her room to tell her that I was about to leave for my appointment. She was half-dressed in a shiny white gown... and I didn't see anymore because I turned my back on her and started speaking nervously, "I have to go to a meeting with some Dwarves at the Commercial District. I think I'll be back by lunch time."

I was about to leave when Ralya called me. "Wait!" She hesitated for a moment before saying, "Take care, and... what do you think about the dress?"

Just before running downstairs, I answered, "I... I haven't seen it and I don't want to!"

I was at the reception hall when Merita caught up to me. "Master, I might be going too far for my position, but what the Hell did you do? The poor Van'Ralya seemed disappointed and close to tears. I have never seen her like this."

I sighed and turned to face her. "Tell her that never in my life I would try to hurt her on purpose. What's happened up there is just that in my world, one of the traditions involving marriage ceremonies states that the both of us will have very bad luck if I, as the groom, see her wedding gown before the moment of the ceremony."

She sighed as well. "I see. I'll go and try to calm her down. Are there any other traditions we must be aware of?"

I thought about the ones I remembered and listed them for her. The tradition of the four items (Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue ), the fact that we couldn't see or talk to each other the day before the wedding and some more.

When Merita turned back to Ralya's room, I took note to use this visit to the market to buy her something very nice as an apology. When I got out the carriage was already there, with a tall and stoic Elf waiting for me. His hair was dark and very short, and his brown eyes moved from side to side like as if he were looking for threats. He had a strange leather belt with small hooks at the sides to support the pair of combat gloves similar to those Ralya used. He didn't even introduce himself, he just said he was my escort, and my attempt to start a conversation got only short and concise answers, so in the end I opted for staying silent.

The Commercial District was the most cosmopolitan sector of the city. It had the biggest number of taverns, inns and other kinds of entertainment, so it was frequented by merchants, mercenaries, travelers and occasional adventurers. But from the lessons I had received from Ralya, I knew that not always had been like this. A century ago, the countries of the Seven Races were much more closed, to the point that one could even be killed on the spot under the accusation of espionage just for crossing the border.

That was a time when Outcasts had a much more difficult life because they could be imprisoned or killed for trying to find a job as mercenaries, so nine out of ten times they used to end up forming bandit gangs and raiding towns near the border. Things started to change with small and tentative commercial exchanges that little by little started leading to political embassies. The final stone in the pave-way to international cooperation was, ironically, our attempt of invasion on this world.

When we arrived, the Dwarven caravan hadn't arrived yet, so I proposed to go see the nearby shops and stands. Every time I asked my companion, he only had three answers: good, expensive and "I don't know." I can't say how good he was with his enemies, but in killing the mood he had no rival. In the end I bought a bouquet of flowers for Ralya and a perch made of brass and wood for Turak. I told the Elf to take it to my carriage, adding that we were in an open space in broad daylight so he didn't have to worry about my safety.

As I approached the Reception Plaza at the Western Gate of the city, I heard a sound very similar to that of a steam train. When I arrived, what I saw left me almost as surprised as the time when I saw the Kharnager beast in the woods the day I arrived. There were four vehicles similar to those 'Army six bys' that the U.S Military uses for supply transport, but they were even bigger and made in a steampunk fashion, with big plates of armor bolted to the hull. All of them had broad, metallic tires with spikes to help them keep traction on any ground. Their roofs were open and from the space between the cockpit and the cargo space, they sprouted their own cranes to unload the huge containers and nets of small boxes they were carrying. Then I noticed that the sound of steam engines came from these machines. Are you kidding me? Steam-powered transport trucks? When I saw the short but stout figures striving around the inventions, things clicked inside my head. In many of the stories I had read Dwarves were known for three things: mining, forges and engineering.

That's when I saw the girl. Even though her curly pink hair was tied high, it reached her waist. Because of that, and because her back was turned, I couldn't see much of her, but I was able to make out the big gloves and boots with metal plates that covered her hands and feet. Her right hand was resting on the hilt of a war hammer made to be a two-handed weapon in proportion to her small body. Similarly to the Ram A'Jin from the Arena, the hammer had a side of its head for combat and the other decorated, but this girl seemed to use a lion head as her symbol. Was she playing to be a grown up fighter?

I got closer to her in order to ask if she knew the leader of the Dwarves when I heard her voice for the first time. If she wasn't the only female in the area, I would have thought it came from a grown-up woman. It had a little bit of a deep tone, and she had a strange accent like German or Russian, by the way she reinforced consonants like R, S, F, T or V. But what impressed me the most was what she was saying. "Move your butts, you bunch of assholes! All this shit should have been unloaded by now, but no! You morons had to fight those Orcs like fucking sissies! Hurry it up already if you don't want me to spread your asses open with my hammer!"

Sorry, but this is part of my nature; I'm not very patient with little kids, specially the spoiled and the bad-mouthed ones. I went to the girl to scold her, but then she noticed my presence and half turned to me, what let me see her from her side. She wasn't a girl, that was for sure. She was dressed in something similar to "Gothic Fashion", with those army boots plated in metal and those black fishnet stockings covering her creamy thighs. She was wearing something similar to a Victorian dress with high neck, where she had a white scarf tied in place with a brooch shaped as a lion head, and short skirt. The chest had a heart-shaped opening to show a white shirt with what I call "inverted cleavage." This means that the lower side of her breasts was completely exposed without showing her nipples, and I could appreciate they were round, clear-skinned and that they were around a C-cup in comparison to a normal-sized woman.

All the previous details, together with the now noticeable traits of her ears; pointy like those of an Elf's but shorter and broader, and her head, hands and feet being a little big in proportion to the rest of her body, told me she was an adult Dwarven woman. Also, her way of speaking to the workers, made me think that she was their boss. I changed my plan from going to scold her to go greet her and ask for the preparations for my armor.

Just as I started approaching her, I heard a "Crack" over my head. A quick glance up told me that the rope of the crane keeping a net of crates suspended up there was breaking. Instinctively I dashed forward and grabbed the Dwarven lady in my arms and jumped away right when the boxes fell behind us, raising a cloud of dust. We landed on my right side, although the soft straw layer of the ground cushioned the fall and I didn't really take damage. We were coughing and when the dust cleared a bit, I was able to see her face close up because her left arm was around my neck. She had a round face, little strawberry mouth, small nose and big, dark purple eyes... the visible one, because her right eye was covered in a smooth plate of black crystal that worked as a strapless eye patch.

Right when I noticed something soft, round and warm with a little nub in my left hand, she snarled at me, "What the fucking Hell do you think you're touching?" Then she started squirming to get away from me. "Pervert! Groper! Rapist! I'm gonna bust your balls, moron!"

I realized that in our escape from death my left hand had slipped inside her inverted cleavage. I took my hand out and stood up as fast as I could to let her go. I was trying to bring up some kind of defense when she came to me and kicked me right in the middle of my left calf. Did I mention her boots being covered in metal plates? Yes, well the tips too, which made me start a one-legged dance rubbing my leg to calm the pain down.

I stopped when I felt the cold metal of her hammer under my chin. "Tell me who are you and why I should let you live for this insult, you retarded prick."

Right at that moment, Turak landed on my shoulder and cawed while looking at her, "Boss, let me fry her ass!"

The Dwarven woman stepped back, raised an eyebrow and said, "A Stormcrow? Do you have a frigging Familiar? What shit is the damn thing spewing?"

I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Nothing useful. His name is Turak, and I'm Brandon Cooper, visitor from the Earth as a part of the Cultural Exchange program. I came here because I was supposed to have an appointment with the leader of this commercial party involving an order for a Dwarven-made medium armor. I just reacted on instinct when I noticed the net with boxes was about to fall on us, I didn't mean any harm or improper treatment, I just tried save both of us from this accident."

Turak pecked my temple and said, "Accident my tail, Boss! I saw a dark figure on the roof of that building throwing a knife at the rope seconds before it broke. I think you'll be able to find it under that vehicle there. That huge, shiny metallic vehicle..." Unbelievable, Turak was like zoned out, looking at one of the trucks with his beak open and salivating.

The Dwarf looked at us while tapping the floor with one of her boots and said in an annoyed tone, "Did he say something useful this time?"

I explained to her what Turak had said before going to la-la-land and we went to look for the knife. I found it first but my size didn't allow me to reach for it, so the Dwarf went for it, taking special care to grab it by the handle. She came to show it to me. "See? If you throw a knife at a tense rope, it normally bounces off. But this knife was covered in an acidic substance to eat away at the rope and assure it fell..." she frowned for a moment. "on me? Why? Someone using a Snake Clan assassin to involve me in a Household war?" she said pointing at the snake engraved on the blade of the weapon.

After staring at it in puzzlement for a moment, she shrugged and turned to me. She gave me a good looking over, and I noticed her glance at the bulging pouch at my waist. That seemed to make up her mind and she said, "In any case, let me introduce myself. I am Countess Tierra Volknarr, from the Hammer Society of the Dwarven Race. I received the message for our appointment. Go look for Roden, he's the Armorer. I specialize in weapons and I want you to get out of my face as soon as possible. But know this, Human: one of us is gonna pay dearly for this crap that's happened here today. You can bet your balls."

Given the tension of the situation, I finished my business with the Dwarves as fast as possible before the incident with their boss became popular gossip. My guard was furious when he saw me again. He rumbled about irresponsibility until I asked him what had kept him from coming back with me, and he answered that a farmer had received fifty Crowns (the equivalent of two days of work) just for stopping his carriage one hour, blocking the entrance to the Reception Plaza. Highly suspicious. That and the figure Turak had seen made me think that for some reason, someone had woven a complicated plan to kill Tierra. Even though with Zirilla's warning yesterday, I still didn't consider myself important enough to promote those kinds of attempts on my person.

Back at home, the offering of flowers got the desired effect and Ralya waited for Merita to go into the kitchen to plant a kiss on my mouth. We had very little time to relax, because the dinner with Errom was going to be at my house. It was the tradition that the exchange of wedding gifts and the enunciation of the Wedding Wishes was made at the groom's house.

The sky was full of gray clouds pregnant with rain when I got out to receive Errom and his family. We had dinner in a calm and friendly atmosphere, without any noticeable event. Oner with his jokes, countered by Yalgir's gloomy behavior and their respective wives scolding them from time to time made the event enjoyable.

Then we moved to the reception hall for the main event of the night. Errom said, "Let's proceed according to tradition. We will start with your Wedding Wishes. You first, Ralya."

She fidgeted for a moment before answering, "Now that I'm going to be First of a Household, I'm going to need new dresses according to my status, and also..." her face went red as she lowered her ears, "I'd like two or three pieces of Deyima fashion."

Hearing that made Oner spurt the tea he was drinking and he almost choked with the fit of laughter. I was about to break a laugh too when I saw Errom's face: slack-jawed with his eye wide open and his ears lowered. To prevent that, I asked, "Has she asked something bad?"

Melfa answered instead of her husband, who was still laughing. "The land of the Deyima Race is full of hot and humid places, so you can imagine what that says about their fashion. Let's just say that you can't make a coin pouch from the skimpiest Deyima dress I've ever seen." Everyone laughed at that except for Ralya and me, who just blushed. When I looked at her, she answered with a slow and seductive wink.

It came my turn to make my wish. "I hope you don't mind me making preparations on my own, but I have already arranged for a Dwarven-made armor."

Errom Grumbled and said, "I'm aware of that, Son. I had lunch with Countess Volknarr today and she spoke about the incident, saying that she will be forced to extend her visit to my city in order to settle scores with you. May I have your version of the facts?"

I explained briefly and clearly how I had saved her and accidentally touched her breast in our fall. "I can understand she's mad at me for touching her, but she should overlook it and be thankful for the fact that I saved her life."

One of the things that surprised me the most was that Oner didn't try to make a joke out of this. Was I in such a bad situation just for touching her? Well, on the other side, I remember Ralya saying one of her father's Seconds challenged him to a death duel just for seeing her face.

Errom went on. "The Countess is not 'mad' at you for touching her bosom, Son. In fact, she said your hand was big, and softer than that of a Dwarf." Oner and Melfa snickered. Yalgir, his wife and Nera looked indifferent, and Ralya sulked, frowning and lowering her ears completely. He kept speaking. "I know this will be hard for you to understand, but she is furious at you for saving her life."

I opened my mouth to protest, but he raised a hand to stop me even before I could start. "You must know that Dwarves are the most materialistic Race in this world. Even when dealing with their God, they see everything in terms of gain, loss and balance. You saved her life; in her book that means that everything she enjoys, every business deal she makes and even every time she breathes is a debt towards you. We will have to wait for her to finish the business that brought her here to know what kind of solution she comes up with."

Ralya spoke softly to her father, "Could you intervene on his behalf, father?"

Errom closed his eye and said, "I could." Ralya sighed, but her father hadn't finished. "But I won't. Brandon is an adult and he must start solving the issues of his Household on his own. Now, let us go on with the exchange of gifts between Bride and Groom."

Ralya presented me a brown paper package and excused herself, "Sorry, dear. I took so much time making your present that I didn't have the chance to find a better way to give it to you."

I said that I didn't mind and when I opened it I found myself with a long and tight black coat, with embroidery at the shoulders, chest and wrists. The high neck was made of a fluffy white fur, and when I turned it I saw that it had the white hexagon with my black star in the middle of the back. While I was admiring the great job, Ralya explained me, "Even though it looks like a jacket, this is a magic robe you can wear under your armor. I have woven it with a skill to give it the Magic capacity to increase your Spirit reserve."

That surprised me. "You can make Magic items?"

She shook her head and answered, "Only when it comes to soft armors: wizard robes and light armor. Many people who have a combat class are also trained in a productive class associated with combat. Mine is 'armor tailor.' In fact, I made the armor you saw me wearing when we first met. But we'll talk about that another day." She moved nervously with her hands behind her back. "What did you get me?"

I put my hand inside my pocket and said, "I didn't make this myself, but I hope you like it. I have to explain two things to you first for you to understand its meaning. It may seem unrelated, but please be patient." I caught my breath and started explaining, "One of the ways we use to refer ourselves to our world is 'Blue Planet' because three quarters of it is covered by water. Also, we only have one moon, and it's white. The other thing I need you to know in order to understand what this present means is that centuries ago, people in my world thought that the planet was still, and the rest of the universe revolved around it."

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