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13 Jan 2023

Treasure in the Hills

The hinterlands have their own rules, and strangers break them at their own peril.
Genre: fantasy
Words: ~430

One time I passed by the crossroads, a stranger was standing in front of the Warning. She had been standing there all the time I had been walking up the incline, so there seemed to be something that interested her, so I asked her, “Did you know them?”

She jumped a little, as if she hadn‘t heard me plodding. “No, that seems unlikely. I am trying to read the signs, but I believe I am missing context.”

There was nothing left of the bodies but bones and rags, held in place by living wood. Their tools weathered and rusted, but the gold marking the holes in their skulls glinted.

And well, it‘s hard to resist telling a story, and she was a polite young lady who offered me wine when I hinted I knew the whole thing, so I told her.

“They came here to dig for gold. Said that since the streams they followed here carried gold dust, there must be more of it in the hills. They‘d brough picks and shovels and even some explosives, and silver to trade for food and information.

“We gave them warnings for free. Gold there may or may not be, but there‘s certainly gnomes and trolls in those hills, and dryads and pixies in the woods on their slopes. We here have known them for generations, and agreed on territories, but just going in and breaking earth and stone would not go well for them.

After a lot of talking, we thought we had them convinced to turn back where they came from the next day, but they snuck off in the middle of the night. Our wiseman went and told our Neighbours about the goldseekers and that we had no part in their folly, which was a good thing, for in the afternoon there was blue sky and thunder.

Explosives, Miss! Explosives! They had cracked open the side of a hill!”

She shook her head right along with me.

“We don‘t know how they got killed, but well, they did. Apart from the youngest, who should spread the story as a warning. Not sure she was capable of it, she was too shaken to tell us, at least. But she walked away. And our Neighbours, they left the bodies here as warning, as you see. One of the Dryads did the display.”

The traveller nodded. And can you guess what she said then? I‘ll tell you:

“So… is there a polite way for me to talk to that dryad?”

You see? Strangers, here, are nothing but trouble!

end of the line
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