"A Dwarf, a Wizard and an Elf Meet in the Woods."

Chapter 1 – Strangers Meet

"Ye don't know what yer doin', lad. Step aside an' let a Dwarf fix the damned thing!"

Stefane did not bother looking at the speaker. It was the third time in as many minutes that the dwarf had offered his assistance, or more accurately, had ordered the him to step aside. Another minute, and doubtless another interruption, and he'd finish repairing the well's pump by himself.

Or, maybe in several minutes. Damn. A bent rod.

"Here." Stefane handed the dwarf a small piece of leather. "Cut a circle out of this. About so big." The young man indicated a width of three fingers. "I'll use it to replace the flange."

"What about the damn rod? It won't draw proper without it bein' straight!"

Stefane sighed loudly. He unfastened the rod and examined it. He needed a vice. Perhaps he could straighten it without one? He placed one end of the rod on the meadow's muddy ground and pushed down on the middle of the rod with a foot while pulling up with his hands on the other end. The rod sank into the mud.

"Oh, Brightmantle's britches, give me that!"

The dwarf threw the leather scrap at Stefane and grabbed the rod from young man's hands. Grasping it with both hands the dwarf strained against the cold metal. Sweat broke from his brow, his face grew red, then redder. Slowly the rod straightened. With a grunt, the dwarf staggered forward a step, paused to catch a breath, and held up the now mostly straight rod before Stefane's face.

"Got that flange cut yet, laddie?"

Grinning, Stefane held up the circle of leather he had quickly sized while the dwarf had grappled against the recalcitrant metal rod.

"Ah, good! You'll have to attach that..."

"Yes, yes. I've got it." Stefane said peevishly. By the Mysteries, dwarves really were an impatient people!

"That's it." The dwarf said, as Stefane re-attached the rod. "Now ye've got it lad! Ye jest needed a bit of guidance."

Stefane rolled his eyes. "Your 'assistance' was appreciated, Master Dwarf."

Stefane stressed the word 'assistance'.

The dwarf looked up the youth. "Listen here, ye ungrateful pup. Without my help ye'd a been at that all evenin'!"

The man put his hands on his hips and glared down at the dwarf. The dwarf glared back at the man with his one good eye, which was a startling blue. The black, woven leather patch worn over his left eye gave him a menacing look, but Stefane was not cowed. The retort he was about to deliver stalled in his throat as a clear alto voice with a trace of a lilt called out from behind him.

"If you two are done carping at one another, then I will be using the well. My horse is thirsty and she grows bored listening to males squabble."

Stefane and the dwarf jumped, turning startled eyes upon a cloaked and hooded stranger who sat astride a tall grey horse not fifteen yards from them.