Chapter 5

Azzie thanked Hermes and took his leave. He walked through a low field, toward the woods that sur­rounded the city. He found the rare flower, which was low and inconspicuous. Azzie sniffed it (the odor of the Speculum is delicious) and then bent low and put his ear to the ground. His preternaturally alert sense of hearing brought to his senses the presence of something belowground, something ‘that moved and thumped, moved and thumped. It was, of course, the characteristic sound a dwarf makes as he cuts a tunnel with his pick and shovel. The dwarves are well aware that the sound of their digging gives them away, but what can they do; a dwarf needs to dig to feel alive.

Azzie stamped his foot and sank into the earth. This is a talent that most European and Arabian demons have. Living in the earth is as natural for them as living on the earth is for men. The demons experience earth as something much like water, through which they can swim, though they much prefer to walk in tunnels.

It was cool underground. The lack of light did not prevent Azzie from seeing around him very nicely, in a dim infrared sort of way. And it is rather pleasant underground. There are moles and shrews near the surface, and other creatures glide along the differing densities of the soil.

At last Azzie came out in a large underground cavern. Phosphorescent rocks gave off a dim glow, and he could see, at the far end of the cavern, a solitary dwarf of the north European variety, dressed in a well-made green and red mole­skin suit, with tiny jackboots of gecko hide and a little mouse-skin cap on his head.

“Greetings, dwarf,” Azzie said, adjusting his height up­ward as far as the rocky ceiling allowed so that he could loom over the dwarf impressively.

“Hail, demon,” the dwarf said, sounding not too pleased at stumbling over one. “Out for a stroll, are you?”

“You could say so,” Azzie said. “And what about you?”

“Just passing through these parts,” the dwarf said. “On my way to a reunion in Antibes.”

“Is that a fact?” Azzie asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“Then why were you standing here digging?”

“Me? Digging? Not really.”

“Then what were you doing with that pick in your hand? “

The dwarf looked down and seemed surprised to find the pick there. “I was just tidying up.” He tried to rake a few rocks together with the pick, but of course, since it was never intended for that purpose, it didn’t do a good job.

“Tidying up the earth?” Azzie said. “What’dye take me for, a moron? Who are you, anyhow?”

“I am Rognir, a member of the Rolfing Dwarveria from Uppsala. Tidying up the earth may seem absurd to you, but it comes naturally to dwarves, who like everything to remain the same.”

“Frankly,” Azzie said, “what you are saying makes no sense to me at all.”

“That’s because I’m nervous,” Rognir said. “As a rule I talk quite sensibly.”

“Then do so now,” Azzie said. “Relax, I mean you no mischief.”

The dwarf nodded but looked unconvinced. He didn’t trust demons, and you couldn’t really blame him. There are many rivalries in the spirit kingdom which are unknown to man, since a Homer or a Virgil wasn’t around when something was going on. The dwarves and the demons had been having quite a tense time of it recently, due to territorial disputes. Demons have always had a claim on the underground, despite their distant birth as fallen creatures of the Light. They love the underground ways of Earth, the deep caverns, bogs, and sinkholes, caves and declivities, the passageways that present vistas of beautiful strangeness to their poetic but gloomy imaginations. The dwarves had their own claim on the underworld, considered themselves children of it, born spontaneously out of the chaotic fiery writhings of the deepermost regions of primal flame. They were romanticizing, of course; the true origin of the dwarves is interesting, but there is no time to go into it here. What is important is the power of imagination, to take an idea and cling to it stubbornly. Thus the dwarves, and their insistence on being free to wander the underground ways as they pleased, without stint or restraint. This wasn’t to the demons’ way of thinking, however. They preferred territories. Demons like to stomp along alone, and other creatures tend to get out of their way. Not so the dwarves, who trooped along in their bands, white whiskers flowing, pickax and spade always ready, pounding and chanting (for they are great chanters), often passing directly through a demon convocation: for demons are always holding meetings on crucial points of doctrine, though their discussions are rarely noted by those who really dispose the power. Be this as it may, they hate being disturbed, and the dwarves had an uncanny power of choosing just the wrong place and time to dig to disturb a demon sitting deep in thought, motionless on a block of basalt, hands to his ears, as we see in some of the family portraits done in stone on the turrets of Notre Dame. The demons feel the dwarves are crowding them. Wars have been started on lesser issues.

“I believe,” Azzie said, “our tribes are currently at a state of peace. In any event, I have come only for something which will not even interest you, since it is not a precious gem.”

“What exactly are you looking for?” Rognir asked.

“Felixite,” Azzie said.

In those days, charms and talismans still had great power in the world. And there were many of them about, though the dwarves hid them in secret places, to keep them from the dragons, without much luck, since dragons knew that where you find dwarves, you find gold. Dwarves and dragons go together like lox and bagels, herring and sour cream, good and bad, memory and regret. The dwarves worked hard to extract felixite luck stones from the depths of the earth. Felixite is found only in small quantities, in beds of Neptunic basalt, the very oldest and hardest kind.

This stone of good omen, felixite, was much in use back when everything was happier, better, dearer, truer, the Golden Age, which ended just before true humans came on the scene. Some say that the deposits were laid down by the ancient gods who ruled the earth in the distant long-ago time before things had names. Even then felixite was the rarest mineral in the world. A tiny amount of it could transmit its own inherent joyous and buoyant karma to the holder thereof, thus predis­posing a favorable outcome to whatever enterprise he was en­gaged in. That was why men killed for it.

One thing is sure. If you want a magic good-luck charm, you must either steal one (which is difficult, since a real good-luck charm preserves itself for its owner, and thus tends to be more than a little theft-resistant), or you must find a lode of felixite in the bowels of the earth and fashion one for yourself. You might think that all the natural felixite would be gone by now, since dwarves have been looking for it (among other things) under the earth for as long as mankind has been on the face of it; but you would be wrong; felixite is so lucky that even the earth feels blessed by it and tends to produce more of the stuff from time to time, ecstatically, as it were, but always in small amounts.

“Felixite!” Rognir gave a small, unconvincing laugh. “What makes you think there’s any around here?”

“A little mouse told me,” Azzie said, making a clever al­lusion to Hermes’ former occupation as Mouse god, before he was abolished or transformed along with the rest of the Olym­pians. This was completely lost on Rognir.

“There’s no felixite around here,” Rognir said. “The place was mined out long ago.”

“That hardly explains what you are doing here.”

“Me? I was just taking a shortcut,” Rognir said. “This place happens to be on the underground great circle route from Baghdad to London.”

“If that’s the way it is,” Azzie said, “you won’t mind if I look around?”

“Why should I mind? Dirt’s free for everybody.”

“Well put,” Azzie said, and started nosing around. His keen fox’s nose soon picked up the faintest strand of a smell that once, not long ago, might have been associated with some­thing else, itself associated, perhaps only fleetingly, with felixite. (Demons have great powers of smell in order to render their time of service in the Pit all the more onerous.)

Sniffing like a fox, Azzie followed this elusive scent around the cavern and directly to the lemur-skin bag that rested at Rognir’s feet.

“You don’t mind if I take a look in this, do you?” Azzie asked.

Rognir minded very much, but since dwarves are no match for demons in equal contest, he decided to let discretion reign and to hell with valor.

“Help yourself.”

Azzie emptied out the bag. He kicked aside the rubies which Rognir had garnered in Burma, ignored the Colombian emeralds, pushed aside the southern African diamonds with their sinister future connotations, and picked up a small piece of pink-colored stone, shaped in a cylinder.

“Looks like felixite to me,” he said. “Would you mind if I borrowed this for a while?”

Rognir shrugged since there was nothing he could do about it. “Just be sure to give it back.”

“Don’t worry,” Azzie said, and turned to leave. Then he looked again at the precious stones scattered underfoot. He said, “Look here, Rognir, you seem a good sort for a dwarf. How about if you and I strike a bargain?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I have a certain enterprise afoot. I can’t say much about it now, but it has to do with the upcoming Millennial celebra­tions. I need the felixite and your jewels, because without money a demon can do nothing. If I get the backing I expect from the High Evil Powers, I will be able to repay you tenfold.”

“But I was planning to take these home and add them to my heap,” Rognir said. He stooped down and began to pick up his jewels.

“You probably have a pretty big heap already, haven’t you?”

“Oh, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Rognir said, with the complacency of a dwarf whose heap could bear comparison with the best.

“Then why not leave these stones with me? Your heap at home is plenty big already.”

“That doesn’t stop me from wanting it to be bigger!”

“Of course not. But if you add them to your heap, your money won’t be working for you. Whereas if you invest this with me, it will.”

“Money working for me? What a curious concept! I hadn’t known money was supposed to work.”

“It is a concept from the future, and it makes very good sense. Why shouldn’t money work? Everything else has to.”

“That’s a good point,” Rognir said. “But what assurance do I have that you will keep your word? All I’ll have is your word that your word’s good if I take this offer, whereas if I don’t take the offer, I’ll still have all my gems.”

“I can make this offer irresistibly attractive to you,” Azzie said. “Instead of following normal banking procedure, I am going to pay you your profit in advance.”

“My profit? But I haven’t even invested with you.”

“I realize that. Therefore, as an inducement, I am going to give you the interest you will make in a year’s time investing with me.”

“And what do I have to do?”

“Just open your hands.”

“Well, all right,” said Rognir, who, like most dwarves, couldn’t resist a profit.

“Here you are,” Azzie said. He gave Rognir two of the smaller diamonds, one ruby with the tiniest flaw, and three perfect emeralds.

Rognir accepted them and looked at them uncertainly. But aren’t these mine?”

“Of course! They are your profit!”

“But they weremine to begin with!”

“I know. But you loaned them to me.”

“I did? I don’t remember.”

“You remember accepting the profit, don’t you, when I offered it?”

“Of course. Who turns down a profit?”

“You did quite right. But your profit was based on loaning me the stones so I could make your profit from them. Now you have several of them back. But I still owe you those that I returned as well as the rest. They are principal. In a year you will get them all back. And you have already gotten the profit.”

“I’m not so sure of this,” Rognir mused.

“Trust me,” Azzie said. “You’ve made a wise investment. It has been a pleasure to do business with you.”

“Wait a minute!”

Azzie scooped up the rest of the stones and, not forgetting the piece of felixite, vanished into the upper world. Demons are able to vanish, of course, and this generally gives them a working sense of theater.

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