Sauerkraut & the Devil

Jugarthy sat on his porch and listened to the brewing cauldron inside of his small, rickety shop. He didn’t have the money for putting fancy glass in his windows, so the open windows allowed the free passage of air to flow in and out of the shop. Inside the shop Jugarthy had set up a primitive rock tumbler and his jeweling tools on a workbench on one side and on the other he had built a huge stone cooking area where he could brew various things. The shop itself was tilted noticeably to the south despite having been built on a solid foundation. On the front of the shop’s porch hung a big sign upon which was crudely written: “Jugarthy’s Rok Shopp und Sourkraut”.

He hadn’t been in business long, but the location couldn’t have been any better as far as Jugarthy was concerned. It was only a mile or less from the main road that ran from the nearby town of Fer de Grenat north to the Duchy of Oublier. After having proven himself sufficiently capable as an adventurer in the employ of two of the Archduchy’s most prominent nobles, Jugarthy had gone to Baron Jandle von Normand and asked if he could build a shop and maintain a small parcel of property in the heart of his barony. It was right at the top of a closed chasm that had been the site of his first adventure. Jugarthy had begun digging a proper pit to access the caves beneath and whenever he came across a pretty stone, he would put it in his rock tumbler and if it came out well enough set it in a bracelet or necklace. When he wasn’t digging and polishing rocks, he always had a brewing project bubbling away.

The main thing that Jugarthy liked to brew was sauerkraut. Like any other xvart Jugarthy had an odd sense of what people wanted to eat while travelling. These blue-skinned goblinoids were every bit as crude and unrefined as one might imagine, and while Jugarthy wasn’t prone to being particularly cruel he had an unshakeable belief that travelers going from southern Maelonbourg to the north would want to stop and buy sauerkraut. Why he believed that is anyone’s guess. To wash it down Jugarthy also brewed his own beers. He had even branched into brewing specific cocktails like his signature “Flaming Grimlock” which was an oddly green concoction that when set afire smelled heavily like garlic. Jugarthy liked the smells that his kitchen laboratory emitted, but to say everyone took delight in it would be a gross exaggeration.

Jugarthy was focused on his tinkering and listening to the bubbling cauldron inside and didn’t notice the dark, swarthy man approaching up the trail. The man was wearing the clothing of a hunter or a woodsman, with a neatly trimmed goatee and heavy moustache. on his back was a large heavy crossbow, and in his right hand was a sturdy walking stick that was shod in iron at the top and bottom to serve as a cudgel. The stranger halted at the base of the porch steps and gazed upon the preoccupied xvart with a mix of bemusement and irritation. After a few moments he cleared his throat, and Jugarthy was startled into attentiveness.

Smiling broadly, Jugarthy said in his high scratchy voice, “Good day, sir! Have you come for shiny rocks or sauerkraut?”

The hunter smiled wryly and replied, “Your sign is misspelled in several places.”

The xvart shrugged and said, “Its ok, I can’t read. Most people around here can’t. But you can smell the sauerkraut and see the rocks, so you know what’s for sale. Would you like sauerkraut and shiny rocks?”

The hunter didn’t reply right away and instead sniffed at the air. “What ingredients do you use in your sauerkraut? I’m not recognizing that odor.”

Jugarthy grinned and set down his jewelry project. “I’ll tell you what. If you can guess the ingredients from tasting it, then I won’t charge you for the bowl of food. If you can’t, then you owe me three copper coins. Is it a deal? You look hungry!”

The hunter looked skeptical and took a deep breath as he thought about this proposal. This wasn’t a complicated dish, and this xvart was clearly even less complicated. “Alright.” he said with a slight hint of doubt in his voice. “We have a deal.”

With a delighted squeal of joy Jugarthy leaped up and scampered inside the shop. The hunter could hear wooden bowls dropping and the sound of a canister being opened. A small glopping sound that was a bit too wet to be considered polite, and then the xvart came out of the shop holding a wooden bowl and smiling as though he had just delivered a child. “Here you are, sir. It has been fermenting a few days but should be just about right!”

The hunter took and bowl and sat down on the steps. Jugarthy handed him a large wooden spoon and squatted on the porch to watch his guest eat. The hunter sniffed at the bowl, and one could see from his face that he hadn’t yet identified the smell. Taking the spoon in hand, he scooped up a mouthful and with a bit of hesitation put it in his mouth. He set the spoon back in the bowl and sat crunching on the sauerkraut. In his reaction you could tell that he wasn’t able to identify what specifically the mystery ingredient was.

Swallowing the first bit, the hunter looked at Jugarthy and scowled a little. “I don’t know, little man. It isn’t like any other I’ve ever had. Not bad, but I can’t place the taste. Something you’ve added but I don’t know what it is.”

Jugarthy laughed and said, “Go on, take another bite. If you still can’t guess it, then you owe me three copper coins.”

The hunter took another bite and thoughtfully crunched on it. He shook his head as he swallowed and said, “I’m stumped, little man. You’ll have to tell me.” The man set down the bowl and dug into a pouch on his belt. He pulled out three copper coins and handed them to Jugarthy.

Jugarty took the coins and said happily, “The secret ingredient is one my grandmother used. I’ve found it does add a certain flavor that nothing else does. Rat urine. The more dehydrated the rat, the stronger the flavor.”

The hunter sat in stunned silence and stared for the longest time at Jugarthy. The xvart pointed to the bowl and said, “Go ahead and finish it. Three copper coins buys you as many bowls as you can eat in one sitting!”

Picking up the bowl, the man handed it back to Jugarthy. In a hoarse voice he said feebly, “No thank you. I wasn’t that hungry to begin with. I was lured by your riddle to give it a go. But that was quite enough.” The man coughed and spit on the ground. “I had forgotten how much your kind likes rats. I should have gotten that detail and not been stumped.”

Jugarthy laughed and carried the bowl back inside. “No worries!” the xvart called out. This will be good tomorrow when the next customer comes along. Would you like to buy a shiny rock?”

The hunter rubbed his sleeve across his mouth and said quietly, “I don’t think so. I’m just going to be on my way now.” with that the dark man turned and walked back down the trail.

“So long!” shouted Jugarthy from his porch. “Hope you have a lovely travel!”

The hunter didn’t look back but waved his arm in acknowledgement. Jugarthy couldn’t hear what the man muttered under his breath, but even if he could have it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference when it came to grandmother’s recipes.