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May 20, 2024

The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life

By Sand Pilarski

No liquor, no elf sex, and no worries. Sometimes you don't need all the extra stuff that complicates your life and gives you stress-wrinkles.

"Well, Garf," I said to the ghost in the herb planter beside my door, "how was summer vacation? Have you decided to make up with your wife yet?"

"Gone all summer long and the first thing you ask me is if I want to go to Hell?" grumped the revenant. "Got any liquor on you?"

"Not a drop, and I'm fresh out of cash so I can't run to the inn to get you some. Any interesting visitors while I was gone?" Garfer Miller was a restless ghost, his bones dug up by his grandsons over a dispute about his inheritance. He was also downright nosy and his conversations laced with vulgarity, but he did make a great answering machine.

"There was a tall skinny elf with legs that went from here to there," he said. "I asked her to have a seat in this planter and spend some time with me but she refused. She said to tell you that she was really sorry if she'd caused you any trouble or got you killed or anything."

"Did she leave a name?"

"Yeah, something like Nesprekena-me Yllacalinyoe," he said, his voice thin and wheedly.

"That's pig-elvish for 'Don't call me, I'll call you.'"

"Well, lucky you to speak pig, Shaman," he replied. "And lucky you to have ol' Garfer Miller standing watch over your house, too."

"Why's that?" I asked while sorting through my accumulated mail.

"There were some people come by to peek in your windows checking if you were home. I waited until they were right up against the glass and then breathed on them and said, real spooky like, 'The dead seeeeeeeee you!' Scairt the bejabbers out of 'em!"

"Great. Now the village will think I'm living in a haunted house."

"Well, you are, aren't you, Tootsie?"

"No. My house isn't haunted. My herb garden is." I unlocked the front door of the house, hoping no bats had died in there since the spring. Sniffing around, I could detect no dead things (well, Garf was dead but didn't stink, so he didn't count) and all my books and dried bottled herbs were in order. I tossed the mail on the low table that served me double as a desk, and dropped my pack on the dirt floor. From the shelf that lined the room I took my straw mat and unrolled it by the wall, and shook out the blanket I'd carried atop my pack all summer. Before I'd left here last spring to go adventuring with a troll and a talking dog, I'd prepared a little pile of twigs and small branches for my fireplace to welcome me upon my return. I dug the flint and steel out of my pack and lit a little fire to take the chill off and give the place a rosy glow.

Home sweet home.

To some it would appear to be merely a cave under the roots of a huge sycamore tree, but to me, it was the best house in the world. It was big enough that I could spend whole rainy days in here poring over old books about herbs and stories of my clan, but small enough that no one coveted it. Well, some wild animals coveted it, which was why there was a door with a lock on it at the entrance, but no people wanted to evict me.

Sometimes less is more. Look at Lady Seaguard, over there in Oceanwind Castle, every western window an ocean view, twenty bedrooms, two and a half baths, every room furnished with top of the line furniture and draperies. That place is so big and elaborate that there has to be a full-time staff of maids and butlers just to keep the dust from piling up in drifts and guests from losing themselves in the maze of rooms. You think Lady Seaguard could just pack some beef jerky and water and a couple of apples and take off for the summer? Forget it, the magnificent castle at Skuleflight Harbor is so labor-intensive, there has to be a house manager who manages wing-managers, who oversee servants who bustle about at all hours of the day or night, summoned by the ringing of a bell, with no overtime pay or union representation. And only last spring, a villainous wizard decided he wanted to make the ever-so-amenable Oceanwind Castle his digs, and through his lust and arrogance, got the entire north wing burnt to the ground by his enemies. Lady Seaguard take the summer off? Hardly. If she wants to visit the bazaar she has to reschedule appointments a month ahead of time.

Or take Kaladang the Axe, whose grand pavilions and displays took up half a city. He spent zillions of the money he extorted from the populace, and what happened? When his army was immobilized and unmanned, within three days, his grand city was ransacked and carried off, leaving empty buildings and graffiti everywhere that largely said, "Kaladang is a rat's ass!" and little impressions in the dust that once were made by statuary and park benches. When he had all that booty lying around, he couldn't call his time his own. But once he'd been robbed as blind as he was used to robbing his victims, he was free to come and go as he liked, as long as he was interested in the "going" part of it.

On the other hand, there are the Fart Sisters, a set of three trolls (named Knifeheart, Thiefheart, and Wolfheart) who live in a board and thatch house on the north road. They have a huge, straw-ticked bedstead in their domicile, and a table and chairs for indoor dining, and a still on the back porch that provides them with income. No one bothers to try to steal their simple furnishings, not that many people could find a use for troll girdles, anyway.

The more possessions you have, the richer your domicile, the more extensive your portfolio, the less freedom you find, because all of it wants taken care of.

Once upon a time there were three brothers. The oldest was a man who discovered a hidden treasure in the ruins of an abandoned castle. The hoard of jewels and gold coins he used to buy a vast farmstead, with a herd of cattle for beef and a herd for milk and cheese, and four teams of draft horses for plowing. Working hard, he produced tremendous crops and sold them in far cities. "I am the most fortunate of men," he said. He found himself a wife, and just as they were about to commence starting a family, a stack of hay fell over on him and killed him.

The second brother grieved and mourned his sibling's death, and then married his brother's widow, farmed his crops, milked his cows, sold what he had to sell and harvested and planted what had to be harvested and planted, and raised seven sons to quarrel over the division of the property even before that second brother was aged.

The third brother, setting out on the road by himself again (to look for odd jobs to keep him in beer and blankets) after a brief visit with his brother and his rich farmstead and contentious sons said, "Truly, I am the most fortunate of men."

I like this simple life. Tomorrow I'll walk around the marketplace and see if anything has changed since last spring. Maybe someone will need some goldenseal for an infection, or advice on how to proceed with a marriage proposal. Maybe someone will do something wrong so that I can shout outrage at them. Maybe a charitable soul will find themselves with leftover pizza.

I am the most fortunate of shamans. And hey, I even got an apology from an elf!

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-09-15
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