Twosday night had come, and I was sitting at the bar of the Three Dwarves Inn, having my weekly beer. Svarthund was tending that evening, keeping everyone warm in the winter weather with his off-color jokes and suggestive language ... and with his inn's fine big fireplace, we must not forget that. Much of the inn's business in the evenings at this time of year was due to the roaring fire heating the main room.
The front door of the inn burst open, and amid a blizzard of snowflakes, a senior guard of Lord Stonewall's troops (you could tell by the really big and tacky epaulets on his shoulders and the way he stomped his feet) strode into the room and shook his cloak like a horse shakes after a roll in the dust. Droplets of water and chunks of snow fell to the floor. The serving-wench appeared at his left elbow, and took his heavy outer garment as he shrugged it from his shoulders. Giving the belt that held his sword and scabbard a firm hooch to the left, the guardsman clomped to the bar and swung his right leg up onto the barstool a couple seats to the left of me -- just close enough for me to see that his pants were split from belt loop to Gehenna.
I averted my eyes, looking upward at the rafters of the inn's great room, where a couple hams hung in the process of being smoked, along with a number of strings of sausages and some elaborate racks of beef jerky. In the meantime, a burgher's wife had glimpsed the same sight and fell off her chair with a shriek, covering her face with a napkin.
Seated, the trooper's airy arrangement was covered by the tails of his tunic; nevertheless, a wave of whispers flowed through the great room like a breeze rattling dry leaves in a forest of winter oak. Those who had not seen still believed, and watched for a vision to confirm their hopes.
The vision wasn't long in coming. The guardsman spotted the small basket of bar snacks in front of me, and stretching himself from his barstool to reach for a handful of the pretzels and crackers, entertained the inn with a prolonged exposure of the division of his behind below his belt. The burgher's wife screamed weakly from her landing place on the floor and fainted. The guardsman turned to the nearest patron, who was yours truly, and said, "Wonder what the heck that was about!" and crammed a handful of crackers into his mouth.
"It's about the rip in your pants," I said quietly. Perhaps the man had been in the saddle for so long that he was unaware what was happening to his nethers. I pointed discreetly towards his ass.
"Hey, we all have a bum," he said. "From the time we're born to our mummies until we get covered in the ground. Never heard of no one who went about without one."
"That is true, but local convention suggests that one keep one's -- 'bum' -- out of sight of passers-by and fellow diners."
The guardsman laughed. "And why would anyone be looking at a man's bum, that's what I would wonder." He took a long drink of his beer, emptying the mug, and turned away from me to look at the fire.
Svarthund came over to our end of the bar. "Sir? Captain -- ?"
"Bum," I offered.
Mr. Crack-Show wiped his arm across his mouth to clear away the foam from his beer. "T'aint 'Bum,'" he corrected me. "Dorchester Slicesteel, Captain of the First Shift Watch of Stonewall Castle. At yer service." He reached back to his left side and gave his sword a lift up and down to make it ring in its scabbard.
The "at your service" bit was just for politeness' sake. Everyone in the inn knew that the "shiiiing - ka chink!" sound of a sword being partially drawn and then re-sheathed was common language for "mess with me, and I shall hew thy head from thy shoulders forthwith."
Svarthund became a bit nervous, but persevered. "Captain Slicesteel. The condition of your trousers is upsetting my clientele. Allow me to offer a blanket for the covering of your chilled backside."
"Me bum ain't cold," he said. "Are you selling brew or fashion advice?"
"Showing your whole ass-crack in a dining-room is an invitation to mayhem," I offered, being a bit more blunt, seeing as how he apparently was unaware of such.
"The sign beside the door says, 'No shoes, no shirt, no service.' I got a shirt, shoes, and where the hell is my service? This mug is empty, Shortshit, how about a refill for a Captain of the Guard? And who is it that's saying me bum is a problem?" He asked, with one hand on the hilt of his sword.
Svarthund bowed to the soldier, refilling his mug. "Not me," he said, bowed again, and edged down the bar to pour part of the pitcher into my mug.
"I didn't ask for a second beer," I told him. Coinage for beer isn't all that easy to come up with on short notice, and I hadn't intended to imbibe more than one mug before retiring to my cave for the night.
"No charge, Aser. Whatever I can do for the local shaman, you know what I mean?"
"Svarthund, hearing you say that warms the cockles of my heart and makes me immediately wonder what the hell you're up to. What do you want?"
He leaned across the bar, propping his head on one hand, his numerous gold necklaces glittering. He scratched nervously at his hairy chest exposed by his open collar. "Listen," he whispered. "this guy is a jerk. I mean, we all like a little dirty joke now and then, but mooning the guests is going to ruin the night's take. What am I going to do?"
"Do? Let me put it this way -- if I were you, I'd wash off that barstool when Mister Windpants leaves. These guys only bathe when their horses won't let them get near them."
"Great," said the dwarf. "The stupid bugger will probably make this his regular hangout -- heh heh, get it? 'Hang-out?' and we'll be bankrupt within the year. Can't you put a hex or spell on him?"
"No, I can't. But I did warn him that wearing his ass on his sleeve could cause trouble. Do you have a messenger boy tonight? Good." I leaned across the bar and whispered an instruction to Svarthund, who clapped his hand over his mouth to contain his laugh.
"If this works, you get free beer for the next fortnight."
"Sometimes I actually like doing business with you. Not often, but sometimes." I raised a finger. "Oh, wait, I guess I want to say, 'I mean this once, and not ever again if I can help it.'"
Svarthund drummed his fingers on the bartop irritably at my insult and squinted at me. "So tell me, Shaman, how do you know how often guardsmen bathe?"
"I don't. But I have a nose on my face, now, don't I? This guy smells like a July barn."
Svarthund's eyes glittered like his necklaces. "You live in a cave under a tree and hedge. What do you know about bathing?"
"I bathe regularly in the stream that runs past the village, Hund. Not like you twice-a-year types."
"Oh," he said, looking at his fingernails. "That must be what's killing the livestock downstream." At the thump of my staff on the wooden floor, he laughed, "Gotcha, Aser," and walked away laughing.
In the meantime, guests were paying up their tabs and leaving the inn, most notably in the near vicinity to Guardsman Airy Drawers.
Sometimes people don't have any idea how offensive they are, in garb or demeanor. There was this swineherd up by Crosspasses in the mountains who had lived among his master's pigs so long that he had no recollection of what the air smelled like without Pig. He'd walk through the marketplace after the sale of his master's stock and people would crush away from him, holding their noses and masking their faces with handkerchiefs and hats. "Shaman," he said to me, "I must be the blessed of the gods. See how the crowds part ahead of me?"
"It's the smell of you that parts the ways," I'd told him honestly.
He'd shrugged in reply, "What smell would that be, Shaman?" and gone on his unobtruded way.
Svarthund returned to the bar, rubbing his hands together briskly, grinning as though greatly satisfied about something. He inquired up and down the bar as to refills; I covered the top of my mug, but the breezy-bottomed one tapped the bar to indicate he'd have another. "Pay up your tab first," Svarthund said, which I found promising, as normally the barkeep waits until one is done drinking to ask the patron to produce coinage.
The trooper flipped his tunic up to rummage in his left pants pocket, exposing himself yet again to the now-riveted audience. He put a small silver coin on the bar, muttering out the side of his mouth, "Greedy bastard, see if I leave him a tip."
Svarthund picked up the silver, examined it closely, poured another mug for the soldier and put it on the counter, and then winked at me, though not in the usual lustful sense that one would expect of Hund.
The wide door of the inn swung open and a troll squeezed in, a big fat greasy troll whose house was not far away on the north road. She was a lusty troll named Knifeheart, with a penchant for freshly-distilled corn liquor and nude entertainments. She began making her way to the bar, snow falling from the coarse blanket that she wore as a coat. Svarthund was waiting for her, gesturing her closer while his eyes remained on the Air-Bottom Captain.
Apparently the message I had suggested had been received, and with the hopes of yet another free beer, I snatched the pretzels-and-crackers basket from the guardsman and put it on my right side, far out of his reach. "Hey!" he cried, and stretched down the bar to grab the basket.
Knifeheart was treated to a grand display of the ripped trousers and what was underneath them. I swear little hearts began to fly upward from her to swirl and mingle with the hams in the rafters.
I pushed the basket of bar snacks farther away, which made the guardsman angry so that he lunged across the bar for them. Glaring furiously at me, he pulled the basket back and resumed his barstool, only to find by contact that Knifeheart had put her hand on it, palm up.
He looked startled, then slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder to see Knifeheart smiling sexily at him with yellow bedroom eyes, skin green and scaly and herself wide as three good men. He screamed and started to leap away, but Knifeheart easily slung him over one shoulder, gave his -- bum -- a smack, and exited the inn, though not before flipping Svarthund a cold coin.
Hund came over to my spot at the bar and nodded at the retreating troll and her screeching paramour. The servant girl by the door rushed forward with the guardsman's cloak and curtseyed, holding the cloak out to Knifeheart, who took it and draped it over the wailing soldier.
There was a clang out on the porch of the inn, and the remaining patrons broke into soft applause. "So much for Mr. Captain Slicesteel's sword," laughed Svarthund. "Good idea, Aser. You got your free beer, all right."
"You know, Hund, you just have to know the talents and hobbies of your fellow townsfolk."
"And your hobby must be scrapbooking the sexual interests of trolls."
"No, actually I have a knack for mathematics. My share of that gold coin should pay for a month of free beer, not a fortnight. And while you're here, what do you say to topping off this mug?"
What he said I really can't bring myself to repeat.