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April 15, 2024

The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever

By Sand Pilarski

"I need a vacation," Danner said, scratching irritably at the neck of her apprentice's cape. "If I don't get out of here and see some road soon, I'm going to go nuts."

"You don't call Cloudraft 'Master' out of idle adoration," I told my relative and friend. "The agreement, if I recall, was that you were given wizardlike powers, but you had to remain in apprenticeship until they either disappeared or you mastered them, right?"

"Wizardlike power is like having chapped cakes from too long in the saddle. You can live with it, but you're reminded of how nasty it is every time you stand up, sit down, or walk to the inn for a beer."

"I wouldn't know, never having ridden a horse for so long that I'd get sore biscuits. A shaman is supposed to walk, so as to feel the pulse of the world through her feet." A long time had passed since I had lectured Danner, probably an hour or more. I felt obliged to remind her that her road to ruin -- or apprenticeship -- had begun with her infatuation with riding a horse and her greed for money for beer.

"Aser," she said, "if you were in my shoes -- "

"I don't wear shoes," I interrupted, glad to annoy her as much as she had annoyed me in past times.

She drummed her fingers one after another on the windowsill, staring out at the clouds over the ocean. The view was magnificent, but in point of fact, I could understand how Danner was feeling. Not long after my arrival in Cliffhaven, a lingering late winter ice storm had blown in and immobilized the whole city. Horses skidded on the frozen streets, all the wagons slid to the bottom of hills, and barefoot shamans had to just stay put until the ice melted. The city markets were running low on farm produce and the beer delivery to the tavern had stopped. It was a disaster, and about all people could do was stay home and feed their fires and put up with each other.

Being housebound in ill weather is a trying time for almost everyone. People start to get jealous of the view out the window, even if the view is only snow. They start to notice each other's little habits, like scratching behind their left ear when asked a question, or sitting with their chair rocked back on its rear legs. They get to know each other so well that they all know what the others are going to say, and though nobody wants to hear the same old thing again, no one wants to tell everyone else to just shut up until the weather changes. That is, if they have the sense to remember that the season will change and soon the front door will be open again. That's the key. Patience.

Danner stopped tapping the windowsill and turned back to me with a sigh. "If you were in my position, you would have found a way out of it by now. Maybe what I need to say is, 'How the hell do I get out of this for a while?'"

"If I was in your position, I'd have learned what I needed to learn and taken my leave."

"Don't even start nagging me about not being able to learn Latin for all the important magic spells," she snapped, angry again. "I get by with Spanish, and Barcelona is starting to look real good to me again. I'll bet that lawsuit was dropped by now."

"You wish. The elves have memories longer than the term of an interest-only mortgage."

A large baboon with a silver tea tray balanced on one, hand-like paw came to us, walking briskly. "Most Honored Distinguished Elder Shaman, I do not believe that you have answered the question of the Clever and Entertaining Apprentice and Younger Shaman." He handed us each a cup of hot tea, and sat down abruptly on the floor to sip at his own cup.

"Thank you, Narsai," I said. "You're quite right. Danner, if I wanted out, I'd just go. Now, that attitude earned me many hours of scrubbing Hall floors as punishment when I was young, but I just scrubbed away and knew that it was all worth it. The summer a friend and I ran away from the Clan and took off through the tunnels under Caedmon Castle was one of the best adventures I had before I was tattooed a shaman, even though for the next year after we returned I had to scribe notes for all my aunts and weed all their gardens every day. And when they tired of watching my every move, I was sent to tend the fires in the kitchen of the Noble Retirees.

"While I tended fires or swept or weeded, I remembered my adventures and smiled." I sipped the tea gratefully, giving thanks to the Life That Guides the World.

"Is that your way of saying, 'Let's go?'"

"No, that's my way of saying, 'Do what you think you have to do and accept the consequences.'"

"Good, let me change clothes, and we're out of here!"

"Danner, I'm not taking off on a campaign, I'm just going home to my cave."

"Oh, come on. You walked all the way to Cliffhaven with a disguised dragon in tow, and after that, you're just going home?" She snorted with disgust and disbelief. "That's like saying an elf with an itchy booger up his nose is just going to pick it out instead of making an epic song about the removal of the Scorching Nasodril of the Effluviums and trying to get some Ranger to go on a quest for it."

"'Just going home' is about what I can afford on this trip. It's been a hard winter this year. Lots of healing, not a lot of winning bets. You, Danner, have gone soft and forgotten what it's like being a shaman full time. You get paid for every spell you work that keeps bugs out of a house, plus your monthly stipend for as long as the spell has an effect. And any time you ask your pet wizard for a little cash, he hands you enough to feed ten shamans for a month."

"Hey," Danner said, "did I ask to be a wizard's apprentice? No, I didn't, now did I? If you knew what kind of crap an apprentice has to put up with, you wouldn't call him my 'pet wizard,' either. And by the way, don't mention the bug removal deals in front of him, okay? He wigs out if I cast a spell on a centipede on the ceiling without his approval or supervision, let alone an apartment building."

"You cast a spell on a centipede?"

She giggled. "Have you ever seen a centipede do the Macarena?"

"That's just irresponsible, Danner," I told her. "You're not supposed to do things just because you can."

"Right, Aser, like you refrained from reading the bumps on that guy's head up in Great Well, telling him that he should quit his accounting job and take employment in a stable, where he would find 'far greater wealth' than he ever imagined."

"He was a crooked accountant and begged me for magical advice. If he looked closely at his work in the stable, he'd have figured out that being greedy wasn't going to do him any good in the long run, and that was information of far greater wealth than he ever imagined. I didn't do that just because I could, I did it because he needed at least some opportunity to figure that out."

Pointing a finger at me, she said, "That, my dear elder, is called 'rationalization.' You figure out a way to excuse your own conduct before you even do it."

I pointed a finger back at her. "Don't lecture me, my dear youth, because what you're doing with your argument is called circumventing your own issues, which are all about abandoning the ideals of our Clan."

"Nuts. You could have told the dude with the bumps that you just didn't do that kind of work, and not taken his two gold pieces. Lying to people isn't part of the ideals of our Clan, either."

"I didn't lie to him, technically."

Narsai, setting his teacup on a side table, said, "If I may make my uninformed and most probably mistaken opinion known," (he bowed deeply), "I would hazard the presumptuous statement that there is no such thing as a technical truth. A truth stands upon its own pedestal, not needing background collages or lengthy excuses. Truth begins and ends with the intent of the speaker, to inform or to mislead. If the speaker informs without condition, we find Truth. However, if a certain statement presumes certain preconditions of which the hearer is unaware, then the utterance can be said to be deceptive, and thus Falsehood."

Danner grabbed a handful of her own hair. "Since the wizard's been out of town, Narsai's been reading his philosophy books."

"Aaaiiiieeeee!" Guillaume, the younger baboon, came flying out of the kitchen on all fours, slipped on the hardwood floor, and crashed into the side table, knocking the tea cup and saucer off to shatter and spill on the plush area rug.

"Inconsiderate, reckless, least appreciative of brothers!" Narsai shouted just as the kitchen imp appeared in the doorway, screeching, "Keep ya dirty monkey feet out of the cookie batter or I'll cut ya tail off!!" The imp flung a meat fork at Guillaume, who leaped in time to allow the fork to forcibly imbed in the wall, making a "wug-ga, wug-ga, wug-ga" sound.

Narsai spun on his feet and snatched up a magazine. He rolled it nimbly, and pointed at his younger brother with it. "Do not move, Brother! When I have dealt with the imp, you shall receive the next beating of the day!" He stomped to the kitchen, his mane ruffling and teeth showing.

Danner and I looked at each other. "We're out of here," I said to her. "Do you have an extra pair of boots?"

"Take me with you!" screeched the younger brother of Narsai, vaulting from behind a basket on the high shelf at the end of the room. He grasped Danner's belt and fell limply as a rug, imploring.

Yep, when a shaman finds herself corrected by a baboon -- however wonderful that baboon may be -- it's time to break the cabin fever and head out.

"We're going out for a walk, Narsai! See you a bit later!" Certain preconditions, my ass.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-06-01
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