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January 30, 2023

Just Family

By Sand Pilarski

Two of the three dwarves who own the inn were trying to revive their brother (or semi-brother, I'm still unclear as to their parentage) after Danner had backhanded Svarthund in the head with her beer stein for dropping two silvers down the front of her shirt. Certainly the fellow had misjudged her state of inebriation as well as her temper. Did he deserve to be knocked out? Well, yes, of course.

Having rummaged around in her bosom and produced the silver coins, Danner fed them to the long-bodied bar dog that wandered around the great room of the Three Dwarves Inn. The short-legged dog, well-accustomed to swallowing bites of patrons' food whole, did not notice that the sausage chunks had a metallic center. After the dog finished the sausage-silver, he ambled back to the floor by the bar to lap up the beer that had flown from Danner's mug.

"Danner," I said, "you are so impetuous."

"Bullshit, Aser," she replied, banging her empty mug on the bar for a refill. "You would have done the same thing."

"That's not true," I told my friend and relative, "I would have knocked him on the head with my staff, and not tossed my beer all over the bar." I caught sight of the cook peering out from the bar window, and signaled him for another round of sausages, which, this season, prepared and fried, were uncommonly good. "Besides, I'm not a sexy shaman. I'm a shaman in drab, plain robes. But if I was thirty years younger, I'd have still been in drab robes, and not incurred this offense."

Dan Ur-Jennan drummed her fingers on the bar in irritation. The cook, mistaking her annoyance, hustled out of the kitchen with a pitcher of beer and a fresh sausage. "Aser, don't start on me about my clothes again."

"I commented only upon my own garments."

"You're just waiting for the opportunity to tell me about how I should be dressing in burlap, and cotton muu-muu's instead of blue suede boots, and a tunic and britches."

"My robe is not a muu-muu."

"If you were a fat shaman, it would be a muu-muu. As it is, it's a voluminous sack with a headhole and ripped seams for the arms. You have to wear a leather belt in order to find yourself in it when you go to the latrine."

Svarthund sat up, holding one hand to his forehead. He moaned once, and then held out his hand to his semi-brother Svarthelm. "Could you please write on this with the laundry pen, 'Don't try to pick up shamans?'"

"Yeah, I can do that," said his brother, and penned the runes onto Svarthund's hand and arm with an indelible marker he pulled from his back pocket. The runes he marked actually said, "Pay Svarthelm the three gold pieces you owe him," but Svarthund didn't seem to notice.

We noticed the writing implement, however. "Aser," Danner said, frowning, "have you noticed that there are rather a lot of anachronisms around these days? Stuff that has to be from another dimension or time?"

"Yes, and never quite when you need them," I agreed, cutting the hot sausage into convenient bite-sized chunks with my knife. "For instance, I've always thought a Geiger counter would come in handy if I had to travel the Black Mountains on the East Coast, but I've never found a single one."

"You haven't traveled to the East Coast, have you?" asked Danner, distracted from her original question.

"Maybe I have, and maybe I haven't, but in either case I would give a wide berth to the Black Mountains, where they say no creature survives for long, and those that manage to live long enough to reproduce spawn monsters, the very sight of whom astounds and offends the eye."

"Cut me a break, I read that same sentence in a travel brochure in the latrine here at the inn."

"Well, I used the holiday sales advertisement, but read the travel brochure. Just because it's a quote doesn't mean that it is untrue." I finished the sausage, took a bite of bread, and sipped another swallow of good beer.

"I can't believe you ate that whole thing and didn't even offer me a bite." She bent her lower lip inwards, posed her mouth just so, and let loose a deafening whistle. The already intimidated cook poked his head out from the kitchen. "Another sausage, if you please!" she shouted. "This one is mine, Aser. Don't even touch it. Still, don't you think that the anachronisms are getting kind of ... ubiquitous?"

"Can you spell that?" I asked her.

"Yes. Don't change the subject again."

"Oh, now giving orders to your elder."

She swallowed a big gulp of beer and looked around for someone else to rap with her staff. Finding no one within whacking range, she turned her back on me and looked at the fire in the big fireplace of the inn.

There's provoking a member of family, and then there's browbeating them. And it can be a fine line, whether it be by criticisms or by over-use of jokes. Danner was not only impetuous, but hot-tempered and utterly incapable of judging whether or not she could actually handle the situations she got into. At least it seemed so to me, her elder by a generation.

I judged that the only way to prod her to think about her actions was to tease her, as lecturing her did no good at all (her teachers were all bald from pulling their hair out in frustration) and her adventures had taught her only to seize the moment and run with it. (She was rather on the lucky side, which would be still another reason I didn't mind keeping company with her.) And besides, she got her fair share of verbal whacks on me, never missing an opportunity to comment upon my age, my penchant for annoying people (only in the line of duty, I swear), and my mother's ghost's eternal rudeness to Danner and her siblings.

Nevertheless, when poking at a friend and/or relative, you have to know when to draw the line. The curly-haired daughter-in-law of Goodwife Lackey has heard about how wayward her hair is from her mother, how flyaway her hair is from her straight-haired girlfriends, and how time-consuming her hair is from her husband, who wants his breakfast before dawn, but doesn't like to risk having long, curly hairs in with his bacon and eggs. The daughter-in-law could cut her hair as short as a dog's, but then her husband would be furious, for isn't a woman's hair a reflection of her value? Instead she bundles herself in a scarf to start the early day, a head garment that rubs and scritches against her skull. After her husband has gone off to work, and before the babies awake, she takes a four-tined comb and picks through the tangled curls until she is surrounded by a halo of hair excited by static and the warmth of the cottage fire. Yet curly hair being what it is, even after she has laboriously braided it in order to attack her daily schedule, after she has mixed grains into the pot of water over the fire, and split enough wood to keep the fire going, the wayward hair has begun escaping from the plaits and waves about her face again. By the time evening comes, and her husband returns from his work at the tanner's, and her mother-in-law arrives for her place at the supper table, she is a mass of frizz and loose strands that the babies have dragged upon.

At the end of the frustrating day, the last thing the young mother needs is to have Goodwife Lackey say is, "Why, look at ye! Didn't ye unwrap that gift of comb and brush I sent ye last holiday?"

Her mother-in-law should only keep her trap shut and thank her daughter-in-law for the food prepared and set upon the table. But of course, she won't, because Mother-In-Law has had hair as straight as a carpenter's measure, and wishes spitefully that she had had hair so curly and wild all the days of her life.

The daughter-in-law only laments that she didn't have hair as straight as the falls of the River Winder, where children flock to play in the low plummet of water, and wishes her tangles and time-consuming combing upon her mother-in-law.

They should just let each other alone.

And so, seeing Danner's face darken and her eyes draw in upon her torment, I should ease off teasing her and allow her to enjoy the company of the inn without further affront.

"How do you manage to live in this pot-hole of a village without becoming brain-dead like the rest of the residents?" Danner asked over her shoulder. "Or is that why you continue to hang around here, because it's easier to be brain-dead than sorry?"

I drained my beer, and hefted my staff. Sometimes there are consequences to provoking relatives that require more than a mere reprimand.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-03-19
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