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June 24, 2024

The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market

By Sand Pilarski

Take a deep breath -- there's something on the breeze. Must be the Twosday Market in Crosspasses.

The inn at Crosspasses Market is awfully quiet for a Twosday evening, and the innkeeper looks irritable. I put my gold coin on the bar and he grumps that he can't change anything that big.

"What if I order a big bath, laundry service, meals to my room, and a pedicure?" I ask him. "I've just come from Swale and I feel like a touch of luxury."

"Those cheap bastards, bet they gave you stewed goat turds and called it chili," he says with heartfelt sympathy. "You're from one of the Ur-clans, aren't you? Long way from Ur."

"Ase Ur-Jennan, at your service."

"I figured from the tattoo. Ur-Jennan, eh? Shaman, then? Listen, you have free room, board, and all the frills if you can shout us up a spell to stop the Twosday Night Terrors."

"Deal, and if I can't, you get the gold coin with no change at all. What's the story?" (If nothing else, I'd get rid of one damned gold coin at least. I can't spend the big stuff here, and the haul of 500 coins is really, really heavy.

"The eldest son of the nobleman of Passwatch Castle came of age last month, and his father (old fool that he is) made him a gift of 20 Muspellheim chargers, with the full package of gear, so he could build him a personal cavalry. But instead of working them to practice protecting, the punk thinks he'd rather be a jockey than a knight. He and his idiot friends ride full speed through the Crosspasses Road every Twosday night, to scatter the Twosday night crowds after Market. That's why no one's about -- papas keep their children in, and the old folks are afraid. You'll see, in about an hour."

"How about the room, and then I'll go have a look. Can you make sure no one messes with my load of magic herbs, here?"

"No one screws with a shaman! This way!" He waddles off towards the stairs, cackling.

Hah! Screw-free shamans are mythological creatures like corkindrills and honest public servants. With my bundles of herbs and the sacks of jingly stuff dumped in the room, I figure I'll check out this Crosspasses Road and see if some kind of bike lane or sidewalk won't do the trick.

I get a young guide, who's more nervous than I like, and we start walking northwest along the North Pass Road. Just where the road narrows from the marketplace, and goes between the wall of the mountain and the great lake that is the reservoir for all the nearby lowland towns, my escort refuses to go on. "Just listen, and stay back," he says, and I become aware of a growing vibration in the ground.

The vibration becomes a thunderous pounding, and around a sharp corner come what looks like a hundred war-horses in crashing armor, and hooting, swearing, well-armed idiots spurring them on to maximum speed. They fan out as they cross the marketplace, using swords to knock down late tent frames, raising dust, making all and sundry get out of their way because they are -- important? Moneyed? Well-born? Certainly isn't because they're smart.

"They'll come back the same way just at sundown," my kid says. "Do you want to stay to watch?"

"No, sir, I am ready to return to the inn. I will be able to think better if I don't smell like a goat." And indeed, this was true. Bad smells make bad thinks.

The next morning, I get together the town council and magistrate. "What you need is a speed bump," I tell them. "Uhmm, something to slow the rate of progress along the road."

"We tried a barrier, but they ran over it, and we can't do anything like a pike stand, 'cause in spite of the trouble, they are our protection, so we can't kill those horses. Those are specially bred war-horses, and worth more each than most of our houses."

"And they're kept at the castle, right? Anyone raise hogs in this village?"

You see, I was reminded of the many times I have been asked how to keep a neighbor's cats out of the garden. You can't kill the neighbors' cats, because the neighbors will get pissed at the increase in rodents. You can't throw garbage at them, because they don't care, and you'll miss them anyway and have to pick up the garbage the next day. The only way to deter cats from your tomato plants is by making the area too disgusting to dig in. For the cats, that is. Coffee grounds work well, provided you can afford the coffee, and don't mind emptying the perk basket every morning. Cats hate coffee. For an agricultural community, dried cow patties chopped fine are wonderful. Cats don't like cowpies on their feet. And then there's horses, and what will make the racetrack too disgusting to run on ...

The mayor of Crosspasses sends a messenger the next Twosday morning to the nobleman's castle, and tells him there's been a spill of barrels and vegetables, and maybe the son shouldn't go too fast around the bend by the lake. And of course, if you're a young asshole feeling his power, you will make the bend faster than ever.

Pampered, cosseted war horses are not going to like the four barrels of pigshit that are spread across the narrow road between the mountain wall and the lake. There's just some intrinsic antipathy: horses will generally not be led into a shed with hogs, and coming round a bend into a miasma of porcine ordure ... well, I suspect the lake will have some interesting accessories for adventurous divers to retrieve.

A week's rest and daily baths and a warm bed and good breakfasts have done me no end of good. Twosday night this week the streets are lined with people curious to see if the road race would still occur. Sundown, and no race, and the inn is packed with commentators and opinionators, as it should be. The farmers with piggeries are happy; they've found an outlet for a waste product. The town council decided on a pig manure strip on the four roads leading to the village for the indefinite future, and passed a measure that requests citizens to be as deferential towards the noble family as possible. After humiliating the high and mighty, it is well to humbly hold your hat in your hand and duck your head -- this hides your smug smile.

I stayed in Crosspasses for several weeks, and with the gold piece the innkeeper still refused to take, bought a slightly lame Muspellheim charger who can carry my herb sacks and -- what all -- and has a beautiful disposition in spite of his phobia about hogs and water.

The sight of twenty war-horses bucking and screaming and shying from full gallop to full reverse would have been something to see, but then I would have been blamed for being present instead of the pig poop. But I can just imagine ...

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-04-02
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