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November 28, 2022

The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy

By Sand Pilarski

There was a strong scent of mint around the oak half-barrel of Garfer Miller's remains. Instead of pushing up daisies, I figured Garfer could make his ghost useful by fertilizing an herb garden in return for me saving his grave from further desecration by his irate heirs. The smell of horse on the air in front of my house was an indication that I'd had a visitor while I was at the tavern, having the Twosday night beer.

"Why is there a ghost in this planter?" asked Dan Ur-Jennan's voice in the dark.

"Ol' Garf has political views that I get a kick out of," I replied. "What's up, Danner?"

"Political views? All I've heard from this spook since I arrived are dirty words and accusations against his family. If he wasn't in your front yard, I'd have given him ten inches of cold steel and to Hell with him."

"That's why he's still hanging around. When he gets over his snit, he'll move on. In the mean time, I can't see letting his grandsons defile his burial more than they have already. You didn't answer my question. And now I'll ask another: Where's your horse?"

Danner pulled her staff out of the planter. "Melvan's staying with a farmer on the outskirts of your village for the time being. Can I stay here with you tonight?"

My eyebrows rose. "Sure. Make yourself at home." I opened the door and Danner strode past me, pulled her boots off, and wrapped a blanket around herself. "Right here will be fine," she said, and lay down facing the wall. "Yeah, this is more like it," she mumbled, and pretended to go to sleep.

I made a twig fire in the fireplace to take a little chill off the room, and thought about what I know about people who show up on your doorstep and ask for room on your floor.

First, few people would truly prefer sleeping on dirt in a couple cave-like rooms under a tree. From this I can surmise that Danner wasn't here because the dirt is less dirty than the dirt where she has been living.

Secondly, visitors don't normally show up unexpectedly at dusk to sleep on your dirt floor. So perhaps this means that Danner's travels weren't fully planned ahead of time.

Thirdly, when the surprise visitor arrives at nightfall to sleep on a dirt floor and immediately shuts up and pulls a blanket over her head, I must assume that Danner's arrival was not because she was interested in playing pinochle at the tavern or because she was burning with curiosity to hear about my many adventures or shopping experiences.

Lastly, Danner wasn't cursing up a storm, so I knew she hadn't been run out of some town for shooting off her big mouth or knocking someone for a loop with her staff.

The sum of those clues adds up. She'd had some kind of domestic argument with Cloudraft, the wizard to whom she'd been apprenticed, I'd even have bet my own money on it.

One of the greatest stresses friends put on each other is telling them their problems with boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, parents, co-workers, bosses ... the friend will frequently feel sympathy for the teller of the sad tale, become biased in favor of the friend, and offer advice. The sympathy part is all right, and listening to friends talk is kind. But that's where the good part tends to stop.

The goodwife weeps on her neighbor's kitchen table. "My husband is so awful I can't take it any more!" she howls, and her neighbor pats her shoulder. "He never helps around the house, he stays out until late boozing and schmoozing, and forgets all my birthdays and anniversaries!"

"You poor thing, I had no idea! What an idiot he is!" observes the neighbor. "You ought to kick his miserable lazy butt right out the door."

Next thing you know, the husband and goodwife have patched it up between themselves, and the goodwife remembers only that her neighbor called her husband an idiot. And how dare her neighbor call her spouse lazy? Whoops, so much for that friendship. "Why aren't you friends with our neighbor any more?" asks the spouse. "Because she called you a lazy idiot, that's why!" More ill will in the neighborhood.

For this reason I am not going to ask Danner what happened. I'm sure she'll tell me as much or more than I need to know, and while she does, I'm going to listen in silence. And when she's done, I'm going to pretend I never heard anything and wouldn't remember it anyway.

Even though I already think he had to have been an idiot.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-10-01
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