So I find myself sharing a campfire with a courier, a couple of constipated mountain gnomes on vacation, and about six skinny nervous-looking elves who don't want to share anything more than the fire.
"Got any toilet paper to spare in your packs?" one of the gnomes, a gnarly-looking little dark-haired fellow, asks of the elves. His wrinkled, hopefully-smiling face crumples into disappointed lines as the elves turn their backs on him, pulling their elegant capes closer in case he decides to avail himself of their yardage. "Bastards," he mutters, scuffling at the edge of the firelight for some dried leaves. " I bet I wouldn't be clogged up if I had some decent toilet paper."
"It's not the paper, it's the water, I keep telling you that," the other gnome drones, rolling his eyes up at the smoke of the fire. "The water around here tastes like mud. You might as well be eating cement."
The dark gnome crumbles leaves in his hand. "Look at this! This isn't going to work! If I try to --"
"Hey!" I bark. "This is more than I wanted to know, so shuttup already."
"Fiber," says the courier, in an affected and nasal voice. "If you don't have fiber, you have nothing."
"Where do I get this 'fiber'?" the anxious gnome asks the courier, who is trying to read a small book by the light of the fire. The gnome pokes one of the elves, who jumps about a foot in the air. "Hey, you guys got any of this 'fiber'? He says I need fiber. Got any extra handkerchiefs?"
"Get off," says the elf, hooching himself a little farther away.
"Not that kind of fiber, you ignorant thing," the courier says, with a sneer. "Fiber must be in the form of vegetative matter."
"You got any veg-tive matter?" the gnome demands of the courier, who shudders and shakes his head arrogantly. The little creature elbows the elf nearest him again, who turns to the gnome with gritted perfectly aligned teeth. "You guys got any veg-give matter you can share?" Asks the gnome. "Or a washrag?"
"Quit touching me," grates the elf.
"Hey, Shaman," says the mountain-dweller, "you know about this vegisive fiber? What is it?"
"Leaves, grass, greens; nuts, squash, beans," I reply, not wanting to be drawn into the conversation too deeply.
One of the elves jumps to his feet angrily. "Do not encourage the gnome to eat beans until we are safely away!"
"Why, one of you guys got some?" The gnome asks eagerly.
"The Elven Folk do not eat beans!" proclaims the angry one in a theatrical voice.
"I don't think they want to talk to you, Gnome," says the courier. "You're beneath them. Bodily functions are beneath them. You ever hear any of the old stories that mention constipated elves or bad breath or an elf-lord who got the shits? There, you see? All you're doing is pissing them off."
Grinding his teeth in frustration, the gnome complains, "Is it my fault I can't take a crap? If you couldn't take a dump, you'd be asking for solutions, too! Why the hell did we take a vacation in a pine forest at the end of winter, anyway? Even in summer I bet there aren't enough leaves for a sprite to scrub his ass, let alone all the traffic on this road!"
"I hear that orcs carry a string of corn cobs," I offer unhelpfully. "The way those elves are acting, there may be a band of them visiting before long. Maybe you can borrow a couple and that will relax you."
The gnome grabs his own cakes as if to protect them, and the courier looks alarmed, even though he's wearing a noncombatant badge.
"Oh, great," gripes the other gnome. "That's just what he needed to get comfortable with bodily functions in the wilderness. Not that it would make any difference, being as it's the water that's the problem."
I begin climbing into a white-pine tree. After leaping to catch a branch, I swing up and get about 20 feet into the branches, and wedge myself into a long-term position. "The first being that touches this branch gets a free one-time subscription to Being Knocked on the Head with My Staff."
"That's it!" cries the gnome. "A magazine! I just need a magazine to read and I'll be able to move like the Shah of Hortendoor on fifty elephants!" He tugs on the shoulder of the elf closest to the fire. "You dudes have any good magazines? How about a catalog?"
As one, the elves stand and level bows with arrows at him.
"So much for the 'Wayfarer's Way,'" he observes bitterly, and trudges back to his side of the fire. "I'm going to be awake all night, I just know it."
"Listen," I say from my perch in the sighing tree, "You won't die before tomorrow. When you get to the inn at Creekside, have a big salad with extra olive oil. And then have the sauerkraut main dish. Make sure you salt everything just a little extra. And drink plenty of beer."
The courier titters behind his book, which causes the gnome to look at him and the book more closely, almost avariciously.
Really, the elves do have a secret, but they are not at liberty to tell it, having been bound by a holy oath to keep the knowledge hidden. The elixir responsible for the glow of their great complexions, their steady nerves; stamina in travel, lack of allergies, absence of toenail fungus, and especially, low cholesterol and healthy digestion: apple cider vinegar and garlic.
I'm serious, you watch them -- before they take a drink from a water pitcher, one or another of them will dribble something into the flagon, and the something is vinegar. And the garlic thing, you'd think they'd stink to high heaven, but they get around the smell by swallowing the cloves whole, and then chewing mint leaves throughout the day. (Which also provides them with fiber, though they'd never admit to it.)
They rub the vinegar into their skins to keep insects from biting them, and then tell everybody they don't get bit because they're at one with nature or some such bosh. And everyone knows that garlic is good for keeping away the Undead -- that's really why elves have no fear of ghosts or wraiths.
I could tell the backed-up gnome about it myself, but if I did, the elves would shoot me right out of the tree like a possum about to become stewmeat. So the Secret of the Ancients remains little known.
In the morning, both the gnomes and the elves are gone, but the courier is searching around the campsite, sweating and swearing. "Have you seen my book?" he calls to me as I climb carefully down out of the resinous tree. "The little book I had last night. It had my map in it!"
"Sorry, just woke up." I begin poking at the char of our fire, to make sure it's out before I set back upon the road. The courier casts about beyond the circle of our camp, still looking.
"Here it is!" he crows with relief. "What the -- ! Dammit, there's pages ripped out of it! Oh, no, you bastard! My map? Not with my maaaap!"
Son of a gun. I guess it was the paper after all.April Fools Issue 2003