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May 20, 2024

The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call

By Sand Pilarski

Drinking extra beer and crying outrage, Aser and Danner show Margot the troll what being a hedge shaman with a mission is all about.

"Pick that up!" I shouted at a man in a mail coat who had dropped the wrapper of his sandwich and left it lying on the side of the road. Probably he was too stiff in his armor and didn't want to herniate himself bending. Too bad. "The Way is cluttered enough without you adding to the weight of trash that crushes the World!"

He hooched his scabbard around so that the pommel of his sword hilt would not poke him in his solar plexus, and squatted laboriously to pick up the greasy paper.

"The World thanks you, both the Seen and the Unseen," I called loudly.

"Good one, Aser, he really snapped to," said my friend Dan Ur-Jennan. "My turn," she said as we approached a couple of bony elves mincing along the verge, dressed in size 3 everythings, and both over six feet tall with their platform shoes and teased hair. "Hey!" Danner bellowed at them, "eat a sandwich!" Both of the elves rolled their eyes toward the evening sky and walked on faster.

As we approached the crossroads of the town, the traffic became more congested. Emptied carts were heading back to farmsteads, wheelbarrows were being pushed back to long croft gardens, and travelers were making their way into the city to find lodgings. Wagons longer than eighteen feet or with more than four oxen or horses have the right of way at crossroads, because the sheer inertia of the big transports makes it hard for the animals to stop suddenly or to start the load moving again from a halt. A two wheeled goat-cart zipped in front of a huge haywain pulled by six grey draft horses that was turning the corner. The lead horses stopped to avoid trampling the goat cart, the next pair ran into their rumps, the wheel horses ran into them, and the haywagon pushed forward, yanking the horses along by their harness. "You idiot!" I shouted at the receding goat cart's owner. "The haywagon had the right of way!"

The driver of the cart turned to face us angrily, fist raised, but then dropped the fist and shook the reins at the four goats to make them scurry on faster.

"Margot, crying outrage at wrongdoing is a whole lot easier with you along," I told the troll.

"Yeah," said Danner, "not one person has sworn at us or hit us with vegetables."

"Must be my sincere-looking countenance," said Margot, running a huge scaly hand over her mohawk haircut. "Or do you think it's the ten-foot spear?"

"Come on, Aser, let's get another drink. They had the worst watered down drinks I've ever tasted at that hotel where we ditched Cloudraft. I could hardly tell they had alcohol in them. This place looks good -- nice high ceilings and I can smell the beer from here. That's got to be some fine brew!" Danner did have a knack for finding taverns, even in a new town.

"Come on, Aser. And you owe me 10 gold coins," Margot told me. "Remember we bet that we'd have to go separate ways because I knew that wizard wouldn't make it."

We settled ourselves by the bar and ordered mugs for me and Danner and a pitcher for Margot. As I took a sip of the icy cold beer, I said, "You bet that we'd break up the party before a week was up, my dear chum. That week was up this morning at false dawn. And I don't take IOU's from trolls."

Danner finished her beer in record time and waved for another round. "Margot, never, ever make bets with Aser. She always wins because she never bets on anything but a sure thing, and if it isn't a sure thing, she makes it a sure thing."

I looked at the full mug of beer beside my half-empty one. "Margot, never, ever go drinking with Danner unless you're prepared to drink more than you intended and get into far more trouble than you intended. She's always looking for trouble, and if there isn't any, she'll make trouble."

"Runs in your family," Margot agreed. "Listen, we made the decision to ditch Cloudraft before this morning, so that means I won the bet."

"Ah, but we didn't, did we? We stuck to him through thick and thin and all his whining until this afternoon. I win, you lose."

Margot tapped the bar with a fingernail that looked like a bear claw. "Intent, Aser, intent. Just because we couldn't unload that weenie earlier doesn't mean we weren't going to." The bartender mistook her tapping and brought two more mugs and another pitcher for the troll. "I like this place," she said.

"If I drink all these, I'm going to have to spend the night in the stables with the horse," I complained. "And wake up feeling worse than Cloudraft."

"Can we just get off the subject of the wizard?" Danner grumped. "He's not that bad." Danner was still sensitive about the time she'd spent as Cloudraft the Great's apprentice and girlfriend, in spite of the fact that she'd been cursing him for most of today's journey to Anchovy Bay.

"That wizard is just like toilet paper that gets stuck to your heel," Margot said, working hard to find the right words. "And those baboons librarians of his are like tourists with maps and 'I love (here she made a heart-shape with index fingers) New York' hats and cameras."

"Toilet paper?" gasped Danner, trying to focus on the two trolls who had emerged from one. "Why, if he's toilet paper, then you're a ---"

She was interrupted by a pretzel vendor who had entered the bar with his wares in a tray. "Pretzels! Mini-loaves! Garlic bread!!" We all turned to watch him, as we all found ourselves interested in the scent of the breads.

A man in a long yellow-brown suede tunic embroidered with gilt thread gestured the vendor to his table with a flourish of his be-ringed hand. He picked two of the small loaves of bread in their paper packets and flipped a small silver piece into the air -- to land on the floor. The bread vendor had to remove the strap of the tray from around his neck, place the tray on a table, and then squat down to search for the coin in the sawdust on the floor. The buyer and his party laughed, gathered their purchases, and stood up to leave, but did not depart before taking two more loaves from the vendor's tray as he searched through the dirty wood shreds for the coin.

"Okay, that one just plain old pisses me off," I said, hopping off my barstool. "I want to see where this jerk lives."

"We'll smoke him," Margot grinned, cracking her knuckles.

"Aghhh, you eat people?" asked Danner, fumbling through the change in her pocket. She peered suspiciously at a large silver piece.

"Put down two of those," suggested the troll, and when Danner put them on the counter, Margot met the bartender's glance and winked at him. He broke into a sweat. "No, not smoke people, I mean SMOKE him, as in off him, or kack him, or donate him a pair of cement overshoes."

"We can't kill anybody over a couple pieces of bread," Danner said as we walked through the swinging doors, "just maybe make 'im wish we had."

There are few things that anger me more than seeing someone abuse another just because they feel that their wealth or position of power gives them the right. There isn't enough money in the World to buy the right to humiliate or mistreat people. The pretzel vendor had to buy his wares from the bakery and then walk from tavern to tavern to sell them, long after most folk are done with work for the day. Just because he hadn't been born into a noble family didn't mean that he should be ridiculed, made to grovel, and ripped off.

Some patrons of bathhouses I've visited treat the attendants that way, talking in front of them as though they were furniture, snatching towels rudely, tossing the sopping towels back to the attendants without so much as a "Good morning" or a "Thank you." Not that they needed to include them in all their conversations, but a recognition of humanity would be nice. Common courtesy would be nice.

Waitresses and waiters in restaurants get abused a lot. I've seen them shouted at by diners because the cook forgot to include a favored vegetable or overcooked the roast. Granted, the person who pays for the meal expects to get the meal he paid for, but unless the waitress was standing around painting her lips, and left the prepared food get cold, it might not be her fault. Serving in a restaurant is damned hard work, for barely enough pay to stay alive. Shouldn't we be looking at the person who has to work so hard and say, "Thank you for bringing my food from the kitchen to my table"? Incidentally, that kind of job is so fraught with abuse that if you stand up and defend a waiter when another patron is shouting at them, it's likely to get the waiter fired.

An earthquake changed the course of the streams that fed the deep lake at Aguas Dulces, and as the water levels dropped and the lake grew stagnant, and then dry, the caravans detoured away from the community, leaving the populace without an industry or an income. Morden Armories closed its sword factory in the northwest mountains, and opened an iron mine near Aguas Dulces, where it paid the workers half what the diggers had been paid at the previous location. And since Aguas Dulces wasn't Union, they could get away with paying straight hourly wages and no overtime. It wasn't a case of the company struggling to survive in a competitive marketplace; they just used up the workers in Aguas Dulces because -- they could. And so Aguas Dulces is now basically a labor camp with a high rate of mortality. Nevertheless, Morden Armories regularly issues press releases that brag about having brought income to an area that had none.

"Use your staff," I told Danner, "and you won't fall down as much. That creep turned down this street, I'm sure."

"There he is, turning into that townhouse. Nice place," said the troll. "Somebody with that kind of money ought to have better manners."

I rang the doorbell that was hanging there, and a servant answered. "We need to speak with your master." Seeing the staff and the tattoo on my jaw, the servant gestured us in, belatedly having doubts when he smelled Danner's breath, and even more when Margot had to bend over and sideways to get her shoulders in the door.

The man who entered the room next was indeed our rude quarry. "What the hell is this about?" he demanded.

"You owe the bread vendor an apology as well as another silver for the extra loaves you took," I said. "You can either do it in person, or we can carry the written apology and the coin back to him."

"I most certainly do not write to peasants!" he sputtered. "Nor offer them apologies!"

"Maybe you should," said Margot, her orange eyes narrowing. "Just in case maybe you made the mistake of being rude to the wrong person."

"Get out of my house, all of you, or I'll raise the alarm. How dare you bring your preaching to my door!"

We exited as he requested, Margot first, then I, dragging Danner backwards by her shirt. She was holding up her hands, framing the burgher with them. "One last chance to do the decent thing," she said, pointing her finger at him.

He slammed the door in her face.

"Bad move, huh?" said Margot to me, as Danner began to mutter to herself.

"Yes, I wouldn't have done that, myself. This should be interesting." We watched as Danner pointed her index finger straight up.

"Hah!" She said, and then chanted,

"Un hombre discortesia
necesita escarmentar.
Que las moscas muy molestas
le siguen si no va a cambiar!"

Just then a fat bluebottle fly landed on the candlelit window beside the door.

Margot looked at Danner perplexedly. "Why are you standing in the street making up poetry?"

"She's not. She just cast a spell on that fool that has to do with flies, am I right, Danner? And she did it in Spanish because she's too drunk to do it in Latin."

"Yup," she said. "If he doesn't change his ways, every rude fly in town is gonna head straight for him."

"Ooo. Isn't that a bit harsh?"

Danner shrugged. "All he has to do is be nice. How harsh is that?"

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-03-24
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