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January 30, 2023

The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need

By Sand Pilarski

Moonlight, a graveyard, and who can you turn to and call your best pal?

Friends are supposed to stick with you through thick and thin, aren't they? That's what I always thought. But sitting in the cemetery of the Ur-Folk, I was having doubts, and questioning what true friendship really means.

I made this friend, a troll named Margot, when I visited Promontory Hot Springs, at the beach spa that is renowned for its outstanding fish soup. Margot and I traveled together for a lot of last summer, and we got along pretty damn good. A troll who is literate is fairly unusual, but a troll like Margot who was accustomed and appreciative of human culture (her parents were inexplicable humanophiles -- hence her name) can be positively intriguing. We had times so good that when she took on a security guard contract with a big trade caravan that runs from Skuleflight Harbor in the north to Littledwarf Ridge aways down south and back again, we agreed to meet in the spring and travel together again, for kicks and trouble.

And we did, until the kicks and trouble got heavy on the trouble side, and a drunken plan to loose a fire-demon from his imprisonment set an evil magician on our trail. We weren't the ones who imprisoned the fire-demon, by the way. It was the evil magician, and when the fire-demon was set free, it went back to Fellmount of Verdansward and leveled his digs, which were currently at a great oceanside castle, though most currently his wing of the castle was a kind of black crater. So when Margot the Troll heard that Fellmount was out to kill us, she just left our company with her dog. Said she didn't want to be involved with more murders, and see ya someday if ya survive.

That's hard. I'd trusted Margot to watch my back, to share camp-rations, to drink her share of beer at taverns, and now she was just gone.

Some people think that trolls are slovenly by nature, scaly and smelly and crude, but Margot was, as they say, totally cool. She was about eight feet tall, with a spectacular mohawk and red leather garments. She wore wide wristbands of brass, and carried a ten-foot spear, and had a penchant for story-telling, both the telling and the listening-to.

The Life that Guides the World knew how much I missed her.

Not that I blamed her for cutting out, you know.

But I still missed Margot. Had Margot been with us, I could have turned to her with raised eyebrows in the moonlight, commenting silently upon Danner's habit of snuggling up to Cloudraft's back in the chill of the night, while he tenderly and mistakenly cuddled one of the talking baboons who administered his library on the other side. Instead I sat in the dark, with ghosts passing to and fro past my shaman's staff embedded in the ground, the only mortal awake in most of the world, it seemed.

Like thinking there's an extra step at the top of the staircase, when you try to step up and whomp! there is no next step, a friend's presence and support gone.

When a friend disappears or takes off from your company, you automatically think, "Well, what did I do? What did I say? Was I that boring? Did I stink?" And there's no way of knowing unless you march up to the absent friend (providing you can find 'em) and ask those questions right into their eyes, and hope that they won't just lie to you to be socially polite. Ah, it's Icy-Hell-and-Whacks however it turns out, now isn't it?

Unless your friend had some kind of catastrophe happen, which you wouldn't wish on your friend (or even an enemy) and that's why they lost contact with you. Then even more you'd wish you had kept in touch.

I wondered where Margot was. Did she go back south to Anchovy Bay to meet back up with the bartender who used to slip her extra pitchers of beer? Did she head north to Promontory Hot Springs, where she'd made 'special friends' with the chef and got his recipe for fish soup?

I know it's not like trolls are known for their faithfulness or anything. They're known for being big, scaly, and formidable, whether in battle or in restaurants. Maybe trolls are just more forthright than most creatures because they can be. All I knew is that I missed Margot like I would have missed my right arm. She was fun. She was funny. She believed all my tall tales -- for a few minutes.

I'd thought she was just about my best friend.

But we can't hang on to people when they move on, no matter how much we love them and think we need to have them by our sides. People or friends, whatever you call them, do not belong to us as possessions. We can't expect them to come when we call them, like pet animals.

People are people, and each one has his or her path to tread in the World. Sometimes their path takes them far from home. And friends aren't security blankets, to be dragged along with us from our mama's side into danger, to make us feel brave.

Sitting in the dark in a graveyard, watching ghosts pace by and occasionally stop to chat with each other, acquaintances of a thousand years, some of them, just made me wish I had my friend nearby. About ten minutes ago, I heard one ghost tell another a joke about a person called Lord Grandwood, who walked into a bar with a pig under his arm. The bartender asked, "Where'd you get the pig?" and the pig piped up, "I met him on the Hatseller's Lane."

I'm sure Margot the Troll would have laughed.

Friends should always keep in touch.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-05-19
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