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July 15, 2024

The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates

By Sand Pilarski

Good table manners aren't just a formality -- bringing uncouth guests to a dinner date really annoys people.

"Do you have to bring those damn birds into the bar, Aser?" asked the bartender, the dark haired dwarf with the big moustache. "They get shit all over everything."

"Lucky it's birdshit rather than your cooking, Svarthelm," I said, feeding the two crows stew and crackers I'd bought for them as payment for their letter-carrying services.

"Don't knock it," said the older of the two crows. "It's better than what we find run over in the street."

"Yeah," said his brother, gulping down the spoonful I offered him. "Classier, like."

"Seven secret herbs and spices," said the first, clacking his beak.

"Enriched with vitamins and minerals," croaked the brother.

"New but not improved!" Shouted the first, and both crows began to caw loudly with laughter.

"Hey, shut up!" Yelled a patron who was playing cards at a table near the door.

His shout seemed to startle the birds and they flew around the inn's common room, swooping and calling. Then they landed on the card table and were mysteriously quiet. The older crow hopped up onto the patron's shoulder, putting his beak close to the man's ear. The man held as still as a statue as the bird whispered, "You've got the best hand, Matey. Now's your chance."

The man picked up a stack of coins and threw them into the middle of the table. "Come on, boys," he bellowed. "Let's see who's got the guts to bet with the men of the village!" Before another player could move, the crow bit the man on the ear with his hard black beak, causing him to scream and drop his cards, face up, on the table. Both crows fluttered about the card table, screaming crow insults.

"Ya cross-eyed, ten-toed, featherless gall-head!" squawked one.

"Who taught ye how to dress yerself, yer Uncle Dim?" cried the other, diving at the table to scatter cards and money. By the time I had reached the door, the brother crow had dropped a purloined gold coin on the bar and cawed to Svarthelm, "Here's your tip!" The crows flew past my head as I opened the door and we exited The Three Dwarves Inn a bit more quickly than we had entered.

"You guys have got to learn some better table manners," I told the two crows, who landed in the lower branches of an elm tree outside the inn. "It's one thing to insult the bartender, but you can't just go around biting patrons and calling them names."

"Yah, sure. The next time we'll just whistle 'Peeee-ooooo' over and over again like some dumb batch of finches," said the younger brother.

"Or hey, we could do a mockingbird imitation," said the older one. "Get-a-life, get-a-life, get-a-life, moron, moron, moron, who's-your-daddy, who's-your -daddy, who's-your-daddy," he sang in melodic mimicry.

"Fine. Next time I need a letter carried, I'll make arrangements for the Owl to do an overnight delivery. At least an owl knows when to keep his mouth shut."

Both birds flew higher in the tree, cawing the crow sound that alerts other crows that an owl is near. "Overnight delivery?" shrieked the older brother. "More like book rate with insufficient postage! Owls! Haw!"

Fortunately it was Firstday, and not Twosday, so I didn't have to weather the irritation of the clients for my weekly beer. Bringing uncouth guests to a dinner date really annoys people.

I remember when Lord Stonewall hosted the Westlands Jousting Playoffs some years ago. Lord Seaguard, who always had an eye on winning the Westlands Best Trophy, had signed to his roster a rookie knight who stood about seven feet tall, had biceps the thickness of a roasting-pig, and who was reputed to dine on "land oysters" (bull, donkey, horse, boar, it didn't matter, they said) six days a week. Now this fellow was as rock firm in a joust as a tree, and slung a sword in the melee like a berserker, but when the time came for the evening gathering, he strode into the great hall like it was a tavern, slung a serving wench over one shoulder, and in spite of his burden, went to be introduced to Lady Stonewall, and winked at her as he bowed over her hand. "Need ye sons? Just let me know!"

Lord Stonewall was not amused. The Westlands Jousting Association disallowed the rookie's competition and fined Seaguard ten thousand gold pieces for his knight's indiscretion.

And then there was the marriage of the blacksmith's daughter -- well, what was supposed to be the marriage. The blacksmith invited his favored long-term clients to witness his daughter's marriage, and that included the Elven household of Tiriannen: Galar the Elder, his wife Lisobariel, and their daughter Chiernavan, who popped her chewing gum and picked at her dress straps though the whole ceremony. At the wedding dinner, Chiernavan sat across from the groom, kicking him with her magical little toes and ignoring the bride, drinking toast after toast of sparkling mead. Her father pinched her to draw her to better behavior, but she just said, "Ow," and rose to leave the room, looking back over her shoulder at the groom. When the time came to send off the bride and groom, the groom (and Chiernavan) could not be found. The magistrate who had performed the ceremony announced that unless the groom showed up again by midnight to bed the bride, the marriage was null and void.

Although Chiernavan was later found in her own bed, sound asleep, and the groom was rescued from wandering lost in the woods some hours before dawn, the Tiriannen family in embarrassment reimbursed the smith for the cost of the wedding feast. The blacksmith accepted the coinage, but still declined to do any business with the elves from that night forward. His daughter also declined to do any more business with the erstwhile groom.

My clan tends the great fields in which all the seven clans of Ur gather each fall. As hosts to that varied throng, we must exercise great patience and tact when the snotty Ur-Siddens strut about psychoanalyzing everyone who says, "Hey, nice coat! How ya been?" and the Ur-Raffens with their hair-trigger tempers are always a hiccup away from threatening to set something on fire. And every single year, one or another of the Ur-Sutten kids has too much beer for common sense and climbs up in an oak tree to hurl acorns at the other guests with their clan's unnatural accuracy and power. It would be nice if the Sidden Elders told their people to shut up, the Raffen Elders told hotheads to just calm down, and the Sutten Elders told the youngsters to stay away from the beer or the trees, pick one, but somehow, that never seems to happen before the Clan Gathering. This would be one of the main reasons there is only one Clan Gathering a year. And this would be one of the main reasons I somehow didn't manage to make it back to the Clan Gathering this past autumn.

The cawing of my crow friends had drawn a crowd of other crows. They clustered in the elm tree like out-of-season fruits, saying "Yah, you betcha" and "Aww, me head" back and forth as the evening drew on, getting noisier and noisier. Just before sundown, the card players at the inn marched forth, belching proudly and shrugging on their shawls and jackets. As the players exited the wide inn porch, nearly a hundred crows swooped over the yard, and spattered the card-players with bits of white while screaming epithets like "Root-toes" and "Fat-ass." The patrons covered their heads and ran for their carts and homes, cursing all bird life in the mean time.

From my vantage point behind the elm tree, I had to admit that my friends the crows would have to get used to Take-Out from now on.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-12-15
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