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November 28, 2022

The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story

By Sand Pilarski

Recent history gets tweaked as Dan Ur-Jennan relates how she single-handedly defeated the army of Kaladang the Axe. Well, of COURSE there's lots of beer involved!

"So I waded into the river above the Shelasian Falls of the Icetrout River and prepared to meet my doom rather than ally with the evil Fellmount of Verdansward," Danner said, waving a mug above her head and then downward to simulate the fall of the Falls. "But then this giant catfish -- had to be at least five foot long -- surfaced right next to me."

"'Hey, Toots,' the fish said to me, 'howabout sharing some of that trail food you're carrying? Mebbe a little bit of that beef jerky, or a piece of bread? I can smell them from here!" "'If I had a two-by-four, you'd be sharing your fat-fish filets,' I said to the fish.'

"'If you had a two-by-four to hang onto, you'd get swept over the falls and be food for my cousins,' said the giant catfish, its spiny whiskers accentuating its tiny buggly eyes.

"'You take me upriver to the Ford of Amalhassan and I'll give you all the jerky and bread I carry,' I told him.

"'Grab ahold,' said the fish, and I grabbed the dorsal fin (being careful of the spines), and the fish thrashed his way past the rocks. With his huge size besting the strong current, the giant catfish -- whose name was Muammar, I think -- carried me all the way to the ripples of the Ford of Amalhassan.

"In the thigh-deep water I began emptying my pack of dried fish and jerky and bread a bit at a time so that the catfish could eat them all as they hit the surface. That was when I caught sight of the tyrant, Kaladang the Axe, on his bay horse, with his army ranged out behind him, and knew that I had to do whatever I had to do to take them down."

Our companion Margot the Troll began to choke on the pitcher of beer she was drinking, and used her napkin and mine to stifle her coughs. The reporter for the news herald stopped writing on his paper and looked at Margot suspiciously.

"So sorry," I said to the reporter, reaching up to pat Margot on the shoulder. "My friend has a seafood allergy, and even the mention can set her off."

Margot left the inn, ducking to avoid hitting her head on the top of the door jamb, still coughing.

I excused myself, picking up both my mug and the remainders of Margot's pitcher, and followed her. She was sitting on the edge of the porch, the two napkins still crammed against her mouth. "You okay?" I asked.

"No," she replied. "You and your cousin are going to kill me with your tales, I know it."

"Danner isn't my cousin," I said honestly. "And I don't think we're going to cause your demise just because you can't put down the pitcher until a sentence is done."

"When are either of you done with a sentence?" the troll wheezed. "I can't figure out how you guys manage to breathe when you're telling a story."

"No, no, how could I continue the story without the company of my company?" Dan Ur-Jennan said as she stomped out onto the porch with the reporter following her closely.

"You're a sadist," said Margot the Troll.

"No, I'm a wizard," said Danner.

There is nothing but truth in the rumor that Danner is full of shit from the get-go. Brash and impulsive, she tends to let her mouth run ahead of her feet, so to speak. But to hear her suggest that she is a wizard simply stunned me. Danner is a shaman of the Ur-Jennans, and accidentally got transformed into some sort of wizard, but only in a minor way, by getting mixed up with some wizards and an unfortunate curse. It could happen to anyone.

Well, no, that's a lie, too. It could only happen to someone who was so headlong that she falls into any outlandish circumstance as a matter of everyday living -- and lying.

Now there are lies that get told that are evasions of responsibility. "No," the burgher says, "I didn't know that there was anything wrong with dumping me slops on me neighbor's roses. Thought maybe they'd be the better for the fertilizer. How was I to know they'd turn black from it?"

He's a liar. He emptied the chamber pot on his neighbor's garden because he didn't want the stench of the slops on his own.

Then there are the blunt evasions of consequence, as when the lizardman is caught wiping scales off his face when the King's goldfish pond turns up empty. "Did you eat the King's fish?" asks the guardsman.

"Nope," says Liz, a lily pad drooping off the back of his head. "Must of been someone else."

Of course there is no one else near the pond, and the lizardman's weskit is soaked ... did he lie, or did a passing fish-stealer toss a bucket of water on him and run away, leaving Liz to take the blame? Well, yes he lied, but is a batch of goldfish worth calling in a bloodsucking leech lawyer to defend a lizardman in court?

Misleading answers are a form of lie, also, as when Margot asked me if I had eaten the last of her take-out box of crab rangoon, and I answered, with my brow furrowed convincingly, "Where did you leave it? I know there were raccoons scuffling about the camp last night." Well, there were, and they woke me up and I was hungry ...

And leave us not forget the lies that become an art form: plain old flat-out, bald-faced lies that are told just because they can be, otherwise known as bullshit. That would be Danner's crime.

"Seeing Kaladang there on his fat horse, with his greasy moustaches down to the second button on his vest, I knew I had to act."

The reporter scribbled madly, and then asked, "What did you do?"

"I cast a spell," she said, passing a hand, palm out through the air. "I made every insect in the lands of Kaladang into a soldier to defend the weak and downtrodden. No sooner had I spoken the magic words, when a giant June-beetle came whizzing out of nowhere and smacked Kaladang right in the forehead!" She drained the last of her mug of beer. "At that moment, fifty horse-flies bit his horse, and off Kaladang went into the dust!"

"And his men?" asked the herald's news-gatherer.

"Completely immobilized," Danner said, looking into his eyes. "Every single one of them was unhorsed by the biting flies and mosquitoes and ants that just boiled up out of the earth. Kaladang is an ex-tyrant by next fall."

"What is your name?"

Margot looked at me in alarm and whispered, "Now you're going to have Kaladang looking for you for revenge? You two haven't had enough?"

"I'm Hailcatcher the Weatherwise," said Danner, with a beery air of hauteur.

"Oh, crap," muttered Margot, counting on her fingers. "That makes Fellmount, Kaladang, and Hailcatcher who will be on the lookout for you."

"There's also the dwarf-gang, and a band of lizardmen," I added amicably.

"But you have a shaman's tattoo," observed the reporter most observantly, pointing at Danner's jaw.

"Oh, the tattoo -- that's just a disguise so I could travel with old Ase Ur-Jennan there. Can't be too careful, you know. In real life, I'm tall and blonde and have legs that go from here to there, but if Kaladang comes looking for me -- well, you know, I wouldn't want anyone to identify me by sight."

I drummed my fingers once at the "old" adjective, and Margot tipped her pitcher and finished it.

The reporter scowled, full of skepticism, as any good reporter is. "You could be anyone, and just lying to me."

"Sweetheart, why would I lie to you?" Danner pointed to a bluebottle fly that was monotonously buzzing in circles in the shade of the inn's porch. "Look at that fly. What would you like me to make it do to prove to you who I am?"

"If you can make that fly circle around your head three times, and then fly up my boss the herald's nose -- he's inside -- I'll believe you."

"Which one is he?" asked Danner, standing and peering back in the door.

"There, the one in the burgundy vest."

"Oh, yeah, he looks like he needs a fly up the nose," she said. "However, a wizard does nothing for free -- that's guild rules," she said. "Damn guilds, they turn everything into a bottleneck -- so let's make a deal. If I fail, you owe nothing; if I make the fly circle my head three times and then fly up your boss's nose, you buy my company a round of beer."

"Deal," said the reporter.

Danner made a frame of her index fingers and thumbs and focused on the fly. Then she pointed at it with one index finger and the other seemed to grip an imaginary joystick. The fly zoomed at her, whipped around her head thrice and then made a bee-line (so to speak) for the interior of the inn.

We all jumped to our feet and watched as the large fly tried to force himself up the herald's nose, buzzing madly. Danner dropped her hands and the fly exited the nose, and landed, exhausted, on the herald's right ear. The herald, annoyed beyond reason, slapped the ear as hard as he could. The fly avoided his hand easily and flew wearily away, leaving a reddening hand-print behind.

The reported bowed deeply to Danner. "Not just the next round, but the rest of your thirst for this night."

"Why, all my gratitude, dah-ling," Danner drawled to him, imitating Hailcatcher quite well.

We tried to be as ethical as we could, and only held the reporter to two more rounds. He left the inn thrilled to have met the wizard Hailcatcher who had put a burr in the saddle of Kaladang the Axe.

Danner couldn't stop laughing to herself so we made her sleep in the barn. It's one thing to pull off a great show, but you have to know when to stop applauding yourself.

My clan has a saying: If you tell a man a lie, he will count his losses all the day. If you teach a man to lie, you give him a lifelong career as a politician.

I have this bad feeling that Danner's next step will be to run for public office.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-07-28
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