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May 27, 2024

The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step

By Sand Pilarski

You know how they say "The first step's a doozy?" Well it's a piece of cake compared to when you decide to put the next step in front of the first.

"What's all this stuff?" Margot the Troll asked Melody, gesturing with a huge scaly hand at the pile of trunks, suitcases, and sacks belonging to the barmaid who wanted to follow us on our trail.

"It's my stuff, ma'am," said the girl, pronouncing it "mum."

"What kind of stuff, Melody?" I asked her, although I already knew the answers.

"My mummy's dishes, my clothes, my books, Gammer's wedding quilt for when I get married, some silverwares for the table, a linen set for a kitchen and one for a bed. Won't it fit on your wagon?"

I held up my pack and my staff. "No, girl, this is all I carry, plus the dagger and water flask on my belt. We don't have a wheelbarrow, let alone a wagon."

Her brow wrinkled. "But I thought that when you ladies paid for your beer with gold, that you were rich travelers."

"Hey, I have gold because I am one hard-working troll," said Margot, her orange eyes glowing. "But that doesn't mean I'll bounce my ass off in a wagon."

"Melody, maybe you're better off staying here and marrying Orthy the Innkeeper. You'll be able to keep your family heirlooms and pass them on to your own daughters." I turned to go. False dawn was gone, and we wanted to be on the western side of Shaddir when it grew light.

How easy it is to say, "I'm going to change my life tomorrow! I'm going to do new things! I'm going to go new places!" And some worthies will pat you on the back and say, "Oh, aye, it's the first step that's the hardest, and you've just taken it!"

I think that it's the second step that's the hardest, because with the first step, you've still got that lagging foot mired in what you had and where you were before. The second step is figuring out what all you have to leave behind. I remember this clerk who had worked for a banker in Great Well since he was a boy. He'd been sent to work at the bank as soon as he learned his sums and had a passable writing hand. In his twentieth year with the firm, he was given a bonus and a whopping four weeks vacation. He traveled the Great North Road, and on his journey, met a centauress and fell in love. He chose to leave his steady job at the bank to go live in the wilderness with the centaurs. "It was easy to tell my boss I was quitting," he said, "but after saying goodbye to all the good people I had worked with since I was a boy, walking out the front door never to return again hurt like an arrow in my heart."

Melody looked troubled, her gaze set upon the big trunk in which, I guessed, resided her mother's dishes and grandmother's wedding quilt.

"Listen," rumbled Margot. "My parents used to live in Giant Country, and they say it was one crappy place to live. Giants hate trolls up there, but they don't even remember why, so a troll family couldn't ever make up with them. When they knew I was in Mom's belly, they picked up and left their homestead, just left it standing open, and set out for Northold. There was no way they could sell any of their housewares to giants, and there was no way for them to carry anything, because they didn't have any way to buy a pull-cart. Dad cussed and swore the whole way because he promised to carry Mom's cookpots and frying pans, but that and a couple blankets they wrapped around themselves was all they kept. But they made out okay. When they got to Northold, they were made welcome, and folks there were glad to give them of their excess to get them started again. They changed their names to Pierre and Adele, and they still live there, as happy as you like. Sometimes you just got to shut your eyes and shake hands with Chance.

"Or you don't," concluded the troll. "You can make the best of your situation with all your treasures and memories around you. Both ways work, as long as you know that you're the one who makes the choice." As the girl continued to stare at the pile of goods, Margot turned her back as well.

"No, wait!" hissed the girl. "I can't stay! Not now that I almost left!" She turned with a swirl of her cloak and stared at the back door of the inn. "I can't go back in there, I'll hate myself all my life if I do!"

"If you come with us," I said, "you'll find yourself sleeping out in the open quite often. You'll get cold, and you'll get wet. Hungry, too, don't let me forget that. You'll meet strange wayfarers, and wild animals will bite you on the leg."

Margot gave me a nudge with her elbow that nearly knocked me to the ground. "Don't believe everything that Aser says. Are you coming with us or not?"

"Tell me what I have to bring -- oh! and tell me what I can do with the rest, for I surely don't want that turd Orthy to use my family's goods." She began rummaging in a suitcase to pull out a tunic and skirt.

"There's a tailor on this street, on the next block," I said. "She's a widow, and has a half-dozen kids. Why don't we drag this over to her and let her make what use of it as she will?"

The girl had struggled into the tunic and skirt, wearing them over the lavender dress and petticoats, and wrapped her grandmother's quilt across one shoulder. The leather strap that had held closed the trunk she wrapped around her waist to secure the quilt. She tightened the makeshift belt, and the end of it nearly dragged to the ground. "Let's go," she said grimly. Heaving two trunks onto a blanket, she began dragging it up the alley towards the tailor's shop.

As Margot and I swung bags to our shoulders and hoisted suitcases, I took the opportunity to mention to the tall troll, "You know, Margot, I'm the one who's supposed to tell examples of what other people have done in similar situations. That's part of what being a shaman is all about."

She looked down at me from her eight feet tall. "Right, Aser, why didn't you just put your hand over my mouth and stop me?"

"Margot, I guess I just wanted to take my arm and hand with me when I go."

She chuckled like the sound of fracturing sandstone. "As long as you know you're the one who made that choice."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-08-18
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