October 15, 2018


The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys


There are lots of tales worth telling, but few worth losing a beer over.

"I could hear him down there on the porch, rattling away. 'Yes, Daive Elspeth, I know. She climbed up on the roof after the breakfast hour this morning and hasn't come down for her good lunch. I didn't know that shamans were so whimsical, did you? Do you think she's communing with the spirit world about this great snowfall? I do hear that the shamans are in contact with the ghosts that make the weather change, but that was from my grandmother Ola Elspeth, do you remember her? She said she met a shaman in Crosspasses Market who was buying chicken bones for divining and told her about weather spirits. Shaman Aser up there hasn't brought out any chicken bones yet, but I was thinking of asking my good wife to stew up a chicken so that the shaman could read the bones. Maybe the shaman could tell us how soon Spring will actually be here, for 'tis obvious the Equinox Stone is lying like a dog, or else that troublemaking Lem Elspeth has been at moving the Stone again, trying to make Spring come by sooner.'

"That man could not shut up, neither for a fortune in gold nor to assure his ghost passage to the next world! After that freak storm packed snow drift nearly five feet deep against the front door, I was subjected to listening to the entire family history of the residents of Elspeth Village, and how their loyalty to their family and town led them to carry that name, every single one. The whole accursed day I spent watching the sky throw down snow upon snow and hearing George Elspeth chatter Elspeth this and Elspeth that while the children (whose names all included "Elspeth") ran up and down the stairs and his wife, Debbie Elspeth, cooked a vat of soup, baked bread, and smiling, sang to herself some endless elf-song about lounging under a hemlock tree, all alone and eating eclairs. I knew what she was smiling about -- probably the first time in ten years she had to herself!

"When the sun rose the next morning, I used a flat piece of kindling to dig my way out the back door and pack a path on the deep snow. I climbed the sweetgum tree by the house, and using a most-thoughtfully placed branch, thanks be to the Life That Guides the World, got up to the roof and sat against the chimney. The heat from the great fireplace below heated the bricks somewhat. It was cold, but I could put my feet against the chimney, and it was quiet. By then, that was all that mattered.

"Suddenly Daive Elspeth shrieked and began running away from the house in slow motion on his snowshoes. 'Gaahh!' said the voluble George Elspeth and I heard the front door of his house slam, just as a rider in helmet and black leather jacket on a flying carpet circled the house and then rose to park before me on the roof."

"A flying carpet?" asked Svarthelm, leaning one arm on the bar to eye my face more closely in the dim light of the inn.

"A flying carpet! I picked up my staff and stood on the roof-peak, ready to defend myself, when the rider whips off his helmet and there in front of me was a young baboon named Guillaume."

Svarthelm shoved my silver coin towards me. "That's it, you're cut off. A baboon on a flying carpet. You must have put the wrong kind of weeds on your fire, Aser." He turned away to wash some mugs and put them on the sideboard to dry.

"No, really, it was. He got into a fight with his older brother -- whose name is Narsai, by the way -- and stole his employer's magic carpet for spite, to joy ride around in. But after a couple hours, he knew he was going to be in deep trouble and was afraid to go home, so he came to find me."

"Not listening," said Svarthelm loudly, continuing to wash dishes.

"Guillaume knew that I would understand his behavior and could mediate for him when we got to his home. And I was more than glad to do so for a chance of a ride out of Elspeth." I finished my beer and pushed the mug forward, along with the silver coin. "Come on, 'Helm. I've been three days on the road and the beer over by the coast is the most insipid slop you ever tasted."

"And just how would a baboon know you were up in Elspeth? No one around here saw any baboons. The bars on the coast water down their beer, the crooks."

"He just said to the carpet, 'Take me to Ase Ur-Jennan.' That's kind of the point of having a magic carpet: it's magical. If the thing didn't have a global positioning system, you could end up anywhere and not know where the hell you were." I upended my mug over my mouth to see if there was even one drop left, then put it down closer to the edge of the bar so that the dark-haired dwarf would get the stronger hint.

"So now he's a talking baboon," Svarthelm said sarcastically, his hands on his hips.

"Well, of course he talks. How could he hold down a job if he didn't talk?"

"What's he do for a living, pick bananas?"

"He's an archivist and librarian."

"I'm not pouring any more beer for you, Shaman. You're crazier than a moth in a candle shop. You get drunk and the next thing you know you'll be seeing cockroaches the size of donkeys and cows in rhumba pants and go swinging that staff and wreck the place." He wrung out a bar cloth, put a dry dish towel over his shoulder, and hopped down from behind the bar to tend the tables.

That's the one problem with adventuring: after traveling to strange places and performing great feats of daring and wit, you come home and the neighbors observe your tan and your scars and your booty with upraised eyebrows, assuming that you've been to a gambling resort where you got into barfights but at least held a couple good hands of cards. You tell them about a land so hot that you can raise blisters on your toes by going barefoot, or an ocean so fierce that the waves pound holes in the rocks, and they look at their fingernails and say, "That's nice. Did you hear that the smith has a new anvil? I hear it came all the way from Great Well." Explain that you spent your summer vacation on the run from evil wizards or that you met a fire-breathing dragon face-to-face, and they look up at the sky hoping for a sudden rain-storm to give them an excuse to go home and shut their doors, and lock them firmly.

Maybe it's because they don't want to get so interested in wild and far off things that they feel compelled to leave their comfortable, safe lives. I'm lucky -- I live in a dirt-floored cave under a tree, and no one covets my place. But if you've got a sweet little farmstead with a family playing in front of the hearth, you really wouldn't want to leave that behind. Or if you have a pretty rose-covered cottage in town -- you take off for a couple months and by the time you get back the roses will have taken over the yard or squatters will have moved in to sit in your rocking chair and eat up your canned goods. Maybe it's better sometimes to not listen to fantastic stories and find you want to go running off to the Northlands or the Eastern Desert with their exotic animals and mysterious people.

"Are you still here, Aser? I told you, you're cut off. You may as well go crawl back under your hedge. I don't serve drunk shamans." Svarthelm shook the crumbs from his cleaning cloth into a trashcan.

"I'm not drunk, and my story was not the result of drugs or fever. How else can you explain how I got out of Elspeth with five feet of snow and ended up walking to our village here from the West, not the East?"

He took my mug from the bar and put it in the dishwater. "I'd say you were staggering around in a drunken stupor and missed our village on your way back from Elspeth and had to wait until you sobered up enough to figure out where you were."

"You insulting little turd, how would you like the Midgard Humane Society to find out how your Midweek stew has played a role in the reduction of stray cats in the area?"

"Go ahead and tattle, Shaman. They'll believe you just as much as they would if you told them your tale of flying monkeys." He grinned, showing a glint of a gold tooth under his heavy black moustache.

"You want to say that what happened to me is just a drunken tale because you're afraid you'd have to expand your vocabulary to repeat it to your brothers." I crossed my arms over my chest.

He narrowed his eyes. "No way was I going to repeat that raft of bullshit to my brothers."

"The only bullshit in this scenario is between your ears."

"The only bullshit in this scenario is what is sitting at my bar, trying to get another beer."

"Hey, I was just relating my recent experiences, and you, mired in your money-grubbing job, couldn't fathom that there's a wider world out there." I pocketed my silver coin, while Svarthelm watched the silver disappear. "Your loss is my weekly contribution to my next adventure. I've got a win-win situation here, 'Helm."

"You wouldn't if you had to put your money where your smartass mouth is," Svarthelm gritted in annoyance.

"Sure I would."

"You lie."

"Not at all, you unimaginative pixie."

"Pixie?!?" he shouted. "Who are you calling a damn dirty pixie?"

"Make a bet, Butthead. I can bet everything I got." I stood up and picked up my staff.

"You're a shaman. You got nothing but your staff and your robes, which no beggar would touch because they're so disgusting."

"Well, that's the point about the robes, but I do have a bank account in Great Well."

His greed won out over -- never mind, he didn't have "better sense" to win out over -- his greed just won out. "If you can't prove to me that story was real, I get your bank account," Svarthelm said with a triumphant smile.

"And if I prove that it was true, I get free beer for a year," I replied, extending a hand.

He took it and shook it.

"Get ready to ride in the morning, Sweetheart." I shrugged my cloak around my shoulders.

"What?" he said.

"We're hiring a horse in the morning and riding out to the coast, where I will introduce you to talking baboons and get you a ride on that carpet. A year of beer, Svarthelm. Think about that and weep into your pillow tonight."

"I can't leave this place in my brothers' hands! They got no business sense at all -- they'd let the fire go out in the fireplace and knock the barrels around until all you could tap would be foam! Forget it!" he shouted.

"Then how can I prove my story? What do you want me to do, invent the telephone and give him a call? See how you are? You listen to my story and call me a liar, you shake over a bet and then renege on it! I've got a mind to shout outrage about this in the marketplace, you weasel." I climbed down from the bar stool and turned my back.

"Don't do that!" chattered the dwarf. "Come on, Aser, we all have to make a living in this town!"

"Fine," I said to him. "I'll make you another deal. You bring me another beer, and I will put a piece of silver on the bar and say no more about magical baboons."

The beer was on the bar before I even sat down again. I was true to my word and said no more about Guillaume's misbehavior, but wondered if I should tell him that the Dragon of Gothwold Lake had recently sent me a letter saying he was going to drop by for a visit. Probably not.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-03-23

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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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