November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior


Foreign customs, forebearance, and fabrications...just the thing for conversation when you're on the road...

"Actually," I said in reply to Margot's question, "I don't believe anyone was trying to kill us here. This inn was very peaceful when we came through."

"You must have had a short stay, then," the troll groused, dumping her pack on the porch of the hostel.

The innkeeper came bounding out the door, wiping his hands on his floursack apron. "Good day, Ma'am, I regret that I must tell you we have no troll-sized accommodations! Please don't spear anyone, Ma'am!"

Margot turned to me. "I've got to find some less intimidating clothes. All I do is show up and suddenly I'm on a par with the Black Knight from the Coast."

"Red leather and brass and Damascan spears on an eight foot troll will tend to do that," I agreed. "What if we just spend the night in the barn with our animals?"

"Oh, it's you, Shaman, that's all right then," said the innkeeper. "That'll be fine with me, just put the horse in any empty stall and I'll send the stable boy to tend him. The main dish tonight is chicken, will you and your friend care to dine?"

"Thank you, we would. Can you roast us up about three --"

"Four," suggested Margot.

"-- four chickens? And about two quarts of vegetable stew?" The dog glared at me from behind Margot's legs, making a whining sound that was almost a mumble, his ears bent out to the sides. "And a couple raw eggs, and do you have any scraps for our dog? A beef bone? Wonderful. Once we get settled we'll be back for food."

As we continued up the track behind the inn to the barn, the dog said, "Damn, I hate making those puppy noises! I thought you were going to forget food for me, and cooked chicken bones are just no good. I like the idea of the eggs, though, eggs are really good." He licked his lips, salivating, then paused, one foot in the air. "Or were you ordering the eggs for you?"

"We like eggs, too," I told him. "People put them in beer." As Margot grimaced, I felt the need to continue. "And that's not all people put in beer. Sometimes they salt it. Or dump a couple olives into it. In fact I once knew a druid who put ground up tomatoes and olives and a celery stick in his beer. You could pack an entire meal into a big brew, just by -- "

"STOP!" demanded Margot. "We're going to have dinner in a little bit, do you mind, Aser?"

"Not at all," I replied. "Don't worry, the eggs are for you, Racer. Fatten you up a bit." Leading our horse into the barn, I said, "Hope you don't mind the lodgings. There aren't many places that cater to trolls at all."

"That's because trolls don't generally travel much. So hotels don't think it's profitable to keep that much space for guests who rarely show up." We unloaded baggage from the horse's back and wiped his hide with handfuls of straw, while the dog sniffed around the barn, and barked suddenly.

"Monkeys!" the dog exclaimed, the hair on his spine standing up. "Those damned talking monkeys have been here!" He cast about showing his teeth and rumbling in his throat.

"Yes, they were here," I mentioned, leading the big black horse into a box stall. "I was here with them, as you may sniff. What have you got against a couple of baboons, anyway?"

"I hate 'em," said the dog. He began to sniff the side of a bale of hay.

"Don't piss on the hay, Racer, if you know what's good for you. Never piss on hay, or near a stream, or on someone's trade cargo," Margot lectured him. "Or on people."

"Why do you hate the talking baboons?" I asked the spotted dog. "They were the result of magic, the same as you."

Racer was still casting about the barn, mumbling to himself. As he returned to us, he said, "Snobs, both of them -- wouldn't talk to us other animals, only among themselves. Always yapping about the books and magazines they'd read, but never offering to read to them of us as couldn't turn pages on our own."

I finished with the horse, and left him nosing the straw. "Maybe they've learned differently since then."

"Don't tell me they're still around somewhere!" the dog said, with a sneeze of disbelief. "Good! It will give me another chance to bite them!"

"What about the magicked horses?" I asked. "Did you talk to them?"

"Well, yeah," the dog replied. "But all we had to tell them was not to kick because we meant them no harm. The monkeys were different. Kind of like they were supposed to be like people but weren't."

Margot looked down at the dog. "I'm not like your 'people'. What about me?"

The dog looked up at her, wagging not only his tail, but his entire back side. "You're People. You know what a dog is for."

I spoke to Margot. "The horses would have known what a dog was for, too. Both of them are domesticated."

Racer said, "Yeah, I think that's it. We knew what our place was, but the monkeys didn't. They didn't know what their own place was."

"They're from a foreign land, Racer. In their land the only dog-like creatures they knew were jackals who scavenge and hyenas who kill them; that's why they don't know about real dogs."

The dog pawed at his muzzle with his right paw. "No excuse."

Margot's scaled brow furrowed. "Listen, Dog, if you're coming with me on my next caravan run, you're going to have to learn to deal with foreigners. And move among them with humility and keep your trap shut."

"That's the worst thing about being a talking dog, have I told you that?" retorted the dog. "Shut up, Dog; don't speak, Dog; Racer, remember not to talk."

Margot began shifting bales of hay to make us a private enclosure. "Well, get this: My train runs east of the mountains down south for a while, and there is a big territory there where people have customs a whole lot different from what you see around here.

"The people live in tents because of the heat for 10 months of the year, and for the other two months, they gather herbs and roots and warm themselves with fires built from dried dung from their beasts of burden. They keep dogs."

"Smart people," replied the dog, his ears pricked in interest.

"They keep dogs because the dogs eat up all their camp garbage," Margot said, and Racer winced. "And because dogs have warm furry pelts that tan up real nice for winter coats and hats."

"No!" barked Racer, leaping to his feet.

"Yes!" the troll nodded. "If you asked those people 'What are dogs for?' their answer would be: 'Lunch.' They're people. They just have different ways of staying alive." She dusted the straw chaff off her hands. "So would you rather visit the dog-eating Lanabi, or talk civil with a couple of baboons?"

"Well, I'm a dog, so I don't guess I'm going to get a choice anyway," said the hound. "But I'd rather not be the Lastday roast."

"Good dog," pronounced Margot, and Racer wiggled with delight. "So no baboon-biting."

"No baboon-biting."

"Stay here and guard our stuff. We'll bring your food back with us."

"Yes, ma'am," said the dog, and lay down with his head on a bedroll.

As we walked back to the inn for our feast, I noted to Margot, "Wasn't the cautionary fable-telling supposed to be my job?"

"Beat you to it, that time, didn't I?" she chuckled. "The Lanabi are pretty interesting, if you can get past the dog stew, dog sausages, and dog jerky. Their winter grounds are near the caravan route, and they keep a sentry on top of a high bluff to watch for the trains to come by, and trade for hard storing vegetables like green apples, and potatoes, and a lot of onions."

"You should be teaching a geography class," I said. "And what do these Lanabi trade with? Dog moccasins?"

"Opals," Margot answered. "Somewhere in their summer grounds, they have a source of high-quality opals they bring for trade. It's so secret a location, that they tattoo their people -- like yours do -- only the tattoo is in the middle of their foreheads where it's always visible. That way, if anyone betrays the opal mines whereabouts, the Lanabi can hunt them down and kill them."

We sat on the edge of the porch and watched the busboys set down a tablecloth and plates for us, and then bring us a complimentary beer: a mug for me and a pitcher for Margot. She smiled at one of them and he fell down trying to get back in the inn door. She held out her pitcher. "Cheers, Aser."

"Cheers, Margot." I clinked my glass against her drink. "And the beasts of burden they keep? Oxen? Camels?"

"Goats," she said, swallowing about a third of the pitcher. "Their summer grounds are too sparse in vegetation for big animals, so they use goats. That way they can get milk from the nannies and occasionally have a roast kid instead of dog. They make these straw pannier baskets that hang on either side of the goat's shoulders to carry their stuff, and the weight of the baskets keeps the goats from hopping around." She used her hands to describe the circumference of the baskets.

"And to keep warm, they burn the goat dung in what --? A pellet stove?" I pointed a drumstick at her. "You're making this all up."

"Why do you think that?" the troll asked, her brow furrowed. Her dog needn't have worried about being given chicken bones; she ate them right along with the rest, with loud crunches.

"I can't imagine why the Lanabi would keep dogs instead of chickens. They'd still have the hides of the spare goats, and chickens take less upkeep." I washed down another bite with the bubbly beer. "Unless they were using the dogs as sentries as well as eating them... but you have to change the story to a different beast of burden, as nobody in their right mind goes around picking up little goat turds to burn."

Margot beamed a big flashy fanged grin. "I had you going for a bit, though, didn't I?"

"You're learning," I said, and bought the next round.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-04-28

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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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