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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"You're learning," I said, and bought the next round.
Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-04-28