November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot


Aser and Margot are trying to figure out what to do with their tagalong Melody. The only problem is, Melody wants to figure this out for herself.

As the dog poised for pursuit, Melody the Runaway Barmaid took careful aim with an egg-sized rock at a pheasant hen sitting on a low branch. She let fly the missile, hit the bird, knocking her off her branch right into the jaws of the dog.

Margot the Troll and I looked at one another, our amazement mixed with admiration. When we met Melody, she was just a girl who was having some serious second thoughts about being married off to a boorish, bossy innkeeper -- a farm girl who hadn't traveled farther from home than the family woodlot until she was sent with her dowry and a new pair of city-girl shoes to the city of Shaddir. It had taken all of one night on the road for her to shed her old life and heartily embrace a new one. Our initial misgivings gave way to amusement as the young woman discovered a world of freedom and wonder.

"I never met a troll before, you know," she confided in us a couple nights before. "They always used to tell us kids that trolls would just as soon eat you up as look at you, and that they were fat and stony-looking, and lived under bridges and log piles."

"Eating people is bad for your skin," Margot nodded. "And a constant diet of them is as bad as pasta and potatoes for the waistline. I try to stick to a healthy diet of fish and venison as much as possible."

"Where did you live before you got the job with the trade caravan?" I asked Margot, not remembering many troll-sized buildings in Skuleflight Harbor.

"Under the boardwalk, like the rest of the security guards and dockworkers. All of us were mean and ugly and big and didn't want to waste money on rent."

"But you're not ugly," said Melody. "You're the hottest-looking lady I've ever seen. I wish I could dress like you do and walk around, not afraid of nothing."

"You want to dress like a hot troll?" I asked. "Cut your hair into a mohawk and stomp around in a leather brassiere and a red skirt?

"It's not a brassiere, it's a leather halter top," rumbled Margot.

"No, I don't think I'd want to go about in a brassiere," said the girl. "I'd get too cold, but -- "

"It's not a brassiere," said the troll a little more loudly.

" -- but why do I have to wear dresses like this and petticoats and chemises, and you don't?"

"I don't know. Why do you?" the troll asked, "I never understood why you girls wear all that complicated stuff. Thought it was because you liked it."

"Well, if I didn't, what would people think? They'd say I was crazy, or a hussy."

The troll shrugged. "No one says I'm crazy or a hussy."

"Don't let her kid you," I interjected. "She can get away with a lot by being eight feet tall. And anyone who calls a troll a hussy is likely to get pounded into the dirt."

"Well, what about you, then, Shaman? You don't wear dresses and lace. You don't even comb your hair! But you walk around just as happy as you please, and you don't look like you could pound anyone into the dirt."

"That's part of the whole shaman thing, Melody. People see the tattoo and the staff and they know I'm not a threat."

"Yeah, right," said Margot. "That's why you spent the whole summer on the run from wizards who wanted to make gloves out of your hide."

The girl's eyes grew large. "But see, that's what I'm talking about! You two go all around having adventures and seeing new places and you can sleep on a trail and wear what you want! I wish I could do that, too, instead of getting dumped off in the next city like you keep saying!"

I shook my head. "I'm headed back to my home village and some everyday life, not an adventure. Running around with a troll was just vacation."

"And I'm going back to work," said Margot. "I'm a security guard with a caravan."

"Me, too," added Margot's dog, thumping his tail.

"Never saw a talking dog before, either," Melody said, looking downcast. "All I'm going to be able to do in your dumb city is get a job as a cook or a servant of somesuch. And keep wearing dresses and petticoats, the rest of my days."

"You were ready to be our servant when we first met you," I reminded her. "Just to get out of that inn in Shaddir."

"Well, I didn't know that there was another way to live, now did I? And now I know! 'Tisn't fair."

"No, it isn't. But what's your alternative? You can't follow us like a pet, you don't have a trade, and you can't go wandering around by yourself -- you'd starve or be attacked by highwaymen."

Just about the most terrible thing about growing up is seeing your life begin to narrow down to fewer and fewer choices. When you're a little child, you can envision yourself as a warrior, as a king, as a ballet dancer. Circus performer! Pirate! Best Actor in a Stage Series!

Ah, but then the child grows too tall, and so he'll never be able to be a jockey. The young man becomes nearsighted, so the village huntsman's job is right out. The lissome girl becomes a dancer, but then loses the opportunity to settle down and raise a big family.

For the lucky ones, the ones that have a choice, the narrowing down of options is more like being able to focus on what they love the best. But for a lot of people, the options just aren't there. Melody was one of them. The things she had to learn were the survival skills of the homestead: cooking, sewing, gardening, chicken-feeding; cleaning, child-rearing, meal planning. The future that had been planned for her was to become the wife of a man she'd never met, to ensure that she would have a roof over her head and food for her stomach. Those are good things in the world in which she lives, but it was just too bad that she'd decided she wanted more.

"You're just a kid," Margot told her. "Probably in a couple years you'll think that finding a husband is more important than anything else, anyway. So you better be in a city where you can catch one."

Melody jumped to her feet. "Oh, that's about the meanest thing I ever heard!" She stomped off into the woods.

Margot nodded at the dog, who woofed softly in agreement and trotted after the girl.

"Well, she doesn't have many choices," I said. "I feel bad for her, but she's only gotten this far tagging after us. I can't keep a servant -- not living in a cave like I do."

"I know," said the troll. "If she only had some skill."

Melody returned to our fire just before sundown, the dog panting beside her. "So I can't survive on my own, can I? Here, ye nay-sayers, take a look at this!" And she flung onto the ground a fine fat rabbit and a partridge.

"Where'd you get those?" I asked.

"She knocked them down with a rock! You should have seen us! All I had to do was flush them out into the open, and pow! she nailed them square. That's my kind of hunting!" The dog said, prancing enthusiastically.

"I can live in the woods outside of your village," the girl said to me. "Or I can follow Margot's caravan. I can catch my own food and walk on my own feet and not bother anyone, but I am not going to stay in your damn city!"

There wasn't a whole lot of room for argument. Not while she was still holding a rock.

I looked at Margot and shrugged. "Guess we don't have a choice."

"Guess not," Margot said.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-09-01

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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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