Sunday, February 21, 2010
The Significs of Harewood Fragment
... The notion appealed to Drystaff, though he wondered what a ‘roost’ was, and he said, “Agreed! My need for a real drink has been too long postponed.”
The old man smiled hugely and his teal blue eyes twinkled with youthful delight. He clapped his grimed hands twice while saying, “Start to Finish, Done and Well!* I will meet you at yonder red building,” he directed, pointing down the street at the appropriately colored structure. “Order the hen toddies. Tell Buerthwigh that Sorsyp will take his with a sprig of mynch and a side of plum things.” The man walked briskly into his house, whistling merrily.
Drystaff strode to a building that many costumed people were entering. He queued behind a person with black plumage, a wooden beak tinted yellow, and a red feather bonnet. The doorman dealt with the pecking order in turn, issuing small bags to those who requested these and accepting coinage in return.
It became Drystaff’s turn and the man said, “Roost or non-roost?” He emphasized the latter option by an offhand look at the wizard’s attire.
“Non-roost…for now,” answered Drystaff. The man nodded and issued him in.
The building’s interior offered a rectangular room with a service bar and crates for stools. Drystaff stopped to view its most interesting feature: projecting from the ceiling was a pylon from which were suspended twelve wooden seats by as many stout cords. Several costumed patrons were mounting to different seats, into which an attendant strapped them. Soon half the seats were filled. This satisfied the portly barkeep and he nodded to the attendant, who responded by thrusting forward a nearby lever. There was a loud grating noise and the pylon, obviously part of some greater mechanism, slowly revolved upwards above head level. Three musicians began a shrill piping with recorders as it gathered speed, carrying its screaming and jeering riders into harnessed flight.
Drystaff moved to the bar and motioned to the barkeep. “You are Buerthwigh? Good! I’d like to order drinks, but a question, first.”
“Of course. For you are a stranger and find the entertainment indecipherable, correct?”
“You strip away the nonessentials and expose my point exactly.”
“The explanation is simple. Haras is located far in the wilderness. Most of our customers are farmers who lack any diversion except drink. Times being hard and clientele light, we have made this a theme inn. This month’s spectacle is by the horologist Quimkwok, who created the circling device especial. It is our best show to date.”
“And the costumes fit the theme,” said Drystaff.
“Yes. Now, what would you order, sir?”
“I order for two: a pair of your best hen toddies, a sprig of mynch in one, and a side order of plum things.”
Buerthwigh gave Drystaff a serious look. “You order for Sorsyp?”
“Yes. Is there a problem? I have coin.”
“Sorsyp is not always welcome here.”
“What has he done? Is he a scoundrel?”
“No, not in that sense. His wife, Hareengu, leads the other wives in a consortium against such merrymaking,” said Buerthwigh. “She often gathers the hens when her rooster flies the coop. Excuse the jargon, but the theme does imbue one so.” Buerthwigh mused aloud, “I hope she keeps distant today. The patrons are many and lively.” He then prepared the order and set it before Drystaff.
Drystaff watched the circling show for a time, noting that each rider’s bag contained feathers that were gleefully showered upon the area below them.
While Drystaff was removing a feather from his toddy, Sorsyp appeared. The man had changed his grey work clothes for a costume of black and red feathers interwoven with silver thread and pinned with many brass-like eggs. His purple bonnet represented a rooster in a nest, eyes crossed in confusion. Sorsyp favored his tail feathers as he sat next to the wizard. Drystaff noted that these were partially burnt – probably the result of some practical joke, but thoughts of an irritated wife with flaming brands soon came to mind.
As Sorsyp munched plums stuffed with minced juk fruit and pine-meat, Drystaff questioned him. “What of the wise man?”
Sorsyp slurped his toddy through a reed straw and, nodding his headdress vigorously, said, “Yes, much returns after a single sip. The man you describe always appeared during Harfest. He purchased herbs I gathered at that time.”
“And his name?”
“Never was it given.”
“Did he indicate his dwelling place?”
“Not directly.” Sorsyp grimaced in thought and leaned forward. Drystaff avoided the rooster headdress, which almost pecked his own hat.
“Phaustwood! That’s it.” Sorsyp shivered. “But the Phausts brought evil to that place.”
“Where is this wood? And what are Phausts?”
“It lies southwest. A short walk for the stout-legged, but the only water available for many leagues thereafter is in the woods. The Phausts,” said Sorsyp between slurps, “were a band of brigands who based their raids from its depths. One day they attacked Duke Caffalafha’s royal carriage as it passed near the forest and the archducal wizard, Xommph, blasted them with a curse.”
“Of what type?” queried Drystaff.
“As I recall, the brigands were magically impelled to a riddle game. Failure brought mayhem upon the participants – it is believed they strangled one another. The brigands dispersed but the curse is thought to be timely still, attending all those who enter Phaustwood.”
Drystaff was about to elicit more information when the inn was beset with a commotion. Many women armed with clubs, rolling pins, brooms, and other bludgeoning devices burst through the front door, trampling Buerthwigh as he attempted to stop them. Leading the group was a large, grey-haired woman armed with a wooden mace and ugly features.
There was no time for argument as the women separated to their spouses and started an almost idle routine of shouts in between clouts. Many feathered frolickers fled with wives in pursuit, and soon the inn was cleared except for several rigid-faced women, Drystaff, Sorsyp, and the remaining patrons still circling above. The latter squealed as their mates struck at them with brooms and poles, but they were soon lowered and went screeching from the inn as well.
Hareengu approached Sorsyp. “You lout! There are roots to be pulled! You promised that by week’s end our coin total would be enough for my hair dye! And here you sit, swapping profits for stupor!” Sorsyp merely cringed, rejoinderless.
“And who is this?” she said, eyeing Drystaff with equal vehemence. “Another of your costumed cabal, or I’m a princess! See here,” she exclaimed, while repeatedly patting the head of her mace in one open hand, “your jubilations interfere with my man’s work!”
Drystaff stood and addressed the woman. “I am but a wayfarer seeking information about a sage. And having found that he dwells in Phaustwood, I will be about my adventure.” Drystaff turned to issue Sorsyp a farewell but managed only to say, “Sorsyp…” before Hareengu, having misinterpreted the moment, shouted, “You’ll not take my man away on some devil’s quest, you toddy swiller!”
Drystaff ducked and dodged mace blows as he was chased from the inn. As he ran before the mad woman, other women, still returning home with their mates in tow, became re-enraged--no doubt in answer to a renewed boredom attendant upon their completed raid--and supportively fell in behind Hareengu. Drystaff reached the outskirts of Haras and ran onto the plain beyond it. Behind him, a mass of screaming women offered a variety of curses and brandished weapons to properly energize his flight. ...