Thursday, February 18, 2010

Drystaff and the Pot O' Gold Fragment

Drystaff and the Pot of Gold
©2010 Robert J. Kuntz
The clouds were puffs of gold-rimmed white sprayed upon a yellowing sky as Drystaff stopped on the road. His vestments were simple: a tattered gray robe drawn closely by a threadbare cord tasseled with two small copper bells, cracked leather boots of some dark origin with a thick coat of dust currently obscuring their true color, and a pointed hat, also dust-ridden, that nearly tottered from the perch of his long, black hair as he craned his neck to survey the road sign above. 
Drystaff steadied himself with his staff as he swayed heel-wise and boomed, “Must the accursed baron of these lands post the distances as well? Lucky it is that I am in a good mood for all my exertions, or I would level a spell of calamity upon this land, and none but those who collect dust would traverse it again!” He stamped his feet and a great cloud arose to choke him. He spat and coughed, waving his free hand about defensively, and then staggered ahead toward the city of Garnash, the direction of which had been indicated by the sign.
Fields loomed up around him after a short walk and he halted before one to regard the workers therein. The closest batch was near at hand, and no doubt they had food, he thought. Drystaff tugged at the cord about his waist that he had tightened too often since departing Silverscall, the mansion of his former preeminept Evvelon the elf-witch, overseeress of the Order of Magicians Purplex. He would strike even with that witch someday! There were spells to gain and allies yet to make. Much would be changed and restored, including his temporary loss of memory, before he entertained the desired upliftments and recompenses due him for the many outrages he’d suffered! Momentary weaknesses called for nourishment, however. He scrutinized the toilers again, routinely noting their sunned and dirt-smudged faces, and thought, “No doubt they’d turn me away, deigning to defend every last food scrap for this or that reason!” 
Drystaff raised his head high and bellowed, “Thirteen turbid curses upon the gods of morbid amusement! But laugh only shortly, for Drystaff, as your beguilers have named me, will not play this act. I cannot! Beggary is beneath me to begin with, but rejection from such as these? The moons would freeze over with haranguu* excrement before such an event transpired!” 
  Satisfied with this outburst, he then considered a side pouch containing his last silver od. Though he had counted the coin for a bath and other refreshment upon reaching Garnash, he now acquiesced to the notion of buying some of the peasants’ provender. He stepped forward and was mounting a fence when he felt a tap on his back. 
Drystaff stepped from the rail and regarded a man of slim and sharp features, blue eyes, greasy brown hair smelling of cheap perfume, and vested in a cloak, tunic, and pantaloons of dusted black. The man carried a bag slung over his shoulder and winked at Drystaff, motioning to the fields. 
“No good there. They’re scrappers, those. The baron’s worse.”
Drystaff sought amplification. “Scrapers…or tillers, you mean.”
“Scrappers, scrapers, whichever. They’re cryms. Cut your throat without so much as saying ‘gourd’.”
“You talk oddly. Cryms, it seems, alludes to their alternate stations?”
  The man assented, pointing to his neck. “They’re cryms, minding the fields for the baron to get a day’s worth before they stretch.” The man motioned upward with his fisted hand while making a “ycch” sound, indicating the inordinate stretching of the neck. 
Drystaff nodded, “It is properly understood.” He gestured to the man’s bag, “Perhaps we could better depart upon such subjects by imbibing mixtures to heighten the degree of sensitivity.”
“What? Oh, the bag! Yes, it’s mighty thirsty work, walking, and without food as well. It can become....”
“Famishing,” said Drystaff, his eyes following the bag as the man moved it back and forth like some tempting pendulum. He soon became perturbed. “Your manipulations are uncalled for, sir, since I am willing to pay for such viands as you have.”
The man checked an offended look and then opened the bag. Moments later Drystaff was pulling from a skin of wine. “Ah. The bacchans are indeed worthy this year, though a trifle wetted.”
“Walks are long, and only greater pleasures attend those who are patient.” 
Drystaff considered the obscurity of the comment, but only grunted - with mind to his future payment - and withheld argument. The man pulled forth a large loaf and, breaking it almost center-wise, handed Drystaff the larger of the two pieces, only to pull it away as the wizard made to grab it.
“Such frivolity! It does sour the palate!” said Drystaff.
“Payment in kind fills the pocket, however,” rejoined the man. “Your bill, with this breakage,” he said, while repeatedly flipping and catching the bread with one industrious hand, “amounts to five mars.”
“Outrageous! The wine was cheapened! The bread flakes as you handle it, indicating severe decrepitude!”
The man shrugged, and made to place the bread back in the bag.
“One moment,” Drystaff countered. “I concede to your total, but I have but one silver od. Perhaps after our repast we could settle the account at Garnash.”
The man said, “I have change for the od.”
Drystaff grimaced but accepted the bread, bringing forth the od and trading it for the change pouch offered him. The man then hoisted his bag and made off down the road with hurried steps. Drystaff, somewhat surprised at his sudden departure, shouted after him while crunching a mouthful of bone-dry bread, “Why the impatience? Surely good deals deserve good meals!” Drystaff said this while slapping the change pouch, which emitted unfamiliar clicking noises. He opened the pouch and examined its contents: five wooden slugs.
Acting quickly and casting aside the bread, he pointed his staff at the man and shouted, “You have earned a wrath unlimited!” The man broke into a run as Drystaff pronounced archaic words to summon potent powers. The spell proceeded without restraint until the closing hex pattern confounded him, but he spit forth the curse amid particles of bread nonetheless. “Deeble and Gleeble! You are Feeble!” For the next twenty minutes Drystaff sat bewildered, wondering who he was, how he came to be where he was, what he was to do, and why. Another spell had gone amiss.
Drystaff jumped to his feet after the enfeeblement desisted. He immediately noted a peasant leaning against the fence, feasting on mouthfuls of his hard-bought bread. The man looked at him with great surprise, no doubt having been lulled by the wizard’s former immobilization.
“Return what you’ve misappropriated!” said Drystaff, shaking his staff at the man. Dismayed, the peasant ran into the field. Drystaff realized that his own prowess was in no way equal to that of his adversary, so he turned his thoughts to the road ahead and began walking. He lurched along, hurling curses to the air and stomping so hard and long that a constant trail of dust marked his progress.


Anonymous said...

Poor Drystaff. Foiled again.
He sounds like an interesting character. I feel bad for him, though. He is hungry and just got scammed out of his money!

I hope he finds the pot of gold.

Andrew (better known as Drew) said...

Drystaff is a classic - definitely some of Rob's best work. I highly recommend it!

Tom said...

Once the humour is dropped out the story is more concrete and very damn good. I like that you added terms and slang into the book, which adds to the atmosphere of the book like taking a trip elsewhere, where od's and mar's are used in everday commerce. What sort of element or pace are you planning with the Drystaff series?, is it a an action adventure i.e burroughs/howard, or a epic journey i.e tolkien

Looking forward to Black Festival arriving in the post :-)

Rob Kuntz said...

@Delve: To Explain. The first story "QftVV" as appearing in SR #6 (1976) in literary terms was a thinly disguised political farce/lampoon. All the stories still have humor, as in Vance's Cugel cycle.

The story is one of self discovery. Drystaff has been ejected from his former order of "Magicians Purplex" for having failed to recover an important book (q.v. SR #6 tale). In doing so he has also revealed his magical impotence (his memory loss as referred to) that confounds his spell-casting. His "beguilers" have named him "Drystaff," indicating his impotent state, as he does not remember his real name or past. The background for all of this is reiterated throughout the short stories and his culminating quest in the novel resecures his past identity and powers. So, the cycle is actually complete with these 4 short stories and the novel. I might write more short stories of his misadventures, expanding on other passages, but that remains to be seen. Thanks for the kudos! :)

@Bubbagump: Your copies of BF are on the way!: [David is the editor for BF and the Drystaff cycle of stories]. Thanks David.

@Journalizer: There's more to your sentences than you can know. :)

Andrew (better known as Drew) said...

Very cool, Rob. Very cool indeed. I'm honored to be a part of it.