[Shh]: 58.Contest Entries.Three Friends

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2006-08-31 05:56:42
short story
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   Rattling, the delicately carved bones fell to the table, rolling between goblets, silverware, platters and candles, coming to rest in a helter-skelter of meaning.

   With a muffled oath at whoever had so rudely elbowed him in the back, the tall Armanal T’equir who’d dropped them snatched the bones’ pouch from the table and hurriedly scooped the pieces back into it.

   “This one’s pretty,” Laurenar remarked, plucking a green-dyed bone from beside his plate before Mehtar could get to it.

   “No, it’s not,” Mehtar replied irritably, his green eyes crinkling in bad temper. “It’s a bone. Give it back.”

   Ignoring his friend’s order, Laurenar examined the bone more closely. “It is pretty,” he countered, watching the play of candle-light along its smooth surface. “See how the light reflects on the green? It’s almost as though it was underwater.” He ran a finger over the charred symbol on the bone. “What do the markings mean?”

   “Ware the dangers of angering an ill-tempered Armanal T’equir?” his brother suggested innocently, taking a sip of wine.

   “I am not ill-tempered,” Mehtar snapped, glaring at Kalenril.

   The slender Sylfalas gave a slight shrug. “If you say so.”

   “It’s this damned heat,” Mehtar snarled, wiping the back of his hand across his sweaty brow. “Doesn’t it ever rain in this gods-accursed place?”

   “Actually, yes, and quite often at that. It just seems we’re going through a short period of drought at the moment,” Kalenril replied with a sympathetic smile for his wilting friend. He stood and stretched a little. “How about I get you a glass of water?”

   “I’ve already had three.”

   Kalenril shrugged. “Another one can’t hurt,” he said, heading for the bar.

  Rounding on Laurenar, the Armanal T’equir thrust his free hand in front of the Sylfalas’s face. “Give me the bone,” he ordered, his tone brooking no argument.

  “What do the markings mean?” Laurenar repeated calmly. He held the green bone out to Mehtar, symbols first, making sure to keep a tight grip on it.

   With a snarl, Mehtar tried to grab the bone; but, laughing, Laurenar quickly snatched his arm back. “Mehtar,” Laurenar chided. “Be nice.”

   “Give me the bone.”

   “First, tell me what the markings mean.”

   Mehtar leaned close to Laurenar. “If you don’t give it back right now, I will make sure you wake up every morning with earthworms, earwigs, or spiders in your hair,” he said in a low, threatening voice. “and then I’ll feed them to you. One. By. One.” For good measure, he wiggled his fingers across the table like a scuttling spider. “Spiders,” he whispered meaningfully.

   Laurenar eyed Mehtar uneasily. Friend or no, he had no doubt the Armanal T’equir would hold to his word. As for Kalenril, well…perhaps he would intervene eventually, but, more likely than not, he would merely laugh and Laurenar down. Laurenar rolled his eyes and reluctantly handed over the shiny object of his fancy. “Fine. What’s so important about it anyway?”

   Mehtar quickly dropped the bone into the leather pouch and pulled the drawstring. “This,” he began, giving the pouch a shake to rattle the bones inside, “makes up a unique set. Unique. There’s not another one like it anywhere in the world.”

   “I know what unique means,” Laurenar pointed out sourly, picking up his fork.

   “Then you’ll understand how that makes it valuable. Besides,” Mehtar went on, securing the pouch to a chain at his neck before drawing a chair from the table and seating himself, “the set’s been in my family for generations. I’d hate to be the one to break it up.”

   “No, we wouldn’t want that,” Laurenar muttered, not quite under his breath. He took a bite of yellow mushroom-like balls and, before Mehtar could speak, went on, “So what do the bones actually do?”

   “Predict the future,” Mehtar mumbled dismissively, aimlessly drawing looping patterns on the table.

   Laurenar leaned forward in delight. “You’re joking?”

   Mehtar stared at him. “Do I look like I’m joking?”

  “You look like a disgruntled dyed chicken,” Laurenar grinned, eyeing his friend’s lank green hair. “Pok pok pok!” Mehtar rolled his eyes and, leaning his elbows against the table, wearily dropped his head into his arms. Laurenar watched him anxiously. “Are you all right?” he asked—and immediately berated himself for the stupidity of the question. Mehtar looked anything but all right. The Sylfalas quickly covered up the question with another one. “Are you sure you don’t want to return to the sea?”

   Mehtar snorted derisively. “Of course I want to return to the sea,” he said, straightening. A glimmer of a smile flashed across his pale face. “But I can’t let you and Kal have all the fun, now can I? Besides, we’ll be out of this damned jungle in a few days. I’ll make it.”

   Laurenar nodded with an encouraging smile, secretly praying Mehtar was right. Armanal T’equir were beings of the water. The intense heat of Carssit was nearly unbearable for the Sylfalan brothers; to Mehtar, it must be close to torture.

   As suddenly as he had left, Kalenril returned from the bar. “Here you go,” the dark-haired Sylfalas exclaimed, plunking a tall mug of water and a plate of the tavern’s best fare in front of Mehtar. “I thought you could use something to eat, too.”

   With a sigh of pleasure, Mehtar snatched the mug of water and thirstily gulped down half of it in three long swallows. Colour slowly returned to him. The Sylfalan brothers shared identical grins.

   “Feeling better now?” Kalenril asked, returning to his seat and resuming his meal.

   Mehtar ran his tongue over dry lips. “Slightly,” he conceded with a grateful smile. “Thank you.” He looked down at his plate and his smile disappeared. With a graceful sneer, he picked up his fork and daintily poked through his food with it. “What is this?” he asked suspiciously as he speared a piece of meat covered in thick white sauce and split it in two against the plate, revealing pale brown flesh, coarsely grained.

   Kalenril shrugged. “Mystery meat,” he replied promptly, bringing a piece to his own mouth. “I don’t really want to know. It doesn’t taste bad, and I’m hungry.”

   “Tastes like chicken,” Laurenar added helpfully.

   Cautiously, Mehtar tasted the meat. Laurenar was right: it did taste like chicken, although the texture was more like that of beef. He would never get used to this land fare. Stifling a grimace, he toyed with another piece in his plate, this one a long, elongated shape—much too long to fit in the mouth. Couldn’t the cook at least have cut the meat up? he thought irritably, spearing the meat. His fork slipped and the piece of meat rolled over. With a loud cry of disgust, he pushed back from the table, shoving the plate away from him.

   The Sylfalan brothers stared at him, alarmed. Their eyes fell on the object in Mehtar’s plate—a dark-skinned finger, perfectly intact right down to a pink nail at its tip. Kalenril dropped his fork, staring in horror at his own nearly empty plate. Laurenar, who’d been chewing a piece of the meat, choked and spat the half-chewed mouthful back in his plate, gagging. He jumped to his feet and ran out of the tavern.

   Feeling close to vomiting too, Kalenril watched his nauseated twin disappear through the tavern door but remained seated. He leaned towards Mehtar’s plate, staring at the brown finger in morbid fascination. “Gods,” he breathed, poking it with his retrieved fork. It was real. A shudder of revulsion coursed through him and he hastily drew back.

   They were drawing attention. The people seated at the tables around them were staring, obviously curious. The tavern’s owner, a huge, Carssit woman weaved her way through the tavern with surprising grace and came to stand by Mehtar, her short, stubby arms perched on her hips. “What be de problem?” she asked in thickly accented Common, glaring down at the two strangers.

   Not trusting himself to speak, Mehtar glanced up at her. A look of awe briefly flashed across his face. The woman had presence.

   Kalenril pointed at the finger in Mehtar’s plate, unable to keep from grimacing. “What’s that?” he asked.

  The woman glanced down at the plate and her glare disappeared in a burst of understanding. A wide, white smile creased her round face and she burst out laughing. “Klea d’git usharna!” she laughed to the patrons in the tavern, loudly slapping her thigh. “Mor irdagun charnl quorian ta!” Laughter erupted all around the foreigners.

   The Sylfalas and Armanal T’equir stared at the woman, bewildered and still more than a little horrified.

   She slapped a hand on Mehtar’s shoulder and pointed at the severed finger. “Monkey,” she explained, beaming down at them.

   Kalenril was the first to recover. “Monkey,” he echoed, managing a weak chuckle.

   The big woman nodded, smiling broadly. “Tis all right,” she said, obviously deeply amused by their squeamishness. “You can eat.”

   Kalenril, ever the diplomat, smiled and nodded, trying to show proper relief. “Thank you,” he said politely, inwardly recoiling at the very thought of approaching the thing.

   Mehtar sat staring at the dark-skinned finger. He shook his head, unable to mask his disgust. “I’m sorry; monkey or not, I can’t eat this. I just…” He swallowed painfully, struggling to maintain his self-control.

   Kalenril turned to him, and thereby to the plate in front of Mehtar, and his stomach turned. “Yea,” he breathed. No way! his mind screamed. He stood, smiling his most dazzling smile at the big woman. “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically, doing his best to cause no offense. He cast about for something to say. Laurenar. His face lit up and he pointed towards the front doors. “We have to go,” he began hesitantly. “My brother. He might need some help.”

   The woman arched an eyebrow, a knowing smile on her lips. Kalenril took a few hesitant steps towards the door. “Mehtar?”

   “Oh! Yea…” The tall Armanal T’equir shot to his feet. He flashed a slight smile at the woman. “Thank you…erm…for everything!”

   Together, the two friends hastily left the tavern, leaving the Carssit chuckling amongst themselves. Laurenar was standing by the well in the village center, vigourously rinsing his mouth with fresh water.

   “Are you all right?” Kalenril called, running up to his brother with Mehtar close at his heels.

   Laurenar spat his mouthful and, wiping his mouth with the end of his sleeve, nodded uncertainly. “Just…don’t remind me,” he said, his voice thick with revulsion. He shuddered and quickly brought a hand to his mouth.

   Kalenril laughed and good-naturedly cuffed his brother on the arm. “It was a monkey.”

   Grimacing, Laurenar groaned and pulled away. “What did I just tell you?” he cried.

   Mehtar grimaced. “I know how you feel,” he said sympathetically. “Just forget about it. Let’s leave this place; we can be in Hrto by nightfall.”

   “Hopefully they’ll have recognizable food there,” Laurenar muttered.

   Kalenril laughed. “I doubt it,” he replied cheerfully as they all walked to the edge of the village and back onto the jungle path. “Those bones you carry are shearn th’a, though, aren’t they, Mehtar? Perhaps you could take a look before we get there.”

   “You knew what the bones were?” Laurenar exclaimed, glaring at his brother accusingly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

   Kalenril grinned. “You didn’t ask; besides, it’s so fun watching Mehtar pick on you.”

   “Argh! You’re so mean!” Laurenar spluttered indignantly, playfully aiming a slap at his brother’s head, which Kalenril promptly dodged and returned.

   Mehtar rolled his eyes and wearily continued along the path. “This is going to be a long road.”

2006-09-05 RiddleRose: heehee!! it was a monkey! me like!

2006-09-05 Shh: hehe thank you!!

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