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One Dwarf Short - Private Diviner Ep. 1
 

One Dwarf Short - Private Diviner Ep. 1

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A private diviner hired to find a groom with cold feet ends up on the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of the Diviner’s Guild, and deep underneath Dainty Lane, where even dwarves can find an ...

A private diviner hired to find a groom with cold feet ends up on the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of the Diviner’s Guild, and deep underneath Dainty Lane, where even dwarves can find an establishment that caters to their needs.

Private eye meets magic in an original black comedy.

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    One Dwarf Short - Private Diviner Ep. 1 One Dwarf Short - Private Diviner Ep. 1 Document Transcript

    • One Dwarf ShortJake ZablarskiPrivate Diviner, Episode 1A free preview
    • Published by Byrnes Woder 2010 Copyright © Jake Zablarski 2010 Cover design by Drew ReimerJake Zablarski has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. ISBN 987 0 9808127 0 1 Edition B byrneswoder.com
    • Summer was coming to a close, the day was bright butcool and I was at my desk, feet up, admiring the bruises andbarked skin across my knuckles and whistling a happy tune.Those poor, unlucky elves. Their fine hands may make hardfists, and their slender arms may be like axe handles in theraw, but the entire haughty race was born with a glass jaw.That’s why they avoid close fighting. They want to keep theirdistance and fill you full of arrows. You have to catch themsomewhere indoors and cramped, otherwise it’s fip-fip-fipand for a moment you look like a startled cloak rack and thenyou fall dead. Last night’s bundle of forest spawn won’t be peddling theirwares in this town before next spring. There was a firm knocking at my door and I called cheerilyfor entrance. The door opened and closed of its own accordand that meant only one thing - dwarves. My whistle faded.Dwarves are more trouble than elves. They have had moretime to practice. I dropped my feet and peered over the desk and there shewas: three by two, the loveliest young dwarfette I had everseen, placing her on par with a gnarled lump distantlyrelated to a tree stump, but pinker, smellier, and dressed fortown. It had been a while since I had a client and an age since Iworked for a dwarf. Perhaps this dwarfette would break mydrought. It would be more sensible to turn her away, but tobe honest, I was out of money and my belly did not like that.Its complaints were becoming audible. “What can I do for you, ma’am?” She pulled a fat pipe out of her bag. “You could give a lady a light,” she said, “and find her achair, in whichever order you wish.”
    • I kicked out a small footstool from under my desk I keptthere for such occasions. It slid to a stop against one of thefancy chairs I bought to impress clients. “Climb on up, but sit right back. The upholstery is a tadslippery - one hundred per cent river eel.” The chairs were quite fine, handmade and tooled forpractical jokes involving dignified men falling onto theirover-ripe arses and spilling fancy wine over their brocadevests. I purchased them for a pittance just last year from thewidow of Counsellor Mott Japes the same day he was hung.The pair gave my chambers an air of success and expensivehair oil. The dwarfette scuttled up and settled back, her stubbylegs crossed delicately at the ankles like cord wood. “And my light,” she said, waving her pipe at me. I snapped my fingers and there was a small flash in herpipe followed by a rising wisp of smoke. She thanked me andsucked at her pipe like she was priming the home forge andafter a few minutes of that blew out a smoke ring so dense itfell from her mouth to the floor and rolled into a cornerwhere it collapsed into ash. “You are licensed, yes?” She took a puff of her pipe and hitched her hem a littlehigher, revealing a knee like an ancient gall. “Yes ma’am. As the sign outside says - Greefin Endlives,that’s end-leaves not lives, private diviner, a journeymanfully licensed by the Diviner’s Guild, privy to all the guild’ssecrets, at your service. Hire me and you are hiring the bestprivate diviner in this humble town, if not the kingdom.” “Best in town? Truly that is not common knowledge, but Iam sure you will do.” Gruff manners from a dwarf were expected, but the
    • sarcasm was a bit steep. I would charge her extra for that. “How may I be of service to you?” I asked. “I want you to find my betrothed, diviner. He has beenmissing for a week and our wedding is soon.” What a lucky fellow. Of course the only two leggedcreature in this half of the endless planes that can make alady dwarf look attractive is a gentleman dwarf. Well, that isnot strictly true, but the stench of her tobacco was makingme ill and unkind towards her race. Dwarf “tobacco” is madeof the dried mushrooms that sprout in their refuse pits andso are a condensation of the already execrable home cavernstench. I forced a smile and smacked the top of my desk. “Excellent. Finding folk is my specialty. I will have himback in your fragrant embrace before the moon wanes.” Her plump face folded inwards leaving just a sliver of herpink eyes visible above her wet nose. “Wanes?” “Gets thinner and disappears. The moon does that.” She spat out another smoke ring. “How long is that, man?” “In three days. A day is the bright time when the sun…” “Don’t get smart, diviner. You overground types alwaysthink you’re clever and you mostly all perish before you findout you are not.” “My apologies, ma’am. Just a little humor that missed itsmark. But three days. Of course, that is if you have apersonal item, preferably old and dear, belonging to thesought, and once you have paid my small and humbleretainer.” I opened up my Diviner’s Guild ledger and pulled thetattered quill out of the inkpot it was soaking in and held it
    • ready over the page. “What, may I ask, is your name?” She went fishing around in her bag. “My name?” “Yes, your name. For the ledger. Diviners are required torecord all details of each job. For assurance reasons. And thetithing. Mainly the tithing.” She threw something onto my desk that looked like asmall, crushed animal. “Here is some of his loin hair I collected from his smallbrush. In your language my name is Fairest GraniteDaughter of Damp Cavern Lower, Fifteenth Branch…” I was deafened, captivated and disgusted by the clump ofdwarven off-fallings staining my desktop with their visiblescum and shining grease. Tiny white points were moving inthe fibers. My stomach began to fill my throat with thebreakfast I had so carefully chewed on account of therealways being a bone in the porridge. “Are you writing this down?” I sat up and scribbled in the ledger in shiny wet ink belowolder, dry scribbles. “Oh yes, oh yes, granite… cavern… branch… what do yourfriends call you, may I ask, hmmm?” Fairest Granite Daughter blew out smoke and said“Millie.” “Wonderful.” I wrote Millie in the ledger. “My retainer for this request will be two silver coins fromLord Feril’s mint or a thirty second of a baker’s weight ingold.” “How much?” I returned the quill to the pot and shut the ledger.
    • “I know. It is expensive, but my rates are set by the guild.I have no choice. I must stick to their prices or be fined.” She returned to fishing around in her bag. “Well, I have neither coins nor gold. Will you take this?” She held out her spade like hand and in the callousedpalm a red gem sparkled. I walked around the desk, took itfrom her. It looked good. I opened the door and held it up tothe light. It was even in color and showed no occlusions. Itbelonged in a fat ring or heavy pendant, not in my deskdrawer. “Of course I will take it. Unfortunately I do not have anychange on me.” She waved her hand. “That is fine, you are guild registered. Is the personal itemadequate?” I looked from the gem to the hairy lump. “Five days with that.” Followed by a week of baths, a purgative, and a course ofleeches. “You said three before I paid you!” “I also said a personal item. Something your betrothedmight treasure, like jewelry or weapons. Off-fallings are notprecious, so the process will be more involved and takelonger.” “We are to be married in four!” She pounded her fist into the arm of the chair, crackingthe wood underneath the upholstery. She sneered at it. “Wood! Pah! Find him in three like you said and I will giveyou a bag of those stones.” I cursed my dead ancestors, my living ancestors (GrandpaGlane - landlord and owner of this shack that was mychambers and my home and whose debt I was immensely in),
    • my unborn children, my greed, my aspirations. “Three days it is! I will divine night and day til yourbetrothed is found.” Millie put her pipe in her bag and slid off the chair. Shegave a little curtsy, nodding like a cat about to cough up a furball. I managed a small bow back. “Thank you, diviner. I will see you in three days.” “At sunset. Three days at sunset.” “Sunrise! Sunrise! Do not imperil our wedding day!” Her stamping shook the walls and made me fear shewould put her foot through my floor. “Sunrise it is. Right here. My humble chambers.” She stomped out of said humble chambers. I followed herout and stood under the tree that shades my door andwatched her stomp downhill towards the riverfront. Whenshe was quite distant I broke a small branch off the tree andtook it inside where I stabbed the pad of dwarf smut andthrew it and the branch into the fire where it burned andcrackled fierily. Perhaps, I thought, I should have asked her for his name,not that it is needed. I packed a pipe and considered my next move through thelens of Millie’s red stone. My dingy chambers looked quiterosy through it, rosy and kaleidoscopic. The rough bench andtable by the fire folded like golden petals around the heart ofthe spattering fire. A bag of these would change things, even after the heftytithe the guild would expect. I could give up the humbleness.I could purchase my Master Diviner’s cap directly, skippingthe ten years of accumulated journeyman fees and the oftenfatal constructive rites at the top of Mount Screamdeath. A preparatory drink was in order. Blind Wellam would be
    • sad to see me today - the usury on my tab was keeping hisboys in corduroy breeches. Betty Garters would also be sad,but she would hide it behind her smile and face paints. I locked my chambers, turned my shingle against the walland headed up the hill along Towardsriver Lane, waving toold lady Greeley who was leaning out her upper window,spitting into the street, her long grey hair and aged bosomhanging over the ledge. She waved back and spat over myhead. “Where are you heading off to on this horrid morning,Greefin?” I stopped to address her. “I’ve got a mind to pay Blind Wellam a visit.” Old lady Greeley sniffed and tugged the top of her bodiceup. “That dwarf lady pay you up front?” “Madam! Diviner-client privilege forbids me fromdiscussing that.” “Poor pale bunny.” She spat over my head again. A smallrainbow appeared in the mist - a good omen. “I thought adwarf would be smarter than that. Well, if you are still theretonight I hope you will share your good fortune and providean older dame an ale.” “Only the finest ales for you, Madame Greeley. And goodday to you.” I bowed and walked on. “It’s a horrid day. My man Mitt died on a day just likethis.” Her man Mitt died of a catarrh, the same catarrh thatappears to have rendered old lady Greeley immortal and thestreet outside her home treacherous. Towardsriver Lane, along with Woodward and Kingsward
    • lanes, is one of the three crooked spokes that bring most folkand goods in and out of Hill-on-the-river, with the castleplaying the hub. Towardsriver starts at the long wooden pier that runsalong the river bank, passes through the warehouses of themerchants and the flophouses and alehouses frequented bythe boatmen, rivermen and poor travelers, then theramshackle shacks of the drunken wharfies, many sufferinga roof confiscated by the landlord for outstanding rent, andthen the ribbed and curved cottages of the boat builders.Next comes the stretch where my chambers sit, a collection oftinkers, tacklers, sail makers, transport agents and assortedriver trades. Old man Greely had made a fair living carvingoars until the catarrh claimed him. Up Towardsriver from my chambers were the Middens -too far from the river and not close enough to the castle forany care. The river pebbles petered out underfoot and thedirt road wandered drunkenly off true and was etched deepwith cart tracks still unbroken since the last rain. The lanehere did not so much widen as the shacks slumped awayfrom the track and each other and in the voids betweenweeds and saplings grew as fodder for tethered goats and theoccasional ox. It was a place of petty troubles and smallhopes. The castle end of the Middens started where thecobblestone thieves, Middeners in need of hearths, abuttedthe town guard’s patrols. Here, where the road could becalled cobbled rather than rocky, was Towardsriver Market,an open square with a giant oak in the centre, local farmers,and craftsmen, mostly Middeners, with their fruits,vegetables and wares laid out on blankets or sitting straighton the cobbles. Dogs prowled about here and a butcher paid
    • to keep a couple of great spotted pigs, too big to be botheredby the dogs, tethered to the oak and they fattened on thespoils. Around the markets were storefronts for a barber-surgeon, a breadman, the pigs’ butcher, and a leatherman. Past the market the buildings started to grow fancy. Paintand not just whitewash appeared on the walls. Balconiesappeared and started to extend over the street, further andfurther til they just about bridged the lane and their viewwas of a bedroom and their bedroom was a view. Towardsriver kinked here and just as the castle gatescame into view the cobblestones gave way to paving stonesand the houses, too, were stone and their rooves all tiled byorder of the king. The street traffic grew finer as did the shops, and thechambers of scribes, solicitors and successful members of myown guild appeared amongst the apothecaries, stationers andtailors. I stepped smartly past the opening of Guilds Lane andfollowed the edge of the plaza in front of the River Gatearound to the right and into Walls End, the shadow land ofHill-on-the-River, literally and perpetually in the shadow ofthe castle wall. There was room enough for an oxcart totravel down the muddy fill of an ancient moat between thedoors of the establishments and the wall, but not enough toturn. The carts had to trundle around to Woodward Gate andthen it was a series of lefts and rights and down cantedTipcart Lane to get back to where they started. Blind Wellam’s alehouse was set in Wall’s End, butthrough the patronage of stout hearts like myself BlindWellam had moved his wife and boys into a rented cottagewithin the walls of the castle itself, rubbing shoulders withmerchants, military and members of Lord Feril’s court, all of
    • them appalled by his presence and demanding taxes on alebe raised to the point where Blind Wellam is forced backoutside the castle walls. On the wooden sign swinging from the beam outside BlindWellam’s alehouse was a faded painting of a crying dog,which gave the alehouse its original name, but everyone hasbeen calling it Blind Wellam’s since Blind Wellam’s dad,Blind Wellam, a bricklayer renowned for crooked lines andforthrightness, took a liking to the place and threw the oldowner into the muddy street. The poor fellow, being an uphillgent, could not swim and drowned in a puddle while underthe wheels and dancing hooves of an oxcart whose novicedriver could not believe oxen were incapable of walkingbackwards and was sure his stick and Blind Wellam’sencouragement was enough to change the world. Blind Wellam comforted the young widow. She gave himthe keys to The Crying Dog, they were married and theprevious owner was trampled deeper into the sodden earth.He is still under the mud track there, his burial marked onlyby a shallow scratching of two initials on the castle wallabove the spot. I like to think they were scratched in placelate one night by his widow, who may have stumbled out andaway from the glowing, noisy doorway, drunk and sad onjenever, pricked by conscience and feeling the poor fallenman deserved a sign of his being and his passing. The younger Blind Wellam, his mother’s comfort anddiscomfiture, was like his father - rough, gruff, gregariousand greedy - so he grew into the same name. He was bornTeefren, but once Blind Wellam met his own fate (his headbroken by a falling ale barrel as he slept off the morning’sdrinking in the alehouse cellar, stretched out in front of thebarrels he had stacked himself in the straight towers he
    • preferred over the bricklayer’s interleaving that remindedhim of the guild he had escaped, stability be damned),Teefren was Blind Wellam from then on. His mother had given up the drink and frequenting thealehouse, keeping to her room upstairs where she sewed andwatched the oxcarts trundle down Walls End, so the alehousefell into another Blind Wellam’s lap through another man’saccidental death. He knew everything ran in threes and hisimpatience at his own demise had made him cautious,careful and suspicious. Except when drunk, then he wasreckless and dangerous and violent, picking fights and takingchallenges and demanding his fate to come to him. In themorning, sore in the head and the demons of nextdayhaunting him, he would stay in bed and keep the covers upand shiver and wish his father was a better bricklayer. Entering the alehouse was like being swallowed by ashadow. The doorway was the only real source of light andthat was received second hand from the castle wall. I have aseen a drowned riverman with a warmer glow than thefireplace. There was a lantern up on the cornice behind thebar, but no matter how bright the hour it was always wellpast dusk at Blind Wellam’s. The regulars were at their table near the bar. A sorry lot.Half had been making uphill progress before Blind Wellamstarted offering credit. Now they sat in rags with their sons,feeding them sips of ale to keep their strength up for thecarriage home. That day Blind Wellam was in shouting form, so he musthave been clean of the drink for a twoday, the demonsbanished again and that was enough relief for him to forgethis waiting fate for another twoday before its greyinevitability drove him back into his own kegs.
    • “Greefin! You meager magician, you are late paying yourcompounding tab. You will need more than brass if you planon drinking today.” Blind Wellam stood with his arms braced on his side of thebar. Fair Maggie, his wench, stood behind him rolling herdark eyes. She tucked a strand of her black hair behind herear and held the tip of her long nose. It was an obscene actand it made me smile. “Men with debts like yours should not be smiling. My boysare going hungry and I’ve got a cellar full of empty ale kegsbecause of your inebriate ways.” I nodded and tried to look bored rather than pleased. “How much,” I asked, “has it grown to now?” The room went silent but for rasping whispers as theignorant were informed. The drinkers had a superstitionabout enquiring upon one’s tab - the owner of the house willdemand it paid. “Mother!” Blind Wellam took Maggie’s broom and banged its endagainst the ceiling. “Mother!” “What?” came the muffled reply. “Bring the ledger! Greefin has made an enquiry.” The house followed her footsteps track through roomsoverhead, the jingle of keys, hinges squeaking, footsteps tothe stairs and all eyes were upon her as first her black shoes,then her ankles and the rest of her appeared, grey and primin simple blue dress. “Hello, Greefin. How is your grandfather? We haven’t seenhim for a while.” “His legs are gone. It would take two boys and awheelbarrow to get him here.”
    • “Ah, we have boys but no wheelbarrow.” “Ah, he has a wheelbarrow but no boys.” The impossibility of the situation brought a gentleclucking from Mother as she placed the ledger on the bar andopened it to a well thumbed spread of pages. “Will it take long to sum? I am mighty thirsty.” “Only as long as it takes someone to get me a light.Wellam! Light!” Wellam pushed Maggie down the bar. “Grab the cornice lamp for Mother, drowsy wench.” Maggie threw her broom at him and flounced to the cornerof the bar and up a stool to grab the brass lantern. Shethumped it down with a rattle at the head of the ledger. Mother unhooked its pierced shade and a yellow wedge oflight brightened the smudges, fingerprints, tankard stains,and two columns of hen-scratched figures, one mostly empty,the other mostly full. “Can you read numbers or would you like me to pronounceit?” “I am a diviner, Mother. I read numbers as easily as I readthe future.” “Then allow me to pronounce it for you…” “Just point me the number in question.” I leaned over the book and followed her gliding finger tothe bottom of the page, and over to the next, which sheturned and I followed, another turned, upon which amuttering went from the audience, some bored and somecounting pages and others adding up ledger rows and eyeswidening, but another page fell and the numbers moved intothat incomprehensible range that even trained divinersstruggle with, though no doubt they are familiar to bankers,accountants and publicans.
    • At last the finger stopped, the yellow nail pressed into thepage and above it an inky caterpillar of a clumsy length.Without the stone in my pocket I would have dropped intothe most despairing of moods and in need of many ales atany price. With the stone it was but a pittance. “I see,” I said and then slowly, like a mummer might, Ileant over until my forehead was against the bar and saggedat my knees. Blind Wellam’s breath swam like a warm, fetid cloudbetween my face and the wet bar as he bent in to laugh atme. “Will you be paying that in gold or coin today, milord?” The house broke into raucous laughter. I lifted my head to look up at him, nose to veined nose. “Neither, stink-breath.” “Stink-breath?” I stood up straight. “I will pay in jewels!” I cried out and held aloft Millie’sdeposit and it twinkled even in the alehouse gloam. Blind Wellam staggered back against his shelves like Ihad produced a snake, his mother pulled at my arm, jumpinglike a child, trying to drag it down while the crowd’s laughterturned to cheering and the thunder of tankards on tables andboots on the floor. They called out my name as tears rolleddown their faces, my freedom giving them a hope they neverhad. I let Mother take the jewel from my hand and she studiedit shrewdly in the lantern light. “I expect quite a bit of credit and a fair bit of gold inchange, Mother.” “You will have to take coin,” she said sharply. “We onlyhave coin.”
    • “But I have no wheelbarrow.” That got more laughs from the crowd. “Borrow your grandfather’s,” came the reply. You wouldthink they would be happy, but usurers hate getting moneymore than they hate giving it out. “Now, Blind Wellam, I would like an ale. A fresh ale froma fresh keg. Wait!” I held up my hand. “I want a fresh keg. One of your best kegs, one of the kegsyou share with your neighbors on the other side of the wall!” The cheers rang louder. The regulars had been joined bypassers-by who had heard their commotion. Blind Wellam rolled out a barrel with staves still whiteand rings still shining. “Maggie!” With Maggie’s help he righted it and then with a blackmetal pry he dug out the crown and opened it up right up.Maggie handed him a tankard and he dipped it in and filledit and passed it to me. I faced the crowd and put the tankard to my lips anddrained it, the ale going down like honeyed water, the crowdbanging their own tankards again. Blind Wellam could brew when he set his mind to it. “Now that, my friends, is ale,” I said to the house. “Grabyour tankards and come have your fill, this drink is on mycoin!” I filled my tankard again and moved down the bar toescape the crush. Toothless men gulped down ale faster than their throatscould accommodate, spilling it on their shirtfronts which theypromptly took in their mouths and sucked while they waitedfor another dip in the keg.
    • “Aye!” screamed One-eyed Feete, “I have come upon alldizzy.” “And I!” yelled Fatty. “The floor moves under me!” Cries of “Poison!” went up and Old Yardie turned from thekeg and shouted them down. “This be no poison! This be grog! Real grog, strong andsweet like lords and ladies in the castle drink to be lively!” He drained his tankard and danced a jig. This convincedthe crowd. They cheered and dived back in. I waved over Maggie and gave her my tankard and shefilled it for me, her head disappearing into the barrel to fill it. “Thank you, Maggie-pie. Have one yourself.” She shook her head and looked down her long nose at me. “Ale is a demon’s latch key. Blind Wellam told me himselfand I have seen it in him true enough.” The man himself came over, cradling something in darkblue velvet. He unwrapped a crystal decanter filled with agolden liquid that appeared to be shining with its owninterior light. “Would you like a glass, Diviner?” So generous of him. My own generosity had warmed hisheart and now he was bringing out his other treasures toshare. I felt a flush of happy warmth and benevolence and sogave him a smile. “Ah, Blind Wellam, you are a fine host. I would indeed.What is it?” He produced two small glasses and placed one for me andone for himself. They were suprisingly clean. “This liqueur is from a land far to the north.” He removed the stopper. “It is made from berries that only appear in the winter.” He poured a stingy measure into my glass and the same
    • into his. “On mountain ledges that look down upon the clouds.” I picked up my glass and sniffed it. Someone had caughtthe winter sun and bottled it. “Every winter people die collecting the berries and only afew barrels are made each year.” I took a sip. It burnt then numbed then tickled my tongueand throat and left a warm trail that I could follow all theway down to my guts. “A bottle makes it to our lands only once in a lifetime. Thisone my father Blind Wellam bought, swapping my brotherConniving Ade into slavery for it, a decision for which evenunto this day our family remains grateful.” I emptied my little glass. “Perhaps I could have another taste of your fine liqueur,Mr. Wellam?” My eyes at that moment may have resembled those of apup, but that drink was exquisite and there was nodemeaning oneself in its pursuit. “Of course, diviner.” He poured me another and I sipped at it while half a veryfine ale sat neglected at my elbow. I had met her youngersister and she was much prettier. Blind Wellam took his own glass and had a sip. Colorentered his gray face and a spark lit in his eye. When hesmiled at me I knew his guts were glowing like mine. “Lovely,” he said. “The keg’s run dry. Shall we get thesefellows another?” I waved graciously. The poor sods could have all the alethey wanted. Two kegs, not even three kegs, could match thesmall drink in my hand. My heart was momentarily filledwith sadness that these men and boys, delighted by ale, who
    • would be astounded by this liqueur, may never taste it. I eyed the bottle. It seemed to tease me with its ghost - asecond bottle hovered amidst the first. I eyed the crowd.Then I eyed the bottle again. The level was quite low,definitely not enough to share. And one does not want tointroduce disenchantment in so many. It would be a crueltyto render their ale, their only compensation, undrinkable,their food the rotting leavings of others, their clothesstinking rags held in place by mud and filth, their friends’faces broken and pustuled masks. I could live with that,diviners are at home with the truth, but these less thanordinary brutes would be crushed. I sighed and drained myglass. Blind Wellam produced another decanter. This one filledwith a brown fluid that seemed intent on twinning. “What is this now?” I asked. “This new spirit dances,undecided if it wants to be one bottle or two.” “It is oak brandy, pressed by elves from oak blossoms andleaves, sweetened with spring sap and aged for centuries inthe hollow trunk of a living tree. It is quite strong and shouldonly be drunk from a silver bowl.” “I will like to try that,” I said, “despite its despicableorigins.” A polished silver bowl appeared, smooth and shining likeit was cut from the moon. Blind Wellam poured a longstream of brandy to fill it. I picked up the bowl with bothhands. It was quite shallow and some sloshed over the rimand it was cold on my skin, but when I brought it to my lipsand drank it burned like fire and it tasted like fire, a forestfire, a forest fire in the spring with some hint of floralperfume being driven out of blossoms by the heat rising upinto my nose and for a moment I felt I was in a forest, deep
    • beyond any path, in silver moonlight, but encased in a tree.No, I was a tree, and then my senses returned and BlindWellam had not moved, he still had the bottle in his hand. “Also, diviner, you must drink it all in a single quaff. Downthe rest.” “As I must.” I drank it down, returned to the forest and the tree’sinterior, but this time I lingered there while the seasonsflickered past and only the moon was constant. At last thesilver light began to warm and then I was back in the bar,now with two Blind Wellams before me and beside me twoOld Lady Greeleys drinking two tankards of ale and spittingmerrily in unison upon the floor. “The keg is dry,” the Blind Wellams said. “We have openedanother for your friends.” “Excellent,” I said. “Is there any more of that snow berryliqueur? This elvish brandy is too harsh on my palate and thesensation of being trapped inside a tree begins to disturbme.” “Pardon, diviner?” they replied. Their heads were big andthey leaned over me and I felt like a child mewling in a cribwhile looking up at its parents and wondering what monstersit had been born too. “Snow berry,” I cried. “More snow berry!” “It is gone,” they said calmly and it was true. The bottleshad disappeared. I wept into the crook of my arm, mourning,then I remembered. “Tree brandy!” I shouted. “Try this instead,” the Blind Wellams said, standing atarm’s length from each other now. Fresh glasses were placedin front of me and in them was dark liquid. I gulped one down. The taste was interesting and the
    • effect was enervating, like my head was full of little roomsand all their shutters were being thrown open to the day. “This is good. What is it?” “That, my friend, is lantern fluid.” “It really is quite good. Who knew?” “Not me. Would you like more?” “Oh, yes.” “Here, have a tankard. The fine ale is exhausted. I haveopened two house kegs for your friends.” “You and your twin brother, together, you two run a finehouse, a fine house for ale and snow berry.” “Thank you. Drink up.” “Is there really no snow berry?” “That is snow berry in your glass.” “Oh, thank you!” I drank it down, tilting my head back, pouring it down mythroat until I fell and landed flat on a fine mattress the BlindWellams had laid out behind me, and Maggie, sweet Maggie-pie was shooing the gnats from my face. She was being alittle rough though. I swear she was using the back of herhand, which is a difficult thing to sleep through. “Away, Maggie, away. You are worse than the gnats!” “Wake up,” she said, “you stinking whore-son. The Captainof the Guard wants a word.” “Away, Maggie. It is too dark, too early.” The wind left my body and two of my ribs were moved upquite violently. “I ain’t your Maggie. Get up.” I opened my eyes to the rough boots of a town guardsmandecorated with surprisingly delicate silver buckles. One bootwas dirty, one was clean around the toe, freshly polished onmy belly.
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    • About the Author Jake Zablarski is a native of the Pacific Northwest. A civilengineering drop-out, Jake spent a large part of his lifetravelling and working on some of Europes largestinfrastructure projects throughout the 80s and 90s. Hismajor interests are books and concrete formwork. He citeshis major influences as J. G. Ballard and Gary Numan. When not working as a consultant, he spends most of histime at his cabin in the mountains, surrounded by trees andbooks and accompanied by his life partner Dora, an educator,and their three bullmastiffs Snaps, Wizz and Chump. byrneswoder.com