Mirrored from Sythyry.
A pang from «Cuisine» caught my attention. I was hungry, and there was more to eat in this populous and public place on Ixange than lentil stew reheated over a spirit lamp, and I had a certain amount of money left — though not for long. It was getting to be time to come up with more.
A thousand foods beckoned: street vendors, cafés, fine establishments of dining. Here a badger-woman offered peppered live earthworms from a barrel. There a troupe of spidersen spun sugar taffy into confectionary webs. Beyond a human filled peppers with cheese and grilled them slowly over a bed of coals. Sidewards a toad in precise robes stood stiff and silent by the door Panfornio’s Restaurant, while a pair of foxes holding hands examined the posted menu and debated the price in low tones.
(Honesty! Always honesty! Perhaps they were debating the quality of the restaurant, or their betrothal, or the state of the sky. It might even have been an opaque theorem in mathematical numismatics. Too low to hear, anyhow.)
I asked «Cuisine» for a recommendation, got it, and then said, “Excuse me! I want to buy a worm,” and headed over for the badger-woman.
A vast forepaw planted itself in the plaza in front of me. Xshaothshash boomed, “Tllith, have a caution of bewares! That badger-woman is Vondsa Mirapt!”
I peered up at my protector, baffled. Hditr said, “I am unaware of the local notables. The fame or infamy of this Vondsa Mirapt is, alarmingly, not yet discussed in the mining-camps of Drullguur.”
“But — you must never buy worms from Vondsa Mirapt!” exclaimed the large dragon. Vondsa glared at Xshaothshash, shouldered her barrel, and grunted away.
“Why must one never buy worms from her?” asked Hditr.
“Her worms are tinged with foulness and blasphemy! She digs them in lich-yards and around the edges of cemetaries! They have fattened on the corpses of her very own great-grandparents-in-law! Could you imagine eating such worms as that?”
“Do not the Ixangians have the invariable custom of hurling their newly-dead from the sides of bridges — the starboard side for those they consider deserving of blessings, and the port side for those they despise?” asked Hditr.
“Such a custom may exist in certain quarters,” admitted the fortress-dragon. “It could even explain the frequent and rapid descent of people from above. I had suspected them of suicide, in despair at such blemishes as extreme old age, knife wounds to the abdomen, and, most miserable of all, missing heads. For some reason, after their landing, the were reluctant to discuss the matter, even in those rare cases when the heads were intact.”
Eric asked, “What happens to them, if they are thrown from a higher bridge onto a lower?” Perhaps he had a personal stake in the matter.
“They are flung off the bridge — the side makes no difference — and eventually end up in the swamp.”
“I wonder where this Vondsa finds her cemetaries, then?” mused Hditr. “Does she descend into the swamp for worms?”
“Your theological speculations are far too abstruse for my meagre intellect,” said Xshaothshash. “In any case, do not buy from Vondsa. If you seek worms, you must get them at Chur Chub’s shop.”
I asked «Cuisine» about Chur Chub’s worms, and was informed that they were stale. “I seek worms no more. Stuffed buns, perhaps?”
“Ah! For stuffed buns, you may purchase from either Dool or the Norshub End Bakery. All other bun-sellers stuff their buns with chopped moths and rotten grain-nodules, which would cause you a confounding spasm of the intestines,” said our substantial and fortified and supposedly well-informed guide.
Hditr rubbed her ears and wiggled her tongue, and looked at me with a glance loaded with invisible meanings. I blinked at her. She gestured, little fluttery secret finger movements. I stared. She glared. I cast a little «Language» spell to ask, “What do all those gestures mean?”
She answered silently, using my spell, “I wanted to talk to you without Ex-shaft-sash there eavesdropping on us. We gotta get out of here.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Dragon wants us to buy from the guys who are giving him kickbacks. I don’t want to. Besides I think he’ll demand a tip from us. I sure don’t want to pay him a tip.”