Mirrored from Sythyry.
Before one engages the Porthmorth Passage Company, one must first dine at the Dibisto-Glandular Refectionary Brigade Tent. This is because the Dibisto-Glandular Refectionary Brigade Tent is the only place to eat in this shelf of Drullguur, and the Porthmorth Passage Company is currently eating there according to the sign pinned to its door, so you might as well too.
“They don’t do fancy here, do they?” said Hditr.
“It looks pretty unpleasant,” said Eric. “I think I’ll just skip lunch. Or order a salad. Do they have salads here?”
“No,” said Junctifer. “By which I mean that you could consider the big bowl of rehydrated seaweed and crudely-chopped scallions, dressed with vinegar and bacon grease, to be a salad.”
“You could also consider it to be the revenge of Snorb,” said Hditr. “Sounds awful.”
“Would you prefer the oatmeal laced with dried onions and dried seaweed and dried shredded shrimps?” asked Junctifer. “Or the grilled bird bits on stale biscuits? Or the soup made from stale biscuits, dried peas, salted pig flesh, and mysterious spices consisting of: salt? Those are the choices today. They are also the choices yesterday, the day before, and the day before that, in case you are here on one of those days. Perhaps they will also be the choices tomorrow. If we are exceedingly lucky, we will get some variety by next week. If you are exceedingly lucky, you will be gone by then. The new choice will not be much better than these choices.”
I balanced on my hind legs (not my favorite), paid an intimidatingly large fee, and was provided with a cold and greasy metal tray with a spoon and a cup chained to it. Toads, their faces frozen in servile misery, threw portions of the four items onto the tray’s four quarters. A grinning badger-morph provided filled my cup with harsh tea. I carried the tray to a cold metal table relatively free of miners, and hopped onto its cold metal bench.
Hditr sat next to me. “OK, let’s see what the Dibisto-Glandular Refectionary Brigade can do.” She poked at her seaweed salad with her spoon nervously. The salad sat on the tray, biding its time, its true reds and purples largely transformed into less nameable, less appetizing colors by the orange-green light of the Pugnard’s braziers. “This looks horrid.”
“Close your eyes, lady,” said the badger-morph at the other side of the table. “It’s not earthworms meunière from home, but it’ll keep you going.”
“Here it goes…” said Hditr, and took a bite of seaweed salad. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “That’s not highly horrible!” She set to, eagerly.
I tried mine. It wasn’t highly horrible at all! The seaweed tasted of freshwater oceans under sweet-scented skies on nicer worlds than Drullguur. The scallions flashed in my mouths like transient suns. The vinegar sparkled. The bacon grease spoke of woods and fires and the virtues of peasants in the autumn.
“That’s Dibisto for you,” said the miner, grinning. “Used to be, we’d nearly lynch him every meal, with this food tasting no better’n it looks. But he went downstairs, he did, and came back with his arm burnt away. Didn’t change his recipes none. I don’t think he can change his recipes none, since mostly all the food gets brought over from offworld, which means mostly dry weeds and dry meats and biscuits. But it sure tastes good now.”
“It does!” My right head tried some of the oatmeal, and was briefly surrounded by the ethereal glory that is dried onions. Even the oats were perfect: children of the earth. “That’s a lot better than it was in the snack box!”
“Yeah, that’s the thing. Eat in this tent, every meal. If you take your food out, Dibisto’s power crumbles like crude crackers,” said the miner.
Hditr sat up. “Oh, really? How long does it stay good in here?”
“Long enough for you to get your feeds in,” said the miner. “Long enough so you don’t need to worry.”
Hditr gobbled pea soup that tasted like satisfaction. “Now I want to do an experiment. Measure the quality of food as well as we can, and see how it diminishes with time and distance. Then see if goes just the same in our next world, or what.”
“No!! «Cuisine» is sacred in Drullguur!! You shall not pry into its ancient secrets with your abominable mensurations!!” roared Vong from the next bench over.
“«Cuisine» ain’t a god and ain’t in any pantheon I ever heard of!” snapped Hditr. “And its ancient secrets ain’t toad-folk’s ancient secrets! This camp ain’t thirty years old.”
“Do not dare to lecture me with your lecterous deceits about what is sacred to me and what is not!!” snapped Vong. “You are a priest of the Rogalian pantheon!! Not the Pantheon of Ur-Snep!! Ignorance is yours!!” He waved a book at her. “The truth of the Pantheon of Ur-Snep is in here!! I accept no blasphemies!! And I am the ultimate arbiter upon Drullguur of what is blasphemous!!”
I have «Language» on my wing, so I read the whole book in an instant. Like any halfway reasonable scriptures, its gods explain that they are the gods and you and I aren’t. So I quoted to Vong, “‘To the fingers of Bhom-Vrek are reserved the scissors of judgement and of justice. Absolute are the standards of Bhom-Vrek, and sharp his cutting! Mortals are cut away from gods, the lawful away from what is forbidden, truth away from falsehood!’ Page eighty-three of that book you’re waving around.” Half a dozen toads chuckled.
“What witchery is this?? You — you quote to me the Scriptures of Ur-Snep!!” cried Vong.
“I read them,” I said. “They’re pretty good scripturals. Very scriptural.”
“Then you must have read the Poetic Precepts of Doip-Mungee!!” he cried triumphantly.
“These precepts give to mayors great authority!! They grant me the right to decide what is goodly and what is illy in my domain!!”
I reread that part of the scriptures, and blushed my ears flat. “Well, um, sort of … it’s more a cross between a tax manual and a love poem though.”
“Say nothing against the holy scriptures, three-headed blasphemer!!” cried Vong.
“C’mon, what do they say? I don’t read Vongy-voingy or whatever Vong’s language is called,” said Hditr.
“Is it blasphemy to quote your scriptures verbatim?” I asked.
Vong scowled at me and waved his book around. “How could it be blasphemy?? The scriptures are pure!! You offend Ur-Snep to even suggest that they are not!!”
So I recited,
For you my breasts are as heavy as the tax-rolls.
For you my womb is as capacious as a vast filing cabinet
You, my love, you are as the temple administrator of my heart
You, my love, you are as the mayor of my loins,
In the back offices of the temple we copulate frantically
In the front closets of the temple we do not copulate at all
For you tell to me what is goodly and pleasing to Vilp-Dom
For you tell to me what is illy and displeasing to Vilp-Dom
With your guidance I avoid those place of curses
In which copulation brings attacks of the Dyspepsia of Wrath
With your guidance I seek out those places of blessings
In which copulation brings gravidity with twins
“You misquote!! You are defiling the sacred words!!” cried Vong. “The poem concerns administration and the mayoral dispensation of truth!! It is not a vile and vulgar sex poem!! Miners, to me!! Attack these infidels with cranks and levers, crush them limb from limb, cast them off the shelf!!”
“Look at page 238 first?” I shouted, as several miners pushed their benches back and stood up.
One of the smallest and many-leggedest of the miners dipped his(?) forequarters. “I suppose we can check on the exact wording before we crush this dragon like a small glass bauble.” Like most spidersen, he(?) was smaller than me, but the other miners were of a variety of species, mostly larger.
Vong frantically riffled through the book. “See?? Nothing about improper activities!!”
“That’d be the wrong page though,” said the miner “Nothing about mayors either. That’s the verse about the absolution of Udup-Noin from the sin of constipation, on page 283. You’d be wanting something earlier.” He took the book from Vong. “Page 238, like the lizard said. Huh. I think the lizard got it wrong.”
“… Wrong?…” I asked.
Vong gloated. “Wrong!! See!! Destroy them!!”
“No, no, wrong kind of wrong. Lizard was translating into modern tongue. It’s actually written in the older tongue. You shouldn’t use sesquipedalian words like ‘copulation’ and ‘gravidity’ for that page. Plus you missed the double entendres and stuff. That last couplet is more like Find my pussy when we’re at temple services, fuck me so hard I have twins.”
“Deacon!! You exceed your authority in this translation!!”
“I had two years of seminary,” said the miner. “I know my older tongue, and my hermeneutics too. Not that I’m really an expert in these non-insect reproductive modalities.”
“I will not tolerate a miner who uses words like ‘hermeneutics’ and ‘reproductive modalities’ to defend my enemies from my righteous wrath!! Soundproof yourself at once!!” cried Vong.
“Then wrath them on your own time, and don’t bring the scriptures into it,” said the miner. “Some of us actually love those scriptures, wouldn’t you know?”
“You simply love them as fuck poetry!!” screamed Vong.
The seminarian miner’s friends stood up as one. A toad among them said, “Look, Mr. Mayor. Speaking as the First Reader of the First Drullguur Mining Camp Scriptural Study and Appreciation Circle, I would calmly urge you to describe the holy scriptures in terms other than ‘fuck poetry’. It does not reflect well on your undoubtedly high regard for the sacred books.”
“What is this, a seminary in exile, or a mining camp?? Get back to work or you are all fired!!” cried Vong.
“With all due respect — a quantity which I have not yet determined — we shall do no such thing. We have all worked our full shifts for the day. We are taking a spot of dinner before some well-deserved scriptural exegesis, to be followed by our healthful ablutions in foam, oil, and water, to be followed by a dignified sleep in the hollow confines of yon vasty tent. These things are mandated by the divine scriptures, and by the mortal scriptures in the form of the company handbook,” said the First Reader.
“And we punch fat blobby belly of the you if the you stop them!” said another miner. “You no good are stupid-lazy of mayor the shit!”
A non-miner sort of person stepped up, armed well, slapping a truncheon into his palm to make a menacing ‘thwack’. “Hey! You mustn’t speak of the mayor like that!”
“Speaking as a devot devoutee [sic] of some religion or other myself, I gotta say, this might be a good time to make good our goodly escape. Unless you want to incinerate the whole camp in a blaze of dragonfire or something. Both sound kinda good to me just about now,” said Hditr in a low voice, when the First Reader got involved.
“You’re thinking of some other kind of dragon. My fire’s not nearly that big,” I said.
“Eric, how do you feel about getting into a nice bout of fisticuffs?” Hditr asked, already slinking her way to the door.
Eric waved his hand through a miner, who was watching the brewing brawl and did not notice. “I’ll give as good as I get! Which will be — nothing!”
“So we ain’t doing the fighting. Let’s start with the running then!”
We gobbled down our hideous but delicious meals rather more quickly than they deserved, and strolled off, as the theological argument grew more heated.