“I declare that I spread mine to match yours! For, though I have found exceptions, you have found the very common rule. The girgs here are overwhelmingly injured about the eyes. Indeed! To honor your discovery, I shall ask the natives that most stupid-sounding of questions, about why everyone’s eyes are injured!” And, so saying, Itharieth became a smaller and darker girg, dressed in the traditional costume of Darsa, and paid a few (probably stolen) small coins for a massage, for he had noted that masseurs in Srad converse with their clients while they work.
“Good afternoon to you, spoirant,” said Itharieth. (The odd honorific means literally ‘one of ritually pure nature’ and is used roughly as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ as appropriate.) “Might I inquire your rates of massage?”
“For you, good spoirant of Darsa, nine hathas for the ‘typical’, fifteen for the ‘exceptionally pleasant’, eighteen for the ‘expunger of cramps’, and twenty-one for the ‘altogether’. Or, if you are penurious to the point of incompetence, four for the ‘inadequate’.” The masseuse was an older girg woman, dressed threadbare robes that were once dyed greens and browns, and her hand-pads and forearms were mighty.
Itharieth counted out eight triangles of bronze worth three hathas each. “If I may, I shall pay for the ‘altogether’, and with a bonus for your mellifluous voice, for it has been a day both profitable and crampiful.”
“Wealthy spoirant of Darsa, it shall be as you wish!” The triangles vanished. “Please remove your upper garment and allow me to brush you lightly with freshly-crushed aromatic twukka-reeds from a secret place on the banks of the Z’narn! When Nazyim performs the ‘altogether’, her client rejoices with many senses!” Itharieth took his place on a sort of cot in the shade of an umbrella in the street.
“Nazyim is indeed expert at her most noble craft!” said Itharieth, doing his best to relax enough to enjoy the massage, and not think too much about how amused Psajathrion might be. Nazyim inquired about his line of trade, his religious affiliation, his family; Itharieth answered with vague generalities and obscure wording. He asked similar questions of her, and eventually got around to asking, “And what of the irritations that everyone in Srad has about the eyes?”
“Oh, the eye-worms, the horrid, horrid eye-worms! The plague of Srad, they are! You do not know what sorts of pains you are spared, not to have the eyeworms in Darsa! Why, nearly every day I awake to feel the vile orange things hatching in the corners of my eyes! I must dip a clean rag in vinegar and carefully wipe them all off, first thing in the morning! Painful, yes, and the vinegar is painful! But if I miss a single one, it will surely chew a channel down my face, and hurt a dozenfold, and belike leave a scar to ruin my beauty!”
“Whence come these eye-worms?” asked the dragon, grunting a bit as Nazyim rolled a heavy and hot stone cylinder over his back in ways that he seems to have enjoyed considerably.
“Oh, that! Who knows? Some people say that the god Hopobén has cursed us with them, for fear that, without some such reminder of our mortality, we would become so exceedingly great in our technology and our culture that we would rival the gods. Others say that the merchants of vinegar have conjured them from some perditional realm to sell more vinegar, though I have noticed that the merchants are just as afflicted as the rest of us. Or perhaps it is a consequence of eating pig-peas, which as you surely have noticed, are served here at every meal of the day, just as twug-peas are served in your Darsa. Ah! Scholars say that in the ancient days two mighty wizards fought a war on this land, and contaminated it with a vile spell. I do not hold with that story, for I lived in Mumsu for twenty years, and every Sradite in Srad-down there was just as afflicted as we are here, and only the occasional handful of Mums. Or perhaps it is a protection for our land: we are tough enough to endure the eye-worms, but no invader would take our land and the parasites that come with them!”
“Extraordinary,” murmured Itharieth. “Why is it that children and animals are spared?”
Nayzim placed a cotton pad under Itharieth’s remaining clothes, and (according to Psajathrion) brought him to a sudden orgasm. “Something about pride, maybe? That’s what the priests say sometimes. Though once a child is three or four their pride comes in, I suppose. Animals maybe don’t have any at all. Anyhow we don’t know. There, do you feel better now?”
“Why, indeed I do,” said Itharieth. “I was not expecting that!”
Nayzim wiped with the pad, and tossed it into her laundry hamper. “Not the custom in Darsa, I suppose? We’ve got to have our own famous pleasures to make up for the eye-worms! Now, roll on your side, and you shall feel the thunder-bronze used most nicely!”
And, evidently, it was. Itharieth reportedly enjoyed the remaining half-hour of massage in full measure, and tipped Nayzim nine more hathas.
“Well, thank you considerably!” said Nayzim. “May you and your companions have a delightful and profitable journey here!”
“I’m sure we will,” said Itharieth.
And was quite surprised when a slimy, barbed of curse — some invisible magic — struck against his the Hoplonton. He looked around with many senses: the gods were just as far off as usual on Girgar, but the theotic field had perhaps quivered.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.