This is a bit of e-mail sent to me by a player in one of my face-to-face games. The player wrote up his side of the incident, and I added the NPC actions. It was done mostly as a pleasant exercise to develop the character more fully, and could be considered, I suppose, a net form of 'blue-booking' that doesn't take up any time from the other players in the game. I recommend it as an enjoyable way for a GM to get to know her players' characters better.
It was hot. Fedri didn't think he would get used to the heat. The air was thick and he always felt slimy and gritty. Lighter clothes helped, but he was taking a lot of baths -- one after getting up, one after stick practice, one before the evening meal. He had carefully copied down all of the traveler's notes that the archivist had provided for him. His paper was not thin enough to trace the drawings, and his copying of pictures was crude and child-like.
The monsters were disturbing. The texts were well cared for, but they were old. He knew that old information was not as useful as current, and there were things in the texts that he thought needed some detail and clarification. It was unlikely that the authors were available for consultation, and due to the reactions of the rest of his group, talking to the weirdo in the Temple square would be a bad idea. He needed to find someone who had traveled from Idaraki.
The only one he could think of who had been through that territory, and whom he had exchanged words with, had been a large monster that people referred to as Auntie Tsoshorra. He was not exactly comfortable in coming face to face with a monster, but seeing that the locals felt safe enough to leave their children with her, she probably had at least enough manners not to eat him right away.
So here he was looking for a thousand pound monster in a white canvas robe in the streets of this fair city. He would ask occasionally, and the cheerful inhabitants would point further down the street. Well, he should have thought of it before. He heard some children and some... women? speaking in a precise cadence, as if in a lesson. That sounded like it.
He approached the source of the sounds. Things quieted down a little, and a deep, buttery smooth voice with very precise enunciation started again. The monster would say something, and the children would repeat. He found a spot and waited patiently until she finished her lesson, and then cleared his throat.
The monster's head swung over and pointed at him.
"Um... E-excuse me. My name is Fedri Nakashak. I am a tally master of a caravan, and I am looking for any information," he swallowed, "that you may have about c-crossing the plains. W-we may have to travel to Idaraki, and I was told that this is a difficult journey. If I may, could I ask you some questions about the trip?" He caught himself staring, and quickly brought up his notepad and, pointedly not looking at the monster, began to take notes.
The huge head swung back towards the children, and that peculiarly deep voice (for a female) said calmly, "Children?" All together, the children politely gave a small bow and recited, "How do you do, Mr. Nakashak?"
It was both disconcerting and reassuring to do the small ritual. He'd was disconcerted at having forgotten it, in the nervousness of actually speaking face to face with the massive creature. True, it was lying on its side, mostly, with children playing all over and around it... but it was still HUGE! And he was reassured -- the monster definitely had at least the opening courtesies down correctly... and the monster seemed at the very least patient, he thought, watching one of the littler children successfully grab one horn and hang for a second, swinging, before losing her grip and tumbling down onto the monster's back (side?).
The large head was tilted slightly sideways, watching him. That same rich voice again, "Very good." It took a deep breath, and the children on its side giggled as the ribs beneath them rose dramatically, then fell again. "Hmm... today a different lesson." The large head nodded once, decisively, and Fedri found himself almost mesmerizedly staring at that huge nose... he blinked and focused nervously on his notes again. "Please have a seat, Mr. Nakashak."
Once he'd rapidly seated himself, some of the children gathered around him too, shyly curious as to what he was writing. The chak-bird with him was quite pleased, stretching out and cooing softly as some of the older ones scritched gently in that favorite spot, right behind the skull... The monster started talking. "Today we speak of the wild places between this city and the city of Seerolqaht Omorgh -- what does that mean, children?"
Some of the younger ones just looked confused, but a quick babble from the older children revealed to Fedri that the curiously guttural word meant "Possession of the Queen," and referred to Idaraki, and that the "wild lands" were known to the "Jaggiri" as "Seerolqaht Jaggiri," or "possession of the people." Oddest people Fedri'd ever seen... but then he sure didn't feel like actually saying that just now!
The monst- Jaggiri began to speak, with occasional pauses for the children to repeat things. This gave Fedri time to write fast enough to keep up with the lesson, if he scribbled furiously. Fedri wrote down lots of notes: the bipedal wild animals in the plains came in 3 types. There were the little ones, about the height of a human, and they ran in packs of up to about 10 or 20. There were the bigger ones, that were between human and Jaggiri in size, and they tended to run in pairs. And there were the big ones, taller than Jaggiri, and they tended to be solitary, with very occasionally two being seen together, or a mother and some young. All the bipeds were dangerous, meat-eaters, and should be avoided.
Then there were the real giants. The only danger from them was that they might step on you without noticing. They went on all fours, and their necks were as long as their tails. They ate no meat, and were taller than two Jaggiri on top of each other. Personally, Fedri wasn't sure about this one... was his leg being gently pulled? But the monst- Jaggiri was still talking, so he kept writing. The ones with many, many horns on the head were very dangerous because they were very aggressive and unpredictable. They should be avoided because a herd of them could trample one flat. The ones that were about the size of a yekken were good to eat, but to hunt them one needed many people...
Fedri wrote and wrote. His hands were tired when she finally finished speaking, and he was starving. The large head turned towards him again, and said, "And now we stop for lunch. If you have questions, ask while we rest at lunch." The children all cheered and started producing baskets and cloth wrapped bundles. They pieced together a large spread of food, and everyone dug in. It was a little odd to watch that huge head, with its large teeth, delicately nibbling on a melon... Fedri shook his head again. He had to quit staring like that -- or someday he'd meet a rude monster, and... he shuddered. Questions... he needed to ask some questions!
The children, he noticed were without fear. They gossiped and giggled, and poked each other, as any child would. The large monster was to them talking furniture. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. Well, he had forgotten lunch, and he was not about to take anything from the kids, so he swallowed his discomfort, and tried to calm his racing mind.
"H-okay", he sighed, "-what does one do about these car- car- what was the word, carnivorous? uh, bipeds? I mean we've got yekken, rugs, brassware, and all sorts of dry goods. We do not have any ability to move fast. Also, correct me if I am wrong, but the rout to Seelo- ...Idaraki is clear, and fairly obvious...? Um, have you been there recently?"
Auntie Tsurshora put down the melon rind and wiped her fingers fastidiously on a napkin. She straightened the tousled hair of one tiny child with large, clawed fingers that moved with surprising delicacy, then gave a chilling stare down her long nose at one of the girls teasing a little boy by holding a slice of melon out of his reach. The little girl blushed and broke the melon into two pieces, handing one to the little boy, who quit his piercing cries and settled happily down with it. The large head nodded once approvingly, then turned to stare at Fedri thoughtfully. Fedri caught himself nervously wondering if he had jam on his face as she gazed at him.
"I do not go much to Seeloqaht Omorgh. It smells of fear and arrogance. The route is clear to scent, as the road was made for the deceased Queen's journey here. The clever bipeds will usually not go near the road, for there is usually no food on it, and we have taught them that attacking is costly. Remember this is not a constant, but a frequent occurrence. The smallest, stupid ones do not remember this lesson. The large quadrupeds are dangerous also, because they are too stupid to remember. You must learn to hide from the carnivores -- you are small and they will try to eat you."
She took a moment to comfort a wide-eyed little one, assuring the child that there were no bad monsters here, and they would not come to eat him. He cuddled up trustingly in her arms as she continued, "The humans have ways of hiding from the carnivores. I do not know these ways. I do know that all the animals fear fire... but fire is very dangerous in the wild lands. You must be very careful not to let it burn unsupervised, or you will be burned yourself."
She thought a moment, her head tilted, then continued, "The last time I went to the city was [date about a year ago]. The wild lands have worsened. The people there smell of desperation and anger. Do not leave the road for any reason unless one of the Jaggiri are accompanying you, or the people there will believe you are rogues, wild rogues, and will try to kill you." She thought a bit more, then nodded once at Fedri to show she was done.
Fedri scratched at his mouth, thinking a bit, looking off toward the east. He turned back, meeting the monster's eyes briefly. The monster's eyes were a clear, sharp yellow. He looked back to his notes. "So there is a lot of flammable grass... Flaming countryside, carnivorous bipeds, this is a crazy country..." He let the comment trail off.
"How do the monsters find someone? Do they look at us, like hawks? Smell us like dogs do? Or hear us like owls do? I mean how do y-" he stopped himself. He paused and took a breath. He had to remind himself to watch his mouth. Whenever he got agitated he mouthed off, but the monster was giving him no cause to, so he thought carefully before starting again. "I have dealt with arrogance before. I had to learn to read at a temple, and the priestesses all are experts in all affairs of people and nature," he said, hoping the sarcasm was above the children, "-but the fact that we have to conduct business in 'that city'... I suppose that manners may be different. If we are to be considered mannerly, what is considered mannerly conduct there?"
The large head tilted abruptly at him, and was that a distinctly warning look in her yellow eyes? "It is not the same. Arrogance born of fear is not wisdom. Do not confuse the issue." She glanced over the children thoughtfully. Most of them were playing, and the few paying attention didn't seem to have caught Fedri's meaning. She nodded once, then called a few of the children to play closer to her, shifting slightly to accommodate two sleeping children, one Jaggiri and one human, resting against her flank.
A moment's thought, and then she continued, "Humans apparently see better than Jaggiri. Jaggiri scent better. We can tell you apart by scent and sound and, when you are close enough, sight. I believe the animals scent well. Hearing may play a part in their perception, but I do not know this as a fact." Quietly she adds, "I do not know what is considered mannerly in the other city. The people there are in fear of each other, and I find it distasteful to spend time there. I do not observe what is distasteful if I can avoid doing so. The humans are obsequious and the Jaggiri are demanding. Neither of them act like true people. I will not go there unless the need is great."
Somewhat taken aback by her tone, Fedri studiously looked at his notes. Another deep breath, and he thought he was ready to resume. "Well, surely, the mo- your people remember the common courtesy of their homeland. I mean, a good caravaneer always tries to maintain a good appearance." He thought about it a moment, then as quietly as she, said, "Well, if you don't like going there, why are you whispering here? Why did you go there a year ago? Family?" He stopped, sensing he might be pressuring her. Her? She was no longer the monster, he thought. But she still made him wary. Finally he said, "I'm sorry. I'm a little nervous." He grinned placatingly, then wiped the smile off his face when he remembered that one didn't show teeth at them. "Sorry again," he said, covering his mouth with one hand. He sighed and looked away. "Well, I must say your [english] is very good. How long have you been here? The fat mage says you've been here since he was little."
Auntie Tsurshora nodded once to him. Her tone was faintly... amused? "You ask many questions, child. Common courtesy says one should not be needlessly aggressive. Do not stare, or bare one's teeth without need, or scent of anger, or perform the movements of initiation of aggressive behavior. Speaking softly, and acting in a pleasing and peaceful fashion causes amiable scenting. But common courtesies are unfortunately not common when one is constantly under stress. The truly noble will perform as admirably as ever -- the weak-willed and fearful will attempt to hide their scent with brash actions and false bravado. In those situations common courtesy dies soon." She sighed gustily, lying her head down on her arms, her chin outstretched on the ground cloth she was laying on.
She rolled her head slightly so she could fix one golden eye on him. "I was not whispering. I was speaking softly, as a gesture of respect for that which is lost. I have been here for, I believe, 72 of your years." A moment later she raised her head and said severely, "It is rude to refer to someone as 'fat.'" Her head tilted at him as she said firmly, "If you refer to the archivist with the writings of the wild lands, his name is Mr. Lamaraka." There was a faint emphasis on the word 'name.' "He is not a mage. He is a gatherer of knowledge and a wise teacher and should be respected and revered."
"N-no, not Mr. Lamaraka... I was talking about a friend of a friend of mine, this guy is a mage and has a name, like 'Pipe Cleaner' or 'Far Seer' or some other vague job description. I'm sorry, I'm not that good with names-" he mumbled, "-no matter what Aunt says." He continued speaking more normally. "No, Mr. Lamaraka has been very helpful. I lent him my notes from the trip. I know him. He has been a big help." He looked back at his notes. "Um, pardon me for prying, but you seem a little upset about That City. Is that why you're here? Is it really that bad? If it is, I may have to advise my traveling group to forget this. Oh, before I forget, what is this 'money' thing? And what does this symbol mean?" Fedri drew a big, vaguely 'M' shaped symbol on his paper:
Auntie Tsurshora looked very disapproving. Her bright yellow eyes gleamed as she said sternly, "Are you making fun of someone's name?" Several of the children glanced his way, grinning slightly and nudging each other. Fedri realized the huge monster was staring at him and waiting for an answer.
Fedri said. "Well, I said I'm not good at names, ma'am. But it's not like I said 'fuck' or something. I just can't remember his name."
She tracked on him, and sharply inhaled through flared nostrils. The more alert kids knew something was up, and started in on a badly harmonized chorus of "ooooooooo." She silenced them with a quick glare, then turned back to Fedri, saying in frosty tones, "I really think you should leave now."
Inside, mentally, he collapsed. Whatever he was thinking about fell out of his mind like sand between his fingers. He didn't move for several seconds, and the monster (yes, it was "monster" again) held him in her gaze -- the only movement being her stroking the hair of a sleepy child in her arms. He thought, 'she's not getting up, so she's not going to eat me...' He then inhaled deeply and tried to think calmly. He arranged his papers in silence. When he had them back in the leather cover, he stood and bowed slightly. "Thank you very much for what you have given me, ma'am. Perhaps we could continue this discussion later? Without the benefit of an audience?"
The monster gazed at him for a long moment. Irrelevantly, Fedri realized it was disconcerting looking something in the eye when you were standing and it was lying down. A long sigh (sniff? hard to tell), and then the low, beautifully modulated voice again, "I believe you may have spoken without malice... but also without benefit of forethought... I am aware this is an unfortunate characteristic of human children... which they fortunately mostly out-grow." She thought for a moment, then slowly, deliberately nodded once. "Later. You may come over for dinner a few nights hence... and bring your friends, if you wish."
"Ah... sure... that would be nice. Um... okay... sure. Well, fine, so then I'll see you in a couple of evenings..." he said haltingly. He got directions to her home, made his farewells and walked hastily away.
He was reminded by his hunger that he had yet to have lunch, so he got bread and cheese from a street cart. The cheese struck him as being unusual, so he noted down who made it, and where they were. Later that afternoon, he brought the books back to the archivist. The archvist had long since finished copying Fedri's notes and diary. Fedri noted that the archivist's writing was neater than his own. "Archivist Mikita," said Fedri, "I have this small problem. I seem to have pissed off auntie Tsurshora a little, and I want to make it up to her. Do you have any suggestions how I could do that?"
Last Updated: Mon Mar 22 1999
Copyright © 1999 B. A. "Collie" Collier