The Journeyman: On the Mangly Steppes
by Michael F. Flynn
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
a tall one, warm
Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand sat on the patio of the Turf and Peak and enjoyed a schooner of beer. Or he would have enjoyed it had it been chilled rather than warm.
“If yer honor wisht it cold,” the serving wench told him when he complained, “come ye back in winter, though I doubt ye would like it then. The winds offen the steppes fetch tolerable deep snow outen the east.”
Teo grunted at this wisdom and fell to considering the eastward vista. To the northeast, the Mangly Steppe rolled away, enough like the Great Grass of his home to stir a twinge of memory, though the grass here was short and yellow.
To the southeast, mountains heaped upon mountains like stallions upon mares, reaching their apotheosis in the snowcapped peaks lining the horizon. He wondered if the sight triggered nostalgia in the heart of his boon companion, Sammi o’ th’ Eagles, a hillman from the mountains west of the Great Grass.
He rather hoped the surer route to Varucciyaman would be across the steppes but suspected for that very reason that Fate would send him into the mountains.
While he pondered these things, he had been watching also the approach of a rider loping from the steppe. No one else in the saloon or its patio seemed to pay mind, although some had laid casual hands on their sidearms.
When in Cuffy, the saying ran, do as the Cuffs. He had left Cuffland in his horse’s dust, but if this was the way the locals greeted visitors, he would go along with the gag. He hooked his foot around his duff, pulled it close, and unfastened its thongs.
The rider proved to be a man with a sun-burnt face and a hunched-back. He galloped up to the hitch-rail before the patio and leapt from his saddle in a billowing of his dirty-white robes Teo noted a battered old musket in a saddle scabbard, a short, curved sword in another, and a recurved bow tucked behind the cantle. When he strode into the saloon, the rider left this arsenal behind, and Teo supposed from this that he bore concealed arms. That the stranger was unarmed was too risible a notion to entertain.
The hunchback brushed close by Teo and, not to be outdone by his eyes, Teo’s nose detected the strong whiff of sweaty horse and sweaty rider and the suggestion that the rider had not bathed in a very, very long time.
Curiosity – and prudence– twisted him in his seat to watch.
The rider breasted up to the bar and croaked in the local djabbah, “Wishkaybah. Long and hard be the ride that lieth behind my horse’s hooves.” At least, Teo thought he said that. He was still learning djabbah.
The barkeeper, a tall, gangly man with prominent eyes, stretched his frame to maximum height and said from that lofty altitude, “We don’t be sarvin Mangos here.”
Teo made no sense of this, inasmuch as the stranger had not ordered a mango. He wondered if the stranger and the barkeeper were having two different conversations. Others in the saloon were taking notice, and another patron at the bar said, “Get this smelly huncher outta here,” which, save for the effect of bad odors in confined spaces, struck Teo as inhospitable.
But the stranger said nothing. He studied the faces in the room and, harvesting visages ranging from the merely curious to the openly hostile, shrugged and departed with an arrogant stride. Teo opened his duff. He could not have said why, but as they said on the Great Grass, the fool builds a shelter once the storm has passed.
When the stranger reached the patio, he whipped a knife from under his robe and completed the motion with a swipe across the throat of one of the drinkers seated at the tables there. The man fell gripping his throat, blood spurting between his fingers, and the stranger leapt upon his horse with a yelp of triumph. Guiding the steed with his knees, he pulled his bow from behind the saddle. He knocked an arrow in one smooth action, twisted in the saddle as he galloped off, and loosed it into the heart of another drinker.
Teo thought this an intemperate response to the previous snub and retrieved his own bow from his duff. Unstrung as it was, the bow curled in a tight circle, and Teo’s shoulders and biceps bulged as he pulled the limbs back to fit the bowstring to the nocks.
A tall man with short, sandy hair had come to stand beside him. “That thar Mango’s a-galloping off,” he said, returning his sidearm to its scabbard.
Teo looked up, saw the receding figure and the plume of dust in his wake. He nodded. “Yah.” He pulled an arrow from the quiver in his duff.
“He’s outta range,” the sandy man suggested helpfully.
Teo looked up again, nocked the arrow to the string. “Nope.” He loosed his shaft.
It struck the distant horse in the rump, and the steed bucked and reared until the rider flew off and struck the ground head-first. The horse continued to buck, trying to rid itself of the pain in its hindquarters.“Damn,” said Teo. “I missed.”
(c) 2023. Michael F Flynn
Long time since you've posted to the blog but I said to myself, Don't bug him about the blog, he's busy WRITING stuff for you.ReplyDelete
Any developments of note on Belly of the Whale?
— Occasional Correspondent
Where did Teo pick up the cold-beer preference/habit?
In most of the world (I'm given to understand), beer is consumed room temperature; only in America and places strongly influenced by Americans (Mexican border, eg, or around military outposts) is beer drunk cold; further, only in America is that regarded as the only, the proper, way to serve it. Even in early America, foreign travelers complained that Americans put ice in everything (very bad for the digestion) and that it was impossible to find good wine (wine being very good for the digestion) — so it would seem we came by the cold-drinks habit early on. (Presume most ice in those days was preserved winter ice and not from industrial manufacture.)
So do the prairie folk of Teo's home make or preserve ice to keep their beer cold, or is this something he picked up in his travels? (contamination by foreign customs being a known hazard of travel) And how does Sammi come down on the cold-vs-warm question? (Then the light-vs-dark-beer question can come in too.) Has Teo been drinking his beer cold all along and I just didn't notice?
— Occasional Correspondent
Oh, more Teo, please, no matter how he likes his beer.ReplyDelete
For what it's worth, I remember huddling near the stove as a young urchin in the local Wirtschaft during cold winters. There was always a pot of beer warmers on the stove. These hot water-filled cylinders were inserted into beer steins so that its contents properly warmed your insides.
To my knowledge, even the Germans now drink their beer cold. But I'm always there in the summers, so things may change when the cold winds blow.