A Ron Brandywood Encounter.
Garvin gnawed the chicken leg. He made small, wet noises of appreciative mastication as Ron watched the fire. Screening out the noises was a meditative practice, and at least the noises were coming from the end he could see.
Once he had cracked open the bone and sucked out the marrow, Garvin tossed the splinters into the fire.
‘You’re quiet,’ Garvin said.
Ron smiled and nodded as he studied him across the fire.
Garvin’s elongated ears twitched when he got enthused, with the ragged nubs of scar tissue flapping along in sympathy. His large black eyes absorbed all the light and by the flames, his green skin had the damp consistency of someone with a persistent fever. When he smiled, all his brown-pitted teeth jutted out from different directions.
‘Ah was just listening, sir,’ Ron said.
Garvin smiled as he appraised Ron.
‘It makes a pleasant change,’ Garvin said.
Ron got out his pouch and rolled a smoke, lighting it from a branch he held to the flames. Garvin sniffed the smoke and chuckled. He got out his pipe, carved from wood and dark with years of use. He loaded it with something pungent, then sprinkled a pinch of resin on the top and copied Ron’s technique for lighting it.
‘Ah value silence, it tells you what you need to know,’ he said.
Garvin took a deep pull on the pipe and closed his eyes.
‘You know my work?’ Garvin said.
His voice, gruff and cracked, still held the perennial desire for recognition all artists held. Ron smiled and shook his head.
‘No, sir, ah always have a book with me, but I do not know your work to me,’ he said.
Garvin smirked, but there was a brittle light in his eyes.
‘Some people think they know it too well, hence, death threats,’ he said.
Ron took a pull on his cigarette and exhaled through his nostrils.
‘Hence, why ah am here,’ he said.
Garvin nodded and shrugged his shoulders.
‘Although, between us, the death threats have helped,’ he said.
Ron gave a brief nod, but narrowed his eyes with concern. Garvin saw the change in expression and put his hand out, shaking his head.
‘Well, look, things like this are why I’m going to sit at the emperor’s court and wipe my arse on silk,’ he said.
Ron grinned across the fire.
‘Yes, it’s a positive spin on the situation, sir, but a death threat only has to be credible once,’ he said.
Garvin shrugged his shoulders as he took a puff on his pipe.
‘It helps me. Gives me terrible things to write about, which then get sold to people,’ he said.
Ron had a pocket on the inside of his coat. He kept a book there, and this time, it was Garvin’s latest. He had started it, but felt awkward about reading it in front of his employer.
‘Are terrible things a summation of your work, sir?’ Ron said.
Garvin looked down, his reddened eyes shining in the dark.
‘Terrible things are why people buy my work. Which is the turd in the punchbowl of all this, really,’ he said.
Ron raised an eyebrow as he finished his smoke and sat cross-legged, focused on Garvin.
‘Of all the books ever written, how many do you think are by goblins?’ he said.
Ron said he did not understand.
Garvin cackled and took another puff on his pipe.
‘You’re close, and I’m one of them, so let me tell you what the secret is, shall?’ he said.
Ron’s half-lidded eyes twinkled with interest.
‘Well, it is unlikely to be something I would volunteer,’ he said.
Garvin put his pipe down and got out a hip flash, offered it to Ron, who shook his head and drank half the contents down in one gulp. He gasped as the spirits hit the back of his throat.
‘I write about how awful life is being a goblin, and how things would be better if they behaved like elves,’ he said.
Ron furrowed his forehead and scratched his chin.
‘Do the elves like it?’ he said.
Garvin grinned, despite the crackle of self-loathing in his voice.
‘They love it, can’t get enough,’ he said.
Ron considered it, then looked at Garvin.
‘Aspiration is a noble pursuit,’ he said.
Garvin nodded his agreement, before he coughed and soothed it with a short pull from his flask.
‘Yes, if it is a genuine belief, but you don’t have to put other halfling down to be a success, do you?’ he said.
Ron narrowed his eyes.
‘In a physical sense and does that include family?’ he said.
Garvin grinned and leaned forward.
‘Yes, and yes,’ he said.
‘Wouldn’t that be disparaging another halfling?’ he said.
Garvin gave him the finger as he chuckled. Ron looked pleased as he rolled another smoke.
‘Ah have disparaged no one, to my knowledge,’ he said.
Still smiling, Garvin loaded his pipe again.
‘I have, I’m good at it, and they throw money at me to do it,’ he said.
Ron grinned and lit his smoke.
‘You’ve just described my professional philosophy,’ he said.
Garvin tossed a burning stick but Ron caught it between his fingers without looking and snapped it between them, tossing the halves into the fire.
‘Are these stories yours?’ he said.
Garvin grimaced before he puffed on his pipe, thinking about the question.
‘Yes and no, these days there’s more invention than anecdote, and no one likes me saying this. Things are better for goblins under the empire now than ever,’ he said.
Ron gave a non-committal nod, sensing Garvin would unburden himself better without interruption.
‘Shit, I spent my youth working or reading, writing so I could put down what was in my head. Sent it out to every publisher on the continent,’
He leaned forward, lips drawn back over his brown, awkward teeth as his black tongue tasted the air.
‘No one cared what was in my head, so I started writing all the surrounding stories. They didn’t like the happy ones, but the failure, the misery, those…’
He trailed off into a sigh and rubbed his ace.
‘Those they loved,’ he said.
Ron put his hand up, his face still.
‘Now, ah understand the sting of self-deception, but you have a good life where you get to write things down and then people give you money for it,’ he said.
Ron’s voice gained a little volume. He had not raised his voice, but the intent behind it had firmed up into a pointed command.
‘Ah risk death to keep my principals from harm, sometimes for months at a time,’ he said.
Garvin looked at his feet, indignant and shamed by Ron’s words.
‘Good point, Mr Brandywood,’ he said.
Ron finished his smoke in silence before he tossed it into the fire.
‘Do your people care what you write about them?’ he said.
Garvin’s ears twitched as he looked up.
‘The ones who can read, they get a touch sensitive about it,’ he said.
Ron chuckled and nodded.
‘Our story traditions are oral, so we can say what we want as long as someone remembers,’ he said.
Garvin relit his pipe as he thought about what Ron had said.
They didn’t care, and he had moved his parents into a better part of town. This comforted him enough to allow him to sleep without angst.
They parted ways at the gates to the emperor’s palace.
A firm handshake.
Purse swollen with gold.
Garvin walked into the palace with his shoulders back and head held high.
Ron found an inn, sat with food, and read Garvin’s book. Perhaps it was the time he spent with him, but the book was an easy and inviting read. He found it easy to lose himself in the struggles of the Hummer family.
It was dark when he finished. He held the ache of having experienced something moving and having no one to share it with. He paid for a room, and by candlelight, wrote a short note to Garvin.
Stories, borrowed or true, matter.
Your stories do, and although tarnished by a lack of halfling, it moved me. Give something back to your people or not, but your conscience is clear.
Garvin never replied, but the books came out and in one, Ron found a surprising dedication.
To those ensconced in the oral traditions of their people, and those whose work invites risk and injury, this is for you.
Ron paid for the book, slipped it into the pocket on his coat and wandered into the winding streets, drawn by the promise of more work.