Sunday, June 18, 2006

Episode 14: Scaramouche's Tale

"Now," Gundar said sternly. "The time is overripe to explain yourself. Open your heart to me. Tell me who you are, and how you managed to get yourself into such a pickle." After the previous uncomfortable night outdoors, his bones longed for bed; however, he was determined to find out something more about his companion before closing his eyes.

Innkeeper Mercurios' establishment, The Lame Duck, had more than met his expectations. As she had predicted, the mere mention of Aurelia's name had garnered him a friendly greeting and a foaming tankard of beer on the house. One of the silver coins had been more than adequate to procure a snug room, two candles, and enough food to provide a fine supper and re-stock Gundar's supply bag.

Before Gundar barred the door for the night, he had spent a pleasant hour warming himself at the fire in the great hall of the inn, consuming ale and roasted chestnuts, and finding out what he could. He was not able to add much to his store of knowledge. One of the guests told a colourful tale of a magical lamp from the East, but Gundar dismissed it as a fable. His inquiries regarding Archmage Arestasis were met with blank stares. When he asked about the condition of the road to the royal palace, he was informed that the road was well-travelled and generally safe. However, none of the present company was planning to go in the direction in the morrow.

The guests had made their way to their beds, and all was quiet in the inn. Gundar was now comfortably esconced in an armchair covered with a blanket of wolf pelts, while the little one was sitting on the bed, making good use of the cloth and sewing supplies Gundar had purchased. The round moon, just beginning to wane, shone so brightly into the window that the candlelight paled in comparison.

"Speak up, man!" Gundar said impatiently.

His companion did not lift his eyes from his work. "I was once known as Maurice Scaramouche, a cobbler by trade."

"And a tailor too, by the look of it," Gundar said, watching the busy needle flashing back and forth.

"I learned that from my mother," Scaramouche said. "She was fond of saying that well-made clothes are not easily come by, so it is wise for all to learn the art of sewing."

"And where did you do your cobbling, if I may ask?"

"In a land called Grondellie, so far from here that I could weep. Oh, to return to my dear village of Hirondelle-des-Aires! The grape-stamping festival was such a time! There is no place in the world where the wine and cheese are as fine."

"If it is so wonderful, why did you leave?" Gundar asked.

"Oh, it was not my notion to do so," Scaramouche replied. "I was content enough with my shop and my wife and three children. But one day, cruel fate intervened to send me forth into the harsh world and break my tender heart."

"What happened?" Gundar asked, hoping to hurry the tale along.

"A charming creature came into my shop one day with some red leather, and asked me to make it into a pair of boots for her father's birthday. She had outlined his feet on some scraps of parchment, and described his leg in detail -- long and thready, she said, with knobby knees and big calf muscles. We spent an hour or more discussing the most favourable style. There was something about her . . . something so sweet . . ."

"Did your wife have nothing to say about your little tête-à-tête?"

"My darling Céline? Oh yes -- she made herself known and invited Charmaine for supper. However, Charmaine declined to stay. She excused herself politely and said that she would return in one week for the boots."

"And so -- you made the boots."

"Indeed. I worked night and day, slaving over every detail. The leather was so fine and soft -- a pleasure to work with. When I had finished the boots, they were so beautiful that I could not resist trying them on. My feet were much the same size as Charmaine's father's, you see, and his boots fit my feet like gloves. They made me feel so light and happy that I was filled with envy. I could not bear to take them off, so I decided to break them in by wearing them to the market at Morissette, twenty kilomètres thence."

"And how much, pray tell, is a kilomètre?" Gundar asked.

"A thousand steps -- like one of your leagues, but shorter."

"Twenty kilomètres there and back again would be fair day's walk even for a young and vigorous man," Gundar observed.

"Indeed. But as soon as I thought of going there -- there I was! I could not believe it. Could I be dreaming? I purchased what I wanted and then thought of home. In a moment I was transported back to my own house."

"Magic boots," Gundar said wisely. He did not believe in such a thing, but he had heard tell of them.

"Indeed they were. I spent the rest of the day visiting every place I knew. In each case, they took me there in an instant. The only thing that disappointed me was that they would not transport me into the unknown -- only to places I could clearly picture in my head."

Scaramouche stopped his sewing and stared into space.

"And Charmaine the Charmer found out about your misuse of her boots?" Gundar prodded.

"Oh, it was worse than that! I decided I must have them for my own. 'Twas folly, and I have oft regretted it, but the excitement of instant travel went to my head . . ." Scaramouche wiped a tear from his cheek before resuming his work. "I made a second pair of boots from ordinary leather, and gave them to Charmaine when she returned."

"I take it that she discovered your deception."

"She was back the next day, not nearly as charming as before. She demanded that I return her boots and the money she had paid, or face the full extent of her wrath."

"And you refused?" Gundar asked.

"Oh no. It was clear to me that she was a sorceress, not one to be trifled with. I would gladly have complied--"


"When I went to the house to fetch the magic boots, I discovered that Céline had taken them to the shop and sold them to a young nobleman who happened to be riding by. She thought she had done me a favour, and was on top of the world, inordinately pleased with herself for the fine price she had received. Poor darling -- I did not upbraid her, but kissed her heartily, convinced that I had only moments remaining to live."

"And Charmaine -- did she believe your story?"

"Not in the least. While I was still begging and pleading for her mercy, she turned me into a fine, fat goose. Before I could think, she tied my legs together and sold me to my wife for the celebration dinner she was planning."

"Monstrous!" Gundar murmured. "To be eaten at your own table!"

"Céline put me in a wicker cage, meaning to slay me in the morning. Luckily, the moon was full that very night, and I was transformed into a mouse. I chewed a hole through the corner and escaped."

"How many different forms have you worn?"

"Too many to remember," Scaramouche said. "I have been a cat, a wolf, a grasshopper, a sparrow -- every imaginable creature, wandering the world, trying to find Charmaine again and implore her mercy. I was a turtle dove when Netheniel purchased me. At the next full moon, he was present in the room when I changed into a ferret. He saw his opportunity to feign great magical powers, and took me along on his trip to the city, hoping to find some way to turn my condition to his profit. By great good fortune, he did not realize my connection with the moon. When I became a mannekin, I was able to work the cage door open without being observed. I looked desperately for a hiding place and found you."

The little man finished a final stitch and held up the shirt he had made.

"Very handsome," Gundar murmured, impressed by Scaramouche's skill. It would have taken a seamstress of his own Northern land at least a day to finish such a fine piece of work.

Scaramouche yawned. "I must sleep now, and complete my outfit in the morning."

"That will have to wait," Gundar said. "I mean to set out for the palace at first light. I must know what has become of the Basilea Alexa."