To the Styr-Leng fans across the globe and even further, this is much improved version of “The Occasional Adventures of Styr-Leng, a Fair to Middling Warlock – Memories of a Carpenter’s Son” (Dec. 13, 2018). More raw emotions! More sex!* More words! Fewer typos! (*: Actually that’s a later story, so think of this as foreplay.)
It was an ill night, miserable rain and even more miserable sleet blowing off the bay. Angry white caps spewing salt into the air. As you might imagine, even if you’re of only average imagination, Styr-Leng was miserable. Drudging through mud-strewn paths looking for shelter. Pulling stones from well-worn sandals. An irritable stomach refusing to be ignored. Spotting a dim light through the tempest, Styr-Leng hoped, “May the deities smile on me tonight.” A futile plea by the warlock since, at best, the deities smirked at mortals. With special mortals – wizards, warlocks, and whatnots – they found great amusement in tinkering with their fates. Except for fairies. Bad optics screwing with fairies. And at worst, the deities would, well, we don’t even want to go there.
Leaning into the heavy door, Styr-Leng entered the dimly lit tavern, evaluating his surroundings in hope and a degree of apprehension based on his experiences in entering other dimly lit taverns. A waist-high counter constructed of thick lumber dominated the room, running across one side of the tavern. Old growth lumber from the ancient forests once common in the realm. Lumber with memories of times long before humans infested the region. Above the majestic counter hung the remains of a battered dinghy. A tribute to the lost Albatross and its crew on an ill night, much like the storm blowing outside. On such nights, seafarers raised their tankards to lost friends near and far invoking one deity or another in a hope to avoid a similar fate.
Pulling his attention away from the local ambience, a repugnant smell assaulted Styr-Leng’s nostrils. Not the usual sawdust soaked with stale urine and worse beer. More pungent. Pungent with a hint of rosemary and thyme. Searching for its source, he spied a large pot of stew brewing in the corner. For two nano-moments, Styr-Leng’s stomach did its happy dance. Though not widely known, warlocks need to eat frequently to maintain their occult energies lest they get cranky. And cranky occult energies are best avoided. A happy stomach till he realized the stench emanated from the stew. “It’s going to be one of those nights,” moaned the waterlogged warlock.
The diminutive barkeep behind the counter sized up the stranger. Tall and lanky, fair skin turned red from exposure to the frigid wind. Shoulder length silver hair water dripping rain on his tavern floor. The stranger held himself upright with a bearing of confidence but without his shoulders hunched forward in an overt threat. Not the run-of-the mill riffraff so common in the area. Based on his assessment, the barkeep was comfortable in addressing Styr-Leng in his troubadour’s voice. “Come in,” he said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.” After a dramatic pause, “My name is Robert Zimmerman, but everyone calls me Bob.”
Shaking the rain off his cloak of many colors, assuming mud is a color, Styr-Leng sat at the nearest table, with his back to the wall as was his habit and ordered a beer. A local brew for the warlock could learn much about the indigenous people from what passed for spirits in a region. Then in the universal need to state the obvious, he added, “It’s really crappy out there.”
Getting his beer, Bob volunteered, “Yeah, it’s gonna get worse. It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” Pleased at what just came out of his mouth, Bob exclaimed, “Oh, that’s a good one.” Pulling out his dragon-skin notebook of lyrics, verses and odes from under the bar, he scratched, A severe storm is a-gonna fall. “Yes, I can work with that.” Then he carefully slid the notebook back into its hidden niche.
Being trained in the art of observation and general sneakiness, Styr-Leng caught a glimpse of the dragon-skin book. A rare and dangerous commodity. About to quiz the barkeep when Bob said, “You look hungry stranger. Help yourself to the stew. It’s free.” Distracting the warlock from what he really, really should be paying attention to. “Free?”, exclaimed Styr-Leng. For this was a word seldom heard in the realm.
Bob, “Yes sir. We’re a friendly bunch here at the Haven by the Bay Tavern. Just grab the ladle and scoop yourself a bowl.”
At the mention of “free”, Styr-Leng’s brain commanded his stomach to reconsider. Perhaps “repugnant” was a bit pejorative. “Objectionable” or even “subpar but edible” might be a better descriptor given the circumstances. Hunger overtaking common sense, Styr-Leng grabbed the ladle strategically placed next to the pot. Instantly, tsunamis of pain shot through his burning hand. The warlock screamed. Not sufficient to raise the dead, but more than enough to scare the bejeezus out of the living.
Bob displaying his face of utmost concern, “Oh, no, not that ladle! It’s hot!”
Styr-Leng screamed, “Shit!” Then proceeded to jump around the tavern blowing on his hand, yelling, “Jesus! Jesus! Damnation that hurts!”
Bob, “Oh, you picked up the wrong ladle. Don’t worry, we have fair-trade boar-fat lotion infused with lavender and frankincense for burns. Quite effective. Would you like some?”
Styr-Leng yelled, “Jesus! Boyd, hurry!” as he continued to blow on his offended hand in a blind hope his breath could dissolve the pain. As he pulled out an ornate vial from under the counter, Bob added, “Just so you know, the boar-fat lotion is 40 copper pieces.”
Even through the pain Styr-Leng protested, “What! Jesus, forty copper pieces?” The warlock’s outrage was quite understandable, forty copper being a sizable amount. Equal to a week’s lodging at an inn. Not the best ones, of course, but one step up from Madame Bovine’s Discount Flophouse. But then, Madame Bovine’s was on the low end of flophouses. Nonetheless, the warlock’s outrage was well justified.
Offended at Styr-Leng’s tone, Bob replied, “Boar fat is ridiculously hard to come by in these parts. Boars are quite dangerous you know, especially the fat ones. I could tell you about the time I was almost gored to death in the Numyon Forest. Almost gutted. Forty copper is quite the bargain given the current state of affairs. But if you don’t want it.” With a practiced shrug, Bob began to slowly return the vial back under the bar.
Giving into pain over economics, Styr-Leng yelled, “Jesus, this burns! Yes, get it. Quick Boyd!”
In frustration, “My name is Bob. I’m going to be famous someday.” Pulling out the vial again, Bob poured some of the healing lotion on Styr-Leng’s offended hand. While one can debate the morality of inflating medicinal prices under such dire conditions, the boar-fat lotion actually reduced Styr-Leng’s pain from brain numbing to merely intolerable. As pain released its all-encompassing grip on his psyche, Styr-Leng realized he’d been duped. With his blood rising he growled, “You put that hot ladle there on purpose!”
Shrugging, Bob replied in a practiced tone, “Oh no, sir. I thought a man of your intelligence would understand that the ladle next to the pot was too hot to handle. The ladle for the stew is kept underneath the sink. Right behind the pots. And pans. All the way in the back.”
Styr-Leng for the first time displayed his waist pouch covered with ancient runes, a warlock’s signature. Embedded with black gems indicating a mid-level skill, not a master but fully capable of much mischief. The warlock then threatened, “I should turn you into a toad.” Blowing on his hand, he added “Jesus, this still hurts. A toad is too good for you. A three-eyed dung slug. You, you, charlatan.”
Recognizing real and imminent danger, Bob began to run different predicament probabilities. Though not educated even by local standards, Bob had a sharp, if devious, wit about him. In another life, he likely would have been a court jester; his deft manner bringing truth to mad kings, or more dangerously idiot kings, with only a moderate probability of being beheaded, gutted, or generally put upon. Now he needed these wits to divert the irate warlock from pushing him far, far down the evolutionary chain. “Sir, if it pleases you, answer one question before you use your wizardly powers. A doomed man’s last request. Surely you can grant me that.”
“What? Be quick,” patience not being the warlock’s strong suit.
Quickly reviewing their interactions, Bob begged, “Kindly sir, who is this “Jesus” you talk about?”
In an abrupt tone, Styr-Leng responded to the curly-haired barkeep, “What? What are you talking about?”
“You invoke this Jesus. So, who is he? Enlighten me please, before you turn me into some vile creature even my dear mother, bless her ailing heart, couldn’t love. I’m my mother’s only source of income. She can’t work because of the crippling pain in her hands from when she rescued two, no wait it was three babies, mere infants, from a burning hut. Pulled them out of the roaring flames at great personal risk and asked for no reward for her sacrifice. And my dad. My dad was a hero. Killed defending the realm from marauding bandits. Singly handedly repelled an entire horde of Goths with just a salad fork. The state would have given him a hero’s burial if not for all the budget cuts. Then there’s my blind aunt. She …”
Growing impatient, Styr-Leng commanded, “Stop!” Judging the situation, Bob gave his monologue a rest and waited for his next play. With the break, Styr-Leng remarked, “Jesus you say? I do not recall the name.”
“But you just mentioned him. Several times.” Emphasizing the point, Bob jumped up and down in mock pain blowing on his hand. “You know, “Jesus! Jesus!” All the while moving closer to the front door, for when his words failed, feet were Bob’s preferred backup plan.
Styr-Leng, “No I … What the …” Stopping for a moment, staring off, “How’d that guy get in my head?”
“So, who is this Jesus? An evil sorcerer you had to defeat in a monumental battle? I bet you have a really fascinating story, esteemed sir. A story of adventure and delight. Of your heroism, a tale of light and dark, and of course fifty shades of gray. A tale of great …”
With furrowed brow, Styr-Leng interrupted, “Wait, it’s coming back to me.” Speaking in a slow cadence, pausing between each word. “Okay, I was in Lower Capernaum. A fishing village down south. I was completing my community service by working with Hovels for Humanity.”
“Oh, community service.” As a collector of barterable information, Bob instinctively knew this tidbit had great promise in future dealings with the warlock. “What’d you do? Confession is good for the soul. If you can’t confess to your barkeep, who can you confess to? I could tell you some stories from what I’ve been told. But I won’t because of barkeep – inebriate confidentiality. I mean I really can’t go into how Sigurd Aamot was carrying on with Fukuda Yuuto’s wife when he was off on fishing trips. I mean I understand, what with Hirata’s big, bouncy orbs. But talking about that would break my solemn oath. So, don’t worry that I’d ever repeat your misdeeds. Share with your friend, what’d you do?”
After filing Hirata under “tits”, the warlock brushed off the barkeep, “Never mind, it was a total misunderstanding about some priest’s daughter. Anyway, there were several other indentured volunteers along with some contractors working on the hovel. One of the contractors was this Jesus guy. He was a crappy carpenter. Couldn’t even nail two pieces of lumber into a cross if his life depended on it. Must’ve got his job because his father was in the Carpenter’s Union.”
Putting on his most sympathetic face, Bob commiserated, “Life is so unfair. I could tell you about the time when I was thrown out of the memorial service for Gregorian Gingerdwarf for talking. I mean, talking. Come on. I was just reminiscing about the time when Gingerdwarf came into Haven and accidently peed on Tag Lucidflute. Not even ten minutes into my story when Mrs. Gingerdwarf began hushing me. Really, all I was doing was adding some context on why Gingerdwarf got his head smashed in.”
Dismissively, “Later. This Jesus had this nomadic crew of twelve homies. Bossing them around with a holier than thou attitude. All of them prattling on and on more than hammering. Then out of nowhere, Jesus drove a spike through a guy’s hand. I think his name was Judas something or other. Blood spurting everywhere. Turning the walls red and staining my robe.”
In his best display of horror, Bob responded, “Gruesome.”
“What’s amazing is that instead of apologizing, Jesus yells “Pay back is a bitch.” Judas didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. As far as I could tell, he was just trying to earn his 30 pieces of copper.”
“Damn, that’s harsh. Reminds me of the time when I …”
“Yeah, yeah. And then get this, Jesus says to Judas in a soothing tone, “I forgive you my son.” I forgive you? He just drove a spike through his fucking hand and he forgives him?”
Nodding, Bob interjected, “What you don’t know about me is that I’ve been fully trained in the Chungian Typology Theory of Personalities. Not to mention, but let me mention anyway, the range of characters I’ve had to deal with as a barkeep. Not to brag, but I consider myself an expert on the human psyche. In my learned opinion, I think this Jesus is transferring his masochistic tendencies to Judas. A classic response of an only child with unresolved daddy issues. Do you know anything about his father?”
“Not really, but I got the impression his father was distant. In any case, I don’t know why anybody would hire him as a carpenter. This Jesus definitely needs to find a new mission in life.” Looking down on his scarlet hand, Styr-Leng groaned, “This still hurts.” Louder, “Boyd, get me some more bear lotion. Quick!”
“It’s Bob damn it! I don’t know why no one gets my name right. People need to focus, it’s Bob. And that’ll be another 40 coppers.” Upon hearing 40 coppers, Styr-Leng stared at Bob with an intensity that would freeze Medusa’s hair. Again, calculating predicament probabilities, Bob grasped the vial from under the bar and offered “Since you’re such a distinguished guest, this one is on the house,” and he proceeded to pour a minimal amount of ointment on Styr-Leng’s hand. As the warlock’s shoulders began to slacken, Bob saw a way to end this unpleasantness. “Here, sit by the fire. Let me get you some stew while you rest.” Bob then proceeded to pour him a bowl of stew, using the ladle hidden under the sink, in the back. All the way in the back.
With warmth and something akin to food, Styr-Leng began to feel more charitable towards the barkeep, anger taking too much of his energy. He didn’t even mind the fish eyes staring up at him from the stew, though he jumped when one of them blinked. “Boyd, get me a flagon of ale.”
“Jesus, it’s Bob!” Realizing what he’d just said, “Damn, now he’s in my head. This Jesus must be a Meme Mage. That’s why he’s in our heads.” Then to himself, “I might have a potion for that around here somewhere.”
Taking a moment to survey his surroundings as Bob leisurely poured his ale, Styr-Leng eyed a scruffy looking patron. An event well within the probability field for the Haven. But Uther looked sneakier than average. Had the scent of thievery about him. After noticing that the barkeep was occupied, Uther gestured towards the front door, yelling, “Is that Vlad the Inhaler? Alright! Party on!” A classic drink and dash distraction. In the resulting hubbub, the burgeoning brigand slid out the back door, the one reserved for emergencies only.
Calling out, “Hey Boyd, you’ve got a slacker trying to run out the back.”
Sighing on hearing Boyd, Bob just stared forward. The front door opened, and a very confused Uther walked in. After looking around for a few moments, Uther shook his head, swore he wouldn’t smoke the cheap shit anymore and shuffled back to his seat. Turning to Styr-Leng, Bob said, “I heard about that trick from a hotel in California where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.”
Confused, Styr-Leng asked, “What’s California?”
“Well, I’m glad you asked. Most people think it’s a hoax. But I think it’s a paradoxical paradigm displacement. A place where fantasy and reality collide under the warm summer sun. Anyway, you can leave the Haven anytime you like but not before you pay your bill. A neat security system. Of course, I could give you more details if you like.”
Styr-Leng looked Bob up and down with a warlock’s intuition. Short with curly dark hair. Rather rumbled in dress. No burning coals for eyes. Not imposing at all. Still. Styr-Leng commented, “Boyd, huh Bob, you’re an interesting fellow. I think there’s more than meets the eye.”
“Not really. Just a bard doing some temp work.” Preparing to probe further, Styr-Leng attention was diverted when Bob spun a shiny silver coin on the bar counter. Just watching it spin round and round and round, never falling over. “So, warlock, why don’t you tell me why you ventured out on such a miserable night.”
Still focused on the spinning coin, the warlock volunteered, “Well, Boyd, I’m on an occult mission of the utmost urgency.” Bob started to protest about the warlock screwing up his name yet again but then closed his mouth to hear more about this mission. Styr-Leng continued, “I’m looking for a troll I hear is in these parts. Edgar.”
Bob’s face immediately scrunched tight, “Oh no! Not Edgar the Ball Scratcher!” And Bob’s spinning coin fell with a thud.
As if given a cosmic cue, the heavy tavern door burst open. In the entrance stood a tall majestic figure, outlined by thunder and lightning. In a deep voice, the stranger boomed, “I’m looking for a troll.”
In the soon to be published chapter, the continuing saga of Styr-Leng, well, continues with the fair to middling warlock meeting Jesus. And a surprisingly interesting barkeep at the Haven by the Bay Tavern. In case you have even more time to waste, you could review the previous installment when Styr-Leng and Druantia rock the earth (available exclusively on newagejester.com at least until I can find someplace else that will post it).
And you thought you had problems.
This is so fake. The Real Jesus would own an AR-15.
There are a lot of churches in back-water North Carolina. Lots and lots. Blocks lined end-to-end with crosses and white billboards with Christian fortune cookie sayings. Did I mention there area lot of churches? To ensure salvation, people must hedge their bets and belong to more than one denomination to support this plethora of religiosity.
To see what all the hoopla was about, I went to a service at the Hobbsville Church of Holy Rolling Redemption and Auto Repair Shop. Once I could translate the accent, what I learned was that everyone was praying to get out of Hobbsville. There are certainly worse things to pray for.