Laughter and cheer filled the tavern from wall to wall, from table to table. Though all was shadowy under dim candle-light and dimmer hearthflame, there was a warmth that one cannot simply get from heat! For a moment, the entrance opened and cold air and snow blew in. Together with the wind, a traveller in thick furs blew in.
“Haha! Look lads, its Teller Vogga!”
“Ho Vogga! We thought the winds had claimed you this time”
“Relhs, you made me lose five-score ironscars! Make it up to me Teller!”
“Aye, you have to compensate these fools who thought we saw the last of you!”
“A telling, give us a telling!”
“False or True, I bet false this time, look friends, the size of this gem! Who dares bet with me?”
“Wow, that gem is almost the size of your brain, no take a look at this scripture, mages would give riches for it! I’ll bet true!”
“It should be true this time, something must have held him back!”
Vogga was served food and ale as the patrons of the tavern made their bets as to whether the story he would tell of his travels would be true or false. It was an old tradition of the tavern, and those who were outsiders quickly got into the spirit of things. Those who did not, would find themselves facing the fists of the regulars. At length the betting and the meal were both over and done.
So then, did Teller Vogga begin his tale.
“I was heading back from my usual route good friends. Business had gone well with the usual cargo, just good honest trade and goods!”
The regulars let out sniggers. If Teller Vogga did honest trade and had honest goods, then bandits and counterfeiters were the most virtuous of men.
“All was going well, and while a griffin did think me an easy meal, I dined on it that night! I thought to myself ‘well Vogga, yer making good time, looks like you’ll have to fob some bull story off on those scoundrels at Haffrund’s tavern”
The regulars never ceased to be amused at Vogga calling them scoundrels. Some of the newcomers didn’t quite get what was so funny.
“There I was, trying to concoct some bull, when what should step out of the forest but a bull!”
“Aye, a wild bull, why this black bull was so large and had such a mean look in its eyes that I was greatly afreared that I had met with Ghack’s mother!”
Everyone laughed and Ghack, who was among them could only accept being the butt of the joke this time.
“Still, sense came back to me, and I saw the bull was more a man than poor Ghack, so I knew it couldn’t be his mother. The fear left me and I readied myself to fight the beast. Do you know what happened next?”
“You beat the beast!”
“It wasn’t another one of your enchanted folk was it?”
“Was it another magician playing around?”
“In the next moment, I ran for my life! You see, while I was standing around fooling, thinking of Ghack’s mother, the bull had breathed out gas! Dark stuff as black as its own hide and heart. I wasn’t sticking around to find out what kind of gas it was breathing out!”
“A bull breathing gas?”
“Might have been trying to become one of them doom cows. Catawhatevers.”
“Those breathe gas that petrifies right? Or was it the eyes that petrifies?”
“I wasn’t sticking around to see if the gas would turn me into the most handsome statue in the world, so I can’t tell you what kind of gas it was. I can tell you that for having stubby legs that bull could run for days! Lost count of how long I was chased by the stupid thing! The only thing that saved me was a tiger leaping out at the bull. Got to escape then, but by that time, I was lost, and in the chase before I dropped my navigation artefacts.”
“That always happens”
“I got a enchanter to enchant mine so it wouldn’t happen”
“Got eaten by a spirit, then I got lost”
“I did what anyone would do in that situation. Look for shelter and wait for nightfall, but before I could find anywhere, some spirit must have decided to mess with old Vogga”
“Yeah, gonna be a snowstorm”
“How bad was it Vogga?”
Vogga took off his fur hat and turned his head to the side, there on his fish-like scales was a white scar deforming the side of his head.
“Duath, how did you survive that?”
“Lucky to have his head”
“Saw a man get ripped apart by one of those storms, the spirits are cruel”
“A gas breathing bull and a deadly snowstorm, how are you standing before us?”
“Haha check his shadow and see if he’s already dead!”
The man laughed, but mostly everyone surreptitiously glanced behind Vogga, making sure the fishman wasn’t one of the oncedead.
“As you can see friends, I had a nasty bout in the snowstorm, could have sworn that I saw a spirit in jester’s clothes riding an icicle as big as a ballista bolt flying at me, but I must have been seeing things, because I’m still alive, but I did lose consciousness”
“Frozen fool maybe, they’d be like to pretend to kill you”
“One o’ them Jack Frosts would be as like to kill as to pretend to kill”
“I’ll take death over their accursed laughter again”
“When I came to my senses, I was warm, at first I panicked, as that’d be a terrible sign when out in the cold, but I found I was in a bed, a rich bed of luxurious furs and there was a crackling hearthfire. The bed smelt of a woman, like no woman I’ve met, and I’ve met mermaids my friends.”
A few deep hohos rang out.
“Yes, it was a woman’s bed, and from the inside of the room I was in, it was a right proper high class elegant lady. Well I can’t say I was unhappy, but you as well as I know there’s many a creature in the form of a woman that’ll eat a man to death. So, I was a bit wary”
“Sure Vogga, sure”
“Haha wary he says”
“Get to it Vogga, what manner of beauty did you encounter?”
“I heard her voice calling beyond the door, asking if I was fine, just that she had heard me stir, was I decent and was it safe for her to come in?”
“Poor woman, asking if Vogga is decent”
“There’s only ever one answer to that question”
“Ah, shaddap! Do you want me to tell this or not!?”
“Sorry Vogga, I’ll get you a drink later, so keep going”
“Good, I’ll clean your purse out boy! Well so when I heard this woman’s voice, well I fell into a daze, sirens got nothing on what that voice was. So there I was like a fish on a hook, and so she came in, worried that something had happened since I wasn’t saying a word.”
“She was a vixen”
“I’ll bet she was”
“Yes, before me was a purple fox in a dress friends”
Several beverages were spat at that point.
“A kitir? You don’t get many of them here”
“Could have been one of those mage experiments”
“I don’t see what the problem is”
“Yeah, well you’re a talking cat”
“Huh, who’s a cat? You wanna fight ? Do I go around calling you dwarves rocks?”
A third party clouted the pair over their heads before a fight could really get going.
“Sorry bout that Vogga, some people don’t know the rules here.”
“Yeah, sorry Vogga, hey new meat or whatever. No fights when there’s a telling!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I remember I used to get all bothered to my gills when I was called a fish. Ah youth”
“I think these guys are both older than you Vogga”
“Shaddap! Right. The woman was a fox! So, I was a bit worried she was some kind of dangerous spirit, but get this, she wasn’t even a kitir. No horns, so she wasn’t a Kitir. I was grateful she nursed me back to health, and jubilant when she gave me a wayfinder sphere. Nothing bad happened to me thankfully, but with the amount of tea she served and drank, I’d be happy never to see tea again”
“Not a difficult wish to have in Nortrieln”
“It wasn’t long before I was well enough to leave, and she was sore to see me go, I tell the best stories after all. Still, I wasn’t going to stick around to be the husband or whatever of who knows what. When I turned to wave goodbye to her, I saw that all along I had been in a house that was in a mushroom, yet it was above ground, just standing in the snow. A gust of snow passed by and the whole house, fox and all vanished from my sight, and that wee adventure is why I am late in returning my friends”
“Queer little tale”
“True or false then?”
“I reckon false, what purple fox? If he’d met a spirit he’d not be standing before us”
“Folk have encountered deadly spirits before and lived to tell the tale because of the spirit’s good mood”
“My Spirit-God’s only ever in a good mood when he gets something”
“Nobody to blame but yourself getting into a contract with a spirit like that.”
“I reckon true, I’m hoping I don’t lose out on my bet!”
“Come on then Vogga, tell us, was the tale true or false?”
Teller Vogga smiled, and reached into his fur coat.