#15 Pimples and Wrinkles
The snow has been long gone, and so has the ache in my bones, and the restless nights. Spring is almost here, and more merchants are coming to the swamps. Curious visitors tag along.
I don’t like curious visitors.
Aiga found herself a new friend for the season, and spends her evenings out and about. Every single ra in her pockets has a sole purpose: more drinks.
“She’s amazing! A bard, like me! Or, well, a minstrel, as she likes to call herself”, Aiga told me not even two days after she met her. “And she plays at the Falkor music courts, can you believe it?”
Ah, a songstress from Falkor. I wonder what she’s doing here, so far away from the land of music and culture.
One day, Aiga brings her into the inn and asks that I tell them both a tale.
“I’ve told Lirila everything about you!”, Aiga exclaims, ale in hand. “She loves hearing stories and she already memorised all the lyrics to River of Ale, Fire Away, even Lonely Longbeard!”
I stiffen and fold my arms.
“I’ve just told these fine folks the tale for the night, my throat is a bit itchy at the moment”, and I cough as proof of the latter.
The minstrel, Lirila, finally opens her mouth.
“Aiga told me you’re so knowledgeable and imaginative, I’m really curious about your tales.”
She gives me the look. The one you give to people you have to be nice to, but you don’t really want to.
“People pay for stories, you know", I reply. Unsurprisingly, Aiga frowns in response. “I’ve already told my share for the night anyway", I add.
I’m well aware how much disappointment this is causing to these two youths, but I can’t help it. Some people have never been told no for an answer. Maybe they’ve been told they have a handsome face, or perhaps their families should be important enough for me to know. Either way, I tell tales when I’m not asked to. Especially when I’m not asked to.
“What if you two youths come up with a tale of your own? Or better yet, since you are bards, some poetry, or a song?”, I suggest.
Aiga’s new friend, Lirila, looks at the bard and shrugs. Aiga’s eyes seem to be lost in the distance, somewhere well over my shoulder at the far end of the inn.
“Have you ever had pimples?”, she asks.
“I haven’t”, Lirila replies. “But isn’t that something only Vasarigæ get? I mean, our faces are made of bone after all.”
“They’re rare, but it can happen”, I retort. “An old friend of mine…”
“See? I knew it”, Aiga tells her friend. “He always has something. If it’s not a tale, it’s some anecdote involving one of his many friends.” She looks at me. "Now you'll have to share it."
“Very well, you got me”, I concede with a smile. Youth these days…
Pimples and Wrinkles
This happened to one of my closest friends back in the day, we’ll call him Rondolt. We were on our way to his lifetime union to a young lady, Iniga, an incredibly knowledgeable Falkori. And you know how important appearances are to Falkorii.
He prepared for the journey days ahead. After all, it wasn’t a short trip. They had found each other through one of these matchmakers, a match made by the gods or otherworldly spirits, whichever suits your beliefs, and although they had never seen each other, they knew they wanted to be together until death, an illness, a Vasarigan axe, a fleeting affair or natural causes did them part.
Evidently, Rondolt had also bought a hat. One of those you only wear once in a lifetime. It cost him a year’s savings, but he bought it. Iniga and he had exchanged so many lyrn that it was almost as if they had always known each other. Six years, to be precise, of exchanging thoughts, emotions, hopes, images of their daily lives.
But alas, it was only four days to the ceremony and the greatest pimple you’ve ever seen sprouted right on the summit of his cheek.
“Oh no!”, we heard him scream that morning. Before we could move or ask what was wrong, for perhaps we were being attacked by bandits, he emerged out of his carriage, insistently pointing at his cheek. “Look!”
“That’s the worst pimple I’ve ever seen”, my friend Kinima said. She looked at it long and hard, and added: “I have a failproof remedy for this, but it will itch.”
“Anything!”, Rondolt answered, desperate.
Kinima spent the morning in the nearest river gathering moss and preparing something that she called “a herb remedy”. Almost as if she was an alchemist and knew exactly what she was doing.
“You need to keep very still. I’ll apply this, then we’ll remove it before you go to sleep at night”, Kinima told him.
“That’s a lot of hours with this unguent on”, Rondolt complained. “Are you sure it’ll work? I don’t want any markings on my face.”
“Yes, it’s a family remedy”, Kinima insisted. “My great-grandmother Kinome got a pimple once, and this made it go away”
“Without leaving a mark?”, Rondolt insisted.
“Of course it won’t leave a mark, silly. Our faces are made of the strongest bone in the world.”
But nighttime arrived after several hours of some more travelling, and Rondolt’s face wasn’t any better. In fact, the pimple had grown larger.
“It’s like it fed on the moss”, I contributed.
“I didn’t want to butt in, but in my family, we break pimples apart just as we break rocks apart”, another friend said. His name was Barut.
“No, no scars!”, Rondolt insisted.
“Wouldn’t a scar look better than a pimple? You can make up a story for it. I’ll make up a story for it”, I offered.
My friends seemed to agree, and Rondolt gave in to Barut’s idea.
“Very well. How are we doing this?”
Barut looked for something inside his pouch, and took out a chisel and a small hammer.
“Shildarax bone. As strong as Osvarian bone”, he said in a reassuring tone. “It’s just a chisel. Someone with good eye has to strike right in the middle and break it. Aren’t you in luck, I know exactly how to do it.”
“And then what?”, Kinima asked, intrigued.
“Once it's open, you press until you see blood. When you see blood, it means it’s clean”, Barut replied as if he was giving an academic lecture.
“Right, but can’t it get infected?” It was the right question to ask.
“Oh, well”, Barut scratched his chin, making time to remember some more. “I mean, we can disinfect it with some ale. Or something stronger, like draconic spirits. That’s how they told me to do it if I ever got a pimple.”
“Alright, do it.”
Rondolt readied himself and shut his eyes as tightly as he possibly could. The bone-covered pimple stood there, defiant.
“Don’t move a muscle.”
To say Kinima and I were curious to see what happened would be an understatement. We were amused by Barut’s confidence and Rondolt’s desperation.
Barut placed the shildarax chisel right in the middle of the gross pimple, and readied the hammer, making long linear motions in the air.
“On the count of three. One…!”
And he struck.
Rondolt burst into tears as Barut grabbed him by the chin and made him remain still.
“That hurt. That hurt a lot”, Rondolt complained. “Is it gone?”
“The chisel slipped a little, but allow me…”
Before Rondolt could open his mouth to complain again, Barut had already struck.
“Ow! Man, that’s worse. I think you’ve broken through the bone.”
“Oh! There’s something disgusting oozing from it!” Kinima squeaked in excitement.
“Great! Now we need to press until we see some blood.”
“I think you broke my face.”
By the time they were done with it, the damage was beyond repair. There was a very visible crater on Rondolt’s cheek.
“Right, so the pimple’s gone…” Barut said, hesitant.
“Splendid! And two days from seeing my beloved", Rondolt replied. We had him chew on some healing herbs to ease the pain. "Ah, thank you, friends. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
Rondolt was extremely grateful, until he got hold of a mirror and saw what looked like a volcano.
We arrived to Falkor the following day. He spent it in solitude, trying different ointments as the rest of us made the arrangements for the ceremony on his behalf. Fortunately, Falkorii believe that if the spouses don’t see each other in the days prior to their union, it will bring good fortune.
And so the grand day arrived, and you wouldn’t believe it. Rondolt got another pimple, right next to the other.
“How is this possible?!” He was constantly checking himself out on all reflective surfaces. “I can’t. I can’t do this. It looks as if I have another nose.”
“It’s the nerves, Rondolt.”
We spent the little time we had making clear we wouldn’t accompany him again across the seas and half a continent. Perhaps we also reminded him of the six-year lyrn exchange with his beloved Iniga. And that once the pimples were gone, he’d only become more handsome in Iniga’s eyes.
We still aren’t sure what exactly worked on him. Perhaps he was so madly in love with his beloved that no pimple could ruin his day. Barely an hour before the ceremony, he spent his savings on expensive makeup, and hung jewels from his hat so that the guests wouldn’t focus on his face.
He arrived to Mirai’s temple later than he had hoped. Iniga was already waiting for him, dressed in gorgeous purple robes. Her hat had a semi-transparent veil, so we could barely see her face.
“A veil. That would’ve been a good idea.” It was probably Barut who said that.
The ceremony was very beautiful and went smoothly, and nobody but Rondolt and us seemed the least worried about his two pimples. There was much else to talk about. I’m certain any Falkori would have pointed out the moment they saw those two hills on Rondolt’s face. We all know ugliness is a crime in Falkor.
While Rondolt was dining beside his now lifelong partner, he caught a glimpse of Iniga’s face behind the veil.
It was full of wrinkles.
He smiled. And she smiled back.
“What a beautiful story!”, Aiga sobs.
“Yes, the whole process of removing pimples is extremely tedious, yet beautiful at the same time”, I concede with a nod.
“You know what I meant!” She sighs.“Oh, Storyteller, I know they’re your friends, but could I make a song out of this?”
“By the gods, don’t mention their names if you do. Or Falkor.”
“Don’t fret. You will hardly recognise the story!”, says the bard.
“A very interesting anecdote”, says the minstrel, Lirila with a polite smile. I respond with an equally polite nod.
Aiga has already moved away from the conversation and is humming a catchy tune.
“Clogged deep under the bone
Lied a dormant pimple alone,
Then it reached the size of a potato
And became an erupting volcano.
It was terrible, let me tell you,
It picked the worst day to break through,
For my friend was off to marry
And the pimple he could not bury.
So let me tell you a love story made simple,
One about pimples and wrinkles…”