#20 The Three Proud Pnorg
Water is sometimes free in this part of the world, at least if it’s falling from the sky.
It’s the first time I remove the hood off my head after days of journeying through the forests of Arnwell. Cold rain falls down my hair and my face of bone, washing my exhaustion away, while the small wooden bowl in my hands starts brimming with water.
There is a small inn barely a hundred strides from where I stand. Had I been with my previous travelling companion, Aiga the bard, I have no doubt in my mind she’d have preferred to pay to be under a solid roof.
I hope she’s well, wherever she is.
“Old man!”, someone yells in my direction. There’s a glowing dot of light coming toward me from between the trees. “You’re going to catch a cold, come in!”
I can’t refuse a direct invitation.
It’s an Arnwelli. Long ears, skin leaning toward a rather pale green, dark green symbols on his face of bone. I don’t see any threatening marks, but he’s carrying a dead pnorg over his shoulders.
“Thank you, I was on my way”, I respond, accompanying him. He notices me eyeing the pnorg.
“Naturally deceased”, he justifies himself. On a second glance, he’s taller than he initially seemed. “We will serve her to our guests for dinner.”
“Ah, non-Arnwellii guests?”, I venture. While I’m not an Arnwelli myself, it’s very rare to find other people in Alor so committed to avoiding the ingestion of meat.
“Indeed”, he responds. “Name’s Aranhil, by the way.”
He extends an arm as his body shakes under the weight of the large naturally-deceased pnorg. I shake his arm.
“I’m just a storyteller. It will be my pleasure to accompany you tonight.”
When we arrive at the inn we are met by five guests, two of them fully carnivore. Their pointy teeth glisten at the sight of the pnorg, their tails wagging almost imperceptibly. But Aranhil, who as I later find out is the innkeeper’s son, must conduct the proper rites on the pnorg before it can be served in the most respectful manner. This hairy, multi-tusked, warthog-like creature is almost as large as a man, and a delicious meal if properly cooked.
“She was a very proud mother”, Aranhil explains as he traces a series of symbols around the pnorg and places leaves and berries on very specific spots. Almost theatrically, he explains in great detail how that pnorg lived the ten years of her life in freedom, how many pnorglets she had had, and what food she had recently consumed.
At some point, Aranhil has nothing else to share, and the inn falls in silence as all eyes are on the poor lad. He looks at me, nervous.
“Would you do me the kindness of entertaining our guests, Storyteller?”, he requests.
“You need to give him something in exchange”, his father, the innkeeper, butts in. He doesn’t speak much, but he’s paying close attention to every part of the rite his son is performing.
“My apologies”, Aranhil corrects himself. “In exchange for dinner and a roof over your head for the night?”
“Gladly”, I respond.
The inn is small but it couldn’t be cosier. There is a beautiful stone chimney at its very heart, with five different tables around it and three reasonably large beds at the top, so close to the ceiling one could touch the lights hanging from it.
I turn to my audience for the night. One Arnwelli traveller, two Narivii merchants, and two Mentrasii hunters. I try not to look surprised to see Mentrasii in that part of the world, and sit where everyone can hear me.
It’s been such a long time since I last shared one of my tales.
The Three Proud Pnorg
Once upon a time, there were three pnorg competing to get the same job at a farm. Their names were Abri, Efri, and Odri.
Abri was a hard worker. Restless, confident, she made sure no-one was dilly-dallying on the clock. She wouldn’t sleep until the job was done to perfection. Clearly the best candidate of the three, in her not-so-humble opinion.
Efri had a different set of skills. Perhaps the final work wouldn’t be so perfect, but she was the fastest worker. A decent job, sufficiently executed and she could even motivate those around her with her bright attitude. Who, other than her, could possibly fit in that position? No one.
And then there was Odri. Perhaps he wasn’t the hardest worker, or the cleanest, but he was the strongest. He prided himself in not needing anyone’s help, able to work alone under the harshest of circumstances. Undoubtedly, as independent as he was, that made him the ideal candidate to that position.
What joy when not one, but the three of them were hired! The farmer gleefully welcomed them and showed them around the farm. The soil, the water troughs, the crops, the feeders, everything looked fantastic.
“And what’s that we have to do?”, asked Abri, eager to work on the land. The farmer looked somewhat perplexed.
“Oh, you know. Just eat, drink, sleep, play in the mud”, he responded.
“That’s it?”, Efri asked, quite offended.
“That’s it”, confirmed the farmer.
“But what about the job?”, Odri insisted.
The farmer smiled at the three pnorg.
“Your job is to get as fat as you possibly can.”
The three pnorg looked at each other, and knew exactly what they had to do.
They woke up before sunrise and ate. They ate so much that by midday they were already rolling in the mud. The trough never lacked water, and their beds sank deeper in the hay with every passing day.
“I surpassed three hundred pounds today”, Abri announced proudly.
“That’s nothing”, retorted Efri. “I’m already at three hundred and fifty.”
“Neither of you can keep up. I just hit four hundred pounds”, said Odri.
But Odri didn’t join Abri and Efri the following day. Nor the next, nor the one after. To the two pnorg’s questions, the farmer replied:
“He was so good at his job he’s been hired elsewhere.”
Jealous of Odri’s success, Abri and Efri worked even harder. Yet it was Efri and not Abri the first one to reach not four hundred but four hundred and five pounds, surpassing Odri himself. The next morning there was only Abri left on the farm. When asked, the farmer said:
“Efri was exceptionally talented, I knew we’d see her go sooner or later.”
Abri was profoundly offended. It wasn’t possible that those two had found better fortune sooner than her. She was, after all, the hardest-working of the three.
Some nights she wouldn’t sleep so that she could keep on eating. In time, she even perfected the technique of not throwing up no matter how full she was. Fat stored in every inch of her body. Folds upon folds of skin, layers upon layers of fat, Abri grew so large and heavy that the farmer brought her to fairs, announcing her as “the largest pnorg in the world”.
Until, one day, she couldn’t stand up. She had reached over six hundred pounds.
It was the farmer the first and only one to congratulate her. She had performed her job beyond expectations, achieved what no other pnorg had achieved. A noble family had taken great interest in her, and had invited her to a banquet. She’d be the gem of the feast, the very centre of everyone’s attention, the summit of her career. Everything sounded delightful.
“All you have to do”, said the farmer; “is eat just a little bit more.”
And as the pnorg’s legs faltered, she was fed some more for three days and nights, until the grand day arrived. There were guests from all over the world of Alor and the most prominent noble family in Nariv. The expressions on their faces as the massive pnorg was carried past them were priceless.
“Look how big she is!”
“I’ve never seen a fattest pnorg!”
By dinnertime, the nobles and their guests were having the richest meal they had had in years. No meat had ever been cooked as tender, or had as intense a flavour. It would be remembered for generations.
And Abri had never been proudest.
The Arnwelli traveller shakes his head as the two Narivii merchants nod to each other, clearly knowledgeable on the children’s tale. One of the Mentrasii is still staring at the naturally deceased pnorg, now slowly roasting on a spit. The other one is looking straight at me, his canine face curving into what could be interpreted as a smile.
“Had I known you’d be telling a children’s tale I would’ve given you a child’s meal”, Aranhil says.
“Had I known Arnwellii kill pnorg and cook meat on this day and age, I would’ve hunted one myself”, one of the Mentrasii mumbles.
“Naturally deceased!”, Aranhil retorts, visibly flustered. “And coupled with proper, respectful rites.”
As the two of them argue, I feel the other carnivore’s eyes still locked on me. I can only pray to the gods that, whatever is crossing that Mentrasi’s mind, he’ll let me have a good night’s rest.
After all, I haven’t been in the company of others in well over a year.