Sunday, August 30, 2015

Story for the Day: Baleigh's Books - Part 2

Damson's Distress is on its way, and the Slave Galley is almost complete! If you've enjoyed the stories, join our Patreon campaign so we can keep them going. And now, part two of Baleigh's Books, in honour of the late Babar Books:

Goodbye Babar. We loved you dearly.

Old Mr Baleigh was standing at the register, adding up what was to be the last of his sennight sums, whilst his wife and their children were walking up and down the spiral stairs, bringing   
down all the books shelved along the highest row. Boxes lined the floor, packing paper and ribbons were strewn about, sale signs cluttered the windows, the dust of thirty years hung lifeless in shafts of morning light, the gilding of perfectly prim pages shone incanescent, the shriek of rolling ladders mourned in perennial soliloquy. The gentle peal of the bell at the top of the door caromed throughout the shoppe, and the Baleigh family turned to find King Alasdair approaching the counter. Time moved in a slow bustle, feelings of confusion accompanied the animation and clamour of standing before the king. Everything was to be done in a hurry: Mrs Baleigh whispered to her children in a feverish hush, demanding they run and put on their aprons and return with their best smiles, whilst Mr Baleigh bowed and welcomed Alasdair to their establishment.
“Majesty,” said Mr Baleigh, with all the grandeur that his anguish and astonishment would allow, “come for the new Tales of Intrigues? Pastaddams wouldn’t share it with you, I expect? I cannot say I am surprised. It really is one of their best. Dashing captains and daring duels and forbidden romance, and all that. Amazing to me that after all these years, they still are so well written. A rarity in romance literature these days, I’m afraid.”
A short silence succeeded, and the king’s sanguine expression made Mr Baleigh uneasy.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the news, Majesty,” said Mr Baleigh, drumming his fingers along the counter, his eyes low.
“I did, and I’ve come to wish you joy,” Alasdair proudly announced.
Mr Baleigh was a little shaken here. “Joy, Majesty?” He floddered and fumbled with his spectacles, and looked as though he did not understand him.
“Well, you have a new landlord.”
Mr Baleigh glanced anxiously at his wife. “Do we, Majesty? I thought that was to be settled at the end of the month.”
“I decided to settle it now. I never like having anything long in hand if I can help it.”
Alasdair placed a small cylinder on the counter and opened it as Mrs Baleigh attached herself to her husband. A carefully rolled contract was unfurled and laid out and presented to the Mr and Mrs as their children came toward the counter.
 “The kingdom decided to act in the best interests of the business,” said Alasdair, with eager exultation. “In thirty years, this bookstore has become a Diras landmark and a Frewyn institution, and it isn’t right that it should be Marridon owned. The kingdom has reneged the building rights it once gave to the builders, paid for the lot, and,” his countenance crimsoning in unabashed elation, “I am your new landlord.”
“What--?” Mrs Baleigh aspirated, her voice faltering.
“How--?” Mr Baleigh breathed, gawping at the contract. “How can this be…?”
The Baleigh children attacked one another with exulting embraces, leaping up and down and ululating in unbridled ecstasy, while the Mr and Mrs read over the paper in their hands: it was a copy of a deed, one marking out their building as now being reserved for a public enterprise owned by the crown. The Brennin seal was pressed fresh into the corner, the marks of the treasurer, steward, and king ornamented the bottom, and everything was all arranged and settled and signed. The kingdom had acted for them, their sovereign had saved their business, but how it was all done, how everything had gone from the announcement of their removal until the king’s arrival was yet unintelligible. With an astonishment that Mr Baleigh could hardly restrain, he showed the deed to his wife and children, who were already looking it over and reading it aloud.        
“The rent will be just the same,” said Alasdair, “so there should be no change for you in that respect.”
                “But, Majesty!” Mr Baleigh cried, when he could speak, his hands tremulous, his spirit oppressed by the force of such benevolence. “How is it possible? How was it all done?”
“We were able to buy the property with the stipulation that at least part of this venture would be for public use. We are reopening this shoppe as the new national library,” said Alasdair, with a triumphant gesture. “You can keep it as Baleigh’s Books, of course. It will be only the new national library on paper, and a small portion of the shoppe will have to be put aside for lending. I know the national library is in Farriage, but we thought a branch might be opened here. You may keep your shoppe as it is. You might even add to it now that it is public property. You can appeal to the kingdom to have it expanded after a time, and since it is a kingdom run operation, you won’t have to pay property taxes, and you can live here and run it just as you are now. A small portion of what you make will have to go to the library, but that can be written of as a donation, which will count toward your income taxes at the end of the year.”
The Baleigh’s were silent throughout this speech, the children suffering under all the pleasure of relief, and Mr and Mrs Baleigh struck with all the exultation of having what they had resigned as lost now so suddenly restored.
“Oh, and since part of the funding for the project came from the foundation,” Alasdair continued, “you receive this.” He took a small plaque from his pocket and turned it to face them. “This will show the shoppe’s status as part of the crown conglomerate. That means you may invite book groups here, have reading programmes, and perform any of the community services which a library provides. You can even hold events at the expense of the kingdom, if the situation calls for it. I’m sure there are many who would love to join a winter reading haul. I’ll gladly be your first member once you are well settled. Well,” moving to go, “I’ll give you a moment to enjoy your new enterprise.”
He turned, and before the Baleigh’s could offer a word of thanks, the bell atop the door rang and echoed, the dust of thirty years rattled, and the king was gone. His work had been done, and he left the high street in all the exuberance that being in his situation must give, for being in a position to help his kingdom was all Alasdair had ever aspired to. He was glad it might be done, glad he could salvage a glorious institution from the wreck of dividends and unfeeling affairs. Baleigh’s belonged to Frewyn, and now it was a place that no landlord could touch, no businessman abuse, and he glanced back through the window in time to discover all the sensations of first recognition, the unmitigated familial felicity whose upheaval was overturned, whose fated was unfixed. Alasdair had a moment’s fear that the owner of the building would not accept the offer that was made, but as Aldus had sent it through with a note from his office, that the kingdom of Frewyn should be very much obliged if this property was handed over to the crown, and with pointed attention relayed how eminent such a business was and how very much loved by the king and all his set it was, the owner was very persuadable, and all Alasdair apprehensions had been thoroughly done away. The building belonged to the crown, the Baleigh family and their books would be a Frewyn heritage, and Alasdair danced back to the keep, his heart reveling in all the goodwill that his regal powers could supply.
His walk, however, was stopped by a sudden shadow that darted out of the adjacent alley. He moved in time to miss the first assault, but swiftly stepped to the side and raised his hands to catch the second. The second, however, never came: the shadow moved to the sunlight, the hood of a black cloak was pulled back, and a familiar bearded face was before him.   
“By the Gods-- Vyrdin!” Alasdair panted, lowering his hands.
Vyrdin’s beard shifted, hinting a smile. “You still remember your training.”
Alasdair exhaled and raised his hand to his brow. “Between you and Rautu—both of you always creeping about—I know it is your job, Vyrdin but—“ A sudden notion struck him. “Why are you here? You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”
“I was going to,” said Vyrdin unaffectedly. “Rosamound asked me to come see you first.”
“Good, I’m glad she did.” Alasdair peered around him. “Where is my father?”
“Bryeison is holding him captive. They’re with Brigdan and Dobhin at the garrison. And Gaumhin is consoling his husband.”
“They should be rejoicing. Well, we had better tell everyone the good news and get on with the day. I still have a full morning of court to go through.”
Alasdair stepped toward the street again, but a hand on his shoulder stopped and compelled him to turn back. Vyrdin was regarding him with a sincere aspect, the bend of his brow conveying an indebtedness that Alasdair could not but recognize under the fulmination of grey curls.
“Thank you,” was Vyrdin’s artless appreciation.  
Alasdair smiled. “Thank Count Rosse.”
“It is principally his tax money that went to fund the purchase. Aldus always divides it between education and public works when its collected. He just put it back together.”
Vyrdin considered how much he loved his father-in-law just now. “Does Rosse know?”
“No, and Aldus has made it so he will absolutely never find out.”
They walked back to the keep together, each of them gratulating in all the happiness that thwarting Count Rosse could furnish, and when they came to the front gate, where Mureadh was just coming to his morning post, Alasdair turned back to Vyrdin and said a quiet, “Thank you for not killing anybody.”
“I would have made it quiet.”
“I know you would have. You might love Ros and Brigdan and all of us, but we all know you are married to your library.”
“Depriving a community of their right to read is an injustice I would gladly go to Karnwyl for.”
“I would have just opened the castle library to the public, you know.”
“It’s not the same as owning a book.”
“You hardly let anyone touch yours.”
“Which is why it’s not the same as owning a book.” Here was a side glance from Vyrdin. “I have first editions your grandfather gave me. Those are not to be allowed out of my room.”
“I’ve always considered myself fortunate that you’ve allowed me to near them at least—wait,” said Alasdair, peering into the gallery and toward the arena. “Where is Teague?”
Vyrdin’s brow arched. “How do you think we got the Marridon owner to sign his building rights over to the kingdom so quickly?”
Alasdair held his head in his hands. “Please tell me he did not torture him.”
“I told him to be prudent.”
“Well, I suppose that is some relief.”
They went on in the same style, moving by gentle gradations toward the kitchen, where everyone was gathered to hear that Baleigh’s Books should remain open as part of the new national library and should be a pillar of scholarship in the kingdom’s capital for as long as the crown was its benefactor. They praised benevolence and Aldus’ thoughtfulness, and everyone agreed that the generations of Frewyn’s readers should laud the Brennin virtues, a family which stood for being the friend of education, the aegis of literacy, and the sentry of pedantic pursuits. It was Brigdan who offered the highest commendation: his grandfather, the great advocate of literacy and education, should be proud of him, and while everyone went off in high good humour to begin their work for the day, Alasdair, Brigdan, and Vyrdin went to the treasury, to say a word of thanks to Aldus, each of them in the full conviction that while there was wealth enough to furnish the kingdom in the treasury, the currency on which the kingdom depended was its literary stores.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Story for the Day: Baleigh's Books - Part 1

I am absolutely fraught with misery. This morning I learned that my local bookstore is going out of business after thirty years of serving our small community. I grieved for some time, and then did the only thing I know how: I wrote a story about it.

                It was early when the commander went down to the kitchen. Hardly anyone was awake to see the first of the season’s frosts, but she knew her father and the twins and anyone else belonging to the agrarian set should be up and walking amongst the rimed rows. She put the kettle on the range and sat at the table, content to admire the ascendance of a autumnian sun, while her mate and his father walked along the line of the wood in the near distance. The tranquility of the scene, the altering hues of aurora, the fritinancy of nature’s first wakefulness, the small sounds of the keep in the early hours marked out the day for being uncommonly lovely, and those who entered the kitchen after the commander had poured her tea and sat down again, Martje and Shayne, had given their ready approbation of the morning, when Pastaddams entered from the hall with a copy of the Frewyn Herald in his hand. He was looking rather pale, and he was brandishing the paper with all the fury of a mind very much distressed by what it said.
                “I know we do not usually read this poorly written bilge,” said Pastaddams, hastening toward the table, “but look what is on the front page.”
                He placed the paper onto the table and went to sit at the counter, whilst everyone looming over it and shared the general concern.
                “Baleigh’s Books is going out of business,” said Pastaddams, before anyone could finish the page, “and after thirty years—I am an absolute wreck over it. That paper was dropped at my door twenty minutes ago, and I have been in a panic ever since.” He took the cup of tea Martje offered him, sipped and sighed. “How could they do it?” he lamented. “I had always thought they were going on so well—they must have been to be in business so long. Three generations that shop has been in Mr Baleigh’s family. I know him personally. Never had he given any hint of their being in trouble-- they cannot go out of business! I have been getting my Tales of Intrigues from them—and indeed getting all my books from them—for the last thirty years. It is impossible! It cannot happen. It is shameful and unpardonable that such an institution of this capital must go. And they will not be moving, as I thought they might be. Mr Baleigh says in the commentary that he is closing forever and sending all his stock away. This must not be. Something must be done.”
                He gave a sharp exhale, and Martje said a tender “There, there, now,” as Boudicca took the paper from the table and applied herself to it.
                “I remember when Alasdair and I stopped there during out first patrol upon returning to the capital, when we came back from the north,” said she, with a weak smile. “Has Alasdair seen this?“
“I can only imagine not,” Pastaddams replied. “I should have heard him shouting from the latrine, if he had read it during his usual time.”
Jaicobh and Sheamus came in through the larder door, talking of kale in the garden that needed harvesting now that first frost was come, but they quieted upon seeing the dismal looks of everyone in the kitchen.
“What is it, darlin’?” said Jaicobh, coming to stand beside her. The paper was offered him, and his shoulders slumped. “Bhi Borras, another one. Seems all ‘em old business are shuttin’ down these days. First Foleigh’s, then Rab’s paper mill, now thissun here. Shame of it,” shaking his head, “but what can you do?”
“How’s it happened?” said Shayne. “Some bastard baron from Marridon buyin’ out the place and gonna make one of ‘em new apartment schemes with it?”
“No,” said Boudicca, “some Marridon bastard already owns it and is going to sell it, probably to someone as you describe.”
Ach, abhaile,” said Shayne, tossing his hat down on the table. “I know the Majesty’s got rules in place so no foreigners can buy up all the land and property and do what with it, but why they gotta take down the shop? Sure, sell the buildin’ if they’re wantin’, but leave the shop there. Don’t make no sense not to if they’re makin’ money.”
“I agree with you, Shayne, but landlords will do what they like, whether it be a good idea or no.”
Shayne grumbled something about Marridon businessmen would be in a hurry to ruin many things, but a few raised brows and heated looks silenced him. “Aye, I know,” he sighed, “we’re friends and neighbours and such. I’m just angry about it and needin’ somethin’ to say. Don’t mind me none,” and he sat beside Jaicobh, humphing into his teacup and glunching over the plate of bacon and eggs Martje had just put down, and was miserable.
Presently Alasdair entered the kitchen with Searle. They had been talking of having Blinne and Peigi help Harrigh with the coming harvest, as his eyesight was diminishing and the aches in his joins growing more painful with the cold weather coming on. They stood on the threshold for a moment, speaking quietly to one another, when Pastaddams’ despondent looks caught the king’s eye. Alasdair turned toward the table, and upon finding everyone looking rather sober, he said, “What’s happened? Someone tell me.”
Boudicca gave him the copy of the Herald, and as he read the front page, his usually affability dimmed, his aspect grew sullen and severe, and a disquieting air reigned over the room. He was silent, and went to sit at the counter with a vexed mind and a heavy heart.
                “I cannot tell you how many times I went there over the course of my life,” said he, with desperate calmness. “They opened only a little after I was born. My grandfather would order all our books from that shoppe.” He glanced at the paper on the counter, staring at it without reading the words, and hung his head. “It feels as though a some part of my life is ending, and it is really. I was just there before we left for Bramlae. It seems impossible that it is going.” His chest heaved, and he exhaled and tried to smile. “Well, I’m glad we got to share that place with the children. I’m only sad that they won’t be able to share it with their children—oh, what am I talking about? This is abominable!” he cried, standing from his seat and tossing his hands about. “Absolutely horrendous! I cannot believe it—they are the only bookstore in the whole of the market district. What will be do for new books now? They had everything—everything!—and what they did not have they could always find. Vyrdin absolutely loved that place—oh, no…” A sudden horror prevailed, and Alasdair glanced frantically around the room. “Has Vyrdin seen this?” holding up the paper.
“I daresay he must know and is plotting an assassination with Teague as we speak,” said Boudicca.
Alasdair began pacing. “I hope Brigdan is with him to keep him from doing something he will regret—what am I saying? Vyrdin won’t regret saving a bookstore, especially if he has to kill a few people to do it, and Dobhin would certainly help him. I hope Brigdan and Gaumhin are with him. And Bryeison. No, Bryeison is probably with my father, keeping him from helping Vyrdin.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do, Alasdair? It seems too bad just to let it go like this.”
“I don’t know,” Alasdair shrugged. “If the building is privately owned by a foreign company, we might not be able to do anything. Why they’re closing makes little sense to me. Simply sell the building, leave the business there, and collect part of the revenue.”
“See?” Shayne cried. “The Majesty agrees with me.”
“It makes the best business sense for an overseas investor to allow a profitable business to continue. It is easy money. Does the article say whether the building was built by a Marridonian company?”
“Here, at the bottom.”
“Well, the kingdom cannot condemn it, even if he sells it only to have it sit vacant because it is technically not Frewyn property, since he bought all the necessary permits, and it’s not land, so the crown cannot seize it. If there were a crime committed there—no, I know what you’re thinking,” said Alasdair, turning instantly to Boudicca, “and I’m not going to allow Vyrdin to do it,” and in a quiet voice, he added, “…despite how much I might want him to right now.” He sat and stared at the front page of the paper, and after canting his head and humming in consideration, he asked, “How much is the owner expecting for the building?
“Five hundred thousand goldweight.”
“By the gods,” Alasdair exclaimed. “No one in Frewyn is going to pay that.”
“Sadly, I think that is rather the point, Alasdair,” said Boudicca. “They know no one will put forth that kind of money to save that building, and the new Marridon owners will turn it into whatever they like if they get no better offer. Would that there were some way we could all gather our money and buy the place ourselves. I know Pastaddams should give his left hand to save it. I have never made that much gold in the whole of my career, and I daresay that even with all of our assets, we should only collect a mere ten thousand.”
“The treasury has well over the asking price,” Alasdair mused.
“It might do, but the kingdom cannot buy it with tax collection if the building is not a Frewyn public property.”
“No, it cannot.”
There was a pause, the whole of the kitchen slumped into dismal haze, everyone speaking with look rather than word all the wretchedness they felt. Shayne gloomed over his breakfast, Jaicobh looked at his freshly poured coffee without any inclination to drink it, Martje made a few hems over the destiny of the bread she had just taken from the oven which no body had any ambition for, and Pastaddams lurched sepulcheringly over a slice of apple crumble that not even Alasdair had the desire to eat. It was all melancholy and desperation, and appetites lay dormant, plates sat empty, cups clinked in tintinabular gloom, and not even the sound of the children running about outside with Hathanta and Baronous could cheer them. It was an incurable despondence: the capital’s most beloved bookstore would close, and there was nothing anyone could do to save it--  
“Except,” said Alasdair, his features suddenly brightening, “if the kingdom buys it and turns it into a public property.”
Ears perked and eyes rose in interest,  and everyone looked expectantly at the king, who was walking back and forth, his steps dithering, his head bent in earnest deliberation.
“What kind of public property, Majesty?” asked Martje.
“If the kingdom turns it into a library, it might be done,” Alasdair continued. “We can have the bookstore remain where it is at the front, and there can be a lending library at the back, and no one need lose anything.”
“Really, sire?” said Pastaddams, the glimmer in his eye wavering.
“I’ll have to speak to Aldus and Ros about it, but if we claim it as an educational expense, and do it by not taking away money from any of the other educational programmes, I think we could manage it—well, we can try, at least.”
Pastaddams was instantly in raptures, and after receiving everyone’s warm approbation for the scheme, Alasdair went down to the treasury, whereupon he found Aldus at his desk, scribbling away at some long calculation, Ros taking down a few of the safe boxes in one corner, and Aghatha kneeling over the arras, brushing it through with a treatment of soapwort.
                Alasdair stopped when he came to the threshold and walked around her. “Was my father here recently?”
                Aldus glared at him from over his spectacles. “How did you guess, Your Majesty?” said he wryly.
“Was he here about the bookstore?”
“Tell meh yeh savin’ it, Majesteh,” said Aghatha, standing. “Ay can’t imagine goin’ teh town and not seein’ the place.”
Alasdair put a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll do what we can, Aghatha,” he assured her.
“Since you are come about the business with the shoppe, Your Majesty,” said Aldus, flicking through his papers, “I might as well tell you: the treasury can spare the sum of five hundred thousand goldweight, if we devoted the chief of the costs to public works.”
“Are you certain, Aldus? That is an inordinate amount of money for one building.”
“It is, but it is a necessity, and any extenuation might be made for such a venture.” Aldus glanced up from his work and removed his spectacles. “I have purchased every single one of Ros’ books there from the time she was six years old.” He pause, and a grave look passed across his face. “I will not allow such a commodity to be squelched by foreign investors. I do not care how much we charge them for building permits. I would put a tax on their heads if it meant they should keep away from Frewyn-run businesses.” He replaced his glasses and continued writing. “Ros, my dear, can you bring me down the education ledger? And the charitable donations, if you please.”
All the accounts that Aldus requested were conveyed to his desk, and after a few further calculations and a hour spent exchanging and maneuvering funds from one account to the other, the five hundred thousand goldweight entire was accounted for. The ledger for the sum was drawn up, the necessary withdrawals made, Rosamound had written out all the specifications, and when Aldus had read everything over, he turned the proposal toward the king and said, “If you would just sign here, Your Majesty, and place the Sovereign’s Seal in this corner, I will quietly contact the owner of the building and make the purchase.”
The ledger was signed and sealed, and within an hour, the landlord agreed to the kingdom’s terms. A steward  from Farriage was sent, the document was signed, the purchase was made, and the deed was relinquished, and Aldus had all the pleasure of reneging building permits whilst Alasdair went to pay a visit to Baleigh’s Books.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Story for the Day: The Honeypot Ant

Rannig, as large and as friendly as he is, has a great fear of insects. We know from previous stories of his experiences with fireflies, spiders, and clouds of gnats, but never before has he met with so formidable an opponent:

A small wooden basin landed on the shore, and Danaco pointed to it just as the crew of the Myrellenos began pouring out of the ship.
“There is your basin, sir knight. You were given a light job, and I think you might do it, even in your condition. Do not scruple. Someone will convey your armour from the ship and help you to put it on, as you are so anxious to be without it any longer than is necessary. My clothes do well on you, however. I hope you have found them tolerable comfortable, and you did not wrinkle them-- Oh, Rannig, what have you found? Was there a biscuit left that crept off the plate? Well, it has only fallen on the cloth. I think you may eat it. You need not look so forfrighted about it.”
Rannig stared at the biscuit and trembled in silence.
“What is it, Rannig?”
“Nothin’, boss,” said Rannig hastily.
The captain raised a brow. “It is certainly something. One moment ago you were collecting plates and discovering absconded bicuits, and now you are a petrified little fleshquake.” He paused. “Is there a bug on it?”
The giant curled into himself and tried not to shriek. “…No?”
“Here, let me see it,” said the captain, rising and coming to the giant’s side. “I see the biscuit, but I cannot see what you are tremulous about.”
Rannig stabbed a finger at the side of the biscuit, and then turned away, wincing and burying his features in the captain’s shoulder.
“My dear Rannig, you astound me,” the captain simpered, taking it up. “It is only a honeypot ant. Look, here,” pointing to the ant’s hind end. “See the honey it makes? How wonderous it is.”
“Wha’s honaepot ant, Bruthur Ciran?” Paudrig asked, his eyes sparkling.
“A type o’ ant what comes from the Sahadin and northern parts,” said Ciran.
“Why’s it called honaepot? Does it look like a jar o’ honae?”
“Aye, it does. It stores nectar in its abdomen and goes around feein’ the rest o’ the hill when they need it.”
“Ooo,” the child cooed, the glint in his eye dancing about. “Is there a picture o’ ‘em in one ‘o ‘em books on the shelf?”
“Ah thenk so,” said Gaumhin, standing and moving toward the bookcase.
He canted his head and read through the titles, and after browsing the middle row, he pulled a book on animals and insects of the northern continent from the shelf and brought it to the hearth. He sat and opened the book to the section entitled Inscects and Arachnids, and thumbed through the contentsas Paudrig clambered into his lap.
“Here, lad,” he thrummed, pushing the book toward Paudrig. “Honae ant, or honaepot ant. Regions: Lucentia, the Sahadin Desert, Thellis, and northern Livanon. Here’s the drawin’ o’ what it looks liek.”
Paudrig followed Gaumhin’s hand, and at the bottom of the page was a small depiction of a large ant with a distended and transparent abdomen.
“It looks funnae,” Paudrig giggled. “How does it walk if it’s got all that honae tae carrae?”
“Carefullae,” Ciran replied. “In some parts o’ the north, folks eat ‘emas a delicacae.”
Paudrig grimaced and turned up his nose. “Bleh.Thae eat ‘em alive, with their legs and arms wobblin’ an’ o’?”
Ciran nodded complacently, and Paudrig floundered in sulks.
“Blehhh,” Paudrig moaned. “How can thae eat ‘em with their legs movin’?”
“Part o’ the meal,” Ciran shrugged. “Gotta have some entertainment when yer eatin’ such a rare thing.”
“If it’s rare, Bruthur Ciran, wha’s that honaepot ant daein’ there?”
“It has traveled such a long way from its home, and it comes to say hello to you, Rannig,” said the captain.
“I don’t think that’s why it left its hill, boss,” Rannig whimpered, cowering and moving away.
“Odd that it should be here, when it has come from such a long way. Perhaps they come to have a delightful feriation on the beach, and we cannot deny him that. If there is one ant, there will be many more about.” Danaco turned over the biscuit and watched the ant scamper from side to side. “Doesn’t your prodigious book preach something about kindness to all animals?”
 Rannig put up his hands to shield himself in case the ant decided to jump, and frowned in agony. “It just says not to kill ‘em, boss.”
“Well, you are certainly not doing that, are you, my boy,” Bartleby humphed.  
“Here, Rannig,” said the captain, in a gentle hue, “there is nothing to fear. Only look how adorably it is preening its antennae.”
“It does not preen,” the old man huffed. “It rubs, for communication purposes, you understand.”
Rannig peered up from his clasped hands and watched as the ant wiggled its antennae. “It does look nice when it does that,” he cautiously admitted.
                “Well, the biscuit looks unharmed, and if we give a sharp blow to remove the ant, you might have it, I think.”
“But it was walkin’ all over it, boss!”
“You have little difficulty eating the potatoes on the ship, and those have been run over by spiders a hundred times.”
“I sure don’t see ‘em do it,” said Rannig, in a panic, “and I peel the potatoes and make. I can’t peel a biscuit.”
“I daresay you can with a little contrivance. I see the cogs in Bartleby’s little thinking brain beginning to turn as to how it might be done.”
“It is an ant,” Bartleby declared, “altogether a rare one for this time of year and this clime— it is not a blackfly or a Lucentian roach, my boy. They are clean creatures by comparison, and you may eat the biscuit without fear of catching something, which is a justifiable fear,” and in an undervoice, he quietly added, “…for once.”  
“If I cut it in half, will you eat the bottom?” asked the captain.
The giant sniffed, and with a firm pout, he nodded and gave his shoulders a demure shake.
“Very well. Say goodbye to your new friend. Back into the sand with you.” The captain carefully blew the ant onto the ground behind him, and then shaved off the top of the biscuit. “There, it is cut, here is your piece, and here is yours, old friend, since I saw you groaking at it.”
“I was observing the ant, captain. I was wondering if it might be worth it to try them, as so many proclaim of their interesting taste-- as an experiment, of course.”
“Don’t eat it, Bartleby,” the giant implored, waving his hands in negation. “All its legs’ll get stuck in yer teeth.”
“You eat the wings of a chicken, my boy, and you grind the bones in your teeth until they splinter, and then you eat on the marrow. How should that be any different from eating the legs of an ant? And if you will say one of them is an insect and therefore ought not to be eaten, you must go back to school. It is misapprehension that keeps the southern countries from eating insects. Every nation in the north does it, and they are not all dead from disease or disgust whatever else keeps anyone from eating the things.”
“But Bartleby, the Livanese eat bugs, and they’re to the east of us, not the north.”
“Well, north as in those north of Marridon. Hardly anyone lives in the south of Livanon. It is all forest, marshland and moor and so forth. The only people to wander the south freely are the Dannes—and nobody ever wants anything to do with those ferine ragabashes—and the peat farmers. All the society in Livanon is in the north of the place, near the Escarpment. Do I need to get my map?”
“No, Bartleby,” said Rannig, gathering the rest of the plates. “Just don’t go eatin’ bugs. I know yer gonna say somethin’ about ‘em bein’ a wasted food source and good proteins and all, but ye still shouldn’t eat ‘em. They’ll crawl around in yer throat and come out through yer nose.”
Bartleby gave the giant a flat look. “My dear, boy. They do no such thing.”
“Aye, they do.” Rannig shivered and looked despondant. “Once, when I was a slave in Sesterna, I woke up in my cell,” he said quietly, addressing Damson more than he was Bartleby. “I musta ate a spider in my sleep, ‘cause when I woke up, it crawled out my nose and ran down my chest.”
Damson gawped at him. “That is horrifying.”
“That’s why I’m sayin’ not to eat ‘em. They just come back out later through a different openin’.”
“I will try and remember that, sir giant.”