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.”