|Long Live Insanity #19: Origins of Insanity - Shadar
You will recall, gentle reader, and for that matter not-so-gentle reader, that at the conclusion of the last episode Someone was just settling down to recount Shani’s adventures to her family, consisting of three charming women, three adorable little girls, and three extremely forgettable men. Life’s like that in Arad Doman.
But you all know what Shani’s been up to. If you don’t, what are you doing reading this episode without having read the rest first? So we’ll skip over that scene, and the subsequent goodbyes, and get to what you all really want to know.
Sycho’s family is a dysfunctional mix of Whitecloaks, would-be Darkfriends and a long-suffering housewife…
Shani’s is a mad matriarchy with an absurd number of identity crises…
So what, in the name of the Light, is Shadar’s family like?
Well, to tell you the truth, they’re actually –
“Hey! Don’t spoil the story!”
Sorry about that, Shadar. Over to you.
“Thank you. If you look over that way, everyone, you can see my parents’ house just up ahead.”
They all look in the direction indicated, where, on the side of a hill, is indeed a small cottage. Freshly painted, with a neat picket fence and flowers growing by the door, it could have come straight from a picture. But something seems – not quite right.
“This is the Blight.”
“Yes, I know. They’re getting old, and they wanted to retire somewhere warm. But they didn’t feel like moving south, so they built farther north instead.”
“Uh – yes. Perfect sense.” Someone shrugs and reaches for his ever-present notebook. After being around Shadar and Shani so long, he’s gotten used to what they refer to as ‘logic.’
A path leads up the hill right to the front door of the cottage. But it seems something else has been there ahead of them.
“Oh, you have a dog!” Sycho says brightly, looking at the paw print in the path.
“Shadar?” Shaiel is looking around warily. “Is there something about your family we should know?”
“Hey, what’s the matter? It’s just a dog.” Sycho’s brow furrows as he looks at the print again. “Pretty big dog, though. What kind grows that size?”
“Sycho,” Shani says patiently, “only one kind of dog leaves prints in solid rock.”
There is, as is customary at moments such as these, a pause while everyone stares at the print. Sycho’s brain rapidly adds two and two.
“Really? What kind’s that?”
No one ever said Sycho could do sums.
The cottage door swings open, and they all look through to see – something – lying in front of the fireplace. Something very big, very black and staring at them with glowing red eyes.
“Oh -” Sycho swallows. “That kind.”
“Here, Shadow!” Shadar calls.
The Darkhound rises, shakes itself – causing a few people to jump back in alarm – and pads over to Shadar, who pats it on the head.
Shaiel looks at its immense jaws and teeth. “I do not want to know what kind of bones that thing chews…”
“Actually,” Shadar says, “he’s vegetarian.”
There is another pause while they all ponder this latest piece of unbelievability. The pause is broken by the woman who comes through the door.
“Shadar, dear! How lovely to see you home.”
Shadar’s mother looks – well, motherly. Plump, fairly short, starting to go grey, wrapped in a spotless white apron and with a warm smile for her guests. In other words, she looks normal.
Whatever the party were expecting, it wasn’t this.
“Don’t stand there on ceremony, come right in. Wipe your feet on the mat though,” she chides. “Come and sit down. I just baked cookies.”
“Cookies?” Someone says, blinking. “What kind?”
“Chocolate chip. Still nice and warm. Now come on in.” Shadar’s mother bustles them all through the door.
Someone lingers behind to whisper, “Raina, chocolate hasn’t been invented here yet!”
“It has now,” comes the response. “Now hurry in, there’s a plot development coming up.”
“I have a surprise for you,” Shadar’s mother is saying as Someone follows the others in. “A friend of yours is here already.”
They all look.
The Trolloc is seated on the sofa, carefully holding a delicate porcelain cup of tea (except that in his hand, it looks like a thimble) and a chocolate-chip cookie. A plate of similar cookies is on the table in front of him.
“Hey there, Snarg,” Shadar says, grinning. “How’s life treating you? What happened to Snargette?”
To aid in conveying the nuances of his explanation, Snarg puts his tea and cookie down and delivers an eloquent speech, punctuated by impassioned gestures, about the obstacles on the path of true love and the sorrow of inevitable separation.
“Snarg go. Snargette stay.”
Well, that was what he meant it to be about, anyway. He would surely have phrased it that way had he been less of a beginner to the art of making eloquent speeches. But Trollocs have never really felt the need for linguistic skills in the past, and in moments of high emotion even a Trolloc genius like Snarg reverts to his normal speech pattern.
“Too bad,” Shadar sympathises.
Shaiel pats him on the shoulder. “Never mind. You’ll find a nice girl – uh, a nice Trolloc – someday and settle down.”
“I don’t believe I’m having this conversation,” Sycho mutters.
“You’re not,” Shani points out.
“Well, I don’t believe I’m listening to it, then.” Sycho suddenly gets a hopeful thought. “Now he’s back, you won’t need to use me as the butt of jokes all the time now, will you?”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Cheer up. Have a cookie.”
Everyone else has already helped themselves to the cookies, with the exception of Snarg, who has already finished his and is looking wistfully at the plate.
“Go on, have another,” Shadar’s mother says with another pat on his shoulder, “growing boys like you need to eat.”
“Growing? Hasn’t he grown enough?” But Someone is also eyeing them. So, for that matter, is everyone else. These are, to use an old turn of phrase, darn fine cookies.
“You have another, too.” Everybody takes that to mean them, and promptly follows Snarg’s example. “But make sure to leave some for Pa. Wherever is he, I wonder?”
“Here I am.”
They look around, no doubt in hopes of seeing at least one seriously weird parent for Shadar, but with no such luck. Shadar’s father is a pleasant-looking, ordinary, grey-haired man in old clothes, with nothing at all strange about him. “Sorry I missed your arrival. I was bringing some more plants in for the garden. Hello, Shadar, how have you been?”
“Great,” Shadar replies. “Let me introduce my friends. This is Shani, this is Shaiel, that’s Sycho, the Ogier is Someone, and I guess you’ve already met Snarg.”
“So I have. Glad to meet the rest of you, though.” Shadar’s father sits down and lights a pipe.
“You have a garden?” Someone asks, interested. “What kind of plants can you get to grow here in the Blight?”
Shadar’s father considers that, blowing a smoke ring. “Well,” he says finally, “you do have to be careful when they get hungry.”
This remark conjures up a number of images that, to tell the truth, the visitors didn’t really want conjured up all that much. Someone, who was about to ask to see the garden, closes his mouth.
“Plants catch Myrddraal,” Snarg rumbles. “Stupid Myrddraal.”
“Now, Snarg,” Shadar’s mother scolds him, “it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead.”
“Yes, that was terrible,” Shadar’s father agrees. “A Myrddraal must have gotten into the shadow of one of the trees and well – not gotten out again. A terrible accident. We try to stay on good terms with our neighbours.”
“The Dark One included, of course,” Shadar adds.
“Of course.” His father nods. “We went to see him once, but the weather there is pretty bad, so we haven’t been again. I think he must think we’re getting deaf, though, he talks so loudly.”
“Oh, he does that all the time,” Shani comments. “That reminds me – Sycho’s little brother and sister are planning to be Darkfriends when they grow up. You might see them around.”
“Why, that would be very nice. Shadow’s been lonely without any children to play with.”
Sycho shakes his head.
“Now, will you be staying for dinner? No? Then let me give you some cookies to take with you.” Shadar’s mother bustles into the kitchen and returns with a large tin of assorted cookies. “Have a pleasant journey now. Wrap up warmly once you’re out of the Blight. Don’t forget to write, Shadar.”
Snarg carries the cookies carefully, with the other five watching suspiciously to make sure he doesn’t take any when their backs are turned. But when they’re out of earshot of Shadar’s parents – even out of earshot for a Trolloc voice – he whispers to them.
“No one like stupid Myrddraal.”
“What, the one that got eaten?” Shani asks. “That was good luck for you, then.”
“Not luck.” Snarg grins. “Myrddraal look for Snarg.”
“And what made it think you happened to be there at the time?” Shadar enquires.
Snarg’s grin just broadens.
And the journey continues.