Toot-Toot was not certain which was more difficult…pitching Sergeant Ranvir…or suppressing the urge to jump up and down and squealing like an excited 8 year-old human girl when the Sergeant had given them a free pass to leave Avondale while he and the watch contemplated Toot-Toot’s pitch. Pitching was terrifying…at least to start with. Acting like he had been here and done this before was almost impossible. He knew he had succeeded when he had finished and Ranvir had given him the head motion to continue on to Bowerstone unimpeded. He did not give the sergeant time to think it over and change his mind, he simply reached down and gave Siobhan a hand up and headed to Bowerstone. Siobhan only reminded him to let Sergeant Ranvir know that they were only planning on staying in Bowerstone for three days once they got there before sailing west…giving the sergeant roughly three days to decide what they wanted to do.
Finally…once out of sight of the watchmen…Toot-Toot could not suppress his joy any further. He jumped up and down. Performed a perfect “Running Man” move and pumped his fist up and down into the air…almost all at the same time. Siobhan looked at him, obviously amused.
“I did it! I pitched him! I pitched him! And he bought it! I did it! I did it! Ididit! Ididit! IdiditIdiditIdidit!” He knew he had been happy before…but he could not remember feeling quite like this before! The high was better than God-Wine! Hell …it was better than sex! “Siobhan…I did it!” He felt the pitch in his voice shoot up impossibly high!
She watched him…obviously amused. “Never a doubt,” she deadpanned.
“Ooooh, don’t give me that! You had your doubts!”
“Never. Not for a moment.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist and picked her up and spun her around until they were both dizzy and he tumbled to the ground, rolling her a good five feet further way from him. They were both laughing.
Siobhan rolled onto her back, still laughing lightly, “ohhhh, Toot-Toot…I am so fucking dizzy!”
He heard her sigh…”let’s just enjoy this for a couple minutes…at least until the ground quits spinning!”
He realized, tactically speaking, probably not the best decision he ever made…but at the moment, there were no enemies present…so he chose not to let it bother him. Mental control. Something Siobhan had tried to instill in him. She would be proud of him. He was choosing to be oblivious to all the danger surrounding them. Choosing to let himself be happy, however short-lived it might be.
“Okay,” she said, “time to get off our asses and start back down the road to Bowerstone.”
Smiling, they both picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and returned to their journey to Bowerstone.
Toot-Toot, not normally one for a lot of words unless, perhaps, alcohol was involved, could not stop himself from talking. He tried, he really did, then Siobhan would give him an encouraging word or would weave into him, giving him a light shoulder bump, and then he was off again.
He was not sure how long it was, but his mouth did eventually run out of ‘go,’ and the words started to have longer and longer gaps between them, even as Siobhan seemed to be subtly encouraging him to ‘go on’ even more.
Finally…they were walking in silence more than they were walking and talking. But, he found he liked the silent fellowship as well. Siobhan had tried to tell him how important that was, but with half a dozen or more people around them almost every minute of the day since, well, since what seemed like forever, he never really understood that. Now, having time to spend with her, and just her and nobody else, it was starting to make some sense. They were not saying anything, but he felt like he could feel them bonding. No sound other than those of the woods and distant shore around the road, their foot falls, and the occasional word or physical contact. It was nice.
But…it was also very foreign. He was not used to not talking…unless he was asleep…or just not able to get a word in edgewise. He had been quiet in Bowerstone, but it was different. In Bowerstone, he had felt like a spectator…not a participant. None of the dwarfs had wanted to hear what he had to say. This…this was a consensual, shared silence. Him. Her. His thoughts.
Finally, he had to say something. The shared solitude was nice, but there could be too much of a good thing. “Siobhan…” She did not reply with words, just looked over at him and raised her eyebrows in askance. “I realized I have been doing all the talking…”
She smiled. “You think?” Playful. Truthful. But without judgment.
“Bitch,” he retorted, punching her lightly on the shoulder, but throwing his mass into the punch after contact, pushing her over onto one foot, smiling back at her!
“Hey! You said that like a good thing!”
“Yeah…but I gotta admit, I don’t get why it’s a good thing.”
“You want me to explain?”
“Yeah. Sure. Tell me what’s good about being a bitch.” Not where he had been going with the conversation, but she kept insisting ‘bitch’ was a good thing. So…maybe an unplanned conversation was in order.
“Well…dogs…dogs are wonderful. They are one of the most loyal creatures on the planet. Often more loyal than the people they live with. Loyal to family, friends and pack. They will defend you to the death. When the whole world turns on you, your dog will stay by your side. You cannot say that for very many people. They love unconditionally. They don’t care if you are rich or poor. Powerful or weak. Male or female. Young or old. Treat them with a little care and they love you like nobody else. And will forgive you for oceans of shit. And let bygones be bygones. Your peers will remember your shortcomings forever. They don’t have crisis of faith. They don’t worry about shit. So…they don’t worry about the bed they don’t have, being fat, missing a leg, losing their favorite item. They deal with reality without worrying about what could have been. They are not complicated. A place to stay. Food to eat. Somebody to be with. And they are happy. Or at least content. And they are selfless. They don’t expect a tit for tat reward system that people expect. They chase a predator away, that’s just what they do. They don’t expect the hero’s cut of the boar at dinner in return. Or a golden bed with goose down bedding. They will share…without expecting you to share in return. They may hope you share some of your beef flank, but they don’t expect you to. They are not mindless. And they have limits. You can get a dog to turn on you. But you have to try really hard to turn your dog away from you.*
“So…there are fewer more noble animals a person can be compared to. You want to insult me, call me a sow or a cow. Pork and beef…not good for much but harvesting for food, sinew, bone and hide. You associate me with swine or cattle …I am probably going to check on your martial abilities. Or maybe a hen. But where I come from, boar, sow, bull, steer or cow were the insults of choice. Being somebody’s dog is often a high complement. A king with a lot of dogs…is a powerful king…to be respected or feared or admired…or all of the three.
“Furthermore…dogs are ferocious…individually or in packs. Even for all their ferocity, most warriors would rather fight an enraged boar or bull over a vicious mastiff. And gods help you if there is a pack.
“Think about that for a bit. There are a lot worse things you can call me than ‘bitch,’ even if you are trying to insult me.”
Well…he was not expecting that. And the more he thought about it, the more that ‘bitch’ sounded like it really should be a good thing.
* Much of this paraphrased from Ace Green’s “5 Characteristics We Should Learn From Dogs.” Much of this I already knew, but his article helped frame some of my thoughts better.
“What do you mean, ‘we don’t need to keep a watch’? Are you insane?” He did not have a problem with the no fire. No fire at night meant no beacon to their location. But this was still on the middle of a road out in the god damned middle of nowhere. “Have you already forgotten the warg riders?”
“No. I haven’t.” She sounded so calm. “But there is only two of us now. If they send a pack of war riders against us now, we will not be able to out run them, and a pack is really not that quiet. And I doubt they will worry with being very stealthy if they think they outnumber us three or four to one. We’ll be fine.”
“We will not be fine, Siobhan. This is how people get killed!”
“Toot-Toot, you need two people to make much of an effective watch in the middle of the night so that your sentries do not go to sleep…and they can be positioned so that they can watch each other’s back. If you have just one sentry, and no single, controlled entry point, then they are worse than useless…worse because they give you a false sense of security. And single sentries tend to fall asleep if presented with mundane duty.” She saw that he was trying to understand that last point. “Look…if the woods were teeming with warg riders…I would get it. But they are not. There may be a few out there. There may not be. It is not enough of a threat to keep the ‘action juice’ flowing for an extended period of time. We are better served by getting at least a decent night’s sleep than neither of us getting hardly any sleep. We will just rely on our natural perceptions and we will be fine.”
“No! If you won’t stand watch, I will watch the whole night.”
“Fine…I will compromise.”
‘Fine’? She will ‘compromise’? He was not used to her giving in that easily. He was skeptical. And it was not particularly hidden.
“We are well off the road. We will eat and lie down. YOU will lie down with me. If you want to stay awake all night, you may, as long as you continue to lay with me so I can sleep. At least one of us will be well rested. You agree to that, then we won’t have to fight.”
Well, that figures. It sounded like a compromise when she said it. She made it sound like she was giving ground. But it did not feel like a compromise. He finally agreed because he was pretty sure she was going to get her way regardless.