I’m very near the end of my part of the Estalia Project, and about to hand it over to some amazing editors, line editors, proofreaders and layout people. So it’s a good time to give you a preview. This is one of the first things I wrote to get me in the mood for Estalia, all those years ago.
Never Trust A Monkey
The monkey’s tail flicked across the dusty tiles, leaving a trail behind like a snake. It chattered madly, one eye rolling around to view the rabble the filled the taverna. It hopped twice in place, as if dancing a jig. Then with a mad leap it flew onto the game table and began to dance in earnest. Screeching and whooping it ran around in a circle, stamping up and down on the cards, scattering bets, knocking over cups of blood-orange wine. Finally, it circled round into the middle and whooped as it chased its own tail, spinning around and around like a pinwheel, hopping back and forth between feet before at last collecting both of them in its front paws and collapsing into a puddle of fur. Then with a whoop it jumped up again and tossed off its fez and pointed to it, screeching again. The eyepatched elf in the corner laughed and clapped his hands and threw in the first coin. Most knew the game but the tables of La Isla Atalaya were always full of travelers and newcomers and they had never even known a monkey before, let alone a dancing one. When the silver finished falling, the eyepatched elf stepped forward and scooped up the fez, bowing his head up and down in thanks. The monkey, knowing what was next, galloped up his master’s arm and was rewarded with an olive. It chattered with glee as the busker replaced its fez and swept away to find new marks.
With a foetid belch, Alonzo slid his chair back flush with the table and pointed a stubby finger at the elf opposite him. Astaran stared down at the cards he’d been dealt and back at Alonzo. “I’m out this round” he said, waving his hands above his cards like a conjurer. Alonzo smirked, a flicker of drool running from his pudgy lips and angled his finger around the table at the next player, a tall Norscan who kept moving his cards back and forth in his hand as if that would make them transform into better ones. A bid was made, and the wagering continued, Alonzo keeping time with his finger turning like a ticking clock. When he came to bet, he licked his fingers like he always did, and thumbed his cards like the edge of a knife. He licked his lips with greed and called the bet. Another line of drool slipped over his lips, as if he could taste his winnings already. Alonzo rubbed his thumb across his chin, smearing grease into the drool, and when he pulled his hand back, noticed the blackness. By then it was too late – his tongue had already tripled in size and gorged his throat with black sludge. Two more players hit the floor second later, their hands swollen into hideous mitts, the poison working its way greedily up their arms. The Norscan, giant that he was, managed to draw his sword and cross to the monkey trainer, but he had no strength left to bring his weapon down. He did however provide the perfect distraction for Astaran to slide his blade through the monkey-trainer’s throat from behind. The blade stuck out like a bizarre second tongue as the body went limp beneath it. Blood soaked the stones. The puddle quickly swallowed the monkey’s corpse, the poison that it had carried on its feet to the cards now burning its limbs away to a horrid grey dust.
Parasco took the blade from his elven master as always and began to polish it fastidiously with his silken kerchief. “However did you know not to touch the cards, oh maestro?” Parasco asked without looking up. Astaran smiled with only a hint of grimness. “It is as the old saying of the islands goes, Parasco. Never trust a monkey.”