“Shoo? That’s a nice name, always adored that name,” Tosh’s mandibles arrange themselves into what looks like a smile, though his eyes stay worried. “You’ve met my kids,” he gestures towards the eyes still glinting at me from the dark chamber, then points at my furs. “I must say, these are very fine Tik furs, very fine. Are they for sale?”
From the hungry way he’s looking at them, I think that’s why he sounded a little disappointed to find I was still kicking; If I was a gonner, the furs would be his. I briefly consider selling them but Mondey says “Never sell essentials” and I think I’m going to need them.
“No, sorry,” I say. He looks disappointed but doesn’t push it. I feel the bump of the pot of balm in my rags and wonder what else I can get out of Tosh. I don’t know what I need though. I don’t even know my situation now. “Tosh, how long was I asleep for and, um, where am I?”
He gives this some consideration, stroking his chin with a hand from his middle set of arms. I notice the arm has a wide bandage around its middle, “It was yesterday morning I found you tangled in my nets. It’s mid-morning now. I took you home and hung you up. Again, forgive me, but you seemed quite dead. I thought someone might come to claim you, but you’ve claimed yourself which we’re all very happy about.”
“Yay!” shouts a small voice from the dark chamber.
“Woo!” says another.
“I wanted to eat her,” a third, sulky voice says.
“She’s alive, you wazzock,” says the first voice. “She’d make you sick.”
“I know that. I wanted to eat her when she was dead,” the sulky one says.
“She was never dead, so we… provide such aid as is reasonable & practicable and send them on their way,” the first says with the authority of someone who’s remembered a rule and raises its voice. “Ain’t that right, dad?”
“Swot,” mutters the sulky one.
“Yes, Ank, thank you. Barr, there are plenty of unclaimed ones for snacking. Shoo, I should introduce my children Ank, Barr and Calb. There are others but they’ve not eaten enough to be talking yet.”
“Um… hello,” I say in the direction of the glowing eyes, the owner of at least one pair of which wants to eat me.
“Hello lady!” three small voices squeak in unison.
“And to answer your other question, you’re in my home beneath the Muddle River, a short swim from the nets in which you were unfortunately (and through no fault of mine) snared.”
Right, so it’s been a day since Hern lobbed me in the river. I’m still just around the corner from where I fell in. Florend, who will have to assume I haven’t drowned, is probably searching further afield, maybe miles downriver. This buys me some breathing time, but probably not much.
I consider Tosh.
Mondey once told me that if a rich fish is wriggling, he liked to mention suing. Rich people are apparently scared of nothing more than being sued. Neither of us knew who Sue was but she must be nails.
Got you! Of course, I don’t think Sue is just a person. I’m not completely stupid. Obviously, she must have an entire crew behind her. I consider hinting that I might just get Sue involved if he doesn’t start handing over some nice stuff double-quick-time, thank-you-very-much. It would get probably get me everything I need out of him and more.
Yes. It’s the smart move.
I fully intend to do this, I swear, but somehow, I find myself just telling him my story instead.
Tosh is a good listener, maybe that’s why I spill my beans. By the time I’ve finished, I’ve got him sitting up, his smallest hands cupped around his mouth (sort of resting on his tusks), his middle hands together as if in prayer and his bottom hands resting on his knees as he leans forwards, focused on my every word.
I’m laying the drama, suffering and tragedy on a bit thick, but it seems to be doing the job.
Three of his children have come out of the dark too and are sitting on various bits of him. They don’t stay in one place for long. As I talk, they scurry about him. They listen for a few seconds in a comfortable pose, on his knee, or a shoulder, or the top of his head, rapt with attention. Then suddenly they’ll scuttle to a new spot and they stop as still and focused as if they’d never moved.
I do an impression of getting electrocuted, because I’m at that point of my story, which makes the little ones all scuttle for cover into the fronds hanging around Tosh’s head.
“…and then I woke up here,” I say.
They peek out.
“August Florend is scary,” says one, possibly Ank
“Yes! Horrible!” chimes in another, perhaps Barr.
“I would have bitten him until he went away,” says the sulky one, probably Calb.
“Yes! Bite him!”
“You know, I never thought to do that,” I admit. “Though I think he could bite better. Just one of his teeth was the size of any of you little guys.” I show them my teeth and mock-growl. They skitter into hiding again. I like kids. They’re easy to scare.
Tosh takes his hands away from his mouth, “Well, you have been through it. My, you have. I must ask: what is this ‘Thing’ he’s after?”
I take it out to show him. He leans in and makes an expression that I think is distaste. The kids scurry out onto his tusks to peer at it too.
“Wow. That’s so creepy. What’s that bit?” asks Ank
“I don’t know,” I admit.
“Yeah! Weird! What are those things on it?” chirps Barr
“Which things, these ones?”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“What about the other ones then?” Calb demands.
“I don’t know either.”
“You don’t know much, do you?” Calb says with what I think might be a sneer.
I know how to stamp on a bug, I don’t say. “It’s a mystery,” I do say with a shrug. “But it’s mine.”
“You’ll have to excuse Carr, I think he’s had a nibble of my bad side,” Tosh says, while staring at the Thing. I glance at the bandage on his arm when he says this and notice one of his other arms has a bandage too. He’s definitely making an unhappy face at the Thing now. “Hmm, No, I don’t like it. It makes me quite uneasy. It doesn’t seem to belong but somehow fills the room. No. Would you kindly put it away again?”
I oblige him, wrapping it up in its ivy patterned cloth and tucking it away in my rags.
Tosh squints at me as I do so, “It’s important to you but you carry it around like that?”
I shrug. “It’s pretty safe in there.”
“Debateable. I have a large money belt round here somewhere,” Tosh says thoughtfully, looking over at the pile of belongings under the hanging corpses. “It would fit in that quite neatly, I think. And I probably have some better clothes if you want them.”
“Fresh corpse clothes?”
“I’m afraid so. Is it an issue?”
“No, that’s good! Three people that I know of have died in my rags before me. Glad I’m not one of them,” I say and squint at him in my best bargaining face. “How much are the clothes?”
“How much? Oh, no, a gift. A gift. You’ve had quite enough unpleasantness. My reward will be to add some light to your dark existence.”
Wow, what a nice person. And I didn’t need to threaten him with Sue after all. A good sob story was all it took.
Mondey, you do things your way, I’ll do them mine.
Any lingering feelings of guilt I have will, I’m sure, be soothed by my lovely new corpse clothes.