by Ursula Vernon
Our D&D campaign has a tradition of doing a holiday story every year (or in the case of some of our members, holiday art--Lizardbeth made us AWESOME icons, and Natasha drew the entire party as reindeer.) Since I had this small saga of how the party's dark elf butler spent the holidays, I figured I'd share, for the possibly vague amusement of those of you who follow our D&D campaign.
If you don't have at least a passing knowledge of the Forgotten Realms setting, this is probably somewhat nonsensical, but most of it can be explained by saying that the books about drow were largely written for teenagers in the darkest throes of Angsty Angstness.
Useful knowledge: We acquired a dark elf butler by virtue of Rooster the paladin converting him to the worship of the Silver Weasel. Drow-Bob now runs our castle/tilapia farm. (Yes, the party has a tilapia farm. Castles don't pay for themselves. And we needed a place to put the ranger's hydra.) Ceri is our kleptomaniacal thief who cannot be left alone with anything shiny. Wilhelmina the gnome is our primary healer/brewmaster.
In this campaign, orphans are one of the always-evil races and the Order of the Silver Weasel burns orphanages whenever possible, to prevent Children of the Corn scenarios. (Don't question the logistics here. It's just that sort of campaign...)
On the dark battlements of the dark castle on the darkest night of the year, a dark elf brooded.
He was trying not to, but it wasn’t easy. Drow take to brooding the way ducks take to water and paladins take to armor polish. It was in their genes.
Drow-Bob, sworn servant of the Silver Weasel, leaned against one of the heavy stones and…yes, brooded.
It was Solstice Night, and he was in an unheated castle with questionable plumbing, waiting for his employers to come home.
It wasn’t like he had to be at the castle. There was a roaring party going on down at the Temple of the Silver Weasel--Drow-Bob could just make out flames breaking out, far down in the town--and he’d gotten an invitation. It was a very nice invitation, signed by the Lord Marshall of the West himself, although the Lord Marshall had seen fit to include a postscript that said “And whatever you do, don’t tell Rooster! As far as he knows, we’re all doing a vigil in the snow on our knees!”
Drow-Bob didn’t really know how to feel about that.
At least if he went to the Weaselite celebration, he’d be welcome. You had to give the paladins that. Once you converted, you were a brother or sister in the Weasel, and that was the end of the matter. There was an orc paladin and a couple of kobold acolytes and he’d heard rumors that at one of the other temples, they had a beholder who had renounced evil and was trying to atone for its earlier lifestyle. Dark elves didn’t even merit a raised eyebrow.
When they said “convert or die,” it was a genuine choice and they didn’t second-guess you afterwards.
You didn’t get that everywhere. He’d gone down to the co-op the other day, and the staff was very nice--sure, they’d given him a coupon for organic kelp smoothies, but they probably didn’t mean anything bad by it--but he had overheard a couple of other shoppers talking.
“There’s a dark elf on aisle three.”
“Oh lord, better get out of here before he angsts at you.”
“But I need organic semolina flour.”
“Leave it, Larry! A dark elf got ahold of my cousin Ed and he was wearing black nail polish for two months! It’s not worth it!”
Drow-Bob sighed. He could have told them a few things about angst. It didn’t have anything to do with being a dark elf.
“You try being a butler for a crew who hares off for weeks on end without warning and leaves you in charge of a fish farm! I had to trim the hydra’s claws last week! The toenail clippers slipped and it grew another leg!”
He envied other dark elves. All they had to worry about was the crushing despair of being hated by everyone you met. He had to keep the kobolds out of the tilapia.
Drow-Bob sighed. He was brooding again. He shouldn’t. Really, he wasn’t unhappy to have converted. Life in the Underdark was nasty, brutish, and not nearly short enough. After the first century, you started to wonder if it was all really worth it.
They didn’t celebrate Solstice in the Underdark. There wasn’t much point. Mushroom-based agriculture doesn’t worry about the seasons.
They did do a thing with a giant wicker spider and then they stuffed prisoners into the legs and--well, best not to think about that.
It hadn’t been festive at all.
Much better to be up here in the castle. No wicker anything. One of the kobolds had found a wicker chair at a garage sale last week, but he’d had it burned, just to be on the safe side.
And his employers had gotten him some very thoughtful gifts.
He was still thinking about them, as a matter of fact.
There had been an entire raw cow haunch, wrapped in burlap, from Redfur. She apparently had been a little worried that he wouldn’t know what it was, under the wrapping, so there was also a note saying “ThS IZ cOww luV rEdFUr” written in blood on the burlap.
Rooster had gotten him a very nice leatherbound volume of Daily Weasel Affirmations. There was an encouraging note in the front about being a valued member of the team and to give himself a bonus.
Drow-Bob fished it out, opened a page at random, and read
Yea, though I walk in the barren plain of Very Bad Nasty Things With Giant Teeth, I shall fear nothing, for the Weasel is with me and therefore I am the baddest mother around.
In some ways, it was a reassuringly straightforward faith.
There was a half-chewed horse-hoof inside, for a bookmark.
From Wilhelmina, he had gotten a bottle of clear amber liquid, with a note saying that it should be kept away from open flame, closed flame, heat sources, and for god’s sake, don’t drop it.
Rush had given him a day-planner. It mapped out suggested castle changes for the next six months and was bound in wyvern hide. It included such instructions as “Put the vault here. Put the decoy vault for Ceri here,” and it came with a very nice pen.
Inix had gotten him an extremely thoughtful gift. He knew it was extremely thoughtful, because Ceri had left a note inside the box saying “IOU one extremely thoughtful gift.”
(He couldn’t get angry. For Solstice, she had returned all of his missing socks, including at least one pair he could have sworn he’d left in the Underdark. He was still a little confused by that.)
Really, you couldn’t complain with employers like that. In the Underdark, a good day was a day when nobody decided to beat you with the snake-headed whips.
“’Scuse me, sir,” called a voice from below.
Drow-Bob leaned back. It was Lumpy, one of the brighter kobolds. “Yes?”
“There’s people here, sir.”
Drow-Bob sighed. “It’s not more orphans, is it?” Solstice brought out plagues of orphans, most of them with little crutches and delicately consumptive coughs. The kobolds had been shoving them into the spike pit, but a couple of them had been eating the others and were getting big enough that they’d have to get some paladins out to put the nasty little buggers down.
“Um. No, sir…”
“Or carolers? Because the last time we had carolers, the hydra hid under Miss Inix’s bed and it took us ages to get the mattress out of the tree.”
Lumpy scratched his ear. He had a lump on it. It looked infected, but so did most of Lumpy. “Err. Here, are you lot carolers?”
There was some hurried conversation below.
“Do we need to carol?”
“I think I know the words to “Tyr Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen…”
“I can play the handbell. If you have a handbell, I mean. I don’t carry one with me…”
Drow-Bob got up to see what the problem was.
“I think it’s wizards,” said Lumpy worriedly. “Only they’ve got camels. It’s not normal, having camels.”
“We’ve got a hydra.”
“Yes, well. He’s our hydra. Sir.”
Drow-Bob moved Lumpy gently to one side.
There were three men standing in the courtyard, one tall, one short, one in the middle. They did indeed have camels. They looked a bit confused.
“I don’t have a handbell,” said the short one. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“I don’t know,” said Drow-Bob. “Is it?”
There was a long moment of silence.
“I’ve got a camel bell,” said the middle one.
“Well, there you go,” said the short one, looking relieved. “Crisis averted! What did you want me to play?”
“I don’t want you to play anything,” said Drow-Bob. “What are you doing here?”
He gave Lumpy an unobtrusive hand signal. Lumpy sauntered off to go boil some oil, in case this was the vanguard of an invasion.
It was a very disorganized vanguard. The tall one and the short one had a brief, furious conversation in another language. The middle one leaned over to Drow-Bob and said “Between you and me, I think they’re a bit lost.”
“Aren’t we all…” muttered Drow-Bob.
“Right!” said the short one. “Um. Have you got a manger?”
“Sort of, um. Food trough. For animals, you know?”
Drow-Bob raised an eyebrow. “We’re a fish farm.”
The short one rocked on his heels for a moment. “Fish farm. Oh dear. Yes. Um. Ah…nothing trough-like? Maybe? Nothing that could be repurposed to be a trough, say?”
“We’ve got a pellet delivery system,” said Drow-Bob. He was not wondering why he was discussing fish-farming with crazy people in the middle of the night. His employers had pretty well broken him of any such feelings. He was a trifle annoyed to see that one of the camels had crapped in the middle of the courtyard, but that was all.
“Pellet…delivery…system…” said the short wizard slowly.
“It’s a trough, I suppose. About two inches wide, eight feet long. We drop the pellets into the hopper and they slide down into the tilapia tank.”
The short wizard consulted with his colleagues.
After a moment he said “Um. Two inches wide, eight feet long--well. You couldn’t fit a baby into it, could you?”
“I suppose you could,” said Drow-Bob, “if you minced it very fine.”
The middle wizard barked a laugh and covered his mouth. The tall wizard looked appalled.
“No,” said the short wizard. “Oh dear. No. That won’t work--at least, I don’t think it would--no, probably not at all. Not a good idea. Oh dear. Um.” He pulled out a much-folded map and stared down at it. “Um. Perhaps we’ve taken a bit of a wrong turn.”
“Told you,” muttered the middle wizard.
“We were following a star, you see. A particularly shiny one--“
“I’ll stop you right there, gentlemen,” said Drow-Bob. “There is nothing shiny in this castle. Every shiny object has been removed. Sometimes by force. I had to blacken the brass drawer pulls. Nothing shiny has come this way.”
The wizards consulted their map, then each other. The tall one stared at the sky as if hoping a star would appear. It didn’t.
Another camel emptied its bowels on the pristine dust of the courtyard.
“Well, then,” said the short wizard, putting on a determinedly cheerful expression. “Well! No one said this would be easy, did they?”
“Not to me, they didn’t,” said Drow-Bob.
“Indeed. Indeed. Very well. Back to where we saw the star last, brothers. Sorry to have taken your time, sir, and do have a very nice Solstice. I suppose we can’t perform “Tyr Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen?” for you? No? All right, then. We’ll be on our way.”
The three wizards turned their camels--not without some difficulty--and left the castle. Drow-Bob gazed at the camel piles in mute resignation.
“The oil’s heating nicely,” said Lumpy, putting his head back into the courtyard. “Almost warm! Give it another hour or so and--oh, they’re gone.”
Drow-Bob sighed. “It’s all right. I think they were just lost.”
“Chopping up babies for fish food,” said Lumpy. “I don’t approve of that, sir. There’s evil and then there’s gratuitous.”
“Your vocabulary astounds me, Lumpy. I shall have to give you a promotion.”
“I wouldn’t mind being Chief Technology Kobold, sir, if you’re offering.”
“Consider it done.”
Drow-Bob turned to go, and paused. Lumpy had an awkward about-to-say-something expression.
“Was there something more, Lumpy?”
“Well, sir--if you’re not busy--the boys and I are all in Woad-Bob’s orchard, having a drop of holiday cheer.”
Drow-Bob raised a pale eyebrow. “Was Mistress Wilhelmina involved in this, ah, holiday cheer?”
“She helped us set up the still!” said Lumpy proudly. “We weren’t getting anything above forty proof before she got involved, but she fixed that right up. And Mister Woad-Bob, he’s been saving up the wasp honey and so we made a very nice bit of kobold krupnikas, and if you’d like to join us, sir…”
Oh, what the hell, thought Drow-Bob. Yea, though I drink in the company of kobolds, I will fear nothing, for the Weasel is with me…
He followed Lumpy into Woad-Bob’s orchard, and didn’t even mind that somewhere along the way, he’d stepped in camel poop.
Originally posted at: http://ursulav.livejournal.com/1568982.html