The success of our rescue mission put everyone at ease and introductions were made in an air of friendship and mutual respect. Beautiful, right? Two different species, once enemies, now allies, helping each other survive in a perilous world. I can hear violins swelling just thinking about it.
The truth was our little union made us targets for both sides. If our arrangement was discovered the shit storm that would rain down on us would be fierce and final. Every silver lining has a cloud.
Still, we were in the middle of nowhere and everyone else was busy fighting a war, so we at least had time to enjoy a meal. The frogwoman was keen to try out the pots we had brought for her and set to fixing dinner for us.
Like Nabbo, their names were impossible to pronounce. The magic that let us understand what they said in English didn’t translate their names for some reason, so I decided to give them names. This could be seen as condescending—it’s not very politically correct to try and overwrite someone’s culture with your own—but we needed to be able to call them something.
“You’re Pitt, you’re Jolie, and the kid can be Suri. That okay with you?”
The frogmen (yes, I know one of them is female, stop being pedantic) were fine with it, but Claire took issue with my naming scheme.
“Suri is Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ kid. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s daughter is called Shiloh. And why are you giving him a girl’s name?”
“So what?” I said. “It’s just a name. And why do you even know this stuff. You should be ashamed of yourself, you stalker.”
Of course, trying to shame the Guilt Tripper Supreme got me nowhere, she brushed it off without taking damage.
The food was amazing. If we could get Jolie to teach us to cook half as good, we could open a restaurant and give up the whole hack ‘n’ slash business for good.
“She’s an excellent cook,” said Pitt. “It’s why I married her. And of course for her great body.”
Jolie tittered and slapped Pitt in a flirty way.
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but frogmen didn’t wear clothes. So his wife was nude. If you asked me what kind of body she had, I’d probably tell you she had a very nice personality.
“Do you ever eat humans?” asked Maurice.
Why? Why would he ask? Nothing good could come of a question like that.
“No,” sad Pitt. “You people taste disgusting.”
I really didn’t want to know how he knew we tasted bad. I looked for something to throw at Maurice, but he seemed content with the answer and there was no follow up.
We stuffed our faces and then set up camp nearby.
I didn’t want to be too close to the water in case the lizardmen came back, so we found a small clearing about five minutes away and put up our tents. The general mood was upbeat and optimistic. For everyone else, that is. I knew the universe too well to consider this anything else other than a temporary lull in proceedings.
The next day, Pitt showed us how to fish. While Jolie had been delighted with her pots and pans (the girls had exceeded their remit and bought far more kitchen stuff than I had told them to), Pitt was a bit more wary of the spear I’d had made.
He inspected it closely, tried biting it, and threw it around to get a feel for it. But once he actually used it to spear some fish, his attitude changed for the better. He landed a giant tuna-looking fish on his first attempt and yanked it out of the water with a big smile on his face. And when a frogman has a big smile, it’s really big.
“My old spear would have broken on something this big,” he said as he gutted and cleaned the fish with the knife we had given him. His normal tool for the job was a flat stone with a sharpened edge.
Spear-fishing lessons took the form of him showing me, Maurice and Dudley the correct form and action, followed by us doing a horrible imitation. Pitt wasn’t very patient and used the ‘shouting and screaming’ technique of teaching. Eventually, we managed to throw the spear in a straight line, but the really hard part was being able to hit something other than water.
It turned out the frogmen had another kind of magic they used to help with fishing. Pitt crouched down and placed his fingers in the water. He made a series of movements similar to those Nabbo used to create fire magic, and the water around his hand began to glow.
Within a few seconds, fish from around the lake came towards the platform, and then swam in a tight group just to make hitting them easier. Maurice watched this with eyes like saucers, and muttered, “Aquaman!” under his breath.
We all tried to copy the finger moves, but like with the fire magic, none of us was able to get it to work. We carried on practicing with the spear and slowly improved with Pitt’s guidance. And by guidance, I mean his relentless shouting at us.
Meanwhile, the girls just sat around chatting with Jolie. Sure, they were learning how to cook, which herbs and vegetables to use, how long to leave it to simmer and all that stuff, but really they were having a good chin-wag. The kid was pretty much permanently attached to Flossie, which Dudley seemed to be keeping a close eye on.
As evening rolled around, we had caught a number of fish—well, Pitt had, we’d managed to fire a couple of warning shots—and enjoyed another superb meal. As we sat around feeling full and lazy, Nabbo lit his pipe and took a big puff.
“What’s in the pipe?” I asked him.
“Pondweed,” said Nabbo. “It grows everywhere. You just have to dry it out and stick it in your pipe.”
“It rots the brain,” said Pitt.
“It’s medicine,” said Nabbo.
“What kind of medicine?” I asked.
“The kind that makes you feel better,” said Nabbo. “What other kind of medicine is there?”
“Can I try some?”
He looked at me through a cloud of smoke, then passed me the pipe. I took a puff.
I’m not a stoner, but I have smoked weed (our version) a number of times. I’ve experienced the crappy stuff where you wonder if it’s really just oregano, and also the alien-looking mutant spores that leave you paralysed with a rictus grin on your face. One hit from Nabbo’s pipe was enough to make me realise I’d never really been stoned before.
The world got up and left, and a new world sat down next to me. This new world was my friend.
“The problem with this,” I said while giggling, “is that it makes normal life a lot less interesting.”
“Easily solved,” said Nabbo. “Smoke weed every day.”
I passed the pipe to the others who had been watching my transformation from grouch to giddy schoolboy. They each took a nervous toke, and started grinning.
I sat on the edge of the platform with my feet in the water, watching the fish and thinking about becoming a drug dealer. If the pondweed was easy to collect and prepare, we could make a lot of money. People always want to get out of their heads, and I was sure the people here were no different.
Imagine being the first person to discover heroin. Sure, there’s some drawbacks and problems with being a drug trafficker, but think of the profit!
I turned to discuss this amazing business opportunity with Maurice to find I was alone on the platform, which was now bumped up against the bank. When had that happened?
I looked around. Pitt and his wife were in the water, playing with the kid. Nabbo had probably gone for his bathroom break. I was too relaxed to feel panic, but I was a bit miffed at the sudden disappearance of my party. I stood up to get a better look and saw them in the distance.
Maurice and Claire were walking away, hand in hand. Dudley and Flossie, also hand in hand, were near them, but heading in a slightly different direction. Two things became immediately clear to me. One, they were going to have sex. And two, it wasn’t their first time.
As I’ve said before, I’m not the most observant of people. My interest in what other people get up to is limited to whether or not it will inconvenience me. But I really should have spotted the signs.
Now that I thought about it, whenever we split up to do jobs, they always partnered up the same way. Even when we were staying at the inn back in Fengarad, I only assumed Maurice and Dudley shared one room and the girls the other. They could have been shacked up and banging away for weeks for all I knew, the dirty little sluts. And I mean all four of them.
Did I feel jealous? I guess so, as much as anyone would. I didn’t fancy either Claire or Flossie, and had never thought about them as anything other than mildly annoying, but it’s hard to see people around you happy if you aren’t. It’s just a reminder you don’t need.
Not that I would want them to stop just to make it easier on me. I’m not the sort of person who thinks my life would be better if other people’s was worse. It’s not like them not having sex meant women would suddenly start throwing pussy my way. It doesn’t work like that. They’d just be less happy and I would be the same miserable me.
Truthfully, I didn’t have any problem with them shagging. Good for them. Of course, I felt a little sorry for myself, but nothing had changed, really. My life would continue the same, and at least I had weed.
I sat down in Nabbo’s chair and took another puff on the pipe. Nothing happened. It had gone out. There was always the cooking fire, I could light it off that. I half rose out of the seat before noticing had also gone out. The whole time we’d been here, the fire was always burning, except now. It was just so typical of my life, I couldn’t help but smile.
The universe always had a way of letting me know how much of a fuck it didn’t give about me. Don’t be sad, it seemed to say. Things might seem bad now, but they could always be a little bit worse. Let me show you...
There was no way to know how long Nabbo would be. I sighed and moved my fingers the way Nabbo had shown me. Of course it wouldn’t work, but it wasn’t like I had anything else to do, might as well give the universe another opportunity to laugh in my face.
So it was something of a surprise when a small blue flame appeared on the end of my finger.