Words: Mikal Hrafspa (Mikal the Ram)
Before anyone writes me a nasty letter, I have almost as much Irish blood in my veins as Scot, and I do not have anything against the Irish. I do hang around with a man who is both SCA and mundanely Irish, and these tales are often a kind of gentle dig at a very good friend. This was supposedly written for the celebration of Baron Charles' birthday. The real reason for writing it is Baron Cormac Mac Cumail, my dearest friend in the Known World.
This tale has only one source, the Tale of St. Patrick and the Dragon, and is mostly just me running my mouth. Hey, it was impromptu, okay? Sheesh! Bards are such a tough crowd!
THERE ARE MANY things I have seen in my life that defy explanation. some of these I feel are the great mysteries of life that confound the wise, and against which even the gods contend in vain:
Why do you feel so good drinking ale, but feel so bad in the morning?
Why is it blessed to love your neighbor, but wrong to love your neighbor's wife?
Why do songs about war sound so good, when going to war sounds so bad?
Why is it stealing when a commoner does it, but when a king does it, it's taxes?
There are no good answers to these questions. They delve too far for mere mortals to comprehend. But this day I have an answer to one problem that has stumped the wisest sages of our time: Why are the Irish "that way". I cannot claim sole responsibility for this discovery, as all of you know me, and can attest, I am rarely responsible.
Many years ago, a farmer that I know from this Irish land had a habit of fishing in a nearby stream, to the neglect of his farm and cattles. His lackadaisical attitude toward his husbandry was inspired by his neighbor's skill in the distilling of certain spirits prized most highly by the Irish gentry, called whiskey, or so I am told.
His neighbor was quite happy to keep the farmer supplied, for the well from which the distiller drew his water sat on the farm of the first gentleman. No water was to be had near the distillery, and the smell of fermenting grain was thought to be too stout for a closer location to be chosen.
So, on a daily basis the distiller's apprentice would come with a wagon to fetch three barrels of water, for which he would give the farmer a jug of spirits. Many years past in this fashion, both men feeling quite happy with the arrangement. Of course there came a time when the well turned dry, but the two were quite happy to dig a new one at another point on the farm, and striking water, to resume their former agreement.
My lords and ladies, I am no expert on the art of brewing strong drink. So I cannot be sure of what indeed the distiller was getting rid of, but I am told that a day came when his vat was so full of this waste that he was compelled to empty it somewhere.
About this time, the stream in which the farmer fished was losing it's more succulent game fishes. Most all the larger ones had been caught, and those that remained were to sly to fall prey to such a lazy lout as the farmer. His distaste for work remained unabated, however, and to find another fishing spot might prove too much like work. He found that where the fish had once been, now a host of other creatures now dwelt, and began to consider that they might be edible as well.
This idea seemed quite reasonable to him, having heard tales of the French who devour snails, and of the Arabs who eat all of a creature, including it's eyes! If these were considered delicacies, how could the small wriggly things in this stream not be equally as desirable? Gathering handfuls of the assorted newts, frogs, snakes and other crawly things into a bucket, he proceeded home, to cook his bounty for dinner.
On that particular day, the distiller had sent his apprentice off to dump the leavings of his craft somewhere away from the distillery, and to bring three barrels of water back with him. The apprentice was an enterprising young lad who knew that this task could take the better part of the day.
He also knew that the old farmer had put his spent well to no use since it went dry, and took his water from the new one instead. So, to gain some time, and make his life easier, he proceeded to dump the detritus of his masters art into the dry well.
The farmer, returning from his fishing, saw the youngster and hailed him. Not really caring about the well, he had intended to simply show the young man his "catch", and brag about his cleverness in finding a free source of food.
But the apprentice was unimpressed, having been a student and having read two whole books in his life. He affected full knowledge of the eating of foul waterlife, and even began to advise the farmer on how it should be prepared. Proposing that this one was best eaten with herbs, and this one was to be fried in the grease of sausages, and that certain kings of Siam thought that these were of the finest eating, provided they had been hatched as twins daring the dark of the moon, and were broiled with pears.
Having come to the end of his information about the eating of grubs, the apprentice looked into the bucket at what was probably the ugliest newt he had ever seen. All black yellow and orange, the little beastie was snub nosed, splay footed and pigeon toed at the same time! An all together homely creature with no redeeming faculties.
"This one,"he intoned, "is under ripe, and must mature for almost a year more. He is hardly edible, and the best thing you could do is to throw him away."
The farmer would not normally have done so, thinking it to be a waste of food. He was tremendously lazy, and to toss away food and then have to get more was to do more work! However, if you recall I told you about the payment to the farmer for his water. That jug of strong drink was in his hand, and the cork had been long since pulled out and thrown away. Thinking no more of the waste, he tossed the newt into the well, and went on his sodden way.
There would have been no more to this tale, if the apprentice had not found the well such a convenient place for disposing his master's wastes. But as luck would have it he was back with more of the brewer's leavings almost four times each year, bearing three or more barrels. And the potent stuff worked a mighty change on the newt. Had the apprentice not been so careless, he might have noticed deep gurgling sounds in the well each time he dumped the leavings. Had the farmer not been so lazy or drunken he might have heard the strange roarings from the old well late at night.
Four years passed, until one day the market for whiskey had faltered. Less was in demand at that time, I think due to the increased production of stout beer. This meant the apprentice was not to be coming to the old well to dump quite so often. At last, the newt decided to climb out of the well. The brew had done it's work. He was five foot high at the shoulder, and longer than ten cattle end to end with room to swing their tails. Once in the light he took to growling and roaring something fierce, frightening cattle and people for miles. His normal color was gone, his skin now being green with livid red spots, and his small newt-like feet had grown, while not in proportion to his body, to be long talloned claws. His first actions were to destroy the farmer's hovel and to kill two herds of cattle on the nearest meadow.
Hue and cry was raised, with men coming from miles around. Of course he tossed them about like so many toys, roaring all the while. No one could kill him and after a while no one wanted to try.
I was there at the time, plying my trade as a bard, singing songs and spinning tales for the local gentry. The patron I had at that time was an aging knight who loved his brew too well, and to keep him in better humor, it was wise to pour liberal glasses for him in the evening and have headache and stomach powders for him at dawn. To facilitate this I took to going into town once a week, and buying seven of each. Of course, there came a holiday, and knowing his family well, I went into town and purchased ten times as much to satisfy his kin.
Coming back I was alarmed to hear a bellowing roar from behind me. The dragon, for the people had taken to calling it such, was hot on my trail! I ran as fast as I could, but t'was to nought, for he brought me up against a stout oak, and made to eat me. I was without sword or buckler, so I struck out with the only thing I had, the sack of medicines! Before I could strike the beast snatched it in his jaws and swallowed it whole.
All at once he stopped, and a most curious expression fell on his lizardine face. He rumbled a bit, belched once, and then curled up to sleep like a kitten. Needless to say, I was proclaimed a hero. On my advice a steady diet of medicines were fed to the beast, and not once did he kill maim or plunder again. It is this very thing that I think causes the Irish to do what they do; you see the poor beast had spent most of his life drunk or hung over, was there any doubt he would be mad? My advice to England would be this: Just leave them alone and send them headache powders!
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