Jardyce staggers into the saloon, limping a bit more than strictly necessary. He's not averse to a bit of free beer, when he's got an interesting story to tell, and an injury adds artistic verisimilitude.
Trempage follows calmly, carrying his own rifle and Buckets'.
Masher, who is alone at his table, looks up from his beer.
Masher: Jardyce! They found you!
Jardyce: Yeah. Good thing, too, or I'd've been a goner.
Masher pats the empty bench next to him.
Masher: Come tell us about it. Thumbs! Drinks for these two!
Jardyce limps artistically to the bench, and sits down with a sigh of relief.
Trempage: Hot rum, Thumbs.
Trempage goes to the bar to collect the drinks.
Jardyce: Same for me.
Thumbs takes the kettle from the stove and prepares the drinks.
Thumbs: Here you go.
Thumbs is curious to hear the tale. Things are awfully slow in winter.
Masher: So tell us what happened.
Trempage gives Jardyce his drink and takes his own to another table.
Jardyce accepts his drink and takes a long sip, since he figures he can probably milk the story for at least one more.
Jardyce: It was Simes.
Masher: Simes? As in, more than one?
Jardyce takes another slow sip, letting the silence prime his audience.
Barney: We got raiders again?
Barney reaches for the rifle he always carries and starts to wobble to his feet.
Trempage: Don't worry, Barney. If they didn't kill Jardyce they won't kill you.
Trempage figures the local populace is far more at risk from an armed drunk like Barney.
Jardyce: They weren't our usual run of raiders, no.
Barney drops back onto his stool.
Barney: So what kind were they?
Jardyce: Dunno, for sure. Scouts, maybe, for settled Simes. One thing's for sure, they were thinking a bit more about the future than most of 'em we see.
Masher: Whaddaya mean by that? What did they do?
Trempage intends to let Jardyce embellish the story as much as he likes. It is pretty slow around here in winter.
Jardyce: Well, I was just attending to my trap line, going a bit off the path to avoid trouble. You remember that ambush two years ago?
Potter: Sure do.
Jardyce: Well, it was perfect weather for traveling in winter -- good as it gets, anyway. If there was gonna be trouble, it was the right conditions for it, right?
Potter: Thought it was kinda slippery, m'self.
Jardyce: Well, for horses, yeah. And Badass was acting like he's never got his feet wet.
Barney: Tol' ya that horse's trouble.
Jardyce: Of course he is. How d'ya think he got his name?
Masher: Same way I got mine... earnin' it.
Jardyce: He sure earned it this time. Tossed me, and hurt my foot.
Potter: So it wasn't a Sime? Just a spill?
Jardyce: Well, at the time, I thought Badass was just being ornery. I owe that horse an apology.
Barney: A 'pology?
Jardyce: Yeah. That horse was smarter than I thought.
Masher gestures for Jardyce to continue.
Jardyce: I got up, found I couldn't walk far on my foot, and started looking around for shelter. There was a thicket ahead that had some promising branches. I figured I might find something that would do for a crutch. But it turned out I wasn't the only one who'd noticed that thicket was a decent shelter.
Potter never was one to let a guy tell a tale his own way.
Jardyce: Yeah. And I walked right up to 'em.
Jardyce is a little ~~ disgusted ~~ at himself.
Sockem raises his head from the table.
Sockem: Why'ja do that?
Jardyce: They were a lot sneakier than the normal run of Simes, that's why.
Sockem lets his head fall to the table again.
Masher: What did they do?
Jardyce: What I saw was a dense part of the thicket, where some branches had been rearranged, just a little. And then a voice asked if I'd like to borrow a blanket to warm up a bit.
Potter: An' you fell for it?
Jardyce: When was the last time a Sime invited you to make yourself comfortable? Sounded exactly like some tramp passing through, who'd made a camp for lunch.
Barney: Y' fell f'r it.
Jardyce: Yep, I did. Of course, it probably wouldn't have made much difference whether I did or not. A lame Gen can't outrun a Sime, no way, nohow.
Barney nods wisely.
Potter: So you went over to get the blanket?
Jardyce: Yup. When I stepped close, I fell right into their trap. A pit they'd dug out under the branches.
Masher gives a long whistle.
Masher: Smartest damn Sime I ever heard of.
Jardyce: It wasn't just one of them. It was two.
Potter: So how come y'r still alive?
Buckets, who has been delayed by stopping to care for the horses, enters the saloon and lets the door slam behind him.
Buckets: It's okay, guys. Hairbrain's gonna be fine.
Buckets: Few days rest an' he'll be dandy.
Masher: Shuddup, Buckets. Jardyce was talkin'
Jardyce: Thirsty business, talkin'.
Jardyce looks mournfully at his glass, which is empty.
Potter takes the hint and signals Thumbs for a refill for Jardyce.
Thumbs: One for you too, Trempage?
Trempage waves him off. He's still got most of his left.
Sockem opens one eye.
Thumbs makes another hot rum and waits for Potter to pay for it.
Sockem: He c'n have th' rest o' mine. 'm done.
Sockem proves it by letting the eye drift closed.
Potter reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of coins.
Potter: And one for me, too, Thumbs.
Thumbs drains the kettle to make one for Potter, refills it, puts it back on the stove and mends the fire. He gathers the coins and pushes the drinks toward Potter.
Buckets finds himself a seat.
Jardyce accepts his second drink.
Jardyce: Thank you kindly.
Buckets: So how far had you got with tellin' 'em, Jardyce?
Jardyce: I'd just fallen into the pit trap the Simes were hiding in. Two of 'em.
Buckets nods and sits back, hoping someone will notice he doesn't have a drink.
Potter notices and ignores him. It's someone else's turn.
Masher: So what happened then?
Jardyce: Well, these weren't the normal run of Simes we see around here. No way.
Jardyce: They was better dressed, for one thing. They could plan ahead, for another, or they'd never have dug that pit.
Barney: Dangerous ones.
Barney reaches for his rifle again.
Jardyce: They used their brains as much as their tentacles. Dangerous, you bet.
Barney decides to sit back down and hear the rest of it before he runs off to shoot the Simes.
Barney: So what then?
Jardyce: These Simes could think, like I said. Think well enough to think in terms of preserving a Gen they caught for the future, instead of killing right away. I only ever heard of one other Sime who thought that far in advance.
Masher: Yeah? What one?
Jardyce: The Tigon girl. The one who kept the family farm in the family for her brother, by getting rid of their uncle. That took planning.
Potter nods. He remembers that story.
Potter: How come all the smart Simes happen to you, Jardyce?
Jardyce: Guess it's just my bad luck.
Trempage: Plenty of smart Simes out there, if they get to grow up. They can organize armies and all kinds of things, I've noticed.
Barney: So anyway, this bunch today...?
Jardyce: They decided to keep me alive for a while. I was glad of that, let me tell you. One of 'em helped my foot a little.
Masher: Better sport if y' can run?
Jardyce: Or they just didn't want to have to leave me behind, if they had to run.
Potter: A walkin' larder, that's you.
Potter laughs, a bit nastily.
Potter: Just what y' always wanted t' be when y' grew up.
Trempage has pretty much decided that one of the Simes was, indeed, a channel, and Nick was her Companion, and that Jardyce was never in any danger, but he wasn't willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at the time.
Jardyce: Well, I tell you, I was sure glad when Trempage's rescue party showed up.
Barney: Yeah, Tremp. Tell us how y' tracked 'em.
Buckets notices that his role in all this adventure is being ignored.
Trempage: Followed his horse's tracks.
Trempage thinks it's pretty obvious. And you don't have to be much of a tracker to follow tracks in snow.
Potter: So then when y' found 'em?
Trempage: Sent that stranger Nick over to them to get Jardyce. Got him on the horse and left.
Potter frowns. Trempage is usually a much livelier storyteller than this.
Jardyce: Yeah, who was that guy, anyway? Never seen him before, but he sure seemed friendly with them Simes.
Trempage: Well, he's traveling with them. They sent him into town here to buy some supplies.
Buckets: His name's Nick. Talked like a big Simekiller, but I knew there was somethin' fishy about him.
Trempage: I think it's true that one of them Simes is a channel, and he must be her Companion.
Trempage: You notice he never said he killed Simes, just that he took care of them. He's one of those people Simes can't kill.
Jardyce: I always thought that was just a story.
Trempage: No, it's real. I saw that in the war.
Potter: So Jardyce was never in any danger? They was just gonna milk him, not kill him?
Trempage: Well, he wouldn't have known it. Would you believe a couple of Simes who had more or less trapped you?
Masher: Hell, no.
Jardyce: They didn't mention milking me at all.
Sockem: No milk fr'm a bull.
Sockem goes back to sleep.
Jardyce: To be fair, they did say they wasn't going to kill me. Of course, I assumed they just meant, right away.
Potter: So they just let you go? Not even a fight?
Jardyce: Well, would any sensible person fight when Trempage has a gun trained on him?
Trempage is generally known as an extraordinarily accurate shot.
Jardyce: They let me go -- and by doing so, lived to find another Gen to catch on another day. So all of you better be careful, when you're out alone.
Barney: 'S not too late. We c'n still go get 'em.
Barney grabs at his rifle and stands.
Trempage: Long gone by now, I'm sure. Besides, be dark soon.
Jardyce: And it's bad enough stalking a Sime in broad daylight, when you've got a chance to see 'em coming.
Barney: We've shot Simes in th' dark before. We got a duty. Gotta try.
Trempage: Them Simes aren't going to hurt nobody. Besides, you'll never catch up with them.
Masher: Drop it, Barney.
Masher is more frightened by the thought of Barney running around in the dark, in his current state, with his rifle, than of a whole pack of Simes. He figures the Simes, at least, you could stop by shooting them.
Jardyce decides with some regret that this story isn't going to earn him a third glass of rum.
Buckets is feeling increasingly left out, as nobody seems to want his side of the story. He still doesn't even have a drink in front of him.
Trempage notices this.
Trempage: Wasn't for Buckets, Jardyce would still be out there snuggling up to them Simes to stay warm.
Buckets gives Trempage a grateful look.
Buckets: Yeah. The rest of you were gonna just let Nick go looking for Jardyce all by his self.
Jardyce takes the hint, and signals Thumbs to get Buckets one on him.
Thumbs: What's your pleasure, Buckets?
Buckets: Hot rum.
Jardyce pulls out some coins to pay for it.
Buckets: It was horrible cold out there. Thanks, Jardyce.
Thumbs nods, makes the drink and pushes it towards Buckets.
Buckets: I could tell there was something off about that Nick. That's why I insisted on goin' along.
Jardyce: Strange sort of fellow, from what I saw of him.
Trempage: Man who can't be killed by Simes, that's pretty strange, I'd say.
Buckets: What kind o' man cuddles up to Simes? An' lets 'em milk him for a livin'?
Jardyce: I hope he makes 'em pay a lot for it, is all I can say.
Trempage: Well, got chores to do. Thanks for the drink, Potter.
Buckets: Y're goin', Tremp? Already?
Trempage ups and leaves.
Jardyce shakes his head.
Jardyce: It's gotta be one of the strangest things to happen here since that two-headed goat was born.
Sockem: Yeah. Two goated head.
Sockem lapses into gentle snores.
Jardyce: I have to say, it's a lot easier to understand a normal Sime.
Buckets: And a normal human. That Nick, didn' know horses, didn' know guns.
Potter: Who's t' say what's normal?
Jardyce: Didn't know how to shoot a gun? What was wrong with him?
Buckets: Dunno. But when Hairbrain got lamed, I offered t' let Nick use Treesa. Y'know, just in case. An' he held her like he didn' know her barrel from her trigger.
Jardyce: I didn't think there was any grown man who didn't know his way around a gun, even if he can't hit the side of a barn.
Buckets: He held her like he thought she was the Sime. I mean, like the way we think of Simes.
Buckets sobers as he remembers how the gun's namesake turned out.
Potter: If he's in good with Simes, what's he need a gun for? The Sime can take care of the wolves an' bears.
Jardyce: That's so. Nothing faster or stronger than a Sime, when they want to be.
Masher: Y' think they really wanted t' let y' go, Jardyce? Or was it just Tremp's gun that stopped 'em?
Jardyce: I'm sure the gun helped. So did the fact that even two Simes would have had a hard time keepin' four Gens prisoner. And all it'd take is for one of us to escape to carry the word back to town. They had to move on, and I couldn't have traveled far. They were smart, like I said. Why would they fight to keep a prisoner they couldn't keep anyway?
Potter: They coulda just drained y' an' left y'. Even if they wasn't int' killin'.
Jardyce: With a gun trained on 'em? Trempage knew what they were. He wasn't about to be lured close enough for them to jump him.
Potter: Yeah, okay. Maybe. But the whole thing seems weird.
Jardyce: Yeah. And I wish I'd been able to find out what they were doing there.
Masher: Why didn' ya ask? They musta had ya there for a while.
Jardyce: I was tryin' very hard to have them forget I was there. I figured that was the only chance I had.
Potter: How d'ya make a Sime forget you when you're squashed up next t' him in a pit trap?
Jardyce: You act real small, how else?
Masher: Huh? Whaddaya mean?
Jardyce: You fade into the background. Make them think that you're not going to give them any trouble at all. After a while, they start to ignore you.
Buckets: You mean, kinda like what I useta do when my dad...
Buckets trails off, aware that he almost slipped and said way too much.
Jardyce: Yeah. Like that.
Jardyce drains his glass and sets it down, then levers himself to his feet.
Jardyce: Now I'm warmed up, I'd better get some rest.
Buckets: Yeah, me too. Got two lame horses t' care for.
Buckets chugs the last of his drink and stands.
Jardyce: Help me down the street to my rooms?
Buckets: Sure thing, Jardyce.
Jardyce puts an arm around Buckets' shoulders, and limps towards the door.
Jardyce: Evening, boys.
Potter: G'd evenin'.
Sockem snores on.