The Strongest Feller Around, Pt. 3

The first little village that we stopped at was called Whiteriver, and there wasn’t much to it at all. It was smaller even than Quail’s Leap, and where the citizens of that town had regarded me with caution, the people of Whiteriver seemed to be downright suspicious of Enrico Enrici’s troupe. IT was strange, I thought, for humans to distrust each other so much. If they had seen me without my coverings, I would have understood it. Even with my coverings, I can imagine that there’s something unsettling about a large man with a deep voice wrapped up so you can’t tell anything about what he looks like. But Enrico Enrici and his family looked just like any other human I’d ever seen. When I watched them speak with the townsfolk, they were a bit darker, their features ever so slightly different, but what did it matter? A dog is a dog, even if one has white fur with brown spots and the other has brown fur with white spots.

The town was so small that it didn’t even have a proper mayor. Instead, Enrico spoke with some of the older men and women of the village, and rather than presenting himself and his companions as performers, he said that they were refugees escaping persecution back in Fieri. Which was true enough, I suppose, but it surprised that Enrico opted to discuss this fact so freely with people he barely knew. Instead of asking for a central location in Whiteriver to set up a stage, he asked if there was someplace nearby where he and his traveling companions could set-up their tents for the night, stressing again and again that surely they would not be around for more than a day or two.

I confronted Enrico about his seeming deference to the elders of Whiteriver. Enrico didn’t strike me as the kind of man to humble himself before anyone that didn’t have a weapon drawn on him. “It’s about knowing your audience, Tusk,” he said. “In a small town like this, the people do not trust outsiders. They view themselves as quiet, honest people who don’t need the distraction and the trouble that outsiders bring. If they wanted more adventure and excitement in their lives, they would leave for the big city, no? Or at least for a more impressive village.

“When it comes to getting the coin of a town like Whiteriver, there is an old saying my father taught me: ‘You won’t.’” Enrico laughed at that. “They don’t have much money, and they don’t see the sense in spending it on entertainment. They need that money for tools, for livestock, for the settling of debts. Why, I doubt these people even know how to spend their money to have a good time! No, the people of Whiteriver will not pay us, mark my words, for that is not their way. What they will do instead,” Enrico said, letting a smile slowly play across his lips, “is feed us. That is their way. They are not friendly, but they are polite. They are not spendthrifts, but they are generous. We won’t put on a show for them. Instead, we’ll just go about our business, playing up our foreign and exotic charm, and they will come to us. You’ll see.”

We set up the carts and the tents in the field that the elders pointed out to us, set the animals to pasture, and I watched as the others went about their business. A good number of them went back to the village and began interacting with the people of Whiteriver. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, instead busying myself with physical labor around the camp, but then I thought about Enrico’s answer and began seeing the reasoning behind who went to do what. It was the prettiest (as far as humans can be said to be pretty) and frailest women who went into town seeking help with their chores, and it was the strongest (without being so stout as to be intimidating) men who ventured forth seeking to help the people of Whiteriver with their own matters. I asked Enrico if I should go with the men, but he insisted that I not. “This is not the place for your abilities, Tusk. The people of Whiteriver will take one look at you, and they will begin asking too many questions.” He smiled at me. “Save it for another village, a bigger one, where the people think they are smarter than they truly are. Where they do not ask questions, because they foolishly believe they know all the answers.”

I grunted my disapproval, but I did as Enrico asked. Still, I wasn’t happy. Part of the point of me coming along was to have an outlet for my skills, to meet new people to test them against. I could be useful in the camp, certainly, but that wasn’t what I had been promised.

Time passed quickly, it seemed. Someone played a stringed instrument like a lute but with a wider body. The older members of the troupe told stories and jokes I’d already heard them tell just in my few days of traveling alongside them. Men and women cleaned, delicately rearranging everything so that even a stray shirt that looked carelessly tossed aside was in fact deliberately placed. And then a few of the younger members of the troupe began returning from their chores, the people of Whiteriver in tow.

I chuckled to myself once I realized what Enrico was doing. The people of Whiteriver would likely never come to the camp on their own, but if they happened to approach it by “chance,” a scene unlike any they’d seen before would be awaiting them. An entire culture had been picked up and set down in their own backyard. Strange sounds and smells filled the air, and the people were playing music and doing dances unlike anything the folk of Whiteriver had ever seen. I watched as a young girl asked one of the pale Whiteriver boys if he liked to dance in her accented, broken tongue. The boy said nothing, but I could tell from the look on his face that even if he didn’t like to dance, he would very much like to dance with her.

Some villagers came and some returned to their homes with the promise of bringing their friends with them (and indeed, many did.) The hours grew on and the sun sank low in the sky, and as members of the troupe began to light lanterns and tend to the fires upon which they’d cook their suppers, more Whiteriver folks came with fresh bread and cured meats and even a freshly slaughtered hog. As suspicious as they may have been when the troupe first arrived, now they were as joyous and merry as if it were a harvest festival. The drink flowed and the food was plentiful, and the people of Whiteriver danced just as hard as the troupe, played their own instruments alongside the strange Fieran ones. I watched from a distance, but that was fine by me. I didn’t have much interest in dancing or listening to the music, but watching the humans was alright in its own way. It reminded me of the little green guys back at the wizard’s tower. At the end of the day, there was something kind of peaceful about all the noise. Reassuring, almost. If you give a dog a bone, he’s going to chew on it. If you sneak up on deer, they’re going to run. And if you give humans food and drink, they’re going to find an excuse to dance and laugh and do whatever else it is that humans do.

“Do you see?” I heard Enrico’s voice behind me. “If we had set up a stage, none of them would have come. But if we bring our acts to them, then they become performers and entertainers to.”

“I see,” I said. I did. That’s why I didn’t turn around. I was too busy seeing.

“We will leave tomorrow, I imagine. If we leave early, we will be in Glimmerton by nightfall.”

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