Medievia Mudslinger

December 28th, 2002

He Knows Who Has Been Naughty - By Rapscallion

"Youíre looking rough."

Rapscallion glowered across the bar to see Griselda, holder of the sacred Bar Tab of Terror, Doom and Spiky Bits. "Thanks."

"I donít mean in the normal sense of roughness, more in the sense of worse than usual." Griselda paused in the act of wiping a dusty bottle of liquor from an obscure climate. "Youíre not still undead are you? You know I have opinions about that.."

"Hardly. I remember what you did last time. Scruff still had cold cuts of me a week later." Rapscallion shuddered and took another drink, hoping to wash the memory away. "I canít rotate my head all the way round, not unless a newbie challenges me to arm wrestling again. Even then I had assistance."

Griseldaís expression suggested that she was keeping an open mind about the validity of his claim, but she appeared willing to let it lie. "What happened?"

Rapscallion grunted and took another drink. He knew where he was with ale. It didnít fight back, nor did it complain too much. It made the world feel warmer for a while and didnít burn the place down. Well, unless he fumbled a fireball spell while showing off, of course..

"It all started with the forthcoming festivities," he began, eyeing the paper chains and glittering ornaments with distaste. "I was just having a drink in the Altruistica, sort of a between-binge quaff you understand, and this guy comes in.

"Not just any guy - he had this jolly red suit and huge, white beard..

"Ho ho ho."

Rapscallion looked up in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"

"Donít mind me - itís just a reflex action by now," the old man in the red suit said. He shrugged. "Just part of my chores, you see."

"What chores?" Rapscallion asked, realizing the trap too late.

"Very generous of you, Iím sure," the bearded man said. "Tankard of ale, not too skimpy on the froth. Thank you very much."

Another day, another increment on the bar tab, Rapscallion mused. He nodded to the barkeep who obligingly produced a fresh drink. It wouldnít have been so bad if it had been someone he knew, Rapscallion mused. There was one way to rectify that, though, and maybe get some recompense.

"So, new to these parts?" Rapscallion hazarded. Get friendly and turn them around.

"I pass through once a year or so. Decent ale here. Any mince pies?"

"No bar food, not since I invited a few zombies back for a midnight feast. So, youíre a vagrant, eh?"

"Vagrant? Ho ho ho. Darn, must stop that. Iím off duty right now. No, I go around checking on people every year, rewarding the good and punishing the people who have been naughty - sorry is there a problem?" The old man patted Rapscallion on the back until he stopped spluttering.

"Er, no. Not really. Er, just how naughty do you mean?" Rapscallion asked cautiously.

"You know, being mean and unpleasant to people for no real reason, not helping when you could, singing too loudly at night with very dubious lyrics. That sort of thing."

'Iím doomed,' Rapscallion thought. "Er, are you very busy right now?" he asked slowly.

"Well, there are certainly a few naughty people around here, but there are a lot of nice ones as well. Iím awarding to both good and bad. Ho ho ho. Darn that phrase - my wife left me over it. Canít say that I blame her. I'll get this round - what are you having?"

Rapscallion straightened up. Never one to look a gift drink in the price, he said, "Bottle of Firebreather if you would be so good." Maybe if he was numb then he wouldnít feel the punishment so much. This guy must be staff. It would account for the dress. Tales abounded of the expense accounts afforded to them, and even if only a fraction of that were true then he may be able to milk it for a few more bottles before the inevitable.

The drinks arrived and Rapscallion decided that it was time to do some groundwork. "Do you enjoy your work?"

"Very seasonal. I have to fill in for the Town Crier in the summer months. Heís been taking more and more breaks very year - I think itís his age. Still, it makes ends meet." The red-suited figure stared into his mug for a while.

"Iíve been good," Rapscallion told him. The man looked up and appeared slightly surprised. "I mean it. Iíve shown lots of newbies how to find the taverns for the autoquests."

"Thatís rather nice of you. Ho ho ho," the stranger said. He reached into his wide, leather belt and pulled out a scrap of paper. Rapscallion gulped. "According to records, you owe lots in each of them, even those in unopened zones. Impressive."

"Er, just making sure that they work," Rapscallion protested. That familiar sinking feeling was back and making itself known.

"My word, but youíre not sitting on my lap," the stranger said. "Have you seen this list? Demanding drinks with menaces, threatening death by filk, getting beaten up by janitors.. this is really a very naughty list." For a moment the man appeared about to say ĎHo ho hoí but held it back with an effort.

"What does that mean?" Rapscallion asked nervously.

"What did it mean?" Griselda asked, spellbound by the tale.

"A lump of coal," Rapscallion replied.

"And that put you into that state?" she asked in surprise. "I mean, it stains clothes and all that, but youíre.."

"He seemed to think that Iíd been really naughty and deserved a Ďspecialí lump of coal. It weighed about three tons or so and itís keeping a sizable portion of the Mageís Quarter in fuel this winter." Rapscallion peered into his empty tankard meaningfully and Griselda obligingly refilled it.

"And then you came here to drown your sorrows," she said, looking around her Holosection tavern."

"Not directly," Rapscallion replied with a savage grin. "See, I went to the stables first and found his transport - a sleigh drawn by reindeer of all things. How silly is that? We donít get much snow around here.. Anyway, the old git came out, saying ĎHo ho ho darní for all he was worth, but by that time Iíd managed to make his lead reindeer drink that bottle of Firebreather. He took to it like a fish takes to swimming, even ending up with a red nose."

"And then?"

"I hid in the shadows, and as the old fool sat down I whipped out a staff of quickness and shoved it into the lead reindeerís.. harness," Rapscallion said, catching Griseldaís look. "It will be about the right time now. Watch this." Rapscallion strode to the window and peered out through the frost.

In the inky darkness above, a glittering white streak burned its way across the heavens. Rapscallion squinted and could just make out the red tip at the very head of the comet. "There he goes, again," he muttered.

"I donít believe a word of it," Griselda breathed, "but the next drink is on the house for the story."

And that, boys and girls, is how legends start.

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