"... so she says... she says 'Honey! This one's eating my popcorn!' haha!" Calvin was sure no one would get the joke, but at this point anyone still listening was too drunk to care. Herger said this would be a good way to make a personal impression on people, and boy was he right!
There were five of them, counting himself. The others were Herger, who was drinking out of an apparently bottomless drinking horn; Gormr, a Hunting Person who turned hides into leather goods; Styrmir, a Farming Person, who was purple, if you could believe it; and Kolli, a yellow-skinned Farming Person and goat herd (and having seen the goats they had around here, Calvin was impressed.) Styrmir was passing mead around, refilling everyone’s cups as soon as they emptied.
They’d gathered around the central fire pit in the long house used by those villagers who were to old to live with their parents, but who hadn’t started families of their own. It was also a coed dorm, which Calvin figured was a subtle way to encourage finding a suitable husband or wife and settling down. They’d come here to drink because it was the place least likely to be disturbed by their antics.
So now they were all feeling pretty good (mead didn’t look like much, but boy, did it sneak up on you!) and had reached the point where just about anything anyone said brought about gales of laughter.
“Wait, wait...” Kolli waved a yellow hand in the air (And it wasn’t the ‘yellow’ of an Asian, it was yellow is in, well, yellow. The Farming People were like a box of Crayola crayons brought to life.) “Calvin, you know jokes... but how good are you at riddles?”
The question brought a chorus of knowing assent, as the other three looked at him.
"Riddles, eh?" Calvin looked contemplative, unsure if he should be sober for this, or more drunk. "Ah, to heck with it." he said, draining the rest of his drink and motioning for more. "I'm okay, I guess. And It's not like I haven't made a fool of myself already!"
Grinning like a madman, Styrmir refilled his cup as Herger, Gormr, and Kolli leaned their heads together. Calvin had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at the way Herger's and Gormr's ears flicked back and forth. It was like some sort of strange semaphore. Finally the parted with Herger and Gormr nudging Kolli.
"Okay," the yellow man said as he stood, "On the way a home from the mountains, I witnessed a miracle: water become bone. What am I?" He crossed his arms over his chest, and looked down at Calvin, as the other three villagers are leaned in.
Thinking for a long moment, Cal couldn't help but notice everyone's attention fixated on him. It seemed as much that they were testing him as they were goofing around. A tough question to be sure, but it soon came to him. After a long pause, he took a quick sip of mead. “Ice?”
While Kolli looked a little crestfallen, Herger and the rest laughed uproariously, and cheered him on. "Now, it's your turn," Gormr nodded.
Calvin looked smug. This should be an easy one. "I run, but do not walk. I have a mouth, but do not speak. I'm never where you left me. What am I?"
Still standing, Kolli took chin in hand and furrowed his brow. Herger and Gormr leaned together and whispered, both nodding as they separated. “A river,” Kolli declared, as Styrmir quickly looked to Calvin.
"Well met, good sir!" he said, raising his cup in salute to the yellow goat herd.
“My turn,” Gormr stated, then paused to take a drink. Leaning back, he closed his eyes before reciting: “Wob’s my name if you work it out; I'm a fair creature fashioned for the hunt. When I bend and shoot my deadly shaft from my stomach, I desire only to send that poison as far away as possible. When my master, who devised this torment for me, releases my limbs, I become longer and, bent upon slaughter, spit out that deadly poison I swallowed before. No man's parted easily from the object I describe; if he's struck by what flies from my stomach, he pays for its poison with his strength—speedy atonement for his life. I'll serve no master when unstrung, only when I'm cunningly nocked. Now guess my name.”
Calvin leaned back where he sat, nearly falling over. The mead was catching up to him. "Poetic. Would that be a bow?"
“Aye, that is is.” Gormr leaned forward and shook his head, white hair falling into his eyes. Herger slapped him on the shoulder, “‘Wob’s my name?’ You practically told him what it is!”
“You do better, then,” the Hunting Person replied.
“Hmmmm...” Herger seemed lost in thought. Then he smiled, showing a mouthful of pointed teeth. “Try this one then, Little Brother: A strange thing hangs by man's hip, hidden by a garment. It has a hole in its head. It is stiff and strong and its firm bearing reaps a reward. When the man hitches his clothing high above his knee, he wants the head of that hanging thing to find the old hole that it, outstretched, has often filled before!”
A long pause as Calvin arched an eyebrow. They may have stumped him on this one. He sat pensively, finishing off his drink once more. Then it hit him. "A belt?"
As Herger cocked and eyebrow, Styrmir made a hole with his thumb and finger and then waggled the index finger of his other hand within the opening, “A belt he says.” This sent the four off into intoxicated laughter which finally ended with a collective wiping of eyes. “So,” Herger asked his fellows, “shall we let him try again?”
“Only if he promises to give an answer as good as his last!” Styrmir leaned forward to fill Calvin cup. “C’mon, Little Brother, try again.”
Calvin's face went bright red at the realization. He hoped no one would notice in the dim light. "You're not talking about a man's dangly bits, are ya?"
That sent them all off into another round of laughter. They were as bad as a bunch of frat boys on a Saturday night bender! Finally, wiping his eyes, Herger set his drinking horn down and fumbled at his belt. “No, no. no. I’ll show you....”
Calvin was just about to say ‘no, it’s all right, you don’t need to demonstrate’ when Herger produced a length of metal. “It’s a key, Little Brother.” Imitating Styrmir’s motion from a moment ago, he mimed putting into a lock and turning it. “Goes to my tool chest.”
“I’d rather the key to yer wife’s chest.” Gromr stated. There was a pause, and then everyone broke up laughing.
Wheezing with the effort of trying to breathe, Styrmir waved at Calvin. “Your turn.”
Holding his face in his hand, Calvin tried to compose himself. These guys were a trip and he hadn't laughed this hard in ages. "Alright, I got one. A spirited jig it dances bright. Banishing all but darkest night. Feed it well and it lives on. Give it water and it shall be gone."
Herger scratched his head and stared at the ceiling, hemming and hawing until Calvin realized he was simply dragging things out for dramatic effect. Finally, he leaned down, picked up a length of wood and tossed it into the fire pit. “Well?” he asked, “Am I right?”
"Aye!" Calvin was definitely feeling the effects of the mead at this point.
Now me,” Styrmir announced. “Favored by men, I am found far and wide, taken from woods and the heights of the village, from high and from low. During each day bees brought me through the bright sky skillfully home to a shelter. Soon after that I was taken by men and bathed in a tub. Now I blind them and chasten them, and cast a young man at once to the ground, and sometimes an old one too. He who struggles against my strength, he who dares grapple with me, discovers immediately that he will hit the hard floor with his back if he persists with such stupidity. Deprived of his strength and strangely loquacious, he’s a fool, who rules neither his mind nor his hands nor his feet. Now ask me, my friends, who knocks young men stupid, and as his slave binds them in broad waking daylight? Yes ask me my name.”
Taking a long gulp from his cup, Calvin was sure about this one at least. "I've got it!" he said as he fell backward off his stool. Laughing at himself as he sat up, he gave a sheepish grin and said "Mead!"
"Of course!" cried Kolli, Gromr, and Herger, while Styrmir looked slightly crestfallen. He then brightened and poured his cup over Calvin's head. "An anointment for your victory!" Stepping back, he gave a slight bow and a sweeping gesture. "Now, once again, it is your turn."
Calvin tried to stand but quickly gave up. The mead had done it's work, he figured. "Alright, I got one more. What has... what has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three by nightfall?"
Styrmir looked behind him, but found no help from that quarter. He scratched his head and made walking motions with his fingers. “A man,” he answered finally with a grin.
"Nay sir! The stool I 'fixed' this morning!" Another bout of laughter filled the longhouse, as Calvin, again, tried to pry himself from the ground, unsuccessfully. About this time he remembered the piece of paper he neglected to give Herger earlier that evening.
“I fear you’ve had enough, Little Brother.” Herger hosted him up with a laugh. “And I fear you’ll know the riddle of mead by heart come the morning.”
"Yeah, you're probably right." he agreed, giggling at himself. "I almos' forgot. Here's a lil' something for you." his words slurred as he handed the paper to Herger. On it was a collection of various patterns and motifs, including labyrinthine Greek tiles, some Asian patterns, and even Celtic knots. "Thought these might be good to spice up your work for harvest time. Saw 'em in a book once, thought they were cool."
In taking the paper, Herger forgot to hold on to Calvin, resulting in his dropping to the ground. Styrmir helped him regain his feet as Herger stared at the sheet of drawings. “Well, now you’ve done it,” the purple man laughed. “I’ll bet he starts a new chest come the morning.”
“I say we call the riddle contest a draw,” Kolli supplied, grabbing Calvin's other arm, while Gormr nudged Herger into realizing it was time to go. “Next time we’ll ask you the hard ones.”
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