Evidence in Defense of the Argument
for Roberick Bertrum Litte's Mental Instability,
the Danger to Himself as well as Others,
& His Blatant Disregard for University Procedure
The following is a
[The main hall at Janskurf's Place, approximately twenty-five talecks before midnight]
Man #1: So did you hear about what happened to Pellesh?
Man #2: What'd that old jackass do this time?
Man #1: Got himself taken prisoner over at Riven-Bridge.
Man #2: Really? Independent side, or ours?
Man #1: Indep.
Man #2: Hell. That's a bad deal. Why can't those bastards stay on their own side? Isn't that what they've always wanted? I wish Deneroth would just raise an army to crush them and reunite that whole mess one of these days.
[Murmurs of "here, here!" and knocks of mugs upon the bar and tabletops resound. A few pieces of clay break.]
Man #1: According to them, they were on their side. Said Pellesh was trespassing on their bridge. He was walking alone when some guards must've seen him wearing the wrong trading permit and nabbed him. Tir and his boys saw that from the other end and skipped town. Headed south down the river after hitching a ride on a raft.
Man #2: What, with one of those drop-heads? [Shuddering sound] Those people give me the creeps. Better than getting caught by Indep churls, I guess. Not by much though. I take it you heard all this from Tir?
Man #1: Yeah. They came back west after that, and I met them south of the Corridor. Said they were gonna try to send the coin to ransom him with. Otherwise he's got a year locked up there to learn all about bridges and bull-
Litte: [Surrounded by a half-dozen emptied mugs] There are only two bridges.
Men #1&2: What?
Litte: The bridges around the town. There are only two.
Man #2: Who the hell is this nosy ass?
Man #1: Just some drunk, doesn't know what he's talking about. Just ignore him.
Litte: The north belongs to the Royalists, the south to the Independents. Your friends tried to cross on the south side, which is why he was de- [hiccup] detained and the others were able to get to one of the Riverfolk vessels. They only tether or dock on the banks south of or underneath [nauseated burping sound] town.
Man #1: ... Your point being? Pellesh must've used that bridge countless times before and it never got him in trouble.
Litte: It's one of the most basic tenants of trading in the east, and both sides of the river consider it with grave seriousness. Either your friend didn't care, or he is an idiot. In either case, he finally got caught. A couple of Royals--no less stern of statutes--would have done the same on the opposite side of things. Little reason for you two to get so worked up over it.
Man #1: [Standing up] What gives you the right to insult one of our friends, you dress-wearing milksop?
Man #2: Yeah! ... No matter how true those insults might be.
Man #1: Shut the hell up, Baryl. Who are you?
Litte: My name is Roberick, and it's not a dress. It's a robe. There's a clear difference. [Hiccup]
Man #2 (Apparently Baryl): Lookit his chest, Orhen. He's got one've those walled-up belfries on it. He's from the University.
Man #1 (Apparently Orhen): I thought I smelled a damned book-rat when I walked in here. But I don't see a fancy department crest or one of those idiotic number ranks emblazoned anywhere on you. You must be one of those weaselly freshmen sent all the way down here for hazing. Is that it? You taking a break from kissing up to your saint long enough to wash the taste of his dusty old bones out of your mouth?
Litte: [Now smiling] Ooh, "book-rat". I like that. I'll have to save that for a later piece. In any case I am sorry to disappoint you, but no. I actually happen to be a dropout.
Baryl: [Scoffing] A dropout? The only thing worse than a know-it-all is a failed know-it-all.
Litte: True as that may be, I still happen to be correct.
Orhen: Horse shit. I bet you've never even set foot at Riven-Bridge.
Litte: No, I haven't. But I've read people who have.
Orhen: So you take the word of strangers? What's so special about that?
Litte: I take the reasoned, carefully put-together and peer-reviewed word of reputable people. Case in point, the comparison between similarities in jurisprudence between both opposed camps of Riven- [particularly throaty hiccup] Bridge occupies chapter 14 of the "Tales along the River Khesh" compilation gathered together and edited by the Cousins Sallal thirty-four years ago, including interviews with permanent and temporary denizens of Riven-Bridge such as a former Master of the Trade Quarter, Tezer Benj.
[A long beat of silence]
Baryl: ... My Great-Uncle Tez got published?
[A particularly long beat of silence which gives my pen a chance to catch up]
Orhen: [Moving much closer to Litte] Alright, book man. So you've memorized the things that bigger and better men than you have accomplished. What does that leave you with? Huh? By what right do you mock others?
Litte: Well considering my track record up to this point, it's probably the beer plus the meddling of a bored magician.
Orhen: So you think you're funny? Well I don't see a jester. All I see in front of me is an uppity little rat from that anthill of a city, looking to stroke his own ego lecturing anyone he deems dumber than himself.
[The crowd parts slightly, and
Ciudo: Associate Undergraduate Roberick, sir, do you need some kind of help with these men? I might know a lot of dead languages, but surely the language of peace is still alive an-
Orhen: [Without looking away from Litte] Piss off, whelp!
Ciudo: [Quickly retreating again] O-O-Okay, hiding under a table now...!
Baryl: Maybe you should lay off of him now, Orhen. He's not the only one who's been drinking.
Litte: It's fine, I probably have this coming for one reason or another.
Orhen: You just like to dig yourself deeper and deeper, don't you?
Baryl: [Turning away] Alright, it's your funeral...
[Litte proceeds to roll up the sleeves of his robe]
Orhen: Honestly? If it's a fight you wanted, you could have just asked me. Or thrown a mug at my head like any decent person wo-
[Litte finishes rolling up his grey and white-trimmed sleeves, only to extend both arms with hands loose and opened. He rotates both arms to most clearly show off what appears to be a series of massive, blotchy scars across the upper forearms. His right elbow is similarly marked, being completely engulfed in damaged tissue. They are dark, sunken, and severe-looking despite their apparent age. In places, they barely seem like dead skin is covering bare bone. Orhen looks put-off by the sight, and steps back.]
Orhen: What... what the hell are those? Are they contagious?!
Litte: Oh come now, they're only burns. You can't get sick from someone's scar, friend. They're even worse on my feet, if you'd like to see?
[Litte lifts a leg up as if to offer. I begin to understand now why he always wears socks.]
Orhen: No! No, I don't. What did that to you?
Litte: Fire-walking. Or, well. Fire-falling. A collapsing animal burrow sort of botched the ceremony when I'd gotten halfway across. I was told the odd color is because my flesh was actually imbued with some of the charcoal ashes. It was a strange southern tree with many properties to begin with, so I don't doubt it.
Orhen: South? Did you say you were in the south?
Litte: Hm? Oh, yes. But farther south than the south you're thinking of, I'd wager.
Orhen : [Squinting hard at Litte] ... Taqnal Commune?*
(Taqnal Commune is the southeastern-most province of the P.A.S.C.O.P.P.Y. It is closest to the River Deltas and the eastern sea, and is therefore the eventual destination for far-flung traders in the world. Our expedition will not be traveling quite so far, being destined for north-central Am'reto.)
Litte: Taqnal Commune! Oh, that place was a delight. The melange of words in those markets would give Ciudo need for a change of undergarments.
Ciudo: [From somewhere] Still hiding!
Litte: No, friend. I've seen south of Taqnal. That was just my last stop before the real journey began. I'm not sure exactly how far south, because I lost track after the first hundred leagues or so. But I went far beyond that too. I didn't stop until I saw the Transpashel Coastal Plain.
Orhen: Bullshit! Only mad Nambarish sailors go that way, bringing back stories of...
[There is no interruption here. He seems to deliberately trail off from what he was about to say, in keeping with good decorum. More people than just the immediate traders surrounding them seem to be aware of them now.]
Orhen: Oh don't play dumb, book-rat.
Litte: Dumb about what?
Orhen: You know what.
Litte: Say it.
Orhen: I don't need to say it!
Litte: SAY AURIKH!
[Dead silence across the entire hall. Baryl sputters his drink and coughs into an arm.]
Litte: [Gesticulating wildly, growing red in the face] Just say it! Only mad Nambarish sailors go that way, bringing back stories of aurikhs! Stooped, grey-green, copper-clad, bald-headed, and empire-Rupturing aurikhs! The ten thousand tribes from the bowels of the underworld, bane of the Haraalians, all that kind of thing! The vast stretch of world that we happily ignore the existence of! Only mad sailors and me go there! Gods, man! You talk like you've seen the world--like you've seen shit--but then when the littlest genuine discomfort comes along, you clam up like a simpering University freshman! The professors can't hear us out here, I assure you!
[The silence deepens. Also, I take offense to that freshman comment.]
Litte: I've gone there, I've weathered the elements, I've looked past the centuries of horror stories and red tape, and I've found a people with more integrity than a hundred successor cities! A people I didn't just want to study, but to know. A people I risked life and limb walking across a stretch of flaming earth just to prove myself to!
[Orhen is still at a loss for words. A few murmurs stir amid the crowd. They are not very friendly. More travelers stand up. The meadhall workers have pressed against the far walls by now. I begin to wonder if I should run for the doors now while there is time.]
Litte: [Raising his arms up again] ... Obviously I fell over in the attempt, but what is important is-
[Elrusyo appears suddenly, clasping his hands over Litte's shoulders and offering a laugh like he's salvaging a punchline. When the hell did he get here? When the hell had he left?]
Elrusyo: Yes, friend, you fell over! Just like you'll fall over here if you don't go and have yourself a lay-down, you drunk bastard! I'm so sorry folks; I warned him not to drink too much! He always gets like this, please forgive his fantastical outburst. Oh, and Poortz to all you ladies and gentlemen! Just put the drinks on my tab! Now anyway... Stitch Boy, Reed-Neck! Party's over! Gert! Stop writing!
[Elrusyo drags a stumbling Litte away while quieting or muffling him. My colleagues quickly follow suit. I must end my log here for now.]