For my muse, Robin...
And my hero, Giacamo...
The Story of My Life
from the pen of
in the year 4798
In a cave in a hill there lived a hole-biter. This was, of course, not just any cave because this was not just any hole-biter. This was the cave of S__ G_____ and that meant it was luxurious.
Master G_____ had inherited the cave from the previous owner, a notable recluse and bachelor named B______ with whom Master G_____ had wandered abroad during the dying years of the Thirty Centuries War. Master G_____ had returned much in his older friend’s confidence and been given the run of the house – a shocking situation to much of the County given G_____’s previous status as a servant. As the older gentlebiter grew frailer, G_____ was made his heir and came into surpassing wealth. He promptly used this wealth to marry a buxom tavern wench and begin breeding like the rabbits humans often compare us to.
I have reason to believe that Master G_____ was my natural father. Given his advanced age during my childhood, it would normally be more natural to assume that he was my father’s father – or, I suppose, most hole-biters would more generously accept that his patronage of my family was the act of Sacrificial charity that it was advertised as in Biterburg. I might even do so myself – in my wanderings across the Midworld, I have encountered stray examples of selflessness and genuine religious feeling – but in the case of Master G_____, I recollect many a knowing glance between the fine fellow and my mother, many a sunny afternoon when I and my siblings played in the gardens of the Big Cave while my mother and Master G_____ stayed within, and – of course – the time when I snuck into the old rascal’s library and found him groaning underneath her in that comfortable overstuffed chair he loved.
(If this had been my first encounter with the carnal act, I might have been appalled… but it was not, and every day I give thanks to the Powers that I was not turned away from that quest for love and pleasure that has been the defining element of my life.)
In any case, it is a known fact that Master G_____ returned to some of his rougher ways after the passing of his buxom bar wench wife after many years of marriage and many children. He returned to frequenting the old Emerald Wyvern and drinking and singing in the company of his snub-nosed young gardener and his sub-nosed young gardener’s young friends. He was known to encourage his snub-nosed young gardener’s amorous pursuit of a laughing, wry-witted buxom tavern wench and even gifted the young couple with a bright and airy new house in the human style – the New House from which my surname is derived.
(I can imagine them now, courting by proxy, the old, sparkle-eyed gentlebiter and the young, wild-eyed barmaid, exchanging knowing looks over the head of that vapid laborer. When last I saw my mother – oh so many decades ago – she had lost none of the vivacity and little of the pleasing plumpness that must have entranced the old hole-biter. I wonder whatever happened to her? I hope that she and my siblings lived long and happy lives without me, for I have certainly lived a long and happy life without them.)
I was not born with a snub nose, but with the rather more bulbous shape we hole-biters call a “potato pusher.” It is similar enough to the snub shape that it might be seen as the result of the mixed blood of my father-in-name and my rather earthy mother, but it also bore a resemblance to Master G_____’s nose that more than one of his late bachelor friend benefactor’s poor relations pointedly remarked upon in my presence. The resemblance, in fact, made me surprisingly popular amongst bachelor B______’ relations; I am sure they courted my company despite my low standing to bite their thumbs at Master G_____’s numerous children and grandchildren who has inherited the Big Cave and the wealth that should have been theirs. I did not mind this even after I realized their motives as this allowed me entrance to gentle society that would have been denied a gardener’s son. Indeed, it allowed me early experience in the carnal act in far more luxurious surroundings than I might have expected otherwise (certainly far better than the hayloft where the eldest of my brothers met his wife) and prevented me from a terrible shock that might have driven me into the priesthood or some other terrifying, celibate lifestyle.
(One shudders at the thought!)
My education in the arts of love began when I was twenty summers of age under circumstances scandalous and salacious. As I tire of all these dashes across the page, I shall instead preserve my conqueresses’ modesty through the use of pseudonyms – a practice I expect I shall have to resort to many, many times in this narrative. I fear this may lead some scholars to treat my recollections as merest fiction; to them I offer my pity.
When Master B______ chose to leave his home and fortune to Master G_____, he did so by disinheriting a clan of cousins I shall call the Clarettons because I am excessively fond or wordplay and wine (and have perhaps had too much of the latter on this cold winter eve). The Clarettons were, like the B______s, an old and monied family – just less old and less monied than the B______s.
(I must here digress to say that I am unsure how the great hole-biter families came to their wealth and greatness. I have often been asked by curious humans and dwarfs how it is that such a pacific and unconfrontational people as the hole-biters could have a gentry when their own came into being based on ancient traditions of force of arms – the ones with swords and axes bullied the ones who did not into paying them to protect them from goblins and not burn down their farms. I must assume that somewhere in the mists of time there existed a fleeting moment when the first settlers of the County bullied the newer settlers from over the river into paying them a tithe for the use of lands they claimed. Given that my people have never had much in the way of swords, I conjecture they must have stoned a few of the new immigrants to death instead. I am continually amazed by the common people’s readiness to accept such extortion.)
As was, the Clarettons had fallen into some infamy in recent years. During the Occupation in the last years of the War, a certain branch of the Clarettons had collaborated with the occupying forces, staining the entire family with their perfidy despite the gallant efforts of other branches during the Uprising. The hole-biters of Master G_____’s generation were far too eager to return to their dull and tidy lives to allow for vengeance on the surviving Clarettons, and so the family retained their wealth and privilege after the Uprising. This leant the Claretton name an aspect of danger and darkness without a reduction in social standing that of course resulted in a very popular notoriety a few generations later.
Which is a very long way about of saying that I found the attentions of the Clarettons quite flattering given my humble station.
It cannot be imagine that the intimate relation between the residents of New House and the Big Cave extended itself into any formal recognition or any such financial assistance as would be beyond the master/servant relation or outside Sacrificial charity. My father was paid a steady but not generous wage, we were given the hand-me-downs of Master G_____’s children and grand-children (cracked porcelain, chipped silver, unfashionable clothes), and we were given letters of recommendation to apprentice ourselves to one craftsman or another. Master G_____ was similarly generous with many of his tenants’ and servants’ families; we were blessed that he had such a wealth of family or our lives might have been far less comfortable. Certainly, I can perceive now that he spooned upon us some small modicum of extra favor, but I was ignorant of any such interest until after my twentieth summer.
The events leading to my seduction began with the Winter Sacrifice. Upon this night, it was the old scoundrel’s habit to open the doors of the Big Cave to all his family, servants, and tenants for a great party in the old B______ tradition. The great stone walls were polished to mirrorshine, sideboards and tables were laden with salty cheeses and dried fruits and smoked meats, all the fireplaces were set to blazing, and gifts were bestowed on family and followers. They were glorious, glorious nights and even now I can see them with the eye of innocence.
It will be very hard for those who know my reputation to imagine that I was ever innocent, ever pure, ever chaste. It is my curse that I delight in pleasing others and in those bygone days, it pleased my mother and natural father to appear to them as Sacrificial as the fading memory of Master B______.
(I was not, in truth, so pure or chaste as I appeared. I suppose I could have started the memories of my amative life with the books I found in the old gentlebiter’s library: the manual of monster-slaying that depicted the saucy succubus, bare-breasted nymph, and haunting dryad; the illustrated tales of the Powers in their youth, before the Dark One brought shame to the world and the First Star was clothed in naught but her light; the illustrated travelogues with the naked tribeswomen of the southern jungles and the salacious seraglios of the east. Yes, I suppose I should have started with the books for they formed in me not only queer longings for I knew not what but also an appetite for miscegenation that has led me into some strange embraces.)
(Nor should I ignore that thrilling shock I felt at the difference between the sexes when I discovered a young cousin in the garderobe at a very tender age.)
(Neither nor should I ignore the erection I bloomed at a slightly less tender age imitating the grinding gate of one of my mother’s sister barmaids when I was left in her care at the Emerald Wyvern. I had not the slightest idea what to do with myself though she was very handy at relieving my discomfort.)
Anyroad, in those long-lost days I was an innocent. I attended upon the sermons when we went to temple, I sang in the choir, I even had some dream of becoming a priest myself. On that chilly Winter Sacrifice eve, I stood in the midst of the gathered hole-biters great and small and sang the Aamutähden:
First light, long-needed light!Star that startles darkness!Come carry away our weal and woe!Star that startles darkness!
Warbling along, I found myself distracted by a pair of pairs of sultry, dark eyes and nearly skipped a verse. The Claretton twins, Ivy and Rose, were staring at me in a way I was quite unused to; appraising me the way patrons at the tavern appraised my mother and her co-workers. It was quite enough to throw me off my stride and my performance was less impressive than I had hoped.
There was polite applause – some of it was genuinely enthusiastic, but I fear that was primarily from my family – and I walked up to where old Master G_____ sat in that great, overstuffed, human-sized chair he loved to lounge in. He was dressed as the Old Hunter in a false beard and fur cape, tinsel icicles hanging from the three corners of his hat, with a pile of presents on the end table beside him. Most of these were the hand-me-downs from his extensive family – waistcoats and belt buckles, teapots and dishes – but a few were minor treasures he would give as new to valued tenants and servants. As I approached him, I saw disregard in his eyes and quailed.
He was not pleased with my unremarkable performance, I could tell. I had certainly hoped to impress him more, to perhaps get his support in entering the clergy, but instead he scowled at me. There was a beautiful holybook sitting on the table; bound in heavy leather with gilt letters and page-edges, it must have cost as much as the rest of the presents combined. His spindly fingers traced the cover as I approached…
And then he shoved a waistcoat into my waiting hands.
I was mortified. I thanked him and hared off to find a place to cry, the tears already starting from my eyes. I was more embarrassed than I had ever been in my life, my hopes of preferment crushed. I scrambled through the crowd and finally found a dark corner deep in the heart of the hill.
“Damn me, boy,” drawled a voice I didn’t know. “I think you came off very well.”
I looked up. He was a young hole-biter, not more than a decade my senior and certainly not old enough to call me “boy.” He was dressed very well in a silver-trimmed coat, embroidered waistcoat, and breeches with silver buckles and buttons at the knee. His hair was fashionably clubbed and powdered in the elfin fashion. I knew him to be Dashwood Claretton even though we had never spoken.
“Mr. Claretton, I am humbled but must disagree. My voice faltered in several places and I mispronounced…” I began to say, but he cut me off with a wry laugh.
“Not the singing – that was atrocious – I meant the gift!” He pointed toward the waistcoat I was busy wringing like a dishrag. “Yoink!” he laughed and snatched it out of my hands. He straightened it out and stepped into the light emanating from the hallway. “Lords above, you foolish fellow! You’ll probably never own a finer piece of clothing.”
I took a closer look. He was right that it was a fine waistcoat – it was made of jaunty blue cotton satin with large silver buttons and a subtle embroidered motif of stag’s heads along the collar and buttonholes – but that was small comfort to me. The holybook had represented the promise of advancement, of patronage. The waistcoat was just another cast-off.
“Was it yours, Mr. Claretton?” I asked. I had an uncharitable suspicion that he wanted it back.
“Hmm? Yes, it was, but it’s a couple of years out of fashion.” He tossed it back to me. “Put it on.”