A Ticklish Situation
Aardvard Factotum’s disembodied mind was trapped, unable to return to its rightful place. In the midst of his panic, however, Aardvard suddenly felt something wrenching at his spirit, pulling him home. No longer confined by the four walls of Griswald Brutsam’s room, his mind once again flew over the battlement of Dargon Keep, across the countryside and back toward his home on the outskirts of the city. He was drawn by an unknown force.
Aardvard opened his eyes and chuckled. Nothing was funny about his situation, however. Aardvard’s mind, after all, had been through a good deal of excitement. Through the use of Banewood’s essence of Ur-Baal, it had left his body and travelled to Dargon Keep, where it became trapped in the private chambers of Griswald Brutsam, physician to Lord Clifton. Still, Aardvard couldn’t stop laughing. And when he looked down the length of his body, he saw the reason — Banewood, the Shaman, stood at his bare feet, tickling them with a goose feather.
“Laughter — one of the best ways to reunite a body with one’s wayward mind,” sniggered Banewood. “I warned you about going too far, didn’t I?” he chided.
“Never mind,” said Factotum as he jumped to his feet. He quickly sat back down again, putting his hands to his head. Aardvard gently rubbed his temples. His head throbbed from the aftereffects of the essence of Ur-Baal, the potion that had put him through this adventure. “Something awful is going to happen if we can’t stop it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Banewood.
“Griswald Brutsam, the personal physician to Lord Clifton, is plotting to assassinate him.”
Aardvard told the Shaman about the conversation between Griswald Brutsam and Lek Pyle, their conspiracy to assassinate Lord Clifton. “The Lord of Dargon Keep is standing in the way of Baranur’s plans to control all trade with the distant island of Bichu.”
“I have an idea,” said Banewood, “Listen…” Banewood whispered his plan to Aardvard. Factotum’s face became a study in moods, changing from puzzlement to astonishment, and then to amusement.
At first, Aardvard stared at Banewood with disbelief. Then he slapped his friend on the back and doubled over in laughter.
“You crazy Shaman! I think it just might work,” exclaimed Aardvard.
In the morning, Aardvard pulled some of his gold from its secret hiding place, and together, he and Banewood put on their cloaks and left for the herb seller’s home.
By noon, Banewood and Aardvard found themselves outside of the old herb seller’s hut. The doorway was dark, and it appeared as if nobody was home. Soon, however, they heard the sound of humming. An old woman’s head peered through the doorway, a kerchief covered most of her gray head. It was the kind that most peasant women wore.
“Come in, come in. Always open for business,” the old woman said.
Banewood and Aardvard followed the old woman inside. As their eyes grew accustomed to the dark, they could see her wares: dried herbs, stalks and roots hung from the walls and rafters.
“She keeps it dark, because the light diminishes the potency of the herbs.” Banewood whispered to Aardvard.
“Quite so, quite so,” cackled the old crone, her hearing obviously much sharper than one would have guessed. “What can a simple herb gatherer do for you?”
“Let’s see..” said Banewood. “First I need some Dragonswort root.”
The old woman pulled a piece of root from a large pile and placed it before the shaman. “Done.”
“Next, I’d like a stinkwort, the whole plant.”
“Heh? What’s that?” Asked the old woman.
Banewood began to described a stinkwort plant to the crone: “A large, whitish root; round yellow-green stalk; about five feet high; large, white funnel-shaped flowers; prickly fruit…”
“Oh,” she interrupted, “you mean a nightshade.” Gingerly, the old woman used two fingers to pull a nightshade plant down from the rafters. She set it before them.
“A Galangal root,” added Banewood.
“What’s a nice boy like you need an aphrodisiac for?” The old woman smiled a toothless grin — she bagged her second husband with a Galangal root.
“It’s for a friend.” Banewood lied. “And a henbane plant, too. There’s one over there.” He pointed to a particularly green weed near the corner.
“That’s my last one,” said the old woman. “I’m not sure if I can let it go this late in the season.”
Banewood looked at Aardvard Factotum, who reached into his cloak and produced a little bag full of gold Baranur marks. He spilled them into a little pile on the table. The gold glimmered in the dark.
The old woman gulped. Regaining her control, however, she hedged: “I couldn’t ask less than four marks for the plant. I have a starving daughter to feed.”
“Four marks!” protested the physician. “It’s not even worth one!”
“Three marks” said the old woman, her lips drawn in a straight line. “Food is very expensive, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Two,” said Factotum. “Take it or leave it.”
“All right,” said the old lady. “I’ll keep the plant.”
Factotum pulled at Banewood’s robe. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I know of another place where we can get this stuff.”
“Okay, okay.” Said the old woman. “So my daughter goes without dessert tonight. Three marks.”
“Two marks,” the physician corrected her.
“Yes, I’m sorry. You’re right — two marks.”
“One more thing,” added Banewood. “Do you have many mushrooms?”
“I have a few,” the old woman lied. She was the biggest supplier of mushrooms in the district.
“I’m not sure if this one grows around here,” said Banewood. He described a mushroom to the woman: “Red cap covered with white warts, grows under pines and birch…”
“Fly agaric!” snorted the old woman. “Soaked in milk, we use it to stupefy flies.”
“That’s the one. How fresh are they?”
The old woman reached under her table and pulled out a box full of the little, red beauties. “Just picked ‘em yesterday — how many would you like?”
“Several will do,” he said. “I wish to stupefy some flies, too.”
Aardvard paid the old woman more money than he would have wished to. They left with their purchases. Walking away from the hut, Aardvard counted his remaining gold.
“I’m surprised that the old woman’s teeth are gone.” He said. “I thought sharks grew their teeth back!”
Aardvard’s eye caught sight of a buxom young girl in her late teens. She was bearing a bundle of herbs toward the old woman’s hut. He elbowed Banewood, who was also staring at the same delicious sight.
Banewood laughed. “Poor girl… no doubt she’ll go to bed without dessert again.”