Torpid Slivers #14

Upon reaching the foot of a rocky cliff, a travelling hare saw that a goat was readying to climb up its face, and said to him: “O goat, I see how your long horns, that curve and point forwards, steady you in the rock like a third pair of legs, and thus you can reach the grassy slope above us with extraordinary ease. As I weigh so little, it would be a painless yet kind act for you to take me as a passenger with my paws around your neck.”

“Perhaps,” said the goat. “Although what good would it do me?”

The hare thought for a moment, then said, “On the other hand, it is likely much more difficult than it appears. Yes, I can see that you are not as strong or talented as you seem, so that even I would be a burden to you.”

Before the goat could respond, a very loud third voice surprised them both. “Stop the conversation — now! And ease away slowly from each other.” The intruder was another mammal, perhaps an otter. A hood of black silk with two eye-holes covered his head. He held a pistol in his right paw. “I am here to deprive your encounter of any meaningful conclusion, for such is my sworn purpose. No maxim shall be recorded on this day. Take care: my weapon is loaded and very deadly.”

Reader! If the shape of the goat’s horns did not already draw us out of a purely fabular realm (as they could only be the horns of a Euxinovan clambering goat (Capra aegagrus solifuga), a species whose spidery limbs and pointed, chisel-like hooves are a common sight in the province of Haemusmont but nowhere else) — then the appearance of this weapon surely localizes the story beyond hope of return. For the stable flintlock mechanism places it no earlier than the 18th century. And that gaudy portion of the stained beech handle, directly above the bronze butt cap, that is carved into the visage of the Roman god Mercury? It associates the firearm (past all doubt) with the bandit clan that dominated the aforementioned province before the close of the 19th.

This would assign the “grassy slope” to the west end of Haemusmont, where the Balkans begin. And now we can depict with precision, if we wish, the hue of that grass, and the incline of the slope.

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