Following on from Why Do Humans Constrict, here’s another short story which involves humanoid snakes discussing
human orcish nature. In this case, the widespread trope that snakepeople would have breasts for no other reason than ZOMG SEXY!!1! This makes no sense to me, and it has occurred to me that they’d find this idiotic and annoying.
As usual, the PDF version is uploaded here.
Graa idly scratched the back of his neck as he lay atop the cart, not really listening to the head of the caravan talking with the guards outside Cleggan. Something about checking their import permits for three carts of lumber from Tooreen. It made little difference to him or the rest of the band; their role had been to guard it against theft, and they had done so. In the meantime, the lumber was getting invitingly warm-
The gates squeaked open, drawing him back to the immediate surroundings. As the carts slowly rumbled inside the settlement, his eyes and tongue began to rapidly dart over the scenery. It looked like any other village in the region: a mix of dwellings built from stones that had apparently been piled higgledy-piggledy on top of each other and topped with a roof apparently made of dried grass stems – how it kept the water out was something he had never figured out – with the local temple being the only one that looked like somebody had put some actual thought and care into building it. And of course, the obligatory drink-dwelling that had been strategically placed almost in the centre, right at the crossroads.
“Hey, Eggs! What’s with the snakes?” somebody called as they drew to a halt near the water. Graa mechanically tracked the orc, and dismissed him as a threat as he saw the Fomorian held a bucket in one hand and a short, stubby brushing implement in the other.
“Caravan guards,” the merchant who had hired the slitherfolk replied. “Anyway, here’s the planks you asked for.”
The orc who had addressed the merchant bared his teeth, something that Graa had been repeatedly told was their way of showing satisfaction or mirth. Even knowing that it was almost certainly the result of satisfaction, he still felt his blood briefly begin to pump before the more rational part of his thinklump reminded him that it wasn’t meant as a threat.
“More importantly,” the merchant ‘Eggs’ continued, turning to face Graa, “here’s your pay. Twenty pounds, as agreed.” Graa nodded appreciatively as ‘Eggs’ – apparently an alias among acquaintances – counted out and handed over two faded gold coins and ten silver ones. Slowly, Graa and the rest of his band slid down off off the carts and gathered off to one side for his to dole out the pay. One gold coin for himself, one for Maroo, and the silvers were divided among Debraa, Achoo and Praa.
“Something fresh to drink?” he asked, gesturing towards the drink-dwelling. A chorus of olfactory agreement met his flickering tongue.
Keeping himself upright as he approached the drink-dwelling was starting to get more physically taxing as his years passed, but he had learned a long time ago that the Fomorians did not like slitherfolk moving around them on their bellies. Carefully, he swung the door open and flicked his tongue inside. A now-familiar wash of alcohol, smoke and sweat hit his tongue as the conversation slowed to a halt. Clearly, nobody had expected a slitherfolk to enter a tavern without a crossbow or revolver levelled in front of them.
“Good day. My compatriots wish to know what drinks are available,” Graa began, looking towards the larger-than-average Fomorian standing behind the bar.
The bartender blinked, “Well, cave stout or tae. We might have cider in the cellar…”
“Tae would be acceptable. We are in five outside.”
“Right you are, miss. That’ll be fifteen pence. Jimmy! Tae for five snakes outside!” Graa handed over the bronze coins from his pouch, wondering once again how the orcs repeatedly failed to distinguish male and female slitherfolk. Around them, some of the conversation started up again as though the orcs were trying to pretend he had not entered or that they did not care. It didn’t last long.
“Hey, snakey!” somebody slurred from somewhere to his left. Graa turned to face a flushed, sweating orc that was half-slumped against the bar, blue eyes staring half-vacantly towards the wall past him. “Showsome…some…some skin, would ya?”
“Some what?” Graa cut in, promptly wishing he hadn’t flicked his tongue at the reek coming from the orc’s mouth. There was a reason he did not partake of cave stout.
“Not tongue. Breasts!” the drunkard continued, erratically tapping his cupped hand over his upper chest.
“Fergie, I think you’ve had too much to drink,” the bartender began. “She’s a snake.”
“So?” Fergie hiccuped. “They’re meant to be sexy! So…show me your milkbowls!”
Whatever verbal response Graa had planned disintegrated as surely as though a war bird had caved in his skull. For a long moment, he couldn’t even wrap his head around what he had just heard until the drunkard repeated it. Finally, he managed to regain enough control to lower his face into his right claw, emit a waft of exasperation and hiss pure bamboozled gibberish.
“Fergus. Go home and sleep it off,” the bartender whispered. Graa looked up, and noticed that the orcs suddenly looked paler and were starting to lean away. Ah, yes…signs of fear. Perhaps a quick reminder that he lived in Connemara as well would be useful. Tensing and coiling into a martial stance, he leaned closer and lowered his claw to his side.
“We encountered a banshee war party outside Gowlaun eleven days ago. They were in ten, and they had a pair of war birds. They are all dead, and we are not. We took no casualties at all.” He paused, and decided to show his teeth for effect. “They are very tasty.”
The drunk clutched at the bar like it was holding him afloat in the sea. Graa briefly thought that the orc’s skin fungus had started to spread to his expanding cheeks, but a closer inspection as the orc staggered upright towards a back door revealed that the green patches were a different texture. The sharp, acrid smell emanating from the middle of his trousers suggested that the gristal had voided his cloaca.
Graa turned back towards the bartender, straightening and loosening his coils. “My apologies for that. Does he perform these requests on a regular basis?” The facial expression he got in return suggested that this was as inevitable as the daystar rising in the east.
“Run into trouble inside?” Maroo asked as he re-emerged into the weak sunlight, lifting her head from where she invoked her seniority by coiling up on a barrelhead. She must have smelt his irritation.
“One gristal thought I am female, that I have the same reproductive organs as a Fomorian, and that I would willingly display them,” Graa hissed. Belatedly, he rolled his eyes to betoken the irritation he felt at that fool. Where had that idea even come from? There hadn’t even been any slitherfolk in Connemara until a century ago, if that!
Debraa rolled his own eyes in turn and scratched the underside of his chin. “That old pile of dead seaweed? Seems a lot of them expect their females to just let it happen.” Left unspoken was the implication that no true slitherfolk would comport themselves in such a manner. Certainly none present would.
Maroo emitted a whiff of bemusement and lowered her head again. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand these orcs. Well, as long as they pay us on time, I don’t care too much.”
“Up until they ask you to put on something too thin and short…which they then ask you to slowly remove,” Achoo replied, briefly shuddering and musking in disgust. “I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, but I could smell them getting excited about it up until I started…ah, what do they call it when they show their teeth? Smiling?” Her musk took on a hint of sardonic amusement as she continued, “They stopped after that. One or two may have even voided their cloacae.”
Graa might have shown his own mild mirth had an orc not begun to approach them from the door of the drink-dwelling, clutching a tray of wooden cylinders that practically gushed with the scent of freshly-brewed tae. Unprompted, Maroo slid off the barrel and steadied it long enough for the orc to lower the tray onto it and swiftly depart. Graa picked up a mug, flicked his tongue appreciatively at the tentacles of steam rising from the surface, and took his first sip.
Aaaaaaah….sweet nectar of Baloo.