Bonus Story: Professional Small Talk

on December 28, 2008 in Other Tales

A couple of people have asked for some clarification regarding the hints dropped about goblin reproduction/child-rearing.

Blame them.

The Crystal Palace in Enwich was one of the few establishments found above ground which had a large number of accommodations for persons of smaller than human size. Although the dwarf-sized furniture was still a bit big for such folk as the gnomes and goblins who were currently flocking to it, they found it to be a good deal more comfortable than the alternative.

A marquee sign above the inn’s doors proclaimed “WELCOME G3 PARTICIPANTS”.

Professor Bryony Swain was just passing under the words when she heard her name being called by a familiar voice.

“Professor Swain! Professor Swain!”

“Ah, Doctor Uhla!” Bryony Swain said, turning to greet her correspondent.

“I was watching the coach stop for you, but you must have slipped past me somehow,” the goblin said. “Anyway, It’s just Uhla now, actually.”

“What?” the professor said, alarmed. “Has something happened? Is the university giving you…”

“Nothing bad,” Uhla said proudly, pointing at her waist. She was wearing a girdle below her pot belly. It was a wide leather strip decorated with three loops of iron chain, joined with a lock in the front… a symbolic chastity belt.

“Oh, you went and got yourself married?” Professor Swain asked, trying to sound happy for her old friend.

“I did,” she said, smiling and nodding. “And naturally, my husband gained the rights to all my titles and deeds as part of the dowry. I don’t have any deeds to speak of, but a title like ‘doctor’ is nothing to sneeze at, is it?”

“Yeah, but… it’s nothing to sneeze at, either,” the gnome said. “A doctorate’s not something you just give away. It’s something you earn. You worked hard for that, Uhla. Hell, we both did. I didn’t sponsor you just so you could throw it away.”

“I did work hard for it!” she said. “And it increased my marriageability tenfold! Oh, to be sure, I still have the training and the credentials… you’ll note that I’m here at the conference and not him, but in our society he gets to introduce himself as Doctor Gortha, and I get to sign my name as Gortha’s Ass.” In response to Professor Swain’s incredulous stare, she clarified, “As in, the beast of burden.”

“Er, I got that,” the professor said, forcing her lower jaw back up to a more courteous elevation.

“It’s an honorific,” Uhla said. “And one that’s far more useful to me than ‘doctor’ ever was. Most women consider themselves lucky to get ‘cow’, you know. Having a working beast for my attachment name signifies that his income from me is greater than what he could get on his own.”

“Your income, you mean,” Bryony said.

His,” Uhla said, adjusting her chain belt.

“Have you never considered simply writing your given name in the Pax?” Bryony said. “It’s got this useful thing called ‘vowels’ that can render just about anything.”

“Among humans, I do, with my attachment name in Gobol behind it,” Uhla said. “I’ve found that cuts down on confusion. But I wouldn’t dream of giving up the attachment name. This may be hard for you to understand, Professor Swain, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, of everything I’ve accomplished: the doctorate, my—our—work, and landing Doctor Gortha.”

“Owain preserve us,” the gnome said. “Or maybe I should address that to Owain, under the circumstances… is there such a thing as a bar in this place? I’m going to need several drinks.”

“Oh, even better, there are cocktails in the reception room, but I’ve actually got a bottle of good whiskey up in my room,” Uhla said. “If you come on up, I’ll tell you all about the wedding over a couple of whiskey and sodas.”

“If you’re going to keep talking about that, I think it’ll need to be straight whiskey for me,” Professor Swain said. “What happened to you, Uhla? I thought you were more of a libber than that.”

“Oh, now, you wait just a minute, Professor,” Uhla said. “I am still a respectable, professional working woman with a serious career. I still believe that the Imperium should be doing more to make sure that women of all races are given the same rights and protections as men. But I also believe in the traditions of my people, and if I choose to honor them by giving my husband my title and taking his attachment name, I don’t see that as anybody else’s business.”

“Sure, it’s your name and your right to do what you want with it,” Professor Swain said. “I just think it’s a little, you know… backwards?”

“If you had married that fellow who had his eye on you for so many years, you’d be introducing yourself as ‘Professor Labingi’ now,” Uhla said. “This is no different.”

“It’s a little different,” Professor Swain said. “And I would have gone with Swain-Labingi. Er, I probably would have, I mean. I honestly didn’t give it that much thought.”

“However you would have done it, your culture’s conventions aren’t that far removed from mine,” Uhla said. “And even if they were, that wouldn’t make them superior. You know, Professor Swain, I don’t remember you being this much of a xenophobe.”

“Here now, I am not a xenophobe!” the professor said. “But if I’m going to have to get used to calling you just plain ‘Uhla’ again, you’re going to have to call me Bryony. Deal?”

“Deal,” Uhla said. “I’m glad you’re coming around to this, Pr… Bryony. I was starting to think I wouldn’t get a chance to tell you my other bit of news.”

“There’s more?” Bryony said.

“Oh, yes,” Uhla said, practically glowing. “I’m pregnant.” She stuck out her belly, putting her hands on it. “Would you like to feel them nip?”

“You mean kick?”

“No, I mean… oh, I think they’re stirring.”

Something was definitely wriggling under the greenish skin of the ex-doctor of herbalism. Several somethings. As Bryony watched, a small roundish lump pressed outwards. It split horizontally like a mouth was opening… which, in fact, is exactly what happening. Uhla jumped as the jaw closed on the lining of her womb and the skin outside it.

“Ooh, they’re active today,” she said, giggling. “So, how about that whiskey?”

“Should you be drinking at all in your, er, delicate condition?” Bryony said, eyeing her friend’s stomach for further movement.

“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “Two or three glasses a day are recommended for the first semester, to keep the little darlings from breaking loose too early. Any more than that, and there are apt to be too many survivors to care for. I think there are five now, down from the nine or ten I started with. I’m hoping they get hungry again before they pop… I can’t imagine caring for more than two or three. My mother had four children, and while we were helpful around the house when we got older, it was hard for her to manage when we were young, especially when she was down to only the one arm and only three fingers left on that hand.” She sighed. “Aren’t children a blessing, though?”

“Er, they’re a right treasure, they are,” Bryony said, still unable to take her eyes off Uhla’s stomach, even though her unborn young had stopped moving.

“I’ve always found it fascinating that when mammals give birth, the children come out the way they came in, so to speak,” Uhla said. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“I’m sure it does,” Bryony said. “But I always figured it beat the alternative. How about we talk about your wedding instead?”

Later, after the professor was suitably fortified, the two joined the rest of the conference goers in the ballroom for a bit of mingling. As Uhla had said, there was a bar set up, tended by a pair of hobgoblins in tuxedos that had been altered to fit them, with sleeves that would have been ludicrously long on a human.

“They with your lot, or they from the inn?” Bryony asked, indicating the bartenders.

“The inn,” Uhla said. “Humans have just about finished luring all the hobs out of our villages, unfortunately. They offer perks like money and days off that we just can’t compete with, but you’d think loyalty would count for something.”

“I’m sure it does,” Bryony said. “Just not as much as money.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Bryony,” Uhla said. “I’m all for better treatment of hobs, but we’d have to get more money into the villages in the first place before we could start thinking about distributing it more equitably, and it’s hard to do that when our whole system is being disrupted because our laborers are being poached. Anyway, it’s not like the hobgoblins had any serious complaint.”

“It’s your culture and I’m not one to judge… barring a few knee-jerk, heat of the moment reactions to a surprising bit of news… but I’d say the fact that they left might argue that they did.”

“Or that they’re easily persuaded and led,” Uhla said. “You know a lot of the first ‘treaties’ that the humans signed with goblins were actually signed with hobgoblins? They assumed that the big, strong ones were the leaders, especially since they were found in the biggest, driest houses.” She patted her girdle. “The humans didn’t know what to make of these, either… which back in the day were more likely to be actual fetters with actual locks. Because they couldn’t tell male goblins from females, they just thought that half of us were slaves, and that the big ones who didn’t wear any irons were in charge.”

“Trust a human to look at size first,” Bryony said, shaking her head.

“I mean, the treaties were all junk, anyway,” Uhla said. “One family doesn’t have the right to speak for the whole village, much less beyond that, but the humans were making deals with a single person in a single village that said they got the rights to all the good land in whatever they considered to be a province. The fact that they were holding court with the hobgoblins just seemed funny, at the time. Our ancestors didn’t think anything would come of such foolishness.”

“Too bad they didn’t stop taking hobgoblins for granted then,” Bryony said.

“Oh, stop,” Uhla said. “The hobs didn’t know what they were doing, either. I mean, there’s an interesting bit of, what’s it called, etymology there. Hobgoblin. You know what it means, in our language?”

“House goblin, I’d heard,” Bryony said.

“Oh, sure, but you have to realize that ‘goblin’ to goblins just means ‘person’ or ‘folk’,” she said. “So, when you call someone a hobgoblin, it’s the equivalent of calling them a ‘houseman’, or ‘houseboy’. What’s that sound like to you?”

“Well, I suppose it’s like a servant, isn’t it?” Bryony said.

“Just so,” the goblin said. “No one knows where the name came from, but they call themselves that. We don’t know if we came up with it or they did, but they’ve never had another name for themselves as a race. In fact, they aren’t even a proper race in the first place. If any other intelligent race breeds with another one, you get a mix, but hobgoblins always breed true. A hobgoblin father with a goblin mother will get goblin children. A hobgoblin mother with a goblin father will bear hobgoblin children.”

“What about other races?” Bryony asked.

“I’ve never heard of a hobgoblin breeding with anyone else,” Uhla said. “I don’t think they’re to most race’s tastes, to be honest.”

“Well, how about goblins?”

“The same,” she said. “I’ve never heard of a human taking after a goblin, and they’re responsible for most of the crosses you hear of. Most races are content to stick to their own kind.”

“So, you don’t know if this is a special property of hobgoblins, or of goblinkind in general,” Bryony pointed out.

“Well, no, I suppose I don’t, definitively,” Uhla admitted. “But the point isn’t how hobgoblins are treated or viewed by goblins, the point is that this attrition has an effect on life in our villages. I mean, I’m sure you’re sympathetic to the idea of anyone, hob or otherwise, who decides to seek their fortune outside their childhood domain, being as you were an adventurer when…”

“Friend or not, I’m not going to stand here and be insulted,” Bryony said.

“Sorry, poor choice of word,” Uhla said.

“I should say so,” Bryony said. “I may have kicked up my soles a bit in my wild and wayward youth, but the Swains are a respectable lot. We don’t have ad… those things.”

“I said I was sorry,” Uhla said. “Anyway, the point is, I know you might be apt to sympathize with young folks who go out to make their own way in the world, but the big picture is that the more hobgoblins… or young goblins, for that matter… who emigrate from the villages, the harder it is for those who are left to get by. Eventually it’ll reach a point where we can’t sustain ourselves any more, and those who are left will have no choice but to integrate with humanity.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s as bleak as all that,” Bryony said. “I mean, that’s the point of this conference, isn’t it? Closer alliances among us folk can help… you know, make up the gap a bit, maybe?”

Uhla nodded.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “But even that’s going to involve more changes to our way of life. To many goblins, a long term alliance with the shires would be just as much an imposition on our freedom and self-sufficiency as increased entanglement with the Magisterians.”

“Again, I have to say that having a steady trading partner waiting down river is a little bit different than having an imperial boot on your throat,” Bryony said.

“Oh, I know that,” Uhla said. “I’m all for stronger ties, myself. I’m just saying that some people aren’t ready for that kind of change.”

“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean,” Bryony said. “It’s pretty much like swimming to talk my kind into taking up farming. Sure, everybody with a decent plot has a vegetable patch, but sheep are considered to be far more respectable. The scarcer land becomes around the shires, the more cachet it holds for those who have enough to graze on.”

“I guess we’ve both got our work cut out for us,” Uhla said. She doubled over and clutched her stomach. “Oooh… talking about kids making their own way in the world, I think mine are about to make a break for it. Do you think the inn has somebody who could hit me in the belly with a rolling pin or frying pan or something? I keep a club by the bed at home, but anything big and heavy and blunt works wonders.”

“The brochure mentioned ‘dwarven massage’… so I’d say yes, probably they do,” Bryony said.

“Great!” Uhla said, backing towards the doors and waving goodbye with one hand while punching at the bulges in her stomach with the other. “I’ll try to be back in time for your address!”

“Bleeding miracle of life,” Professor Bryony Swain muttered through her fixed smile as she returned the wave. “It’s enough to put anybody off motherhood.”

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4 Responses to “Bonus Story: Professional Small Talk”

  1. pedestrian says:

    make ya cringe

    Current score: 0
  2. keyonte0 says:

    Dwarven massage. Ha!

    Current score: 2
  3. Nicholas says:

    Is her name Bryony or Bilbo? Neither went on adventures. Far too respectable.

    Current score: 2
  4. Zany says:

    The whole thing with the humans reminds me of that Terry Pratchett book Snuff, where Vetinari said of the humans and dwarves, ‘Predators know to recognise other predators’ (paraphrasing). In this story it’s exactly the same – and every other race is (or most are) the prey. Cue terrifying soundtrack!

    Current score: 0