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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Asprin Robert
 

«Tales From The Vulgar Unicorn», Robert Asprin

 

EDITOR'S NOTE

The perceptive reader may notice small inconsistencies in the charactersappearing in these stories. Their speech patterns, their accounts of certainevents, and their observations on the town's pecking order vary from time totime.

These are not inconsistencies!

The reader should consider the contradictions again, bearing three things inmind.

First, each story is told from a different viewpoint, and different people seeand hear things differently. Even readily observable facts are influenced byindividual perceptions and opinions. Thus, a minstrel narrating a conversation with a magician would give a different account than would a thief witnessing thesame exchange.

Second, the citizens of Sanctuary are by necessity more than a little paranoid.They tend to either omit or slightly alter information in conversation. This isdone more reflexively than out of premeditation, as it is essential for survivalin this community.

Finally, Sanctuary is a fiercely competitive environment. One does not gainemployment by admitting to being 'the second-best swordsman in town'. Inaddition to exaggerating one's own status, it is commonplace to downgrade orignore one's closest competitors. As a result, the pecking order of Sanctuary will vary depending on who you talk to ... or more importantly, who you believe.

 

INTRODUCTION

Moving his head with minute care to avoid notice, Hakiem the Storyteller studiedthe room over the untouched rim of his wine cup. This was, of course, donethrough slitted eyes. It would not do to have anyone suspect he was not truly asleep. What he saw only confirmed his growing feelings of disgust.

The Vulgar Unicorn was definitely going downhill. A drunk was snoring on thefloor against the wall, passed out in a puddle of his own vomit, while severalbeggars made their way from table to table, interrupting the undertonednegotiations and hagglings of the tavern's normal clientele.

Though his features never moved, Hakiem grimaced inside. Such goings on werenever tolerated when One-Thumb was around. The bartender/owner of the VulgarUnicorn had always been quick to evict such riffraff as fast as they appeared.While the tavern had always been shunned by the more law-abiding citizens of Sanctuary, one of the main reasons it was favoured by the rougher element wasthat here a man could partake of a drink or perhaps a little larcenousconversation uninterrupted. This tradition was rapidly coming to an end.

The fact that he would not be allowed to linger for hours over a cup of thetavern's cheapest wine if One-Thumb were here never entered Hakiem's mind. He had a skill. He was a storyteller, a tale-spinner, a weaver of dreams andnightmares. As such, he considered himself on a measurably better plane than thederelicts who had taken to frequenting the place.

One-Thumb had been missing for a long time now, longer than any of his previousmysterious disappearances. Fear of his return kept the tavern open and the employees honest, but the place was degenerating in his absence. The only way itcould sink any lower would be if a Hell Hound took to drinking here.

Despite his guise of slumber, Hakiem found himself smiling at that thought. AHell Hound in the Vulgar Unicorn! Unlikely at best. Sanctuary still chafed atthe occupying force from the Rankan Empire, and the five Hell Hounds were hated second only to the military governor. Prince Kadakithis, whom they guarded.Though it was a close choice between Prince Kitty-Cat with his naive lawmakingand the elite soldiers who enforced his words, the citizens of Sanctuarygenerally felt the military governor's quest to clean up the worse hellhole in the Empire was stupid, while the Hell Hounds were simply devilishly efficient.In a town where one was forced to live by wit as often as skill, efficiencycould be grudgingly admired, while stupidity, particularly stupidity with power,could only be despised.

No, the Hell Hounds weren't stupid. Tough, excellent swordsmen and seasoned veterans, they seldom set foot in the Maze, and never entered the VulgarUnicorn. On the west side of town, it was said that one only came here if he wasseeking death ... or selling it. While the statement was somewhat exaggerated,it was true that most of the people who frequented the Maze either had nothing to lose or were willing to risk everything for what they might gain there. Asrational men, the Hell Hounds were unlikely to put in an appearance at theMaze's most notorious tavern.

Still, the point remained that the Vulgar Unicorn sorely needed One-Thumb'spresence and that his return was long overdue. In part, that was why Hakiem was spending so much time here of late: hope of acquiring the story of One-Thumb'sreturn and possibly the story of his absence. That alone Would be enough to keepthe storyteller haunting the tavern, but the stories he gained during his waitwere a prize in themselves. Hakiem was a compulsive collector of stories, from


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