The unconscious frogman’s wide nostrils flared as he sniffed at the air. His eyes opened and looked around, which was kind of freaky as his head didn’t move, his eyes just pointed in all different directions. He didn’t seem all that concerned by my presence, or the sword I was holding extra tight in my sweaty hand. His attention was on the jerky.
I threw him a piece which he caught in his mouth.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to stop my voice from shaking. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
He tilted his head and winced. “You’ve already hurt me, you scum.” His voice was deep and from the back of his throat. He sounded a bit like Alan Rickman.
“Sorry about that. What I mean is, I won’t hurt you again… as long as you tell me what I want to know.”
Despite not wanting to kill for no reason, I was under no illusion about what it would take to get him to give me what I wanted. That was the reason I had decided to do this alone. The others would have balked at having to use violence and probably would’ve suggested a chat and maybe swapping emails.
These creatures owed us nothing and had every right to hate humans, including me. Which meant the surest way to convince them to do what I wanted was to live up to their fears.
The frogman shifted around, his hands tied behind his back making it difficult for him to sit up. “Kill me if you want. You just want money, right? You people only care about money. You make me sick, man.” He stared at my jerky. “That’s pretty tasty. Throw me another piece.”
I realised the reason why I’d been able to sneak up on him, and why he was so chill about the whole situation, was because he was stoned. Whatever he’d been smoking in his pipe, the effects were all too familiar. He had the munchies. I tossed him another strip of jerky. I was keeping my distance from him in case he had one of those long tongues frogs used to catch flies.
“I want you to teach me how to do magic,” I said.
I placed the tip of the sword against his neck. “Because if you don’t, I will kill you.”
Obviously, I was bluffing. I had no intention of killing him. If things went pear-shaped, my plan was to leg it. I might’ve been reluctant to kill but given the chance, I was sure he’d have no problem ripping my throat out. Like it or not, we were enemies.
“No, you idiot, I mean why do you want to learn. You humans have your own magic.”
Grayson had said there were magicians, but there’d been no sign of any kind of magic-wielding humans so far. If they existed, they weren’t very common. And even if I found one, I doubted they’d share their secrets with me.
“I don’t get on well with other humans.” I thought this might win his trust and it wasn’t exactly untrue. “As soon as I arrived in this world, they put a weapon in my hand and told me to kill, but most of the monsters I’ve met so far have been other humans. I want to learn your magic to defend myself against my own kind.”
The frogman laughed, which sounded like a gurgling drain. “Our magic is simple and harmless. It’s a way to make life a bit easier, not to murder.”
“Okay, but show me anyway. That’s all I ask, and then I’ll let you go.” I threw him some more jerky.
He narrowed his eyes and thought about it as he chewed on the dried meat. “You’ll have to untie my hands.”
It was risky. If he attacked me, my chances of survival probably weren’t all that great. He could use magic, for one. Who knew what other defense mechanisms he might have? Poison skin? Acid spit? Frogjitsu? But there was no point quitting now. I loosened the rope I’d used to tie his hands behind his back. He didn’t try to attack me or run away, he just shook his hands to get the feeling back.
“Man, you’re a pain. What kind of magic do you want to learn?”
I didn’t realise there was more than one, but I went with what I’d already seen. I held up a hand. “Show me how to make fire come out of your fingers.”
The frogman made a series of movements with the fingers on his right hand, ending with his index finger sticking out. A blue flame popped up from the end. He blew on it, and it went out.
He showed me the movements more slowly and I copied what he did. The gestures were like a more complicated version of rock, paper, scissors, enacted super-fast, but not beyond my capabilities to imitate. I tried a number of times at different speeds. No flame appeared for me.
He carried on showing me and I carried on copying him for twenty or so minutes, with no success. I didn’t know if I was doing it wrong or if he was playing me and the movements were not how it worked at all. Or, it could be humans didn’t have the ability to do this kind of magic.
“What are you thinking when you do it?” I asked him.
“Nothing.” He had all the jerky now, and was munching away as he watched me repeat the hand signals over and over.
“Is this right?”
He shrugged. “Mmdunno.”
It was like being trained by Stoner-Yoda. Questions you ask, too many. Harshing my buzz, you are.
There was a shout in the distance that sounded like someone calling, “Nabbo! Nabbo!”
I jumped to my feet, holding my sword in a trembling hand. “What was that?”
“That’s my son. He’s probably wondering what’s taking so long.”
“Your name’s Nabbo?”
“Nabbo means father. My name is—” He made a strange whistling, burbling sound.
“Nabbo it is, then. You better go.”
I feltquite depressed. I hadn’t learned any magic. In fact, I’d failed miserably and the whole thing had turned into a bit of a fiasco. I’d assaulted an old man, got frog faeces on my new boots, and was down one bag of jerky.
He got up and walked off.
My stomach growled. “Wait,” I called out after him. He stopped and turned. “What about some fish. You have quite a lot, you could afford to give me a couple.”
“In exchange for my life?” he asked.
“In exchange for all the jerky you ate.”
He looked down at his fist which still held the last couple of strips of jerky. “All right. This way.”
I scrambled to my feet and followed him back to the water. Foolish? Probably. Once we got back to his people, there was no reason why he wouldn’t have his son kill me on the spot. But I didn’t care. Kidnapping and threatening an elderly frog hadn’t been easy on me. I had been drenched in sweat, shaking with nerves and constantly on the verge of throwing up throughout the ordeal. After all that, I couldn’t stand the thought of going back empty-handed.
As we approached the water’s edge, the frogmen on the platform saw me. I had my sword out and probably looked more menacing than I intended. The young male grabbed his spear and pointed it in my direction, while the female pulled her kid into her arms and crouched down, her eyes on the water, probably planning to swim for it.
The old frogman waved at them. “Put that down, he isn’t dangerous. Give him two fish.”
The son lowered the spear. “Two fish? Why?”
“Eh! Just do it.” He threw the last of the jerky at his son, who caught it, sniffed it, and then stuffed it into his mouth.
They gave me two large fish that I could just about carry. The female and kid kept to the other end of the platform, eyeing me suspiciously. I was about to leave when a thought occurred to me.
“I was just wondering,” I said to the son, “how do you keep your spear sharp?”
The spear was actually very basic. A straight piece of wood sharpened to a point.
The son placed the end of the spear in his mouth and twisted it like a pencil in a pencil-sharpener. When he took it out, it was noticeably pointier.
“Have you thought about using a metal blade? Like this one.” I dropped one of the fish and took out my knife. I showed him the blade and then tossed it to him.
He examined it, felt the edges, put it in his mouth and tried to bite it. The he shook his head and tossed it back. “Fish would slide off.”
“What if you could design it in the shape you wanted?”
He thought about it and then placed the end of his spear in the fire. when he took it out, the tip was blackened. He used it to draw a design on the floor of the platform; a narrow blade with a curved hook on the side. It didn’t look like it would be very hard for a blacksmith to make.
“If I bring you a spear like that, will you teach me how to catch fish?”
He glanced over at the old guy and they shrugged at each other. Then he looked back at me, still uncertain I was on the level. “Maybe.”
I looked over at the woman. “And this…” I pointed at the pot on the fire which was actually a rusted old helmet. “If I bring you a proper cooking pot, will you show me and my friends how to cook the fish we catch?”
“Who are these friends?” asked the son.
“Hey!” I called out to the other side of the pond. “Stand up!”
The four members of my party stood up sheepishly. I waved at them. They nervously waved back like contestants in a ‘who can act the most awkward’ competition. It was a four-way dead heat for first place.
The frogman looked confused. “What exactly are you people?”
It was a good question.
“Do we have a deal?”
“Wait!” said the female. She held up two fingers. “Two pots. And a big spoon.”
I smiled—a fellow spoon lover. “Okay.” All that time thinking violence was the answer when the only weapon I needed was good old capitalism.
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