Example Of Revising – Artur and the Forest Guardians – Story Fragment

I set out to revise a chapter I wrote previously here:

Mushroom Hunting

 

I did not like how the first version came out.  I wanted to evoke more mystery and awe with the Forest Guardians.  And yes, I’m pretentious, they are male and female to represent the two aspects that create life, and I tried to play with that in this bit of writing.  So below is a revision of the above chapter.  I paste in from the fight scene onward.  The beginning of the chapter is largely unchanged…

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines glinted in the sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees on dry ground.

Five were doable, twelve were not. At least, not if Artur had to maintain defense of the pit. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. One screamed, “It was a blood trap! Damn the rats!” All but one were slain, and the last and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about at the trees, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin akin to beech, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. We will help your son.” And he and the female walked over to the pit, and their feet seemed to make no sound at all. The knelt down and whispered to the ground, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again, thinking he would be crushed by the roots.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the two strange people, and said “Thank you sir, and madam.”

The male and female both chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages,” said the male. The female said “You’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The female now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the male, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the female, who squeezed a sap from her breast, and filled it. She then went to pour it into the pig’s mouth.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the male. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the female proceed and she poured the sap into the pig’s mouth. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The male laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss and Leaf each held out a hand, palm open, and Artur put his hands in theirs.

“Friends.” He withdrew his hands and went to studying the orc bodies. For orcs, they seemed rather unremarkable. They had crude hides, primitive weapons, and necklaces strung with human ears and fingers. Some had short handled spades for digging. “I’m concerned how they got this deep into our land without being noticed.”

Moss and Leaf stood over Artur as the man studied the bodies. “They didn’t come overland,” said Moss. “Yesterday, we were about the forest when we felt a tingle, like the air in a thunderstorm.”

“Only there was no storm, of course,” said Leaf.

“And then Orcs were here,” said Moss. Artur noticed how the two Guardians seemed to continue each other’s thoughts.

Artur dropped the Orc trinkets and stood up, brushing himself off. “And you let them wander here?”

“We were more concerned with how they got here,” said Leaf. The two Guardians then went to each orc body, and they whispered together, and from all about, flies gathered, and the carrion picking beetles came out of the leaf litter, and the earth worms tunneled out of the soil and began sniffing about the bodies, and lastly some crows arrived to pick at the dead flesh. Then a vulture landed nearby and startled the crows, but it went to its own orc to pick and tear. Unseen, the bacteria and fungi of decomposition multiplied far more rapidly than normal, and the bodies of the dead fermented at an increased rate.

After they finished working, Artur asked them, “How did they get here?”

Moss said, “Wizardry of some kind.”

Artur was disturbed to hear this. He didn’t like the thought of Orcs traveling unchallenged in his country, or in anyone’s country for that matter.

Suddenly Borussa said, “Well Madam, yes! Thank you!” Leaf knelt down and offered a puffball mushroom the size of a football to Borussa, who greedily began chewing away. Artur and the Guardians chuckled, and they waited for the pig to finish his meal.

The day was getting on, and so Artur once again thanked the Guardians for their help, and with Borussa at his side, set off for home. The two Guardians watched the bald warrior and his pig leave. Then they turned to each other, holding hands, and dissolved into the ground. Their essence traveled the roots of plants, the tunnels of ants, the burrows of creatures great and small, the ripples of water in the swamp, and the tangled networks of mycelium in the soil. They fell with every acorn, leaf, chestnut, walnut, and beech nut. They took flight with every gnat that emerged from the swamp mud. They wiggled with every worm, and pushed up slowly with every mushroom, and with every moss they broke up stone at an infinitesimal pace. They were in one place at some times, and another place at some times, and sometimes every place in the forest.

Imagination Sometimes Never Matches the Written Word — Story Fragment

I wrote a scene disconnected from the main story about Artur and Borussa going mushroom hunting together.  The whole point was to have an awe-inspiring encounter with a pair of Dryad type characters — forest spirits — but my first attempt turned out to be a flop.  It’s really hard to put into words exactly what you had in your head.  I want to revise this chapter heavily.

In any case, here’s the chapter about Mushroom hunting…

 

Mushrooms

In the early autumn, Artur wanted to go hunt for truffle mushrooms. One day he got up extra early and took Borussa with him to go search for some. It didn’t take much persuading, as Borussa loved mushrooms even more than Artur. So Arthur slung a basket over his shoulders and belted on a sword, and the two of them set eastward from Zootaloot Farm across about three miles of rolling farm and grassland until they reached a bit of forest. The Maples, Birches and Beeches leaves were turning, and with the rising sun the tips of the treetops were like a fantastic fireworks display of orange, yellow and brown with the orange sun and pink sky above.

The air was crisp and chilly, but the birds still began their morning song with enthusiasm.

Here the comes the sun again

to shine upon the beasts and men

Evil things go into hiding

the morning sun brings happy tidings

The deer are nibbling in the field

the farmers harvest their summer’s yield

the Troll has left, no one to sack

maybe the stray sheep will come back

And here comes Artur and his pig

I suspect they’ll make their bellies big

with berries, roots, shrooms and nuts

those Pigs are quite gluttonous!

Artur was disturbed to hear of a troll so close to home, but trusted the singing birds. He suspected the troll ate the stray sheep and went off for easier pickings. All the same he was glad he had his sword, just in case.

The two entered the forest, and their feet crunched on some dry fallen leaves, and the earthy smell of fallen leaves filled their nostrils. Borussa immediately began snuffling on the ground, and crunched on acorns for a while.

“Son, we’re supposed to be hunting for truffles.”

With a mouthful of crushed acorns, the pig replied, “Oh yes. I’m keeping my nose open. I just need a little breakfast.”

“I thought being hungry would make it easier to find them.” And with that, Borussa got down on the ground, and rustled in the leaves, and sniffed around the bases of maple and birch trees. He had found truffles on his own before, but it was pure luck. The odors at ground level were far too complex for the untrained human nose. It was said that some of the Horse tribe spent their whole lives learning to find mushrooms by scent, but Artur never observed this.

Satisfied with his breakfast, Borussa began snuffling about for mushrooms, and before long he found clusters of puffballs, and oyster mushrooms, and Artur split these with his son, taking half for the basket, and letting the pig eat the other half. He pat the great boar on back, “come on Borussa, Truffles!”

So Borussa snuffled, and wiggled his curly tail, and while he did this, the sun rose higher and the forest lit up with the tint of yellow and orange reflecting off the leaves. They came upon a family of gray squirrels eating acorns on a flat rock, and the squirrels startled, leaving piles of broken shell. In a birch tree above Artur, a Squirrel threw an acorn on him, and began to curse him out.

“Damn humans always disturbing our meals! Pigs stealing our food!”

Artur merely looked up, “I have no problem with you, go back to your meal.”

The squirrel chittered at him a while longer, then leaped from the branch to another tree, and went to find a quieter place to eat. Meanwhile, Borussa was now digging at the base of a maple tree, and the scuffing of his trotter got Artur’s attention.

Artur took out a little spade and began to dig, and there they found not one but two fist sized truffles, and Artur took one, but let his son eat the other.

They went about their morning this way, with Borussa finding truffles and each partner took half for his own use. It was one of Artur’s favorite times of the year, for he got to get out with his porcine son and have fun, and enjoy the fresh air, and escape the monotonous toil of the farm and military training. They didn’t speak much, except when Borussa found more truffles. Artur cherished touching the pig’s mind, and feeling what the pig felt, and appreciating the world from a pig’s point of view. A world of smells and sounds, not unlike a dog, only with more things to eat!

After a couple hours the basket was about half full, and they reached a swamp. Artur sat on a fallen hemlock to relax and let Borussa do his thing. The pig wandered for a bit, and just as Artur felt a nap coming on, there was a crack, a crash, and a loud squeal. In Artur’s mind he could feel Borussa’s broken leg, and he sprung to his feet.

There was another squeal, and Artur homed in on it, and ran as fast as he could over the mushy, rooty ground until he found a hole. Someone had dug a pit and covered it with sticks and leaves, and Borussa was in the bottom some seven feet down. “Father! It’s a trap!”

From the north and the east came the sudden rustle of leaves and the crack of twigs, and then heavy rapid footsteps. Artur drew his sword and looked about, and saw several hairy, apeish, pig faced looking orcs charging through the foliage. They wore animals skins, and had crude spears and clubs. Their elongated yellow canines seemed to glint in the spots of sunlight. Their cries were not unlike pig squeals, but a mockery of pigs.

“Go father.”

“No.”

Artur prepared to meet the oncoming creatures, and quickly counted them. He could see five. He charged the lead orc with a roar, and let his sword fighting instincts take over. It was Artur’s fight to lose, and he didn’t. He slew four with relative ease, and the fifth managed to dodge a decapitating blow, but tumbled headlong into the pit. Borussa sunk his teeth into the creature’s neck. It lost its bowels.

“Father I’m in a pit covered in orc shit.”

“That rhymes.” There was a distant crack, like someone stepped on a thick, dry branch.

“Father?”

“Shh!”

There was another crack. Artur spun about, scanning around the swamp and the forest, and then an arrow whizzed by his head and stuck into a pine tree. Then another arrow from another direction. Then there was a great roar, and from all sides came another dozen orcs, some firing arrows from crude bows, and others twirling their weapons. Some emerged from the trees on the other side of the swamp, slowly slogging their way through, and others from behind distant trees.

Five were doable, twelve were not. Artur whirled about, trying to pick targets, and dodging arrows all the while. “Father, go now!” urged Borussa from the bottom of the pit. Artur could not bring himself to leave his son, and could not fight all the orcs coming from all directions.

No harm in calling for help when you need it, he thought. So he did. “Help me!” he shouted, and the orcs replied, “Oh we’ll help you to your grave, warrior!”

Suddenly the plants in the swamp grew longer, and entangled the orcs, and pulled them down into the water, drowning them. The trees in the forest bent over and plucked weapons out the orcs hands. Bewildered, they lept and snatched at their spears and bows and clubs, but to no avail. Pines, and hemlocks, and birch trees all ensnared the orcs and choked the life out of them. All but one, who remained far away, and bolted for his life.

Artur was bewildered but grateful. Never had he seen such a thing. So he looked about, and said “Thank you?”

There was a sudden ripping sound, like ripping roots from the ground. “You’re welcome.” said a masculine voice. Artur whirled about and saw a man looking creature about his height, with bark-like skin, and long hair and beard like moss. He had antlers like a deer, and was naked. Artur didn’t feel threatened.

There was another rip, and Artur whirled about again, and there was a naked female figure, with a darker, bark-like skin, and long hair like curly dried red and orange leaves. She smiled, gently, and her amber eyes met Artur’s.

Borussa called out, “Father! What goes on?”
Artur felt mesmerized for a moment, and then called over his shoulder, “it’s okay. The orcs are gone.”

“Well get me out of this pit then. This orc stinks!”

The male figure said, “Don’t worry Artur. I will help your son.” And he walked over to the pit, and his feet seemed to make no sound at all. There he got down and began to whisper, and the roots from the trees pushed through the sides of the pit and under the pig, who panicked again.

“It’s all right sweet pig.” And suddenly Borussa was calm, and the roots lifted him out of the pit, and then he lay atop a bed of entangled roots. Artur ran over to him, dropped his sword, and shoved the dead orc off.

“Oh Borussa, I’m so sorry.” And then Artur looked to the man thing, and said “Thank you…sir?”

The male chucked. “I haven’t been called sir in ages. All the same, you’re welcome, Artur Zootaloot.”

“How do you know my name?”

The woman now approached, and put her hand on his shoulder, “We heard the animals speak of you. And we’ve seen you come year after year to collect mushrooms, and you only take what you can eat. So…we like you.”

Borussa winced with pain as Artur studied the broken leg. There were two breaks. “Don’t worry, Artur,” said the man, who then scooped up some clay from the ground and molded it into a bowl. He breathed on it, and the clay dried instantly. He then gave the bowl to the woman, who squeezed a nectar from her breast into it, and then put it to the pig’s lips.

Artur held a hand out, “Stop. What is that?”

“Come now, Artur,” said the man. “We wouldn’t save your lives just to poison you and your son.” Artur hesitated, but he let the woman proceed, and Borussa lapped up the nectar. Suddenly the pig convulsed, and he squealed, and then Artur could hear a crack as the leg snapped itself back together.

“Why, that feels better,” said Borussa. “Thank you madam, and sir.”

The man laughed, and his mossy hair seemed to rustle gently. “I’ve been called sir twice in one day. You can call us Moss and Leaf. We’re Guardians. Though I think you figured that out now.”

Indeed Artur had heard rumors of the forest Guardians, but never met one, or known anyone who met one. He stood, and Borussa rolled over and got up on all fours, and grunted contentedly as he walked about the forest floor. “I’m in your debt,” said Artur to the two Guardians.

“Nay,” said Moss. “There is no debt. Let us be friends.” And Moss held out a woody textured hand, and Artur took it.

Story Fragment: The rats defeated, for now.

Here is more from my book in progress, “Zootaloot”. 

The rats are defeated in a one-sided anti-climactic battle.  More interesting than the battle  is how the humans and animals work together. I’m also interested in the mystery left behind, and how it affects the protagonists of the story.  I honestly don’t know what remains down in the rats’ fort.  What did the sorcerer leave behind?  How long with the rat skeletons stand there: decades, centuries?   I also take joy in showing how the peoples of the Pig tribe celebrate victory, even as they struggle to not scratch at their poison ivy…

The Captain of the rat guard, in dismay, tossed his weapons, unbuckled the straps to his breast plate, and returned to running on all fours. He bolted for the deepest chamber, which was the Rat Sorcerer’s room. Up the dark tunnel behind him he could hear the screams and squeals of battle, and the reek of ferret wafted down the tunnel. The captain pounded on the door, “Master! Master! We’re beaten! Open the door! Master!” He then put his shoulder to the door, and popped in, and shut it behind him, trying to catch his breath. Here he found a nearly empty chamber with a carpet, the stones arranged in a portal, and the skeleton guards who immediately moved on him. He didn’t have a chance to squeal.

The few rats hiding in the cursed trees gave up the fight when their home was overrun with ferrets, and carefully slunk away. Now all the humans walked about the rock pile, examining the constructions of the rats, and their armors and weapons, and found it all very curious and sad. Kevin went about, listening for the suffering of still living rats, and found a few badly injured ones. He put them out of their misery, all except one who limped along with a broken leg and arm. For this one, he put on thick leather gloves and picked him up, and spoke with him.

“I can take away you pain.”

“Go spit, Hew Man!”

“What kind of talk is that?” With this he took out a vial of poppy oil, and fed the rat a drop.

The rat seemed to relax after a few seconds, and he questioned the creature further. “Who set this place up?”

“The sorcerer.”

“Which sorcerer?” Kevin set the rat down on some dry leaves, and it began to unbuckle its breastplate with its good arm. Kevin took off his gloves, and helped with the other side, impressed with the handiwork of rats.

“Ours,” said the rat.

“Where is he?”

“In his chamber no doubt, working spells while we all die.”

Tana stood nearby and listened to this exchange. Then amid the milling about of the other people, and the pigs eating dead rat, and the ferrets licking their wounds and lounging, she wandered over to the main entrance, and peered down into the darkness. The hole was large enough for her to crawl in on all fours, if she wanted to.

Diana happened to glance in Tana’s direction, and realized what Tana was considering. “Tana don’t go down there,” she said, and came up next to her. “What are you doing?”

“The rat sorcerer is down there. Kevin learned it from a hurt rat.”

Looking up at the moldy, accursed trees about the place, Diana didn’t like the thought of a sorcerer down in the rat den. “Then we’ll smoke him out.” With that she asked Carberry,  Ferguson and the McDougals to fetch some deadwood and leaves. Troy heard this conversation and went to the entrance, and got on his knees next to Tana, looking into the entrance. He summoned a mild, glowing orb, and sent it down the tunnel.

They were impressed to see a well crafted passage, squarely cut, with shoring beams every so often, and this twisted away out of sight. They had a glimpse of a door on the outer bend of the passage. “More like men than rats, in some ways.”

“Did they make the trees go bad?” asked Tana.

“Yes, it seems that way,” said Troy as he combed the dirt in the entrance with his fingertips. There were no rat droppings. “Look Tana, there’s no poop.”

“Maybe they’re clean rats,” said Tana, also combing the dirt.

At this Martin McDougal, covered in dirt and scratches, plumped his fat self down next to Troy and slapped him gently on the back. He saw them studying the dirt, and said, “Maybe they eat their poop.”

“Who eats poop?” cried Ferguson with a laugh, who with Carberry, carried faggots of kindling over and plumped them down next to Troy.

“Since you’re down there,” said Carberry, “How about shoving this down the hole?”

Troy looked up at his abrasive brother and smiled. “Since you’re up there, how about you fetch me some supper and a mug of ale?” Tana kept staring into the passage as Troy pushed the wood and leaves inside. She wanted to know what other things the rats in their fort, but was obedient to her mother, and did not go down there.

Before long, the entrance was stopped with wood and dry leaves, and Carberry set it afire with his flint and steel. It wasn’t long until there fire became good and hot, and then they all helped fill the entryway with rocks and dirt to trap the smoke, and they stood around the rock pile and waited.

It wasn’t long until smoke began to come out of crevices in the rock pile, and the ferrets waited anxiously for rats to emerge. Nothing came but a few moths and beetles. All the rats were dead or fled after the battle. The the rat skeletons stood in the abandoned chamber surrounded in smoke: silent, breathless, waiting to execute the last order given to them.

* * * * *

The humans and their animals stood guard on the smoking rat fort for about hour, and the sun began to set. No stray rat shot quills at them, and the accursed, moldy trees gave up dropping branches, and seemed to slump over in undeath. The grabbing vines ceased to grab, and aside from the faint crackle of fire, there was an eerie silence.

Diana was satisfied that their menace was defeated, and called for a return home. All made ready, to leave. Kevin took the wounded rat and put it in a sling around his neck, and it slept peacefully. The O’Reillys called all their goats by name, and lead the parade out. The McDougals summoned all their ferrets, and after a difficult head count of the scrambling creatures, followed the O’Reillys. The Zootaloots made ready to go, but Tana lingered by smoking rat den with Borussa on one side and Nelly on the other.

“Come along Tana,” said Diana at the edge of the thorny ivy.

“We should go,” said Borussa. “It is finished.”

“And I want a bath,” said Nelly, who was exhausted from chasing rats up and down the rocks.

Tana had a nagging feeling like they missed something, but couldn’t express it in words. But she made a mental note to come back to this spot, and figure it out.

The party got home by dusk, and they were weary, and itchy. All the humans doffed their armor and their soiled clothes and jumped in the pond to wash the grime and itchy oils from their skin. They were naked, and not ashamed.

The animals were all happy to be back on the farm. “Mother,” said Borussa as Diana splashed in the pond, “unbuckle my armor.” But she didn’t understand. “Mother?” He made as to wade into the pond, and Diana noticed him. “Borussa, don’t come in, you’ll rust your armor!”

Carberry heard him, however, and swam to the shore, and unbuckled Borussa’s armor.  Nelly, who lounged under the willow tree, then said, “Oh! Me too!” and trotted over. Carberry unbuckled her armor as well, and the two big fighting pigs splashed into the pond and swam with everyone else. It looked like a giant pool party of humans, pigs, goats, ferrets, and a six armed orangutan. The cows wandered over in curiosity and because they were thirsty.  Upon seeing the merry gathering decided to wait until it was quieter before venturing down.

The humans broke out in rashes all over their bodies, except Martin and Donalda, who did not have the allergy, and Tana who carefully avoided touching the thorny poison ivy. They helped Kevin prepare salves to sooth their rashes, and also fetched water to drink, and food to eat, while everyone else tried not to scratch.

The elder generations of McDougals, and Cale O’Reilly, sat naked in the lamplight around a stump playing a raucous game of cards and swilled a good amount of ale and mead, and did their best to ignore their rashes. Alan McDougal alternated between his pipe, his ale, and a root he had a habit of chewing for its sedative properties. “Alan, dear” said Aine, who among them all seemed to bear her rashes with a little more dignity, “put one of those down, I can see your cards.”

“Now I know I really am old,” replied Alan, who spat the root away, “when I’m here naked, and all you can notice is my cards!” Everyone burst out in laughter, a great belly laugh, and it helped them forget their discomfort.