Tuesday, May 26, 2020

2020 International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day

Troubadours, ply ukulele and kazoo to herald this momentous occasion, for the International Talk Like a Jack Vance Character Day is, once again, upon us:

On this anniversary of the loss of our most estimable sage, we sing panegyrics and intone encomia. To supplement our nuncupatory eulogies, we inscribe our elegies. Those of a terpsichorean disposition, let them praise with corybantic measures!

For those unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Jack Vance, the man was a master of the English vocabulary, taking up the linguistic mantle of Clark Ashton Smith and passing on the baton to a legion of acolytes, among them the speakers of High Gygaxian. The works of Jack Vance are a feast for the ear, a banquet for the mind, an armory for the castigating tongue.

To celebrate Talk Like a Jack Vance character properly, one should haggle with a mountebank:

Wandering the crumbled streets, he put the languid inhabitants such a spate of questions that one in wry jocularity commended him to a professional augur. This one dwelled in a booth painted with the Signs of the Aumoklopelastianic Cabal. He was a lank brown man with red-rimmed eyes and a stained white beard.

"What are your fees?" inquired Guyal cautiously.

"I respond to three questions," stated the augur. "For twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue."

"First I must inquire, how profound is your knowledge?"

"I know all," responded the augur. "The secrets of red and the secrets of black, the lost spells of Grand Motholam, the way of the fish and the voice of the bird."

"And where have you learned all these things?"

"By pure induction," explained the augur. "I retire into my booth, I closet myself with never a glint of light, and, so sequestered, I resolve the profundities of the world."

"With all this precious knowledge at hand," ventured Guyal, "why do you live so meagerly, with not an ounce of fat to your frame and these miserable rags to your back?"

The augur stood back in fury. "Go along, go along! Already I have wasted fifty terces of wisdom on you, who have never a copper to your pouch. If you desire free enlightenment," and he cackled in mirth, "seek out the Curator." And he sheltered himself in his booth.

For a celebratory feast, one should consume a meal of alien, even dubious, culinary origin, perhaps some fine Darsh provender:

Gersen read from the sign "'Chatowsies Pourrian Ahagaree' Do you have your appetite with you?"

"Not really. I am a fastidious eater I may taste a bit of this and that."

Gersen, who often had gulped down food he dared not think about, only laughed. "A keen journalist doesn't know the word 'fastidious'."

"Somewhere we must draw the line," said Rackrose. "It may be here, at Tintle's Shade."

They pushed through the door into a hall. Ahead stairs led up to the upper floors, to the side an arch opened upon a white-tiled chamber heavy with a musty stench. A dozen men drank beer at a counter tended by an old woman in a black gown, with straight black hair, dark orange skin, and a black mustache. Posters announced exhibitions and novelty dances, at Rath Eileann and elsewhere.


The woman behind the bar called out: "Why do you stand like hypnotized fish? Did you come to drink beer or to eat food?"

"Be patient," said Gersen. "We are making our decision."

The remark annoyed the woman. Her voice took on a coarse edge. " 'Be patient,' you say? All night I pour beer for crapulous men; isn't that patience enough? Come over here, backwards; I'll put this spigot somewhere amazing, at full gush, and then we'll discover who calls for patience!"

"We have decided to take a meal," said Gersen. "How are the chatowsies tonight?"

"The same as always, no worse than any other. Be off with you; don't waste my time unless you're taking beer.. . . What's this? Smirk at me, will you?"

She seized a mug of beer to hurl at Maxel Rackrose, who alertly jumped back into the anteroom, with Gersen close behind. The woman gave her black mane a scornful toss, twisted her mustache between thumb and forefinger, then turned away.

"She lacks charm," grumbled Rackrose. "She will never know me as a habitue."

"The dining room may surprise us," said Gersen.

"Pleasantly, so I hope."

They started up the steps, which, like the beer-chamber, exhaled an unpleasant vapor: a compound of strange cooking oils, offworld condiments, and a stale ammoniacal waft. At the first landing Rackrose halted. "Candidly, I find this all a bit unsettling. Are you sure that we actually intend to dine here?"

"If you have qualms, go no farther. I myself have known places both better and worse."

Rackrose muttered under his breath, and trudged on up the steps. A pair of heavy wooden doors opened into the restaurant. At widely separated tables small groups of men huddled like conspiators, drinking beer or eating from platters immediately below their faces.

A massive woman stepped forward. Gersen judged her no less formidable than the woman who tended the beer spigot, though perhaps a few years younger. Like the woman below, she wore a shapeless black gown and her hair hung in a rank tangle; her mustache was not quite so full. With glittering eyes she looked from one to the other. "Well then, do you wish to eat?"

"Yes; that is why we are here," said Gersen.

"Sit yonder."

The woman followed them across the room. When thev were seated she leaned forward portentously with hands on the table. "What is to your taste?"

"We know Darsh food by reputation only," said Gersen. "What are your special dishes?"

"A ha! Those we reserve for our own eating. Out here we serve chichala and you must make the best of it."

"Whiat of the fine Darsh provender you advertise? The chatowsies, the pourrian, the ahagaree?"

"Look about you. Men are eating."


"Then that is what you must eat."

"Bring us portions of all these dishes; we will give them a try."

"As you like." The woman departed.

Rackrose sat in glum silence while Gersen looked around the room. "Our man is not among those present," said Gersen at last.

Rackrose glanced skeptically from table to table. "Did you seriously expect to find him here?"

"Not with any confidence. Still, coincidences occur. If he were passing through Rath Eileann, this is where we would hope to find him."

Maxel Rackrose surveyed Gersen dubiously. "You are not telling me all you know."

"Should that surprise you?"

"Not at all. But I'd like a hint as to what I'm getting into."

"Tonight you need fear only the chatowsies and perhaps the pourrian."


From the kitchen came the black-gowned woman, with bowls and platters. She thumped them down upon the table- "Here is the food, Chatowsies. Pourrian. Ahagaree. Eat your fill. What you leave returns to the pot."

"Thank you," said Gersen. "By the way, who is 'Tintle'?"

The woman gave a derisive snort. "Tintle's name is on the sign. We do the work; we chink the coin. Tintle keeps his distance."

"If possible, I'd like a few words with Tintle."
The woman gave a derisive snort. "You'd like nothing whatever from Tintle; he's stupid and dull. Still, for what it's worth, you'll
find him in the backyard counting- his fingers or scratching himself with a stick."

The woman moved away. Gersen and Rackrose gingerly addressed themselves to the food. After a few moments Rackrose said:
"I can't decide what tastes worst. The chatowsies are fetid, but the ahagaree is ferocious. The pourrian is merely vile. And the lady seems to have washed her dog in the beer. . . . What? Are you eating more?"

"You must do the same. We want to establish a pretext for returning. Here; try some of these remarkable condiments."

Rackrose held up his hand. "I have taken quite enough, at least on the basis of my present salary."

"As you wish." Gersen gulped down a few more mouthfuls, then thoughtfully put down his spoon. "We have seen enough for this evening." He signaled to the woman. "Madame, our account, if you please."

The woman looked over the platters. "You have eaten ravenously. I will need two or, better, three Standard Value Units from each of you."

Rackrose cried out in protest. "Three SVU for a few mouthfuls of food? That would be exorbitant at the Domus!"

"The Domus serves insipid gutch. Pay your account or I will sit on your head."

"Come now," said Gersen. "That is no way to attract a steady clientele. I might add that we are waiting to meet a certain member of the Bugold Clan."

"Bah!" sneered the woman. "What is that to me? A Bugold outcast robbed the Kotzash warehouse, and so now I live here in this place of dank winds and curdled rheum."

"I've heard a somewhat different story," said Gersen with an air of careless omniscience.

"Then you heard nonsense! The Bugold rachepol and that scorpion Panshaw connived together. They should have been broken and not poor Tintle. Now pay me my coin and so your way. This talk of Kotzash has put me out of sorts."

Gersen resignedly put down six SVU. The woman, with a triumphant leer toward Maxel Rackrose, swept up the coins. "As for the gratuity, another two SVl' will be considered adequate."

Gersen handed over the coins and Madame Tintle departed.

Rackrose gave a snort of disgust. "You are far too obliging. The woman's avarice is matched only by the vileness of her cuisine."

Most importantly, one must remonstrate with a mooncalf, preferably in minatory fashion:

Cugel grasped the pommel of his sword. "It seems that I must speak without ambiguity. I command you: depart, and never return! I understand your purpose and I warn that you will find me a less indulgent enemy than was Iuconou! So now, be off! Or I inflict upon you the Spell of the Macroid Toe, whereupon the signalized member swells to the proportions of a house."

So, now, be off! Venture forth, my picaroons, and belabor the crass and addlepated in the fashion of our beloved Grand Master.

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