It was with some relief that the heroes spied a tavern set up above an old tannery just off the main street. The road had been hard, and they were in need of a revitalising meal. Ori the Dwarf was demanding a tankard of ale, Lieren the Elf wanted to comb his hair, and Jogmoth the Barbarian needed to polish her armour.
The rain was pouring now, so they climbed the stairs with some haste, and were delighted to see a cosy room within: largely empty, a fire crackling in the hearth, and a smiling barman.
'What'll it be?' he said, and Ori ordered a round of ale.
And old man was propped against the wall near the fire, observing the heroes and stroking his beard. He was immensely tall and painfully skinny, and he rested himself on a worn wooden staff.
'Who is that?' Ori whispered to the barman.
'Wise Old Man,' the barman replied. 'Best not to mess with him.'
And Jogmoth bellowed with laughter and said: 'A wise old man, eh? Well, come on then, wise old man - let's have some of your wisdom'.
She tossed him a coin and the heroes arranged themselves around the table with their ale and took their ease.
And the wise old man stepped in front of the fire and drew himself up even higher - so high they couldn't possibly have thought a man could be so tall - and so skinny he looked as if he'd snap in half with the blink of an eyelid.
And the Wise Old Man said:
'Ah geez. Another day, another seven hours gone and three hours to go in this shit tavern doing a shit job in a shit town with shithouse weather and full of dickheads, when my footy team's 0-8 and I don't get to see me woman for another couple of days and there's idiots on the roads and pedophiles everywhere and Evil Lord J-Ho's STILL running the place for god's sake and I can't even complain about the winter fucken blues cos it's not even fucken winter yet and I'm bored shitless and the only thing I can do to console myself is drink YET ANOTHER cup of fucken tea and I'm sick of all the taverns in this town and the fact that I don't have enough time to write my own manuscripts let alone read all the shit manuscripts that other dickheads write and don't even know what I'm gonna eat for tea tonight and I don't wanna do nothing this weekend but I can't be fucked do anything this weekend and I'd get a new job but they're all shit and if this was another city far away I'd get me a drink and smoke a cigarette but this is Here, yay good old rockin Here so I guess I'll just drink YET ANOTHER cup of fucken tea.'
And he said:
'And why can't I just be paid to research and write history all day? Why do people insist that I do stupid boring shit that's vaguely useful - unlike history which is fascinating but totally useless - and how exactly did that come about? Why wasn't I born fascinated by boring but useful shit like maths? And why is everyone such a pig ignorant fool, going round talking up Evil Lord J-Ho like he was the man when clearly he's far far from it? And how did this whole world get all fucked up in the first place? How tiresome that I should have to go round fixing everyone else's mistakes. I don't mind if I LIKE the people, but what about all those idiots who supported Evil Lord J-Ho, screwed everything up, and now run around going "wah wah wah, I don't like Evil Lord J-Ho anymore and I'm not content with being fabulously wealthy, and I don't know what to do about it except to support Evil Lord J-Ho Mk II, ie. the Krudd Monster". Idiots. These are the people who stop me from researching and writing history all day - let alone making important decisions like NO BIG FIRES AROUND HERE, der! Der der der! How tricky can it be: BIG FIRES BAD, WIND POWER GOOD. But no. Oh no, that'd be too easy wouldn't it, you sons and daughters of bitches?'
And he said:
'And it's not like it's better anywhere else anyway - it's just as bad far away, in fact it's far far worse, it's just doesn't feel so bad cos I'm not from there so it's not my fault and it's not my responsibility and besides public drunkenness is slightly more acceptable over there. It's just one fucken soul-shattering day after another round here, each hour that passes is one more hour in which we've earned money to buy some petty piece of useless crap to distract ourselves from the fact we're doing NOTHING USEFUL and NOTHING FUN just sleeping, eating and breeding, and it may all be far more worthwhile, this whole caper, if we lived on boats, BUT NO. No, nobody's going to try that, are they? Instead we'll all go live in this town or the next one or the one after that and indulge our depravities on one another when we should really just KEEP THEM TO OURSELVES. It wouldn't be that hard.'
And he said:
'Remember all them poor bastards living in prison camps in the middle of the desert? We bunged em in there a couple of years ago cos they weren't from Here and had the temerity to come from Somewhere Else when we were busy bombing the fuck outta the place and so had to look for a new place to live so we generously threw them into prison camps Here in our very own desert and they didn't like the fact that the guards in these camps sexually abused them, so they sewed their lips together to protest and tried to break out and committed suicide? Remember these people? Where are they now? What happened to them? That's what gets my goat - it's rubbish to the horizon around Here, but at least most of us arent being ritually abused or feeling the need to sew our lips together. I mean, come on - why would we perpetrate that shit on people? Why would choose to put anyone through that, when enough of us go through it without our say-so?'
And he said:
'It's the weather, man - that's what's gettin to me. I cannot comprehend the fact that for the next five months it's going to be overcast and grey with a chance of showers, at least far away it fucken snows and I'm not from there so I don't have to actually LIVE there, I can run around in the snow thinking it's wonderful and pristine and so forth, but here it's one grinding day after the next: drag the old bones home and throw them into bed, just to drag them back to work again in the morning, and all FOR WHAT? To buy a house? I will NEVER have enough for that, and even if I did, I'd do what all the pricks who came before us have done after buying a house - buy another one, then another one, then another one, and all FOR WHAT? To have a zillion houses? Yay, it's a houseathon! I'll get to end of my dreary whimper of a life and look back and say: 'See what I did? I owned houses - not just one, mind, but SOME'. Get that shit engraved on my tombstone: 'Wise Old Man - Worked His Whole Life in a Shit Job So He Could Own More Than One House (But Failed)'.
And he said:
'Where has all the god damned COMPASSION gone? This is what happens when ya listen to too much news: ya start thinking "Why is everyone such a god damned prick? What kind of a bastard runs somebody over in their horse and cart then drives off to leave em lying at the roadside for four hours before somebody else finds em and they die anyway? What kind of animals surge like a pack out of a tavern down the docks and converge on some lonesome bloke going home and kick his skull in? What kind of pervert can't comprehend "no" as an answer? What sort of jackal hangs around in the hope that he'll get a whiff of stale pussy and finally, after all these years, can make his move, shoot his seed, then disappear? What's the point? Where's the victory? How hollow an existence is that, and why bother desecrating somebody else's? Have you seen these crazies in the refugee camp in the forest over the way? By day they fight the army, by night they shoot RPGs into the next forest - and for what? So that when the army and the people from the next forest inevitably retaliate, a few sick kids in the camp get killed by stray volleys? Who wins? Then they shoot at healers going into the camp - for what? What the hell happened to their compassion?"'
And he said:
'Right, I'm off to find some compassion, or failing that, a cup of tea.'
And he turned decisively on his heel and stormed out of the tavern, leaving the heroes speechless behind him.