Not so long ago as you might think, when gods walked the land and Men didn’t, the equs had the run of Talislanta. Now, you might think that without Men around, the equs of those days never had to do a lick o’ work at all, just trot about for the sheer pleasure of it, but you’d be wrong. Oh, they didn’t have as much work to do then as we do nowadays — keeping a nose out for dragons, mostly, and gathering barbberries for tarts — but it was work that needed to be done even so. And back then, just as now, there were a few equs who were just too purple lazy to do their labors.
There was a graymane Dam I heard of once from back then. She had three stallion colts, each more lazy than the last. She had a fourth stallion colt, too: the youngest. And by the time she birthed him, she must have figured out where she’d gone wrong with the first three, because Four was one of the hard–workingest equs I’ve ever heard tell of.
Now when their Dam had a job that needed doing, she’d tell tell her sons something like, “Hey, boys, I need some barbberries to make barbberry tarts for dinner. You go fetch some.” And the boys would all say, “Yes mama,” and off they’d go. Of course, once they were out of sight of the herd and their Dam, it was a different song they’d sing.
“I’m the oldest,” said One, “and if I go into the barbberry thickets it’ll muss my mane. You don’t have much of a mane to worry about, Four, so why don’t you just pick some extra berries for me.”
“My hooves are too delicate. I’d lame myself for sure on such rocky ground. Be sure to pick some berries for me too,” declared Two as he lay down in the shade of a parasol tree.
Three was too lazy even to come up with a good excuse for not doing his own work. “Get enough barbberries for all of us or I’ll give you a hoof to the head that’ll make you see stars for a week,” he’d growl.
So Four, without grumbles, would fetch ten equs’s worth of barbberries, getting his mane mussed and his hooves scuffed in the process, because it was a job that needed doing, no matter who did the deed. And so it was the same for fetching barbberries as it was for any other task the Dam set her stallion colts.
Or so it went until one day Widow Snipe came visiting. “My millennium trees are fruiting and I need help harvesting. Could you hard–working stallion colts come lend a hoof?” Now there’s some as say Widow Snipe knew some witch–magic. Maybe so, maybe no, I can’t say for sure. So whether it was for fear of angering a witch–snipe or out of sheer neighborly generosity or a little of both, the graymane Dam told her sons to help the Widow Snipe. “Yes, mama”, said the four young equs, and they followed the Widow Snipe back to her garden.
“Now these are my prize millennium trees,” said Widow Snipe, pointing to some tall, red trees of a kind the equs had never before seen. “They don’t bear their special fruit very often, but today is one of those rare days. If you harvest all the fruit from these here millennium trees, I’ll bring you all some barbberry tart come sundown.”
“Yes, Widow Snipe,” answered the equs politely, and with that she went to her house to make barbberry tarts.
Surely you’ve guessed by now what the three lazy equs did after Widow Snipe was out of sight. “I’m going to be Herd Stallion one day,” announced One. “Prospective Herd Stallions don’t harvest fruit: it’s gelding’s work.”
“I can sense from here that those millennium fruit are just going to make my hide break out in hives,” whined Two. “It’s best for all concerned if I just oversee the work from here.”
Three just snorted and glowered. “Make sure you pick enough fruit to earn us all some barbberry tart or you’ll rue this day for the rest of your life.” And with that, One, Two, and Three lay down in the shade of the garden wall to watch.
So, without any grumbles, Four set out to harvest the sweet–smelling yellow fruit of the millennium tree. He worked all morning in the hot sun, plucking the fruit and placing it in baskets, and getting himself all covered in honest equs sweat and sticky millennium fruit juice. By the time noon rolled around, he’d finished about half the trees all by himself, so you surely know that if those other three lazy equs had helped a lick, they would have been done and finished by then.
Just as Four finished up the first half of the trees, the Widow Snipe came out of the house, and quick as a wink the lazing equs leapt up to make it look like they’d been working all morning. “I forgot to warn you colts,” said the Widow Snipe, “to be careful about plucking the millennium fruits. Millennium tree fruit is chock full of the luck that the trees have been soaking up their whole lives. I’m hoping to lay up some millennium fruit jam against future calamity when our luck has otherwise run out. So be careful with the fruit, we wouldn’t want to lose a single drop.” But then the Widow Snipe noticed that Four was already soaked to the hide with millennium fruit juice. “Oh my,” she declared, “I fear you may be destined for an interesting life.”
And no sooner had these words left her mouth than a large ruby fell from the sky at Four’s hooves. As luck would have it, a dragon had been flying high overhead on a visit to his lovely dragoness with an armful of his favorite treasures, when he sneezed and dropped the ruby from his trove. A powerful good luck it must have been, too, for the dragon to have not noticed the loss of his prize ruby, or to have not noticed the tasty stallion colts below him.
“What did I tell you?” asked the Widow Snipe. “You’d best be taking that ruby off to your Dam, Four, and no more millennium fruit picking for you today. I think your three brothers can probably handle the remaining trees all by themselves.” So Four picked up the dragon’s ruby and headed off for his Dam, and right out of this tale. He didn’t make it home until many years later, on account of six kinds of unlikely adventures he got mixed up in on the way, but that’s a story for another day.
“Looks like you three will have barbberry tart all to yourselves come sundown,” said the Widow Snipe to the remaining three equs. Then she picked up a basket of the millennium fruit that Four had plucked and went back into her house to start laying up some of her millennium fruit jam.
As soon the three stallion colts were sure they were alone and couldn’t be overheard, they started plotting. “We’re older than that little colt punk. Four can’t be trusted with such a surfeit of good fortune,” said One.
“We deserve good luck much more than that useless Four,” whined Two.
“With any luck, we’ll never have to do another lick of work for the rest of our lives,” snickered Three.
The three equs then went to work on Widow Snipe’s millennium trees, plucking as many fruits as they could. But instead of putting the fruit into baskets as they were asked to do, they did everything but. They ate the fruit, stomped on it, rolled around in it: anything they could to steep themselves in the luck essences of Widow Snipe’s millennium fruit.
Suddenly there was a great cry from the house and the Widow Snipe came racing out of the house. “Have you gone loco, you crazy colts? Didn’t I warn you about the millennium tree fruit?”
“Sure you did, Widow Snipe,” said One. “But it were patently unfair of such an undeserving fellow as our young brother Four to have all the luck. Now we’ve got even more luck on our side.”
“That’s as may be,” admitted Widow Snipe. “But there’s good luck and bad: and while Four got soaked to the skin in good luck juice, you’ve drenched yourselves in the juice of millennium tree fruit that’s as powerful a misfortune magnet as you never hope to meet.”
And just as she uttered these words, the hugest wasp nest you’ve ever heard tell of fell out of one of the bad luck millennium trees and struck the three equs who were standing underneath. The wasps were so enrazzled that they flew out of their nest and stung One, Two, and Three for all they were worth. “Ouch!” and “Hey!” and “Yikes!” they yelled, but it did them little good. No matter how much the equs bucked and cussed and ran, they kept getting stung until at long, long last, even the most ornery wasp had tired of its sport.
But that was just the beginning of their terrible long unlucky streak. They had run so far to lose the wasps that they had gotten lost themselves — lost in a spooky woods with fresh dragon tracks all around. And wherever they had been stung by the wasps, they swelled up big. One’s back swelled up so much that it looked like a hump as big as a house. Poor Two was stung on his shoulders and his rump, so he got two great humps. And Three, who had been extra diligent in rolling around in the fruit pulp so as to avoid ever having to work again, was left with three great big humps on his back. And those humps never did go away for as long as they did live.
And that’s the story of how the ontra got his humps. For all the ontra you will ever run across were sired by those three humpy, lazy, unlucky equs from long ago. It’s said that if an ontra ever gets ambitious enough to work without grexing and grousing, he’ll lose his ugly humps and become a regular equs like you and me, but I’ve not heard tell of any ontra ever crossing that line. So the moral of the story is do your work and pull your load without complaining, and happiness and good luck shall be yours. Shirk your work, and misfortune will stick to you like an ugly hump.
This is a story I submitted to the Legends of Talislanta contest and it actually won! I highly recommend visiting the Fan Forum of the Talislanta home page to read the other stories that were submitted.
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Last modified: Wed Dec 27 14:53:51 PST 2000.