Luck of the Dragon: Hedging Bets© 2011 by Walter Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
The red panda and the canine turned as Brigit practically leaped off a water taxi and came running up to them. The Irish setter’s eyes shone and the wavy red fur on her long ears looked freshly brushed. “Will ye come with me ta a little party?”
“What’s going on?” Liberty asked.
“Mary o’ th’ Isles! An’ d’ye not read th’ news?” the Irish girl said. “Why, ‘tis December thirty-first!”
The half-coyote and the red panda looked at each other.
“Have you been trying to brew potheen again, Brigit?” Shin asked warily, sniffing.
“I have not.”
“Today’s December thirtieth, by your calendar,” Liberty pointed out.
Brigit took a breath and calmed down a bit. “Eire’s constitution comes inta force tonight, at midnight. We’re a nation again, an’ no thanks ta th’ bloody English!”
Liberty cocked her head. “I thought that was back in June.”
“No, no! ‘Twas only voted on then. And ‘tis because of the Date Line that we’re celebratin’ tonight. Now, will ye be comin’ with me, or no?”
The half-coyote and the red panda looked at each other. “Well,” Liberty said, “Eire’s not a proper socialist country – but for any nation to shake off an imperialist yoke is a cause for celebration,” she added hastily, eyeing the Irish girl. Brigit had raised her hackles a bit, and she subsided as the words sank in.
“So ye’ll come?”
Shin said, “Sure, why not? I have to get a few things back to South Island first.”
“And I have to visit the Embassy.”
“So! Seven o’clock?”
The red panda nodded. “Done.”
The three parted ways, after a final look to see if there was anyone stalking them.
Everyone who lived in the little Main Island village of Ballyplamas seemed to be at the local bar, a larger type of longhouse that sported a sod roof, something not generally seen in the Spontoons. Liberty looked at the crowd of people around the place with a skeptical air. “Something wrong?” Shin asked.
The red panda nodded. None of Red Dorm were going to be comfortable in the middle of a group of strangers ever again. “Seen Tatiana?”
The half-coyote nodded. “Said she was busy.”
“So you did invite her.”
Liberty shrugged and the pair threaded their way through the villagers.
Inside the air was rich with the smells of beer, whisky and pineapple brandy along with a collection of musks that set Shin and Liberty’s tails wagging. A few furs had been singing The Wearing of the Green, to scattered applause. A tall and muscular fox was tending the bar. His apricot-colored fur seemed to bristle as he studied the newcomers. “Here now!” he said, a Celtic lilt evident in his voice. “And what might you two fine ladies be doin’ here?”
“We’d heard there was a party going on,” Shin said, glancing around.
One of the patrons piped up, “Party, is it? Ah, no, lass. We like a bit of a drop, we do.”
“It’s true,” another said. “Let's see: There’s drinking, then fighting, then sleeping it off, then Midnight Mass, then drinking, some more drinking, singing, a bit of drinking, eating with lots of drinking, and then more fighting. Afterward, a toast.”
“Sounds like a fun place,” Shin said, eyeing a small collection of barrels in a corner. “Looks like you have a good supply laid in.”
“Aye,” said the first man. “Some of these spirits have been maturing for a wee bit before the holidays. I think this batch is three weeks old.” He smiled fondly. “Och! It was a good week, it was.”
“It is true,” said his friend. “That it was a fine week for distilling.”
“Why are the batches so small?” Liberty asked.
“Ah, lass, we do quality control.” He paused. “Quite a lot of it, actually . . . Mind the hole in the floor, there. One of the barrels has some class of a leak.”
Shin’s tail twitched. “Um, isn't that stone?”
“It is that, lass. God never made the rock that could withstand Timeen's finest,” the second fur replied proudly. He jerked a black-furred thumb at a smaller barrel, one marked with a certain symbol. “An’ that batch o’ th’ crayture over there is for the Wise Ones.”
“Wise Ones, eh?” Shin asked. “What do they use it for?”
“Now, I'm not after asking what those ladies use it for. It isn't polite.”
The tall fox behind the bar fixed the two with a glare. “An’ what would two strangers in th’ house be askin’ after our stock in trade fer?”
Before either Shin or Liberty could respond Brigit said, “Shin! Lib! Glad ta see ye made it!”
The fox asked, “Ye know these two, Brigit darlin’?”
“Aye an’ I do,” the setter said, and walked straight up to the bar and poked the fox in the nose. “These are my friends an’ guests, Eamon O'Farrell, an' I'll thank ye ta keep a civil tongue in yer muzzle or I'll be after nailin' it ta yer forehead!"
Eamon looked unimpressed. He planted his paws on his waist and leaned over her. “And I'll thank ye to do the same, Brigit Mulvaney, or as sure as there are birds on the rocks, ye'll be hanged with your tongue, and many is the fur that says it's long enough, supple enough and well used enough to fit the task."
Brigit blushed bright red and Liberty and Shin exchanged grins. Other customers started laying bets as the setter and the tod switched to Gaelic and started barracking each other. The two understood part of what they were saying, but as the insults grew increasingly arcane it got harder to follow.
Shin judged that the bartender had a slight advantage, probably because he was older and had heard more in his line of work.
The Irish setter finally got flustered and put an end to the duel with an obscene gesture and a juicy raspberry that drew cheers from the admiring audience that had swiftly gathered.
Eamon smiled tolerantly at the younger woman. “An’ after that I’m guessin’ ye’ll be dry. Have a porter to wet yer tongue – an’ ye two fine ladies? What’ll ye have?”
The trio ended up in a group beside the bar, Shin with a glass of the potent pineapple brandy that was the bar’s homemade stock in trade, Liberty with a small mug of yeasty dark beer and Brigit with neat whisky. She had politely turned down the offer of porter.
The setter was not a stranger to the place, judging by the number of people who greeted her by name, and the night was passed pleasantly as people sang and drank and laughed.
Finally the clock over the bar started a final circuit to midnight.
“Five … four … three … two … one … Hooray!” the crowd chanted, finishing the countdown with a cheer and raised mugs of beer and glasses of whisky. Brigit shouted something in Gaelic, which was enthusiastically applauded.
Three cheers were proposed to Eire, and more applause and cheers accepted the motion.
To more shouts a burly fox clambered up onto the bar and accepted a pint glass of porter. He tossed off half of it and nodded as a squeezebox accordion started to play a refrain, and then he began to sing in a slightly blurry tenor:
“When cubhood's fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again!”
The crowd joined in on the chorus, Brigit practically chanting “A nation once again!” at the top of her lungs. By the second verse, Shin and Liberty were singing the chorus as well. Liberty looked pleased that she was holding her beer.
Brigit had shouldered her way through to the bar and climbed up on it. Swaying slightly, she sang the next verse, and cheers erupted as Brigit climbed back down.
Liberty’s voice had faltered on the chorus for this verse as its religious theme had sunk in. She scowled, then shrugged and took another swallow of her beer, obviously convinced that it would be counterproductive to start an argument just then. Shin shrugged as well, and flicked her tail out of the way before someone stepped on it.
The fox had a good voice, and the crowd joined him on the last verse, shouting and whooping in celebration.
In the pause that followed the applause, a shrill voice was raised outside the building.
The voice sounded like singing, but the reaction among the crowd was immediate and instinctive. There was a collective growl and people started moving for the door.
“What’s going on?” Shin asked, seeing Brigit cresting. “What was that?”
“Dolly’s Brae,” she snarled, and started for the exit.
“My head,” the red panda femme grumbled.
“You’re lucky I didn’t hit you,” Liberty growled.
Brigit, for her part, looked quite happy, being somewhat more advanced in liquor than her companions. “That was fun, was it not? Perfect cap on th’ evening!”
Shin looked around the jail cell, a paw rubbing her head. “Never seen these things from the inside before,” and she flicked a claw against one of the bars.
Apparently some of Ballyplamas’ neighbors hadn’t appreciated the sentiments expressed by the villagers, and had signaled this by singing a song that was guaranteed to cause trouble.
Well, trouble had, in fact, been caused.
Shin cracked her knuckles. Helping put down the trouble had been very satisfying, and no one had been killed. Or even seriously hurt, as far as she knew. She had already called Fang. “Brigit.”
“They do this every year?”
“Not at all. It’s usually Kilikiti,” the setter conceded. “Faith, though, those matches are fun – they post up lists of the injured afterward.”
Maureen, the Ulsterite member of Crusader Dorm and the chief instigator of the ruckus, growled a slur in Gaelic from her cell across the hall. Brigit retaliated in kind, but they had only just started when a voice cut through the noise.
It was a baritone voice, or nearly so, slurred, cracked and owned by a fur who had spent a lifetime drowning his sorrows in strong drink. At first, the song he sang was unrecognizable, but eventually it could be heard and understood:
“Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers,
Such skill at sewing shirts our shy young sister Susie shows!
Some soldiers send epistles, say they'd rather sleep in thistles
Than the saucy soft short shirts for soldiers sister Susie sews.”