The Gelert and the Aisha
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, it was a dark and stormy night. The local tavern was crowded.
The mood was light, in contrast to the weather outside. Work buddies shared a pitcher of grog, waitresses giggled in the corners, elderly pets spun a yarn near the fireplace, and the local theatre staff pulled audience members out to act in the little play on the stage.
Possibly the only unsmiling face in the entire town was that of a purple Gelert. He was currently following a spotted Kau who may or may not be in the possession of something he wanted, and the rain had caused him to lose the scent of his target. He cursed under his breath, even more as he realised it was Friday, and he fervently hoped that he would not get called onto the stage for the production.
Which is not to say he didn't take an interest in it. The theatre company usually wrote clever pieces, and he appreciated good deadpan humour. He just didn't want to participate in it himself. He'd leave that for the fun-loving amateurs and the professionals. It was sometimes hard to tell them apart.
An overeager yellow Lupe waitress came over and tried to engage him in a conversation. He kept to gruff, monosyllabic responses. She didn't get the hint.
"Hey Kitty, why don't you leave the poor boy alone?" a white Aisha said. "Just take his order to the kitchen."
Kitty looked sheepish. "What would you like to start out with, sir?"
"You haven't even taken his order yet?!"
"Why don't you focus on your little play and let me do my job?"
"Honey, I could have taken the orders of everyone here right now in the time you spent twirling your hair here."
The Gelert looked around. "That's a lot of patrons."
Kitty shuffled. The Gelert took pity on her and said, "Just a pint of Tchea Grog."
The white Aisha seated herself across from him without invitation. "So why aren't you clapping and cheering with everyone else here?"
"Why aren't you performing?"
"My character died." She shrugged. "So you're not here for the entertainment."
"I think the waitress may have distracted me. You died? But you're the queen."
"Being queen comes with a few job hazards, it would seem. What's your name?" she asked abruptly.
"Ah ah, I know this one. I tell you my name, and then you pay for my grog, cajole me into something embarrassing like singing a sea shanty on top of a table, and never speak to me again."
She grinned. "You know any sea shanties?"
"What's your name?"
"Etsula. The theatre people call me Etsy, though."
"Fine. Here's how it's going to go, Etsy: I'm going to buy you dinner, you're not going to make me sing a sea shanty, and I'll occasionally come and watch a performance, after which we can exchange pleasantries."
"Hm." She considered this. "What dinner is it?"
"Whatever you want."
"You know there's a fifty-thousand Neopoint entrée, right?"
"Anything but that," he amended.
"You have yourself a deal, mister...?"
"Someday I'm going to make you sing a sea shanty just for being so adamant about it!"
The only unsmiling face in the tavern was that of the proprietor, as he added up the night's cash to an amount smaller than he would have preferred.
It was Friday afternoon. The purple Gelert followed his spotted Kau target, the same target from that dark and stormy night, into the tavern.
He idly wondered if the Kau had gone into the tavern that first night too.
The tavern wasn't crowded, so he didn't take his chances of starting a scene. He'd get noticed. He sat down in a booth about halfway across the dining room, with the Kau in the view of a mirror in the corner. The Kau appeared to be reading the 599th issue of the Neopian Times.
The theatre staff was setting up the stage. He brightened up at the prospect of seeing Etsy. They'd done exactly as he'd promised all those weeks ago: he watched the play on Friday, they chatted for a few minutes, maybe had dinner, and said goodbye.
Except last week. She'd spent the evening with a scruffy orange Shoyru, the new male lead in the theatre company.
He hoped the Shoyru had found a new life in Maraqua within the past seven days.
He watched the workers set up the scenery: a tavern. This seemed redundant to him.
"Why are you putting up tavern scenery?" he called out to the staff.
"Because this play takes place in a tavern," the manager, a lanky yellow Blumaroo, said.
"But you're in a tavern right now!"
The Blumaroo stopped. He blinked.
"You could use the actual, real tavern, couldn't you?" the Gelert asked.
"I... guess so," the Blumaroo said. "Blazes! That's brilliant! We can make the audience part of the play!"
"You do that anyway."
"Well, this time you don't have to perform. You're part of it already! Someone find me my leads!" he shouted, pushing past the rest of the production workers and behind the curtain.
The Gelert glanced into the mirror. The Kau was still there, although he was no longer reading the Neopian Times. He was looking to his side.
The Gelert twisted around in his seat to look in that direction. Etsy was there, with the orange Shoyru. They were engaged in a lively conversation.
His shoulders slumped. The lights dimmed.
"How was the play, Rynan?" a desert Draik asked her shadow Bori friend.
"It was all right. It wasn't apathetic enough."
Patrons all over the tavern were buzzing about the performance and enjoying the rest of their dinners. The Kau was still seated at his table, in view of the mirror in the corner. The Gelert watched so intently that he didn't notice a feline figure creep up behind him.
"Sea shanties!" Etsy said.
The Gelert startled, and then calmed down. "Hello to you too. The play was great."
"Thank you. So what are you looking at so closely?"
"Just watching everyone."
"Uh huh. Really, who is it? Is it a girl?" she asked wickedly.
The Gelert sighed. "No. It's that spotted Kau."
"Oh. Do you know him?"
"He knows me better than I know him," he replied.
"Hm." Etsy stared at the Kau for a moment. "What did he take?"
"What!" he said indignantly.
"He took something. What is it?"
"How could you possibly know he'd stolen something?"
"I have eyes," she evaded. "Are you going to let me help or not?"
The Gelert watched Etsy in the mirror. She was skipping over to the Kau's table, a deceptively charming smile on her face.
She leaned down and whispered to the Kau, who appeared flustered and taken aback. He relaxed suddenly, and Etsy sat down in the chair next to him. They talked for a few minutes, until Etsy looked at the mirror and winked. The Gelert got up hastily and made his way over to and past the Kau's table.
"Oh! I'd like you to meet one of my dear friends," Etsy said, tugging on the Gelert's arm and forcing him to take a seat across from her. "He comes to see the play almost every Friday."
"I've seen him," the Kau responded briefly.
"He's the one who had the idea to shaft the stage scenery and use the actual tavern as the stage instead!"
"Oh really now."
"Yes! And he also –"
"Sings sea shanties," the Gelert interrupted, giving Etsy a warning glance. She rolled her eyes and sat back.
"...sea shanties?" the Kau asked.
"Say, have we met before?" the Gelert asked. "You look startlingly familiar."
"I don't think so. Like I said, I've seen you in the tavern, and probably around town a few times, but no."
"That's strange." The Gelert noticed Etsy scooting closer to the Kau, slowly advancing her hand towards his coat pocket. "I could have sworn I'd seen you before, at the... that grocery market near the dock, what was it called..."
"Green's?" the Kau asked. "I rarely go there."
"Yes! Do you think it's named after the owner or is it some sort of ironic pun since very little around here is naturally green?" The Gelert saw Etsy wink and quickly right her position. He stopped his manic attitude. "Well I guess I must be thinking of someone else."
"I guess so," the Kau said warily.
"Why don't we head out now?" Etsy asked the Gelert. "It was nice meeting you!" she added for the Kau, who tipped his hat.
"Did you get it?" the Gelert whispered as they left the tavern.
"Oh yeah. But you're not getting it back yet."
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, it was a clear and starry night. A purple Gelert and a white Aisha walked arm-in-arm around town. The Gelert was rather perturbed.
"That's the deal!" Etsy said. "You tell me your name and sing a sea shanty, and you get this lovely golden shell back."
"What if I just sing a sea shanty?"
"I would be highly amused, but not enough so."
"Okay, okay. How about this: I tell you my name and sing a sea shanty, and you give me the shell and tell me about that orange Shoyru."
"Calvin? What interest could you possibly have in him? He's an understudy."
"Oh." The Gelert blinked. "Oh."
"Name first or shanty first?" she prompted.
"Is that your name or the name of the sea shanty?"
"It's my name. Why on earth would there be a sea shanty named Blukdro? They're named things like General Pleter and the Groggy Sailor!"
"I don't know anything about sea shanties!"
"Up jumps a Crabby with his crooked legs! Saying 'you'll play the Bilge Dice and I'll stick the pegs'; singing 'blow the wind westerly, let the wind blow'..."