Friend to Everyone
A young frogfolk messenger bowed to Ancient Bullmon, magenta robe clicking with beads. The messenger kept his head down, but bobbed excitedly, nearly bursting with the news he carried. Ancient Bullmon, reclining on cushions and surrounded by minions holding plates of delicacies, made the messenger wait. He wasn’t sure what was so important that the fellow would interrupt his after-dinner snack. If it were something urgent the messenger wouldn’t look so cheerful.
Finally, the Ancient said, “You may speak.”
The messenger bounced upright and exclaimed, “Ancient! We knew you’d want to know at once! Timtim the salamander is back!”
Ancient Bullmon had been only half listening, his attention on choosing which eel he wanted next. Now his bulging eyes snapped to the messenger. He said, “You are surely joking,” with sincere disbelief.
Timtim leaned out from the crow’s nest, staring at the storm rolling in from the open water. He grinned as lightning flashed and thunder boomed right behind it. He and his crew were on a mission to bring back one of the great carp from the Prism Pools for Ancient Bullmon. It was a quest near and dear to the Ancient’s heart and interests. Timtim was excited to complete it.
“Ahh…” said Menog, the frogfolk’s throat bobbing as he swallowed. He was looking at the storm and not thinking of glory. “We should get down? Yes?”
Timtim laughed, “And miss the view? It’s going to be spectacular up here!”
“And dangerous,” muttered Menog, looking down to the deck of the raft and then back at Timtim.
“Yes, yes,” said Timtim, “But everything’s going to be fine up here. I can feel it.” He shrugged. “You can go if you want.”
Menog, still muttering, climbed down from the crow’s nest, landing with webbed feet on the deck. He and the rest of the crew tied themselves to the railings, using spare ropes to bind themselves to safety.
A minute later, the storm reached them. Despite the furled sail, the wind caught them, tossing the little craft around on the sea like a toy. Roiling waves the size of epikraken lifted the raft up and dropped it down. Timtim swayed wildly, hand wrapped in the tough seaweed rope to keep from falling. He was laughing into the storm, whipped back and forth by the force of the gale.
“What a lovely day!” he cried, and laughed at his own joke.
Below him, the crew were lashed to the railings and the base of the mast. They had their eyes closed. They never saw the monstrous wave that swamped them and snapped the mast.
Timtim and the mast pitched into the air, end over end, and the salamander glimpsed the flat bottom of the overturned raft, his crew tied to the wrong side.
Timtim clung to his crowsnest as he tumbled through the air, spinning wildly in the storm before crashing into the swelling ocean.
“Did you see the raft again?” asked Bullmon, impatiently. Menog was a good pilot, and there had been a number of Elders on the raft besides him. Timtim paused in the midst of his story, hands frozen in the air. He’d been gesticulating wildly while he told his tale. Other Elders of the Reef were slowly gathering to hear Timtim’s tale -- the news of his very late and miraculous return spreading slowly across the beach.
“Well, no,” said Timtim. “But I’m sure it’s fine. Except for the broken mast that is.” And he smiled widely, like that was funny.
“Sure, are you?” asked Bullmon sourly. He certainly was not. This was the first word he’d had of the expedition to Prism Pools, and he’d given up hope of hearing anything weeks ago. He sighed heavily, jowls flapping as he did, and gave up the rest for lost. “Continue then.”
Timtim awoke on a sandy beach, his hand still enmeshed in the ropes of the crow’s nest -- but with no more sign of the raft than a few splintered timbers washed up with the salamander. There were, however, several barrels of supplies washed up with the salamander, and a stout quarterstaff that had belonged to Menog.
Timtim stood and stretched -- flexing his limbs and tail and hands. All was in good order. All was fine. Then he peered at the beach he’d landed on. It was new! How interesting! Brightly, Timtim went about exploring.
The island he’d washed up on was on the small side, and uninhabited by the Reefkin. A healthy grove of palm trees swayed in the middle of it. The shore -- with the exception of the sand Timtim had arrived on -- was rocky: covered in jagged grey stones. Timtim set off to make a circuit of the island.
Only a short way around, Timtim saw the first crabs. They were small, and almost ordinary if he ignored their bright aqua shells. About one quarter of the way around the island, he saw his first big crab. It was the same bright color as the smaller ones, but stood taller than Timtim did. It saw Timtim just a moment or two after the salamander saw it.
Turning sideways, the crab scuttled fiercely towards the marooned salamander. It’s claws snapped open and closed and its hungry eyes were fixed on Timtim. Timtim, however, did not notice the hunger. He laughed as the crab approached, turning sideways to imitate the crabs charge. When they closed the distance, Timtim twirled the quarterstaff so that the crab’s two claws closed on it. Once the crab had a hold of the stick, it did not want to release its grip. Timtim began a capering dance with the crab, swinging it this way and that with his staff. It’s magenta eyes blinking in confusion.
“Ohoho,” said Timtim, “You can’t dance yet, m’fellow. But you will! Ah ha!”
The crab was as confused by Timtim’s jolliness as most Reefkin were. Slowly it stopped struggling, and without knowing exactly where the line was between deathmatch and play, the two crossed it. Soon, they were playing tug-a-war and then fetch with the quarterstaff, and Timtim decided to call this crab Click Clack.
“You spent the morning after the shipwreck playing with a crab…” said Bullmon, in disbelief. “What did you eat? How long were you there?”
Timtim was surprised by the questions. “Well, I suppose three weeks. About that. There were coconuts, Ancient, and several tide pools ripe with delicious clams and mussels. And those supplies that washed up with me too. Plenty to eat!”
“Aside from the crabs…” muttered Bullmon, and he called to one of the serving frogfolk to bring him some crab to eat.
“Oh, I couldn’t have eaten crab,” said Timtim, “Not in front of Click Clack. Would you like to meet him?”
“Click Clack, my friend the handsome aqua crab.”
Bullmon let the silence stretch before he asked, “You brought the giant crab with you?”
“Oh, yes,” said Timtim. “He’s quite tame. Mostly.”
Bullmon peered into the dark around the fire: “And where is this creature?”
“Gix is seeing to him.”
“Gix. Diver Gix?”
“How does Diver Gix come into this story?” asked Bullmon, and regretted it almost as soon as he had, for Timtim resumed his tale with enthusiasm: “First, I need to tell you about the other crab.”
Timtim became quite comfortable on his island. He’d used palm fronds to make a shelter. He spent his time playing with his new crab friend and training him. He and Click Clack had gotten rather good at charging around the island together.
On a warm, pleasant morning like all the others, Timtim and Click Clack were fencing -- Timtim with his quarterstaff and Click Clack with his claws, when out of the water surged an enormous crab shell. It was bigger than the raft that Timtim had fallen off of. One enormous claws snapped, bulbous eyes turned on tall stalks and spindly legs plowed across the sands towards Timtim and Click Clack. In the other claw, the crab held a staff topped with a green crystal. The crab waved the staff wildly, sending bolts of energy into the sky and the sands and the palm trees. Smaller crabs fled before it, more than Timtim had thought were on the island. They came in a wave across the beach.
There was nowhere to run, and so, buffeted this way and that, Timtim fell to the ground. It was a small miracle he wasn’t trampled by fleeing claws and crab legs. When the scuffling stopped and he looked up, he saw that the giant crab had stopped over him, mouth working as though it were already chewing Timtim. Valiantly, the salamander raised his quarterstaff, ready to defend himself.
The free claw reached for Timtim, big enough to snip him in two. Timtim’s quarterstaff clattered on the shell and he scrambled back, trying to stay away.
At that moment, Click Clack leapt into the fray!
The little crab snapped and danced in front of the bigger claw -- confusing the monstrous creature.
With a yell, Timtim stood up. He leapt from the sand to the back of little Click Clack and then onto the very claw of the giant crab. It tried to fling the salamander away, but Timtim leapt once more. This time he landed on the creature’s barnacled shell. With a yell, Timtim severed one of the creature’s eyes stalks and then…
“You’re saying,” Bullmon repeated in disbelief, “That you slew this creature.”
“Of course,” said Timtim.
“Have you any proof?” rumbled Bullmon.
“Why, that crab you are eating there,” said Timtim, “It probably comes from the carcass. We brought that back with us too, see.”
“You and Diver Gix’s crew?”
“Well, me and Diver Gix.”
Bullmon took another bite of crab. Somehow it didn’t taste quite so nice as it had a moment before.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” muttered Gix under his breath. He and a small crew of divers and scavengers were returning from a good, clean run. They’d found a ship wreck, they’d picked it clean. They hadn’t run into any monsters or squalls, they were headed home -- back to the shelter of the beaches and the Reef.
And then. Then he saw Timtim.
“But he’s won!” cried one of the other divers. “Look!”
Sure enough, the giant crab crashed lifeless to the sand while Timtim stood atop it. Gix watched as Timtim leapt down, apparently petting another, smaller crab, before going to investigate something shiny in the dead crab’s grasp.
“If we turn now, Gix, we can pick him up,” said the diver, excited, hand already on the tiller, ready to do exactly that.
For a moment, Gix didn’t let the tiller go.
“Do we have to?” he muttered. He’d been on ships with Timtim a few times. The first time he’d nearly been eaten by a giant octopus. The next time, the boat ran into a rock pillar hidden by the waves and sank. The third time they’d been shipwrecked, washed into a cave that filled up at high tide, chased through a jungle by a wild boar, and nearly eaten by a persistent giant sea eagle. The Reefkin said that Timtim was lucky, but while it certainly took a great deal of luck for the salamander to survive everything he had -- it also took a special kind of luck to get into all the trouble he did.
Reluctantly, Gix turned the boat towards the small island, Timtim and the giant crab.
An hour or so later, Timtim was aboard with his prize, his new pet and a magic staff.
“Gix! How lovely it is to see you!”
Gix grunted. He’d thought of a lot of things that could go wrong on his expedition. Now, with Timtim aboard, he knew he needed to be more creative. He eyed the glowing staff with particular wariness. But he’d never managed to predict how things were going to go when the salamander was involved.
“We’re all going to die,” he muttered, in lieu of any other greeting.
“It’s true,” said Timtim, jovially. “But not today. Today, everything is going to be fine.”
“And was it?” asked Bullmon, sneering. “Fine?”
“We’re home safe, aren’t we?” Timtim said, as though that proved his point entirely.
“I knew I never should have let you onboard!” cried Gix.
It was dusk, and the boat was on fire.
“Where did that come from?” howled Gix, looking up at the clear sky. Lightning had flashed down the nearly cloudless blue expanse of sky and struck their boat directly, catching the little craft alight and frying two of the divers instantly. Gix tried not to look at their charred bodies. It had happened so quickly! And he’d never thought of that at all. Lightning strike. Who thinks of a lightning strike?
“Don’t panic,” laughed Timtim, splashing water onto the deck, working to douse the flames. His pet crab, Click Clack, doing the same beside him. “We’re on the ocean! We can quench a little fire. There’s plenty of water.”
Just as he said it though, Timtim stopped dipping his hands into the water.
“What?” asked Gix sharply, and Timtim pointed to where five large rectangular fins were cutting through the water, directly towards them. Gix groaned.
“Well,” said Timtim, every the optimist. “We have something to distract them with that’s not our supplies.”
Gix still tried not to look at the bodies
Gix had been summoned to the fireside to add to Timtim’s accounting of the adventures.
“You fought the sharks off, lost two more divers to a leviathan and then the two of you managed to get the boat all the way home?” asked Bullmon incredulous.
“Yes!” said Timtim. He looked to Gix for corroboration.
Reluctantly, the little diver nodded. He edged away from Bullmon, keeping the salamander between him and the Ancient.
Bullmon resisted resting his head in one webbed hand.
“That is the most ridiculous tale I’ve heard since the last time you showed up months late and somehow still breathing,” said the Ancient. “I am tempted, Diver Gix, to send you with Timtim in the future. You’re the only other one who ever comes back. Perhaps together you can actually get to the Prism Pools.”
Gix’s mouth drooped sadly.
“That’s a marvelous idea,” said Timtim. “And Click Clack, of course, will come too. But it’s not necessary! I made it to the pools.”
“You what?!” asked Bullmon. “Why did you not say so at once? Did you see the glittering fish? Did you find the pool with a single great carp whose scales are more golden than the precious coins of men and dwarves?” Horror filled Bullmon. “Did you lose it in the shipwreck?”
“Yes, yes and no,” said Timtim. He gestured for a frogfolk to come forward, rolling a barrel. “I did find the great carp of which you speak -- and it was washed ashore with me! See. Everything is fine.”
Timtim opened the barrel, prying open the top so that everyone could see the carp inside. It was indeed a rich and glittering gold, as though it were a piece of jewelry and no living creature at all. The turtlekin leaned in, trying to get a better look at the miraculous creature.
Before they could, however, Bullmon’s tongue snaked out, wrapped around the fish and pulled it -- whole -- into his mouth.
A shocked silence followed, broken by Timtim’s bright laughter. “How did it taste, Ancient?”
Bullmon smacked his lips. “Most acceptable.” He looked at the salamander and Gix with lazy eyes. “I do think I shall have you two work together.”
Timtim slung an arm over Gix’s shoulder. “As you say, Ancient! We’re ready to go wherever the wind takes us.”
“What could possibly go wrong?” asked Gix, to no one in particular.
“Precisely, my friend,” said Timtim. “Precisely.” He was certain it would be fine.