allow myself this gesture. The merchant beamed and thanked me so profusely that he slobbered all over himself. He must have boasted about his adventure somewhere because not two weeks had gone by when another merchant appeared. He had a pretty large bag ready with him. And a daughter. Also pretty large.”
Nivellen extended his legs under the table and stretched until the armchair creaked.
“I came to an understanding with the merchant in no time,” he continued. “He'd leave her with me for a year. I had to help him load the sack onto his mule; he wouldn't have managed by himself.”
“And the girl?”
“She had fits at the sight of me for a while. She really thought I’d eat her. But after a month we were eating at the same table, chatting and going for long walks. She was kind, and remarkably smart, and I’d get tongue-tied when I talked to her. You see, Geralt, I was always shy with girls, always made a laughing stock of myself, even with wenches from the cowshed with dung up to their knees, girls the lads from the crew turned over this way and that at will. Even they made fun of me. To say nothing of having a maw like this. I couldn't even make myself say anything about why I had paid so dearly for a year of her life. The year dragged like the stench following marauding troops until, at last, the merchant arrived and took her away.
“I locked myself in the house, resigned, and didn't react for several months to any of the guests who turned up with daughters. But after a year spent with company, I realized how hard it was to live without anyone to talk to.” The monster made a noise which was supposed to be a sigh but came out more like a hiccup.
“The next one,” he said after a while, “was called Fenne. She was small, bright and chirpy, a real gold-crest. She wasn't frightened of me at all. Once, on the anniversary of my first haircut, my coming of age, we'd both drunk too much mead and…ha, ha. Straight after, I jumped out of bed and ran to the mirror. I must admit I was disappointed, and despondent. The trap was the same as it ever was, if with a slightly more stupid expression. And they say the wisdom of ages is to be found in fairy tales. It's not worth a shit, wisdom like that, Geralt.
“Well, Fenne quickly tried to make me forget my worries. She was a jolly girl, I tell you. Do you know what she thought up? We'd both frighten unwanted guests. Imagine: a guest like that enters the courtyard, looks around, and then, with a roar, I charge at him on all fours with Fenne, completely naked, sitting on my back and blowing my grandfather's hunting horn!”
Nivellen shook with laughter, the white of his fangs flashing. “Fenne,” he continued, “stayed with me for a year, then returned to her family with a huge dowry. She was preparing to marry a tavern owner, a widower.”
“Carry on, Nivellen. This is interesting.”
“You think so?” said the monster, scratching himself between the ears with a rasping sound. “All right. The next one, Primula, was the daughter of an impoverished knight. The knight, when he got here, had a skinny horse, a rusty cuirass and incredible debts. He was as hideous as cow dung, I tell you, Geralt, and spread a similar smell. Primula, I’d wager my right hand, was conceived while he was at war, as she was quite pretty. I didn't frighten her either, which isn't surprising, really, as compared to her parent I might have appeared quite comely. She had, as it turned out, quite a temperament and I, having gained some self-confidence, seized the moment by the horns. After two weeks Primula and I already had a very close relationship. She liked to pull me by the ears and shout, ‘Bite me to death, you animal!’ and ‘Tear me apart, you beast!’ and other equally idiotic things. I ran to the mirror in the breaks, but just imagine, Geralt, I looked at myself with growing anxiety. Less and less did I long to return to my former shape. You see, Geralt, I used to be a
Judith Reeves-Stevens, Garfield Reeves-Stevens