Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yes, you read that correctly. Ferretfolk.

Under the auspices of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax created a number of iconic races, whether out of whole cloth or by combining a various different mythological and literary sources. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when, in his final novel, he did it one last time. At first, I balked—up to this point, Infernal Sorceress had been a fairly hard-edged and gritty fantasy romp. What were a bunch of talking weasel-people doing here? Yet once I got past my initial knee-jerk reaction (which said that such things were better off left in one of Brian Jacques's Redwall novels), I realized that, in fact, they fit the story perfectly. After all, what's the point of fantasy if not to mix things up and make the reader question their standard assumptions? In throwing in something totally out of left field, Gygax was rattling my cage and reminding me that there's more to the genre than just the same old white-bread elves and dwarves we all know and love. And besides, their accents are totally adorable.

So with that said, I thought I'd offer you all the first (and quite possibly last) appearance of the ferretfolk:

Below, Ferret stared a second in horror. What little light there was danced and swayed wildly, but it was sufficient to show him the ugly mandibles and head of the steelback as the monster came up into the cave. The hole's exit was a tight fit for it, but the myriapod was forcing its hard body through it all too quickly. Each segment through gave it two more legs with which to haul the rest of it out to get at its prey. "Oh, crap! Now what?" Ferret cursed as he turned to look for a really fast means of getting up to the passage he wasn't sure would save them from the hunting giant centipede. At that moment a braided leather rope dropped in front of him. Ferret needed no urging, and he swarmed up hand-over-hand. "Where'd you get the rope, Ra—"

His jaw fell slack as he saw the welcoming committee awaiting him. One of that number jerked him all the way inside, pulled him out of the way, as two others rolled a rounded boulder to the brink of the tunnel. "—ker?

His companion was as shocked as Ferret. Raker gave his head a slight shake as if to say, "I haven't the slightest notion," and then stared at the two lithe forms which were just in the process of shoving the big stone over the edge. They heard a thump and a sharp crack followed by scrabbling noises which slowly died away.

"Gottum!" One of the creatures who had sent the boulder down chittered in something which sounded vaguely like human speech as it turned and showed a mouthful of sharp fangs to the two men.

"That's trade talk," Raker murmured, referring to the pidgin Phonecian commonly used throughout much of Ærth to conduct business.

"And that's a... a... man-sized stoat," Ferret breathed.

"Sure, talk pretty fine with hewmuns allatime now and then, but no Stoatie. Nonono. Thurr we are—Ferretfolk you name we, us say Thurr." The creature trilled the r's as it pronounced the name of its folk. "See dead manyfoot?"

The creature talked as fast as it moved. Ferret couldn't believe this. They did look like huge, slender ferrets, down to their buff fur and black "masks." He gaped, then asked rather stupidly, "Real ferretfolk?" He had heard of them but never believed they existed. "I am called Ferret."

The one who had hauled him to safety ignored the question. "Come. See it broken. Good."

Both men went to where the creature proudly pointed with its nose, stared down to see the steelback below, forepart a gory ruin under the boulder. "You sure squashed the shit out of that head!" Raker said with enthusiasm.

"Bad thing, manyfoot. Kill hewmuns, kill you, kill Thurr, too, so we allatime kill 'em first. Pretty good, sure?" And as it rattled that off the creature showed its teeth again in what was surely meant to be an imitation of a human smile.

James Sutter
Planet Stories Editor

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Tags: Gary Gygax Infernal Sorceress Monsters Planet Stories Setne Inhetep
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