Title: Mushrooms Author: Raissa Baiard Timeframe: Saga PT, approx. 18 BBY Characters: Frugly, Raissa Baiard, Gertris Magrivray Synopsis: Frugly and Raissa's first encounter, as chronicled in "Raissa Baiard Solves Them All," from his point of view. Advisory: Mentions and mild depictions of animal abuse. Thanks to Findswoman for beta-reading --------------------------------------- Mushrooms had always been Frugly's weakness. He just couldn't help himself. His first owner, the one who had trained him to sniff out the delicious fungi, always gave him a tiny piece-- even a whole mushroom if he found a particularly large cluster-- as a reward while crooning sweet words and scratching his ears just right. The earthy flavor of the mushrooms, redolent of the forest, was the taste of love and praise. But that was three owners and four planets ago. Now Frugly belonged to the old human named Gertris. She never gave him any of the mushrooms he found for her and beat him if he ever tried to sample them. Instead, she fed Frugly the scanty scraps of her greasy, over-spiced meals or rotten produce left over from the marketplace. If he asked her to pat him or scratch his ears, she hit him with her metal walking stick. Frugly wanted to love her and please her, but he couldn't and knew he never would. He'd been working on his escape for days, slowly chewing through the heavy jerba hide leash that kept him tied to the porch. He'd finally gnawed his way through to freedom when he smelled a familiar, tantalizing aroma. Mushrooms. The scent wafted out of a narrow crack in the side of Gertris's house. Frugly nosed at it and discovered that he could push part of the wall aside just enough to get inside. He crawled down the narrow tunnel, following his nose to the prize at the end-- row after row of glorious mushrooms. He snuffled appreciatively and bit into the nearest mushroom, pulling down the entire string. He was surprised to find that they were flat and hard, rather than succulently meaty, but they still had the same wonderful smell, like rich soil, moss and leaves. If anything, their flavor was even more intense than Frugly remembered. He sighed ecstatically as he wolfed down the dried fungi. If there were a paradise for robas, he'd surely found it. Frugly ate until he was full and then kept eating until his stomach began to protest-- quietly at first, then louder, then very loudly indeed-- but he wasn't ready to leave the bounty he'd discovered. He'd paused in his gluttony to rest his overextended stomach when another faint scent caught his nose. It smelled like mushrooms, but with an odd, sweet overtone. Frugly snuffed deeply, pushing his way through the rattling rows of mushrooms until he discovered the source: a hard, squarish lump in the back of the tunnel. He took an experimental nibble and his teeth sank into a slick, foul tasting skin which ripped easily when he tore his teeth free. A powdery substance puffed out of the block. Frugly sneezed and licked the powder off his muzzle and paws. It tasted of mushrooms, but sweeter. He licked at the block until he realized that the powder's sweetness had a fermented, almost rotten character to it, and it left a harsh metallic aftertaste that he wasn't sure he liked-- especially when his nose and tongue started to itch and tingle like he'd been stung by blood gnats. He pawed at his muzzle, trying get rid of both the taste and the sensation. His head started to feel buzzy, too, as if the horde of gnats was swarming in his skull. The narrow passage seemed to expand and contract around him. He swayed unsteady legs, his head suddenly too heavy to hold up, and collapsed to the earthen floor. Frugly didn't know how long he'd lain there, moaning and twitching in the darkness when the whining scrape of the board at the mouth of the tunnel assaulted his ears and lanced into his skull. He lifted his muzzle, or tried to, snuffed the air deeply, and cringed at the mingled smells of grease, dirt, vermin droppings and unwashed human--the scent of Gertris Magrivray. He whimpered, inching backwards, and then his sensitive nose picked up a new smell, another human, also female, but younger, cleaner, with a sweet scent of herbs and citrus clinging to her. The board scraped again. "I'll be careful," a woman's voice said. There was a scuffle of something large crawling into the tunnel, and suddenly, a bright light flared into existence. Frugly winced away, tossing his ears anxiously as the strange, new human crept forward, sweeping the light-stick in front of her. She stopped when she caught sight of him. "Frugly," she said, and for a wonder, she didn't make his name into a curse, the way Gertris did. "Let's get you out of here, eh, Frugly?" The roba raised his still-buzzing head and snuffed again, deeper; there was something interesting about this human, but he couldn't quite sniff it out. Something nice about the way she smelled--no, not really smelled. Felt? He tried to get a whiff of it, but his thoughts were scattering like insects and his stomach was churning. He dropped his muzzle to his paws. The Human edged closer to him, one hand outstretched, clicking her tongue at him. "Come here, boy," she crooned. "Who's a good pig...dog...thing?" Her fingers brushed one of his paws, and Frugly jerked away. It had been many, many spans of days since any human touched him with kindness, and it startled him more than if she'd hit him. She rustled around in the tunnel's confines and, with a sound of crinkling flimsi, brought something out of one of the pouches that Humans seemed to like to strap around their middles. A sweet, enticing aroma wafted from the tiny morsel in her hand. Frugly nosed it; the scent was intriguing. It melted in his mouth as soon as he lapped it up, spreading the taste of berries and honey over his tongue. He licked his muzzle to capture the last of the flavor. *More?* "Like that?" the woman asked as the he nosed her hand. She scooted backwards in the tunnel, and he heard the telltale crackle of flimsi and caught the tempting sweet scent. "Come on, then." Frugly followed her, wriggling eagerly, when he suddenly his stomach started to churn faster and faster. Finally, it spasmed. He wheezed as his sides began to heave, and he gave a deep, hacking grunt, as all the mushrooms he'd eaten decided to vacate his stomach at once. "Ack, no!" The Human tried to pull away from him. "Shavit!!!" Frugly knew that word. It meant that he was going to be hit. Hard. Often. He squealed, scrabbling back into the rows of dried mushrooms. They rattled loudly when he hit them, the noise echoing ominously through the tunnel. The strings tangled around him. There was no place for him to escape. He collapsed into a heap, whimpering and twitching, waiting to be beaten. He lay there, waiting, waiting for the blows to come, but none did. Though the woman crept towards him, all she did was wave her light-stick around, and poke at the slick-skinned package that was still oozing the sweet-musty powder. Frugly whined, nudging her wrist with his nose. *Don't leave me,* he pleaded. *Don't leave me with Gertris.* She'd beat him when he finally came out of the tunnel, harder than ever, and tie him up again, with a chain this time, like his last owner used. He would never get away again, and he'd die here, sooner or later, curled up on the miserable, filthy porch, alone. "Oh, come on," the woman whispered. "You'll be safe under here. I'll be back for you." But she didn't believe that, and neither did he. He whimpered and bumped her hand up onto his muzzle, creeping forward until it came to rest on top of his head. Her fingers brushed his fur lightly, the kindest touch he'd received in a very long time. *Please?* Frugly looked up at her and gave his tail a hopeful wag.... "All right," she said. "I'll get you out." She reached around him, putting one arm underneath his stomach and lifted his front legs onto her shoulder. Holding him firmly, but not roughly, she propelled them both backwards, and they were out of the tunnel, blinking in the harsh sunlight of Gertris's scraggly lawn. Gertris was waiting for them, with the cane that she loved to poke and swat and lash him with in one hand and the stick that spat fire in the other. Frugly had seen her use it on the scurriers that infested her squalid home when they grew too bold and ventured out of the walls. He remembered the the sizzling hot smell of the blue fire that came from it and the scent of charred meat and crisped fur from the burnt lump that was all that remained of the scurrier after the fire hit it. And she was going to use it on the woman--the only human who'd given him a kind word or a gentle touch in so many, many days. Frugly felt the change in the woman, her sudden wariness, the way her her arms tensed around him--a posture he knew too well, because it was that of a cornered animal who expects an attack but has nowhere to go. She was going to fight Gertris, even though she had no way to defend herself. He knew, without really knowing how he knew it, that she wished Gertris would look away from her--even for a second--so she could make her move. He knew what he had to do. He leapt out of the woman's arms, ignoring the way his stomach clenched and his head buzzed and his legs threatened to fold. He charged Gertris and clamped his teeth around one scrawny, filthy ankle. The smell and the taste of stale sweat, laced with the sweet-musty overtones of the white powder, flooded his nose and mouth. Gertris screamed at him in a shrill voice, sharp as a thorn in a paw, and shook her leg, trying to dislodge him. She raised the metal cane high and it came down across the tender skin of his muzzle with a stinging blow. It cracked again and again, against his back, then his ribs. Frugly almost cried out; he wanted to let go, to run, to hide from her and her cane, but he growled and tightened his grip instead. She would not hurt the kind woman the way she'd hurt him. He wouldn't let her. The other woman flew at Gertris like a snarling tooka and knocked her to the ground. She wrestled with her, but even in her fury, the wiry old Human was no match the younger woman. She pinned Gertris easily and confined her hands with metal collars, leaving her in a shrieking heap. She knelt by Frugly while he lay panting, blood trickling down his muzzle, and he felt a warmth radiating from her, a feeling that he hadn't felt from anyone since his first owner: pride. He had done well and the gentleness of her touch, even though it made him wince, was his reward. "Good boy, Frugly," she told him, rubbing his ears just right, and his heart swelled to hear those words. "Good boy." -------------------------------- The kind woman, the one the other humans called "Vice-Prefect", took him to a place that smelled like livestock and medicine. A man whose hands were brisk but not unkind checked Frugly over, cleaned the new wounds on his muzzle and muttered over the old scars on his sides. He put Frugly in a pen that had once housed eopies, and let him sleep in a pile of clean, sweet hay. The Vice-Prefect came the next day, with a stiff new leather collar that she put around his neck. Frugly knew this ritual by now, and it knew that it meant he would no longer be living with Gertris. The Vice-Prefect had marked him as hers. The thought was more delicious than any mushroom, sweeter than the berries-and-honey candy she'd given him. He thought his tail would never stop wagging as he trotted next to her to a little house in a part of town that smelled like eucalyptus trees and conifer shrubs instead of scurriers and garbage. Frugly stopped when she opened the door and whined a question. "Go on in," the Vice-Prefect laughed. "You don't have to sleep on the porch here." He took a cautious step inside, his toenails clicking on the tile floor, and snuffed. No scent of vermin, no musty-sweet smell of filth met his nose, just the smells of citron oil and toasted bread and the bitter dark drink that Humans seemed to like. The scent of Human, yes, but clean, her scent--warm and safe and good. The Vice-Prefect sat down on the floor and patted a plush cushion that lay next to the couch. "This is for you." Frugly touched it carefully with a paw. It was soft, even softer than the eopie-scented hay he'd slept on the night before. He flopped onto it and rolled over, luxuriating in the feel. Turning over again, he snuffed deeply of the scent of the fabric: wool overlaid with herbs and soap. It was nice smell, a comforting smell, a smell like hers. He nosed at the strange tuft of threads that was attached to the pillow's corner and took an experimental nibble. "Frugly." The Vice-Prefect's voice was firm. "Drop it." Frugly let go with a whimper, and cowered, waiting for the blow. She reached towards him... ...and stroked his head. "That's a good boy. I guess this means you're getting hungry." She stood and went into the tiny kitchen area adjacent. "I looked it up on the HoloNet," she told him as he followed. "It said that robas are supposed to eat good quality livestock food supplemented with fresh produce. But I thought you might like these as a treat to welcome you to your new home." She reached for something on the counter, and there was a sharp crackle of flimsi. "They're just morchellas, not balos, but at least these aren't hallucinogenic." The scent, earthy and pungent, told Frugly what it was even before she set the dish in front of him with a smile. The mushrooms tasted like the forest, like earth and moss. But most of all they tasted like love.