"Okay, try this one: how many hunters does it take to change a lantern-wick?"'
"Garn, if we wanted comedy with our drinks, we'd be watching the floor show," protested Alys Brangwin. She and Jason Cord had just finished up a job cleaning out a shrieker nest, and having collected their bounty from the Hunter's Guild were now attempting to unwind and relax with something cold and alcoholic in the Guild bar.
"Come on, guess," the bartender urged.
"Aren't you supposed to be serving drinks?" Cord asked mildly.
"The answer had better be one," Alys said, hoping that to go along with him would shut him up faster.
"Nope. No one knows, because no one's ever hired the Guild to change one!"
"And yet our intensely mercenary natures and demands that we be paid for our work allow us to pay our bar tab," Cord said dryly.
"Well, I thought it was funny," Garn sighed.
"Don't worry," Alys told him. "We won't hold that against you."
Huffily, he turned back to get their drinks.
"Telling hunter jokes to hunters. That's new. Not good, but new."
"And the day just gets better and better," Alys sighed, pointing to the door. Joss Howland had entered the bar.
Joss was a hunter, too. He was big and muscular, and fairly handsome in the rugged, chiseled-features way. He'd had a crush on Alys for years that no amount of abject failure seemed able to dislodge. She'd have considered going out with him, but men who were dumber than the average piece of scrap iron were not her type.
"Alys!" he bellowed, homing in on her with a tracking skill that would have been very valuable if he could duplicate it in the field.
"You wanna have a drink with me?"
Cord held out his hand and inspected it. "Funny, I don't look invisible."
"So what about it, Alys?" Joss countered Cord's claim.
Alys thought it over.
"Well," she decided, "Jason and I have a bet going with Garn, so if you'll help settle it, okay."
Joss's face lit up.
"Settle a bet? You name it."
"Good. See that lantern?" She pointed up to where a large oil lamp hung above the bar on a chain fixed to the beam above.
"What about it?"
"Change the wick."
"Huh?" was Joss's brilliant reply, proving that three one-syllable words can be too much for a man to cope with.
"Change...the...wick," Alys repeated. "That's all."
Joss squinted at her as if he was still having trouble getting the idea, then shrugged.
"Okay, if you say so."
It was too high to reach, even for him, so he climbed up and stood on a bar stool. A protruding screw caught his eye, so he began to turn it, hoping it was a latch. In a way, it was; when he had it loose enough, the entire bottom of the lamp fell off. The metal plate struck him on the head, causing him to lose his balance and fall with a thud to the tavern floor, the oil showering him as he did. The still-flaming wick came down last, with predictable results.
"You know, that was the only decent cloak I owned," Cord pointed out a couple of minutes later. They'd used it to smother the flames and it had gotten badly scorched (though not so badly as Joss, who'd been packed off to the healer's).
"Send Joss a bill," said Alys.
"I can't believe he didn't notice the bottom has a hinge so you can remove the oil reservoir for refilling."
"Welcome to my world."
"Or that he didn't blow out the wick first?"
Alys shrugged. There was really nothing she could say to that, so she changed the subject.
"I do owe Garn an apology, though."
"For wrecking the lamp?"
"No, because the answer obviously isn't 'one.'"