"Garn, I hate to tell you this, but it's hard to sit here and enjoy a drink when all that hammering is making my head feel like I've already got the hangover." Motavia's most preeminent hunter, Alys Brangwin, wasn't the bar's best customer, but she was its most famous, so the owner was inclined to try to keep her in a good mood.

"Yeah," said the redhead sitting next to her, "and we can't hear each other talk, either."

"Though since you're just telling me how your date with Jason went last night, I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing, Fen."

Fenris just rolled her eyes at that.

"Ah, I just wanted to get this new painting hung over the door before the dinner rush started, but it can wait if the noise is really bugging you," Garn said. "And there's another three nails to go in, so it'd be a while if I kept at it."

Alys looked up at the desert vista, done in the bold colors of Native Motavian artwork. It was etched and painted on an oblong metal plate, hence the number of nails required to hold it up.

"Is it going to be all right?"

"Oh, yeah, the three I've already done will hold it fine for a couple of hours. I was just being careful." Garn set the hammer down on top of the ladder for later and came down.

"Well, okay. Can you get me another drink, then? I think I'm going to need it if Fen starts in on the kissing parts."

"You wouldn't be this grumpy if you had a man of your own, Alys."

"That's kind of hard. From what I can tell, you fast-moving types have snapped up all the interesting guys. And the ones who aren't taken, well..."

"Hey, Alys!" boomed from the door.

"Well, there's a perfect example," she finished up.

Joss Howland was tall, strong, and handsome. He was a respectably competent hunter, besides, at least for those jobs that required a lot of brawn and not much in the way of brains, because not much in the way of brains was what he had. If Alys's taste in men had been "big and dumb," she'd have found him ready and willing to cure her single status, since he had a long-standing crush on her. For her part, Alys had a strict policy against dating men who made her teeth grit on sight.

Rather than go around the ladder, Joss took the most direct path in Alys's direction and ducked his shoulder to go under it. His size made that easier said than done, though, and he bumped against it, causing the hammer to rattle dangerously.

"Well, that's seven years' bad luck for you," Fen said, "walking under a ladder like that."

"Aw, c'mon, that's just a superstition," Joss protested.

"Hey, your bad luck almost started right there. Another inch and that hammer would have fallen square on your head."

"You know, there's something to that," Alys said.

"You don't mean the superstition, do you?"

"Sure. Here's what I'm getting at: if there's a ladder standing around where someone can walk under it, there's usually a reason. Someone might be up on it with a bucket of paint, for example, which could spill on a person going underneath."

"Oh, I see what you mean. It's like if you open an umbrella indoors, you probably don't intend to use it inside, so you'd have to carry it outside, and they don't fit very well through doors and could easily break," Fen warmed to the theme.

"Right, or breaking a mirror. If it's just cracked, that's one thing, but if it's really shattered, that means bits of silvered glass getting everywhere, and it's hard to clean up every single piece of broken glass. You might step on one or brush it with a hand and get a nasty cut. So that's three things where it makes complete sense to call them unlucky, because the natural consequence of doing them is likely to be unfortunate. That isn't superstition, it's just common sense."

"Like what almost happened to Joss."

"You really shouldn't have left that hammer up there, Garn," Alys agreed. "It's just too risky. A head injury won't do Joss any harm, but the next person might have wits to scramble."

"You're right," Garn said, setting her drink down in front of her. "I'll grab it now."

"I'll get it for you!" Joss sprang off the barstool he'd secured during the discussion, eager to respond to Alys's suggestion. Unfortunately for him, he was too busy looking back at her to bask in her approval to watch where he was going.

Once again, he avoided being hit by the hammer. He didn't really have to, since he walked full-on into the ladder, got his feet tangled in the rungs, and went down in a heap. His head cracked off the floor, and the top of the ladder took him across the bridge of the nose just for good measure.

"I know its bad luck to walk under a ladder," Fenris remarked, "but I don't think walking through one is the best way to avoid that."

~X X X~

A/N: Really, the only reason I don't write more of these stories is that it takes energy to find new and creative ways for Joss to hurt himself. Alys and Fen's discussion about bad-luck superstitions is something I realized a decade or so ago, probably while I was trying to walk in from the rain without furling my umbrella and nearly got it caught in the door.