Excerpt from "Sherm Reinhardt and the Black Rose"
by D.W. Frauenfelder
This novella is excerpted from an anthology of stories about Borschland available on Amazon.
The first time I went to Zimroth, everyone in Borschland had an opinion.
"Sherm, I need to warn you," said Hempel, the equipment guy for Te Staff, my team. "Going to Zimroth is like going back in time."
I had to stop myself from laughing. Hempel was not the type to notice, which in my case is all to the good, but I'd already gone back in time—way back—when I came to Borschland from the States.
Rachael, my wife, was not for the trip, even though she is an open-minded person, especially for a Borscher.
"You will need to be very careful what you say," she told me. "The Zimrothians hold grudges. The men are very proud. They have duels."
"I think you're jealous you're not going with me," I said.
"Perish the thought!" she said, though she did produce a poem about Sherm Reinhardt and Zimroth that was published in a bunch of newspapers and finished with this stanza:
Amidst the golden towers
And gardens of perfume
The king of Borschic hockey
Will hail the royal groom.
She meant I would be having lunch with the king of Zimroth, King Omtar the Third, who was actually not the ruler of Zimroth, but the husband of the ruler of Zimroth, Queen Emrick. And even she wasn't really the ruler; they had a parliament for that.
But who's counting when you get to have lunch amidst golden towers and gardens of perfume?
Omtar was a big hockey fan and a big fan of me as well. He had been campaigning to get the Te Staff team out to Monarth City, the capital, for a tour and games, ever since I'd finished my first season in the Borschland Hockey League.
"Sherm Reinhardt is the son of the lanathuia," he was quoted as saying.
"Son of the lanathuia" means that I am a darling of fortune, which is pretty true, though I like to think my wrist shot has something to do with my success, too.
It wasn't our luck to get together a tour. Management couldn't make the numbers work or whatever.
But the team had been wanting to get a Zimrothian goalie for the longest time, and finally, after my fifth season in the league, the scouts found a guy they thought was worthy for the Te Staff tradition. His name was Cemreth Cefreth (c pronounced like k; krazy, I know).
Now every Zimrothian adult male is automatically a member of the army, and the king has the last word on whether the country can spare him. It was my job to sweet-talk Omtar into letting Cefreth go. Our goalie coach, Ruudischicht, would come along to evaluate the guy's talent.
We shipped out by express train on the first of Aprilis, which is November 1 in the wide world, the day after the Borschland hockey season ended (since Borschland is in the southern hemisphere, November means spring is coming, so no more ice hockey). Rachael actually cried on the train platform, and my kids, Conraad (Connie) and Lujlianne (Lily), gave me about a thousand kisses. Connie was about to be five and Lily just a toddler, and they didn't know where I was going, but I leave on road trips often enough that they know they have to kiss me goodbye.
We went nonstop and first class to Bjaward, the cattle town that is the Chicago of Borschland and has a top-shelf hockey team. Then we got on the Swift Arrow, which is the luxury liner of the Zimrothian Rail Service, and averaged about seventy-seven miles an hour in getting to Monarth City in five hours flat.
Ruudischicht gave me the travel stats from memory. He's been to Zimroth quite a bit, so going there doesn't bother him, except if dinner is late. Ruudischicht was a crack goalie in his time, and played against Mendar Nurnar, the original Zimrothian goalie who created the reputation of Zimrothian goalies.
As the train cut the flat Zimrothian pastureland in two, he read his newspapers, and only once said anything to me.
"Don't get your hopes up. Nurnar was a genius on the ice, but he is even more of a genius as a businessman. He has sold more false Nurnars over the years than Lisandra has apples."
Since Lisandra is the apple capital of Borschland, this was saying something.
"Sounds like Omtar wants to keep this one for himself," I said. "He doesn't do that all the time. He's a team owner, too. I read about that. Royal Monarth Lancers."
Ruudischicht gave me a Borschic humph, which, I kid you not, sounds like the oink of a pig.
Ruudischicht was being paid to be skeptical. It was true that the famous Nurnar was the first goalie in Borschland to use the power of the lanathuia to stop hockey pucks. Apparently he became one with the universe, turned on the flow, and, as the saying goes, "stood on his head" every game. His 1.13 goals against average in nine years of play is the lowest ever of any goalie in the Borschland Hockey League.
I call it the Zimmy-zim-zim effect.
At that time Nurnar made Meechen, another great Borschic hockey team, the powerhouse of the league. Ruudischicht was Te Staff's goalie at the time. It's a popular trivia question to ask the number of zero to zero games these two teams played with that pair in goal (answer: eight, an all-time record).
Ruudischicht's GAA had been 1.87. Pretty good, but not a Nurnar.
Nurnar probably could've played another decade, but after his fourth league championship with Meechen, he went back to Zimroth and founded a goalkeeper's school called the Lana International Academy of Ice Hockey. Since its founding in 309 (Borschic reckoning, 1985 for the rest of the world), Lana had taken on three-hundred and eighty eight goalies and sent sixty-four of them to Borschland. Sixty-four in twenty-five years, and many of the rest to the Zimroth Hockey League, or Vinasola, or Celtlands. And made a commission on the transfer of each one of them.
None of them had come close to Nurnar himself.