Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 29 (of 43)

XXIX

“Definitely a half-ogre,” said the Wiz.

“Really,” said Al'bert in the way that denotes vague disbelief mixed with consideration.

“You want protection, don't you?”

“Well, yes,” replied Al'bert, but he still wasn't sure. The level of barbarism half-ogres were known to display made humans look like polished nobility, and Al'bert wasn't altogether confident that he wanted to stir that pot within his own employ. Already he had brought in two humans... well, three humans. He'd caught a thief trying to break into his room, and offered him far more than a simple heist would give him to come under his patronage. The fellow was antsy; he wouldn't tell any of them his real name, not that anyone would care, anyway, and Al'bert thought it was altogether silly and self-aggrandizing were he to digress. In the stead of a name, then, he pointed at the thief and called him “Hey you”. It was only mildly inconvenient.

The idea of a half-ogre made Al'bert nervous, however.

“I do want protection, but I don't want the thing to suddenly decide it hasn't had enough violence in protecting me and then club me for dessert.”

“You could start prevention of that eventuality by referring to the half-ogre as a 'he',” said the Wiz dryly.

“Or she,” mentioned Alice, who was only nearby, sitting on a step and sharpening a knife.

Al'bert groaned and massaged his temples.

“Yes, perhaps,” said the Wiz, turning in his chair to regard Alice directly. “But the females of the species are never seen outside of their villages, and since they will kill you should you tread inside the boundaries of their villages, no one has ever seen one.”

He turned back to Al'bert. “Not and lived to tell about it, anyway.”

“I've seen one,” mentioned Alice as she sharpened.

The wizard began to look very annoyed.

“At the Slug and Lettuce,” she went on.

“What is a half-ogre female doing at the Slug and Lettuce?” he demanded of her, and of all of his scholarly sources.

“Serving drinks,” replied Alice plainly.

“'Serving drinks'?” asked the Wiz, who was clearly unable to impress upon either Al'bert or Alice the obscene peculiarity of this phenomenon although he did try very hard with the tone of his voice.

“Her name's Floh,” said Alice, inspecting the sharpness of the blade in her hand with her thumb. “You should go see her; she's rather nice.”

At this point she cast a glance at the Wiz as his elbows struck the tabletop between him and Al'bert and he covered his eyes with his hands in frustration, which was doubtless over being surrounded by such uneducated morons.

She caught Al'bert's eye and gave him a playful grin that amused him more than he had expected from a human. He was beginning to think he might like her, which felt like a revelation. The Wiz recovered from his intellectual agony and went on, long-sufferingly.

“Regardless,” he said. “Half-ogres are, for all of their barbarism, a species steeped very deeply in tradition.”

“Like elves?” asked Alice, although it gave Al’bert a start to think of elves as being similar to half-ogres in any way at all.

Oddly, the Wiz appeared to be impressed by Alice’s powers of deduction. He capped this singular turn of events by saying, “Indeed. Quite like elves.”

Al’bert groaned. There was the sound of a knife hitting a whetstone once, then again.

“You know they aren’t actually ‘half-ogres’ at all,” ruminated the wizard. “The term ‘half-ogre’ is, I suppose, a form of slang for all of us.”

“Then what are they?” asked Al’bert.

“They call themselves- ”

“Lord Fromage!”

The thief burst into the room in a very simple manner and then stood in a frumpy, disheveled heap. He was short, exceedingly short for a human, which made him actually quite a bit shorter than Al’bert and even Alice. He seemed disoriented and uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the three already present, although what seemed to him to be “scrutiny” was actually “mild curiosity”. He turned and shut the door.

“Please,” said Al’bert graciously. “It’s ‘le Comte du Fromage’.”

“Yes, Comte, there are half-ogres outside,” he said breathlessly.

“Well, no, they’re really called- ” began Wiz.

“What do they want?” Al’bert said, talking over the Wiz and letting his curiosity get the better of him.

“They want to talk to you,” said the thief.

Al’bert took a brief moment to be only a little afraid for his well-being, then decided there was nothing to be done for it and stood, straightened his longcoat (which was quite impeccably cut, incidentally), and walked out the door.

What he didn’t notice, however, was that Alice followed him intently, sheathing her knife in a clandestine place.

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