They were standing in a line, and Al’bert would have found it funny if it hadn’t been so exorbitantly intimidating. There were three of them, and one even wore a helmet adorned with curving horns, securing all of Al’bert’s preconceived notions about barbarianism. Although, horns or not, the helmet didn’t seem to be able to compete with the curving tusks which protruded largely from the half-ogre’s green face.
Al’bert approached them bravely, being able to conceal all indications of unease except for a pesky sheen of sweat that broke out on his forehead. It was the one in the middle who spoke first among them all, who sported armor made of a mish-mash of leather and iron, coating him like an exoskeletal mélange from the center of a mountain. He smelled strongly of the earth.
“You’re the elf looking for help?” it grunted. Well, he grunted, conceded Al’bert after a moment’s self-correction. Al’bert drew himself up.
“Indeed, I am,” he said, and then he looked over the three of them, who were very broad. He had the sudden feeling of being a fly, and the imminent possibility of being smacked into the wall at any moment by any one of six green arms that were probably nearly as thick as his waist. It threatened to be very distracting, but he had been trained to suppress such things.
“A strong-arm is what I need,” he said, and then hesitating, he added, “Only one.”
“How is the pay?” asked the one in the center.
“I am wealthy,” replied Al’bert with confidence.
The half-ogres exchanged glances; then returned their attention to the slight elf before them.
“We didn’t ask about you,” said the center one.
“HOW IS THE PAY,” bellowed the one to the right, with the horned helmet, speaking loudly and slowly, Al’bert could only assume, because he didn’t think Al’bert could speak the native tongue very well.
Al’bert’s brow furrowed with slight irritation, but he replied.
“Quite good, I assure you.”
The one who had been silent as of yet had a hint of red in his coarse and muddled hair, and he leaned to the center fellow.
“They can’t seem to talk in anything but flowers,” he said to the center half-ogre, but meant for the amusement of all. The center ogre, to his betterment, allowed the moment to pass when he could have laughed at the expense of the elf before him, either because he wasn’t the sort to pick on those smaller than him or, more likely, was interested in a well-paid gig.
“I’m looking for specifics,” said the ogre directly.
“Oh, well,” said Al’bert, who blushed, if only slightly, since he considered it entirely rude to discuss the specifics of pay in front of any but the conjoining party, and then only very subtly and as briefly as possible. He cast a glance over the other two half-ogres, felt the presence of
Al’bert was completely and thoroughly embarrassed by this exchange, but the half-ogre in the center seemed impressed. The other two were impressed, too, but didn’t seem to matter anymore, for the center half-ogre was obviously the dominant one and if he wanted the job Al’bert sensed it would be his.
So it was with barbarian cultures, thought Al’bert with whimsy, the one with the strongest club swing rules the clan. He was suddenly struck with a realization about his own elven culture regarding that which they considered “strength”, but suppressed it for the time being in order to allow the continuation of his affectations and at least feel intellectually superior. It was the only way he could cope.
“When should I start?” asked the half-ogre in the middle.
“May I ask your name?” inquired Al’bert.
“I don’t think they ever answer questions directly,” muttered a side ogre.
“Steev,” said the middle ogre.
“Well, Steev,” said Al’bert, ignoring the other two ogres. “We’re setting out in the morning. Care to join us?”
“It’s a deal, then,” said Steev refusing to be anything but direct in the face of the elusiveness of elvenkind. He then turned and walked away, his fellow half-ogres turning with him. Al’bert wasn’t to see him again until morning.
Al’bert watched them go, and felt a certain intense stress release out of his body as they passed through the archway that led to the inn’s common room.
“He didn’t even ask who I am,” remarked Al’bert.
“I don’t think it matters to him,” replied
He turned to look at her.
“What about humans?” he asked.
“Oh, we’re a mixed lot,” she replied casually, checking another sheath. “I suppose that’s what makes us human.”
“That makes no sense to me,” rejoined Al’bert openly.
She looked at him and grinned her particular brand of lopsided grin.
“Of course it wouldn’t.”