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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2267947
A young halfling meets a new friend.

Skrie Tripfoot trudged to the front gate of the run-down keep at the latest crossroads. As she approached the structure, the diminutive halfling saw a huge half-orc talking to a soldier.

“Malusk, Malusk Agnar, I be lookin’ fer honest work.” she heard the big fellow say.

“Sorry, we got nuthin’.” replied the lieutenant. “You could check up in Suncall. There’s an inn just outside the gate. Ya might find sumthin’ there.”

“Ah, me thanks, Lady.”

“HA!” the soldier snorted, “I ain’t no kinda lady, fine Sir. I’m just a simple soldier.”

“HA!” the big fellow guffawed. “Simple soldier, me arse! Yer summit more than that, I’d wager.”

The lieutenant hailed the halfling as she entered the compound.

“Oi, small one, are you a priest?” she asked, looking at the symbol on Skrie’s talisman. “If so, we have a worker or four that could use a bit of healin’.”

“Aye,” said Skrie, walking toward the pair. She looked at the half-orc, comparing him to Tiny.

This fellow was not quite as big as her friend but wasn’t far from it. He was muscular, like most mixed-breed orcs she had seen. His broken tusk and the scar that broke the landscape of his face made him more memorable than Tiny, that was for sure. That half-orc could blend into a crowd; this one announced his presence just from his energy alone.

“Name’s Skrie,” she said, “How can I help?”

“Lt. Barnes,” said the soldier as they walked through the compound. “I was sent to rebuild the fort. To prepare for a bigger detachment, so they tells me. Apparently,” she went on, “the guilds in Grayard ‘n Irewick been complainin’ to the governor about the blasted bandits stalkin’ the Merchant’s Way. They want the army to do sumthin’ ’bout it. So, here we are.” They arrived at what passed for an infirmary located in the furthest corner of the broken keep.

Grumbles of “t’ain’t got ‘nuf help ta do nuthin’ here,” and “how’s we suppos’ta get an’a’thin’ done wit’ nuttin’ ta fix it wit’?,” and “how’s come we cain’t hire tha stonemason from town?” followed the group into the remnants of the keep. The lieutenant ignored the grousing of her meager squad, but Skrie saw the woman’s hand curl into a fist as they passed.

Most of the injuries were minor—a broken arm here, a deep cut there, and one nasty case of food poisoning. Reaching into her herb pouch, the cleric asked for a pot of fresh water and set it to heat. When the water had almost reached a boil, she dropped in a handful of herbs and stirred the mixture. After a few minutes, she strained the herbs and handed the fellow with the sour stomach the concoction. He made a face as he took a sip.

“All of it,” she said, “or it won’t do you any good.” Skrie watched as the man downed the brew.

Setting more water to boil, the cleric turned to the broken arm. She ran her hands along the man’s skin and felt where the bones ground together. Closing her eyes and whispering a short prayer, warmth coursed through Skrie’s tiny palms and into the muscle, then down into the bones enough to keep them from grinding. Grabbing a thin piece of kindling, she bound the limbs together with a strip of the man’s shirt.

“Leave your arm splinted until you can do this,” the cleric straightened her arm in front of her, then rotated her wrist. “When it only hurts a little, you can use it, understand?” The man nodded. “And even then, don’t push too hard, or you can lose use of your hand, got it?” The man’s eyes widened, then he nodded again.

When she finished cleaning wounds, patching cuts, and cleaning herself up, she stepped outside to see Lt. Barnes waiting beside a small farm cart, Malusk at her side.

“For the help you gave today, I figured the least I could do was hold the cart to Suncall back for you. Ain’t a long walk, mind you, but it’s long enough. Wish I could pay you, but I weren’t given funds for that.”

Skrie was grateful for the lift to town. Her feet throbbed from days of walking on the broken surface of the trade road. When she left Blackford, she made it a point to avoid being seen. No one saw, I’m sure of it. She could not be sure about that cat that she thought had been following her throughout a city with few visible cats, but she’d stayed alert on her way out of town.

The halfling kept up a steady stream of chatter on the short jaunt to Suncall. She talked about nothing in particular, asking the half-orc questions about himself and getting answers that made her homesick for her friend, Tiny. Not that Malusk’s answers were any more complete than hers to his queries. It’s not like he lied to her; she just felt he didn’t tell the entire story.

Then again, neither had she. In time, maybe.

The cart deposited the pair outside the village gates, in front of a medium-sized inn that hugged the wall surrounding the burgh. Skrie plodded along in the wake of her new friend.

Entering the common room, she hesitated for a moment letting her eyes adjust to the dim interior. When she could see once more, she saw Malusk waving her over to the table he occupied. Settling her pack on the floor beneath the chair, she hopped into the seat. Her eyes barely peeked over the edge of the table.

“Annoying,” she grumbled.

The proprietor came over and introduced himself, “Heya, travelers, me name is Dayne, an’ me an’ the wife, Filice, run this place. What kin I get ye?” he beamed at his new guests.

“What’s yer special?” asked Malusk.

“Lamb stew in a trencher of yesterday’s loaves. Comes wi’ a mug o’ ale, an’ a slice o’ Filice’s berry pie. Cost ye five silver.”

“Sounds delicious.”

“Make it two,” piped in Skrie.

Dayne looked at the small figure in the seat across from the half-orc, skepticism coloring his expression.

“Would ye like a, uh … ahem, smaller portion, milady? Tha price fer yer size ’ud be two silver.”

“Nah,” she laughed, shooting a side-glance to Malusk. “I don’t think it’ll go to waste. But, could I have a small cider instead of ale, please? And something to sit on so I can see over this damned table?” She said, grinning and batting her lashes at him. He laughed out loud and nodded, shaking his head at the unusual pair as he walked back to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, a young woman entered the room carrying a cushioned block and helped Skrie get situated atop it.

“Ah, that’s better,” she said, looking across at the half-orc instead of up at him like a babe. Not that she was much larger than the average three-year-old human. Her size was an advantage in many circumstances and a decided disadvantage in others. Then again, she knew that having a half-orc on her side often meant people overlooked her as a threat. Besides, she liked this chap.

Halfway through their meal, a woman approached their table with a beaming smile that lit her face, “I be Filice, Dayne’s better half. Will ye be needin’ a pair ‘o rooms fer tha night?”

Skrie looked at Malusk and shrugged.

“We can share,” she said. “It’s not like I take up much room.”

“Do ye have summit wit’ a big ’nough bed ta fit me?” asked Malusk, a hopeful look in his eye.

Filice sized him up, “I’ll see wha’ I can do, fine Sir.” She left the pair giggling at each other.

“Fine Sir,” Skrie heard Malusk chuckle to himself.

They spent the next hour finishing their generous meals, listening to the town gossip as they sipped their drinks. A young woman came by to clear their empty platters and introduced herself as Della, Dayne and Filice’s daughter. She led them to their room.

Next: "Precious
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