The interior of the farmhouse was large and airy. The room contained a stove with a number of pots simmering on it, and a wooden table with benches on either side and a chair on each end. It could easily seat eight, maybe more.
We stood in the doorway, all wiping our feet on the mat for longer than was required. The woman came out of a side room carrying a whimpering toddler. The kid stopped the moment he saw us and stared. Mainly at Maurice.
“Sit down, then,” said the woman as she walked over to the stove where she began stirring one pot after another. “My name’s Margi.”
We all introduced ourselves as we took a seat at the table. Margi didn’t seem too worried about having five strangers in her house, but then, she looked like she could beat the crap out of us with the kid in one hand and a rolling pin in the other.
“My husband’s not here at the moment,” she told us, “but he should be back soon. I take it you’re not here for the rogue ogre.”
We all looked confused.
“What’s a rogue ogre?” I asked. “Don’t all ogres run around smashing things up and roaring for no reason?”
She gave me the look I knew only too well from the people in Probet.
“And please remember we don’t have ogres where we come from.”
Her face relaxed a little and she shifted her son onto her other hip. “You’re right, it isn’t fair to expect you to know these things. Ogres, in general, aren’t particularly troublesome—if you leave them alone, they won’t bother you. But every now and again, one will suddenly become enraged and go on a rampage.”
“There was something ripping up trees in the forest,” said Maurice. “We didn’t see it, but it sounded pretty mad.”
“That’ll be him,” said Margi. “No one knows what sets them off, but the only way to stop them is to kill them. It doesn’t happen very often, but recently we’ve had a spate of them. That’s why my husband’s gone into Fengarad to fetch someone to take care of it. At first, I thought maybe that’s why you were here, but by the looks of you, you aren’t ready for that kind of a fight. Not yet, anyhow.”
The ogre we encountered on our first day had been enraged for sure, but the one we saw eating rabbits had been calm, almost docile. So what Margi was saying seemed to be true. They weren’t aggressive unless something provoked them. Knowing what that something was would be quite useful.
“Can they talk?” I asked.
She looked confused. “Can who talk?”
“Ogres,” I said. “Are they able to speak?”
Despite my explanation for our ignorance, she still cocked her head like she couldn’t believe just how dumb a question I had asked. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never spoken to one.”
“Perhaps,” said Maurice, “if you asked it why it was upset it would tell you.”
This received a very long stare.
“Sure,” said Margi. “I suppose you could try asking as it ripped your arms out of their sockets.”
I know what you’re thinking. Here we were learning about some mysterious reason that drove ogres to kill and destroy—clearly the starting point for a quest. All we had to do was discover what this reason was, and we could bring peace to the valley. At least that’s how it would go in a game.
The villagers shower us with gifts and hold a festival in our honour. Maybe the ogres, grateful for our assistance, bestow on us the blessings of their god Og the Mighty (sounds like the kind of name an ogre god would have). We would level up and claim our quest reward, Shield +1/+1. Ding! Quest complete.
Yeah, well, quest declined. I had no intention of doing anything like that. In a game, you can try one approach, get killed, then try something else. In this world, getting hit hurt like a motherfucker. I hadn’t experienced what it felt like being eaten alive, but I got the impression it wouldn’t be much fun. And as far as I could tell, you didn’t respawn at your last save point.
“Your husband’s going to hire some people in Fengarad? People like us? I mean, visitors.”
“That’s right,” said Margi. “There’s usually a few willing to help for a fee. Of course, it would be easier if the army took care of it like they’re supposed to, but they’re always too busy.” She rolled her eyes.
Having seen Captain Grayson deal with an ogre, I assumed it was something that wouldn’t be much of a problem for the army. I wondered what it was they were busy doing.
Margi opened the little door in the stove and, using the hem of her apron, pulled out what looked like shepherd’s pie. It smelled amazing. She dropped it on the table with a clatter, and then produced plates and cutlery (real knives and forks!) for everyone.
She managed to serve the pie and dole out vegetables from one of the pots, all while carrying the kid on her hip. It was pretty impressive.
The kid kept a suspicious eye on Maurice throughout.
“Now eat up, especially you,” she plopped an extra large portion of pie on Claire’s plate. “Men round here like a girl with a bit of meat on the bone, like your friend here.” She served Flossie another huge portion. “You’re going to be right popular with the boys, and no mistake.” Her eyes positively glowed as she ran them up and down Flossie’s curves.
Now, I’m sure you’ve seen movies or TV shows where the characters come across some classic situation and they act like they have no clue what’s going on. It’s like the characters have never seen a movie or TV show themselves. It’s understandable why it’s written like that, but it’s still annoying. Personally, I’ve seen a ton of movies. And this scenario was feeling very familiar.
Isolated farmhouse out in the sticks. Surprisingly friendly matron-type with the racist baby; eyeing up the chubby girl and practically licking her lips; force-feeding the skinny girl in an effort to fatten her up… It’d make you wonder what kind of meat was in the shepherd’s pie, right?
“This looks fantastic,” I said, moving the food around my plate, looking for a finger or eyeball, “what kind of meat is it?”
“Mutton. Do you have that where you come from?”
“Yesh,” said Maurice through a mouthful of food. “But it doesn’t taste as great as this.”
Obviously, I was being silly. The others were tucking in with gusto. The smell was too much for me to resist.
It tasted as amazing as it smelled. Freshly cooked and perfectly seasoned. I think it may have been the best meal of my entire life, even if it was soylent green.
After we’d stuffed ourselves I felt a bit dazed, like I was stoned. I just sat there feeling full. We were very grateful and expressed our thanks repeatedly.
“Is it just you and your husband here?” asked Claire.
Margi laughed. “Oh no. My boys are out working the fields. Six in all, including little Dom here.” She cuddled the boy in her arms. He pulled a face and tried to wriggle out of the embrace.
The news of five more sons had an unsettling effect on me. There was no reason to believe they were anything but wonderful young men, but a pinching feeling in the back of my head urged me to not wait around to find out just how wonderful.
“We should get going,” I said.
The others looked taken by surprise by my suggestion.
“My husband should be back tonight. If you’re heading to the city, we make regular trips. He could give you a ride in the wagon.”
“How far is it to the city? asked Maurice. “If you were on foot.”
She thought about it for a moment. “Three days?”
The others turned to me with pleading eyes. This was the problem with being well-fed and comfortable. It made you sloppy.
“I suppose we could stay for a bit, if it’s okay,” I said, like an idiot.
“Of course,” said Margi. “Having visitors is an honour. One day you may become great people, and you’ll remember little Margi who helped you when you were just starting out. You can stay in the barn. It isn’t much, but it’s warm and dry, and a straw bed is more comfortable than the ground, that’s for sure.”
It seemed a reasonable deal. A hot meal and a warm place to sleep, in return for which she’d have the gratitude of five potential legendary heroes. Of course, the greatest thing we were likely to achieve was not dying, but she didn’t know that.
The warmth in my stomach, the eager looks on the faces of my party, they all contributed to me ignoring my natural instinct to spend as little time with people as possible.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.