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Month: February 2024

Story Time: Meet Cute

I am not immune to Valentine’s Day.

Don’t forget, $20/month patrons get to suggest prompts, so if there’s a story you think needs to be told, you know what to do!

In the meantime…let’s get a little lovey-dovey. Here’s a story about Betty’s family.

*

Takhal listened to her friends argue with boredom.

“Humans are always trouble,” Agarkha said, swatting Gharath on the shoulder. “We can’t just waltz into a village and expect them to help us.”

“We have the gold!” Gharath returned. “The humans will help us for gold, they always do. My father—”

“I don’t need to hear the story about how your father has so many human friends,” Agarkha scoffed. “If you want to see the humans so badly, why don’t you go?”

“Well,” Gharath hesitated. “It would be…foolish. Foolish to go in alone.”

“Sure, let’s just let them think we’re a war party,” Agarkha said.

“Gruumsh’s name,” Takhal groaned, snatching the broken axe out of Gharath’s hand. “I will go, if for no other reason than to stop your incessant arguing.”

“Wait, Takhal,” Agarkha said, but Takhal wasn’t listening anymore; she left the tent.

The three of them had posted up in some remote woods as they were trying to catch up with the rest of the Triguut, but Gharath’s axe getting broken was a problem. None of the three of them had any skill in weapon smithing, but Gharath refused to go back to the clan with her axe broken, and they had already been gone a day longer than they were supposed to. The clan got worried and sometimes angry when young hunting parties wandered off.

Avoiding humans was a matter of course. Humans were afraid of orcs, didn’t understand, but the elders of the clan had regular enough dealings with them that Takhal figured it must be okay. And she was fairly good at speaking Common, and if Gharath could face neither her fear of shame from the elders nor her fear of being alone with humans, then Takhal could do it for her.

The village appeared on the horizon, and Takhal paused. Humans were scared of the very appearance of an orc. Takhal refused to change the way she looked—she liked the way she looked—but at the very least she could make it clear she wasn’t here to fight.

She took her own axe from her back, wrapped the head carefully, and stowed it in her backpack, and then carefully wrapped Gharath’s axe as well, until it could have been a short broom or something. No weapons. If need be she could get out with her fists. Thus prepared, she marched into the village.

Immediately, the humans were giving her looks. Not unexpected, but not comfortable either. Fear, uncertainty, a little anger as well. Takhal wondered if any of these people had seen an orc before.

The village had a few clearly labeled shops, and the blacksmith was one of them. Takhal didn’t read Common, but it was hard to misunderstand a hammer and anvil. The workshop was open-air, but low-built, so Takhal had to duck to enter. The blacksmith, a stocky human woman, was facing away from her, hammering a shovel head into shape.

“Hello?” Takhal said.

“Yes?” the woman asked, holding up the shovel to examine as she turned around, and then starting and dropping it as she saw Takhal. “Good gods, I—oh, you startled me.”

Takhal wouldn’t apologize for that, that wasn’t her problem. She reached for her knowledge of Common and formed the unfamiliar phonemes. “Can you fix a broken axe?”

The blacksmith raised her eyebrows. “Do you have coin?”

Takhal barely kept herself from rolling her eyes. “The question. For everyone, or just orcs?”

The woman’s mouth snapped shut. She seemed to consider this and then held out a hand. “Let’s see the axe.”

Takhal handed her the bundle and let her unwrap it, watching her expert eye appraise the damage. The blade was cracked, but it was an ornamental axe that Gharath honestly shouldn’t have been using for fighting. It just needed to be mended before she presented it back to her mother.

“I don’t know,” the blacksmith said doubtfully. “Do you want it functional or just in one piece?”

“One piece,” Takhal said. “It’s…” she hesitated, searching for the words in Common. “…for show.”

The blacksmith nodded in understanding. “I can fix this in a couple hours. You need it done today?”

“Yes.”

“Right, come back at noon. It’ll cost you two gold, easy fix.”

Takhal bowed her head in thanks, and seeing as the blacksmith didn’t seem to need payment in advance, wandered out of the blacksmith’s shop.

Well. Now what? Going all the way back to the others without the axe would just start another argument. But staying here in town…

Ah, wait, human villages had public houses. Inns. Takhal scanned the dusty little street and spotted one with a sign painted with a boar’s head. It was either a pub or a butcher. She headed that way.

It was in fact an inn, but Takhal regretted walking in the moment the door shut behind her. There was a group of rough-looking young toughs hanging out at the bar that immediately fell silent when she came in.

“What in the gods’ names is that?” one of them said, in not-quite-a-whisper.

Takhal narrowed her eyes as she sat down at the bar. That sounded like mockery.

“They just let savages wander into this town now?” said another of the young toughs.

“Look at her tusks!” squeaked a third.

“Would you shut up?” the young human behind the bar barked at the toughs at full volume. He set down the tray of glasses he was carrying with an alarming clatter. “You won’t speak that way about any of my patrons if you want to keep eating here. You ought to be ashamed.”

Takhal raised an eyebrow and watched the toughs for their reaction.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Calvin,” one of the toughs denied innocently.

“Like hell you don’t, Felix,” Calvin spat back, leaning out over his bar. “I should go tell your mother how rude you’re being.”

Felix sputtered, and the other young toughs got up and started to leave.

“We didn’t want to eat here anyway,” one of them grumbled on the way out.

“Yeah, good riddance,” Calvin said, arms crossed.

Takhal waited until the toughs had cleared out, and then raised an eyebrow at Calvin.

“Sorry about them,” he said, suddenly sheepish. He was very cute in that way humans were cute, all soft and stout and round-faced. “They’re idiots. Can I get you something?”

“Beer?” Takhal said.

“Sure,” Calvin answered, taking a glass from his tray and then immediately fumbling it. “Ah—gods. Sorry. I’m…sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Takhal asked.

Calvin changed color, turning red. Ah, he was blushing. “I don’t…sorry, I’m nearly as bad as they are, it doesn’t matter.”

Oh. That was…interesting.

Well. He was cute.

She smiled at him. “I’m not sorry.”

He managed to turn even redder. “Oh.”

“You are Calvin?” she asked, trying the name out. The v was a little hard to wrap around her tusks.

“Yes, what’s your name?” Calvin quickly drew a beer from, Takhal assumed, a tap under the bar, and placed it on the counter.

“Takhal,” she said, and took a swig. It was good beer.

“Oof, that’s a little hard to say,” Calvin said, leaning on the bar next to her. “Maybe I can call you Betty? You look a little like a Betty.”

“You think ‘Calvin’ is easy?” Takhal scoffed. “Call me my name.”

Calvin paused. “That was…thoughtless, I’m sorry.”

Takhal dipped her head in acknowledgement of the apology. It took courage to admit fault. “Betty. It’s pretty.”

“I’ve always liked it,” Calvin said, looking relieved. “So. Are you here for long, or…”

“Until noon. Needed a blacksmith.”

“Ah, not very long, then.” This seemed to be disappointing news.

It was funny. Takhal was a little disappointed too.

She took a slow, thoughtful drink of her beer and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll come back.”

A slow smile spread across Calvin’s face. “That’d be…that would be really nice.”

Takhal had to smile too, it was contagious. “Good.”

“Takhal,” Calvin attempted. “Is that right?”

“Close,” she said, resting her head on her hand

“I’ll keep practicing,” Calvin promised.