It was a nightmarish feeling, being lost as he was. The town of Kryss, which had at first so mystified and enthralled Skári, was now a beast, enticing the maindweller into all sorts of traps. The first thing Skári did was look around the tavern. All that came of it was a few snickers from the patrons, and some teasing. Skári payed little attention. All that consumed his mind was the helpless desire to return to Ingrid's side. After asking the bar keep which way the barbarians went, Skári was directed outside, and the young man, with no other option, carefully made his way through the crowded streets, eyes darting down every corner to try and find those broad shoulders, and that mess of mangled hair.
"Ingrid!" he called. His head was abuzz and his heart palpitating. He asked anyone who would give him a moment where a group of barbarians went, but all this got him was either a laugh in the face or a shake of the head. Absolutely no one had seen them. And then, Skári remembered. The jotuun! What was his name...? Koelheid, he remembered. Now if he could only remember his shop. Quick as he could, he rushed down the slippery path, going around in circles until he came upon Koelheid's shop. To his luck, the jotuun was just locking up for the night. Quicky, Skári approached him. "Koelheid!" he called out. The leather worker turned with slightly surprised eyes.
"Yes?" He watched Skári until he was close enough for him to take in his face. "Oh. You're Ingrid's runaway. Something the matter?"
Skári nodded, catching his breath a bit, which came out in puffs at the sharp, winter air. "I've lost them," he explained. "I can't find them anywhere!"
Koelheid's eyebrows rose even further. "Lost... my dear boy. One does not simply lose a group of barbarians. When did you last see them?"
"At the tavern. But no one seems to know where they went after that!" Skári was feeling helpless. "Please help me find them. I can't be here on my own."
"I can't." Skári's heart dropped as Koelheid fastened his cloak a little tighter. "My apologizes, but I've got a home and a family to get to. You're on your own."
"Until tomorrow then." With a lazy wave, the jotuun left his shop, heading into the crowd, and leaving Skári completely and utterly alone.
His stomach squirmed as he looked around him. Now, in the dark, while he stood defenseless, Skári saw these creatures that had once so enticed him as being nothing more than monsters, ready to take him at any moment. He had to find Ingrid. But as the night waned, and his legs ached, Skári began to feel as though it was a fruitless endeavor. His feet moved him only so much farther before plopping down on a bench, his head miserably dropping to his hands. What was he to do?
"Well well... what do we have here?"
Skári jumped and turned his eyes up to the ghastly looking troll that smirked at him, his big nose praying into the young man's personal space. Skári pulled back, eyes a bit wide. "N-nothing," he said quickly.
"Oh come now. Surely there must be some kind of problem. What troubles you my lad?" In the dim lighting, Skári could make out a few details. The troll had thinning, vibrant red hair, his jaw wide but his cheeks sunken. The liver spots and warts on his skin were enough to tell him that he was getting on in years. Even his tail had a receding hairline. "Are you lost perhaps?"
Skári, remembering Ingrid's warning, shied away from him. "I-I'm fine... Just looking for my friend is all..." He probably shouldn't continue the conversation and stood, finding quickly that he towered over this aging troll. "I'll find her though... I think... Thank you-"
"A lost friend is it?" The troll didn't seem to give up, and slunk his way in front of Skári. His yellowing eyes were curious. "Perhaps I may be of assistance. Filip is my name."
Help? Well it was the only offer he'd gotten all night. It was sorely tempting. But Ingrid's words rang in Skári's ears. Of course, if he had listen to her warning the entire night, he wouldn't be in this mess. But the point was that he may not get help from anyone else. "W...well..." He gnawed at his lower lip. "Perhaps if you were just to tell me which way they might have gone..." Skári began to describe Ingrid and her sisters, recalling as much detail as he could about the barbarians. Filip, his eyes closed, nodded thoughtfully as he rubbed his rough chin.
"I see... I see..." He sniffed through his round, giant nostril and turned. "I think I might have seen them."
Skári's heart jumped with hope. "You do?"
"Oh yes... in fact... I think I may know where you can find them."
The boy could have given this ugly old troll a big fat kiss on the lips. "Where, where?!"
"Ah ah ah!" Filip held up a bony finger, waving it in Skári's eager face. "Not so fast! You cannot simply get a service for nothing. Not in Kryss."
That hope he had just moments ago began to drain. So he'd have to barter his way into safety? Oh well. Digging through his small coin purse, he showed Filip his remaining tips. A mere six silver pieces. Filip took it, looked at it, and then laughed.
"This is not enough!" he sang. But that didn't stop him from taking the money. "Perhaps you may make up the rest through a favor."
"Favor...?" Skári felt the color pull from his face.
"Yes," Filip hissed. "You see, I am the proprietor of a small theater here in Kryss. And I have a very special show for a very insistent audience in just a few moments. But I've a problem, you see. The elf who was to play my army general had not shown up. Would you care to fill his shoes?"
What an odd favor to ask. Skári, at first, did not know what to say. "B-but... I am no thespian," was all he said. That got old Filip laughing even more.
"No matter, none at all!" he sang happily. Without giving Skári a chance, Filip took his hand and dragged him through the paths of Kryss. "You won't even have to speak, my boy. I merely need someone to fill the costume. And then, once the play is done with, I shall lead you to your friends."
Skári truly wanted to protest, but could think of nothing to say, and so allowed himself to be lead off to this crazy troll's theater. When they came upon the building, Skári noticed immediately how small it was. And how old, too. It must have been around for years. Probably when Kryss was first founded. Skári expected to go through the front doors, but Filip pushed him around to the back and behind the stage. A few candles were already lit, a flickering orange dancing around the area. Skári immediately saw trunks and chests full of all sorts of costumery. His discomfort was instantly pushed aside to be replaced with his curiosity. Filip, letting him stand there, rustled through a wooden trunk in order to find what he was looking for. "Ah! Put this on." A bundle of fabric was instantly shoved into Skári's arms. "Come come, we don't have all night! The house is anxious!" With no real choice, Skári began to undress and see just what he was getting himself into.
It was worse than what Gunnhildr had him wear. For the top, nothing but two leather straps that criss crossed one another, the top loops connecting to shoulder pads with fur on them. A few wooden arm bracers, as well as half-length skin boots and a leather loincloth. A loincloth with a backing that sat right in between his two cheeks. To top it all off, Skári was given a horned hat, and a fake spear. He felt practically naked as he stared himself in the mirror, clinging to his spear as though it was a safety net.
"Alright... now go! Go, go! It's nearly your cue!"
Skári whined as he was being pushed towards the curtain. "W-wait! Isn't there some other way I may repay your kindness!? I am sure after you bring me to Ingrid we can work a deal!"
"Nonsense! This is perfect! Now stand here!" Filip brought him center stage and began to position him into a more fighter-worthy pose. "Remember, you have no lines for this. Just stand and look impressive. That shouldn't be so difficult, even for you, maindweller." Filip then rushed off to the side, his hands on a hanging rope. It was then that a realization hit him.
Where were the other actors?
It was too late. The curtains were pulled back, and beyond the stage's candle light came a horrid and very familiar rise of cheering. Instantly, Skári saw who was in those benches and a powerful wave of embarrassment fell over him. The cheering turned to laughing as Skári tried desperately to hide behind his spear. But nothing seemed to stop the hysterical joy coming from Ingrid and her barbarians.
For yes, it was she and her sisters who sat in that crowd. Their eyes were bright with teasing, and their big hands and boots stomped and slapped down, making even more noise. Even Ingrid, who before stopped their making fun of him, joined in the merriment, cupping her big hands to her mouth and whooping with delight. Skári wanted to curl up and die.
Walking out on stage, Filip took Skári's shoulder and shook it slightly. "How did I do, Ingrid?"
"Filip!" With a happy grin, the leader of the barbarians walked on stage, her hands on her hips. "Ye have done greatly this night. Methinks the lad has learned his lesson." Her eyes became a little harder, though her smile remained. "You'll do best to heed me words next time, Skári. Else I can't promise you'll find us a second time."
Skári's embarrassment turned to shame when he realized: he had never been in danger. All of this was a trick. A lesson to be taught, so that he would not leave Ingrid's side again while in the trader town. Skári swore to himself he would, especially after a night like this.
Hanging his head, Skári kept his knees together as he gripped his spear. "Forgive me," he said, his voice drenched in regret. "I didn't realize..." Lifting his eyes, he hoped that Ingrid would look past this. "I won't be so foolish in the future."
The barbarian's face softened and she playfully pushed Skári's fake helmet over his eyes. "Aye," she said, her voice kind. "Ye won't be."
Skári took off his helmet with a little smile, bringing it to his chest. "Well... at least I can take these wretched things off..." He motioned to his leather straps. But Ingrid placed her big palm on Skári's head, keeping him stationary.
"I've not said that your lesson is over," Ingrid continued. There was a glint in her eye. "For your foolishness, these shall be your clothes till week's end." Skári made a face that suggested he would pass out at any moment.
"B-but!" he protested. "It's winter time! I'll freeze-!" His uproar was quelled when Ingrid took the fur cloak off of her own shoulders and draped it over Skári's own. His entire face grew hot, and not because of the skin.
"There. And if ye keep to my side, my own body will warm ye. Agreed?"
Well wasn't that a notion? He remembered when Ingrid shared her bed with the maindweller, recalling just how well he slept beside that mountain of woman. Clinging to his cloak, Skári nodded with a sheepish smile. Then, with nothing else to do, he lurched forward and hugged her tightly around the middle, his head resting safely on her enormous bosom.