The first thing heard that cold, dreary morning was a rough pounding that couldn't have been any louder if Skári's head itself had been beaten on. With crusted eyes, he lifted his head to see that the morning sun hadn't even risen yet. In his mind, all the more reason to go back to bed. But the universe couldn't have that.
"Up!" came a shout from outside his door. Skári jerked at the order and sat up.
"Y-yes ma'am!" he sputtered. He could hear the landlady scoff at her new worker's squeaking and soon after, her heavy feet stomped away. Skári let out a breath of relief and got out of bed. The innkeeper a woman named Gunnhildr was not the most pleasant person he'd ever come across. She was short, even for a dwarf, with corse black hair which she kept in a bun and tired, snappish eyes that constantly burned holes into the poor lad whenever they cross paths. The only reason Skári would even consider working for such a woman were two very prominent factors: He was out of money and miles away from home.
Dragging his feet (though not too loudly, lest Gunnhildr chastise him again), Skári made his way to the mirror in his little inn room and gave himself a once-over. He was well sized for his age barely in his early twenties with fair skin and sandy hair. His eyes were a clear, coca brown. On his body there wasn't a single mar or scratch. This was the only reason a witch like Gunnhildr hired him. As she put it: "Useless with a pretty face is still useless. But pretty faces make pretty pennies." And so there he was. A young man, run away from home, finally landing a job as nothing more than something for ugly eyes to prey on. As he pulled out his "uniform," disgust and embarrassment flooded through him. Not even the cheapest whores wore something like this. At least not in winter time.
An under-bust that left next to nothing to the imagination, with two matching garters for his arms, and a cloth that barely hid his private parts. But if he was ever going to get out of this frozen waist land, he was going to have to make money some how. He'd rather this than being some enslaved pleasure boy.
Stripping himself of his warm bedclothes, an instant chill rushed over him and he shivered, quickly changing into his clothes for the day. Not that it made a difference. The cold air from the outside made his skin pimple and his muscles tighten, his own breath coming in puffs. Oh well. All for the sake of money... all for the sake of money.
Getting downstairs, Skári had to first serve the inn's patrons breakfast. Up until then, there had been no one but Gunnhildr to dish out meat and bread, so this fresh new face was a nice change of atmosphere for the guests. As expected, there were a few rude eyes, even some pinches, from both men and women, but Skári's good looks managed to bring out a bit of polite conversation from some of them as well. A group of dark elven men even offered Skári a seat while they ate their breakfast, making light jokes and offering him some of their hot meed, which he most gratefully took. Even though there was a roaring fire in the main room of the inn, the wide space that held a total of ten small tables, a bar and a long bench table in the back was enough to ware the heat thin by the time it got to the worker's bare thighs. As for the elves, Skári had a feeling that the only reason Gunnhildr let them treat Skári this way was because of how well they tipped.
Through breakfast and up past lunch, Skári had no real trouble besides the few odd comments. As far as his first day went, he was doing fairly well. He even had a little mound of gold to put to his name through tips and the like. He decided to keep this little pile of money to himself in case Gunnhildr decided to start charging him rent. It wasn't until dinner time that real trouble came Skári's way.
He had just been allowed a good break off his feet (which were killing him from being up and walking around all day) when the door burst wide open. A gust of strong, icy wind blasted through the tavern, slapping Skári's numb skin. When he turned to see the new comers, his stomach dropped.
Barbarians. Big, hulking women beneath cloaks of heavy fur. Swords hung at their belts, more massive than Skári's very arm. Their boots hit each floorboard with a heavy "thunk!" as they let in a fine trail of powdered snow. Their hair was matted like lions' manes, and as they took off their coats, they revealed muscles that could snap a sizable man in half with one good tug. Gunnhildr looked up from behind the bar and greeted them with a smile. As the two groups began to converse, fear began to swell in Skári's stomach. The worst he got that morning was from a troll who had just a little too much grog for one sitting. And that was a mere smack to the rump. What would these rough, ruthless things do to him if he dared get too close?
"You all right there, lad?" Skári jumped as he heard a voice from behind his seat. A dwarf much kinder-looking than his employer smiled at him. She was perhaps the same age as Gunnhildr, with pale, almost silver hair which was partly pinned behind her head. Her hoop earrings jingled as she propped a chin in her stubby hand. When she smiled, her face crinkled in the most charming way. Skári remembered her being a rather quiet patron at breakfast. So quiet that she barely made an impression against the others he had to deal with. "First time you've ever seen barbarians?"
Skári felt like he could be a little more comfortable around this one than anyone else. He nodded, almost a little ashamed. "I've only heard stories. We don't have a lot of races where I'm from."
"Oh?" she replied. "You're from a village of maindwellers then?"
Again, he nodded. "The first time I saw an ogre was just two nights ago."
At that, the dwarf laughed. "I hope he didn't see you."
"Actually... I think he took pity on me."
"Clearly. You're still alive."
"Mm..." Skári turned back to the barbarians. There were close to seven of them, though he wasn't really counting. They took their seats along the big, stretch table near the back and beside the bar. Probably so that they could drink easier. "Are they as bad as the stories say?"
"Oh aye." Almost in a playful manner, the woman leaned in on her elbows, both hands now supporting her chin. "The women folk especially. Loud, violent, easy to anger. Not to mention they love to prey on pretty young faces such as yourself." When his face dropped in fear, the dwarf burst out laughing. "Don't look so scared, love! This is your place of business. So they should behave themselves."
A glimmer of hope caught Skári's eye. "Really...?"
Her face became all the more mischievous. "Well... should."
"Oy!" Gunnhildr's fist slammed against the bar. "Up, up! Get their orders!" Like a helpless animal, Skári rushed to his feet and made his way towards the piercing eyes of the warrior women. Each step was like sending a defenseless lamb into a pack of hungry wolves.
Clearing his throat, Skári began to speak. "Wh...what do you fancy, ladies?"
That alone made them burst out laughing. What a terrible laugh it was, too. Gruff and heavy. It reminded Skári of a bear's guffaw. One of them, a woman with a scar across her lip, leaned in. She, along with the rest, wore armor that showed off those terrifying features they all shared. Fur and metal covering only the necessary bits, with arm and leg guards clinging to their gigantic biceps and thighs. "Let's get one thing straight, little laddie." Her voice was worse than her laugh, and rougher than her mussy hair. "There be no ladies at this table."
Skári stood silently as they had the rest of their laugh and then tried to meekly smile, as though he found it just as funny. Finally, after teasing him a bit more, they gave their orders. Mutton, pork, lamb, and plenty of ale to go around. No wonder Gunnhildr liked them. They were going to run up quite a hefty tab at the end of the night.
So off Skári went. He delivered all their food hot and ready, endured their comments and jokes (some of them he wouldn't dare repeat, even to himself), and soon, the night began to encroach on the wee hours of the morning. By Skári's count, the barbarian women have had enough ale that a lesser man would have passed out by now. Skári was amazed they could carry on conversation. But finally, their meal began to come to a close. Skári was picking up the last of the dishes when he felt a tug. Before he knew it, his little thong/cloth had completely come undone, flashing his bare buttocks for all to see. The whole table went up in hoots and hollers, the cat calls making his entire face go bright red. Quickly, he tried grabbing for his cloth, but the woman who removed it held it high from his reach, the lot of them laughing merrily at his predicament. Tears were welling in his eyes when a voice settled their rowdy behavior.
Like a subtle earth quake, the barbarians settled and turned to the end of the table, as did Skári. The woman at the far side sat mostly in shadow of the candle light. It was then that Skári realized he had not heard a laugh or remark out of her the entire time he'd been serving them. She was big. Bigger than the rest. With broad shoulders and arms bound with smooth muscle beneath scarred skin. Along her face a gash ran from the corner of her left temple, past her eye, across her nose, and ended at the edge of the right corner of her mouth. Her hair was a deep, dark brown, and sat knotted and messy around her square face and thick brow. Her eyes, unlike the others, were a crystal clear green. It reminded Skári of an icy pond.
"Give the boy his cloth back. You've embarrassed him long enough." No one laughed. The woman who removed Skári's cloth returned it to him without protest, which he put back on without question. He felt like he owed this barbarian something for saving him. But what? And why? It was her group that demeaned him like this. Why should he be indebted to the one who lead his attackers?
Another gust of wind caught his attention. Looking up, he spotted a familiar face. It was one of the elves from that morning, though without the others. Skári remembered him in particular because of his looks. He was tall and dark skinned, with sharp ears that sat up against his long, silky black hair. His features were angular and symmetrical, and his clothes were of a very fine make. As he smiled, his goatee stretched with his lips.
Approaching the bar, he let his dark eyes linger on Skári before turning to Gunnhildr. "I've come to occupy another room for the evening."
"Oh?" The dwarf sucked on her front tooth. "Why the change? Weren't you and your brothers off today?"
"My brothers continue north, while I have decided to linger a night longer." He pulled out a small purse and jingled it. Gunnhildr's hungry eyes glued to it instantly. But before she could grab it, the elf pulled it from her grasp. "With a price, of course."
"Price...?" Her eyes followed his as he gestured to Skári. A whole new wave of shock came over him. It looked like either way he would be made a whore this night. Gunnhildr rubbed her fuzzy chin. "Hm. I don't know. He's valuable to me."
"It would just be for tonight," the elf assured her. Opening the pouch, he dumped a handful of silver and gold onto her bar top. "I won't damage him. On my honor."
Honor? Skári grew red with fury. No man paying for flesh had honor! He would have said something if he knew his next meal did not depend on this money. Just before Gunnhildr was about to accept the deal, a bigger, heavier sack of gold landed on top of the elf's offer. All eyes went to the serious barbarian woman who was Skári's savior just a moment ago.
"That is my offer," she said, standing across from the elf. The innkeeper could scarcely believe her eyes at the size of the woman's pouch. She opened it, her greedy little fingers pulling up coin after coin to make sure it was real. The elf, watching all this, looked almost disgusted.
"No maindweller is worth that price!" he snapped, his charm fading with his rising temper. "You're a madwoman!" One scathing look from the barbarian silenced him quick, though he kept fuming. She turned back to Gunnhildr.
"It pays for a room as well. A good room."
"Oh... well of course, of course." Even with the room added, it was still a hefty price to pay for some pale faced maindweller. Skári began to imagine himself trying to please this beast of a woman. He suddenly feared (quite reasonably) for his penis. "Very well then!" Gunnhildr's words were like a knife to the gut. "He's yours. You may have the room up beside the stairway on the right." She then pulled out a rusty old key, as if to seal Skári's fate. The barbarian nodded in thanks and took Skári by the arm. Glancing back, the young server saw the dark elf storm off with his coin in a defeated huff. He almost called out to plead for him to reconsider. Anything would be better than to be taken away by this monster.
The cold rushed to him as they ascended into the dark hallway. There were sparse candles burning, as opposed to the roaring fire down below, and so the chill was far grater than before. As that key turned the lock on the iron rod door knob, Skári could feel his stomach hit the floor. What would she have him do first? And how? Skári had never thought that being a virgin would be an issue until now. What if she expected some elaborate tricks? Or a show? He was far too shy to flaunt himself for her, even with what he was dressed in. So when the door locked, he stood within the darkness, the moonlight sliding through the grated window blinds. By the time his captor had lit the wick by the bed, Skári was shaking. Quite horribly in fact.
"Calm yourself," she grunted. Sitting on the bed (and practically bending it in half), the barbarian began to remove her boots. "What be your name, maindweller?"
It took all he had to speak. "S...Skári..." For the first time, he saw a flicker of a smile on the woman's lips.
"Fitting," she grunted. "Ye be as flighty as a bird." She leaned back then, propping herself up on one of her tree-trunk arms. "Do not fret so, boy. I do not mean to take ye to my bedside."
Skári's fear began to be replaced by confusion. "You... you aren't...?"
"Nay." Laying down, she scooted a bit towards the wall and put one ankle over the other, relaxing herself along the hay mattress. "Ye have no need to fret there, lad." Maybe it was because she said this so casually, or the fact that she was laying down, but whatever it was, Skári knew she was telling the truth.
"Then why buy me?" came his next question. "Why spend so much if you're not going to...?"
She shrugged. "I can't stand flesh traders. Boils my blood they do. If I be lacking in pennies because of it, so it is." So that was it? A woman scratch that, a barbarian - was willing to lay down a ridiculous amount of money because of a moral offense? It was very clear by this point he did not understand these people. And so, for a second time that night, Skári felt saved by this stranger.
"What's your name?" Skári's question came far easier this time as he approached her.
"Ingrid," she replied. That took Skári by surprise. There were a lot of words to describe this woman, but "beautiful" was not one of them. But Skári did not want to be rude. So he edged closer.
"Thank you. For saving me."
Ingrid again shrugged her big shoulders. "Come. Lay yourself. How long have ye worked?"
"All day," he admitted.
"Ah. Well then rest your feet." She patted the spot of fur on the matt beside her. After hesitating, Skári lowered himself to lay down. It was odd, resting against such a huge mound of warmth beside him. The longer he stayed there, however, the more and more he began to love it. It certainly beat his cold, dank room that he had. The heat that radiated off of her body was enough to not even need a blanket. But Ingrid pulled one over them anyway. Feeling safe and comfortable, Skári curled up beside the big barbarian, and let himself lull into a well deserved sleep.