She looks like a mountain side.
This was the first thought Skári had that morning. It wasn't a thought he was particularly proud of, seeing as that the subject of those thoughts practically saved him from rape, but none the less, there it was. It was still very early in the day, and though Skári had the perfect opportunity to sleep in, he found that he could not. So he rose, before the sun did, even, but not to head straight to his duties. The longer he could stay away from that snarling boss of his, the better. Instead, he sat where he was, in bed, staring at the giant barbarian woman beside him. In his mind, he recapped last night's scene over and over again.
An elf, who had taken a shining to Skári, had offered Gunnhildr a decent lump of silver and gold for one night with the maindweller as a prostitute. And then, with no real reason or motive, the barbarian woman who had saved Skári from insults just moments prior offered an even grander sum of money for him. It was only after they excused themselves to a room that Skári realized that this barbarian did not lust after him. Rather, she had bought him to keep a flesh trader, or someone who paid for sex, from doing the same. On top of that, she shared her bed with the young man without touching a hair on his head. To be honest, Skári hadn't had such a good night's sleep since leaving his village. Probably why he was stirred from sleep so easily and so early. His body wasn't used to it. Now he sat beside her, watching as her great body rose and fell with each deep breath. He was still as confused and as grateful as he was the night before.
Ingrid shifted in her sleep, her deep brow creasing above her closed eyes and her head shifted. He wondered, vaguely, what brought her and her kind towards this part of the woods. Though to be frank, Skári wasn't sure what usually came through this part of the woods to begin with. So maybe it was completely natural. It seemed that, being a run away, there was a great deal Skári had yet to learn. He watched Ingrid's face as it flinched in her slumber. What was she dreaming of? A past battle, perhaps? His mind went off, trying to imagine what her life was like. Truth be told, he knew little to nothing about barbarians, and so his imagination went off of the stories he was told as a boy.
He tried to picture the woman as a girl, small and young, given her first weapon to fight and train with. An axe, maybe. Or perhaps a small sword. From what he knew, barbarians trained their children from the day they can stand on their feet. He tried to see the child grow stronger and stronger, morphing into this beastly thing she was now. How many had she killed, he wondered. How many, both man and beast, had died by her thick hands?
Skári stopped himself. He shouldn't have been thinking of Ingrid in these terms. After all, she was his savior. Without her, he would not be waking up with his virginity in tact, and his dignity kept safe. Of course, he had no doubt that if she truly wanted to, she could have pinned him down and had him. Skári had heard of ways to force a man into arousal. Some of them rather painful. The strangest thing about it was that, though she certainly had the capability without doubt, he couldn't see Ingrid doing something so forceful. She had said, quite plainly, that she hated flesh traders. By that token, it wasn't such a leap to think that she hated rapists as well.
A noise came from Ingrid's thick throat and she flopped onto her side, facing Skári. Despite her size, her rough skin, and her messy hair, there was a certain calmness to her features when she slept. Skári likened it to watching a dragon sleep. Without thinking much of it, he reached forward and pushed away a bit of her knotted bangs. Her eyelid gave a flicker, but she didn't wake. Then again, she'd had a lot to eat and drink the night before. Skári wouldn't be surprised if she slept in until noon time. Would she be hungry when she woke? Closing his eyes, he leaned against the wall, listening to the wind howl outside the room. It had been worse when he first woke up, but had since died down somewhat. It probably could have been thundering and Ingrid wouldn't have stirred.
After a few more moments of watching the woman sleep, Skári got up and stretched himself. He should probably get downstairs before Gunnhildr yelled at him. Or maybe the fact that she thought Skári had been used the night before would lessen her wrath. That's when an idea came to him. It wasn't the greatest gesture in the world, but Skári felt satisfied at the idea of thanking Ingrid for her kindness. So, quietly as he could, he left the room and crept to his room. First thing's first he'd not go down into the cold lobby wearing this ridiculous uniform from the day before. After dressing reasonably, Skári headed downstairs.
Gunnhildr, thank the gods, was not awake yet. She'd probably drunken herself into a stupor with the rest of the barbarians. After all, she'd made her rent six months over last night. Why shouldn't she celebrate? With a smile on his face, Skári snuck into the kitchen and looked around. There was wood ready for the stove, and a few hanging meats on the walls. Admittedly, he did not know how to cook all that well. His mother was usually the one to take care of the meals, and he did not take as much interest in such affairs as he probably should have. Still, he'd give it his best. He grabbed a rabbit and tossed it in a frying pan. It took a while for him to get the logs rolling, but soon that little bunny was bubbling and sizzling with the fire underneath. Skári glanced out the window. It still wasn't sunup yet. He wouldn't have to serve breakfast for two more hours. Plenty of time to finish up Ingrid's meal. After the rabbit got going, Skári stared at the spice rack. He wasn't sure what anything was, and so he took a blind jab at spicing the meat. He at least made sure to smell everything before hand. After a while, the pink flesh turned brown, and Skári was satisfied. He hoped he hadn't overcooked it. Tossing the hot animal onto a plate, he poured a cup of fresh milk and headed back upstairs. A quick peek into Ingrid's room showed him that the woman was still not moving, her back now turned from the doorway. With light feet, Skári snuck the hot food to the bedside table and set it down. Oh well. Maybe she'd wake up before it got cold...
"What's all this then?"
Her voice nearly sent him a foot in the air as their eyes met. It was probably the smell of the meat that caught her attention as she rolled over. Sitting up, Ingrid's back gave a few distinct pops, the bed creaking under her weight. "Complimentary breakfast from me host?"
Skári smiled sheepishly, seating himself on the bed. "More like... a thank you." The barbarian looked at him curiously. "You know, for what you did last night. You didn't have to but... well..." His smile became warmer as he put his hands on his knees. "No one has ever been so kind to me."
"No one?" came her reply. She clicked her tongue. "That be hard to swallow. But I welcome your thanks." Taking the rabbit, she looked the meat over and then snapped off one of the legs with ease. After giving it a quick sniff, she took off all the meat with one suck of her big lips. Skári watched her chew and swallow with hopeful eyes. Then, suddenly, her own watered and she began to cough. Skári's face fell.
"Did I over cook it?" he asked, worry in his voice.
Ingrid shook her head, covering her mouth as she continued to cough. "S-spice-!" she choked out. Reaching for the milk, she took three great glugs, nearly finishing it, and set the mug aside. Her cheeks had a ridge of red, her eyes glistening from the plethora of spices. Amazingly enough, it made her look almost charming. She let out a big breath. "Got quite a kick, don't it, lad?"
Skári felt horrible. "I'm sorry!" he pleaded. "I just don't really know how to cook, and I didn't want the meat to be dry or anything! Oh gods, I must look like such a fool... Please, let me try again!" He reached for the plate. "Less spices this time! Or would you prefer stew? That takes longer, but I swear not to use too much spice in it! Or maybe " His fretting stopped when Ingrid let out a belting laugh. He'd seen her chuckle the night before, but he'd never seen her cock her head back and laugh like the others did. It was strange enough to keep him seated, the plate in his palms.
"Calm yourself, boy!" she said, her smile bright and wide. "I'd never turn down a meal made in earnest. Spices or no. Here, here." Taking the plate back, Ingrid peeled off a majority of the skin before taking a bite of the rabbit's breast. She smiled as she chewed. "There, ye see?" She even showed Skári her empty mouth to prove she swallowed. "I just needs a bit of warning, aye?"
That calmed Skári down a bit, getting him to smile again. She was a good woman, he decided. A big, frightening, scarred woman, but a good woman all the same.
"So," she began again. "What keeps ye here, by the by? Surely ye be better suited for something with more pride."
What a strange accent she had. But it was easy to understand the question. "Well... I'm sorely in need of money. It isn't so much a matter of pride as it is a matter of keeping myself going."
"Ah," she said with understanding. "Survival then. But how now? We be far from maindweller villages. Why so far from home?"
Skári bit his lip. "Well... Truth be told, I ran from home. I could not stand another day farming when the world moved on without me."
That sparked a bit of interest in Ingrid's eye. "Oh? An adventurer ye be?"
He crossed his legs, sitting a little more comfortably. "No... simply... Ah, I wish to see the world. There is so much outside of my home, but all the others fear what lay beyond. My journey has since been long and hard, but I have not come to regret it. Even now. Once I have made enough money, I plan to leave this land behind in search of better places. Greater places!" He paused when he saw a little laughter hidden in Ingrid's eye. He suddenly felt self conscious. "Do you... think me foolish?"
Ingrid shook her head. "Nay, boy. Ye remind me of myself. When I'd been just a girl." That calmed his worry, and he settled in quite comfortably beside her a second time.
Skári stayed there for as long as possible, but soon, his duties could not wait any longer. He would have gone off on his own, but Ingrid insisted she come down as well. She was not one to lay abed all day.
Heading downstairs, the first thing he saw was Gunnhildr with a cloth wrap full of snow on her forehead. Skári had to stop himself from snickering, or asking her just how much she had to drink the night before. Her swollen eyes turned to Skári and she grunted. "The guests should be up soon ah." Her eyes fell to Ingrid. "How did he treat you last night? Were you satisfied?"
"Oh aye." Ingrid flashed Skári a knowing look. "I be most satisfied by your boy here."
"Good good..." She turned, ready to make the food for the day, when she spotted Skári's clothes. "Oy... Why aren't you dressed?"
Embarrassed, Skári fumbled with the ends of his tunic sleeves. "Well... it's just cold, and I thought that I could "
"Thought nothing!" Gunnhildr snapped. "Go get them back on!"
Not willing to argue, Skári turned to rush back to his chambers, but a giant, shovel like hand stopped him. "Now hold just a moment," came Ingrid's voice, her smile replaced with a frown. "What clothes are those for winter? He'll catch fever by day's end."
"The inn is warm enough," Gunnhildr snapped. "Beyond that, I will not snub the one asset he does have in favor of a little extra comfort for his sake."
Ingrid's brow darkened. "And were he to die of illness?"
Gunnhildr snorted. "Then I'll find another." Her words stopped when she saw that terrible glare the barbarian gave her. That made her back track just a bit. Waving it aside, she turned. "Fine then! Wear what you will..." Grumbling, the dwarf stomped into the kitchen. Skári couldn't help it. He and Ingrid exchanged bright grins. It seemed that she'd made a habit out of saving him. However, his celebration was cut short when a yell from the kitchen caught their attention, quickly followed by Gunnhildr storming back out, snarling like a bull.
"BOY!" she screeched. With a vice-like grip, Gunnhildr yanked Skári forward and down by his arm. "Did you steal meat from my wall!? ANSWER ME!"
For a split second, Skári was so shocked he couldn't think. "M-meat-?" By now, Ingrid's women had come down the steps, though Skári hardly noticed.
"A rabbit! A rabbit has gone missing!" She tightened her hand on his arm. "Did you steal from me?!"
His entire face went red as he winced in pain, trying to pry her hand off. "W-well yes but it was for "
"URGH!" Grabbing a wooden spoon from the counter top, Gunnhildr began to smack Skári with the blunt end of the utensil. It left smarting, sharp red marks all over his face. He cried out, falling to a knee. As small as a woman as she was, those blows hurt. "Thieving foolish cretin! Damn you! Filthy maindweller! Stealing from right under my nose! You rotten dragon's arse!" And just like that, the abuse stopped. Gunnhildr was suddenly yanked from poor Skári and held high above him. Opening his eyes, Skári saw that Ingrid had grabbed the collar of Gunnhildr's dress and pulled her up with one arm, hoisting her towards the ceiling. The dwarf flailed, fear in her eyes as Ingrid glared up at her. "Wh-what are you doing? Put me down!"
"Not until ye curb your anger. The boy meant no harm. That rabbit was for me."
"O-oh..." Gunnhildr shifted against Ingrid's hold. "Well still... the boy should have come to me!" After making sure the woman had calmed, Ingrid set her back on her feet. Her eyes jabbed sharply into his own. "But I expect payment for that rabbit. You'll get no coin this week."
That hurt worse than the spoon. His entire stomach dropped from his body. "The whole week? But you cannot - ! No! I need money!"
"Then think before taking what isn't yours!"
"If it be money you need, I'll pay." But Gunnhildr waved Ingrid's gesture aside.
"The loss is not my strife. What I truly mean to do is make sure that this flea-bitten roundear knows his place!"
Those words sucked the air out of Skári's lungs. No wonder Gunnhildr hated him so much. Because to her, he was nothing more than a lowly roundear. Not worth mentioning in a conversation. He knew that Gunnhildr was not a kind woman. He knew that she thought of him as worthless. But that little word, above all else, hit him harder than any spoon she could swat at him. There was such a pause after this statement that Ingrid's next words startled him.
"Did ye mean your words before?" His head snapped up and he stared at the barbarian. "About exploring the world? Seeing all what life had to offer?"
What an odd question at a time like this. He glanced at Gunnhildr, who looked just as confused as he did. "Yes... of... of course I did..."
"Good." Ingrid folded her arms. "Then ye shall come with me and my sisters. We have the world yet to see. Do ye accept."
Was Skári dreaming? Yes, that had to be it. No one in their right mind would take in such a useless, unhelpful maindweller... a roundear. Skári's eyes fell to the women behind her. None of them seemed to have the smallest objection. Some even had smiles on their faces. Did he dare trust them? Ingrid, yes, but them? And then he turned to Gunnhildr. Her face was bright purple from anger and shock, her eyes wide and her mouth wordless. That, among all else, brought a smile to his face.
"Yes." He turned to Ingrid, his gaze bright and fresh. "I'll accept. I'll do anything you want. Just... take me away from here!"
Ingrid laughed, her big bosom jumping with each chortle. Then, with no effort at all, she looped an arm around his waist and brought him to sit on her shoulder. The others hooted and hollered, and not because Skári was bare assed this time. "Is that acceptance, sisters?"
A resounding "aye!" filled the inn. Laughing, Skári could think of nothing else to do but clasp his arms down around Ingrid's neck, hugging her as tightly as he could. Without a moment to spare, he hopped off her shoulder and rushed up stairs to pack what little he had.