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June 17, 2024

The Rubiyaat of Ozzie 03

By Alexandra Queen

Episode Three - Go West, Young Orc.

While Minerva huddled on her chair and sobbed, I calmly turned around, ignoring the shocked stares in the bar, and gave Gray Sam a "get your wrinkled ass over here right now, old man" look. Then I stood up and reached behind the bar to grab a clean towel, which I handed to Minerva before turning away silently and pretending to ignore her. Every set of eyes in the bar was on me as Gray Sam walked over and took her by the shoulders. "Daughter. Has someone upset you?"

"No, sir, I'm just over tired, I think," she sniffled, trying to stop crying.

Gray Sam tilted her chin up so she had to look at him. "Was it the half orc?" Everyone in the bar waited to hear the answer to that one. There weren't but a few here young enough to have all their teeth, but I had a feeling chain or no chain, I'd like as not never make it out of this bar, depending on her answer. It really didn't trouble me.

"Well," she dabbed at her eye and hitched in a breath, "he won't let me get a word in edgewise, but other than that, no."

I took a drink of ale impassively. A number of the old buzzards cackled over the obvious joke and went back to what they were doing. Gray Sam himself chuckled and drew Minerva in for a hug and a pat on the back. "There, child. Now if you can't tell me about it, that's fine, but you ought to tell big ugly there. If it's a secret, you know he'll carry it to his grave with never another soul as will find out. And if its something troubling you, you know Gray Sam will ask him to pull the house down atop of whatever it is, and as big ugly loves his ale, he'd do such a favor for Gray Sam."

"Thank you, Sam. I'm so sorry to make a scene. Really, I'm just tired."

"Well, then, why don't you rest until its time to help me close up? Osgun and I can walk you home then." The man was a saint. It would never do for me to walk her home by myself - not only would it look bad for her, but I might do something idiotic like blurt out how much I liked her breasts. And as much respect as I had for Gray Sam, I wouldn't put money on him in a fight against a dead rat. If someone was bothering Minerva, I should be there.

"That sounds... fine, thank you, sir." She actually smiled at him, which I took as an encouraging sign. He seemed to as well, and patted her hand before heading back into the kitchen. Over with the mancala game, Riordan caught my eye and glared at me. I shrugged at him, staring back. It's not like he had anywhere better to go. Besides, like it or not, he needed me. Carrying that much money around is not a smart thing for such a little man.

Minerva was very quiet for a while, then out of nowhere began talking about the soup. I like to listen to her when she's telling me stuff she wants to talk about because she thinks it's interesting, but this was that strange fake talking again. I caught her eye a second time and just raised both my eyebrows, as if to ask what was really going on.

"Oh, Ozzie," she sighed. "I can't get anything over on you, can I? Some time I'll tell you about it, I promise, and you'll sit there all quiet like always and drink your ale and keep your thoughts to yourself, but you'll be thinking what a silly twit I am." I knew I shouldn't, but I couldn't help but sneak her a reproachful look. I would never in my life think that. Not of a woman with such a wonderful pair of breasts. She caught the look and smiled a little, glancing down at her hands. "Honestly, Ozzie, it's not the type of thing that needs talking about. I'll tell you some time when I'm not feeling so silly. It's mostly just being tired, though, all right?" I shrugged and took another drink of ale. If she said so. "Thank you for sitting here with me and listening, though," she whispered. And reached out and put her hand on my arm for a moment. Just a moment. It felt like my guts had dropped out and hit the floor. I carefully tucked the memory of it out of my mind, stowing it away for later when I could think about it in private, without worrying about embarrassing myself. For now, I hid in a mug of ale, but a side glance over to where Gray Sam was glaring at me showed he had seen it, too. Oh, please, don't let anyone else in the bar have noticed! I didn't want to have to go away. Not until I was sure Minerva was going to be all right.

I sighed a little into my mug of ale. Every once in a while I wondered how fair it all was. What did regular human men think about when they talked to a pretty lady? Were they constantly trying not to think about slaking their desires? Did they have to watch all the time to make sure that no one else around had decided they had shown too much interest and needed to be taught a sharp lesson? Even now, with men I had been drinking with almost every night for three years and more, there was more than one pair of eyes on me, making sure Minerva was safe sitting beside me. About once a year, Gray Sam had to have a talk with someone or other to get them to leave me alone because of how often Minerva spoke to me. Still, how fair was life for any of us? I couldn't have Minerva, but neither could any of the rest of the men in this bar. And I was young and strong and had the privilege of somehow earning her confidence. The rest of the men in here were weak, many of them old and aching, and were lucky to have her sit and spend ten minutes with them asking after their families. We would all of us live and rot and die on the docks, or so I believed at the time. There wasn't that much difference between them and me, except that they felt they had the right to get together and hang me if I got too impertinent. Good enough. What did I have to live for anyway, but sitting here nights, drinking my ale and listening to Minerva? And anyone who was impertinent to her deserved lynching. "Fair" was not a word that really meant much here.

I snuck a peek at Minerva. She was staring silently into the fireplace, big tears welling up and running down her cheeks. Maybe she had calmed down a little, but her mood seemed to have gotten worse. She must have noticed me looking, because she whispered to me then, words that left me completely stunned. "Osgun, I must leave in the morning. I must make a very long journey." While I blinked a bit at the sensation of my little heaven crashing down about my ears, she swallowed a few more tears and went on in that same solemn, but strangely purposeful tone. "I have no money to pay passage. Do you...do you know of any caravans headed west that are at all trustworthy or that need a woman to cook?"

I am neither the world's wisest nor stupidest man. Normally following a simple conversation is not a problem for me. However I was finding myself having difficulties wrapping my mind around words like "leaving", "west" and "cook." After a pause during which I successfully restrained myself from stammering "what?" repeatedly, I managed to ask, "Where you goin'?"


I stared at her a moment. That was one of those strange words that she had said earlier that normally make sense. "West" I knew already. "West" had, so far, not helped me out in the slightest. "West", however, seemed to be all the information she cared to give. I stared into my ale, where I have found many answers, good and bad. What do you know, when I drained it, I found a decision in the bottom of the mug. I kept my voice low so the nosy old codgers couldn't hear. "Odd coincidence. I'm headed that way, too. And I can't cook worth shit."

Minerva turned to look at me. She gave me a bit of a smile and wiped a few tears away. "You're so kind, Osgun. But I have much too far to travel."

"No, seriously, kid. I gotta leave town. Don't matter much to me where, so we'll find you your caravan and I'll travel along with far enough to make sure it's a decent one for a lady to travel with." I had never spoken so many words to her in all the time I'd been here, and she looked at me kinda funny. She had probably thought I was one step up from mute.

"Why are you leaving so suddenly?" she leaned in so her words wouldn't be overheard.

"I'll tell when you do."

She gave me a funny sort of smile, like I had caught her off guard and scored a point, then sat back. "It's a debt I will never be able to repay."

Belatedly I realized I had missed a wonderful opportunity to stare down her top. Damn. I lifted an eyebrow at her comment and then looked pointedly at my empty mug. I pushed it toward her and gave her a little smile. She needed money and protection on a journey. I had too much money and no idea where to head next. If she filled up that mug, I'd call it a fair trade.

Minerva looked at the mug, and then laughed. Not loud, but it was a real smile. Couple of the old fish buzzards noticed and nodded approvingly. Happy girl means faster refills. She started with mine first, and life just doesn't get better than that.

To be continued...
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-07-13
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