((This very short story came to my mind while I was writing my book. There was no place for it in the book, but I liked the story so much that I kept it as a short.))
“Freak! Beast! Brute!”
The words followed him as he walked down the street, but she ignored them, same as always. Ignoring them was getting harder and harder of late. Loudest of all was Kerg’s voice. Of course. He would be leading the chorus, as usual.
“Tessa, can ye come help me for a second?” Calger’s voice called out from their house just down the road.
“Coming mother,” she called back and broke into a jog, reaching the house quickly. “What do you need, mother?”
“Will ye please play with Sarth for a few minutes? He’s driving me out of my mind and I be trying to get dinner finished. He adores ye and yer so good with him.”
“Sure,” she said as she looked down at the large, chunky toddler who was even now reaching towards her.
“Tessss!” he said and she giggled, flopping down in front of him and starting to play with the small sword and shield their father had given him.
Tessa knew she was loved, but sometimes she wished she wasn’t so different from everyone else. Her mother had been Calger’s friend even though Calger was of the ogre clans and Tessa’s mother, Theria, had been human. Theria was the daughter of a traveling merchant and they passed close enough to Calger’s clan lands on their trade route to trade with the ogre clan. They often stayed several days and Theria and Calger had hit it off as children and become fast friends, all differences aside. That friendship had only grown deeper as they grew. The road could be a rough place to live and raise a family, however. One afternoon while Theria was off with her daughter gathering herbs and roots for dinner a group of bandits had attacked the wagon and killed Tessa’s father, taking with them the horses and wagon and everything the family owned. Theria was alone with a baby and only the clothes on their back. They walked to the closest town and Theria had “borrowed” a horse from the inn and they made their way to Calger’s clan.
Theria had gone to live with Calger and Starak, but she never truly recovered from the shock of finding her beloved husband in the shape he’d been in after the bandits were finished with him. It had been a gruesome sight and Tessa was glad she had been too young to remember the scene in any detail. When her mother died, Calger said of a broken heart, they had taken Tessa in as another daughter. They loved her as much as any parents could love a daughter and Tessa adored both of them. She was raised with love, tenderness, and enough rules to keep her safe. Most of the clan accepted her as readily as had Calger and Starak, but their children, as children tended to be, were often mean to her because she so different.
Looking at Sarth more closely Theria compared the boy to her own remembered features. Most of the ogre children were large, chunky and big-boned. Even as children they had big hands and feet and had heavy, though not overhanging, brows. Tessa was small boned with a piquant face. She would have been considered petit even among her own race. Sarth innately had the hard, aggressive nature that was so rewarded in an ogre clan, whereas Tessa had been a gentle and pliable child.
Growing up, Tessa had never been able to keep up with the others in the rough physical play of the ogre children and she didn’t have the strength to win in the “mock” battles they waged endlessly with each other. While she trained in weapons and fighting along with every other child, she couldn’t master the heavier weapons they favored and special practice armor had had to be made to fit her since nothing they had was made for someone of her size.
Their eyes were generally brown and black with a different color showing up but rarely, but Tessa had bright green eyes like fresh spring dandelion leaves. The clan’s hair mostly ran to shades of brown, black and dark blond, but Tessa had bright red locks that were always unruly.
In every way, she stuck out like a sore thumb in the clan and she wondered often what she would do to make a place for herself here. The children aside, this was still her home and the only one she really remembered. She just wished that Kerg and his group didn’t make her life such hell.
A gong rang out loudly and everything came to a standstill in the house. It was the alarm gong. Something was very wrong.
“Stay with Sarth,” her mother said, “I’ll go see what’s happened.”
Tessa waited impatiently for her mother to return and when she did, her face was grim.
“I need ye to go to the Chieftain, Tessa. Kerg has fallen into a crevice and canna get out. No one be small enough to reach him but ye. I know how much ye hate him, and for good reason, but . . . “
“I may hate him but he is strong and my clan brother. I will not let down the clan who took me in and has made me their daughter, no matter how I feel about Kerg personally.”
Calger smiled and hugged Tessa tightly. “No mother could be more proud of a daughter than I am of you, Tessa. Go now, and please, be careful. I’ll be out there soon as I find someone to tend to Sarth for me.”
Reaching the Chieftain’s tent, Tessa was quickly apprised of the situation. She and several of the men, Kerg’s father included, ran to where Kerg was stuck. They could hear him shouting to the others already gathered around the crevice as they arrived.
“Kerg, ye will be quiet and listen now. We can nay reach ye. Ye ye be down too far for any of us to come in without also getting stuck. We have one chance. We be sending down Tessa. She be smallest. She will slather ye with lard and hopefully we’ll be able to pull ye free. Ye ken?”
“Aye, Chieftain, I ken,” came the muffled reply.
“Tessa,” the Chieftain said, bending down so that only she could hear his next words. “Thank ye for yer willingness to do this. All know how ye feel about each other. Kerg will be needing to learn a lot of lessons the hard way in his life because he be selfish and nay secure in himself. He WILL learn, but he has nay yet. Ye may think we do nay notice his cruelties but we do and it be partially because he gets angry about being caught and punished for it that he takes it out on ye. He is nay very bright.”
The Chieftain grinned and winked at her and she stifled a giggle.
“Still, he be a member of the clan and a strong lad. Ye are also a clan member and I want ye to always remember that yer home be here with us. Thank ye for putting yer feelings behind to do what be best for the clan and for that foolish cub.”
Tessa beamed at the ogre Chieftain. He epitomized in looks all that outsiders feared most about ogres, but his heart was kind and gentle where his own were concerned.
“I’ll do my best, Chieftain. I promise.”
“I know ye will, cub. Of ye I never doubted anything less.”
He coughed and stood, gruffly shouting for someone to wrap a rope around her waist and give her the lard.
The trip into the crevice was slow but without incident and when she reached where Kerg was stuck she hailed him.
“I’m here Kerg. I’ll have you covered with lard in a few minutes and they will haul you out of here as slick as a dart through a blowpipe.”
“Tessa, I . . . why are ye here?”
“Because you are my clan brother no matter what else you do or say, Kerg. You will be a good, strong hunter for the clan and I would not deprive them of that no matter how I feel about you.”
“Oh . . . well, thank ye. I be sorry that I’ve . . . “
“Don’t go saying anything you’ll regret later,” she said wryly.
“Just don’t fall in any more crevices. There . . . you are about as greased as I can manage to get you. Pull him up!” Tessa shouted the last part upwards and immediately she saw the rope around Kerg’s arms tighten.
She pushed and pulled him as best she could from her own dangling position and after a lot of grunting, groaning and abrasions she felt him break free and start to rise. She could hear the cheering above and felt her own rope start to rise, lifting her out of the rocky space. When they were both up on solid ground and untied, Tessa started to walk towards her mother, who was waiting for her in the crowd that had been watching.
“Tessa, wait . . . “ Kerg said gruffly.
She turned and faced him knowing he wouldn’t say anything mean in front of so many witnesses.
“I was wrong. Ye look different, but ye be nay beast, nor ugly. I have been the beast. Ye be clan and ye belong here. I will nay say otherwise ever again. I owe ye my life and I will nay ever forget that debt.”
Tessa couldn’t have felt more shocked. She looked around at the brutish, rough, heavy features of the ogres, who she knew outsiders called beasts and savages and smiled. She was home. She could take whatever names she got called, just as they did, for she knew her place and she knew her home and family. She would never ignore the taunts again, but stand up for herself because she had the right to do so. She was as beautiful as they were and belonged here just as they did.