It took us another half an hour to reach the road. By then we could see the wagon was being pulled by two horses, and that there was another horse with rider alongside it. Most likely it was the farmer returning with help to take care of the rogue ogre.
We set off down the road, towards the approaching wagon.
“Nobody mention the farm,” I said. “We’re coming straight from Probet, on our way to Fengarad. Don’t offer any other information. If they ask any questions, just say nothing and look confused. I don’t care who these guys are or how great they seem, keep schtum.”
This seemed the safest course of action. Making sure we all kept to the same story was the most important thing, and the best way to do that was to have no story. If there was one thing this group was good at, it was acting dumb.
The others were nervous, but at this point we were all suffering from anxiety fatigue and too exhausted to panic properly.
“Ah hope they ain’t psychos too,” muttered Flossie.
“It’ll be fine,” said Dudley.
“Yeah, fine, fine,” added Maurice.
As we got closer, the first thing that became apparent was the difference between the horses. The two pulling the wagon were small and black, shuffling along with heads drooped. The one with the rider was a golden tan colour with a glorious white mane, and cantered along with its head held high. Even from a distance, its movement looked impressive.
The rider was hard to see properly because he was glinting so much. The late afternoon sun was sinking behind us, and its light reflected off what I assumed was armour.
We continued walking towards them, various scenarios playing in my mind. We just had to exchange pleasantries, keep it short, then move on. No doubt it wouldn’t be that easy—it never was in this place.
It turned out the rider wasn’t in full armour. He was wearing a very cool looking leather get up with metal bands on the shoulders and arms. He had curly blond hair and a huge smile on his face.
“Hey! You alright there?” he yelled at us.
I immediately disliked him. It wasn’t just the fancy horse and the cool leathers, it was the accent.
“Are you Australian?” I called out to him.
“Sure am. You sound like a Brit. I’m guessing you’re the new arrivals.”
The wagon pulled up just ahead of us. The man behind the reins was short and plump with a full beard and a floppy hat. He was smiling too, and certainly didn’t look like the father of a bunch of psychopaths.
The Australian climbed down from his horse and came at me with hand extended.
“The name’s Sonny. Can’t tell you how happy I am to meet you guys.” He shook everyone’s hand. We all introduced ourselves.
He was tall, good-looking and built like an athlete. And very Australian. I don’t mean that in a good way.
“This here is my best friend, Nicky.” He rubbed the horse’s nose. “And this is Farmer Angelo.”
He pointed to the farmer who took off his hat to reveal a bald head, which he bowed slightly. “It’s Angalad.”
“Oops, sorry about that, mate. Got a terrible memory for names.” Sonny laughed. “Anyway, you can leave us to it.”
“Are you sure?” asked the farmer.
“No worries. Now that I’ve met up with my new party here, we’ll have your little ogre problem sorted in no time. Right guys?”
“Sorry,” I said, trying to sound confused (not very difficult), “what are you talking about?”
“I’ll explain it all in a minute.” He walked over to the wagon and pulled a bag out of the back and then patted the side.
“Well, good luck!” called out the farmer as he set off. “You know where we are when you’ve finished. There’ll be a slap up dinner waiting for you!”
Sonny hung the bag on his saddle. He gave the farmer an exaggerated wave and then turned to us. “Right then, down to business. You probably have a bunch of questions, and I’m the man with the answers. Got here with my lot four years ago. Didn’t have a clue what was going on back then, but now I know this place like the back of my hand. Trust me, bumping into me was the best thing that could have happened to you.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but we just want to get to Fengarad. We’re not really up for any ogre fighting right now. As you can see, we aren’t very well equipped.”
“No problem,” exclaimed Sonny. “The thing about ogres, it’s more about the tactics than the weapons. I can show you the ropes, teach you how to handle yourselves—you’ll never have a problem dealing with ogres again. Full masterclass, no charge.” He grinned , showing off immaculate teeth.
Clearly, he wasn’t the type to take no for an answer. Fortunately, I had a bunch of fuck yous to offer him.
“Sonny, is it? I think you misunderstand. I don’t appreciate being volunteered into service. You didn’t ask us if we wanted to be part of your task force or posse or whatever it is you think you’re forming here. We’re going to Fengarad.”
I started walking. Sonny threw up his hands and walked backwards to keep ahead of me.
“Woah, woah. Looks like we got off on the wrong foot here. My fault, my fault. I didn’t mean it, but sometimes the old mouth takes over before the brain’s had a chance to get in gear, know what I mean?”
I kept walking. The others were following me, but I could sense their discomfort.
“Thing is,” continued Sonny, “that’s why we’re here. We’re the heroes who take care of monsters. It’s what we do.”
His relentless grinning was really getting on my tits. I stopped walking. “Heroes? There’s no such thing as an Aussie hero. The closest you ever got was Ned Kelly, and he was just a criminal with a bucket on his head.”
“Colin….” Claire couldn’t help but intercede. I ignored her.
“We heard something big and angry thrashing about in the woods back there.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder. “You want to be a roleplayer? Have fun cosplaying Mad Max on a horse all you want.”
Sonny squinted like he was trying to get a proper look at me. Then he burst out laughing. “Okay, okay, enough with the sledging. I was out of order, I admit it. You guys want to do your own thing, that’s cool. I can handle the ogre, you don’t have to get involved. I just thought you might want to learn how it’s done. My mistake.”
“You’re going to kill the ogre by yourself?” asked Maurice, sounding incredulous.
“Sure, why not? It’s easy once you know how. But look, it’s getting late—be dark soon. Why don’t we set up camp and I can at least give you the lowdown on Fengarad. Where you need to go, where you need to avoid, all that stuff. Least I can do.”
“What about the ogre?” asked Claire.
“No worries. They bed down pretty early. He’s probably already tucked away for the night by now. We can enjoy a nice meal, some laughs, and tomorrow morning I’ll sort out Mr Ogre, and you lot can head off to Fengarad with Sonny’s list of must-see places. When I get back, maybe we can meet up for a drink. Don’t tell me Aussie’s don’t know a thing or two about where to find the best pubs.” He grinned at me.
He had a point. It was getting late and we’d have to set up camp soon. And it would be useful to know about Fengarad.
“Okay,” I said. “But we don’t have any food. We were going to catch some fish.”
“Then, today really is your lucky day. I’m going to treat you to the best meal you’ve ever had.”
“Oh,” said Maurice. “Did you bring some food with you?”
“Of course, mate. I’m Australian! Time to set up the barbie.”
Author’s Note: The views of the characters aren’t necessarily the views of the author.
Sledging is a cricket term for trash talking.
Ned Kelly is a 19th century Australian bandit who wore a bucket as a helmet (really).