The Ogre is Coming

SYNOPSIS: Alaric was a gifted young man whose dreams came true – with help from an ogre.

Alaric Hyde was a bright boy who learned through hard knocks to keep care not to seem too clever. His stepfather, Rhys Wright, delivered the hardest knocks, including one that came near to ending Alaric before he could reach manhood.

That angry and drunken assault was triggered when Rhys suspected Alaric of stealing and not sharing the result. Rhys groped for his leather belt, but his hand came down instead on a hardened oak hammer. He struck a blow so hard that Alaric’s right eye socket collapsed, his cheek shattered, and his nose was reduced to a flap that whistled when he breathed hard.

“Ogre!” Rhys shouted at the boy. “You’re an ogre now, not a gopher. Not a ferret.”

As time passed, Alaric heard that name more often than his own.  Children of Olmstead he had played with in younger days called him “ogre” and worse.  Children who did not know him believed Alric truly was an ogre child and would run away screaming, “Ogre! Ogre! Ogre!”

Alaric’s mother, Gretl Goodholme, remained proud of this first-born son from her first husband. She gave the boy what some villagers said was a prideful name. That doomed the boy, they said, because it opened the gate for ill-manners and disobedience.  Wags and reprobates whispered that he must surely deserve at least some of the beatings laid on him by Gretl’s third and final husband, Rhys Wright.

Others said the boy’s frequent lumps and limps were the result of being raven-haired and over-sized like his real father, who died of the flux, and was not gaunt and blond like stepfather Rhys.

After Rhys beguiled a grieving Gretl and they posted bans, her family farm and all her worldly goods became his by right of marriage. To his mind, that meant his days of hard labor were over.

By the time Alaric reached the age of 10, their farm cottage was brimming with younger and noisier children.  So Rhys moved himself and his burly stepson to a disreputable shack near market square in the village. When the market was open, Rhys operated from a small stall where he sold off household goods and farm implements that had been well-made by Gretl’s husband one and husband two, and by her father and his father before.

“Twice the quality of modern goods, half the price!” Rhys would shout across the din of the market.

Alaric was trained to size-up the kind of customers to whom he could safely give a sly wink and whisper, “and if you don’t see what you want on our tables, tell me where you saw it and I can fetch it for you.”

When he began to get his growth, Alaric could no longer be the quick little ferret prized by Rhys. As such unique transactions faded away, Rhys grew surly.  He spent more time drinking and whoring away their decreasing proceeds.

As Alaric neared his 12th year, he could almost look his stepfather directly in the eyes — if he dared. It wasn’t just to avoid triggering another beating, but also that he didn’t want his stepfather to see the guilt in his young eyes because Alaric had been hiding the full measure of his talent.

Alaric finally revealed his secret to his mother and ten siblings.

During one of the many moonless nights when Rhys was visiting neighboring counties in search of goods for the market, Alaric presented to his mother a small intricately carved box.

“Did you steal this at the market?” Gretl asked softly but sternly.

“No! Mother, I made this myself!”

Alaric was hurt.

“But how…”

“I have been learning from artisans at the market. I slip away when he is drunk or sleeping. At first, I’d sneak under the tables to get a closer look at how they work their craft. Some of them threatened to call the market wardens, but then some of them invited me to try my hand and gave me instructions. They say I have a real talent.”

A tear rolled down her cheek, following the crease of her broadening smile, and then all ten siblings were at his feet, reaching for mother’s gift or tugging on his tunic and demanding gifts of their own.

“Alaric, make me something with a unicorn on it,” his younger sister Elizabeth pleaded.

“Can you make a hairbrush with faeries on it for me?” asked his even younger sister, Alice.

Alaric worked quietly at home (and even quieter in the village shack during market trips with Rhys) to fashion small gifts for each of them. He presented them during a family stroll through the woods because Rhys didn’t like walking “with a pack of noisy little ferrets,” so it was just Gretl and the children.

“Why are these so small?” his brother Harry asked. “I wanted something big and grand!”

“Shhhhh,” Alaric said. “These are just the right size to the keep them hidden from the eyes of whomever you wish not to know you have them.”

He needn’t say more. Their smiles briefly faded, then reappeared with murmurings of “we won’t tell” and “it’s our secret” and “he’ll never know.”

Gretl had saved all of the coins Alaric gave her from proceeds of his under-the-table dealings, and she used them to purchase an apprenticeship for him with the Leatherworkers Guild in Nottingham.

By the end of his 17th year, Alaric was a towering man most widely known as the artist who crafted the finest leatherworks from belts to bustiers.  He wore a lambskin mask of his own devising to hide his disfigurement and was welcomed by eager crowds.

“The Ogre is Coming to the Market” the posters would proclaim, and that was welcome news to almost all as his travels took him closer back home to Olmstead.

In Olmstead market, there was a broken down former merchant who could most often be found drunk in an alley, grabbing at passers-by and mewling, “The Ogre is coming to get me!”

And so he did.