One man stood against an army.
He wasn’t much of a man. His tattered armor didn’t fit him well and wouldn’t be much protection against the hordes of monsters at the gates. His rusted sword might reach a giant’s thigh, and his shield already had a crack in it.
The general of the army of ogres and monstrous creatures stepped forward. “You challenge me to what?”
“Single combat,” said the man, who wasn’t actually a man, but a woman. The ogre general sometimes had trouble telling the sexes apart. Both were tiny things with squeaky voices. Sometimes, the females had long hair, but even that wasn’t always true. This one didn’t.
The general paused. “All right. I’ll play along. What’s the trick?”
The lone warrior said, “No trick. Just straight combat for the fate of the village. If I win, you leave us alone.”
“No, really.” The general bent down. “What is your plan? Distract me and shoot me in the back while I’m laughing? Buying time for your villagers to sneak away? Hoping help will arrive in the time it takes for me to scrape you off the bottom of my foot?”
The warrior sneered. “Do you want to fight or not? Or are you a coward?”
The great ogre, biggest of his army because that was how ogres usually determined leadership positions, chuckled. “I don’t fight human. I eat them.” He stomped his foot, and the ground shook.
The warrior stood defiant. She pointed her sword at his throat. “Come on then, but I should warn you, I’m mostly bones.”
She wasn’t lying. Even decked out in her ill-fitting armor, the general could see she wasn’t much. It was fortunate the crunchy bones were his favorite part of the human.
The villagers stood at their wall, locked behind their flimsy gate. It would fall within moments when the army attacked.
“Was this their idea?” he asked.
“No, it’s mine,” she said.
“You must care for your people very much.”
She shrugged. “Not really. They’re kind of terrible. Angry. Miserable. Unpleasant. Bunch of assholes, really. Not much here for me since Mom died.”
“And yet you stand before me.”
“Better to meet your death with a sword in your hand than cowering behind a wall,” she said.
The general nodded. “A strange philosophy. You’ll have to forgive me. We ogres haven’t wrestled with the dilemmas you snacklings must face on a daily basis. It’s true your lives are brief and filled with terror, but there is a horrific nobility to it at times.”
“Are we going to fight or not?” she asked impatiently.
“Not, I think.” He snatched her up in one hand and plucked her helmet from her head. Her dirty face and dark, hard eyes had some strange effect on him. Sorcery, he supposed. Humans were pretty good at that sometimes.
“What I am going to do is eat this village. But you? I like you. I don’t suppose you’d consider being my pet?”
She responded by biting into his hand. He couldn’t feel it, but he did admire her gumption. It would, however, make her a lousy pet. He couldn’t throw her in a cage. Such spirit should never be locked away.
His army tore down the village walls. Humans scattered in all directions. He accidentally stepped on several. They were always underfoot in their panicky terror.
He set the warrior down and gave her a gentle push. “Go on then.”
She disappeared into the forest, probably to be devoured by some other beast lurking in those woods. But he wished her luck just the same.