<center>Chapter 1: The Expositioning</center>
Miss Francis banged her ruler on her desk. “Class, your attention please. We have a guest speaker today.” She banged her ruler a few more times until the majority of students were looking at her.
Olivia Cameron awoke on the second bang, and didn’t look up until the forth. She found Miss Francis’ lectures to be an excellent cure for insomnia, but a guest speaker might actually be interesting. The village was small enough to only need a school with four classrooms, and this one contained the oldest group of students, ranging from 15 to 18. Guest speakers were generally employers looking for potential employees, and with Mrs. Cameron nagging her 17 year old daughter to find a job, it couldn’t hurt to listen.
The classroom door opened and a tall man with a neatly trimmed beard and receding hairline stepped in. He nodded to the teacher. “Miss Francis.” He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, students. I’m Professor Cornelius Underwood, Chief Ogrologist of–”
A student cut him off. “Ogres? C’mon!” Other students giggled.
Miss Francis pointed her ruler at the offending student. “Mr. Thomas! I’ll see you after class.” This elicited more giggles.
“Thank you.” Professor Underwood continued, “Don’t think I haven’t heard all this before. Ogres stay on their side of the Forbidden Woods. There hasn’t been an ogre sighting in over a hundred years. They don’t affect us, why should we care, right?” He nodded to himself. “I’ll tell you why. To make sure they stay on their side of the woods, and we don’t see them in our territory.”
Rolling her eyes, Olivia turned her attention back to the paper on her desk, which she had been using to draw unflattering pictures of her teacher.
“Vigilance is required, but I’m only one man. I need an apprentice to carry on my work. I have special permission to go into the Forbidden Woods to make contact with the ogres and make sure there are no… problems. This forms the basis of my research, and my apprentice would join me on these expeditions.” He glanced around the room to see if any students showed an interest.
The boy in front of Olivia raised his hand. “Wait. You want someone to go with you to meet the ogres? Isn’t that really dangerous?”
Underwood let out a little chuckle and shook his head. “Ogres are quite a bit bigger than humans, so they don’t view an individual as any threat. Larger numbers might set them off, which is why I go alone. I’ve picked up some Ogrish over the years, so I know they trust me enough to start bringing an assistant, which is why I’m here.”
Olivia yawned. Learning Ogrish didn’t sound like her idea of an exciting job.
The professor continued. “Applicants need to submit a writing sample. A five page report on the trees found in the Western Forest should give me an idea of your observational skills. Miss Francis has agreed to look at your submissions, so you’ll receive writing credit for them.”
“Indeed.” Miss Francis looked around the room, finally settling on Olivia. “There are many students who could benefit greatly from this opportunity, if only to improve a sagging grade. Wouldn’t you agree, Miss Cameron?”
Olivia fought the urge to comment on what else was sagging, but admitted that her grades needed the help. At the very least, a hike in the forest would get her away from her mother’s badgering for a while.
Underwood gave a brief bow. “My residence is on the outskirts of the Forbidden Woods on the south side of town, reports can be submitted there or with your teacher. Thank you for your time.” He shook hands with Miss Francis and made his exit.
“Well, I hope to see reports from all of you.” Once more Miss Francis locked eyes with Olivia. “That brings us to the end of the day, class dismissed… except you, Mr. Thomas.” With one groaning exception, the class gathered their supplies and filed out of the school.
Blinking in the sunlight and still somewhat tired from her impromptu nap, Olivia took a meandering path home hoping to be fully awake by the time she arrived. She first made her way past the south gate to catch a glimpse of Underwood’s house. Sure enough, a small residence that was little more than a shack was barely visible in the distance, right near the edge of the Forbidden Woods. “He must be crazy to live there.”
“Oh, I believe it helps, but it’s hardly a necessity.”
Olivia tried not to gasp as she turned and saw Professor Underwood towering before her. Suddenly she was quite interested in her shoes. “Uh, good afternoon. Sir.”
“No need to be embarrassed, you’re hardly to first to make that observation, Miss… Cameron, was it?” Waiting until after she nodded, Underwood continued. “It’s because of the wolves that inhabit those woods, correct?”
Olivia had managed to get her blushing under control by this point and met his gaze, which was no easy feat. And 6’-8", he was nearly a foot and a half taller than her. “Well, the wolves and the ogres… but I guess you have an understanding with them. So mainly the wolves.” She nodded to herself after working out the logic.
Underwood chuckled. “It’s partly because of the ogres that I have nothing to fear from the wolves. You see, the wolves will instinctively run from the scent of an ogre, and after years of interacting with them…” He trailed off.
Olivia stared blankly for a moment until a look of disgust crossed her face. “Oh… I guess that’d do it.” She leaned forward a little and sniffed. “You don’t smell that bad… no offense.”
“None taken, the scent’s hardly noticeable unless you have a keen sense of smell.” Underwood stroked his beard. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, I’m sure you have a report to start. Good day, miss.” He winked and passed through the gate.
Olivia rolled her eyes once his back was turned. “Good day, professor.” She continued on her way, noting that the wood and brick houses she passed must be more sophisticated than whatever caves the ogres were using. Even at the edge of the kingdom, they could do better than that. After taking a few more detours, Olivia arrived at the small house she currently shared with only her mother, as her father was currently with a logging crew far to the west and wouldn’t return for nearly a month. After closing the door and setting down her school supplies, she shouted a greeting, “Mom, I’m home!”
“Olivia? You’re a little late, aren’t you?” Mrs. Cameron emerged from the kitchen, undoing the apron she had been wearing. She looked like an older version of her daughter, with her auburn hair starting to show streaks of grey. Come on now, dinner’s ready. They both sat down at the table, and the elder Cameron immediately set to work. “Wasting time after school again?”
Olivia shook her head as she shovelled a forkful of corn into her mouth. “We had a guest speaker today, and I stayed late to talk to him.” While not the whole truth, it was close enough. She did speak to him after class ended.
Her mother raised an eyebrow. “Guest speaker? With a job offer, perhaps?” Her eyes seemed to light up as she spoke.
“Uh-huh.” Olivia quickly nodded. “It was Professor Underwood, that ogre expert. We’re supposed to write a report on the Western Forest so he can see how well we write, and then he’ll pick someone to be his assistant.”
Mrs. Cameron paused a moment before leaning in close and saying, “Ogres, you say? Sounds dangerous. I heard a girl around your age from two towns over vanished in those woods to the south; they say the ogres got her.”
“Oh, people exaggerate.” Olivia said. “I heard she was running from the law, she’s probably in a new town with a new name by now.”
They made small talk for the rest of the meal, but Mrs. Cameron brought the subject up again as they cleared the table. “Well, you better get a move on, you’ve still got a few hours of daylight to go into the forest to start your research.”
Olivia whined, “But mo~om…”
“No buts, young lady.” Mrs. Cameron sternly waved her finger. “I’ve heard from Miss Francis enough times already this year.”
Olivia sighed. “Fine, just let me go change.”
Mrs. Cameron shook her head. “And make more laundry? I think not.”
Olivia glanced down at herself. She was wearing a long green dress with short sleeves. “You expect me to go hiking in a dress?”
“You’re not climbing a mountain, you’ll be fine.”
“Fine.” Olivia sighed. She grabbed a green ribbon that matched her dress and used it to tie her hair back so it would stay out of her eyes. After collecting a pen and paper, she said goodbye to her mother and set out for the west gate.