Tag: first a leshy – now trolls?

6.17 -Heavy Fire

For the first time since they’d landed here in the middle of that terrible storm, Einarr could see the night sky. He had thought, of course, that by seeing the stars they would be able to guess where in the sea they had been taken. It was not to be.

In other circumstances, he would have loved being able to show this sky to Runa. The moon was a brilliant silver orb, and all around it shone more stars than any man could hope to count, so brightly that the sky itself seemed a shimmery blue rather than black. But the sight that was so beautifully vibrant above also proved that they were in no place Einarr could even guess at. He could not see a single constellation that might help point their way home.

He shared his watch with Jorir, but while the dwarf knew herb-craft better than Einarr expected any man of the clans to he had made plain he was no navigator. The stars were beyond his ken. Still, however, for the best that Runa watched with Erik. He was the best fighter of the four of them, but also the most reckless. Einarr heaved a sigh: that didn’t mean he had to like it.

“What’s on yer mind?” Jorir asked from his perch at the top of the rise.

“Where are we?”

“The Isle of the Forgotten, we’ve been told. I think the Lady might be better equipped to tell you that than I.” Jorir did him the courtesy of not feigning ignorance of the question, at least.

“You’ve never seen a sky like this before either, then.”

“Never. Although…” As his voice trailed off, Einarr heard the sound of a body sliding down a grassy slope, and then the dwarf’s footsteps approached. “If we’re tryin’ ta avoid the attention of a troll, now might not be the moment to talk about this.”

Einarr nodded. “You’re right, of course. My turn on the rise?”

“If you would.”

Off in the distance, further along the trail they had been following, there was a great crash of stone cracking against stone. Einarr cracked a wry smile, knowing nobody else would see it. “It seems I was right.”

“Quite. It also seems as though your troll is hunting elsewhere.”

“For now. Perhaps.” With a nod to himself, Einarr bent over and half-crawled up the slope of the hill. At the top, he stretched out on his stomach to make a less obvious target for anyone who happened to be looking. Or throwing.

Another crash, this one from the way they had come. What was it doing? Einarr knit his brow: the only answers that occurred to him were ones he definitely did not like – ones that suggested this troll was far more clever than ordinary. He would move them if he thought they were in danger of being hit by a flying rock, or if it seemed like the creature was otherwise close to finding them, but he’d meant what he told Runa. If it came down to it, the four of them could probably defeat the troll, or at least drive it off. But there would be a price, and probably a heavy one, and he needed them all in good health to get out of here.

Over the course of the rest of his watch, Einarr listened as the stones narrowed gradually in on their location. While they came nearer, he still didn’t think the troll knew where they were. He sat up to begin scooting down the slope.

A blast of earth and rocks pelted him from behind, throwing him forward into a tumble down the hill. A curse escaped his lips as he somersaulted down the slope: “Shit!”

Erik and Runa were already up by the time he regained his feet, and Jorir was tossing his pack over a shoulder. It hardly seemed necessary, but Einarr gave his order anyway. “Run!”

No-one tried to argue. Erik threw his baldric over a shoulder and took off. Runa and Jorir were right behind. Was this proof that the troll knew where they were, and would soon be on top of them? No, and it was also possible that by running they had given themselves away, much like a grouse in the woods. It was also possible, probable even, that the next stone would have landed in the middle of their camp.

The rocky trail shone silver in the starlight. They raced for it, stones exploding from the ground around them as they went. Einarr took the lead. They would be more visible on the path. He turned alongside it, hoping the others would follow suit.

The ground beneath his feet was rough and stone-pocked, and would have been even without the troll’s attentions. Einarr was forced to slow after the third time his ankle turned under him and threatened to send him crashing to the ground.

The trail was leading them closer to the ridge. Einarr paled but did not slow as he realized the trap they were in – how the troll hunted. They could not leave the path, as they had no other way to find the village. But the path was no safe haven, not here. Auna had warned them, but he had not understood. He set his jaw and ran faster.

Ahead of him, the ground shook, although it was not the sound of stone on stone that assaulted Einarr’s ears this time. He raised his head and pulled up out of his headlong run to stop. They could run no farther, for there, on the trail ahead of them, stood a man the size of a bear that made the huldrekall look handsome. Its skin appeared dark grey in the starlight, and its broad, drooping nose obscured the rotted mouth from which fetid breath blew. Long shanks of lank black hair hung from its head and blended with the black skin it had draped itself with.

The troll had found them.


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6.16 – Through the Hills

One of the younger huldra showed them to a trail that, she said, would lead eventually to the human village on the north shore of the island. Then, without another word, she vanished as though she had never existed. Einarr stood blinking, surprised that the person he had been about to thank could be there when he opened his mouth and gone before any sound left it.

“The hulder are hidden ones,” Runa said softly by way of explanation.

Einarr shook his head, disbelieving, and started down the trail. It bothered him, a little, how baldly ignorant he was about these matters. Would any of them have made it this far if he hadn’t given in to Runa? If she were not his intended bride, this would be utterly intolerable.

The trail the huldra set them on meandered like a deer track, although it was too wide and well-established to be only that. Best of all, it led away from the battlefield between the hulder and the leshy, and probably out of the territory controlled by either group. “Good riddance,” he muttered as he hiked. “If I’m ever attacked by grass again, it will be too soon.”

Erik, in the rear, managed to hear him and laughed. “And it’ll take a lot of beer to get me raspberry picking for a while.”

Now all of them laughed, Runa’s musical notes rising above the earthy rumble of the men’s chortling.

“So let’s hurry up so we can get off this rock, shall we?” Without waiting for an answer, Einarr picked up the pace.

***

The sun approached its zenith as Einarr followed the trail out of the heart of the wood and into the sparsely treed hills beyond. As he crested a hill at the outer edge of the wood, he stopped. All around them stretched rocky meadows where elsewhere he might have expected to see goats foraging. Elsewhere, because they had been warned this was a treacherous area to travel in, although Einarr could see no sign as to why. Off to his left, a ridge rose above the hills in the same pale stone as below, and beyond it the mountain that would anchor this island in any normal sea.

The path continued on, of course, although the packed, loamy dirt of the forest had given way to lighter, rockier ground – almost gravel. It almost looked like someone maintained the trail. Well, there was really nothing for it. With half a shrug, Einarr started down the slope ahead of him, towards where they were told they would find people.

The further they went on, however, the stronger Einarr’s feeling grew that they were being watched. He could not keep himself from glancing up at the sky, gauging how much daylight they had left to get past here and to the town. He had done this several times already when movement from atop the ridge caught his eye.

He stopped. “Did anyone else see that?”

“See what?” Runa, for all that they still had miles to go before sunset, looked winded in a way that she had not in the forest.

“Up there.” He pointed towards the top of the ridge. “I thought I saw a creature.”

“From all the way out here?” She sounded skeptical. “It would have to be as large as a bear, wouldn’t it?”

“Are you sure it wasn’t?” Jorir asked.

“A bear wouldn’t be watching us as we cross its territory, and I’m certain something has been.”

Runa opened her mouth again, but Erik cut her off. “No, I’ve felt it too. Like the hairs on the back of my neck prickling.”

“I suppose it doesn’t matter,” Einarr said, shrugging again. “Let’s just hurry on, so whatever it was doesn’t decide to come ‘investigate’ while we sleep.”

He walked faster now, the gravel crunching under his feet, but the sense of being watched only grew stronger – and hungry. Whatever that was, the creature on the ridge or something else, Einarr hoped the island was small enough they would not have to spend the night in the land it claimed. When the sun was setting, however, they were still traipsing through the same rocky, hilly meadows. Here and there they passed jagged boulders along the path – some of which appeared to have once blocked the trail. For once, Einarr thought he might know what claimed this land, although he could not bring himself to be happy in this knowledge.

“We’ll have to camp,” he said finally. “Let’s put our backs to a rise between us and the ridge. Double watch, no fire.”

“Einarr?” Runa seemed perplexed.

“My old afi taught me some bushcraft. We only ever went out tracking deer, but he taught me the signs for some more dangerous creatures, as well. And there’s been troll-sign all over these hills.”

Jorir cursed. Erik smacked himself in the forehead, as though realizing what he’d missed. Runa, though, moved from perplexed to skeptical.

“You said something was watching us all afternoon, though. Trolls can’t go in sunlight.”

“Not direct sunlight, no. But you see that thick line of trees on top of the ridge? An especially canny troll could move about under there during the day without too much trouble, I expect.”

Runa did not look convinced. When she opened her mouth to protest again, Einarr held up a placating hand. “Just, humor me? I could have been wrong about being watched. I’m certain about the troll sign. And if I’m wrong, all we’ll have given up is one night’s fire.”

“Oh, very well.”

He smiled at her, then, and clapped her on the shoulder. “Thank you. I’d rather not have to fight off a troll at all, but if I must, better to do it now than when we’re loaded down with supplies.”

“I wasn’t aware there was a special way one needed to fight trolls.”

“There isn’t. They just don’t go down, not without a terrible fight.”


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If you’re all caught up and looking for something a little longer to read, I also have other works available on Amazon.Or, if you happen to not like Amazon you can also get the Einarr ebook through Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo… you get the idea. Direct links are available here.

Lastly, if you really like what I’m doing, I also have a Patreon account running with some fun bonuses available.