Tag: trolls: ugly brutish and – usually – stupid

6.19 – Forest Chase

Einarr could not get past the idea that this was somehow still a trap. The troll, apparently guileless, led them up to the ridge, to the place where he was apparently accustomed to climbing back up. There was one immediate problem.

“I can’t climb that,” Runa stated. Even had she dressed like a man, in trousers, Einarr expected that would have been the case. She simply hadn’t had the opportunity for much rock climbing in her life.

“Erik? Are you up to carrying a passenger?” Einarr was already thinking of alternate solutions: it was not a tall ridge, but the hand holds looked tricky. Einarr was quite certain he would not have the strength to take a second person.

The big man stared dubiously at the rock wall before them. As he opened his mouth to answer, however, Runa screamed.

The troll, without so much as a by-your-leave, scooped Runa up in one grimy paw and tossed her over his shoulder. She looked faintly green as he turned and put that same paw up on the wall.

Einarr drew Sinmora and leveled it at the creature. “What do you think you’re doing?”

The troll turned its head to look at the warriors following it, its expression that of a befuddled hound. “Troll help music lady. Music lady fix bad-head. Come. We climb.”

The troll started up. Runa squawked and clutched at the greasy skin that the monster wore by way of clothing. Reluctantly, Einarr sheathed his sword once more and shared a dubious look with Jorir and Erik. There was nothing to be done, though – not just at the moment, anyway – and so he climbed after, keeping as sharp an eye on the brute as the ascent would allow.

Eventually, though, they came to the top of the ridge and the line of evergreens that Einarr had noted earlier. The troll stood patiently, making no move to leave them behind – but Einarr wondered if he had forgotten Runa was thrown over his shoulder.

“Run now?” It asked, sounding hopeful.

“No. Now you put her down, and then we follow you like we did below.”

“Oh.” It had the temerity to look disappointed. “Puny ones move faster? Poison light soon.”

Poison light? The sun? “Fine. But the Lady walks on her own.”

The troll heaved a sigh, but set Runa down without further complaint. “Troll cave this way.”

Then he was off at a lope, and Einarr was stunned to realize it probably didn’t think this was fast. It was probably moving at about a horse’s trot – but a horse’s trot is still faster than most men could run, let alone dwarves.

Einarr called back over his shoulder: “Jorir! I’ll mark trail. Catch up as you can!” And that was all the breath he could spare for a while. Not that marking a trail was particularly difficult: neither the troll, nor he, nor Erik, paid much attention to the brush as they crashed through it. Most likely they left a trail a blind man could follow.

The troll led them in essentially a straight line through the underbrush, over fallen logs and through brambles (although nothing so thick as they had seen below), and soon Runa, too, was having trouble keeping up. The troll had not so much as looked back. Perhaps, if they simply stopped running and hid in the forest until daybreak…? But no. Runa had promised the benighted creature help, and he would not make her go back on her word. “Troll!”

“Man!” A sound like chuckling carried back toward them. “Nearly there.”

“Slow down! Music lady not so fast as you.” Neither was Einarr or Erik, but the troll only needed Runa.

The troll stopped to look back at the panting humans. Impatiently, Einarr thought. “Poison light soon. Must cave be.”

“Why were you so far out in the first place?”

“Talk later. Cave now. Music lady shoulders?”

Einarr was about to refuse again, but Runa raised a forestalling hand as she half-stumbled past him.

“No, it’s fine.” She took a deep breath. “He smells bad, and I’ll want a bath, but it’s fine.”

Einarr glared at the troll, but Runa paid him no mind as she stepped forward. “More gently this time, if you please.”

For a wonder, the troll not only understood but obliged, setting Runa upright on his shoulder as delicately as though she were made of glass. Einarr frowned. Something about this didn’t mesh with what Afi had taught him about trolls. Was it perhaps loyalty to another of its kind – its mate, perhaps? Or was Runa right – was this his Calling coming to the fore once again? If that was so, was that even a troll?

Einarr shook his head: he had no more time to wonder, as the brute was loping off again, this time with his bride on its shoulder. And there was no way in all the Realms he would let them out of his sight.

The troll’s path led them out of the strip of forest and into another meadow in the shadow of the mountain, and by the time Einarr could see firelight coming from the mouth of the cave the horizon had turned from indigo to grey. Whatever his faults, the troll had been honest with them thus far. Thus far. It’s too early to relax. There’s still no promise the cure for whatever “bad-head” is won’t involve eating us.

The troll came to a stop by the fire just outside of a large granite cave mouth where the edge of the field began to slope up into the mountain. As Einarr and Erik jogged to a stop, Einarr nearly gagged as the smell of rot assailed his nose from within the cave. Runa was patting frantically at the creature’s shoulder to be let down and taking quick, shallow breaths. For the smell to affect her this much even after riding on the troll’s shoulder all this way… Einarr was suddenly glad to be a sailor.

“Music lady fix bad-head now. Inside.”

Runa turned her face from the cave mouth, trying to smell less of it. She still looked as though she wanted to throw up. “No.”


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6.20 – Coming Soon

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6.18 – Troll

With a thud as hard as one of the boulders he had been tossing, the troll whose presence Einarr had suspected showed himself. A hideous specimen even for the breed, he glared at them with red eyes from beneath a heavy brow. The stench of unwashed flesh assaulted Einarr’s nose.

In that same moment, the great stupid man-beast threw back its head and roared. It swung its club overhead so fast it whistled. Einarr drew Sinmora and hefted his shield: he had hoped to avoid this, but not really expected to. Erik and Jorir, too, had set themselves for battle, even as Runa hopped backward a few paces.

The troll charged straight down the middle and brought its thigh-size club down. Jorir flung himself to the side. The impact of the club against the ground sent gravel flying. Jorir rolled to his feet, though, apparently unharmed, shook his head, and dashed in towards the troll’s feet.

Erik had to dodge a backhanded sweep as the troll brought its club back up, but that too was an opportunity. He rose from under the swing of the troll’s arm and chopped at its elbow. Blood welled, and the creature roared, but it seemed Erik’s strike had been just off the mark: it could still use its arm.

Einarr moved in, then, as the creature tried to focus on Erik and avoid Jorir’s harrying of its legs at the same time. Its back was wide open, and Sinmora cut a broad swath across it. He had to be missing something, though: the troll that had flushed them out by throwing rocks would have to be a clever specimen, and this one was not fighting like he had any brains at all.

As though on cue, the gash that he had just opened along its back began to knit itself together. Einarr bit off a curse: how were they supposed to drop the thing, or even drive it off, if they couldn’t hurt it?

Is that why it fought stupidly? Because it had never needed to learn to fight well? That gave him the sliver of an idea. Einarr gave up on large, sweeping cuts: he had Erik for those, and Jorir to keep it on its toes. The Vidofnings would be the wolf pack, and the troll a stag, and soon enough the sun would rise or the troll would decide they were too much trouble.

Erik began to circle the creature, hacking at the arm that held the club at every chance. It wasn’t long before he, too, realized that he wasn’t actually hurting the beast – or not enough to matter.

“Keep going!” Einarr called as he hacked down at the thickly muscled neck. “Time is on our side!” Especially if Runa…

Yes. She was beginning to Sing, the same Song she had used on the boat early that spring to keep his strength up. The same song she had bottled to get him and Erik and Tyr through the storm around Svartlauf. So long as her voice held out, they could hold.

So long as Runa had stayed silent, however, the troll had been content to focus its ministrations on the three warriors among them. Now that the voice of a Singer rang over the fields, Einarr realized his error.

With a mighty kick, the troll sent Jorir tumbling away from its knees. The dwarf rolled to his feet almost immediately, but even in the dark Einarr could tell he looked winded.

Einarr moved in to strike at the creature’s hideous face right as it began to swing its club in a full circle around it. He felt the wind driven from his lungs even as he saw Erik be bowled aside like firewood.

And then the troll charged at Runa.

Einarr found sufficient air to dash to his feet. He was not aware of crossing the distance, only that one moment he saw the troll’s aim – Runa – and the next he was there, between the avalanche of beast-man and his bride.

He set his feet and braced his shield for the coming blow. “Over my dead body.”

The troll’s momentum bowled it into Einarr and pushed him back a distance of several paces – right through where Runa would have been, if she had not had the good sense to get out of the way.

“Music lady need,” the troll grunted. Einarr rocked back on his heels, surprised.

“You can’t have her.” He held Sinmora ready, even though he knew there was little he could do with his blade.

“Music lady need. Fix head-bad. Music lady take.”

Einarr rolled his eyes and hoped Runa would forgive him what he was about to say. For all he knew, ‘fix head-bad’ would still mean ‘throw in stew.’ “‘Music lady’ woman mine. ‘Music lady’ no take.”

“Einarr… perhaps we should go with it.”

“You want to end up in a cookpot?”

“I didn’t say we trust it. But have you ever heard of a troll seeking help before?”

Einarr shook his head.

“Then might I suggest this is your Cursebreaker calling, bringing us a new puzzle to solve and maybe even a new friend to make?”

“Yes! Yes! Music lady come, fix head-bad, troll no hurt music lady friends.”

“There are hours left until daybreak. What have we got to lose, really?”

Einarr had a few ideas. Chief among them, their heads. But this, right here, was not a fight they could win now. Reluctantly, he nodded. “Fine. We’ll see what it wants.”

He turned to their erstwhile opponent. “Troll. Music lady will come. Rest of us, also come. Troll no harm music lady or warriors?”

“Troll no harm. Troll-friend now. High honor.”

Einarr was sure it was. To the trolls, anyway. As the creature lumbered happily off toward the ridge, he rubbed his forehead. If Runa was wrong, this could get very bad, very quickly.


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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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