The arrow slid from the quiver without a sound. The wild boar was within range as Torin nocked the arrow. After stalking the pig for days, the moment was at hand. A hawk screeched in the trees, drawing the pig’s attention. It was a fraction of a second, as the arrow flew to find its mark. The boar dropped with a final grunt allowing Torin to exhale in relief.
That was easy enough; unlike the last one. Torin approached the boar, nudging its snout with his toe. With you down, the piggy population should get under control for a while. At least until I make my rounds again. Looking towards the horizon, a few hours remained in the day for him to drag the carcass to town.
Biting his lip, a loud whistle echoed among the trees. A few minutes later, Sienna trotted to him and nudged him in the chest. Torin chuckled and said, “I’m sorry you had to stay away for so long. He was harder to sneak up on and you make too much noise.” The tan and cream horse snorted, bumping him hard in the chest with her muzzle. “Come on, let’s get this pig into town.”
The sun made its way below the horizon as the ramshackle houses came into view. Sienna trudged along as they headed towards the butcher’s shop. A crowd was gathering along the sides of the street, cheering and congratulating Torin on his victory.
I hate this part. Why can’t we ever just dump the carcass, get our gold, and leave? It’s always a huge ordeal over a pig. Yes, hi to you too. No sign of the tubby mayor yet. Maybe I’ll get lucky this time.
At the butcher’s residence, the man came out to greet him as Torin untied the ropes used to drag the pig from Sienna’s saddle. “Now that is a right and proper boar, Torin. Well done. Have you taken your token?” Torin held up a large tusk with dried blood at the root. “Come inside and I’ll get a few more gold for your trouble. He’s bigger than the others. Boys.” A few young boys set about untangling the carcass from the ropes as the two men went inside.
With the sun gone for the day, a coin was given to the stable hand for good care of Sienna for the evening. Heading towards the inn, hope still lingered in his thoughts about avoiding the mayor of the town. The smell of warm beer and familiar patrons welcomed him as he walked to the hearth to warm his hands. Closing his eyes, the warmth embraced him like an old friend.
The corner table awaited him as relief washed into his legs and back as he sat on the wooden chair. A young woman brought a large mug of beer to him. “Would you like some potato soup? It’s a little bland, but I could sneak some herbs away for you.” She smoothed back her saddle brown hair and poked a few loose strands into her braid. Her dress was a deep brown and spotted with stains from work.
Always looking out for me. Bet no one else gets this treatment. Nodding, he took a swallow of warm beer. My favorite mug as well. It’s good to be home, for a while. She left him to tend to the soup.
“Ah! Torin! Just the man I’ve been waiting for.”
Crab apples! Not once can I enjoy a meal without him poking his fat, greedy face in here… Come on, waddle on over here so we can get this over with. Torin lifted his beer and placed the best smile he could fake on his face. “Mayor Green.”
“Word has reached my ear that you have brought down a mighty boar! The town in indebted to you as always. You must tell me the tale.” His clothes were clean, something that the other people of the town couldn’t boast about. It was a small town, so keeping something secret from the mayor was something only the skilled knew how to do with the edge of a knife.
A sigh pushed past his lips, “We made it back to town just as the sun left for the evening. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have my dinner first.” The two men stared at each other until the mayor broke eye contact.
“Yes, of course. Please excuse my rashness. I’m always entranced by the stories I hear of your hunting. If I weren’t the mayor of this town, I should love to join you on a hunt. But, I fear that my loyalty towards the townspeople is more important than my own indulgences.”
Judging by your waistline, there isn’t many you pass up. “Thank you, Mayor Green. Now, if you will excuse me, my dinner has arrived.
Speaking as he stepped aside, “Of course, of course. Our master huntsman is what keeps this town flourishing with meat. I will, regretfully, respect your wishes for the evening.” A steaming bowl of potato soup and a chunk of bread was placed on the table, along with a spoon. The mayor licked his lips as he stared at the bowl of soup. It wasn’t until Torin cleared his throat, that the mayor turned on his heel and left the inn.
I can’t believe that worked. The girl brought him out of his thoughts as she reached forward to give him some strands of parsley. “Thank you.” A smile was all she offered in return as she stood there watching him shred the parsley with his fingers. Without looking at her, he asked, “Would you care to join me, Sara?”
With a quick glance around, she sat. “Are the stories true?”
Raising a spoonful and blowing on it, he couldn’t help but smile at the question. “Which ones?”
She leaned in and asked in a hushed whisper, “The ones about how you can go days without food or water while hunting?”
“No. I know this land and it’s secrets well.”
“The strength of ten men? How are you able to take down the bears and pigs by yourself?”
“That secret stays with me.” She let him take a few spoonfuls of soup as she mulled over more questions.
Curiosity was clawing at her mind as she asked, “What about the stories the women talk about?” The redness rushed to her face as she dropped her eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to intrude on your meal.” She started to get up, but Torin put a hand on hers. She sank back into her chair.
After resting the spoon in his bowl, he wiped his mouth with his cuff. “I don’t mind your company. As for what people say about me, all lies. Especially the ones the women tell. Why? What stories are people telling now?”
The sparkle had returned to her eye, “Some say that you can hunt anything, blindfolded. Others, that you took a doe by chasing it on foot. One story says that you can see the warmth of a sleeping bear in his pitch-black cave. Another says that you waited for a buck three days in the cold mud.” Torin smirked at the exaggerations.
“Those are big stretches from the truth. To answer your questions; yes, I can hunt anything. But, not blindfolded. Who could do that, anyway?” He tore into the bread As for the doe, I chased her into a snare. Bears are easy to hunt because they breathe so loud. The last one, well, I don’t speak about it. Largely in part due to the fact that I had too much beer and the memory is fuzzy. I did wake up in the mud, though.”
The front doors flew open drawing all eyes to a man in brightly colored clothing. He stepped into the room followed by several men in heavy armor. Everyone in the inn was silent as the man made his way across the room to the bar. The guards stood near the entrance. Facing the patrons, “I come on behalf of the King. We are summoning a man by the name of Torin Longpaw. He is a hunter by trade and the King demands an audience with him.” The room was silent. People feared the king, but they feared betrayal more. Sara scooted her chair back and made her way to the kitchen. “Young woman, do you know of the man we seek?”
She turned around slowly with her eyes to the ground. “I do, sir. But, I am not sure that he would like to be found at this point.”
The man approached her, “Withholding information from the king is unwise.” He reached up with his gloved hand and stroked her cheek. “It would be in your best interest, to tell us where to find him. Now, speak up, or face the penalty.” Sara pushed his hand away as two of the guards marched to her and held her in place. “This is your last warning; where is he?”
“Leave her alone.” Torin stood up and walked towards the men. “I’m the man you seek. Let her go.” The guards pushed her away as she mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’
“You, are Torin Longpaw? You look nothing like the stories I’ve heard.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear. Read the summons. We are simple people around here.”
The man’s face screamed with resentment as he unrolled the summons.
Torin Longpaw is hereby summoned to appear before King Elmwood. The subject of the matter is not for public discussion and will be disclosed in private with the King. Torin Longpaw will fulfill this summons, or face the death penalty.
Long live King Elmwood.
After finishing reading, the man rolled up the summons and tossed it to Torin. “We leave at dawn.” A satisfying smirk crawled across his face.
The days that followed were long and harsh. Hours in the saddle with little breaks were beginning to wear on Sienna and Torin. On the fifth day, the snot nosed man announced that they would arrive at the castle within a day’s ride. Torin kept to himself as he rode, allowing the king’s men to fill the air with their petty conversations of servant girls and sweet beer.
The castle was a smaller, cheaper version of the King’s original castle. King Elmwood had built these smaller versions on the borders of his kingdom. Torin could see the sandstone blocks used in the corners of the castle. If he ruled with the same mindset that he built his castles, his rule would be short-lived.
Arriving at the castle, Sienna was turned over to the stables and roughly unloaded by the older stable hands. Torin flicked a gold piece to a young stable hand to brush her down. The wide eyed boy with red hair and freckles nodded with enthusiasm. Torin was marched to a private room to bathe and freshen up.
Is that steam? It is. Don’t remember the last hot bath I took. Can’t remember the last bath at all now that I think about it. Torin undressed and tenderly slid into the water. A small table littered with toiletries stood at attention beside the tub. “Soap? At least I get some luxury from this.”
A knock at the door followed by a male servant ended his cheerful moment. “Sir, I have been sent to assist you.”
“Okay. Stay over there, though.” Torin held up the bar of soap, “How do I work the soap?”
The servant rolled his eyes. “Get it wet and rub it over your skin. Would you like assistance?”
“NO! That is all I need. I got this bath thing. You can leave now.”
“As you wish, sir.” He left Torin alone in the room.
Torin finished bathing and dried off with the towel hanging off the end of the table. After dressing, he stepped out into the hallway. “Follow me, sir.” The same servant led him to the King’s private meeting room.
The room was dark, damp, and drafty as the King’s nasal voice welcomed him. “At long last! Torin Longpaw. I have waited far too long for this moment. Come closer, come closer.” The King’s chair was at the back of the room with a single candle burning next to it, casting abnormal shadows throughout the room. “I see you have fulfilled my summons.”
“A man doesn’t ignore the wishes of the king.” You didn’t leave me with much of a choice either.
“You are here, because I need your services. Some months ago, a troll was reported to be terrorizing one of my towns north of here. I sent my best warriors and hunters to deal with it, but, none have returned. I can spare none of my men which is why I need you to locate them, whether they are dead or alive. Also, find the troll’s whereabouts so I may send my army to kill it. That is your job. I have heard your name and the stories behind it. You will now prove to me whether the stories are true or not.”
“What is my pay? I cannot do these errands of my own means.”
“Your pay is your life. You may visit the armory and pantry before leaving tomorrow. Report back to me when the troll is located. That is all.” Torin bowed to the king and left the room. “If he is half the man people says he is, this nuance will be dealt with soon enough.”
The same servant was waiting outside the door. “My lord.”
“Take me to the armory, please.”
“As you wish.” His bright, padded feet led Torin down to the lower portion of the castle. The sound of hammering grew louder as the smoke stung his eyes. Open air blacksmiths were hard at work making various pieces of armor and weapons. The servant rubbed his eyes and tried to stifle a cough.
“What are you doing down here, priss-pants?” A filthy man covered in soot and hair, got in the servant’s face causing him to backtrack a few steps.
Torin spoke, “I’m looking for a whetstone.”
The man faced Torin. His labored breathing smelled of cabbage, “Only a fool goes without a whetstone.”
This man’s breath alone would kill the troll. “The king’s men were too rough with my bags. I heard it break when they unloaded my horse. So, I’ll have a replacement, now.” The sooner the better. The man bristled up and marched over to an anvil, grabbing a whetstone and throwing it at Torin’s head. Torin casually reached up and caught it, spiting the man more. Turning to the servant, he said, “Pantry.” The servant nodded and briskly headed towards the stairs.
Visiting the pantry was uneventful and the servant was clearly glad to be among the higher people again. Dried meats and other foods were packed for his journey and sent to the stables to be packed. Torin was allowed to eat with the servants and kitchen staff that evening. After the meal was done, the tables were pushed against the walls as songs were sung with enthusiasm beyond any Torin had ever heard in any tavern. He was soon enjoying the spectacle and clapping in time with the song. It wasn’t long until a female servant grabbed his hand and pulled him into the dance. Wine was broken out and several glasses were filled with the sweet wine mixed with water.
The next morning came with its harsh sunlight and thundering drums. A whisper amplified a hundred fold in Torin’s ears as he stumbled to the stables after breakfast. It would be several days until he was in the troll’s territory and his mind would clear by then. The same stable boy helped him onto Sienna and wished him good luck. Torin managed a crooked smile and an erratic wave goodbye as Sienna sauntered out of the castle under her own direction.
The days and miles blurred together as Torin endured in the saddle. He stopped now and then when fresh signs of small game were close to the road. After stopping in the town, directions were given to him concerning the location of the troll. It frequented the area and was expected to be close by. Enduring the lengthy descriptions tested his patience until he finally felt content to set out again.
The signs along the road began to change. Blackened circles beside the road spoke of troll territory as they were the only ones brave enough to have fires this close to the road. The smell of the air changed as well. It smelled of rotten flesh and dung. Troll territory was never fought over as it held no value due to the troll’s constant defecation.
Torin brought Sienna to a halt. In the middle of the road some distance away stood a troll. This should be interesting. Torin dismounted and started approaching the troll. Sienna let out a snort causing him to stop and turn in his tracks. “I’ll be fine. Don’t go far.” The horse turned and trotted south, away from the fight. I hope this goes well, Sienna.
Turning back around, the troll had taken the opportunity to close the distance. His form grew as his massive strides brought him closer. Torin swallowed the lump in his throat and stood his ground. It took less than a minute for the troll to be upon him as the ground vibrated with his strides. It dropped to all fours and let out a gut-wrenching bellow. Its massive form was heaving from the effort. Whether or not this was the right troll made little difference now, as there was no way Torin could avoid the fight.
The troll began to crawl forward like a wary cat. Saliva dripped from his open mouth. His speech was gravely as he labored to speak. “Why you here, human?”
“I’m looking for a troll that’s attacking the town south of here.” The troll stopped his advance and a smug smile was all he offered. He stood to his full height, rolling his shoulders. Crap. He’s big. Really, big.
“We fight, human.” His fists hammered on his chest as he let out a long exhale. “I protect land from humans.”
“Protect? I find that hard to believe.” The troll wiped his nose with the back of his arm. “Trolls rarely keep to themselves.” Again the troll showed his crooked smile revealing missing teeth.
“When I kill you, I eat horse, too. Hard to catch, but good to eat. We fight now. I want to eat horse.”
Torin took out his sword and stabbed it into the ground. He began to unbuckle his leather armor as the troll watched with confusion. “What? No one ever fight you man to man?” The troll shook his head slowly. He tossed aside the last of his armor leaving him bare chested before the troll.
“What your name?” The troll had suspicion in its eyes.
Holding up his hands, his fingers grew into long claws while fur began to cover his skin. His mouth and nose began to stretch into a snout as large teeth shined with the yellow of a beast. The sound of cloth ripping filled the air as his voice was replaced with the bellowing of a bear. The two were nearly eye to eye as they challenged each other.
“I eat good. Bear and horse in one day.” The troll crouched down as his saliva watered to the ground.
Let’s hope that he’s all brawn and no brain. Otherwise, this might be bad…