© 2017 by D. M Almond's Gnome Brigade. (because they have nothing better to do than cater to our readers)

Trollin'

Chapter 29: Pigeons

In the corner of the wizard’s parlor stood a full-length mirror. Kwado could not comprehend how he had missed it before. It stood as tall as a man, resting on two bronze posts connected at the bottom with clawed feet. The mirror’s bronze frame did not glow, per se, but it was brighter than anything else in the room, radiating in such crystalline detail that it felt as though he were looking through the lens of a telescope as his eyes ran over its contours. The surface of the glass seemed to move, like the ripples of a pond, and the reflection was of a forest zipping by, a flurry of leaves and frightened squirrels, hiding from some magical construct invisible to the naked eye.

The mirror’s image centered on a moving figure below, a stag cresting a small rise in the forest, lifting his head high and proudly displaying a pair of wide antlers. A gentle breeze made the trees around it sway lazily in the sunlight. The stag suddenly snapped its head to the left, sensing something on that breeze, and bounded away, straight over a wide bit of bramble to disappear into the forest.

The image on the mirror shifted in the direction of the stag’s alarm, like a bloodhound catching a scent, and in an instant it zipped upward out of the forest, ascending higher and higher until finally bursting from the forest canopy. It searched the forest dizzyingly then centered once more, this time on a small bit of woods sunken on three sides and surrounded by large boulders. There below was Gam and his entire camp of trolls.

“You see!” Kwado said excitedly, pointing at the image playing out on the mirror’s surface. “There they are, just where I said they would be!”

Sabin, the wizard, stroked a bony finger over his wrinkled cheek. “Not exactly,” he said. “You were off by a few miles.”

Kwado tried to get a read on the wizard’s expression. “But…you do believe me now, right?”

“You were in my dream last night,” Sabin said.

“But how…?” Kwado stopped short, knowing the answer. “Magic… In my dream, I was looking for you, trying to warn you about Gam.”

“You were carrying a knife,” Sabin pointed out.

“I…,” Kwado pursed his lips tight. “Please, you have to believe me. These trolls, they are coming for you.”

“Couldn’t disagree if I wanted to,” Sabin said.

“Then you’ll leave this place? Before they get here?” Kwado said excitedly. If he had a hat, he would have wrung it in his hands.

“You’re a very odd troll.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“I’m sure,” Sabin said. “You claim these trolls took you in when you were lost, but that you used to live with humans?”

Kwado frowned and nodded.

“May I ask where they are now—the humans, that is?”

“I’d rather not discuss it, sir,” Kwado said. “The important thing is that you prepare for your escape. Is there anything I can do to help you along?”

“Did they die?” Sabin pressed.

Kwado squirmed as if someone was squeezing his insides.

“Ah…that’s it, then?” Sabin found it somewhat disconcerting to see a troll display genuine emotions other than rage and fear.

“Sir?” Kwado said, gesturing to the trolls in the scrying mirror.

“Huh?” Sabin blinked at the troll then wrinkled his nose and waved at the image. “Oh, them? Pish posh. As if I would run from the likes of those vagabonds. Four decades in this tower, and I’m just supposed to up and abandon it because some angry troll is out for my head?”

“But…it’s not just Gam, he has a whole pack. Surely you’re not going to stay here? You have to at least try to run.” Kwado could not believe what he was hearing. He had risked life and limb to warn this wizard, and here he was, acting as if it was no big deal.

“Stop troubling yourself over it,” Sabin said, walking over and patting one of the stone walls lining the room. “My tower is impenetrable. None can break through her outer defenses.”

Kwado cocked an eyebrow and folded his arms over his chest.

“Yes, well,” Sabin huffed.

He did not get to elaborate his point, as the hallway door suddenly burst open. The apprentice Kwado had tied to the well leapt into the room, wearing only his boxers, and thrust a bony arm his way.

“Mas-teer, I vill safe yew!” he trilled, letting loose a bolt of crackling yellow energy.

Quick as a whip, Kwado twisted around, knocking Sabin out of the way, and grabbed the mirror, which he held in front of himself like a shield. The magic missile went directly into the mirror, past its surface with a thick ripple, and cracked down out of the sky into the center of the troll camp, scattering the monsters in every direction, screaming.

“Alto, you dolt!” Sabin roared. His gaunt face was red with rage. “Lower your damned wand before you break something again!”

The apprentice looked deeply confused. He floundered in place, mid spell, and let his arm droop to one side with a crooked frown. “But Mas-teer, zee troll iss—”

“Here to warn us of an impending attack,” Sabin snapped, pulling the mirror from Kwado’s hands with a scowl and setting it back in place.

“Zen why it attack moi?” Alto said contemptuously. His eyes narrowed and fixed on Kwado. “I do not trust eet.”

“Really? I attacked you?” Kwado said calmly. “All I did was say hello, and you swung an axe at me.”

“Is that true?” Sabin said, directing the question to his apprentice.

Alto opened his mouth to speak then closed it, looking up as he ran the encounter through his memory. He shuffled his feet and began to look deeply uncertain.

“Really, Alto,” Sabin said with a disappointed shake of his head.

“Yes, well, zee troll iss a troll after all,” Alto said, waving a hand at Kwado.

“Gam know you watching us, Wizard!” Gam shouted from the other side of the mirror.

Kwado hopped away from the front of it, his eyes locked on the troll leader, who stood in the center of the camp, shaking an angry fist toward the sky. He was surrounded by his pack, who he had forced to come back.

“Can he see us?” Kwado asked, waving a hand in front of the mirror.

Sabin shook his head, studying Gam. “Only a class five mage or higher would be able to ascertain whether they were being watched through a scrying pool.”

“You have a pool too?” Kwado asked, looking around the room and wondering just how big the wizard’s tower actually was.

Sabin glowered at him. “Not that kind of pool. The mirror.”

Alto snickered.

“Coward! Come out and face Gam like troll!” Gam shouted. “We know you have Little Goat trapped in tower!” Kwado gasped when he saw Ragga among the trolls. So she had already made it back to camp.

“Hmm, they think you are my prisoner,” Sabin said.

“I do not trust eet,” Alto said from just beside them, poking a bony finger into Kwado’s shoulder.

“Please do not touch me,” Kwado said.

“Wizard can hide all he wants, but Gam is coming for heart!” Gam roared, pounding his fist against his chest. He turned and rallied the trolls around him. Within minutes, he had the whole score of them marching for the wizard’s tower.

“Oh no,” Kwado groaned. “They’re on their way here.”

Alto’s right eye twitched. “Mas-teer? Why are zee fiends after yew?” Kwado thought at least the apprentice had enough sense to be scared.

“That’s a good question,” Sabin said. He eyed Kwado. “Why are these trolls after me?”

“Gam believes if he delivers your heart to a warlock named Agamon in the North, he will be granted a high rank at the warlock’s side. He has many such delusions of grandeur.”

“Why do yew speak zo fun-eey?” Alto asked, perplexed at Kwado’s very un-trollish manner of talk.

“You think I’m the one who talks weird?”

Alto pulled up eye to chin with him and snarled. “It izz an ack-cent.”

“Sounds more like you swallowed a snob with a lisp,” Kwado said.

Sabin snickered, but pressed a hand to either of their chests and prodded them apart. “Yes, yes, you both speak oddly. Can we focus on the matter at hand, or do I have to turn the lot of you into squirrels?”

The pair separated quite willingly at that threat. Satisfied, Sabin directed his attention back to the mirror, which followed Gam’s pack through the forest. Alto made a face at Kwado, and for a moment he thought the apprentice might actually stick his tongue out at him.

Sabin stroked the hairs on his cheek thoughtfully. “So Agamon has placed a bounty on my head has he? Hmph, rightly so. He knows I’ll not stand for his tomfoolery should it make its way into my region. Well played.”

Kwado could not believe his ears. “You find out you have a price on your head and your reaction is…what, admiration?”

“You have to admit,” Sabin said with a shrug, “it was an interesting tactic.”

“Are you even going to do anything about this?” Kwado asked, referring to the trolls in the mirror.

Sabin rolled his eyes and sighed. “You are an impatient one, aren’t you? Relax for a few moments and watch just how Sabin the Starlark deals with such vagabonds.” With that he faced the mirror, raised his hands toward the ceiling, curled his fingers like claws, and began to chant. 

Kwado jumped in front of the mirror with his arms out to block it. “You aren’t going to kill them, are you?” he said frantically. Sabin shot him a peeved frown. “They’re not all bad down there…some are just following Gam. They don’t know any better.”

Alto groaned. “Zee mons-teer vit a heart of gold.”

Sabin cocked his head to the side with a wry grin. He placed a gentle hand on Kwado’s shoulder and patted it. “Very excitable indeed. Calm yourself, I am no murderer. Step aside and trust in my judgment, lad.”

Kwado felt an unnatural wave of calm wash over him, tingling in the back of his brain, and when he stepped to the side, it felt as if he were a puppet being moved on gentle strings. He wondered if Sabin was using magic on him.

Once again Sabin lifted his hands high over his head and curled his fingers, chanting in a low rushed language Kwado was unfamiliar with. Alto watched his master hungrily, hanging on every word and every movement. The chanting grew louder and louder, filling the room, bouncing off its walls, and stinging Kwado’s ears. Until finally, when the chanting built to a crescendo that seemed unbearable, a flash of green smoke burst from Sabin’s hands, moving away from him in plumes that Kwado and Alto waved away from themselves, choking.

When the strange smoke cleared, crackling away into nothingness, it left behind the product of Sabin’s spell, a tiny lavender finch.

“A bird?” Kwado said. “Your plan is to send a bird after them?”

“Eee has perhaps lost izz mind, no?” Alto agreed.

Sabin ignored them and whispered into the finch’s tiny ear then let it go. It flew into the scrying mirror, ripples emanating off the surface as it went through. Kwado watched with deep intrigue as the finch flew over the rows of trolls. It cawed loud as a giant eagle and swooped low once it reached Gam. Kwado held his breath, expecting many things to happen at that moment. Perhaps the bird would become a blast of magical energy, decimating Gam where he stood, or maybe it would change into a gryphon, falling on Gam with rending talons and teeth. All of those thoughts and more worked through his mind, but none came close to what actually happened.

The finch swooped even lower and let out another monstrous caw, then a splat of white liquid landed right on Gam’s crown.

Alto’s lip curled as if he had just smelled something disgusting, and Kwado gaped at the magical attack. “Poop? Your secret weapon is…poop?”

“Wait for it,” Sabin said, never taking his eyes off the images in the mirror.

Gam stopped and scowled, his hand immediately going to the bird shit. He cursed loudly and stopped marching. “Give Gam rag!” he snarled. One of the trolls pushed Ragga toward him and he growled. “Not Rag-ga…rag!” followed by a series of grunts and hoots that the trolls seemed to better understand. A filthy strip of loin cloth was passed over to him, and he rubbed the bird crap out of his hair, smearing it and spreading it as he tried.

That was when Kwado saw it. It was subtle at first, only a flicker of change in Gam’s expression. Then, before he knew it, the rough-looking troll was grinning. Gam looked at the rag, and his smile broadened. Lifting it to show the trolls around him, he began to chuckle, and they nervously joined in until soon the whole pack was rippling with laughter. Without another word, and still laughing, they turned around and headed back southward.

“Where are they going?” Kwado asked.

“Depends on how long the spell holds,” Sabin said. “Usually I can get a good two months out of it, but this Gam fellow seems particularly hardheaded to me, so I’d say a month and a half tops. But either way, he, and those who follow him, have just been compelled to go home and be content living a peaceful life.”

The mirror’s image faded until all that was left was a ghostly visage of the trolls and the room they were in began to be reflected instead. Kwado caught a look at himself and realized he still wore Alto’s robes.

“I’m sorry for doubting you,” he said to Sabin as he pulled the robes off. They were tight around his shoulders and hard to remove, but he managed all the same, retrieved his phalatite and held them out to Alto. “And I apologize for taking your robes…and for knocking you out so I could sneak inside the tower.”

Alto begrudgingly took the robes from him, though he held them out at arm’s length with an upturned nose.

Kwado bowed to the pair and turned, heading for the door.

“About that,” Sabin said, stopping him in his tracks. “Exactly how was it you entered my tower?”

Kwado’s face bloomed pink. “Oh my, I’m so sorry, I forgot all about this.” He removed the amulet from around his neck and tossed it to Alto. The apprentice’s eyes widened and he caught it as if he had just been thrown a delicate jewel. “I already told you, I used Alto’s amulet to get inside.”

At that, Alto chortled.

“Come now, troll,” Sabin said. “You can tell us truly. How was it you entered my manse?”

Kwado furrowed his broad brow. “Just as I said, I used Alto’s amulet… Oh, and I repeated his incantation.”

“Eee iz lying,” Alto said. “Zee calling spell takes months to learn.”

“I am no liar,” Kwado said indignantly.

“Interesting,” Sabin said with a strange look in his eyes as he stroked his cheek. A thought clearly moved across him and he changed his stance, smiling impishly. “Troll, what is your name?”

“Kwado, sir.”

“Hmm…it’s not fit for a wizard, but we can—”

“Mas-teer!” Alto yelped. “Surely yew cannot be serious?”

“And why not?” Sabin said. “The lad was able to master the calling in less time than any pupil I’ve ever had.”

“Eee must be lying,” Alto said desperately.

“Certainly,” Sabin said with a curt nod. “Kwado, lad, would you mind accompanying us to the glade?”

“Um…of course, sir,” Kwado said, uncertain what was unfolding but feeling that it could not be very good.

Sabin led the way out of the tower, snapping his fingers before they reached the center of the hallway to dispel his backward trap, and before Kwado knew it, they were standing outside, facing the tower.

“Now, Kwado, please show us how you entered my manse,” Sabin said, motioning for Alto to hand over his amulet.

Kwado licked his dry lips, wishing he had a drink of water. He set his phalatite in the grass and lifted the amulet up high, just as he had done before. “Fal’ot Borish Cumkauit.” As he spoke, the outline of the doorway emerged underneath the glowing stone rose and the door swung inward.

“Imposseeble,” Alto hissed.

Sabin too was gawking, though his astonishment seemed to be more jubilant.

“Have I done something wrong?” Kwado said.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Sabin studied him for a moment. “Kwado, lad, how would you like to become my new apprentice?”

“You mean, live here with you and learn magic?” Kwado said, looking over his shoulder at a sulking Alto.

Sabin nodded with a wide grin. “You have great potential. I would consider it an honor to train you in the mystical arts of the world dragon.”

“Mr. Sabin, sir, I could not think of anywhere in the world I’d rather be, but if I’m going to accept such a position, there’s something I need you to help me with.”

Sabin narrowed his eyes. “I’m listening.”

Kwado smiled from ear to ear.

 

*****

 

Baron Frankel flipped the page of his ledger, pausing to dip his quill in the inkwell. He stared at the empty page for a few moments, then blinked, wondering what he had just been thinking about. Ever since Vincent’s flight, he had found it hard to focus, his mind too often wandering to thoughts of the troll. A knock on his door brought him back to reality. He looked up to find Pousin leaning in as he opened the door.

“I said I’m not to be disturbed,” Baron Frankel said curtly.

“Yes, well…” The butler looked hesitant. “It’s the front door, Your Lordship.”

Baron Frankel shifted in his seat. “What about it?”

“It would appear you have a visitor.”

Baron Frankel looked to the window and frowned. “At this time of night?”

Pousin bowed. “She insists it is urgent, Your Lordship.”

“Send her away,” Baron Frankel said with a wave of his hand, turning back to his ledger. “And don’t disturb me again.” He resumed scrawling entries into the ledger and made it to the fifth one before he realized the butler was still standing there.

“Your Lordship,” Pousin said slowly, “I believe you are going to want to hear what the missus has to say.”

“Oh? And what would fill you with such a strange notion?” Baron Frankel asked, feeling his patience stretched thin.

“Well, she says she is Vincent’s mother.”