Chapter 26: There Be Trolls
The murky clouds parted, along with a distant dream of laughing ghouls at a masquerade, their bodies twisting and gyrating to the rhythm of the blades that impaled them. As the macabre dream faded away, it was replaced by a vision of trolls sitting around in a circle, gnawing on hunks of meat. Kwado slowly remembered who he was and how he had ended up here. He lifted his head, a painful effort, and took in his surroundings.
The trolls were gathered in a circle—he lay between a pair of them—all hooting and grunting while they shared their meal. They were not in front of the cave anymore. Still in the forest, but this was somewhere new. The moon was full and the sky cloudless. He tried to rise, but something hard hammered behind his eyeballs, radiating around his temples like a raw nerve being scrubbed with sandpaper. He groaned and dropped back down to his side.
“Fledgling is awake,” Gam said loudly, his voice disturbingly celebratory. The kneeling trolls began to jump up and down excitedly, a murmur working through them.
“Ugh, I wish I wasn’t,” Kwado muttered, clutching his head.
“Ragga! Gyule!” Gam hollered. His voice was like hot knives sliding through Kwado’s brain.
Ragga quickly hobbled to the side of the pack. She retrieved a wooden bowl and brought it to Kwado. He lifted his head slightly when she pushed it under his chin as an offering. The putrid odor of rotten milk curled his nose hairs, but she grunted, urging him to drink.
“No, thank you,” Kwado said, curling his lip and turning his head away. The sight of the snotty blueish yellow mixture turned his stomach.
Ragga grunted and snatched hold of his face, her talons squeezing hard enough to force his mouth open. In an instant the bowl was shoved into his mouth and tipped over. The texture was somewhere between warm snot and drying glue, which one would not think possible unless they too were forced to drink trolef juis. With the bowl emptied, Ragga tossed it aside and used both hands to clamp his mouth shut and work his throat. Kwado choked on the phlegmy liquid, the taste of it salty and stinging like bile in the back of his throat.
Not until Ragga was satisfied that it was all down did she release him and scurry back, while the other trolls cackled. He leaned to the side and dry heaved, wishing he could scrub the taste out of his mouth with steel wool.
“Ha! Little creek sleeper delicate,” Gam said, roaring with laughter and slapping a nearby troll in the back hard enough to knock the food out of its mouth. The troll panicked and scrambled to the dirt to retrieve the hunk of meat, greedily shoving it back in its mouth.
Kwado froze, truly remembering just where he was. These trolls were dangerous, a primitive pack, and each of them strong enough to tear him to pieces. The last thing he should be doing in this situation was showing even the remotest hint of weakness.
“What wrong, creek sleeper? No guzzy guzzy Ragga’s brew?” one of the other trolls taunted before tearing off a strand of meat from a bone. Gore dripped down the side of his mouth as he chewed.
“The brew was fine,” Kwado said. “Tasty even. I just thought Ragga was trying to kiss me.”
Gam raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth in an ‘o’ then slapped his thigh and roared again. He was quickly accompanied by everyone else in the pack—all except Ragga, who gazed down to the dirt. Kwado immediately felt guilty for delivering the insult, but it seemed to work, as the attention shifted off of him and the trolls fell back to talking to each other, some in common tongue, others by a series of grunts, hoots, and barks that he scarcely understood.
“You hit me,” Kwado said, remembering how he had been knocked out.
Gam’s eyes glinted in the moonlight. He lifted his chin proudly and smiled. “Little goat one of Gam’s tribe now. Is good.” He nodded to himself then turned his attention to a trolless who had planted herself in his lap, grabbing a handful of her hair and nibbling on her neck while she cackled.
Feeling glum, Kwado stuck out his lower lip, sitting cross-legged as some of the trolls were, and rubbed the sides of his head with his thumbs. The concoction that Ragga had forced upon him was already taking hold, gently pulling the taut cord wrapped around his brain and easing the pain. He eyed her, sitting silently in the circle, still staring at the dirt, and frowned to himself.
Not my proudest moment, he thought. I’ll have to find some way to make it up to her.
“Little Goat eats?” a troll asked, thrusting a leg of raw meat in front of his face.
Kwado’s stomach turned on itself, threatening to empty its contents. He covered his mouth and choked down the taste of bile, holding up a hand and trying not to gag. He shook his head.
“Little Goat no like Pak jen-ora-city?” Pak said, scowling in a way that made the yellow tusks jutting from his lower jaw bend inward.
Kwado quickly shook his head in adamant denial. “It’s not that. I am just not feeling very well at the moment. Perhaps later?”
Pak nodded knowingly. “Gam’s fists like hammers. Little Goat heal first, then eat guzzy guzzy.”
“Thank you,” Kwado said. He watched Pak tear into the drumstick greedily. “I-Is it…h-human?”
The troll snorted, the meat catching in his throat, and fell into a fit of coughs and spitting. The nearby gathering of trolls cheered and laughed at him. He finally caught his breath. “Little Goat think we eat humans!” he roared to the pack. Some of the trolls fell on their backs, clutching their bellies and kicking their feet in the air.
“Ha,” Kwado said. “I’m just joking…of course I know you don’t eat humans.”
“Right,” Pak guffawed, this time wisely leaving the food outside of his mouth. “Like we could find humans around? Not unless Pak wants king’s men on pack.” Pak shook his head with a wry grin and went back to work on his mystery meat.
Kwado waited for a little while before speaking again. “I am Kwado,” he said to Pak.
The troll nodded at him and winked. “Gam accept you into pack. You are now Little Goat.”
“He renamed me?” Kwado said.
Pak nodded. “He is pack leader.” He narrowed his eyes. “What pack you come from you no know this?”
“Oh right, the pack renaming ritual…,” Kwado said with a nervous chuckle. “Must have hit me a bit harder than I thought.”
Pak smiled widely and nodded. “Gam hit hard. His fists like strong hammers.”
“Ah, yes, so I’ve heard.”
“Little Goat has heard of Gam?” Pak said excitedly.
“Yes, most recently.” Kwado turned away to find someone else to talk to. The troll to his immediate left was drinking water out of a ceramic bowl through her nose. He turned back to Pak. “So…I’m one of you now?”
Pak nodded. “Gam beat down Little Goat so no way to challenge him. Little Goat is in-fur-ear.”
“You mean inferior?” Kwado said.
“What Pak said.”
“Where are we?” Kwado asked, taking in the trees around them. “Where did the cave go?”
“Little Goat ask many questions,” Gam said from across the circle. Kwado froze and peered over at him wondering if he looked as guilty as he felt pretending to be something he was not. “Gam like questions.” Kwado sighed as the troll grinned and knocked the trolless off his lap, dismissing her for conversation.
“We leave cave after Little Goat’s A’hulo.”
“But…wasn’t it your home?” Kwado asked.
Gam laughed at this. “Good hole, but for two moons only. Gam leads pack north, to join the warlock.”
“So Goat hears of warlock’s greatness?” Gam said excitedly. “Agamon will give us power, stop puny humans from hunting us. No more holes. No more lost packs. No more death.”
Despite all he had heard of trolls, Kwado found it easy to relate to Gam’s words. The sentiment struck too close to home for him. “No more orphans…,” he murmured to himself.
Gam nodded emphatically. “Troll kin will live in fear no more. Leave caves, takes man’s homes, feast on the flesh of his children! Life will be guzzy guzzy all the time.”
Kwado recoiled from the insidious proclamation. Thankfully, nobody noticed, as all of the trolls were lost in the throes of celebration, slapping hands to their chests or beating fists against the ground as they hooted.
“No more sheep,” Gam said to his pack, holding up the hunk of meat. “Only soft juicy human meat for Gam’s pack!”
“So that is where you’re heading then?” Kwado said. “North, to join the warlock’s army?”
“Aye, but first to tower.”
“Tower?” Kwado said, but Gam did not answer, his attention diverted to another trolless, this one dangling her hair in his face from behind.
Pak leaned toward him. “Gam has plan. Plan to get pack into Agamon’s army.”
“By going to a tower?” Kwado said.
Pak nodded. “Gam lead us to tower and we take wizard for Agamon.”
“You’re going to kidnap a wizard?” Kwado said, hardly able to believe the words coming out of his mouth.
“No, don’t be silly, Little Goat,” Pak said with a laugh. “We rip wizard’s heart out and bring as trophy. With this, Agamon is sure to give Gam high place of honor among people. Pack will be set.”
Kwado stared at Gam. The troll leader was laughing and playing with a pair of trollesses. “We’re going to kill a wizard?” He whispered in disbelief.
Pak waggled his brow and took a hearty bite of his sheeps leg. “Is big smart troll plan, no?”
Kwado groaned miserably. “Guzzy guzzy.”