To Go In Search of Trolls
by Joshua Blanc
Sticky the imp floated along on his little wings towards the Elven Realm. He carried a bundle on the end of a stick that the trained observer would recognise as a typing wand. Adjusting to fresh air and open spaces had been both frightening and exhilarating, for he'd not experienced them for some time. He'd spent, oh, ages in the employ of the troll tree removers Agnor and Runkthussle. Well, 'employ' wasn't the best term for it; slavery was more apt.
Quite out of the blue, a scroll had arrived and changed his fortune. Having accepted a job from an elf known as Sydor Goldenleaf, the tree removers apparently had a fatal encounter with a sentient oak. Subsequently, Mr. Goldenleaf had arranged both the return of the money and coal he'd paid, and the 'liquidation' of the office and drakes. Sticky, to put it bluntly, was out on his ear. He was also a free agent.
So he'd gathered his meagre possessions, some food, and some gold pieces that were lying about - it wasn't as if he hadn't earned them - and fled before any more trolls could get their big clammy mitts on him. He spent the better part of a day negotiating the scraggly Badlands of Zigpwt; alert for goblins during daylight, and both goblins and trolls at night. After a fitful sleep in an abandoned crow's-nest, he pushed onward into the Borderlands; in the hope of finding more civilised work in the realm of the elves.
At midday, with his stomach growling, he stopped in the branches of a large weeping willow. He'd always been fond of willows; they were so restful and timeless. He supposed that's why trolls hate them so much - more than any other tree. His former employers had taken great delight in 'removing' as many as possible, even if they weren't on the job list. Seeing a willow as tall and restful as this was a good sign that he was far from trolls and their machinations.
From a high branch he gazed out through the curtain of leaves at a little pool that sat between the rushes and undergrowth below. The peace was shattered by a great roar. Something waving a club leapt nimbly from the bushes and beheaded several rushes with one swift blow. Sticky clambered back onto his branch, which he'd fallen from in the excitement, and peered down at the interloper. It was a little elf girl, resplendent in a shimmering green cloak over which her long golden hair flowed in something of a tangle. Sticky scratched his head, then gathered up his bundle and floated down.
"Hello there!" he said, and then plummeted to avoid a swing of the club.
"Oops! Sorry," said the girl. "Who is it, please?"
Sticky clambered up the stem of a bulrush and shook himself dry.
"I'm Sticky," he said.
"Are you? I'm awfully sorry you fell in the pond."
"No, my name is Sticky."
"Oh. Pleased to meet you. I'm Lora-el-thanir, or Lora if that's too much of a mouthful. Are you a faerie?" The girl lowered the club and peered a little closer, brushing aside some of her wayward hair.
Her face was not that of a feral child, as Sticky had expected. Her skin had a healthy glow about it, and her features were soft. It was for noses such as hers that the word 'button' had been invented; her wide smile made rosy apples of her cheeks, and her eyes were sparkling wells of curiosity.
"No-no. I'm an imp," said Sticky, "but you're forgiven the mistake." He'd been compared to far worse things.
"An imp? Wow, I've not seen one. You're ever so funny-looking. Can you really fly with those tiny wings?"
Sticky, his pride bruised, proudly demonstrated the capabilities of his wings by fluttering through the air and alighting on the soft mossy bank.
"How's that?" he said.
"I wish I had wings …"
"Tell me," said Sticky, as he ferreted through his bundle for some bread. "What are you, an elfling, doing out here in the Borderlands - away from the safety and splendour of the townships?"
Lora sat also, and laid her club before her folded legs. As she spread her cloak back, Sticky noticed a brooch - a leaf of gold with a crest on it - pinned to her tunic.
"I'm hunting trolls," she whispered.
Sticky coughed and nearly choked on his bread. The girl offered him a flask. He eagerly drank from it; sweet nectar of some fantastic elven fruit.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm sorry, you said you were … hunting trolls?"
"That's right. My parents were killed by trolls - that's what they told me at the orphanage - and this brooch is my only link to them. I've had it since I was a baby."
"Do you know what trolls look like?"
"Um ... big and hairy. And ugly. That sound right?"
"It's an apt-enough generalisation. The key word here is big, and quite strong besides. You're foolish to tangle with trolls if you don't know what you're doing."
"I'm proficient with this," she said, picking up the club and swinging it once 'round her head.
"That I don't doubt," said Sticky, ducking again just in case. "But you don't know trolls. They're wicked, devious creatures, and I should know; I've been their slave for … oh, ages."
"Really? How would you like to help me?"
Sticky cocked his head to one side. "I was hoping to find employment in the Elven Realm ..."
"There you are, then. I'm an elf, and I'll employ you."
"And you can pay me, can you?"
"Oh, I'm sure trolls will have money and things. It'll be of no use to them when they're dead."
Sticky couldn't argue with that logic. He chewed on his piece of wicked troll bread a moment, then tossed the rest of it into the pool. As soon as it broke the surface, a huge catfish gobbled it down and returned to the depths of the murk.
"You have yourself a deal," he said, and they shook hands.
Together they rose, to go in search of trolls....
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