Since the beginning of time, the Dark Forest has been home to many legends, old and new, long and short, sad and funny.
Some of them were written in old books, books with soft leather bindings and grey pages made of flattened reeds. Some survived only in the memories of the Forest folk, retold over and over from mouth to ear, year after year. Some have been forgotten forever.
Among the tales that have outlived the others, there was one about the First Troll. It has changed throughout the ages, switched times and places, lost many details and gained even more new ones, but one way or the other, the story has lived on.
The First Troll, as his name implies, was the first troll in all of the Northern Lands. Some of the Forest folk go so far as saying that he was the one who created our World. Others argue that he didn’t create it, but he was the first magic creature to walk the face of the Earth. Be that true or not, everyone agreed that he was the one to put all things in good order.
When the First Troll came into this world, he saw forests and lakes, fields and rivers, high mountains and the deep blue sea. Beautiful, yet terrifying, was our world, for it existed in restless chaos and turmoil. The big beasts ate the small beasts and then turned on each other. The forests were destroyed by wildfires, volcanoes erupted, mountains crumbled and clogged the rivers, and mudslides turned clean lakes into murky swamps plagued by vicious mosquitoes.
The First Troll laid his eyes upon the world of chaos before him and cried for many days and nights, until his eyes were sore and his throat was dry and itchy. Then he rolled up his sleeves.
He created little gnomes out of stone and dust and sent them to take care of the rocks and mountains. He put together forest flowers and duckweed and turned them into fairies and nixes to keep the meadows, lakes, and rivers in good order. Then he took twigs, pine cones, and some of last year’s yellow grass, worked on it for a while and made wood goblins who had the power over trees and beasts, every insect and bird, big and small, all the same.
When they were ready, he and his army of little helpers got to work. The lakes and the rivers were cleaned, raging volcanoes tamed, the beasts and the fish were taught how to live in peace with each other. And thanks to the smart and relentless wood goblins, the forests turned into the most marvelous places in the whole World.
Of course, all that toil took its toll. There came a day when the First Troll couldn’t keep himself going anymore; big effort required big rest. Before he retired, he accomplished one more task. He scraped off a little piece from every bit of matter, every plant and mineral he could find on Earth and with it he conjured other trolls, made in his own type and image. He sent his trolls off to every corner of the World to help and guide his magic creations, while he took his epoch-long slumber in a giant cave somewhere in the depths of the Blue Mountains.
As old and beautiful as this legend was, not all magic folk liked it equally. The trolls, of course, were proud of being the descendents of the First Troll, but some others took offense at the idea that their ancestors were created by some troll, be that first or second. The ones who disliked that premise most were the wood goblins. A strong and respected family, they thought their traditions to be more ancient and their magic more powerful than the trolls’. Needless to say, the trolls didn’t take those claims seriously.
“Higher! Don’t stomp, walk!”
“Higher! Lower! Ufff, Olle, you are useless!”
The Old Troll tried to sit up, but the pain was still too intense.
“You are way too light for a proper back massage,” he said. “Where is that obnoxious fairy of yours? After all the food she’s eaten at my house, I could use her weight now!”
As usual, the little nisse took the troll’s words literally.
“You want Alina to help you with your back? I doubt she’d be willing to come over in weather like this. But I can try to speak with her.”
“It was a joke,” said the Old Troll grimly. “She’d break both my spine and the bed if she did.”
“Oh, don’t say that. I mean… she’s not that heavy.”
The Old Troll sighed and tried to turn over to see what was going on outside the window.
Frankly, there was not much to see. There was mostly rain and darkness--and beyond that, even more rain and more darkness. ‘Uninviting’ was a gentle word to describe that view. He shuddered and rolled himself up in his thick quilt. It seemed like the very walls of the Stone Shack were oozing with ice-cold water. A little iron stove in the hearth was glowing red but it still couldn’t dry out the entire house.
“There is something about the rain that makes it ever so ghastly this time of year,” complained the troll out loud. “It brings that near-winter chill that goes right to my sore old bones!”
“Well, try to see it differently,” replied Olle. “Save the memories of this rain for next summer. Then you will remember how cold it was and enjoy the sun even more. I always do that.”
The Old Troll didn’t share his sentiments.
“Only if we live long enough to see another summer,” he grunted and threw yet another look at the window.
It was the same as an hour, a day, and two days before--a shroud of falling water. Endless, relentless, unstoppable water. He gave out a muffled moan.
“You know what I heard?” said Olle, sitting at his bedside. “I heard the wood goblins use bees to cure backaches.”
“Goblins and their bees,” replied the Old Troll. “I remember the old times when wood goblins were fighting wildfires and taming rogue bears. What do they do now? They pick berries and keep bees. As the Forest is my witness, I swear the magic folk dwindle down with every passing generation... So how do they cure back pain? Pour hot wax on it or something?”
“No actually, it’s very peculiar,” said Olle, lighting up at the chance to explain. “They put a live bee on your back and let it sting you, then another one, until...”
He noticed the look on the troll’s face and closed his mouth.
“I knew you wished for my death,” said the Old Troll tragically, “but I never thought you’d be so blunt about it.”
“I...” started Olle, indignantly, when someone knocked on the door.
They exchanged looks.
“Your friends?” asked the Old Troll with suspicion.
Just as Olle shook his head, the door swung open and a wood goblin came in.
It was one of those self-assured youngsters that the Old Troll had been seeing at the Leech Swamp more often than in the Forest, in the company of the Bog Witch and her friends. The goblin looked around the house with a squeamish expression on his face, as if he had accidentally stepped into a cave filled with old bear droppings.
The Old Troll was the first to break the silence.
“Did you bring me the bees?”
“Bees?” asked the goblin blankly. Rainwater slid down his grey mantle, forming a little puddle on the floor.
“Yes,” said the Old Troll. “Bees for my back.”
“No bees,” answered his guest, after a short pause. “Elder Bokker wants to speak with you.”
It was the Old Troll’s turn to be puzzled. Goblin elders rarely took any interest outside of their communities, least of all in talking with trolls.
“Well, tell the Elder he can stop by,” he said after a long pause.
Clearly, it wasn’t the answer that was expected of him.
“Elder Bokker was hoping,” said the goblin through his teeth, “that you would be so kind as to pay him a visit.”
“And I was hoping,” replied the Old Troll, who was starting to lose his patience, “that I would have a quiet evening without random creatures barging in and making a mess on my floor.”
The goblin involuntarily threw a quick glance at his boots, then looked back. He saw the Old Troll smirking at him and red spots shined through the greenish skin on his cheekbones.
“Fine. I will pass your words on to the Elder.”
The hard slam of the door made the Old Troll wince.
“Olle, please, help me get in the chair.”
“Right now? I know Elder Bokker; he’s not a person who is likely to come out in such nasty weather. That is, if he comes at all.”
“I’m sure he will,” replied the Old Troll, trying to prop himself up on the bed. “If he cared enough to send one of his cocky lizards here, he obviously thinks he has something important to say.”
His words proved true in less than an hour.
When the elder arrived, accompanied by another young goblin, the Old Troll was sitting in his chair, covered head-to-toe with a blanket. The visitors took off their rain garments and the young one appeared to be a young goblin girl. She was unusually tall--not as tall as the Old Troll, but at least two inches taller than the goblin that had come earlier. Apart from that, she was a lot like him--same arrogant look, same grey clothes, she even wore the same birch-bark bracelet, probably following some new forest fad.