“Please come in, Elder,” said the Old Troll, ignoring her. “Take a seat.”
The wide mouth on the wrinkled, fern-green face opened like a crack in the trunk of an old tree. As to complete the resemblance, the voice that came out of it was dry and crackly. That was how a tree must sound, if trees could talk.
“Salutations, honest troll,” said Elder Bokker, carefully descending on a stool, “on this night of leafage fall.”
The Old Troll had to make an effort to hide his emotions when a scream of desperation went off inside his head--he had completely forgotten about the custom of goblin elders to speak in rhymes and riddles. Now that he searched his memory, he recalled that it went back to the old ages, when goblin chiefs and shamans served as keepers of their tribe’s history and spells; poetry was the best form for memorizing. In time, goblins learned to keep their knowledge in books and this necessary skill became a respected, but vestigial tradition upheld only by the elders.
“Greetings to you too, neighbor,” he answered, squeezing out a polite smile. “What brings you here?”
Elder Bokker gave a thankful nod to Olle, who handed him a steaming cup of thyme tea.
would like for you to learn
That I carry deep concern:
Day of Equinox is coming
And our fate will take its turn.”
“And that’s related to me… how?” asked the Old Troll, who didn’t like the way the conversation had started. As he feared, the elder launched into a poetic tirade:
a troll to be a thief,
Bad enough of a mischief,
But your gold in hands of humans,
Will result in utter grief!”
“Aha,” thought the Old Troll to himself.
He leaned back in his chair and took a sip of tea. Then another. The tea was scalding hot, but he needed a moment to craft a proper retort in his head.
“You know,” he finally said, “I remember a young wood goblin who also tried to take something from the villagers. It was a long time ago, when men were still scarce in the North, just a few farmers here and there. And one of them kept bees in his backyard. When that little goblin saw all those bees locked in wooden boxes, he got it in his head that he should set them free. He was not very bright, that one, but he was daring, I’ll give him that.”
Elder Bokker seemed not to move a muscle, but the Old Troll noticed how strained his posture became--he knew the story that was about to come. The goblin girl, on the contrary, lost her sneer and now looked at the Old Troll with genuine interest.
one morning when the farmer was in the fields, that little wood
goblin sneaked in and tried to take the hives out. I assume he wanted
to move the hives to the forest, so the bees could live free. But the
thing was, those farm bees didn’t want to go anywhere. When
they were done with that little thief, his face was all swelled up,
big and round. Looked like a pumpkin, an ugly one too. The Forest
folk called him ‘scarecrow’ for a long time after
The girl sniggered, but saw the elder’s infuriated face and quickly covered her mouth.
“It was over a century ago,” said Olle, who clearly felt very uncomfortable. “Why...”
“Was it?” interrupted the Old Troll. “Interesting. Seems like it was just yesterday. Anyway, he was quite a dummy, that little goblin. One would think that he’d have learned to stay away from other people’s business, but if you ask me...”
“Yes, I was young,” said the elder in a high-pitched voice, trembling with anger. “Young and naive. Among other things, I thought that with age always comes wisdom. But then I discovered that for some of us, it’s just the age.”
Olle didn’t know where to put his eyes, but the Old Troll only smiled wider than before.
“Oh, that was very clever,” he said. “It doesn’t rhyme, however.”
The old goblin pushed himself to his feet, leaning heavily on the arm of his escort and they left as fast as his old legs could carry him. The poor pinewood door was slammed for the second time that night, even harder than before.
“Why do they all do that?” murmured the Old Troll and squirmed in his chair when a gust of cold air went through the house.
“That was monstrously rude,” said Olle.
“I know! They didn’t even say goodbye...”
“I was talking about you,” said Olle and went directly to his nook.
The Old Troll sat quietly in his for chair some time, going over the conversation in his head. The rain outside sounded as dull as before, the air was as chill and his back was as sore. It was easy to imagine that this strange visit had never happened, if it weren’t for the rainwater on the floor and empty teacups on the table.
“Do I have to clean up now?” he asked, but no one answered.
As if the weather decided to make up for a whole week of ill temper, the following morning started with a magnificent combination of clear skies and a fresh breeze pouring in through the window. The Old Troll felt really good. He jumped out of his bed and even went so far as to do some twists and stretches to shake off the unpleasant aftertaste of the previous night. He had barely eaten anything because of his backaches, so he was hungry as a bear.
“I need something special for my breakfast,” he declared in pleasant anticipation, “and I believe I know just the thing!”
He found his nisse sitting on a bench just outside the house, holding a plate of homemade lollipops. After their recent acquisition of two barrels of beet-sugar from the villagers, Olle quickly learned how to melt it to make hard candy. After that, every morning started with him making treats in the shape of different animals, colored with red and purple berry juice. The troll didn’t like the overly sweet and bitter taste of burnt sugar, but Alina turned out to be a huge fan. As he’d suspected, she was already there, making a wide range of sucking, crunching, and slurping noises.
“Agh…” he curled his lip “That’s sickening! Are you trying to ruin my appetite?”
“Yes,” replied Alina as she reached out to get a little red dog on a stick. “I need your appetite ruined so you don’t steal any of my sweety-sweets, you big ugly glutton.”
“I... What? YOUR sweets?” started the Old Troll, but then remembered why he had come out.
“I was hoping to get some cheese patties today,” he turned to Olle. “I remember there was some of that fluffy white cheese left in storage.”
“I’m so sorry, but it went bad a couple of days ago. I had to throw it out.”
The Old Troll felt like the sun had faded in the sky and the world had become submerged in shadows.
“Gone?” he repeated. “Is there any cheese left at all?”
“Not really,” said Olle with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I can make oatmeal, if you want.”
“Ew!” said the Old Troll. “Oatmeal on a glorious morning like this?”
“I can put blueberry jam in it,” Olle tried to mollify him. “Oatmeal goes nicely with blueberry.”
The Old Troll’s face twisted.
“No. I’d rather die,” he said and added with a chuckle, “or worse, I’d rather sit here and watch Alina eat.”
The fairy didn’t bat an eye.
“Look at him laughing at his own jokes,” she said. “What a sparkling sense of humor.”
The Old Troll stopped smiling.
“It’s no time for jokes. I need to go and get supplies before the weather turns bad for good.”
Olle jumped off the bench so briskly, Alina had to grab the plate with her precious candies to save them from spilling.
“What about the warning?” said the nisse. “Didn’t the elder tell you it was dangerous?”
“Oh, come on!” replied the Old Troll with a wave. “I thought you were smart enough to see through his rhetoric.”
“Yes. Don’t you see, he obviously found out about my deal with the village children.”
“You mean the sugar? I don’t understand...”
“Oh, my naive little friend! He’s worried that the Forest folk will start getting their winter supplies from the farmers and the goblins will be stuck with all their honey and berries.”
Alina took a lollipop out of her mouth.
“That must be the stupidest thing I’ve heard from you this year. Forest folk shopping for food in the village? I can imagine you showing up at a county fair with that tattered bag of yours. ‘You call that cheese?’” she growled, “‘Looks more like dry bear poop to me!’”
“Look at her laughing at her own jokes,” said the Old Troll. “I DID buy that sugar you’re eating, didn’t I?”
“It was a one-time occasion, you know that,” returned the fairy as she bit off a giant piece of candy with a loud scrrrunch.
“I’ll go with you, then,” said Olle.
It was so unexpected, the Old Troll forgot about his argument with Alina.
“What?” he asked. “Why?”
“I’ve never seen the village and...” Olle met the troll’s suspicious look and gave up, “well, I’m worried about you, all right?”
“What makes you think that can make my trip safer and not the opposite?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like I should be by your side this time.”
“That’s insane!” exclaimed the Old Troll over loud munching noises. “I’m sorry, but if anything, you would hinder me and--”
“I won’t, I promise!”
“Why do you think he will hinder you?” asked the fairy with her mouth full.