In the Dark Forest, far away in the Northern Lands, where summer is short and winter is ruthless, lived an Old Troll, so old, that Time itself did not remember when he had been born.
Only the creatures of the Dark Forest knew what went on under those dense tree canopies, in those bottomless swamps, among tussocks and boulders, covered with green moss and bustling with large crimson cowberries.
From time to time, a reckless hunter went chasing after his game and suddenly found himself lost in those grim forest lands. Treasure seekers, blinded by their greed, ventured in to look for hidden troves of gold and plunder. And every so often, a naughty little child would run away from home and get lost in those dark, scary woods. But not one of them ever returned to tell the tale. And so year after year, the Dark Forest kept its secrets.
The boys and girls who lived in Skogville, a small village at the edge of the Dark Forest, knew better than to wander into the woods. But as children always do, they loved to hear scary stories and imagined what would happen if they ventured beyond the village fence on some moonless night.
As they were putting their children to bed, their parents would tell them about sneaky little gnomes who had lived in the mountains for ages, stashing away giant piles of gold and gems. They would tell them about the Bog Witch in her Drifting Hut that floated to and fro over the murky Leech Swamp, spreading a foul stench and clouds of mosquitoes along the way. And of course, they would never forget to warn their children about the Old Troll that snatched away little boys and girls who didn't listen to their parents.
Truth be told, snatching away small children was not a habit of the Old Troll. However, he did pay occasional visits to the village, sneaking in unseen and unknown. And true – he did come to steal something very precious. But children? Stinky, noisy, useless, whiny little children? Bah! The Old Troll wanted something much tastier than that. He wanted the villagers’ delicious cheese!
It had been a passion of his for many years and there was not a living creature in the Dark Forest who didn't smile and snicker as he whispered amusing rumors about that Old Troll and his cheese. For the cranky Old Troll loved a mouthful of rich, smelly cheese more than a pig loves a puddle of dark brown mud. But alas, there was not a goat to be found in his Dark Forest, nor a single milk-cow to be seen, much less milked. So what could a poor old troll do, but pay the occasional visit to the villagers’ butteries and cellars to get himself a nice juicy bite of cheese?
There was a little cramped chamber in a small nook at the back of his Stone Cabin where he stored it. The cheese was sorted carefully by type, size and flavor – from large yellow heads of springy Jarlsberg to small caramel-brown patties of sweet baked cheese, just begging to be served up with fresh cowberry jam and blueberry tarts. Upon arriving safely home after a daring raid into the village, he would spend hours and hours in that delightfully dank chamber, making a careful account of his latest plunder and getting a proper taste of each item.
Oh, but he was well aware of how quick the peasants were to turn their pitchforks and torches on the likes of him – a thief and a troll. So much did he fear being caught that a cold shiver would run down his spine just at the thought of it. But he couldn’t help it – when the cheese called, his mouth watered and his stomach rumbled, and nothing else seemed to matter!
He did everything he could to keep his visits a secret. He wiped away his footprints with a little whisk made of dry grass from the bog. He rubbed doorsteps and floors with dry sagebrush, so its strong bitter scent would keep the dogs from sniffing him out. And he left tiny pieces of cheese behind, so everyone would think it was the mice who had eaten it. It all worked perfectly well for him. Until one day...
It was a bright sunny morning in the first days of summer and all the villagers had gone to work in the fields. The Old Troll snuck into the village, just as he had done many times before. He walked out of the forest, quickly hobbling on his old crooked legs, leaning on a staff carved out of a weeping willow. On his left side he carried a worn out over-the-shoulder bag, dirt-brown, all covered with stitches and patches. It was his very special Cheese Bag - he could fit three big wheels of cheese in it. This time he needed even more - it was his turn to host the Midsummer Night party for his friends and family this year and he was hoping to get his supplies replenished today, so he wouldn't have to come again before the holiday. There would be so many other chores and preparations to deal with then!
Cheese was always a special delicacy at the Troll's house. His giant cousins would descend from the mountains and his little nephews, the bridge trolls, would all gather from distant parts of the Northern Lands to get a taste of their uncle's special treat. And the Bog Witch... Oh, that Bog Witch! The last thing he wanted on that day was to have her at his table. Scrawny and grouchy, she had nagged him and picked on him for hundreds of years, but she also made the best leech soup in the whole Forest, so he really needed to make sure he was on her guest list every Thursday, even if it meant suffering her unbearable chatter on an otherwise lovely holiday. He thought about it over and over again and finally he clenched his teeth and sent her a formal invitation, strapped to the tail of a bog rat, as forest etiquette required.
“I’ll get a big chunk of Gouda just for her,” the Troll thought to himself. “That ought to keep her mouth busy!”
He climbed over the village fence and headed toward one of the houses that he knew had the best cheese in the village. Drooling and slurping in anticipation, the Old Troll crossed an empty yard and approached a small door at the back of the house. It was the door to the cellar, where the owners kept their wine, cheese and sausages during the summertime. The Old Troll let himself in and looked around.