Suddenly, the Old Troll noticed an unusual feeling in his stiffened old heart. He had no idea what it was, but it made him uncomfortable and he didn't like it one bit.
“If I had a silver, my dear, I would certainly help you out,” he mumbled. “But I don't!”
He was telling the truth. He didn't have any silver – trolls preferred pure gold. Unlike hard silver, the soft golden coins could sponge up a troll's magic spells. They had used gold in all sorts of deceit and trickery for thousands of years and even now, the Old Troll had a heavy dark-yellow Krona in a little purse that hung from his belt. Just in case.
The Troll closed up his bag and started to head out, but the boy was still standing in his way. Now that he got a better look at his unexpected guest, his tears dried and a hint of suspicion flashed in his eyes. “Are you sure about this… Aunt Malin? Mom told me we were saving that cheese for a special occasion.”
A chill went down the Old Troll's spine, but he gathered up the nerve to answer in his impudent trollish manner: “Well, wouldn't you call this a special occasion? It’s not every day you have a guest like me!” He smiled, baring his crooked teeth.
His grin was so hideous, the poor boy flinched and the Old Troll used this moment to slip past him through the doorway.
He hobbled across the yard as fast as his old legs would carry him, anxious to get out of the open space, when he suddenly heard the boy shout, “No! Down boy, down!” Before he knew what was happening, he heard a short snarl and something heavy grabbed onto his bag.
His eyes went wide with terror! He jumped two feet into the air, trying to swing his staff at the dog and save his bag at the same time, but the vicious animal wouldn't let go. The Old Troll fought for his precious plunder like a mountain lion, kicking and jumping and cursing, and he finally made it to the tall palisade that surrounded the backyard of the house. He couldn't remember how he managed to climb over it and land safely on the other side, but he did, leaving the dog behind him, barking and growling.
The boy's concerned face appeared in a crack between the stakes.
“Aunt Malin, are you all right?”
Without saying a word, the troll pushed himself to his feet and rushed toward the safety of the forest before anyone else could see him.
Long, long after the village was out of sight, the Old Troll finally stopped to examine the damage. The Cheese Bag was ripped and torn on one side, but luckily, its contents were unharmed. “A couple new patches, and it will be good as new.” He stroked the bag fondly, as if it were his favorite pet. Save for some dirt marks, all his clothes were undamaged. The Old Troll chuckled in relief, but when he put his hand on his belt, the crooked grin vanished from his face. His purse was gone!
As the sun went down and the villagers came in from the fields, the Old Troll watched anxiously, hiding in the bushes outside the village fence. It had taken him too long to return for the coin and now it was too late.
He saw the little boy run out to meet his parents and older brothers who were just returning from the field. As the boy told his story, the Old Troll saw his mother drop her basket and raise her hands to her face. He saw the men clutch their hoes and spades, looking around nervously. Then the boy held up his hand and showed them something small lying in his palm. The Old Troll knew right away that it was his gold. He ground his teeth in helpless rage and just at that moment he noticed that the bonnet was still on his head. He yanked it off with a growl and stomped on it, waving his arms and cursing fiercely in ancient Trollish.
“A full-weight golden Krona for a little cheese!” the Old Troll said, once he had finally calmed down, “What a lousy deal! But you should know, my dear villagers, that in the end, the trolls’ gold always serves the trolls.”
He pointed his staff toward the golden coin and whispered:
Winds and shadows, moss and roots!
Golden coin spin and roll,
Bring the cattle back to stall!
The staff quivered as the magic ran through it and he knew that his spell was soaking into the coin like hot milk into a fresh piece of bread.
Pots and ladles, jars and spoons!
Salt and sugar, milk and brine,
I will come to take what’s mine!
The Old Troll lowered his staff. The sun was setting now, and lights were beginning to appear in dark windows all around the village. It was time to leave.
“Just make sure those shelves are full by the Midsummer Night,” he murmured, heading back home, “I'll be needing my cheese then!” He looked at the lights one last time and stepped into the thicket.
When the time had come, the Midsummer celebrations were unfolding far and wide across the Northern Lands. The people in their villages and the magic creatures in their forests ate and drank and danced to the sound of pipes and violins all night long.
There was a little imp who showed up last to the big feast at the heart of the Leech Swamp, when most of the other guests were already full on bog grog and hot-smoked leeches. He told everyone that not a day before, he had seen the Old Troll carrying his bag through the bushes, stuffed so full that he could barely lift it. The imp swore there must have been at least five big wheels of cheese in it.
Imps are known to be notorious liars, so none of the forest creatures believed him – everyone knew that the Old Troll's special Cheese Bag could hold no more than three.