He sniffed at the stale air. Some old spices. Last year's potatoes. Dried mushrooms and long braids of garlic hanging from the ceiling. But... No cheese! The shelves were all empty! He couldn't believe his eyes.
Confused, he moved on to the next house. To his deep dismay, there was no cheese in the next house either. He went on to another house. The same!
The Old Troll was growing desperate. Casting aside caution, he ran from one house to the next, breaking into butteries and storerooms… just to find empty pantries and dusty shelves. He felt as if he were going mad!
Finally, he found himself in a small cellar he had never visited before. It belonged to a small house on the far side of the village, amongst a row of humble cottages where he usually didn’t bother to plunder.
It was cold and gloomy inside. The cellar was filled with empty barrels and some old rags were hanging here and there on the walls. With very little hope, the Troll sniffed around and... yes, there was definitely some cheese in this room! He darted straight to a tall cabinet in the corner – his big crooked nose led him right to it with great confidence. The smell was so fresh and strong, he could almost taste it, but when he opened the cabinet doors, he stopped and sighed in disappointment. There was only one small wheel of cheese, humbly nestled deep inside. He reached out for it, upset and angry, when a sudden squeak came from the hinge of the door behind him.
The Old Troll’s heart skipped a beat and his bony fingers froze in the air. He turned his head, squinting over his shoulder. A little boy, no more than five years old, was standing in the lit doorway, looking at him, eyes wide open. The Troll tried to swallow but his throat suddenly went dry – if the boy screamed for help, it would be the end of the Old Troll.
The little boy, however, did not look like he was going to scream. His big blue eyes studied the Old Troll with surprise and curiosity.
The Old Troll realized that the boy must have never seen a troll before. He would had heard the villagers' stories which all described trolls as ugly monstrous creatures. And while some other trolls did actually have a terrifying appearance, the Old Troll knew that he looked rather like a tall, slouchy man, dressed in a shapeless tunic over a shabby old shirt. He had other features that might have given away his true nature - grayish lizard skin, droopy yellow eyes, sharp black finger nails – but fortunately for him, the lighting in the room was too poor to see all that clearly.
“Who are you?” asked the little boy, holding the door ajar to let some sunlight into the room.
The Old Troll looked around in panic, but there was no way out. As so often happens in desperate moments, a brilliant idea suddenly came to him – he grabbed a worn-out bonnet from the wall and put it on his head.
“Don’t you recognize me, my dear?” he said in a thin voice, pulling the bonnet strings down to hide his straggly gray hair and his big ears that stuck out like a pair of tree mushrooms. “Oh, you were very little when I last saw you.” He squeaked and shrilled, trying to sound like an old woman. ”I’m your Aunt Malin!”
The boy looked puzzled. “Aunt Malin?”
“A grandaunt, my dear.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you,” the little boy said with hesitation, “but what are you doing here in the cellar? Why didn't you come into the house?”
The Troll could hardly hold back a smirk when he saw his little ploy working.
“Your parents asked me to fetch this cheese and bring it out to the field. They want it for lunch.”
“The last one? How so?” squeaked the Old Troll, screwing up his eyes suspiciously.
“We had to give Lara to the Landlord. Our cow. And the same with Anton and Annie's parents too. Peter's dad could only keep one sheep from a whole dozen they had.”
“Why?” asked the Old Troll, putting the cheese in his bag.
“So we can keep our fields for the rest of the summer. Father says we'll get her back as soon as we sell the crops in the fall.” The boy grimaced. “Stupid fat Landlord! I'd just finished painting a plaque for her stall, right before they took her away!”
He kicked at the doorstep and sniffed. “Dad says just one silver coin would do.” He paused and then looked back at the Troll with his big eyes glistening.