The Jaeger looked back and, to his terror, saw that the tree trunk started to slide into the water, carrying the gold with it. He threw away his gun and leaped like a giant frog, catching the pot with both hands. Next second, the huldra sprung from her winter lodging, throwing him back-first into the murky waters of the swamp. The Jaeger tried to swim with one hand, but the gold was too heavy.
“Drop it!” shouted the Old Troll, “Drop the pot and swim!”
“You won't trick me!” Red Jagger's mad cry echoed over the marsh, “It's mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mi...”
Before starting her descent, the huldra turned her beautiful wooden face toward the Jaeger and they went to the bottom together, a big scary man and one of the ancient magic creatures he hated so much.
The Old Troll stood quietly for some time, watching the last ripples reside on the surface, then he picked up the musket and threw it in the water. He felt completely empty and emotionless and had no idea what he was supposed to do next.
“I knew your gold was cursed.” said a familiar cranky voice.
The Old Troll looked at the Witch and shook his head.
“No.” he said, “There isn’t a curse in the World like man's greed.”
The Witch suddenly showed all of her few teeth in the widest grin he ever saw on her face.
“Come on now, Ithink there is someone you want to see.”
When he realized they were going to the Stone Shack, the Old Troll's old heart started drumming in his chest so hard, he had to stop to catch a breath. The Witch didn't say a word, only giggled like a little girl. Halfway there, a big barn owl silently alighted on her shoulder, then turned her head around and kept looking at him with her round unblinking eyes.
“Where is your toad?” asked the Old Troll to break the silence.
“Oh, she’s still sleeping.” said the Witch, “I really miss her, but the heart of the Swamp is still frozen, so I’ll have to wait. On the bright side, we have a couple more days before those noisy fairies wake up, so that’s good.”
“We’ll need to ask the kids to bring Alina back to the forest by then, if they learn that their sister was in a cage, they will turn the Landlord’s Mansion to fairy dust.”
The charred stone of the Shack showed between the trees ahead and the Old Troll couldn’t help but to slow his pace. A tight knot stuck in his throat and the memories of what transpired there just several months ago came live in his memory. It all seemed so long ago and so recent at the same time!
“Come on, old goat.” piped up the Bog Witch and nuded him with her bony finger.
There was no usual hostility in her voice, but a hidden smirk, as if she was about to present the Troll with the surprise of his life.
He closed his eyes and stepped forward. When he opened them again, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
Three little figures were sitting on a stone in front of the Cabin, eating something from a tiny picnic basket. Two of them were mountain gnomes in grey hats and the third one…
“Olle!” tried to scream the Old Troll, but his throat only let out a little squeak, “Eh!”
It was enough.
The nisse threw away his sandwich, jumped off the rock and ran toward his friend as fast as his little legs could carry him.
The Old Troll fell on his knees and hugged his friend so hard, the gnomes started exchanging glances, wondering if they should come to their cousin’s rescue.
While hot tears ran down his face, he heard nisse telling him how he spent all winter in the Mountains, how he heard about the Troll disappearing from the Forest and how no one knew where to find him.
“It was your nephew, the Mountain Troll, who told me about you. He told me all about all letter and the troubling news. I hopped on the stagecoach right away. Oh, I was so afraid you’d get yourself in trouble!”
“Oh, he had.” chimed in the Witch, who’s been standing behind their backs, smirking.
Olle pulled away from the troll with familiar concern in his eyes.
“What did you do?”
The troll hesitated and the Witch responded in his place.
“He ruined the best magic potion I ever brewed, that's what he did.” she rolled her eyes, “Oh, it would turn all those damn villagers into rats and dung beetles… It was supposed to be magnificent!”
“We have a lot to catch up on,” said the Old Troll, wiping his nose with a sleeve.
He sat on the frozen ground, in front of what remained of his house, holding his friend’s hand. He was hungry, tired, homeless, he was completely, utterly broke… and yet, he’s never been happier in his life!
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.
On one sunny evening in Spring, when birds were chirping oh so lovely, and the fresh breeze brought sweet, sweet aroma of early wildflowers from the forest, he found himself perching on a large rock at the very heart of the Leech Swamp.
On his right side, there was a little house gnome, Olle, his best friend in the whole wide World. And on his left side, sat the ugly and scary Bog Witch, who’s been his sworn enemy for longer than he cared to remember.
All three were looking at something very few in the history of magic creatures ever saw -- it was the witch’s Floating Hut and it was sitting on eggs, like a giant, ten feet tall mother goose
“Any time now,” said the Witch, “They should hatch any time now.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” replied Olle, holding his breath, “I didn’t even know she can lay eggs!”
“No wonder, it only happens once in hundred years.” said the Old Troll
“More like millennia,” the Witch shook her head and suddenly added in an unexpected fit of generosity, “Would you like a hatchling? On the account of you being homeless and all. She would grow into a full-size house in a couple of years”
“Thank you” said the Troll with a smirk, “I will take my chances with the Stone Shack. With my nephew’s help we can get it rebuilt before the Summer ends.”
“On a day like this, it’s hard to believe it will ever end.” said Olle dreamily.
All three sat quietly for a while, each thinking of their own, until the evening sun touched the trees at the edge of the Dark Forest. The Old Troll put his hand on Olle’s shoulder.
“We have to go home now,” he said, “There will be a new day tomorrow.”