It's the "Three Billy Goats Gruff" with a twist as Riss Cobalt, sorceress supreme, is hired to deal with a troll in this short adventure taking place before my novel Kismet and Tell
An Early Adventure in Sorcery
“It’s just up ahead, Miss Marissa,” said the young blond boy, not more than ten or twelve years of age, who was walking about ten paces in front of me. His simple white cotton shirt, brown pants, and bare feet were as dirty as would be expected of a boy his age.
He was trudging along the dirt road, so I had to walk slowly to keep from walking into him or from losing track of my guide, since I didn't know exactly where I was supposed to be going and didn't want to get lost in the forest we were walking through. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was moving so slowly, though, if he and his townsfolk were so eager for me to do this job. Maybe he’s just very afraid to go there, I reasoned. I heaved a long sigh and remarked, “It’s about time we got there.”
We had been walking for what seemed like forever. No one had said that it was this far! They had told me it was local, after all. Or maybe it was just the slow pace at which we were moving, along with the heat of the summer afternoon, which made it seem so far. At any rate, at least I was almost there.
The winding road curved ahead of me into a dense copse of trees, and I grasped the handle of the short sword at my waist, bracing myself since anything could be hiding in there – wolves, bandits, you name it. The boy walked on into the copse of trees without hesitation, though, and I followed. At the end of curve the forest stopped, and I paused for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the light as I looked out on a small field dotted with wildflowers. The road continued out of the forest and snaked its way across the field. After a couple of minutes, the boy grabbed my hand and pulled, saying, “Come on, Miss Marissa. We're almost there.”
“Alright,” I replied. “Don't pull my arm off, Lex. I'm coming.”
As I followed the boy down the road, my sharp hearing picked up the sound of running water in the distance. That must be the river the locals had mentioned, I realized. At last, I can do the job I was hired to do and get some money. Then I can have a decent meal for a change.
My keen hearing also picked up another sound, an animal sound. But not the sound of a dangerous animal. It sounded like…goats? That can’t be goats, I thought. There aren’t any farms nearby. Thinking that the summer heat was getting to me and that I was beginning to imagine things, I dismissed the bleating sounds and focused on the task at hand.
I followed my guide onwards and we soon came to a small river with a bridge. I stopped us a few hundred yards from the bridge and looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was just the field, the small river, and the bridge. Then, in the distance on both sides of the river, I thought I saw…goats grazing in the grass? It can’t be, I thought. The heat must be getting to me.
I looked at my guide and said, “Well, Lex, I don’t see anything suspicious. Where’s this monster that your townspeople said was preventing people from crossing the river?”
“He hides out under the bridge,” Lex said. “Whenever someone approaches to cross the bridge, he pops out and stops them from crossing. And those people haven’t been seen since, either.”
“And how do you know this, if the people are never seen again?”
“I…I only repeated what rumor says, Miss Marissa.”
“Okay. So, does rumor say how he stops the people?”
The young boy looked at the ground and replied glumly, “No, Miss Marissa. No one knows that, except the people he has stopped.”
I heaved a sigh. Then, suddenly, I heard a goat. And it was close. Very close. Right-beside-me close. Then I thought I heard chewing. Instinctively, I looked to my right...and found a goat chewing the hem of my little brown cloak! My eyes widened and I screamed. “Stop eating my cloak!” I yelled, and yanked my cloak from the goat’s mouth.
Nonchalantly, the goat moved on and began chewing grass nearby. Lex giggled as I looked sadly at the ruined hem of my cloak.
I shifted my eyes to the young man. “It’s not funny,” I said severly. Then I realized something. “Wait a second! Lex, you saw that goat? I wasn’t imagining things?”
“I saw it, Miss Marissa.”
“Do you see more goats around here, in the distance?”
He looked around. “Yes.”
I sighed, relieved that I wasn’t imagining things. “Where did they all come from?” I asked. “I don’t recall any farms around here.”
“I…I haven’t the vaguest idea, Miss Marissa. You are correct that there are no farms around here.”
I tapped my lips with a finger in thought and muttered softly, “I wonder…”
“Miss Marissa?” Lex asked curiously.
“Is it possible that the monster turns people into goats if they try to cross the bridge?” I pondered aloud.
“Miss Marissa?” Lex asked again.
I looked down at that boy. “How about helping me test a theory, Lex?” I asked, smiling sweetly.
“Um…I suppose,” Lex said, not really wanting to, but also not wanting to make me angry. He knew of my infamous reputation and equally infamous temper.
“Good boy,” I said. “Now, just walk on up to the bridge there.” I gave him a little shove in the direction to get him going.
Lex staggered a few steps, then reluctantly trudged up to the bridge. Nothing happened. He turned to face me, and I smiled and motioned him to keep going. He heaved a sigh, turned back around, and stepped onto the bridge.
Suddenly, a small green figure jumped up onto the bridge from underneath the structure. It had stringy white hair, wrinkled green skin covered with warts, and wore a tattered loincloth. Lex screamed, and the squat figure cackled madly and pointed a bony finger tipped by a long yellow fingernail at the youngster. There was a quick flash of yellow light. Then, where Lex had stood was…a young goat. I had expected as much, but the sight of it still surprised me. The goat bleated in fear, turned around, and ran off - right back to me. It hid under my cloak, and I could feel its body shivering in fear against my legs.
I reached down and patted the goat. “Don’t worry, Lex,” I said. “I’ll take care of this.”
I stalked towards the troll on the bridge. Yes, it was a troll, as I had concluded just before it had appeared. These trolls usually lived in caves or underneath bridges, and were generally harmless compared to their hulking mountain cousins. They also tended to prey mostly on animals and leave humans alone for the most part. But I had never heard of any trolls being able to perform magic. So how did this one manage it?
To my great chagrin, my mind was so preoccupied with trying to figure out how a troll was able to use magic that before I realized what was happening, I had reached the bridge and the troll was laughing and pointing at me. Before I could gather my wits and cast a magic shield, the troll’s spell went into effect and I was transformed into a goat!
I bleated in surprise, and the troll laughed and jumped back and forth gleefully. Mentally, I scolded myself: Way to go, Riss! Just let your mind wander in the middle of battle, why don’t you! You deserve to get turned into a goat, you stupid girl!
As I watched the troll jumping around and laughing like a maniac, anger built up inside me. I pawed at the ground a second, snorted, and charged at the manic monster, my head lowered and aimed at him. Then we collided and went tumbling into the small river.
Fear gripped me as I hit the water, since I'd never learned how to swim. I kicked my four legs hard, trying to right myself and keep myself afloat. Nearby, the troll flailed its arms and legs as it tried to right itself as well. The two of us floundered about in the water for a couple of minutes before we somehow both managed to make our way to shore. As I stepped onto land, I shook water off myself and looked about for my enemy. I spotted the troll only a few feet down the shore from me. It looked a little disconcerted, so I took the opportunity to wage a sneak attack.
I charged at the troll and knocked him to the ground. The monster growled and swung an arm at me. The swing connected and sent me tumbling aside. We both clambered back to our feet, and I charged at the troll again. This time the troll charged at me as well. But with my head lowered, I was under his reach and my head connected with his torso. The troll hit the ground, his breath knocked out of him. But he wasn’t defeated yet, or else I wouldn’t still be a goat. Somehow, I had to kill the troll to break the spell and return myself, Lex, and all the goats around here back to human form. But how?
As I thought it over, I slowly walked up to the dazed troll. When I reached its side, it groaned as it started to come to. I raised a leg and brought one of my cloven feet down on the troll’s head with a sickening-sounding thunk. The troll groaned, and I thought I could make out a name from the sound. Had the monster actually said “Yangul”? If so, and the Dark Lord Yangul, the god of Darkness and Evil, was indeed involved in this, that would explain the troll’s ability to do magic.
The troll was still alive, though. That was a problem easily fixed, however, with a few more bashes of my foot against his head. I had a leg raised in mid-bash when a light flashed and I was suddenly transformed back into human form. I staggered from the sudden change, then slowly lowered my now human leg. As I looked down at what was left of the troll, I couldn’t resist grimacing at the sight. Fighting down queasiness, I quickly turned away and returned to Lex, who was once again human and stood a short distance away.
“Thank you, Miss Marissa!” Lex said as I approached him.
When I stopped in front of him, he suddenly threw his arms around me and hugged me, startling me. “Uh...you’re welcome, Lex,” I finally said after a couple of seconds, and gave him a small hug in return.
Then people surrounded us - men, women, and children. There were about thirty people in all, I think I counted. All had been victims of the troll, and all of them were asking me what was going on.
I raised my hands and asked them to calm down. I quickly explained what had happened, and they thanked me profusely for rescuing them. We then returned to the town. A huge, cheering crowd welcomed us and the town elder paid me the promised fifty gold pieces while the townsfolk greeted the rescued people. I happily accepted the bag of coins, thanked the elder, and then made my way to the nearest tavern, where I took a seat in the back and ordered a celebratory meal.
My delicious-smelling steak dinner had just arrived, and I was just about to take a bite, when a tingle went down my spine. I groaned and lowered my fork. I reached into the inside pocket of my cloak and pulled out a small glass globe. A blinking blue light issued from the bauble, and I groaned again. It never fails! I thought. Never! Always when I’m about to eat! They have the worst timing. Well, the Lords of Westover are just going to have to a wait a few minutes. I’m not going to pass up this delicious meal! I put the bauble back in the pocket and commenced eating.