The Trollskin Book – Chapter Six

Chapter Six

“This is the place,” said Sasja. Her grey hair hid inside the cavernous hood of the thick fur-lined coat hugging her body.

“Someone’s been here, alright,” said Aidan, scrunching his nose. He rubbed his hands together to fight the cold, then cupped his mouth and blew warm air into them. The cold air swatted away his efforts and he shoved his hands underarm, shivering. Ruarc wiggled his gloved hands at his younger brother, an unspoken tease on his lips, and reached to touch the glacier wall. The wall resembled a segment of frozen pond thrown upright, dwindling into the distance, both left and right, perfect and unbroken. Yet on the snow-packed ground, human footprints disappeared halfway through the wall’s edge.

Ruarc punched the ice with both fists. Two quick thumps; the ice was unperturbed. He faced his brothers and Sasja, his eyes briefly tracking their smoke signal breath rising.

“Ideas?” asked Ruarc.

“The tomtes said there was just the one man,” said Sasja. She pointed at the tracks. “One set. He must still be here.”

Aidan cleared his throat and raised his hand halfheartedly. “Do we need to point out the obvious?” he muttered. “Man cannot walk through walls.”

“You know better,” said Sasja. Aidan flicked a look her way, a thin-lipped smile.

“Granted,” admitted Aidan. “My frozen mind cannot catch up with my tongue. Man— or Woman, of course— cannot walk through walls without magic, that is.”

“A magician?” asked Ruarc.

“Possibly,” said Aidan. His shoulders reached for the heavens. “It’s also possible the ice itself has its own magic. Anything’s possible these days, really, brother—I’ve started to expect that just about anything might be alive and staring at us like we’re some strange caterpillars walking on two feet.”

His eyebrows bunched together and he pulled out his hands just long enough to jab the ice a few times with his index fingers. Sasja bopped the back of his head with a quick thrust of her palm and Aidan staggered a few steps with his arms all akimbo.

“Must you?” said Aidan, when the flailing stopped.

“Yes,” said Sasja. She approached the ice wall and pressed her hands into it, keeping a tight seal against the surface.

Then she pushed, leaning into the wall as if expecting to move a glacier single-handedly with troll strength.

“You don’t seriously think—” said Ruarc.

The Goblin Road – Chapter Six

Chapter Six            The Troll’s Question

A dark figure followed the travelers, unseen and unheard, keeping close to the ground. It scurried along the moonlit Goblin Road, pausing within the shadows of oaks and boulders strewn across the land, absorbed in the act of watching Ruarc and Moss. The moonlight betrayed the creature’s presence, though no one looked behind to notice, as it reflected off a silver belt buckle. A flash in the darkness.

A short distance ahead, Ruarc and Moss feasted on cheese and gooseberries, following the road as it snaked across grassy plains; the path itself was so dry that their feet kicked up small clouds of dust. Ruarc’s sword slapped against his back as they walked and with each pat it felt like a hand lulling him to sleep. He yawned between bites. He longed to lie down on the lush grass beside the road, finding himself picking out choice spots without really thinking, yet they pressed on further. Moss ate the juicy berries in two loud bites, wiping his mouth after each fruit.

“A right meal, that,” said Moss. “And hedgehog cheese? Excellent.”

Ruarc nodded with his mouth full of cheese, staring ahead on the path until Moss’s comment registered and he swallowed the cheese hard. He decided not to think too much. Ahead a fire broke the darkness and they approached.

“It’s a gate,” said Ruarc.

They saw the arched tree bending over the path and a lit torch, and it was almost a twin of the first gate. The troll of this gate, however, did not resemble Erlwhin.

The short troll perched high upon the crest of the arched tree watching them. The torchlight revealed his unwelcoming features from below and casted distorted shadows upon his contrary grin. He was slick and wiry, with wide-set beady eyes and a crooked nose. His rusty red fur differed from the usual grey of trolls. When Ruarc and Moss stepped closer, the troll howled with laughter.

“This? These are the new travelers I hear so much about?” asked the troll, gesturing at them with both hands outstretched to the sky.

“Yes, troll. We are,” said Moss. He scowled.

The troll clapped his hands together once and laughed again, then leapt to the earth only to vanish when his feet hit the dirt. Ruarc and Moss moved back to back with each other, their eyes searching for the troll.

“So well you are, you are!” said the troll, appearing close enough to Ruarc’s face that he felt the hot breath coming from the thick and toothy grin. The troll disappeared again and materialized seconds later sitting in the dirt with his back propped against the tree. He began to whistle a piercing and shrill tune.

“Ahh, my favorite ditty! So, where’re you going off to, travelers? What’s all the rush,”
said the troll. He hopped up onto his hands and faced them upside down. “Hey! You’re no traveler, brùnaidh rat!”

The Goblin Road – Chapter Five

Chapter Five                The Inheritance

Ruarc and Moss left the hollow behind, retracing their route to the Goblin Road. The bustling sounds of busy brùnaidhs filled the air and the swift pace of living seemed unusual in these woods. The banging of pots and pans, the sawing of wood, and the ear-splitting pounding of hammers blended in with all the lively conversations.

The Goblin Road kept sneaking into Ruarc’s thoughts, but he repeated Erlwhin’s advice to himself, trying not to borrow trouble. Be patient. Moss strode by his side with the presence of someone three times his size, waving to his neighbors with a few bursts of greetings at some friendly faces.

Ruarc asked, “How did you find this place? It’s really … green.”

“We grew it. Centuries ago. When we were summoned, we had with us the seeds for every living plant you see around you,” said Moss, “It’s our way of bringing a little bit of home. It also, as you saw, gives us some shelter from travelers on the road. Many pass us by, not knowing we’re here.”

Ruarc reflected on the enormity of the trees of this forest, evidence of the many years passed in this place, since the brùnaidhs had planted it; the apple trees near his home would appear as saplings next to these trees. A few brùnaidh children sat perched upon a branch above, their little feet dangling over the edge, and watched as they passed below. They whispered to each other, and then erupted in fits of giggles, pointing to the strange boy below.

“They’re a bit big, though, aren’t they? The trees? I haven’t seen any this tall back home,” said Ruarc. He stuck his tongue out at the brùnaidh children.

“It’s magic, of course. The seeds were enchanted long ago, and will grow anywhere we lay them, as green as in our homelands. Greener even, here in the lands of those who wait. Why that is, I’m not so sure.”

Moss stared up into the high canopy and let his gaze fall to the trunk of the closest oak. He reached out and touched the bark as if it were the arm of a close friend.

“You miss home?”

“Of course, lad. That’s why it’s home, it’s something to be missed.”

“So you can’t leave?” Ruarc asked.

The Trollskin Book – Chapter Five

Chapter Five The Reluctant Farewell

“Disturbing story, lad,” said Moss, “If I were still alive, my knees might have quaked.”

Moss walked on air, now nearly invisible, back and forth inside the warm Hollow. Lichen’s wet eyes and downcast face caught Ruarc’s eyes. Sasja, sitting in the wide chair next to Lichen, reached out and pressed a comforting hand on the back of the brunaidh’s neck. Lichen turned her head and rewarded Sasja with a thin smile. She bobbed her head once to show she was okay and looked at her cousin again.

In the corner of the room, tucked into a ramshackle chair with a pair of broken legs, sat a scowling, red-haired female brunaidh, her small arms crossed as if offended by the present company. Moss glanced at her and turned to Ruarc, rolling his eyes, an act that made Ruarc smile, even though he almost couldn’t see it.

“It’s not a story I want to share,” said Ruarc, scratching his thin beard until he noticed his action and dropped his hand away, exhaling a slight grunt of frustration. Moss chuckled and studied his friend’s face. His eyes seemed to look through Ruarc as well.

“I can help you find the place,” said Sasja. She twisted her grey hair into a knot and slunk deeper into her seat. “I think I can, anyroad. There’s a lot of places like she’s described, Ruarc. But we can find it.”

“If you’re certain you should even go, that is,” said Moss, a deep frown marking his transparent face.

“I am,” said Ruarc with a nod. “I can only trust my will. It’s guided me well so far.”

“That it has,” said Moss. The silence was heavy before he spoke again. “That it has. I only wish I could go with you.”

Ruarc looked away, choosing instead to consider the strange scowler across the room, who glared at him briefly then grabbed a nearby book and slammed it onto her lap to read it, or at least pretend to do so.

“Don’t mind Cousin Bark,” said Moss. “She’s just waiting for me to go.”

“What’s her hurry, anyway?” said Ruarc, not bothering to quiet his voice. He didn’t care if Bark heard him. The sour-faced cousin was nothing like any other brunaidh he’d met.

“She’s wanting the Hollow,” said Moss, sticking a thumb in Bark’s direction. “She’s waited a faun’s lifetime for it, you see.”

The Trollskin Book – Chapter Four

Chapter Four                The Last Visit

When Ruarc returned to the chamber, Aidan was studying a stone on the floor that, aside from being loose, was otherwise nondescript. Ruarc strode to Aidan, grasped his brother’s shoulders and peered up into his eyes. Despite being taller than the rest of his family, Aidan’s thin, non-athletic frame reminded Ruarc that this was still his little brother.

“Are you alright?” Ruarc asked. He saw evidence of the recent fight, including scorch marks on the walls.

Aidan nodded and tossed the stone to a far corner. “A revenant.” He noticed the blood on Ruarc’s armor. “You’re hurt.”

“I’m okay.”

Aidan went to his stores of vials and bottles and rummaged through the disarray of supplies, before picking out a bottle with a thick, brown clump of plant life. He returned to his brother and helped him out of the armor. He put the patch onto Ruarc’s wound and pressed it tight, then pulled Ruarc’s opposing hand and guided him to hold the medicine in place.

“A revenant? One came to you as well?” asked Aidan.

“I don’t even know what a revenant is, Aidan. He wasn’t human, that’s for sure.”

“Once, perhaps,” said Aidan. “Death means nothing to the revenant. It has been cut away. Replaced.”

“With what?”

Aidan shrugged. “Something worse than death.”

He returned to his stores, opened his robe and began taking bottles and cork-topped vials and putting them inside his clothes.

“What are you doing?” Ruarc asked.

Aidan turned around, opening the folds of his robe to show the scattering of pockets stitched into the lining.

“Preparing,” said Aidan. “Magic seems useless, which confirms what they are. But I can’t go empty-handed.”

Ruarc looked blankly at his brother for a moment, then his back grew taut as worry crept in. “I hadn’t thought … you think one went after Sean?”

Aidan removed an old scythe from the wall and turned back to his older brother. “Without a doubt.”