idol prize fight | week 17 #3 | 1950 words
It came to pass, in the mountains near the MittelWald, that the trolls of the Grubich clan insulted the trolls of the Silber clan for the very very last time, and were told to pack up their pickaxes and leave.
The Grubich-clan trolls grumbled to themselves as they tromped out of the mountains and into the valley below, furious at the Silber-clan trolls for being so touchy. A simple apology would have solved everything, but being trolls, they believed apologies were for the weak. They continued down the path of disgruntlement, instead.
The trolls wandered for days, searching for a promising cave and wondering where they might make their living, now that they had been forced to leave the jewel mines behind. Some of the trolls expressed an interest in hiring themselves out as a fighting force, while others argued for acquiring new trades like farming and metalcraft. Still others were merely consumed by the desire to eat the little brown bunnies that spoke to them from time to time as they journeyed past.
All agreed that this part of the land was decidedly Not Home, in addition to being dangerously infested with bears.
The trolls passed by lovely lakes and verdant meadows, none of which could provide them with the livelihood they sought. They stomped and squabbled through deep, dark forests, wondering when they might finally escape the insistently looming trees.
In one of those forests, outside Jutzheim, they encountered another bear. The bear trailed after them, gazing at them with longing and licking its muzzle in an extremely unsettling way. Finally, it sighed and approached them.
"Why do trolls have such horribly long beards?" the bear asked.
"Is how trolls do," Snarlborg said. By this, he meant that it was a longstanding tradition in which trolls kept themselves bristle-covered and largely unwashed in order to be less appetizing to bears.
"Oh," the bear said mournfully. It lumbered away.
"Tell bear-friends!" Warfik called after it. He turned to the others. "Why forest never end?" he said. "Must walk open road!"
"Why walking never end? Is forever! New home never happen, maybe. How we know?" Farzig asked.
"Look!" said Knahlgord. "Is mountain?"
As they came out of the forest and into the sunlight, the view became clearer. It was a mountain—large and gleaming white, the very picture of fairytale perfection.
The trolls laughed and bounced with glee. "What inside?" Grüntlich asked.
"Rubies!" said Warfik.
"Gold?" Knahlgord suggested.
"We go see!" Farzig shouted.
The trolls trotted hastily across the long expanse of meadow that lay between them and the mountain. They stood at the mountain's base, gaping in awe at the size of it. Then they broke off and began investigating, half going in one direction and half the other. They poked at crevices with their pickaxes, and scrambled up to peek into shadowed areas that might conceal the opening to a cave.
"Aha!" Grüntlich cried. He had found a passage into the mountain's base, one that extended far enough to be promising.
The other trolls came running. They lit a pair of lanterns and carried them fore and aft as they crept cautiously into the fissure Grüntlich had found.
The sides of the passage were damp but not mossy, which seemed odd. The space overhead grew higher and higher until the trolls found themselves in a large cavern.
The ground beneath their feet was firm but spongy, and the sound was muffled. Even Trukeldorf's incessant humming was nearly inaudible.
The walls glistened in the light from the lanterns, their surfaces light-colored and lumpy. Warfik reached out to touch one of them, and his hand sank into it with a squelch.
"Augh!" he screamed, pulling his hand out and falling backward into the other trolls.
"Off!" Farzig yelled from the bottom of the pile.
The trolls pulled themselves up and inched closer to look at the rock that had nearly eaten Warfik's hand.
"No good," said Knahlgord.
The other trolls nodded, feeling very wise.
Grüntlich, however, had moved further into the cavern. "Look," he said.
The others joined him. The walls here had a smooth, billowing shape. Grüntlich stepped closer with his lantern, revealing a soft, yellow color that was darker than the previous area. What was this strange metal before them?
"Me try!" Farzig swung his axe at it, a fierce and mighty blow.
The axe… stuck.
"Nasty!" shouted Farzig.
"Tricksy," Snarlborg muttered.
"Mmmm," said Trukeldorf, who for some reason had decided to taste the rock.
"What 'Mmmm'?" Warfik asked.
Snarlborg tried some of the rock too. "Cheese!" he said.
"Cheese!" the other trolls shouted, tired and hungry and happy to have found something. They pulled off pieces of it to eat, gorging themselves until they lay around in a stupor.
"Good cheese," Warfik said with a belch.
"Ja," said Knahlgord.
The other trolls murmured their agreement, at last feeling content. Then Grüntlich sat up suddenly. "Ours," he said.
"Ours," agreed Hrark.
Grüntlich hopped to his feet. "Sell!" he cried.
"Ja!!!" the other trolls clamored.
After a nice rest and a great deal more cheese, the trolls left the cavern and explored the area near its entrance. There was a grove of trees and a nearby stream, and the trolls decided they would build their encampment there. They would have water and shelter, and most importantly, they could keep anyone else from coming in and claiming the contents of the cavern.
The trolls cut down trees to make a hut, and collected stones from the meadow and stream to surround the fire-pit they built inside it. They caught fish and ate them, along with a number of unfortunate little brown bunnies.
A few trolls explored beyond the distant meadows, and came upon a village less than an hour's walk from their new home. There, they found a market where they could buy eggs and bread and someday sell their cheese. The village was called Ratsberg, and the locals called the mountain Fatberg.
Even the trolls found the names disgusting.
The trolls told no one what they had found inside the mountain. When they made their first sales at the market, customers asked how the trolls had come to be so skilled at producing such exquisite cheese. The trolls grimaced at them, trying to look mysterious and humble. The business grew steadily, and soon the trolls were selling cheese at markets in a number of different towns. By then, they had found a better answer to their customers' questions, and now claimed that the cheese was the product of "magic cows."
Customers were delighted by the notion, and the cheese's fame spread far and wide.
The trolls' pickaxes grew rusty, now that knives and cheesecloth were the trolls' main tools. The trolls themselves grew tidier, having discovered that customers preferred to buy food from vendors whose association with cleanliness was more actual than optional.
This change produced something of an identity crisis, however. The trolls no longer felt like trolls.
"Me want dirt," Farzig would moan.
"Ja…" the others would say.
"Rocks!" Warfik would add.
"Stinky cheese," someone else would say, and all the other trolls would shout in agreement.
The truth was that the trolls now found themselves in a difficult position. As sellers of fine, sophisticated cheese, they could not be seen buying any other kind of cheese, and they were all utterly fed up with their mountain's mild, elegant offering. They wanted sharp cheese, nasty cheese, anything that offered variety from what they'd been encumbered with for so long.
They wanted it almost as much as they wanted to stop having to sell the cheese, which required cleaning themselves up and being polite to customers—a horrible and unnatural way for any troll to behave!
If their Silber-clan cousins could have seen them, they would surely have laughed themselves sick.
One bright April morning, Warfik set out with a sour disposition and a satchel full of cheese. His destination was the Schwarzbaum market two villages away. He traveled quickly, apart from a few run-ins with talking donkeys who claimed to be able to grant wishes. Warfik's greatest wish was to be back home near the MittelWald again, where donkeys didn't talk, so each new encounter spoke to a distinct lack of magic capabilities on the part of the previous donkey. It was all very annoying.
One he reached the market, Warfik spread his wares out on a blanket and smoothed down his hair and beard, steeling himself for the next several hours of squashing down his natural belligerence. Days like this always made him want to smash everything in sight.
He sold cheese to a tailor, a baker, an innkeeper, an elf, and a passing knight. He pulled the blanket into the shade as the sun grew hot, and longed for a skin of ale. His eyes grew heavy, and he was on the verge of nodding off when he noticed a pair of boots in front of him.
The boots looked familiar. The person wearing the boots look familiar. It was Beldzik, one of the trolls from the Silber clan.
"You," Beldzik said.
"Ja," said Warfik.
"Is what." Beldzik pointed at the blanket.
Warfik opened the cloth on one of the packages and cut off a small piece of cheese for Beldzik to try.
Beldzik nibbled at it cautiously. "Ooo! So good!"
Warfik grinned. "Ja."
Beldzik bought the remainder of Warfik's cheese, and Warfik bought the two of them a large skin of ale, which they drank in an orchard near the roadway. Through exchanges of grunts, gestures, and limited vocabulary, Warfik learned that Beldzik was on a journey to find a new mine or some other sort of work for the Silber clan, one that did not involve quite so much hard work. Or dirt.
That seemed too good to be true. "How get here?" Warfik asked, thinking of the distance to his old home.
"Hire donkey!" Beldzik said. "Halfway in."
"Hmmm…" Warfik said.
He sensed an opportunity for both troll clans, and broached the idea. Beldzik was elated by the suggestion of a trade and wanted to see the mine for himself, but Warfik was wary of leading him to it. Instead, Warfik proposed that Beldzik take a good night's rest in Schwarzbaum, and promised he would return the next day after talking to the other Grubich trolls.
Warfik paid to refill the skin of ale, and took it back home. The other trolls were excited by his news, but suspicious of bargaining with the other clan.
"No trust Silbers!" Farzig raged.
"Home," Ruffkin sighed.
"Cheese?" offered Trukeldorf, his mouth full.
"Maybe home…" Knahlgord said.
Grüntlich looked at the folds and folds of cheese lying all around them. He grimaced. "Ja!" he said. "We do!"
"Do!" said Warfik.
"Ja!!!" all the other trolls joined in.
Thus did the trolls of the Grubich clan journey home, while the Silber trolls took over the Fatberg mining operation and became cheese merchants of great renown. Surrounded by the dirt and rocks they loved, the Grubich trolls were happy once more. They grew their beards and became rough and grimy. They dug jewels out of rocks, and drank as much ale and wine as they pleased. They ate pungent, evil cheeses.
The Silber clan never returned to the MittelWald mountains. There were rumors that they now wore fine clothes and had built themselves a house, but the Grubich trolls thought it unlikely.
None of the Grubich trolls ever heard any of the local donkeys speak. But they always made sure to offer donkeys an apple or a carrot whenever they happened to see them.
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