A stew to die for
by Myrto Zafeiridi
He was lost in a forest so dark and thick that the tree-tops seemed to weave a canopy underneath the sky. He was hungry and tired –his horse had abandoned him in a moment of carelessness. It had sniffed the air with distaste and had wisely, perhaps, decided to skedaddle.
Soon he reached a small cliff. He saw a woman standing there, barefoot, her hair coiling like serpents around her waist. It was a xothiá, one of the fairies of the old Greek folk tales, creatures of haunting beauty but not always with the best of intentions. His bedazzlement quickly gave way to a very healthy dose of fear.
“Did you summon me, mistress?” he cried, to gain time.
“Did I?” she replied, seemingly amused.
“My master, the Moon, granted your wish.”
“And what wish might that be?”
“He heard you sigh and discerned your loneliness. He sent me to please you.”
“Ignorant mortal. Can the wind or the rock ever be lonely?”
“Alas, mistress, I am ignorant. I beg your forgiveness. I will run to my master and tell him that I was not fit even to prepare you a meal. His wrath will be terrible but I deserve it.”
“Spare me your drama. If your food pleases me you may stay. Otherwise, I’ll eat you.”
“Thank you, mistress. Yet it will take time to prepare it. I don’t want to keep you waiting.”
“Here’s a magic whistle. Think of an animal. If it can hear you, it will come to you.”
He did as he was told. He thought of pheasants and a pair of them appeared. She took him with her to her tower, which was hidden in the middle of the forest. He prepared a stew for her.
She didn’t like it.
The Ballad of the Kelpie
I hear them when no one else does. They come to the bridge, stare into the flowing waters, and confess. Tiny pebbles formed from words skim across the surface. It takes all my cunning to lie as still as stone. I close my eyes, stretch out my long body, and cherish the moment.
I never reveal myself the first time. Instead, I note the lilt of the voice and the wriggling shadow that accompanies it. Sometimes my visitors do not return. Sometimes they do. With confidence grown, they throw rock- sized words into the water. Ripples spread far and wide.
These living ghosts interest me the most. One foot in their world, one foot in mine.
“If you lean closer you can jump on my back,” I say.
The river turns to a mirror and allows them to glimpse my equine features.
“Come ride with me.” I whisper, “and I promise to make the pain go away.”
I spring out of the water and they laugh with delight. I am a strange horse but with a reassuring neigh. Mesmerised, they clamber onto my slippery back.
“Giddy up horsey,” they command, and so I must obey.
“Let’s go down into the depths,” I say, plunging head first into the icy water.
Fingers tighten, screams echo, lungs inflate. But I do not stop. Further and further I dive until silence and water are reunited.
The Azure Gateway
by Ross D. McFarland
Warm ocean waves slid ashore. Each one slopped between bare toes before ebbing away to nothing; retreating as rabid froth atop crystalline white sands.
It’s All In Your Head
By Alex Z. Salinas
I’d always been an impulsive kind of girl.
“You’re such an impulsive girl,” my mother would remind me.
I had a goldfish when I was a child. His name was Tiny Tim. I loved Tiny Tim, I truly did. One day, after I got home from school, I took Tiny Tim out of his bowl, kissed his slippery little body, dropped him to the ground, and stomped on him.
I told my kind-hearted grandmother on her deathbed that she should prepare to fry in hell.
Marco, the only man who ever understood me, I once tried to suffocate with a pillow in the middle of the night. We never recovered after that.
When my parents kicked me out for refusing medical help, I told them I was glad they’d suffered a miscarriage after I was born.
Quite impulsive, aren’t I?
Two months ago, after working my shift at the clothing store, I fainted in the parking lot while walking to my car.
I woke up in a hospital room with tubes down my throat and the top of my head throbbing.
The doctors found something inside my brain. They didn’t tell me what it was exactly, only that it looked like a black worm. A parasite.
While I was in recovery, a Hispanic nurse came up to me and asked me what it was like.
“What was what like?” I asked.
“The gusano negro,” she said. “The black worm. It’s cursed.”
“What’d you mean?”
She put a hand on me and looked at me with regret.
“They say they’re planted by the duendes. The trolls. To control your mind.”
I looked away and said nothing. My mind was blank.
Now, I hear nothing at all, not even my own breath.
by Sian Brighal
Be quiet and tuck your tail in.
Not words of encouragement, but all his mother had managed. How long ago now? Sixty years—no…closer to seventy. He’d joined the bloodied ranks of soldiers heading home. Death had clung to them, patiently waiting as a fattened man might over the next course, assured he could languidly feast. And in the stench, he’d wondered if people created monsters to give them hope something was worse than they.
But he’d stayed quiet and tucked his tail in. People ignored him. He’d laughed at the irony of living—after a fashion—under a bridge with filthy, life-addled men, huddling around small bins set alight. No one had batted an eyelash. Their extravagance of self-absorption was…disgusting in its wastefulness. His kind could have done wonders with such skin.
He quickly tired of musky dampness, the dying’s hacking coughs and the invisibility. There’s a difference between hiding and an obliteration from an intellectual landscape. It was more comfortable to be a nothing in a warm bed, but people saw people in terms of wealth, outlined in glamours of gold, so he kept quiet with tail tucked in.
Then came his voice. It had keys and shimmered in the gloom, humming expectantly, teasing him with a cursor, flickering like a crooked finger beckoning in him: follow me and be satisfied!
He fell upon the bitter and rotten, devouring and spewing out his own dissatisfaction with human hubris and diminishment. And when they called him troll, his skin sizzled in excitement. He was seen! And his tail uncurled in glee.
But humans spoiled even that, smearing their discovery over everyone—fair and cruel alike—to make themselves smell sweeter. And now he was more monster than before.
So he became loud and severed his tail.
by Carl Poffley
“Welcome back to The Issues.” The stern voice of the presenter said. “If you’re just joining us, today’s topic of discussion is trolls and trolling. Some say it’s just harmless fun, others point out the real hurt and upset that these trolls cause their victims. As ever, we are opening the phones to hear your thoughts. First caller, you’re on the air. Tell us your thoughts on… The Issues.”
“When are we going to do more about this?” the first caller said angrily. “These trolls are attacking vulnerable people. It’s absolutely disgusting!”
“They go out of their way to hurt innocent people.” Another caller added, a weary frustration in their voice. “They had a story in the paper about how a girl was bullied to suicide by trolls! It’s shocking. Absolutely shocking…”
Another caller soon added their thoughts, sounding genuinely upset. “I came home to find my son in tears. Turns out he’d been talking to trolls on the internet and they’d said absolutely horrible things to him. Truly dreadful! I’m feeling sick just thinking about them! When are we going to treat trolls like the problem they are?”
“When I’m talking to friends on social media, I don’t want to have to worry if a troll is going to shove their unwanted head in and ruin everything!” A fourth caller said, with unyielding confidence. “These trolls have become an epidemic!”
The calls kept coming in, with almost no real variance between them.
“Losers with no life!”
“Out of control!”
“Doing real damage to people!”
“Trolls are the worst kind of people!”
“Should be ashamed of themselves!”
Sitting under his bridge, Klobrok turned off the radio and shed a single tear.
The Woman of the Fairy Mound
by Cath Barton
My mammy was a handsome woman, so she was. And on such a fair day, with the faintest scent of the first spring celandines on the warming air, my sister and I skipped by her side with no cares in the world.
It was Áine who heard the cry first. Why, she’s named for a fairy goddess herself, good love her. My wee sister turned the colour of the winter snow and thrust her face into mammy’s skirts.
“Come, child,” she said. “There’s nothing to fear.”
But the keening was upon my ears too and out of the corner of my eye I saw the woman with the long red hair, the same as in the old books. And I too turned in towards my mammy.
We shook ourselves free, or so we thought. Over the fairy bridge and home before dusk. Mammy lit the lamp and put it in the window, to protect us.
“Sure it will,” she said.
Through the flickering of the light I fancied I saw the fairies dance over the mossy grass. But the dance had an uneven measure, I felt a squeeze on my heart and heard, approaching, the awful sound of the banshee’s wailing. I fled to my bed, thrust my head beneath the sheets and clamped my hands over my ears.
Night rain cleansed our valley and the morn was of the brightest green I had ever seen. The only sounds were the soft clucking of the chickens and the bubbling of the stream. But I put my hand to my heart as the squeeze came and turned me round.
This time there was no wailing, just a sound like crumpling of paper as my mammy folded onto the kitchen floor and, as had been forewarned, the life ebbed out of her.
Troll Farming in Bergen
by Chris Stanley
They keep us in a dimly-lit cellar with barely enough room to swing a club. I came here as a baby, soft and hairless, only just able to stand. This is how we live. We huddle together and watch children’s television. We do as we’re told and fear our fourth birthdays.
I make up stories about my mother. She was beautiful, with broad shoulders and fat thighs. For a hundred years she roamed the mountain forests outside Bergen, fierce and free. She surrendered her life to save her firstborn, my oldest brother, not realising her captors’ vile intentions.
Even in the soft light of the cellar, it’s clear we’re alike. We are siblings or half-siblings with maybe a dozen mothers between us. This makes us angry and ashamed. Our kind are reluctant breeders.
We dream up stories of salvation. I say my oldest brother will return to liberate us. Others say the sun will be extinguished. On that day a hero will rise among us and set us free.
Until we turn four, stories are all we have.
Today’s my birthday. They escort me from the cellar to the slaughter house, where I wait beneath the roof hatch. Outside is the murderous sun. They show me the others, my brothers and sisters, their skin like polished rock. If I pose right, they say, I’ll sell to a collector for a fine price. It’s not death; it’s preservation. It’s an honour.
I wait with tears on my cheeks. I pose the way I’ve practiced. I brace myself against the inevitable as the hatch swings open.
Cautiously, I look up. Above me, a bright ring of fire shines in the darkened sky of a solar eclipse. The sun has been extinguished. My captors look scared and weak.
And so they should.
Under The Bridge
by Lee Hamblin
At the bridge he checks the coast is clear; that the tattletale parkie isn’t within eyeshot. He fends of an inquisitive crutch-sniffing mutt by throwing an invisible treat; off it goes scampering down a sun-specked avenue.
He straddles the knee-high picket fence and eases his way down the slope. It’s goose-poop slippy, and suitable shoes aren’t part of his uniform.
Steadying himself, hand against the cold stone, he gets down to water level, crouches, and waits as his eyes adjust. Midday in July but he knows he’ll always find the dark under here. He’s growing yet to do, but even for him there’s not enough room to stand upright, so he baby-steps his way to the centre where there’s a concrete plinth for a seat.
He makes a cushion of his blazer, and wonders if they clocked his absence in double science, and whether the telephone will ring at six o’clock tonight, and if he’ll hear his thin-voiced mother say: not again, really, yes, I understand, yes, I will, I’ll make double-sure. It won’t happen again, thank you.
And he knows that it’s because she does understand that it will happen again, and again, and again, until the day they can hide secrets no more.
The river’s as still as Sunday. He takes off shoes and socks, dangles his feet in water that should feel cold, but doesn’t. He knows of the changing, and only something of what he is becoming. He draws his knees to chest and hugs them close. Surface ripples begin to calm. He leans forward and looks into the water. A stranger’s face reflects in the mirror. The full transition will be soon, he muses, very soon.
Slowly, and in silence, he undresses to naked. A deep breath, and he glides down, deep into the undertow.
Trolling for Freedom
by Taye Carrol
Though I’m shaking, my voice is surprisingly steady. “What’s the toll?”
“Your life,” his says, voice also oddly steady. Shouldn’t he bellow?
My stomach churns. This isn’t how it should go. There’s always another option. Get things back on track. “I have a nice rock.” I hold it out. “Mica. Shiny.”
He knocks it away. “Rocks I have. They provide no solace.”
I search my bag. “Frying pan? Enamel. Never scratches.”
He whacks this away also. “I’ve waited for you, I’ll have your life.”
Clarity. There aren’t two options. This troll doesn’t negotiate. “This isn’t how it goes!” I cry, but something powdery is blown into my face, and I grow dizzy.
Awakening to a head filled with stinging hornets, eyes crusted, blood moving molasses slow, I understand. How our village has always remained safe. No dread of a monster under the bed, for it resides beneath the bridge. A tale so younguns fear wandering too far from their sheltered world.
Safety also has its price. My face feels scaly, my flesh saggy and damp. My bones hurt as if somehow stretched, my hands, hairy and huge, lay on the rough burlap I wear clothes gone.
He wears them somewhere out there living my stolen life. I roar in protest, a sound not mine. Take note villagers, there’s a new Troll in town and your children best think twice before straying.
I pace on bulging legs. I’ll protect. Until a brave one tries to escape a place grown too tame for burgeoning imagination. Then trapped, changed, they will remain to serve in my stead as I do for the one before. I will live their life as they will live another’s in turn. Each transformation will ensure the village’s safety, its children held fast to it, one way or another.
by Ella Carmichael
As a lifelong member of the Devon community, Susan knew Beam House had been used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the Great War. She sighed sorrowfully as she regarded the imposing structure from the banks of the River Torridge. So much for their romantic weekend. So much for their fresh start.
So little left.
After three tours in Iraq, her Tony had returned home a marked man. His body was virtually free of scars, yet his mind was fractured. Gone was her beloved husband’s boisterous laugh. Gone was the man who, hitherto, had been the life and soul of the party. At thirty years of age, Susan found herself married to a stranger. One who suffered nightmares and flashbacks. She wondered if the men who used to reside at Beam House were prone to similar symptoms. Had PTSD even been diagnosed back then?
She rather reluctantly withdrew her eyes from the house and looked around for Tony. He had wandered off to investigate the fishing rights, but had not returned. Susan hoped he had met a couple of anglers who had engaged him in conversation. Anything to help him shake off the demons that had him in a body-hugging, soulless grip.
Although the weather was mild, Susan shivered as she wandered along the pathway searching for her spouse. It was five minutes before she spotted the group of anglers. They were huddled together on the bank, staring down into the water. Susan rushed towards them, and unceremoniously elbowed the largest two out of her way.
Tony’s dark red hair was easily identifiable as he floated face down in the water.
‘Goodbye my love,’ Susan whispered. ‘I hope you are at peace.’
The sense of relief she felt stayed with her always. As did the guilt.
by Gary Buller
Trolls covet precious things- were you aware of that?
A silver chain was broken amongst the dirt. The creature could see his simian face reflected in the heart-shaped pendant. The girl also lay broken in the dirt, a contorted shape at the bottom of a stinking pit, amongst the others. The air smelled of compost, and the sickly sweet odour of decay.
One of his legs was shorter than the other, and the troll limped as he approached with a spade. He filled the hole from a heap of soil, each heave and thrust echoing in the claustrophobic space. The porcelain doll withdrew behind a thick, earthy veil. He recalled her beauty as she trip-trapped across his bridge, and how his charming smile disarmed her. The girl had not known what lurked beneath.
His labour complete, the troll sat on the splintery bottom step, and lit a cigarette. He eyed the silver chain through narrowed eyes, wondering if it was within his means to fix it. Rose had assisted him in removing the girl’s hands and feet, as was his want, and the chain could be her reward. His mate would be upstairs now, with one of her unsuspecting gentleman friends, whilst their kids watched television in the lounge.
They needed a new babysitter, now.
The troll flicked his cigarette dimp into the darkness, and clumsily gathered the links in one blood stained claw. He climbed the steps, to a place that would soon be raised to the ground, discouraging ghouls from gathering to collect grim souvenirs. A place that the British press would infamously label the ‘house of horrors.’
At the top, he pulled a chord, plunging the basement into blackness. Eventually, they would all find peace, but not yet.
Trolls covet precious things.
Murder Most Vile
by Alva Holland
Trog gouged another victory groove into the smooth underside of the bridge’s rock supports and while doing so wondered what Gort was doing under his own bridge miles away.
Twin trolls who’d grown up together under the watchful eye of Rog and Tor. Trained to one day be kings of their own bridges. Yet, there was a hollowness to this latest victory. Trog couldn’t help but believe that Gort wouldn’t have approved of his killing the youngest, weakest member of the crossing brood. Gort would have gone for the leader, the ultimate trophy. Any old troll can kill the weakling. Trog felt worse with each thought, with each self-recrimination.
Defenceless, trailing, stumbling runt of the pack. Where’s the victory in that? Trog wanted to turn back time.
‘Well, well. What have we here? A miserable old goat of a troll?’
Trog recognised his brother’s voice instantly.
‘Come to gloat, have you?’
‘Gloat? Don’t tell me you’ve gone and done something worthy of a troll, brother dear. You’ve always been the peacekeeper, protector of the bridge underworld. Have you finally ruined your reputation?’
‘Made a reputation, more like,’ Trog grumbled under his breath. ‘A reputation for being the lowest form of troll. I’ve only degraded myself even further by killing the weakling of the crossing brood.’
‘Nothing wrong with that, brother dear. We all must begin somewhere. You’re a late starter. You’ll work your way up.’
Gort left Trog in his misery. Misery that multiplied one hundred-fold when the deafening wail of a grieving troll was heard across the valley. Gort had lost his youngest to a brutal killing. The truth of what had occurred slowly dawned on the twins whose lives had been forever altered by Trog not recognising his own flesh and blood.
by David Whitaker
“Old Ms Jenkins saw another one down by the brook the other day.”
Bernie nodded noncommittally, his eyes focused on the crossword.
“Scared the life out of her, it did,” his wife continued, her hands moving constantly as she bustled round their small kitchen, crumbs from breakfast vanishing in her wake. “Nearly two metres high, or so she says.”
“Uh-huh,” Bernie muttered, the answer for six across skipping frustratingly out of reach.
“They’re practically everywhere these days!” his wife complained, hovering in front of his chair. “I think we should move.”
“Mm-hmm,” Bernie replied, the taste of rubber filling his mouth as he chewed on his pencil.
The paper collapsed in front of him with a crunch, his wife’s glaring visage appearing in its place. “Bernard Crawford, are you listening to me?” she snapped.
“Of course I am, dear!” he simpered, wracking his brains to recall any of what she’d been saying. “I think… if it makes you happy… yes?”
“So we’ll move?” his wife asked, her voice hopeful, her eyes sparkling.
‘Damn!’ Bernie cursed inwardly. ‘Of all the luck!’
“But, there’s no hurry, surely?” he suggested, backpedalling furiously. He liked their home! It was a little small, perhaps, but it was comfortable, close to work, and he’d just started to make friends in their local community.
“I don’t see how we can,” his wife replied, resuming her anxious circling of the tiny kitchen. “Every day, more and more seem to crop up! They’re getting closer every minute, and I don’t feel safe in my own home anymore!”
Bernie sighed, knowing a lost cause when he saw one. “Fine, we can start looking around,” he soothed, rising from his seat and stretching his tail.
‘Bloody humans,’ he thought bitterly as his wife hugged him, her expression ecstatic. ‘They’re everywhere nowadays!’
The little visitor at the old English cottage
by Tammy Donaghue
The house I lived in was old. Over 150 years old.
An old English cottage with plenty of character. It showed me this with every creek and knock it made as if speaking to me.
I am a little eccentric but of sound mind I assure you! Ok! Just to put it out there, I had been known then to partake in smoking the odd joint or two and drinking a few glasses of wine but who hasn’t!
It was a night like any other when I saw it, thought I saw it!
I had smoked some weed, drank some wine. Happy in my daze when I heard a thud from downstairs. Nothing unusual about that but it did bring me back to reality with a thirst to get water.
I walked down the stairs and there it was! The little creature. Speckled green and brown skin, wild orange hair and huge eyes. Ugly in a weird cute way.
At first I dismissed what I was seeing, putting it down to a hallucination of the weed kind… until it spoke to me!
“Give is a kiss!” I heard a mischievous voice say.
To be honest, it didn’t register with me straight away as anything more than my high state of mind playing tricks on me, so at first, I just chuckled to myself thinking I had probably kissed a lot worse in my time!
Before I had time to think anything more, this cheeky creature sprung up, put its arms around my neck and planted a smacker right on my lips, then sprung away again giggling it’s head off!
I rubbed my eyes and when I looked again, it was gone!
Was it really there in the first place? I thought it was but I never saw it again.
by Steve Lodge
I didn’t realise until last week when I was chatting to Jobby Dobbs and his brother, Squalid, that from 1912 to 1914, the country of Belzon produced 10 world class films in the Expressionist genre, guided by the German director, Uwe Golem.
Belzon was an ideal location for these films. Count Rafis the folkloric vampire (played in the Hollywood movies by Dwight Love), lived at Rafis Castle near the town of Falkenstad in Belzon. It is a grim country with a dark history.
Sadly all but one of the ten films are lost forever. The Kinema Belzony Produktionshaus (KBP) was destroyed in the 1950’s Civil War. The eeriest vampire films ever made, lost forever, except Return Of The Monster (1913, 89 minutes, black & white, silent). Directed by Golem, written by Wolfgang Giggle and translated into Belzon by Dr Janosz Rorszag of the Institute.
Count Rath GUSTAV PREMONITION
Hannelore ADELPHI ROZEN
Burgomaster HORST RACING
Dr Spies IRMA HOLSTER
Van Tooth RAGNAR SPIES.
Jobby’s friend, Minister Soskic in Ringstad, the Belzon capital had got him a copy of the DVD.
There are gloriously sinister undertones, flickering images, sallow heroines of great, innocent beauty, grace and inevitable doom. Men with tortured minds wandering bleak landscapes on fanciful errands for their Master, touched with vampiric tendencies. Though a silent film, we hear creaking timber on ship or stair in the mind’s ear.
Horses and carriages glide swiftly, a montage of fear. Close-ups of pale, unsuspecting necks. Wolves, howl in snowy forests, sensing the dance of the undead, the unholy.
Apparently filming was postponed for three weeks due to a trollfestation beneath the bridge between Falkenstad and Ringstad. The Guardio Nacional intervened. The trolls agreed to move on if their two leaders appeared in the film. Possibly in The Directors Cut.
by Jamie Thunder
Spodge woke to the sound of his mother scrubbing the moss from the bricks with the leathery palm of her hand.
“Mulge, Mulge, Mulge,” she muttered under her breath. Spodge knew better than to interrupt her while she was doing bridgework, so he splashed through the river to where he could usually find his father.
There must have been an early morning traveller, because Splew was gnawing at a torso. He tossed his son a spindly arm, which Spodge chewed on resentfully, feeling the bones splinter between his teeth. He was six now, nearly fully-grown, yet his father still treated him like some ogreling.
“Spodge?” he asked.
“Splew,” answered his father. Spodge didn’t believe him. Their bridge was in the middle of nowhere, between two towns and miles from either; there was no way anyone would come by on foot. He suspected his father of hiding the horse for later.
Once Spodge had finished his arm, he sat and waited for his father to offer him more. He could hear the cracking of ribs and the slurping of Splew’s tongue in the chest cavity, but it was clear he had forgotten about his son entirely.
Spodge had had enough. His blood began to bubble in his veins, hot and roiling. He looked around; there was no shortage of rocks. He smiled.
He returned to the bridge with his father’s newly-concave head dangling from one hand, and the remains of the traveller and the horse (which he had found nearby) dripping from the other. When his mother saw him she showed no surprise; this was, after all, what had happened to her father, and his father before that.
“Mulge,” she shrugged, and started the fire beneath the pot. There was nothing else to say, and besides, it was almost lunchtime.
‘I dare you.’
‘That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?’
‘Then I dare you.’
‘But …’ I began, then bit my tongue. I hated the way Morag made it sound so easy. Black or white? Coffee or tea? Why couldn’t she understand that life sometimes deserved more than just a yes or no answer? But then, I thought, why did I come to the edge of the city if I wasn’t going to go through with it? I took a deep breath and was amazed to find that it actually made me feel less anxious. ‘Okay.’
I shrugged. ‘Why not? It’s why we’re here.’
A whisper rose up from the assembled crowd: ‘She’s really going to do it.’
Morag pressed a finger to her closed lips and when the murmuring ceased, she said: ‘We don’t want to scare them off before they’ve even attempted to cross, do we?’
Above the neutered nodding, I said: ‘No, we don’t.’
‘Go on then!’ Michael sounded as though he was either a heavy smoker or that he was suffering from a bad cold. ‘What’re you waiting for?’ He coughed and hawked the contents of his mouth onto the wooden bridge.
‘I’m doing it,’ she said. ‘Don’t rush me.’
She shuffled closer to the start of the bridge and stopped. She knew the stories, the legends … but they couldn’t be true. Could they?
‘What’re you waiting for?’
‘I said don’t rush me.’
Let’s do this, she said to herself. Ten steps and you’re in.
She stepped onto the bridge and thought she heard something giggle. ‘Did you lot hear that?’
‘Hear what?’ answered Michael.
She took a step, then another, and another …
She looked down and saw a wiry claw latch onto her ankle.
How The Hell Do You Think They Pay for Bridge Maintenance, Anyway?
by Philip Kleaver
The stagnant summer air was broken by the sound of thundering hooves; across the horizon, a rider appeared. The sun glinted off his platemail. Rolfe dragged the wooden blockade in front of the bridge and sighed. Knights were the worst.
The rider pulled back on the reins, halting his steed mere inches from the waifish boy.
“Hail, knave,” the knight boomed.
“God save ye, sir. One adult, heavily armored, and one warhorse… comes to two gold pieces m’lord.”
The knight laughed.
“Boy,” the knight said, “I have lain waste to men twice your size in our king’s crusades. Clear the way, if ye be wise.”
Rolfe gulped. “Er, sorry. My supervisor is something of a stickler.”
“Step aside, or I shall be forced to cleave thee in twain–”
The knight was interrupted by a piggish grunting coming from the shadows beneath the bridge.
“That’s him now, sir.”
A squat green creature emerged from the darkness and hoisted itself up the riverbank. It was covered in warts. A patch of greasy black hair hung over its eyes.
“What seems to be the problem here?”
“This fellow won’t pay, Mr. Ukk.”
The troll turned, narrowing its bloodshot eyes.
“Two gold pieces.”
“I’m on a mission from the king.”
“I shan’t pay. Move before I run you and the child through with my broadsword!”
The troll sprang forward. In a second, it had clambered up the side of the knight’s steed. It sunk its teeth into the horse’s neck. Blood splattered. The horse let out a shriek and fell. The knight’s armor clanged as it hit the ground.
“There,” the troll said, wiping its wormlike lips. “Only one gold piece now.”
The knight tossed a coin and fled.
“Did you try biting the horse to death first, lad?”
“Nay, Mr. Ukk, sir. That’s… I’m not really comfortable with…”
“Hmph.” The troll turned and descended back under the bridge, mumbling to itself. “Fucking affirmative action. ‘Hire a human,’ they said. ‘It’ll work just as hard…’”