Corin, Braden, and Gorbal followed Sami through the aspen
woods. Birds fluttered in their nests. Creatures crept through beds of
fallen leaves. Owls hooted. They plodded up and down mounds, ancient
burial hills, covered with layers of dirt and wild grasses. They waded
across rapid flowing streams, struggling to keep balance as the icy water
rushed around their legs, until they came within viewing distance of the
Caves of Arton. The moons of Vespar cast their incandescent rays upon the
ground, brightening the night sky. The stars twinkled and shot across the
heavens like auroral arrows.
They looked across the
valley separating them from the trolls. Dark pines blowing in the wind
silhouetted against the evening sky like thin giants waving their arms.
Three caves, carved into the bottom of tall granite cliffs, looked like
gaping holes of black nothingness. From where they sat they saw no sign of
any trolls. “I can’t see them, but I can sure smell them,” Corin said,
puckering his face. “Now I remember why I hate trolls!”
“They are stinky
creatures,” Gorbal said, plugging his flat nose with his short, pudgy
“Where are the wild dogs?”
Braden saw no animals near the caves.
“They’re there, inside the
cave’s entrance,” Sami said, anxious to enter. “So, what’s our plan? It’s
still too dark to see anything.”
“Let me think about it for
a while,” Corin said, “but let’s move in closer. We’re too far away to see
or hear anything. Dawn will be here in a couple of hours.”
The four of them crept
closer to the caves. The entrances were lit up with the flickering flames
from burning torches. Being careful not to step on any twigs or loose
rocks, they moved through the aspens. The leaves fluttered back and forth
in the wind, like crickets rubbing their wings together in a droning
sound. “Shhh. The dogs have good ears.” Sami warned the others.
Continuing towards the
entrance. Gorbal stepped on an acorn. His fat foot throbbed with pain. He
let out a loud howl and then danced around holding his foot.
Corin knocked him to the
ground and put his hand over Gorbal’s mouth and whispered, “Shut up, you
Gorbal held his foot,
trying not to make any more noise. A few squeals escaped his covered
mouth, much to Corin’s annoyance.
Braden looked at the
caves. “They are much larger than I had first imagined. I don’t see any
dogs.” He sighed with relief.
“I’m going up there.”
Sami ran off before anyone could stop him. He neared the first cave
entrance. With his back plastered against the wall, Sami peeked into the
dark hole. Not seeing any dogs, he slipped inside.
“What’s that boy doing?”
Gorbal rubbed his foot and complained. “He’s going to get us all killed.
He’s the fool, not me.”
Sami appeared and waved at
them to come into the cave. They climbed over sharp rocks and broken tree
limbs. As they entered Gorbal wanted to throw up. Bile raised in his
throat. Bones lay all around. Bluebottle flies and maggots crawled on
pieces of rotting flesh; the stench hung powerful and overbearing with a
putrid odor. “See the chains.” Sami pointed to the rusted links hammered
into the stone wall. “I wonder where the dogs are. We’d better be quiet
Moving deeper into the
dark void, they came to a huge cavern. Lying on the floor were hundreds of
scattered bones and chunks of rotting flesh. “I can’t take this stench,”
Gorbal said and ran back outside to vomit.
Corin examined the
carcasses. He saw the look of horror and fear on Sami’s face. “It’s all
right boy. The bones aren’t human bones. Probably belong to a mastodon or
something big like that.” Dirty, filthy, blood encrusted blankets lay on
the floor of the cave. Torches hanging on the walls burned, allowing them
the unwanted view.
“Where are they?” Gorbal
came back into the cave. He wiped his mouth with his tunic sleeve.
“They’re not here, but
were not too long ago. Maybe they’re in another one of the caves.” Braden
patted Gorbal on the back and walked outside. They all breathed in the
fresh woodsy air. It was a relief to be in the open. “I’ve never
appreciated fresh air as much as I do right now.” Braden took several deep
Making their way to the
next cave, they stepped over more bones and half eaten bodies of deer and
other large game animals. “What’s with all the meat? Is that all trolls
eat? They’re filthy creatures!” Gorbal felt his stomach lurching again.
Sami went ahead to look
for the dogs. “None in here either.” He called in a whisper to the others,
“I wonder where they are.”
Inside the cave the
granite walls, coated and splattered with still dripping blood, turned
their stomachs sour. The red goo covered everything in sight. Corin gagged
at the smell. “What is this?” Gorbal ran back out and refused to go back
“It’s blood and it’s
horrible.” Braden winced at the mess.
Sami ran out and vomited
along with Gorbal.
Braden followed him out.
“You two better stay out here. We’ll be back soon. Take cover though and
Sami sat on the ground
with his back against the wall, breathing deeply, trying to regain his
composure. Gorbal lay on his fat tummy, moaning and groaning.
Braden and Corin went
further back into the cave. Puddles of clotting blood covered the floor
and stuck to their boots. They tried not to walk through it, but there was
so much that it was difficult to avoid. Torches, blazing and hanging on
the walls led them into the main cavern, bigger by far than the first one.
A rusting chain with thick links stretched across the cave from wall to
wall. Hanging by their tails at intervals, ten dead black dragons dripped
blood from every pore onto the cave floor. Five looked raw and had
obviously been skinned alive; their wet bloody black scales lay on the
dirt beneath them. “That explains the blood,” Corin said, sickened by the
sight. “Looks like our trolls were planning a feast tonight. Roasted
dragon. There’s enough meat here to feed an army and then some.”
“They must be the main
course, not the appetizers. Take a look at this.” Braden pointed to the
back of the cavern. Small fires dotted the floor. Spits lay on rocks on
top of them. Roasting on the spits, nearly blackened and charred, lay
dozens of baby dragons, each about two feet in length. Corin counted
twenty-two of them. “By the look on the baby dragon’s faces, they’d been
skewered and roasted alive. Let’s get out of here. There are no trolls
here, just death and torture.”
Back outside of the cave,
they spotted Gorbal and Sami. “Are there any trolls in there?” Gorbal‘s
curiosity overcame his sickness and revulsion.
Corin shook his head no.
He took Gorbal aside and told him what they’d found inside the cave.
Braden went to check on Sami, who lay curled in the fetal position among
tall grasses. A loud wail echoed through the still night. They turned at
the noise. Corin shook his head back and forth. “Where are those blasted
* * *
Screams came from the last
cave - human screams. “Oh no!” Sami cried out in fear. He jumped up and
ran towards another hole in the stone cliffs.
Corin caught up with him.
“Boy, wait. The dogs are there. I can smell them.” He held onto Sami.
“Calm down and let’s think this out. All right, boy?” Sami stopped moving
and Corin let go of him. “Our first task is to get rid of those guard
dogs. If the trolls are all in this cave, which means all six wild dogs
are in there too, so we must kill them first.”
“But how?” Sami sniffed
Gorbal took out his Book
of Spells. He turned each page until he came to WILD DOGS. “Oh, okay. I’ve
got it. Here’s what to do. Corin, Braden, go back and get six of those
roasted baby dragons and bring them here.”
“Roasted baby dragons?
What roasted baby dragons? Were there some in the cave? Never mind. I
don’t want to know,” Sami noticed the looks of disgust on Braden and
Corin’s faces and knew the answer.
Corin and Braden ran back
to the cave and showed up a while later carrying six of the charred
dragons in their arms. Sami gaped, but didn’t utter a sound.
Gorbal sighed. “What a
waste of life. Such a waste.” A tear ran from his eye. He wiped it from
his cheek. “Sami, I need a distraction so I can sneak closer. The dogs
must be close enough to hear my spell. Can you help Corin and Braden with
Sami gulped and lifted one
of them out of Braden’s arms.
They moved as close to the
entrance as they could get. Corin heaved a dead infant dragon and it
landed a few feet away from the hole on the opposite from where they
stood. The dogs noticed and grew wild in a mad effort to get to the meat.
Braden tossed one a little closer to the dogs. The snarling became more
intense. Sami tossed his. The dogs left the other half eaten carcass and
darted to the new one, ripping the blackened meat to pieces and biting
each other. Gorbal, seeing his chance, began to chant. Corin and Braden
each threw another dragon. The dogs, crazed with anticipation and desire
and having a ferocious hunger, didn’t notice the gnome. He climbed on a
rock and shouted the spell. Within seconds the wild dogs fell asleep.
Gorbal called down to the others. “I don’t know how long this will last,
so let’s go!” Each of them kicked the dragons out of the way and entered
the cave. Loud human screams echoed off the stone walls, each sent waves
of terror their direction. Sami stopped, not wanting to go any further.
Braden took his hand and they entered the cavern. From where they stood
they saw at least 100 trolls, each covered with wiry gray hair, matted and
soaked with drying blood. Two horns grew out of the tops of their heads
and green-veined eyeballs bulged from the sockets. Sharp, brown-colored
teeth, stained from years of blood lust, hung from their mouths; some with
the remains of their latest meal dangling. “Corin, Braden, can you see any
people?” Gorbal was too afraid to look for himself.
The two men moved ahead.
Rage filled them when they spotted dozens of frightened men and women
standing against a wall; all thin, dirty and naked, with chains around
their ankles, linked together like zoo animals.
In the center of the
cavern a huge fire burned. Sparks popped into the foul air. Hanging over
the fire, a black pot about ten feet in diameter and filled to the brim
with boiling liquid, sat waiting the next victim. Dangling above the pot,
a man with his hands tied together with rope, struggled to free himself.
The four watched in horror as a troll lowered the man into the pot. He
screamed in agony. His legs went into the boiling liquid. The troll pulled
a rope, raising the man out of the pot, still screaming. Blisters formed
on his scalded legs and skin fell off into the pot. The troll untied him
and threw him into a pile of rotting fruit. The man writhed in unbearable
pain. Bluebottle flies flew from the fruit and covered the man’s wounds.
The trolls laughed at the man’s pain. Some of the chained people fainted
with terror, knowing it would soon be their turn. Others wept and others
stood still, numb and unable to move. Sami couldn’t breathe. “Go outside
and get some air, boy.” Corin knew this was more than any young lad should
have to watch this. Sami ran outside.
Corin looked around. He
spotted two ladders leaning against the cave wall not far from them and
pointed them out to Braden. He understood what Corin wanted to do. Corin
whispered to Gorbal and Sami. “If we don’t make it back, get out of here.
Go back to the village, get the children, the Princess, and Cafania, and
leave as quickly as you can. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Sami said.
“Okay,” Gorbal said, “but
be careful. Help those poor people.”
Braden and Corin snuck
into the cavern. The trolls have moved to the side of the cave, poking and
prodding at a half-dead dragon. They found amusement in teasing it with
sticks to see how it would react. Seeing an opportunity, Corin and Braden
each grabbed a wooden ladder. Corin pulled his hands away as he felt
something gooey. “It’s covered with mold and slime and who knows what
else.” He wiped his hands on his pants and took hold of the ladder. They
carried them above their heads.
When they neared the huge
black pot, they leaned the ladders against it, relieved that it didn’t
sway. Corin and Braden climbed, being careful not to let their feet slip
on the slime. Nodding to each other, they tore off pieces of their shirt
and wrapped them around their hands. Corin shouted, trying to get the
trolls attention. When one turned around and saw the two of them near the
pot, it grunted and groaned. The beasts ran toward the ladders. Corin and
Braded grabbed the sides of the pot and after rocking it back and forth,
they were able to tip it over, spilling the contents on top of the trolls.
The boiling liquid, made from animal blubber, flowed out of the pot,
burning through the troll’s hair and seeping into their tough hides.
Deafening screeches and howls bounced from wall to wall, echoing. The
trolls fell to the ground dead or dying. Some tried to run, but Corin
aimed more of the spilling oil towards them, emptying the entire pot. The
people watched, gasping in horror and disbelief.
One troll escaped the hot
oil. Neither Braden nor Corin noticed. It snuck up and grabbed the bottom
of Corin’s ladder and shook it back and forth. Corin slid off, falling to
the ground. The troll grabbed Corin’s hair, pulling him high into the air.
Its sharp claws moved closer to his belly, ready to disembowel Corin when
a spear shot through its heart. The troll dropped Corin onto the rock
floor and clutched the spear jutting out of its chest. Blood spewed from
the wound. It let out a sharp scream and fell dead, landing on top of
Corin. He pushed the filthy creature off, watching as its blood flowed
into the boiling oil. It bubbled and popped as the two liquids mixed.
Wondering who had saved his life, he turned to see Sami standing a few
feet away, shaking with fear.
Braden moved from troll to
troll making sure none breathed another breath, piercing their hearts with
his knife if they still breathed.
Gorbal ran inside the cave
with his sling shot and stones he’d picked up outside. Seeing all the dead
trolls, joy surged through his body. He spotted keys lying on the ground.
He picked them up and unlocked the people’s ankle bands, freeing the
villagers. Some, too weak to walk, fell to the ground. Others ran out of
the cave howling with shouts of freedom. Some stood still, staring with a
blank look in their eyes, too shocked by the whole ordeal.
Corin joined Gorbal in
releasing the rest of the people. Braden walked to the pile of rotting
food, swooshed the flies away, and picked up the man who had been dipped
in the oil; his scalded legs, fragile and damaged. When Braden lifted him
up, the flesh fell off both his legs, exposing bone and raw nerves. The
man howled and passed out.
Sami came running, he saw
the man. “Father.” He wept. “Father.” His body wrenched with sorrow at the
sight of his suffering father. Braden spread out his shirt and lay the man
on top. Sami held his father’s hand and caressed his brow.
Braden called, “Gorbal,
come here quickly please.”
Gorbal saw the man and his
horrific wounds; stifling a sob when he saw Sami’s tears and how tenderly
he held the man. “Say no more. I know what to do.” He took the healing
stone out of his pocket, along with the Book of Spells and placed it under
the man’s chin. He took his other hand and chanted the spell, the same
spell he used to heal Princess Jasmine. A crowd gathered around. Before
their eyes the man’s legs produced new flesh, tissue, muscle, and skin.
Within moments healed completely.
The man regained
consciousness. His eyes flew open and he saw his son. “Sami.”
The others, now free,
followed Corin out of the cave.
“Take them to the stream,”
Braden said. “It’s light outside now.”
The stars and the moons
had disappeared and dawn’s first rays broke over the horizon. Gorbal,
Sami, and his father, and Braden headed for the village. “There are a lot
of children that will be very happy when they wake up,” Braden said,
looking around at the crowd. “We’d better get these people washed up and
put some clothes on them. Unload your packs and at least get the women
dressed in something.”