Wary had his cart packed up with as much as his small foal could bear to pull. It was time to make his trip to the neighboring village of Wilverth. Neither the horse nor the rig were large enough for him to ride, he would have to guide them along the path.
“I’m off to brave the elements, Mother.” He declared, sarcastically. “The trails will be treacherous, but I will manage to conquer them.”
They both knew his route was about as easy as it gets. There was a well-worn trail, wide with no landslides or falling boulders to dodge, and if he didn’t get distracted or take too many breaks, he could arrive at his destination in a day's time. Wary gave his mother a hug and was off.
“Come along, Patches.” As he grabbed the reins and gave a gentle tug, “I really wish we had given the beast a better name.”
Wary was making good time on his excursion, although the day was growing long. The sun had fallen behind the mountaintops, leaving a haze of shadows to blanket the side of the valley. Rock formations vaulted up beside him, like pillars along the entrance of a castle that disappeared in the mist. Wary struggled to peer through the fog; he began to squint at the ground, keeping an eye out for the ledge. He didn’t notice the short creature that happened upon him.
“Who are you, sludging through my lands?”
Wary halted and scanned the fog for the owner of the grumbling voice, but found nothing.
“Your lands? This is the edge of King Rikard’s farm.”
“King? There is no King here.”
He finally spotted the figure as it waddled closer. Wary’s voice shivered in fear.
“A Dimmu Troll.”
There were two kinds of trolls that Wary, like everyone else, grew up hearing stories about. Hush Trolls were huge but timid; most people only ever saw clues of their existence. They stayed camouflaged during the day and only moved when no one was looking. Wary had heard tales of them helping farmers and rescuing injured merchants. Wary wished he were speaking to a Hush Troll; unfortunately, he was not.
“What are you doing in these mountains? There aren’t any molten rivers in all of Sheobeth.”
The troll grinned atop its massive under bite. “Don’t be so sure, wanderer. Many mountains look the same to visitors.”
“I’ve traveled this road many times. I grew up just at the bottom of this valley; I’m no visitor.”
“Well, then, maybe you are lost!”
The troll edged his way around Wary’s cart, spying its contents.
“I have goods to trade at Wilverth,” Wary informed him. “I can spare some. Are you hungry?” Wary made a move to uncover a barrel of fish, hoping to bribe the troll to leave him alone, but the troll was on edge. He flinched and readied himself, showing his curled claws. “Whoa, whoa! I just wanted to give you a fish.”
The Dimmu sniffed at the air. “I’d rather have the red meat.” He snarled and sprang at the horse.
Wary tugged the reins and smacked its back leg to tell his horse to run. The troll missed his target and Patches sped off down the trail, items spilling out the back of the cart. Wary found himself alone, with no way of defending himself against the troll, whose beady eyes were now fixed on him. He searched the ground, almost tripping over himself as he darted toward a stone, jagged on one end, that he could grasp with one hand.
“Do you think that will help you?” The Dimmu asked in a menacing tone. “It’s not going to help you.”
With that, the troll raised the claws of his right hand as high as he could reach and took a swipe aimed at Wary’s face. Jumping straight back, Wary was able to dodge the strike, but his clumsiness showed, and the troll’s confidence grew.
“I will have red meat today, visitor. I’m not picky about what flavor.”
“I already told you, I’m not a visitor; this is my home.”
Something sparked inside Wary as the words left his lungs, something that told him that if he were brave, he would be the victor. He flexed the muscles in his arm and clenched the stone. Without warning, Wary shot at the Dimmu, swinging the stone and cracking it on top of its head. He charged so hard, he trampled over the creature that stood no taller than his chest, both of them falling out of control and rolling over the ledge.
He tumbled, end over end, down the steep mountainside, narrowly catching himself above a protrusion of sharp boulders. The troll was not so lucky; he had been knocked out from the blow, freefalling until the rocks below abruptly halted him with a crunch.
Wary gathered himself and began to take stock of how far he had fallen. As he looked around for the best path back up the hill, he realized something; he had been here before, a long time ago. He was on the outskirts of his family's old farm, the one King Rikard the Last had taken from them. Wanting to get a glimpse of the old hut, Wary traversed the boulders and found the border of the tree line where the valley leveled out. He surveyed what was once an open field with livestock roaming their pens and small sections of crops, to find a massive hole, deep in the ground. Tall structures hung overhead, pulling buckets of dirt to the surface. It was a mine, stripping soil that provided good crops to search for something underneath.
Wary attempted to get a closer look, but the sound of thumping footsteps grew closer. He retreated back up the hill and ducked behind a stone. He ducked his head and listened as the thuds echoed up the side of the mountain, getting louder and louder until… they stopped. Wary peeked from behind his hiding place; a giant towered over him, standing among the trees. Luckily, it hadn’t noticed Wary, and he slouched down again. Soon, the giant walked on, but Wary waited until he could no longer hear the footsteps before scurrying back up the hill.
He climbed until the mine and the giant were far behind him and didn’t stop until he found the road again. There was a trail of supplies left by Patches; Wary sensed that he could track the horse, and some of his bartering materials, down by heading on toward Wilverth.
“Patches! Patches!” Wary called as he entered the village with an armful of goods. He had found the cart, practically in pieces, a ways back and saw no further trail.
“Have you seen a stray horse walking around?” He asked one stranger. “Brown with white spots on his face?”
He turned down the middle road of the village where traders kept tents and booths with merchandise on display. Wary’s eyes lit up.
“There you are!”
He ran down the line of vendors to where Patches was tied up outside a stable.
“Boy, it’s good to see you.” He laughed, and, with his arms full, gave the horse a gentle head-butt. “What do you say we get home?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Cried a woman.
“I’m taking my horse.” Wary replied, with puzzlement.
“By blood you will!”
The woman got close to Wary and stared him in the eye. This was no drink-maiden, or care-maiden, she was a traveler in her own right. She was wearing thick leather topped with furs, and was almost as big as Wary, except where he had extra belly, she had only muscle. He tried to reason with her.
“Blood nothing. This is my horse, his name is Patches.” He looked to the horse who seemed to ignore him. “He ran off, but here he is, and we’ll be on our way.”
“What do you mean no?”
“He was a stray. I’m the one who found him. He belongs to me now.”
“Please, I have to get back.” Wary begged.
“Ok, you can buy him from me.”
“Buy!? You gypsy!”
The woman unsheathed her sword partially. Wary lowered his voice.
“You don’t understand. I don’t have anything to trade with.”
She said nothing, but looked at the items in his arms and back to his face. She repeated the gesture three times before Wary caught on.
“Oh… these things, well… I can trade you these… for my horse.”