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Monday, January 7, 2008

The Raven

The Raven“Mister, mister, please, help my sister, please help!”

I had been lost in my thoughts as I walked the road, and this small scruffy urchin managed to run up behind me and grab my cloak. Proof that the greatest could fall from one small lapse of concentration, I thought, as I shrugged him off. He was a persistent scrap however, and ran beside me with hands outstretched, pleading.

“Help me mister! The ugly troll’s got her, he does! None from the village’ll help her, they’re all scared of ‘im!”

I had no time for this. Without a word I turned and shoved the annoying little brat into a muddy ditch.

Ignoring his cries, I strode on, hoping to reach the next village by nightfall. The sky had already dimmed and the first stars appeared by the time I came upon a stone bridge across a wide stream; in the distance I could see the smoke from cooking fires. Half way across I felt a presence and turned, and there stood the boy again, leaning over the bridge wall and shouting down into the dark underneath:

“He’s here Moon-Gnawer - I got you ‘im! A man for my sister you said, a man to feed on!”

Instantly I was fully alert. A huge knobbled hand reached up and took purchase on the wall near me, then another. With startling speed the beast had dragged itself up over the side of the bridge and stood, nine feet tall, dripping wet, huge shoulders supporting powerfully muscled arms that ended in hands that scraped the ground. One held an enormous rusty meat cleaver.

The horrible face slit open and a voice like ancient rocks speaking said, “Little grey man, ye be my supper. Keep still while I chop ye!”

An interesting proposition, but I had no intention of complying. From the folds of my cloak I whipped out my long thin knife. Slish, slash, snicker, but the troll’s hide was thick, and it was like trying to cut into ancient stone. This was a battle I could not win by force.

I drew my arms apart, palms upward. “Wait, Moon-Gnawer, am I not thin and stringy? Hardly fit for the pot, just bone and gristle!” It paused slightly, cleaver half-raised. “A hungry troll requires a man large and fat, juicy with easy living! I can get you such a tasty treat!”

“Speak, skinny one,” it said slowly, head cocked.

“Behind me on the road I passed a fat tax-collector on a donkey, trying to reach the village before the fall of night. He has but one guard. Allow me to return and dispose of the guard with my long thin knife, and the fat man will be yours for the taking. Not to mention the gold he no doubt carries.”

“Hmmm …” Was that slow grinding the sound of it thinking? “Very well, but be quick about it. I want my dinner.”

“Excellent. I will return quickly with your delectable dish, bridgekeeper.”

Turning tail, I fled back the way I had come, passing the wide-eyed guttersnipe. “But … my sister! He promised to free my sister if I brought him dinner.”

“You’d best find another for his plate as I did, snot-nose.” I shouted over my shoulder, still running. “I have a detour to make!”