Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dark fey: Trolls

Hmm...yes, that's all the ingredients, and you even managed to tell the drake-tongue root from the bog fern this time.  Well done.  We might make an alchemist of you yet.

What's that now?  Trolls?  Yes, they have their uses, too, but that's best left to more accomplished practitioners than you, my young apprentice.  You're most likely to find them in places of decay - ancient forests where the leaf-litter is knee-deep, midden-heaps in abandoned villages, and of course in bogs and swamps where the stagnant water belches up the rot-gases of aeons of dead things fermenting beneath the surface.  Decay is a troll's element, and some scholars (though I use the term loosely!) even assert that trolls are made all of animate fungus.  Nonsense, of course, but one can see whence the misconception arises, if not why it persists.  They certainly are as resilient as mushrooms, though; their flesh knits right before your eyes, even if you've just hacked off their heads and all their limbs, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

Fascinating creatures, trolls, so long as you don't get too close.  They are really a rather diverse lot - some are great squat toad-like lumps, others are long and sinewy, hides all encrusted with algae and moss, manes of stringy green hair hanging lank from their huge flattened heads.  All of them have in common a striking elasticity of substance, with monstrous jaws that can gape thrice as wide as you'd think to look at them, all full of cruel pointed teeth, and great bellies that stretch to hold the most mountainous meal.

All of them are ravenous eaters, but there is no greater glutton than an old troll-hag.  She can down a wolfhound at a single gulp, and the mightiest plough-horse in a single sitting.  Of course she prefers carrion, but no troll has the self-will to restrain itself from a fresh kill.  If meat is scarce, she sates her hunger as best she can on vegetation - great gobs of slimy weeds, tangled roots, even rotten logs.  If you see a gnawed tree-stump, beware!  A ravenously hungry troll is likely nearby.

Some troll-hags have a measure of sorcerous powers, with a terrible fondness for hexes and curses.  Many a farmer whose stead lies too near a troll-bog has seen his livestock inexplicably sicken and die, so that local troll-hags might gorge themselves on rotting carcasses.  Wise folk either move their herds and flocks elsewhere or keep the monsters appeased with periodic offerings.

Next to gluttony, a troll's greatest weakness is its pride.  Even a hungry troll will stop to listen to flattery - the more exaggerated and embellished, the better.  Not that there's much point to flattering a troll: Once you've talked yourself too hoarse to go on, she'll gobble you right down all the same, and you'll be too out of breath even to make a good show of running away.  The only time it's even remotely safe to approach a troll is when its belly is distended with several hundred pounds of meat and it can no more than waddle after you, and...

Oh no.  Oh no, no, no!  Cedwin, my boy, didn't I send you out with a mule?  Where is my mule?

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