Thorin was already regretting this.
He was standing alone in a clearing with the troll before him- so close he could hear the chuffs of air and see its nostrils flaring as its small black eyes peered at him, and then glanced warily around the clearing.
This troll was no fool, Thorin decided, then considered that foolish trolls were often dead long before they could reach the size this one had. He’d managed to stop the troll by just standing there alone with his bow ready- if he’d known it was this easy, he’d have done it before.
But his rest wasn’t long, and the troll began to stride toward him across the grassy space- necklace of bones tinkling as each step brought it several feet closer to Thorin until it was looming overtop of the young ranger. Then it stopped, and looked down at him, a slightly puzzled look in its eyes.
It’s wondering why I haven’t run, thought Thorin. I am too.
Then the Troll leaned in, and bared it’s teeth at him- a wave of hot, stinking breath blowing against his face. It hissed. A challenge? Or maybe a warning?
Either way, Thorin didn’t react, he just stood there, his bow ready to fire at the beast, and the two of them stared at each other.
Then the troll’s eyes went wide and it suddenly reared back, twisting around.
Thorin took this as his cue and began to back away, and the troll’s spinning revealed a smaller form was now attached to its back- Feena! Riding the bucking and twisting troll like a tiny child riding on her father’s back.
Thorin heard a torrent of swearing, and then saw the reckless girl drop to the ground and roll away. She waved the troll’s necklace in her hand, and shouted “I’ve got it! Shoot him! Shoot him!”
It had been Feena’s plan to distract the troll like this, and he hoped it worked. In a quick motion honed by long hours of practice, Thorin raised his bow, took aim at the troll, and fired. The troll was following the retreating Feena, so Thorin had a clear shot at the back of it’s huge knees, and despite their movement, he was sure he could score a hit.
But, as he watched, the arrow was again knocked aside by an invisible force.
The plan was a failure, the necklace wasn’t the talisman they’d hoped it was!
Even worse, as he watched, the Troll’s club-axe sliced the air where Feena’s head had been a moment before. In this kind of open area, the Troll was faster than they were!
Panicking, Thorin realized he had to do something and began to run after them. Slamming his bow onto the clip on his back, Thorin pulled out his knife, the only thing that seemed to work on this creature, and ran in. He thought maybe he could distract it- jab it in the back of the leg. But he feared this would be more like a mosquito bite than a critical blow.
Then the unthinkable happened- Feena was just a bit too slow and the club caught her shoulder. Her body was suddenly sent tumbling across the grass to where it lay- unmoving.
Every curse he knew went through Thorin’s head, but he knew that if he focused on her, he would only be assigning both of them to the funeral pyre. Instead, he let the adrenaline surge push him to run faster, and jumped over a rock to bring his hunting knife down into the troll’s calf as hard and deep as he could.
The troll screamed, this time in pain, and while the knife didn’t do much damage, it definitely got the creature’s attention. It swung around, Feena forgotten and those dark eyes now on Thorin.
Eyes filled with murderous rage.
Myra watched the farmers pack to leave.
It had been difficult to convince them at first, but her official ranger sigil and sincerity had broken through their prejudice. It also helped that someone had earlier reported hearing the sounds of warfare to the east where the main force of Rangers was engaging the trolls.
Then a noise caught her attention, and Myra turned to see a couple leading their crying child from a nearby house. They looked like tenant farmers, and their child was yelling up a storm.
Myra went over to them, and all three of them suddenly froze, the parents watching the elf with caution while the child stared at her in wonder. Myra leaned in to the open-mouthed child and said “Do not worry, little sister, it’s just for a little while. Until the storm passes, you need to be brave for your parents. Can you do that?”
It took a moment, but the little girl nodded her head.
“We’re sorry to trouble you, ranger.” Said the mother. “She’s just a stubborn child sometimes.”
Then the little girl looked up at her mother, “But Apple’s in the barn! What about Apple?”
“Apple will be fine,” her father told her. “You’ll see her when we come back.”
The child looked at Myra again, “Will you protect Apple?”
Myra nodded. “Of course I will. We rangers are sworn to protect everyone.”
At that, the girl’s mother began to shuffle her away, and the child waved at Myra as she left.
“You don’t need to worry,” said the father. “Apple will be fine. Don’t bother yourself with it. Really.”
Myra caught an odd tone in his voice, and couldn’t shake the feeling he was nervous about something the child had said.
“Of course,” Myra nodded. “The people of this settlement are my responsibility. The livestock are too difficult to move.”
Looking slightly relieved, the man said his thanks and left to join the parade of people heading north into the hills. But, there was something about the way he acted that bothered Myra, so once he was gone, she went to the barns behind the headman’s house.
Slipping inside the dusty building, she could hear the livestock moving around and grunting, and walked among the stalls. It was a normal barn, and the animals here were what one would expect to find in any farming settlement. As she walked past the pigs, she wondered which of them might be Apple- perhaps a piglet? That would be the thing a farmer’s child would worry about. Well, she’d do what she could to steer the troll clear of this place, if it came to it.
Then, as she was about to leave, her eyes fell on the final stall going wide with shock at what they saw.
Thorin leaned Feena against the tree- trying not to make anything worse.
“I’m okay,” the girl kept chanting, but it would have been more convincing if she didn’t keep coughing up blood.
“Let me check you over,” Thorin said, defaulting to his training. He had always been good at the medical side of the Ranger arts, and for once that might actually be useful. With gentle fingers, he poked and pressed the girl’s sides and arms, and then suddenly leaned forward and stuck his ear to her ample chest.
“H-hey!” Feena blushed, “W-what are you doing!”
“Be quiet and breath as deeply as you can,” he ordered and for a moment the only sound in the forest was that of the birds and insects. Then he said, “I think you broke a rib, but it’s not poking into your lung. You also broke your left arm and your shoulder, but I’m not sure how bad. The healers should be able to help, but we’ll need to get you home.”
Feena shook her head, “We can’t go home. The troll is still out there.”
Thorin frowned. She was right, their attack had done little but get Feena injured, and even he was lucky to have escaped the Troll’s wrath by hiding from it in the forest. After it couldn’t find him, it had scanned the skyline and then resumed its northeasterly course.
“There’s nothing we can do,” he declared. “That necklace wasn’t the source of its power, and we don’t know what is.”
“It’s the club,” said Feena with certainty. “It’s gotta be the club.” Then she paused, “Or its loincloth…or boots…” Listing off the only other two objects the troll had, “No, it’s gotta be the club.”
Thorin generally agreed, it did make sense to put protective war-magic on a club, especially for a species like a Troll, but… “It doesn’t matter, there’s nothing we can do. Myra’s at the settlement by now, and we’ve slowed it down. Our job is getting you home.”
Feena looked at him and then shook her head in disgust. “No wonder they call you Thorin Shaking-leaf,” she said. “Hastur was crazy to make you the leader of this team.”
Thorin, who was starting to rummage through his carry-pack, just nodded. “You’re right. I don’t know why he made me the leader. It’s not like I can do anything useful like you or Myra. I’m not a very good ranger.”
Feena nodded. “You got that right, if I was in charge…”
Suddenly Thorin’s head snapped up and he looked at her with sharp eyes. “If YOU were in charge? Feena, you WERE in charge! This was YOUR idea to attack in the first place. I’m not a bad leader because I suck at fighting- I’m a bad leader because I listened to YOU instead of following orders.”
The ranger girl stared at him, open mouthed. “I…” Was all she could manage.
“A good leader takes care of their team, and I screwed up.” Thorin said. “So now, let’s do the right thing and go home.”
Then Thorin went back to his pack, and found the map he was looking for. Unrolling the vellum scroll on the grass in front of them, he took a minute to figure out where they were, letting his finger slide across the map. He found the nearby mountain peaks, and then the place they had started and followed that up toward the settlement along the river, noting where they had likely encountered the troll.
They weren’t far from the settlement now, and he traced his finger along the river that ran just north of them until he came to… Thorin’s finger stopped, and he cocked his head in thought. Then he looked at the ranger girl, who was watching him carefully.
“Feena, do you still have that troll necklace?”
Feena blinked, and then reached into her side-pouch. “Yeah, I’m gonna show it to the kids when we get back. Watch ’em freak out.”
That made Thorin nod again. It was possible then. They could do it.
“Feena, I have a plan, but I’m going to need your help.”
“A plan to get us home?”
“A plan to stop the troll.”
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