Excerpt from “With trolls through the mountains” by Lady Emmeline Graham-Jones.

We had followed the two trolls for several days. It was hard work – resting by day, tracking by night, following them mainly by the noise they made as they pushed through the forest. The native guides were unhappy about the whole thing. They don’t follow trolls, they told us. Trolls can be dangerous and unpredictable.

I have heard this so many times. In fact, there are hardly any reported cases of unprovoked attacks by trolls, either in central Europe or in Scandinavia. They have been known to crush unwary sleepers, but there is no evidence that this behaviour was deliberate.

These trolls were a pair, but they were long past breeding. They moved slowly, and were relatively easy to follow, as they left a swathe of flattened vegetation behind them.

I believe I am one of very few field researchers who can say they witnessed what came next. As the sky lightened above the forest canopy, the trolls embraced, and then settled down to wait for sunrise. From my hiding place amongst the tightly woven bushes, I watched the petrification spread across their skin as the sunlight moved over them.

We set up camp quite close to them, and I was able to examine them. I could see the vague outlines of the larger troll’s facial features. Was this the male? The female had curled herself next to him. You could imagine he was standing guard over her sleeping form.

That evening we broke camp, and waited for the sun to set. Night fell, but the trolls didn’t move. We waited quite some time – two hours by my chronometer – and eventually I approached their sleeping forms. By torchlight they appeared to be still in a state of petrification. Eventually, I reached out and touched the surface of the female(?) troll. Stone. The process of petrification had not been reversed by darkness.

I believe that I was priveleged to see the last sentient moments of an aging troll pair. That they chose to enter a state of petrification side by side is not in doubt. This is one of the strongest arguments I can find to justify the description of the troll as a sentient, feeling being, not unlike ourselves.

I was very moved. The following morning, I made a wreath of woodland flowers and laid it between them, where the stones touched each other. I’m not ashamed to say that I wiped away a tear as I did so.

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.  I continue my exploration of the natural history of the troll. Obviously.

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Carved – Leverett Island stories.

Up on the top of Stony Peak, there’s a rock that looks like it’s been carved. If you stand by it and look round, you can see all down the west coast of the Island. It’s probably just erosion by wind and rain, but the story my mother told me is that it was a bathing place for the little people. If you were to go up there after dark, you might see them, jumping and splashing in the water there. Midsummer Eve is the best time to see them, she said, but you must carry an iron horseshoe in your pocket to prevent them stealing you. You should never bargain with the little people, you’ll always come off worst. If you bathe a child in the little pool on May Eve, that child will  never drown, but if you go up there and there’s no water in the hollow, that’s terrible bad luck, and you shouldn’t let that child leave the Island. If you’ve a loved one lost at sea, you should go up there and leave something to call them home – something they treasure. The little people will help you if they’ve a mind to, but they can’t be depended on.

Here’s a little something for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. Leverett Island is a place where stories grow out of the stony soil. I’m in the process of cataloguing them. 

Questing

So, Level 1 of The Quest is all about getting kitted out. I’m a Warrior, so I need weapons – obviously – and armour, and all that. I haven’t told Mum and Dad. They’d go mental – I mean, they’re worried enough as it is. I told Bethany, though. She took the test yesterday, and she’s come out as a Trickster, which is cool.

So, Bethany’s my first partner. She’s really excited about it. I think she wanted to play, anyway, but it’s mostly boys. It’s harder for girls to admit they’re interested.

I told Mum and Dad I was going round to Bethany’s after school, to do some French. Our house is awful. Mum just wanders around. Like, she’ll have a cup in her hand, and she’ll just wander around with it, and then remember she’s supposed to be putting it away, like she’s forgotten where cups go. And she feels bad about me, I know she does. I don’t mind her neglecting me. She’s not neglecting me, really, she just has a lot to worry about.

We got our phones out on the way there. The Quest is totally lame, but it’s sort of cool, too. I mean, we walked past the supermarket, and on screen it looked like this weird rock formation, with people going in and out of this dark, creepy cave entrance. Bethany reckons we should explore it. She reckons there might be treasure in there, or some kind of magical weapon. We’re going to go back there, after tea, and see what we can find. It will be our first real quest. I’m kind of excited, and kind of nervous.

We spotted another Questor, too. A kid in the year above us. I think his name is Jake. He was wearing Minstrel clothes when you looked at him through the screen. He had a blue sash, so I think he’s Level 3, but he didn’t have a badge, so he’s not part of a Fellowship. I don’t think he noticed us. We need to start thinking about our Fellowship, though. Bethany reckons we should keep it as an all girl thing, but I’m not sure. I just want to get through these early levels as quickly as possible. I’m not just on a Quest, I’m on a Mission.

The Quest is a augmented reality game, involving role-play, quests, problem solving and battling. The aim is to build up resources and form a fellowship to complete the final level and pass through The Portal. A Fellowship comprises one of each possible role – Mage, Warrior, Trickster, Minstrel, Merchant. And nobody knows what happens when you pass through the Portal. 

Another piece for Sue Vincent’s #Writephoto challenge. It’s a continuation of a piece i wrote a while ago – follow the Quest link if you want to read that piece.

The mound

Clare looked back at the hill. It was hard to believe they’d been inside it just an hour ago. The burial chamber was amazing  – so well preserved. Once they’d dug down to the entrance, and moved the great stone that blocked the passageway, they’d been able to crawl right into the heart of the hill. They’d been the first people there for 2,000 years, or thereabouts. It was every archaeologist’s dream.

Dave had gone down there with her. He was completing his PhD – he would have so much to write about now. Clare smiled. She could envisage the papers they would write: Dr C Paget and D Anderson. There would be lectures, maybe newspaper articles, maybe a television series. This was a major find.

There were runes carved into the chamber wall. She’d copied them down, and made a rubbing. The papers were stacked in her backpack. Once they got back to the department she’d have a go at interpreting them. Probably an invocation to the gods – though sometimes you found a curse on desecrators of tombs. She grinned. She quite liked the thought of being a desecrator of tombs – a bit Indiana Jones. Usually she was just boring Dr Paget, lecturing on bronze age burial techniques to students who just wanted to be out in the field.

She looked back again. The pathway was obviously part of the tomb complex, and there might well be more remains. She turned fully, shielding her eyes with her hand, and looked at the hill again. Her hill, she thought, with satisfaction.

The path was longer than she’d remembered. An hour later they still hadn’t reached the car. Clare looked round, confused. All these fields looked so similar, and, bizarrely, the hill seemed just as dominant on the skyline as it ever had.

It was much later.  Clare didn’t understand it, and even Dave had lost his usual chilled demeanour. They had been giong in a dead straight line.They couldn’t possibly have come the wrong way, but the sun was starting to set, and they still hadn’t found the car. And the hill was just as close as ever.

The papers in the backpack suddenly seemed very heavy. 

Mad Betty’s house

The hut nestled under the bank at the end of the lane. We crept towards it. We could hear her singing – a wordless song, or, if it had words, they were in a language we couldn’t understand.

Jack sniggered.

“Mad old bat!”, he whispered. “Grab some ammunition!”

The boys gathered up handfuls of stones and mud, as silently as they could. Nobody spoke. Jack led the way. When I tried to follow, he turned and stood in front of me, legs apart, hands on hips.

“No girls allowed,” he said, ginger head cocked back. “This is men’s work”.

Men! They were a bunch of smelly, scruffy little boys. They were a bunch of pigs.

I didn’t care. I wasn’t even going to watch them. I climbed the bank, and found myself a place to sit, back to the trunk of a beech tree. The light through the leaves made a pattern on my skirt. I could hear Mad Betty singing her aimless song, and I think I fell asleep.

I woke to a commotion – shouts and cries, the sound of stones pattering on a wooden roof, and the splat of mud against a wooden wall. Nothing from Mad Betty, no screams, no shouts. Not even the wordless song. There was silence for a moment, as if the world paused, and then a squealing sound, the sound of some terrified animal.

A herd of pigs went helter-skelter past me, into the undergrowth. I swear that one of them turned to look at me as he went, his ginger bristles shining in the afternoon sun. I turned to follow where they went, but was distracted by Mad Betty starting up her song again. The pigs suddenly didn’t seem important. I sat back down, and let myself drift away.

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.  I’m enjoying getting back into a bit of flash fiction.

Stone story

I’m the last one awake, now. My sister, Emerald, was admiring the snow on the mountains when the sun came  up. Standing on tiptoe. Ha! She never learns. She’ll wake up stiff this evening, and she’ll be complaining all night. Ruby, Beryl and Jasper were curled up nicely, like little piglets, while I told them a bedtime story, and they just drifted off. I could see them petrifying while I watched.

At least the days are short this time of year, and tonight the moon will be full, so they’ll be able to run around. I’ll make some tasty mud pies, and we can play some games. Dad might come home. He’s been gone a week now, and we all miss him. He went to look for mum. I don’t think he’ll find her. I think she was Taken.

Aunty Quartz got Taken last month, and the month before that it was Uncle Granite. Cousin Shale went some time over the summer. He’d moved over to sleep on the other side of the pond, but he’d wave at us regularly, and then one night we noticed he wasn’t there.

Don’t tell the little ones, but I’ve heard it’s humans that Take them. They hoist them up with special slings while everyone’s asleep and stony, and then they carve them up, and turn them into garden walls, lintels, ornaments. It’s disgusting! Emerald says she’s seen them, but she’s a terrible liar.

Dad says it’s not true. He says not to worry, but I do. I don’t want to be made into a wall. I’d love to stay awake and keep an eye on everyone.

I’m so sleepy, though, and my legs are heavy. I can’t move my head any more…yawn…I’m just going to close my eyes…

Rooks

Starlings form one being,

that moves and spins, each bird

part of the whole. Rooks,

on the other hand,

travel as a company

of individuals. I’ve watched them,

loosely linked, peeling off singly

or in pairs, coming together

for food, or fighting.

They are a company of swords,

the mercenaries of the skies,

choosing their companions,

committing fresh each day.

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. I have a minor rook obsession. It might show.  

The window

“Did you hear that?”

“Sorry, darling, I was deep in my book. What was it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s so silly. I seem to hear it every night. There’s a rustling noise, and then a gasp. The first time I heard it I thought someone was climbing the trellis. I actually went to the window and looked out, but there was nothing there. Perhaps I’m going a little mad!”

“It’s probably mice”.

“Mmhm”.

 

The spirt of Lady Casabella stood at the casement gazing down. Her lover, Sir Montacute, had been so close. Just as their fingers had touched, he’d slipped and fallen. She reached for him in desperation, but to no avail. He fell silently, mindful of her honour, his eyes fixed on hers.

Casabella watched him fall, and waited to hear her husband’s footsteps behind her. Tonight, as every night, he would rush to the window, and see the broken body far below. He would turn to her, knife in hand, and thrust the blade – once, twice, thrice – into her bosom, and then stand over her as she bled to death.

Night after night she endured this. Night after night, dimly aware that the castle had changed around her, that people came and went, seasons passed. This was the price she paid for her dream of freedom.

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday prompt. 

Spring

There was snow all around, but her houme was a haven for spring. Around the little cottage the grass was green, and the air was scented with primroses and bluebells. Birds flitted here and there, and petals floated down from the cherry trees, echoing the snow falling on the fields and hills all around.

Spring would come in the outside world, and for a few days her garden would be aligned with the land. Summer would leave it behind, and she would watch wistfully as wild roses blossomed in the hedgerows, and fledgelings left nests. Cherries ripened in the orchards, but not in her garden. Autumn brought blackberries, ripe apples, and leaves turning gold and amber, drifting down to form great carpets of colour, but her garden remained green and fresh and young.

She sighed, and turned away from the window. Would she have chosen eternal youth if she had known that it would be this lonely? She ran her fingers through her long, dark hair, and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Her skin was smooth, her eyes were bright. She smiled.

Yes. She would make this choice again.

 

This is for Sue Vincents #writephoto prompt. 

Bridge for Sue Vincent #writephoto.

beneath-the-bridgeI sat under the bridge because that’s what trolls do. It’s a shade thing. Our skin is sensitive to sunlight. That’s why we often seem grumpy. “Sun-touched”, we call it. We wonder about you guys, striding around in all that light. You cover up your bodies, that’s obvious, but your faces are exposed all the time. It’s no wonder you have so many wars.

I’m talking too much. Most trolls don’t say very much. We’re shy and retiring. We like to curl up in the shade, spend time watchin and listening, rather than endlessly talking. My uncle curled up under a tree one time, and a bird thought he was a big rock, and built a nest in the hollow under his arm. He had to wait three months for the eggs she laid to hatch, and the baby birds to fly away. He told me later it was the best three months of his life. He spent his days watching the sunlight move over the grass, the rain clouds coming in and passing away, even the grass itself growing.

I liked to sit under the bridge, and think. I watched the water change colour as the sun moves overhead. I saw the movement of the wind. I heard the sound of voices and footsteps as people crossed the bridge above me – always chatting, laughing, quarrelling. So quick to move and change. More recently, I heard the rumbling of cars and lorries, shaking the bridge just a little. Sometimes there were fish in the water, or ducks – almost as quick to quarrel as humans.

That day was a little different. I heard two voices, one deep, one light. They sounded angry, and that made me sad. Trolls don’t like anger. I tried to concentrate on the shape of the rocks in the water, and how the water rippled around them, but the voices grew louder. Then there was a splash. Somebody had thrown something off the bridge. I watched it move through the water, settling at the bottom on the fine river sand, reflecting the sunlight as it went down. There was silence after that.

I don’t often move from this spot, but this little thing was so tiny and so sparkling that it intrigued me. Very slowly I got up and waded into the water. It was hard to find – my movements made the water swirl up silt and sand from the river bed, but finally I had it in my hand. A tiny ring of gold, with a sparkling stone set in it. A diamond.

How I howled. Don’t they realise, those flashing, shifting, quarrelsome humans? Each diamond is a baby troll. Once they’re plucked from the earth they can’t grow any more. Poor little diamonds – they’ll never have the joy of watching a daisy open, or a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. They’ll never feel the difference between a wind bringing gentle showers and one bringing rain. They’re just a little stone, chained onto some human’s finger.

And that is why I shook the bridge. I shook and shook, until it shattered into fragments. Down it came, crashing and thudding – cars, too, and a couple of humans – not so quick now, not so fast to move. I still felt sad, though. It didn’t help.

I don’t sit under that bridge any more. I have a little spot up on the hillside, where I sit and watch the clouds form and float away. I keep the little diamond close by me, and tell her what I see. Maybe if she stays close to the earth she will get her chance to grow.

#writephoto

This is for Sue Vincent’s Writephoto prompt. I couldn’t think of any other reason to be under a bridge.