3. One Good Turn Deserves Another
A vast midnight sky glitters with cold stars - clear and simple in comparison to the twisted tangled mass of trees below where darkness, not light, rules. And it is not a still or sterile darkness either. Shadows creep beneath the trees, swarm in the hollows and folds of the uneven land, swoop down upon the hapless. Glowing eyes blink, then move. In something close to silence, broken only occasionally by a distant roar or despairing cry, the creatures of the night hunt... and feed.
Beside the great expanse of a bridge, comfortably enfolded in the pleasant sounds of the forest, Oliver hums happily. There are no words to his song, not a surprising thing as his mouth is crammed full of semi-roasted deer-meat. A small fire crackles beside him, singing the hair on the torn remnants of a stag that lies half-in, half-out of the flames and burns. And occasionally, a louder snatch of melody brightens the night as the troll swallows, leans forward and rips another hunk of meat from the corpse. All is well in the Shaws tonight.
And a truly blessed night it is to be graced by one of the most wondrous phenomenon in the whole of Middle Earth - troll verse. Can there be a greater art? Surely not... Thus doubly blessed are those prowling the forest at this hour, for there is another voice... In the distance, at first vague, yet growing more solid and firm! Oh what magnifence! It seeks to enhance the verse of the dining Olog!
Where the first delivers a wordless melody - poetry stripped of direct purpose, thus emphasizing the abstract grandeur - the other proffers a low-voiced interpretation of this song in making! Be silent now, ye wayward traveller and let the beauty of it all engulf and swallow you whole!
"Boooom Boooom Booom!
Back a-comes the King-Basil!
Boooom Boooom Boooom!
Aw, ooo, ew, drool, drizzle, dazzle!"
Yet here the voice trails off, the song momentarily lost in the folds of night. Until... "Oeioy! King! W'eres yer at! I is 'ungry!"
Ollie looks up from his feasting and eyes the half-deer nervously. It seems his small beady eyes are frantically calculating: is there enough for company? For a minute, his hands twitch, as if they will snatch the precious meat away, hiding it under a rock or in a hole until Basil has gone again; but then his full belly counsels generosity. Or, well, /some/ generosity. The remaining haunch of the torn beast is ripped away and stashed in the safest place possible: underneath Oliver himself, and then the troll replies to his comrade. "I is over 'ere!!"
Basil needs no further encouragement then this sign of acknowledgement. With a few big steps he adds himself to Ollie's company. Without asking (as proper trolls are wont to do) Basil aims his fat behind at a spot near his fellow King, "Aaa! Time fer some nosh I says! Nice un yer got 'ere. Been walkin a ways I 'as," and as if this is reason enough, the Olog tears off a piece of meat and starts munching vigorously.
Ollie nods complacently. "Good un, ain' it?" he says, and pulls a long strip of half-charred hide from the roast, chewing on it contentedly. "I done found it over there, like." And he waves a greasy blood-smeared hand vaguely towards the black trees beyond. "Where yer been 'iding at?" he asks after a time spent gnawing at the skin.
Coughing up some chips of bone Basil clears the contents of his mouth and spits at the fire, "'Ere an there, we kings gots no time ter rest." he waves towards the west and northwest, "I runs into some of me servants. They is pretty nice I tells yer! Be a-givin me free food an all dat! An den they wents away ter leave me ter me dinner. Them knows 'ow its done fine an proper!" Excited with his tale the Olog is waving his hands around like a renegade windmill, sending pieces of sinew, meat and grease everywhere.
"Free food?" This is a phrase guaranteed to catch the attention of /any/ troll, and Oliver is no exception. His deep-set eyes glitter greedily, and he leans forward, forgetful of the haunch of meat he is hiding. A bony knob pokes out behind... "Where is yer finding free food? Were it tasty? Wi' saahl?" In his eagerness, he almost topples over into the fire.
"Coulda 'ave cooked longer, I says," Basil explains, narrowing his eyes in an effort to recall this particular piece of morsel, "Some nice flavor, think it be s'eep or 'opper meat. They puts lotsa stuff over it, dunnay if it was any saahlty." shrugging the Olog lowers his eyes, "Yer needs ter try an find yer servants. They be bound ter be wanderin in yer kingdem. An..." Dark eyes bulge, resizing from tiny platters to bigsized plates! "Wots dat?!" an accusing finger points at Olliver's bottom and the treasure it covers, "Its eatin at yer bottoms!"
Oliver nods, once... again... a third time, his eyes fixed on the other troll, his jowls wobbling with each movement of his head. And so intently does he listen that his enormous bulk scoots further towards Basil with each word. "Meat..." he repeats, and "...saahhl..." and "...kingd.... WHAT?" The peace of the night is broken, nay, shattered by a panic-stricken shriek. Oliver leaps to his feet, stumbling over the ripped carcass of the deer, and whirls around and around in a vain attempt to see his own rear.
But Basil is a friend and friends help friends!
With a fierce grunt the Olog presents his mace, "Yer 'old right still, Ollie! I saves yer bottoms! Not ter worry! Looks ter be some snivellin monster! Musta come from the ground!" expectantly Basil looks round but finds no more of these 'monsters'. Shrugging he swings his mace backwards eyeing Olliver's bottom with great interest. "Stop yer mad 'opping!"
"NOOoooo!" wails the smaller troll. "It's a-eatin' me up, I c'n FEELS it!" And he spins around again, chin cranked over his shoulder, eyes staring wildly downwards. But such acrobatics, by a creature unfitted for ballet by birth and inclination both, are bound to end in disaster. And disaster comes swift and sure to the table. Ollie trips over his own feet, tries to regain his balance but only stumbles further as a purloined bone raps at one ankle. And headlong into the fire, he falls, where wails are replaced by yelps and a look of distinct betrayal. Rolling away from the burning coals, for they can be swift when needed, these creatures of stone, Oliver sits in the dirt and nurses his burnt hand. "Yer eats sticks an' things!" he yells at the fire. "'E said so! Yer doesn't eat OLLIE!"
Deprived of a target, Basil redirects his aim to the fire, "Aye! Stop 'arassin kings yer cracklin cacklin coocoo!" and with a WOOSH and a SMASH, followed by a HISH, the coals are launched... If the troll thought with this effort he has bested the flames, he is very much mistaken. The orange foe now starts a counter attack, flaming bits and pieces trying to glue themselves to anything that burns - this happens to include troll hair. Scorching and licking the coals slowly burn their way into skin. With a yelp Basil spies his peril and he now starts a frantic hop of his own.
"Don' make it mad!" Oliver shrieks at his fellow-monarch, but it is too late. Splattering embers arch through the air, burning where-ever they touch. Ollie scrambles backwards hurriedly, travelling crabwise, on feet and hands; but small conflagrations start up around him, and he finally thinks to get to his feet, fumbling for the nearest log with which to fight this new foe. "WATCH OUT!" he hollers to Basil, pounding vigorously at a small patch of burning grass. "IT'S 'TTACKIN' YER!!"
"I KNOWS YER BLOODY MUGGINS! KILL IT!" Basil roars as he starts to punch himself with his free hand, while his mace weaves a dangerous tapestry of haphazard strikes at everything that is remotely orange and flaming hot, "ITS EATIN YER KINGDEM! MUST BE MEGGIC! WE NEED THE TROLL WIZZERD LOKE!" another whirl takes the Olog somewhat out of reach of the shower of coals and ashes, nonetheless it is doing a fine job of devouring Olliver's dining area.
Animals freeze, then flee. Trees quiver at their roots, swaying uneasily. Owls and bats swoop higher. For who would remain nearby when two trolls battle? Shadows flicker, driven back by leaping flames, but at last Oliver's pounding club smashes the last ember into sullen ash, and he leans on the length of wood surveying the charred circle glumly. "Whad'yer wanner go an' do that for?" he complains. "Yer went an' made me cookin' fire all mad and how'm I s'posed t'be cookin' me dinners now?" But then his eyes widen - a scrap of meat remains from the charred carcass of the hapless deer! He pounces, gnaws, then settles himself more comfortably. There are few woes a bit of food cannot cure.
But Basil does not ease his panic, on the contrary! "Dun sit an eat, yer fat pig! We is bein cursed, cursed I tells yer! Fire attackin us, aint normal! It dunnay do dat! Iffin yer be a-askin me someone is after us. Some sneakin cheatin cowerin weasel, 'idin, tryin ter kill us. The Kings!" with a quick run the Olog distances himself from the disaster area, "I aint stayin ter find out if dis be meggic! Yer 'ear! Meggic is a-dangerous! I is gonner find Loke, 'e knows wot ter do now! Iffin yer smart yer comes!" Quickly Basil disappears to the west, away from the cursed bridge!
A smoldering acrid smell - that of old smoke and charred wood and singed hair - is born along what little breeze there is this chill night. Black and gnarled,
the trees crouch low around, their branches snarling overhead and blocking the faint starlight. Glum and morose, a huge shape sits on the ground and pokes a bit of a branch at an ember that still glows ever so faintly red - the last remains of his lovely cook fire. "Yer is s'posed ter eats," Oliver mumbles unhappily. "Eats woods." He jabs at the coal with the end of his branch. In an uneven circle around him, burned spots show up black against the dirt and snow, and a scrap of deerhide lies against a rock.
Perhaps Cadi'lagz's mood could be because of his recent run in with a non-king Troll, or perhaps it was the taste of human blood that still lingers on his lips, or maybe it's just the lovely darkness of night. Whatever the reason, he feels bold and care free, and so when he stumbles upon the "king" and his fire, his lips curl into a sneer and he calls out from the darkness of the southern tree line, "Problem with your heating, oh gloooorious king?"
Oliver, having just devoured more than half a stag, is not particularly hungry. And so it is, that when a perfectly good dinner wanders into his living room, he does not instantly give chase. Besides, he has other important matters on his mind. "It were that Bazil," he replies mournfully. "Made it mad, 'e done. Chopping and bashing and ever'thing. 'E oughter stay on 'is own side of ther bridge." He pokes at the faint glow again, fruitlessly. "An' look," he complains at the unseen speaker. "It won' eat nothin'."
A faint chuckle turns into a laugh as the orc listens to the much larger troll talk, "You made the mistake of trusting that big other one. I seen him keeping all the good food away. And he secretly steals from your side all the time!" Cadi'lagz says, scraping at the side of his tree with his mace, still keeping quite a cowardly distance.
A sly look crosses Oliver's face, his lips curving into a parody of a smile. And stealthily, he feels about beneath himself, fat hands patting carefully at the ground. "'E don't," he says and his voice is thick with gloating. Thick fingers close at last about something hidden by the bulk of the troll, and Oliver nods his head, pleased. And his eyes fall on the single coal again. "'Ere you," he orders abruptly. "Stop yer blabbin' an' c'mere an' make this eat."
Cadi'lagz comes out of the trees, his hand low, keeping his mace ready as he eyes the huge mountain. A distrustful gleam in his eye comes around as he looks at the Troll then the almost-dead fire. The shaman has several tricks for such things and so he does a little rustling in his belly-bag and pulls out a handful of yellow grass, "So don't believe in the large eats in your lands that the Basil troll hides from you?"
Ollie heaves himself onto one haunch, working the hindquarter of a deer out from beneath his ample rear. "'E ain't keepin' all ther foods," he says, waving the bloody haunch in the air as proof. "Ollie hides it!" Clearly, he is very proud of his sneakiness. The small amount of puny-looking grass in the orc's hand is eyed doubtfully. "They eats woods," he says obstinately. "Ther other one said so. Wotcher doin with that there bitty stuff?"
A casual roll of the eyes is Cadi'lagz's response and he sets the dry yellow grasses down onto the coal. Soon grey smoke starts to form, and then the orc begins to blow dry against it slowly. This is strange grass and instead of shrivelling it ignites. A quick flame that starts to consume it all quickly, but in that moment the orc takes a small branch and lights it, letting it burn that way before adding another stick. Then he looks up and seems to be about to explain the concept and simply settles for, "Magic food."
Oliver stares, impressed, and a look of great respect crosses his lumpy face. "Bazil says 'majik'," he muses, then swivels his head to stare at the shaman consideringly. "Yer gives me some!" he says, eyes sliding from the now merrily burning fire (resurrected! From the DEAD!) to the worker of the miracle. And the thoughts run clear for all to read across his face: Ollie the Majikal Troll! Ollie the Maker of Fires! Ollie THE KING!
"I can't," Cadi'lagz says simply, backing away from the fire, and making sure to keep its burning flames between him and the monsterous rock. The orc scratches his head and then explains in a much more frightened voice than he had before, "The stink elfs have it! Hundreds of em are down south the river! And theys have a password or they kill ya! Thaz how I got the magic food the first time!"
A scowl begins to descend, turning Oliver's cheerful countenance to one of storms and threats. "CAN'T?" he rumbles angrily and begins to shove himself upright, when he is arrested by the orc's next words. "Elfs?" he asks. "There is elfs?" Flat nostrils flare as the troll tips his head back and inhales deeply. "I doesn't smells them..."
"That's because of the storm! They is there! South there! You can hear them shouting and singing. It is disgusting! But they have lots of the magic. I saw two run back fast past their stinky river. I followed the tracks, and saw lots! Enough meat on them for you to eat for one year!" Cadi'lagz says, pointing southward as he scowls and glares. His anger at the stupid ruler shining through again. "But you should sing their songs to get close! They say 'Her Door' and then 'Lard Ale Round' it is the password!"
A deep and thoughtful look furrows itself into Oliver's brow. "I c'n sings," he offers after a time, and lifts his voice to prove it. The notes do not exactly approach anything that might be considered a tune, though they are sung one after the other as if they were. "Elfs is tasty," he says after a bit more strenuous thought. He bends, scooping the flames into his empty helmet and securing it to his belt, wanders southwards, muttering to himself, "Her door lard ale round. Hair door lard ale round. Hair door lard iller ound..."
**I should translate here... Hair Door Lard Ale Round = Herdir, Lord Elrond.