1. My Dinner With Bert, Tom and Bill
Bert grinned at Bill.
"I say we eats it raw."
Bill shook his head.
"It'll be crunchy enough inside all that armour, Bert. I say we roasts it slowly over the fire, so it cooks in its own juices."
Tom shook his head now.
"You're both wrong, boys. Cook 'em for too long and they goes stringy. I say we boil it alive an' crack it open like a lobster."
Bert and Bill looked at each other, confused. Neither wanted to show ignorance, but still…
Eventually, Bert made the first move.
"A lobster, Tom? What's one o' them when it's at 'ome, then?"
Tom smiled smugly.
"It's a bit like a spider, Bert, only it lives in the sea. An' it's got more legs, an' it don't fight back as much."
Bert and Bill considered this. Spiders were all well and good, after all, but their stings made them fare only rarely sampled. Bert rubbed his chin.
"A spider what lives in the sea?"
"Aye, Bert. An' when you cracks 'em open they taste sweeter'n anyfing you ever tasted. If we just 'ad some butter to melt over it, you'd see what I mean."
The three thought about this for a moment. Being trolls, they usually ate their food plain and unadorned, but…
The plaintive voice rang out in the clearing, and the three trolls looked around puzzled for a moment before they realised it was coming from their dinner. Bert lifted the speaker up until they were looking at each other face to face.
"What do you want, runt?"
The trolls were not used to prey that talked, after all- screams and shrieks and squeals were all they usually got.
"I was wondering if you wouldn't rather let me go?"
Tom and Bill roared with laughter at this, but Bert was intrigued.
"And why would I want to do that, eh?"
Looking into the troll's face, the knight- for he was indeed a knight, a knight of Gondor in fact, although very, very lost and very, very unfortunate and very, very unlucky- licked his lips nervously. The next few words he spoke might be his last, he mused, and so…
The trolls drew closer, curious. Never before had dinner suggested it be let go- usually they just howled and shrieked and whined until Bert got sick of them and sat on their heads. This…
…this was something new.
The knight- Aruthir, his name was, Aruthir son of Barahir son of Atanatar (though that is not strictly important to this tale)- licked his lips, and chose his next words carefully.
"Because… because I'm afraid to say I'm quite poisonous."
Tom laughed loud and long at this, and Bill shook his huge shaggy head disbelievingly.
"Poisonous? Do you fink we were born yesterday or summink?"
"I've eaten more Men than I can remember, an' not a single one of 'em gave me anyfink more than indigestion."
His mind racing a mile a minute, Aruthir licked his lips nervously.
"That's true, but… did you ever eat a Man on a Hihdei, friend Troll?"
Bert's grin faded.
"That I did not. Why should that matter?"
Aruthir smiled, hoping against hope.
"Why, don't you know? Us Men are deadly poison to trolls if eaten on Hihdei! We've absorbed so much sun by that point in the week that eating us is as deadly as walking out of your cave at mid-day!"
Bert looked at Tom, suspiciously.
"You ever 'eard this story?"
Tom shook his head, and Bert turned to Bill.
"What 'bout you?"
Bill shook his head too, and Bert turned his attention back to Aruthir.
"What's to say you ain't lyin'? What's to say I shouldn't just smash you flat an' eat you like a pancake?"
Aruthir gulped, but took his final chance.
"You can eat me by all means… but don't say I didn't warn you!"
Bert looked at Tom, then at Bill, then at Aruthir.
One bristly eyebrow raised, and then…
Bert put the knight down gently and stepped back.
"I ain't never eaten a humie onna Hihdei, an' if what you say is true, I ain't gonna start eatin' 'em now."
Aruthir nodded and gave a florid bow.
"I am sorry to have left you gentlemen- gentletrolls, I beg your pardon- hungry this day. Perhaps if we meet again it shall be a different story?"
"Sounds fair to me. Get runnin', humie- if we see you tomorrow we won't be so merciful."
"Yeah. An' we'll be more 'ungry, too!"
Without a second glance Aruthir turned and ran into the woods. Bill, Tom and Bert looked at each other, then at the knight's horse, then at the weapons he had left behind.
Tom was first to speak.
"Anyone fancy horse fer dinner tonight?"