Stone Cold Deception
by Patrick Iversen
|part 1 of 3|
Wind violently cut through the night, spitting out small parcels of fluffy snow in every direction. The stars were all put out that night, smothered by clouds hovering in the gloomy skies above the villages.
All the humans stared out their windows, constantly wiping the glass after their breath repeatedly fogged it up. They all tried to catch a quick glimpse of him riding atop his wooden wagon pulled by two magnificent steeds, wondering what contents or precious metals he was transporting.
As terrible as the conditions were, no storm could affect his horses. They trekked throughout any climate in any conditions, slowly trotting and never failing to do their job.
As he made his way down the windy path toward the blackened forest leading to his home, one by one the people started to lose interest and go back to whatever they had been doing before he passed through. Once the storm left, as it always did, they would all come out in the morning, claiming to have seen him, to say he did indeed exist, mostly exaggerating what they had viewed.
You see, he was not one of your ordinary people of Midgard. His sort didn’t usually dwell in these areas. However, his family was purposely placed there.
Arvid descended from a long line of respected dwarves who’d made a name for themselves creating legendary tools for the gods. Strangely enough, Arvid lived a simple life away from the dwarves’ natural habitat of caves, where the majority of their kin lived despite having fortunes greater than any kings of the world. They held priceless items that archaeologists seek, and riches that thieves dream of. However, nobody dared enter the forest for fear of provoking the wrath of the gods the dwarves worked for.
To some, mainly the people of Midgard, these were just tales of legends, but in the rare occurrence of a public visit, they were viewed in awe. Almost like seeing a ghost, Arvid was to them. He was smaller than most, about a meter high, with long, braided dark hair and a pointy nose sporting a thick beard under it, one that met his pointy ears up top. His eyes were of charcoal color and his voice was very gruff. The females didn’t differ too much; they were just a little less hairy.
His horses kicked up slush, navigating the massive forest while mysterious animals burrowed deep in the trees cast their beady gaze upon him, scurrying as he passed. Eventually he emerged through a clearing to a small abode lit by a simple fire.
This was his house, a small, two-room dwelling made of petrified wood. The chimney was pushing out thick black smoke, assuring him of warmth within a matter of moments. Sorrowfully he descended from atop his wagon and walked his horses to their stable. He had a grim expression as he made his way toward the house. For he knew his wife was ill, and the doctor wouldn’t arrive until morning.
Arvid banged his brown boots on the side of the doorway before he quietly creaked his way in. As he entered his two-room home, he could see his wife solemnly resting on a short bed while his only son, Tomas, sat huddled up by the fireplace rocking back and forth.
He couldn’t help expressing sadness as he walked over to his favorite chair to rest after his stressful day. He took the blanket off the arm rest and wrapped it around his young son for extra warmth and kissed him on the top of his head.
His wife cracked open her eyes, acknowledging that her husband had returned. Arvid knelt down and soothed her forehead with his rough, hardworking hands, staring into her weak eyes filled with emptiness, sadness, a feeling of impending death.
“Is he coming?” Ingri weakly whispered.
Arvid took his eyes off her bowing his head. “He is out of town, my dear, tending to an illness several villages away. However, I inquired around and found another. A travelling doctor who was stranded in tonight’s storm. He kindly listened to our situation and agreed to arrive by morning. It was the best he could do right now.”
Letting out a sigh, she nodded in a reluctantly understanding motion. There was nothing Arvid could do.
He placed his snow-soaked brown overcoat on the side table and kicked off his wet boots. His heart was heavy. Many priceless creations he had made, yet it wasn’t those items but the love for his family he treasured the most.
He adjusted the antique quilt covering his wife to give her extra comfort and went to his chair to retire for the night.
* * *
An ear-splitting knock startled Arvid, forcing him off his chair and onto his rear on the floor. He shook his head, rubbing his eyes to see his wife still resting comfortably. Her chest moved up and down, which relieved him, because it meant she was still among the living. Just to the side of her his boy lay asleep in a fetal position beside the now extinguished fire.
Dragging his feet to the door, Arvid opened up, anticipating the arrival of the town doctor. There stood the physician he had met the previous night. He was dressed in a light green suit, very thin and about thrice the height of Arvid himself. He had short blond hair and striking green eyes, with a smirk of a smile.
Arvid nodded in appreciation and stood aside for him, revealing his ill wife in the corner of the room. She seemed to be more unconscious than asleep now. The doctor motioned for him to take his awakened son into the other room while he diagnosed her sickness.
A short time passed before the doctor came for a brief conversation with Arvid. The doctor explained that Ingri must have ingested a rare poison recently and suggested she had only enough strength for another day or two at the most.
As tough and gritty as he was, Arvid broke down and sobbed. Tomas peeked from around the corner, not quite sure how to react, suspecting the worst.
There was a hope though, a small hope, the doctor advised. However, the cure was not easy to come by, and could only be attained during the night.
“Troll’s blood?” aked the dwarf.
“Unfortunately, it’s the only possibility of her survival. I would suggest you attempt it tonight though, I can only approximate how long she has...”
Arvid would die for his family, but this was suicide, and he knew it. Trolls are massive, smelly creatures who dwell deep in the forest. Standing taller than a pine tree, they had the ability to crush a boulder with their bare hands.
Only two weaknesses had been revealed in the past. The first was the trolls’ inability to sustain sunlight; if they are exposed to it, they will forever turn to stone. The other was their apparent lack of intelligence; a small child would be able to deceive or outsmart one.
If you listened carefully at night, the trolls could be heard, depending on where you were. Loud roars and crashing trees were what you would listen for. Very few have lived claiming to have actually spotted a troll, for obvious reasons: few survive an encounter.
Arvid stood firm, trying to hold back his sadness. “I will go tonight. I will need my son’s assistance though.”
The doctor nodded in agreement. “Do what you must. If you choose to take your son, I will await your return and tend to Ingri in your absence.”
“You will be rewarded, kind sir, I assure you of this.”
Legends spoke mainly of dwarfish greed and their lust for power. This is precisely the reason the mighty ones from above had separated Arvid and his family from the rest of their kin. But Arvid was different: the love he held for his family was unmatched by any creation he could concoct in his workshop. In an instant, the elder dwarf would melt down everything he had made just to see his family smile another day.
* * *
After preparation throughout the day, Tomas kissed his sickly mother on her forehead and met his father outside. The doctor stood by as Arvid loaded up the wagon with a few small bags containing rations for the horses and himself and his son.
Tomas held a flask that would hold the blood they needed from the troll. And Arvid sheathed a special blade he had constructed many years ago, one strong enough to cut through a troll’s hardened skin. There were very few weapons able to do so, but skilled craftsman as Arvid was, he had been able make this weapon.
They needed to hurry: the sun was starting to set, and finding a troll was not always possible, more a matter of bad luck than anything else. They needed an unlucky miracle.
Arvid looked back as his steeds quickly hauled them forward, watching the doctor enter the lodging again, closing the door behind him.
It was a cool night out, no more snow falling. The only noise that could be heard was the branches crackling beneath the hooves of the horses and the wheels of the wagon.
The vast forest was a magnificent sight during the day, with all the colors flushed with the different shades of green making up the sky while the ground was covered in woodchips and dirt or, in this season, snow.
The wooded area in the evening was quite different, though. It was nearly impossible to distinguish any coloring aside from the snow on the ground or the surrounding darkness. The scene was black and white. On some occasions, moonlight would invade an empty patch of trees, shedding some light on what lay ahead, but that was luck.
The two traveled for several hours before pulling over to feed the horses. Beyond sight of any being but a tiny forest creature, they decided to set up a small camp and consume a quick snack. Dwarves were constantly hungry, needing to supply the big belly they hid under their coats.
“We only have a short time to eat, so be hasty while the horses rest,” Arvid told Tomas, who agreed with a nod. They ate quickly.
In a short while, Arvid began preparing the reins again, making sure the horses were comfortable. He was lifting Tomas up to his seat when they heard a thunderous groan not far off. The horses remained calm, peering into the night toward the area the noise was coming from.
“Shhhhhh...” he told Tomas with a finger up to his mouth while quickly smothering the fire with a cooking pot.
Arvid squinted into the darkness, attempting to locate what he was hoping to be a troll. Although, in the back of his mind, he knew it was one thing to find the troll but quite another to draw its blood. This was precisely the reason he had brought his son. It pained him to bring his boy into danger, but Arvid would need a partner in order to attempt a trap on the creature, and there were no others he could trust.
Beams of moonlight spread through the branches which were weighed down from snow. Arvid crouched stoically, watching for anything resembling a walking mountain. Nothing yet, nothing at all... The forest became very quiet now. It was doubtful the troll was hiding. After all, the dwarves were in his territory.
Arvid picked up a small rock, tossing it away from the camp area as far as he could. As it whisked through the air, snapping branches, it landed with a piercing cracking noise. The dwarves waited, listening for any type of reaction, but nothing came. Perhaps the troll had left or was finishing up what he had been yelling at before. Arvid was hoping it wasn’t the troll’s stomach making that noise.
Copyright © 2009 by Patrick Iversen