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The King of the Golden Trolls


Stephen Collicoat

Once upon a time, in a country far from here, there dwelt a king called Theodoric. He was a good man, much loved by his subjects. Under his strong, yet wise leadership, there were no longer wars in the kingdom, while the last of the bandits who once terrorized travelers was arrested weeks after the king came to power and was promptly hung. The soil was fertile and every man who worked hard knew that he and his family would prosper. Whenever the king left his castle, he took only a single knight for protection and everywhere was greeted by cheering crowds.

As much as he was adored however, Theodoric's daughter, Princess Cathwain was loved even more. Indeed, no good person seeing this chaste and lovely maiden could but love her and princes, noblemen, and even prosperous commoners from lands far across the seas, sought her hand in marriage.

But no matter how rich, handsome or otherwise agreeable a man might be, there always came a time when Cathwain would shake her head regretfully and the disconsolate suitor would leave or be sent away.

As the years passed, Theodoric grew increasingly concerned that his only child would never wed. 'Who is to succeed me on the throne when my daughter is dead?' he worried. 'If only my beloved wife was still alive, she could advise me. Alas, whenever I ask Cathwain what is the matter, she kisses me and says, ''Don't be concerned, father. I shall know when the time is right for me to marry.'' Yet increasingly I wonder if that time will ever come. Why can't she tell me her problem?'

And it is true Princess Cathwain had a secret she could never tell her father. When the princess was but thirteen, her fairygodmother appeared to her. The fairy told her that one day she would marry to save the kingdom. 'You and those you love will fall upon evil days,' she warned. 'It is only you who can save the land from terrible threat.'

Sure enough, one day evil fell upon the land and the king's concerns about his daughter were as nothing compared to the fresh troubles.

A peasant boy was found lying naked in the fields near his home. He went out at night to gather in firewood stacked near his parent's cottage and never returned.

All who saw the corpse felt terror for the body was covered in puncture marks. There was no blood on the boy or on the ground. Indeed, the boy appeared shrunken and dry as though his blood had been drained. 'Vampires!' the peasants whispered. 'Vampires,' the court surgeon confirmed.

Who can say where the invasion of vampires came from, why they chose this once happy kingdom in which to dwell or how they multiplied so rapidly? Most vampires suck only a little blood each night from their victims, weakening them so they slowly die or growing infected, become vampires. In Theodoric's kingdom however, there were so many vampires that all swarmed to the feast and every victim died from their first attack.

After the boy's death, scattered reports of other vampire deaths reached the king. He issued orders that noone was to venture out at night, that every window was to be tightly latched and each chimney when a fire had not been lit was to be blocked up to prevent vampires entering a home. For a while these measures worked, with the number of deaths from vampire bites dropping substantially.

One night however, the king walked through his castle. He strolled along a moonlit corridor to a seldom visited section of the castle. There, to his alarm, he found a casement window thrown open to the cool, dark evening.

Against a giant moon, he saw what he took to be bats: scores, no hundreds of bats rising, swooping and drawing closer. As Theodoric watched, the creatures gathered so thickly that the moon's vast troubled face was blotted out by the spread of wings. As they approached, the king realised with horror they were not bats but had the shape of men, women and children, each with greenish white skin and black mouths from which long, sharp fangs jutted. Theodoric grasped the shutters, leaning far out to draw them closed. He latched the shutters seconds before the first vampire landed on the window ledge and a heavy blow shook the wood. Other crashing blows followed as more vampires landed on the ledge or clung to the castle wall. He saw clawlike fingers desperately trying to tear open the barrier and the shutters began to buckle beneath the assault. Theodoric swiftly shut the inside windows, latching, then locking them. Beyond the window and shutters, he heard voices chattering in soft rage and fingers scraping against the wood. Between the gap in the shutters, he caught the glint of hungry eyes, gaunt cheeks and the hideous smiles of lust and greed. The stench of the grave filled the room as the trembling king backed away, praying that the window would hold.

The next morning after a restless night, Theodoric woke to a commotion. Descending to the courtyard, he found his chamberlain, Gruthwind arguing with a stranger.

'No, you shan't see the king,' Gruthwind repeated.

'But, I must,' the stranger insisted.

As the king drew closer, he saw the visitor was about five foot tall and slightly built. He was dressed as a peasant, but a large hat and a scarf completely covered his face.

'What is the meaning of this?' Theodoric demanded.

Seeing his master, Gruthwind bowed and stepped back but the stranger held his ground. 'Kneel, you fool,' the chamberlain hissed but the man ignored him.

'Your Majesty,' Gruthwind began obsequiously. 'I regret the intrusion. This man...'

'This man has a tongue,' the king interrupted. 'Let him use it.'

'Your Majesty,' the man said, his voice slightly muffled beneath the scarf. 'I wish to speak to you in private.'

'He wishes!' the chamberlain repeated in outrage. 'Your Majesty let him show his face and state his business. For all we know, he is an assassin.'

'What say you to that, fellow?' the king inquired.

'I cannot show you my face, but I must speak with you.' his voice took on a conciliatory note. 'Please King Theodoric. At least listen to what I have to say.'

Seeing the king waver, the man pressed on. 'We will speak in separate rooms. You shan't see, but will hear me clearly. Surely, I can't threaten you if I'm in another room.'

The king considered, then motioned to two guards. 'Bring him into the palace, but stay close to him. If he tries to break away, kill him.' Seeing Gruthwind about to accompany him, Theodoric added, 'I will speak to him in private.'

'Your Majesty,' the courtier cautioned. 'This is unwise.'

'Would you question your ruler's decision?' the king roared.

'No, of course not, Majesty,' Gruthwind retreated. 'Forgive me! It was only a subject's loving concern for the royal presence that made me speak rashly.'

'Enough fawning words!' the king turned in disgust and stalked into the palace.

When the men reached private rooms, the stranger went into one room while the king stood close to the doorway.

'Don't look inside!' the stranger warned.

'What is this nonsense?' Theodoric fumed. 'Who are you to order your king what he should or shouldn't do? It's not too late for me to call back the guards and have your impertinent head struck from your shoulders!'

'Stand away from the door!' the stranger ordered. 'I'm taking off my hat and scarf. Ah, that's better! It's hot being covered up.'

The room beyond shone with a blinding light. The king reeled back, temporarily dazzled. 'Who are you?' he asked in awe.

The stranger laughed. 'Certainly not your loyal subject, King Theodoric. I rule a far greater realm: I am the King of the Golden Trolls.'

Theodoric was aghast. 'My Lord,' he whispered. 'Forgive me...'

This was the ruler of the underworld; a land that spread uninterrupted beneath many countries, continents and seas. A land of vast size, innumerable subjects, unimaginable power and wealth beyond calculation. It was here that trolls caught the beams of the Sun and smelted it into thick veins of gold. A kingdom where troll children played marbles using rubies large as ducks' egg and red as ox hearts. It was also a kingdom that humans feared to enter for the skin of the trolls, after many centuries mining the sun, now shone with a terrible light. Over the years, a small number of human miners were rescued by their friends. All had been blinded, having unexpectedly come upon trolls deep underground.

'I have come here,' the troll king continued 'for you have a treasure I desire.'

'A treasure?' Theodoric puzzled. 'Surely, you are mistaken. What could my poor kingdom offer a ruler such as you.'

'Silence!' the troll commanded. There was an impatient flare of light in the room. 'I seek your daughter's hand in marriage. My spies told me of a maiden whose hair is finer than spun gold, whose eyes are bluer than sapphires and whose skin is as fresh and delicately hued as a winter's dawn. I came, saw and fell in love. It is Cathwain who shall share my golden throne.'

'But,' her father began, then wisely fell silent.

'I wondered what gift I should bring you to honor your house. Many men could easily be bribed with the diamonds I carry as loose change, but you are said to be an honest man. I therefore offer a gift worth far more than precious metal or stone.

'Give our union your blessing and tonight I'll rid your kingdom of vampires.'

As the king hesitated, the troll continued, 'Your chamberlain, Gruthwind has told you little of what is happening. Already, hundreds of your subjects have been killed. The vampires grow bolder by the hour. Many have dug beneath the floors of your peasants' cottages. When the families fall asleep, the vampires come up from under the ground and slay them in their beds. If I don't help you, your kingdom will soon be destroyed.'

'But for my daughter to marry - excuse me - a troll! To live the rest of her days buried beneath the earth. It's a hard thing to ask.'

'Go and speak to your daughter,' the troll suggested. 'I'll wait here for her response.'

When Theodoric found Cathwain, he found it hard to know what to say. When he finished, he was astonished at her calm reply, 'Father, tell the troll king I shall marry him if he rids the kingdom of this threat.'

'Oh, my darling, consider what you say! To never feel the soft breeze on your cheeks, smell the rain, hear birds sing or smell the flowers. It's too hard! There must be another way. Some other treasure I can offer.'

'I am all he wants,' Cathwain replied. 'We have kept a great king waiting too long. Hurry please, and tell him I accept.'

When Theodoric reluctantly passed on the message, the troll king came out of the room, his face again covered by hat and scarf. 'It's growing dark,' he said. 'I have much to do to prevent hundreds of your people dying tonight. In the morning, I'll return. Have a priest ready to wed Cathwain and myself.'

'But so soon!' Theodoric protested. He had hoped for months with his daughter before she was taken from him. 'I need time to organize the wedding celebrations.'

'There will be celebrations enough in my kingdom. We wed tomorrow. Remember your pledge,' the troll king said, hurrying away.

As the evening drew on, the vampires that were sleeping tightly packed in mass graves began to stir.

Less than a minute before they recovered their senses and the earth that covered them was lifted back like a vast cellar door, the trolls broke through from below. The light streaming from their faces and hands burst like fire upon the vampires. The horrible creatures shrieked in terror and pain but died swiftly for no vampire can endure bright light.

The horror is over, Theodoric thought with relief, standing for the first time in months by an open window. Yet I cannot let the troll king marry Cathwain. It is too ghastly a thought. I will tell him that I have changed my mind. After all, what can he do now that the vampires are dead?

In her bedchamber, Princess Cathwain was filled with despair. For hours, she had prayed for courage. Yet still she wept, knowing within hours she must leave her father forever and live far beneath the earth with the trolls. A horrid thought chilled her. I shall become a blind queen, she thought miserably. No human eyes can look upon a golden troll and still see. She had agreed to the marriage as the only way to save the kingdom, but it was a cruel price to pay. Unlike her father however, Cathwain never considered breaking her pledge.

There was a hurried knock and her door opened. Gruthwind slipped into the room, bowing deeply. 'A thousand apologies,' he began in his oily way, seeing the princess frown. Try as she might, Cathwain had never liked nor fully trusted the court official. Something about his tall, thin frame and fawning manner repelled her. Even now, an instinct warned her of danger. 'Something serious has happened. Your father asked me to bring you quickly to where he waits in the drawing room.'

'At this time of the night?' the princess asked suspiciously. 'What is the matter?'

The chamberlain wrung his hands. 'His Majesty did not confide any details to me, but asked that you make haste to join him. I think it concerns the vampires.'

'How can that be? They are all dead,' Cathwain puzzled. Nevertheless, she followed the sinister chamberlain who darted like a shadow along the dimly lit corridors.

The drawing room door was open. As she entered the room, Cathwain glimpsed the chamberlain hurrying away. The room was dark but in the pale moonlight, she saw her father standing by the window. 'What is it?' she asked., breathless after hurrying from her room.

'What is what, my dear?' the king asked.

'Why have you called me here?'

'I didn't. Gruthwind said you asked me to meet here. Does it concern the wedding?'

'He lied. Father, I fear a trap.'

As she spoke, there was a chattering of voices and slithering of bodies. With a rush, vampires burst from the chimney. In a moment, the moonlit room was filled with the loathsome creatures that advanced on the king and princess cowering in a corner.

'The door,' Theodoric gasped. 'Run for the door.' But even as he spoke, vampires blocked the entrance.

'Gruthwind has betrayed us,' the king groaned in despair. ' He told me he had blocked all the chimneys. Instead, he brought us here to be destroyed.'

A vampire seized Cathwain roughly by the arm, drawing her toward him. Struggling, she gagged at the stench of his breath.

The drawing room door was flung open. 'Cover your eyes,' a voice commanded. The king instantly obeyed but Cathwain, whose arms were pinioned by a vampire, stared straight into the burning face of the troll king. The bright light burst like a bomb in her mind and she fainted.

The vampires rushed toward the dark sanctuary of the chimney, but died, shrieking and writhing on the hearth.

When Cathwain recovered, she found herself cradled in the troll's arms. She looked into his face and saw a handsome young man looking back. Though undeniably a troll, he was far more attractive than she could have imagined.

'I can see you,' she murmured in wonderment.

'Only the pure may look upon my face,' the troll king said smiling.

'Father?' she asked and Theodoric, his face averted from the light, reached out and stroked her hair reassuringly.

'What of Gruthwind?' Cathwain said, recalling the courtier's treachery. In answer, the troll pointed to a dark shape in the corner. Blood spread out across the floor. Cathwain gasped at the sight of the severed head.

'He didn't know of my plan to defeat the vampires,' the troll explained. 'He believed his only hope was to bargain for his safety by letting the vampires into the castle. My spies discovered what he planned so I came back into the castle to kill him and save you.'

And so Princess Cathwain married the troll king. In time, they had two children, both boys, one of whom eventually ruled the trolls while the other succeeded Theodoric. The troll who ruled the humans spent much of his rule issuing orders from behind a screen but proved a wise and just ruler.

As time passed, Cathwain and the king of the trolls grew deeper in love. Each year, they spent six months above, then six months below the ground.

Theodoric died rich in years. He was buried with great reverence by the trolls and today lies in a secret golden chamber far beneath the earth.

Thus, on a happy note, this tale draws to its close.

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