With the sun veiled behind blood-red clouds and the fields dark and shadowed, the ground began to shake violently beneath us, and a thunderous roar of anger and outright evil shattered the peaceful evening journey we had all hoped for.
Stomp, stomp, stomp. Stomp, stomp, stomp.
A great black helmet appeared over the nearby hilltop, feathered and bloodied, and underneath was the visage of a fearful troll-beast, with teeth long and yellow. Its shoulders broad as a barn and covered in crude iron, its arms thick like felled pine logs, and tall as a tree it stood upon two massive legs that could traverse mountains.
It roared again and stomped forward on heavy feet towards us, and my heart sank like a stone in water as I screamed for Ethel to flee and lead Ealdhors away towards Cliving. I saw her freeze and tremble in the saddle, her sweet face now locked in the truest of fear and horror at the sight, and she did not move even as her horse Roan backed and almost reared. I screamed her name again at the height of my lungs as I charged towards the beast with a drawn sword; “ETHEL!! GO!”
Her expression changed, and without a word she took away with Ealdhors, with the cart bumping on the road behind them as they trotted quickly away and disappeared out of sight further down the road. We were three riders left; two with many years of experience in battle, and one with very little. Armed with swords, a few orcs between us we could handle, but an armoured war-troll at its peak? Nay, some of us, if not all, would likely meet our end here if we fought it head on, of that I was nearly certain in that very moment.
It was strong and moved fast even at its height, yet we could not fail and fall. Speed and agile attacks were to be our ally this night, for it was too late to flee, and we could not leave it unchallenged; having it wreak havoc upon the towns, or the trader’s outpost, or the homesteads. With my sword held high and my lungs filled with the chilly air, I briefly let go of the reins, trusting Ealfin to carry me safely, and I picked up my war-horn in my other hand, blowing it three times. One for attention, two for danger, three for battle. The horn echoed over the fields, and I prayed to Bema that someone would hear and know it, for it was a war-horn of Faldham, known for its shrill sound.
The battle ensued and rumbled on. The earth trembled with every step it took, and we circled it time and time again, staying well away from its rock-hard hands, and cutting away whenever we saw an opening at its back or sides, yet our cuts did little to pierce its thick skin, save for annoying and angering it. The troll wildly swung his heavy arms about, for he carried no weapon save for his fists, which was to our advantage and our only hope of defeating the beast.
“Aim for the knees!”, I cried out to Yllfa and Duncadda, and we made many swift and successful swings that seemed to wound it, and I even saw it wince slightly to one side for a brief moment. Yet even the greatest of warriors may fall, and I saw Duncadda fall off his horse shortly after, pushed off by a wide swing. Yllfa were close to him, and I saw no other way but try to lead it away from them until Duncadda was back in his saddle, for without him we stood no chance.
I sought its attention with a well-aimed swing to its clenched fist. The blade drew deep and black blood poured from the open cut, and it angered the troll enough to follow me away from the others. And as I rode, I once again let go of the reins to pick up my warhorn, and sounded it yet again three times. Next I circled back towards the others, with the troll angrily swinging behind me and grazing Ealfin’s back, hoping dearly that Duncadda would be back in his saddle by now. Indeed he was, and both he and Yllfa were ready to engage yet again.
As I rode towards my woman and my battle-brother, we were all weary and tired and hurting, and our attacks had done little to fell the great troll. We had angered it, yes. We had wounded it, yes. Would we kill it? Unlikely. Could we flee? No. It would only follow us, and all I could think of was Ethel, hoping she had reached safety.
Instead I mistimed a cut and received a heavy blow upon my back, causing me also to fall off my horse, and I remember only hitting the ground hard before my eyes went dark for a moment. When next I woke, I heard another horn sounding from across the fields, and then another, and another. Aye, three horn-blasts I heard in response to my own, and my hope rose and blossomed with every sound it made.
The sound came from the north, and the great thunder of hooves reached my ears next, where heavy warsteeds carried at least half a dozen well-equipped riders in its wake, each one clad in ringmail adorned with bronze rings along the edges, carried beneath a green tabard, and their horses dressed in heavy leather.
Two tall spears carried the banner of Cliving at the front, and its symbol, the green helmet, had never been so welcome to my eyes. “For the Riddermark!”, I heard the tall, long-bearded man at the front shout as he rode towards us, and I believed I knew his voice. The riders felled their spears and charged the troll, wounding it over and over again, and it cried out in great anguish and pain with every stroke.
Meanwhile Ealfin had galloped off, and I could not find him. I saw Duncadda join the riders, and at long last, the tall leader of the group struck his spear deep into the great troll’s throat. Its black blood flowed out like a river from the open wound, and it swayed from side to side, and lastly fell to the ground with a final gasping roar, until it went silent and moved no more. The great war-troll was finally dead.
With my head spinning and my back hurting, I walked over to my companions, and Ealfin appeared once again behind me soon after. He was unharmed, save for a few bruises and scratch marks on his back. The riders had circled around the troll, making absolute certain it was dead by skewering it with their spears.
“Captain Wulfhem”, I said to the tall man, my voice raspy and rough. “You arrived just in time.”
“We heard the horn of Faldham, master rider.” He answered in turn and bowed his head. “Do you know me, then?”
“I’m Waelden, son of Eldewine of Faldham. We have met, but it was years ago. This is Duncadda, and Yllfa.” I said, and introduced my companions.
“Aye, I believe I recall the name, if even a little. We met a young girl and her horse-drawn cart along the road as we heard the first horn, she was shaking and saying little, but pointed here. I left one of my riders with her. Is she yours?”
I nodded and breathed out in true relief, finally knowing my daughter to be safe and sound, and I saw Yllfa do the same, and I also believe Duncadda was relieved to hear it.
“Aye. She is Ethel, my daughter.”
“Dagred!”, the captain turned and spoke to the man beside him. “Ride and fetch the girl, and escort her here. Tell her that all are safe, and the troll is fallen. It will trouble the Mark no more. We have searched for this big beast for weeks, but it has always eluded us, fleeing up into the mountains whenever we’ve chased it.”
I bowed my head to the man, and looked to my companions as we waited for Ethel and the rider Dagred to return. At long last they did, with Ealdhors, and she ran up to me with a tear in her eye, “Papa, I froze. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, dear daughter. Worry not, even the bravest of men would freeze at the sight of that monster. Bema knows I did. But it lies dead now, we are all still alive, and we still have a ways to go before we reach home.”