By Rosemary E. Johnson
“Today is going to be a good day. I can feel it.” Roe strapped on his belt and gave his sword, Mike, a pat.
“Ow.” Mike huffed. “I told you. No touchy-touchy.”
“Somebody’s grumpy today.” Roe pulled on his boots and stretched. Nothing was going to sully his fine mood, not even his sort-of-faithful sword he’d stolen…um, rescued from a traveling merchant last spring. He brushed hay from his hair and crept from the stable he’d snuck into the night before, making a dash across the meadow to the forest. He’d scrounge for breakfast since there was no hope of the innkeeper giving him another free meal this morning. But it was summer. The easy time to scavenge.
Though the sun had not yet risen, he found a patch of berries by a stream and settled against a tree while he munched. “Where should we go today, Mike?”
“Looking for an apprenticeship maybe? Some sort of steady job? No more wandering?”
“Don’t you long for adventure?”
“No. I want to be a scholar.”
Roe snorted. “You can’t read.”
“You’d read to me.”
“Not likely. I can’t read either.”
Something rustled the underbrush close by—something bigger than a deer or a rabbit. Slinking through the trees silently as a shadow, Roe crept toward the noise. Perhaps a maiden was being kidnapped, and he would rescue her. With the reward from her relieved parents, he’d buy a hot meal and a room with a bed. And some new socks. His current ones had holes in them.
Sadly, it wasn’t a maiden.
It was the innkeeper, rotund and ruddy, blindfolded and gagged as two trolls dragged him through the trees. Stifled cries came from his struggling form. Roe wrinkled his nose at the trolls’ stench even from his hiding place. Seriously, no one was safe anywhere these days. They’d probably trashed the inn—one carried a filthy, bulging sack that presumably contained what they’d stolen. “I suppose we should help him.”
“I suppose.” If a talking sword could roll its eyes, Mike would’ve.
“Okay.” Roe crouched, the greens and browns of his clothing helping him blend with his surroundings. “There are two of them and two of us, plus the innkeeper—”
“The innkeeper isn’t going to be any help.”
“Where’s your sense of optimism? Anyway, we can beat two trolls. We’ll trail them and catch them in their lair. It can’t be far. Then, when they’re asleep, we’ll sneak in, stab them, and free the innkeeper.”
“Blood makes me queasy. Also, we should have a backup plan in case this one doesn’t work.”
“That’s two problems. And this is absolutely going to work. You can do it. I believe in you. Wouldn’t you want to be rescued if you were captured by trolls?”
Mike’s sigh betrayed his affirmative.
Roe slipped from tree to tree, keeping the trolls in sight, until they reached a huge stone outcropping that rose above the foliage. The trolls and now-limp innkeeper disappeared into a crack in the rock.
By now, the sky was awash with the colors of dawn. Soon, the trolls would sleep the day away, safe from the sunlight that would turn them to stone. Probably, when night fell, they’d roast the innkeeper and eat him.
Roe found a nook in the rock near the cave’s entrance and settled into it, listening. He couldn’t distinguish the harsh syllables of the trolls’ talking, but he knew when they’d fallen asleep by their snores.
“Now’s the time,” he whispered.
Mike shuddered in his sheath.
Roe drew Mike with a metallic swish and gripped the hilt. “You with me?”
“Do I have a choice?”
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom of the cave, but once colors stopped dancing before his eyes, he tiptoed toward the rumbling snores. The stench gagged him. A small fire spluttered in the center of the cave, its flickering light making the trolls even more grotesque. Mike whimpered, quietly.
The innkeeper lay bound in the corner, either sleeping or passed out. Roe stood next to the first troll, gave Mike a nod, and plunged him into the troll’s flabby belly.
The creature let out a howl and convulsed. Ripping Mike from the troll, Roe stumbled back, wincing as sticky blood dripped onto his hand. Mike retched.
And the other troll woke up.
“Uh-oh.” Roe barely had time to react as the troll swung at him. His boot scuffed close to the fire, dirt spraying over the flames. The light dimmed.
The troll bellowed, barely visible in the remaining light. Bending down, it rose again with a spiked club raised above its head.
“Not good not good not good,” Mike screeched, panting. “There’s blood all over me. I’m gonna faint.”
Roe yelled, lunging toward the troll’s exposed underside.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaah!” Mike’s scream muffled as the blade disappeared into the troll’s side. The creature fell to the ground with a dull thud.
Roe collapsed against the wall, chest heaving. “We did it.”
Mike coughed and sputtered. “Getting acquainted with a troll liver wasn’t exactly on my bucket list.”
“Hey. You did great. Now let’s untie the poor innkeeper.”
Once they managed to revive the innkeeper, Roe helped him back to the inn. The innkeeper brought out his wagon, and after they’d fetched the stolen loot, he rewarded Roe with enough food for a week and three precious shillings. He even said the next town, which was a sizable one, had a library.
“How about we get a decent job at this town?” Mike said as they meandered down the road the next day.
“Like what?” Roe asked through a mouthful of apple.
“Ew. I’ll take another troll battle.”
“Memories of troll liver are stamped on my brain forever.”
“You don’t have a brain.”
“That makes two of us.”
“And that, my friend, is why we get along.” Roe patted Mike and whistled as he walked.