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A tale or two of heroic deeds by the guardians of the West, a recounting of some foul act committed by Sauron's minions, here from his simple home, Aschit Bladebard shares stories of triumph and tragedy.

Read The Ranger Aschit's Nine Chapter Saga.

Read Filgo the Hobbit or The Hunter a short story by Aschit.



Francis - July 2003


                You sit on your roughly made wooden chair, one of many citizens gathered in a ring in the common room of the Wandering Dog.  This inn is your favorite, located near the little-used western gate into the city.  Most travelers to and from the city use the eastern gate, out of which stretches the main road.  The western gate and the road leading westward from it are mainly used by the groups of mounted guardsmen who patrol the lands around the city, but homesteaders from the countryside and the occasional merchants that cater to them sometimes find the gate more convenient than circling the city to enter into the business district.


                The group around you is a varied lot.  Although primarily laborers, a few merchants in finer clothing sit together, and here and there sit off-duty guardsmen and dusty travelers.  You and the rest of the inn’s patrons surround a man seated at a table in the center of the room.  Even the innkeeper and his serving girls have taken seats at the back of the gathering, their services unneeded since all of the customers are in the circle, their thirst and hunger forgotten. The innkeeper, ever on edge for trouble, nonetheless takes a moment now and then to glance back at the entrance to the inn.


                With the last few notes still lingering in your mind, the object of everyone’s attention casually lays his harp into the small case at his feet.  At first glance the man is dressed much the same as the commoners of the city: simple and sturdy pants and jerkin, built to withstand the wear and tear of everyday life.  His boots of black leather are worn from heavy travel.  However, upon closer examination it is clear that the man is no simple peasant:  a cap of fine silk sits upon his head; a belt of gleaming metal holds a small black pouch, a hunting knife, and a vicious looking black dagger; and a finely woven cloak lies folded on the man’s chair, the color reminiscent of the foliage of a springtime forest.


                Even so, the man had not caused a stir when he had entered the inn, and you wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t taken the table next to your own.  After glancing the stranger over you had returned to your meal, weary from your hard day’s work.  He was nothing special: nearly black hair crowned the man’s head and equally dark stubble on his face made it clear he hadn’t shaved for nearly a week.  Everything else about him - his complexion, his height, his build - seemed completely average, and not worthy of further scrutiny.


                After a few minutes, though, the glint of silver had caught your eye, and you had returned your gaze to the man to see that he was holding a harp the like of which you had never seen.  Crafted from silver, the harp was accented tastefully with what obviously were precious gems.  Even the strings of the harp glittered in the light cast by the nearby fireplace and it was clear that they were made of some strange metal as well.


                Within moments, every other customer within viewing distance had also noticed the harp and its bearer.  The instrument was clearly a great treasure, and you were certain that you were not alone in wondering what kind of fool would reveal such a prize in a crowded common room in the city’s working class district.  No doubt several of the other patrons were already working up plans to steal and sell the harp.


                As though unaware of the attention he was drawing, the man had polished the harp for several minutes, sparing not a single glance at his surroundings.  Then, without a word, the man had begun to play.


                The music created by the man’s fingers flowing over the delicate-looking strings was entrancing.  Notes floated through the room, forming tender music that made you think of water trickling down a mountain stream.  Following the stream had been soft rain on a summer evening, the whisper of leaves caressed by a gentle breeze, and wispy clouds drifting away on the wind.  Never in your life had you heard such a heart-pulling sound, and your half-eaten meal had soon lain forgotten.


                Blinking, you pull yourself together as the man pushes the harp case into a worn leather satchel under his chair.  You realize with a glance through a window that more than an hour has passed and long shadows on the street show that it is late in the afternoon.  Your food has gone cold on your plate.


                You reach for your fork, planning to finish quickly and hurry home, when the man begins to talk, breaking the silence that had followed his performance.


                “Trolls, my friends,” he speaks, “are uncommonly fearsome.”  The man’s voice is nothing like his appearance.  Rather than rough and hoarse, as his appearance might imply, his voice rings clearly across the crowded room.  Strong, steady, and deep, the voice may have instead belonged to a highly-born noble rather than this plain-looking speaker.


                “Since I was a child,” he continues, “I have heard many stories about their ferocity and deadliness.”


                You begin to think this strange bard is not as carefully strung as his harp.  Trolls?  A subject more fit for scaring children by candlelight than for the customers of an inn!  Trolls are just fanciful little men that exist only in the stories borrowed from lands far to the west.  Even in those stories, trolls were rambunctious and tricky, but never ferocious and deadly.  Regardless, the man’s voice is entrancing and you decide to listen a while.  Judging by the still-silent audience, the rest of those gathered share your decision.


                “If you will all humor me for a while, I will tell you a story of some interest about trolls.  I should clarify though, before this story begins, exactly what a troll is.  There has been a tendency in modern folklore to describe trolls as small, filthy creatures who dwell in rotten trees or lurk under bridges.  In some stories trolls are simply mischievous little beings whose main activity is following children around to trick them out of their belongings.”


                Several listeners nod in agreement with the speaker.


                “Trolls are none of those things.  Most of that would more accurately describe a young goblin than anything else.” 


                You smile sarcastically at his words.  Everyone who’d ever heard such stories knew that goblins were supposed to be twice the size of trolls, and three times as horrible!  You wonder how someone as drunk as he must be could still talk so well.  There’s not the slightest bit of slurring in his speech!


                Ignoring the derisive snickers that a few patrons make, the man goes on.  “Real trolls are mighty beasts - a dozen or more feet tall, shaped like boulders with arms and legs, and more bloodthirsty and violent than any child’s nightmare.


                “I must also tell you that the troll names I’m going to share are not the trolls’ real names.  Although many trolls can speak the language of Men, all troll names are utterly impossible for a human to speak.  Indeed, troll names, in their true form, sound quite similar to a boulder crashing down a rocky hillside.  And since no one can understand an avalanche, trolls are given new names by storytellers as a way of simply identifying them.  These names are often the names of the storyteller’s enemies and in-laws, but that is entirely...” he winks, “coincidental.”


                One of the serving girls in the back giggles at the joke.


                “Now, I will state that I have never before met anyone in this room so I obviously don’t know your names.  If you happen to share a name with one of the trolls, please don’t take it personally.  Very few of you here are ugly enough to be a troll.”


                A few more people chuckle politely.


                “I pointed out some beliefs about trolls that are not true.  But one of the few commonly held stereotypes about trolls that is accurate is their gullibility.  It is one of the race’s two great weaknesses that have prevented trolls from spreading all over the world and wreaking havoc.  It’s quite hard to destroy civilizations when you can be duped into such fatal mistakes as walking in circles for hours at a time, chasing clouds, and even jumping from cliffs in attempts to use ‘magic’ butterflies to soar like eagles.”


                The cynical humor of only moments before is replaced by light but genuine laughter as the storyteller refers to the famous children’s stories that all in the room had grown up with.


                “The second weakness of trolls probably explains why most stories about them are told only at night.  Despite their thick skin and the layers of dirt and grime that cover them, trolls are particularly vulnerable to direct sunlight.  The touch of sunlight on a troll has the interesting effect of turning it to stone.”


                Mocking laughs ring out here and there around the circle.  Stone indeed!


                “Many a fearsome troll, upon unintentionally greeting a sunrise outside its lair, has been turned into oversized statuary, to be later found and zapped off by powerful wizards for use as garden decorations.”


                You can’t restrain your own laughter this time.  Finally you realize that the man is not dull-witted, but rather all of his words have been in jest!  Wizards, goblins, and trolls - the man has been toying with his listeners.  Some of the patrons, who had arrived earlier and thus consumed more ale, laugh especially hard.


                With a knowing smile, the man resumes.  “A brief but noteworthy tale is about a traveling merchant named Aschard who used both of these deficiencies to his own advantage.  The traveler had been captured in the middle of the night by six trolls who lived along the winding road he had been following.  They had shoved him into the back of their cave while they prepared their pot to boil him.


                “Aschard knew what his fate would be, so, rather than waiting to be stuck on a spit, the quick-witted traveler told the trolls that he had been specifically looking for them, as he was an admirer of the species and was concerned about the sun’s devastating effect.  Of course, the man felt no such compassion - he was terrified of trolls and other creatures of the night, as he rightly should have been! - but he needed time to think of a way out of his predicament.  If the sun had been shining outside he would have risked dashing past them to safety, but the night was not even half gone.


                “The trolls were intrigued, which I’ll admit doesn’t say much, and listened to the man’s story.  He told them that he had made an incredible discovery:  a lotion that would make them immune to the sun’s deadly power.  Understandably, the trolls were a bit skeptical, and were about to eat the man despite his claim.  However, as he was about to be lowered into their giant pot, he stated (with a surprisingly calm voice, considering his situation) that only the week before he had visited another clan of trolls nearby, and that they were now gathering great wealth thanks to their newly gained ability to ambush travelers in the day as well as the night.  This part of the man’s story, obviously, is also untrue.


                “Now, when it comes to the sun, trolls tend to take no chances.  But the traveler had touched on a topic of almost as much interest as the sun: gold.”


                Some of the smiling listeners around you nod to each other.  Many of the antics in stories about trolls involved their quest for gold, precious gems, and other treasures.


                “Anyway, the troll holding the traveler paused a moment, leaving the hapless man dangling over the pot of boiling troll-stew - a concoction made up of dirty water, slime from the walls of their cave, the bones of previous victims, and a touch of dung for flavor.


                “Aschard explained to the trolls that he still had a small sample in his pack, if only they would let him demonstrate for them.


                “With this prospect in their minds, the trolls stuffed the man into a sack instead of the pot so they could discuss the matter further.  In the end, two things influenced their decision:  the possibility that a nearby tribe of trolls was taking more loot than they were and, of equal importance, the realization that they could still eat the man later.


                “The trolls released the man from the sack and demanded that he share the lotion with them.  The man immediately moved to his discarded satchel and rummaged inside as the trolls watched him suspiciously, producing at last a large skin filled with liquid in one hand and a small pale gray bar in the palm of the other.


                “The largest of the trolls, who I’ll call Randall, snatched the skin from the merchant, nearly crushing his hand in the process.  Randall held the skin up to his nose (which was nearly the same size!) and sniffed it carefully.


                “Randall howled in rage and threw the skin against the wall, where it ruptured with a spray of liquid.  ‘Water!’ Randall screamed, and he raised a monstrous foot to squash the traveler.


                “‘Wait!’ the man pleaded, rolling to one side as the massive blow cracked the floor of the cave.  ‘I know it’s water!’  His roll had taken him into a corner between the cave wall and a boulder the trolls used as a chair.  The troll lifted his foot to attempt another stomp.


                “The merchant winced and closed his eyes, but kept talking.  ‘I have to mix the lotion first!  It’s too fragile to carry!’”


                You are intrigued by the way the storyteller alters his voice for each speaker in the tale: deep and booming for the troll, fearful and desperate for the human.


                The narration continues:  “To the man’s obvious relief, the troll managed to halt its descending foot only inches from the traveler’s extended legs.


                “‘Oh,’ the bard speaks in Randall the troll’s voice.  ‘Mix it then!’


                “The man peeked at his ruined water skin.  ‘I’ll need some clean water.’


                “Trolls being trolls, they didn’t have any fresh water available so they sent a young troll I’ll call Nick to fetch some from a nearby stream.  A few minutes later Nick returned and slammed a barrel full of water at the man’s feet.  The barrel had once held foodstuffs and still smelled of decaying fruit, but the merchant knew better than to test the trolls’ patience too much.


                “The man glanced quickly to the mouth of the cave.  To his dismay, about two hours still remained until dawn.  The trolls were getting restless, and Randall seemed to be licking his bloated lips anxiously.  The trolls wouldn’t wait forever, so he had to do something to keep their minds off their appetites.  What could he do to buy two more hours?


                “‘Well, the first thing you have to do is clean the area you want to apply the lotion to.  If you don’t do this, the lotion might not work.’”


                “This brought several growls from the trolls in the cave.  One, a female I’ll call Cindy, howled in anger.  ‘Clean?’ she bellowed.  ‘Why have to clean?’  The matron leaned down to stare the man in the eyes.  One of hers wandered lazily to one side, staring instead at the wall.  Her mouth smelled of rancid meat.


                “The merchant held his breath, trying to avoid the troll’s next exhalation.  He needed an excuse for the cleaning, so he made one up.  ‘Because,’ he began, taking a deep breath as Cindy backed away, ‘dirt will react chemically with the lotion.  It allows for the conduction of thermal solutions that can reactivate the aquatic sediment.’  He had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  He had delivered supplies to an alchemist a few months prior, and the man had used some of those words.”


                The audience laughs softly.  Like you, they have no idea what the words mean either.


                “Aschard dipped his bare arms into the barrel and scrubbed them vigorously.  ‘See, I’ll show you how easy it is.’  Stepping away from the water, he picked up the gray bar and rubbed it along one arm.  A foamy lather built up.  He repeated the process with his other arm, then dipped his head into the barrel.  Trying not to gag from the tainted water that found its way into his mouth, he scrubbed his face also.  Soon all of his exposed skin was covered in the bubbly lather.  He secretly dropped the bar into the barrel, and it sank to the bottom.  ‘See, now I’m protected.  And if I leave it on for a full day, it’s permanent too!’


                “The trolls gathered together and spoke to each other in whispered voices that the merchant could still easily hear.  Aschard shivered as they discussed their plan to use his lotion and eat him afterward.  The only question now was who got to try it first.  The trolls became more and more aggravated, and Aschard feared they would come to blows.  If that happened, he knew his chances of survival were small:  a troll’s temper was quick to boil and slow to cool - just like a woman’s!” the bard jests.


                Most of the audience roars in laughter.  The serving women only smile grimly, their eyes throwing daggers at any man who looked their way after the joke.


                “Present company excepted, of course!”  The man gestures at the women with his left hand.  In a conspiratorial tone he continues, “I’d hate to down a poisoned ale tonight!”  The men explode into additional laughter.  The women join in, but one waves a warning finger in the bard’s direction.


                “Now, I was telling you about the trolls’ argument.  Aschard was afraid that if the trolls started fighting he would be trampled in the melee, to be scraped up and boiled for stew when the trolls had resolved their differences.  So, he did one of the bravest things I have ever heard of - he walked right up between the six arguing trolls and told them to shut up.”


                Still filled with mirth from the man’s last joke, you guffaw again at the image of a man walking into a gathering of creatures twice his size and giving them commands.


                “Shocked by the man’s action, the trolls just stared dumbly at Aschard.  Of course, they were trolls, so that was the only way they could stare.”


                Your throat is getting hoarse from so much laughter.  As if on cue, the bard calls to the innkeeper for an ale.  His call is quickly echoed by dozens of others around the room.  You join in the chorus of requests.  Outside, the muted colors of dusk are creeping across the sky.


                The serving women jump to their duties and quickly load platters with tankards of ale filled by the innkeeper.  Spreading out through the room, they quickly empty the platters and return for more.  It takes the women several trips each to satisfy the needs of the customers.  The innkeeper deposits the coins collected by the women into a strongbox behind his counter.  After turning a key in the box’s sturdy lock, he returns to his seat with a very pleased smile.  The women place their platters on the counter and join him once more.


                The bard waits for everyone to be seated before picking up his ale.  With an exaggeratedly wary expression, he sniffs the ale and tastes it carefully while watching the serving women.  You laugh so hard that ale squirts from your nose, leaving a burning sensation.


                Apparently satisfied with the ale’s flavor, the bard takes a long slow drink.  He places the tankard on his otherwise empty table and continues his story.  “Taking advantage of the trolls’ silence, Aschard motions them closer.  ‘I think I can solve your problem,’ he told them.  ‘Why don’t I just make enough so that all of you can try it at the same time?’


                “The trolls thought for a moment before showing their agreement in an array of nods, grunts, squeals, and terrifying smiles.  ‘Okay then,’ Aschard goes on.  ‘We’ll need more water and the rest of the stock from my wagon.’


                “The trolls had rummaged through the merchant’s wagon after his capture and taken several bolts of silk and casks of whiskey and beer (which they had consumed during the trek back to their cave), but the boxes of Aschard’s gray bars had seemed worthless to them at the time.  Nick had even tried to eat one, but had spat it out in distaste.  Nick and a young female named Lucy immediately ran to fetch more water while two brothers named Charles and Bob ran to get the rest of the bars.  Randall and Cindy, being the most powerful trolls in the group, stayed behind to watch their prisoner.


                “It was an hour before sunrise by the time all of the trolls had returned.  The two brothers had apparently misunderstood their directions and returned with Aschard’s entire wagon upon their backs!  It amused the merchant, however, that the trolls had somehow not managed to find his pair of mules, which were tethered to a tree not far from where he had parked his wagon for the night.  It was comforting to know that whatever his own fate, his mules might survive to see brighter days.


                “After depositing the wagon outside the cave, the trolls tossed the crates to the ground, spilling the contents.  Watching Aschard carefully, they splashed their bodies with water from the barrels and scrubbed furiously at the years of accumulated filth.


                “Now, trolls are often said to be the ugliest creatures ever to walk the land.  Just imagine poor Aschard’s horror at having to see them naked!  The storyteller shivers in disgust.  “If my own mules were that ugly, I’d shave their hindquarters and teach them to walk backwards!”


                The crows around you bellows out laughter. 


                “Aschard spoke to them as they washed up.  ‘Perhaps I should check you over to make sure you don’t miss anything.  Remember what could happen if you miss a spot!’  Without waiting for their approval, he began to inspect them carefully.  ‘Nick!  Do you want a granite nose?  Wash it again!  Lucy, get behind your ears!’ 


                “Finally, he told them their work was satisfactory, though in truth they were still as dirty as a jailhouse chamber pot.  The sky outside was beginning to lighten, and he wanted them eager and excited.  Too much cleaning would ruin their mood and could spell his doom.


                “He next directed the trolls as they rubbed the bars over their blotchy flesh.  Soon a thick lather was beginning to form...”


                “It’s SOAP!” someone shouts from across the room.  “He gave them soap!”


                “Shut up and let him tell it!” someone else screams out.  Cries of agreement fill the air.


                The bard raises a hand and the crowd quiets down again.  “It’s ok!  I was about to tell you anyway, as I’m sure my clever friend over here,” he motions in the direction of the outburst, “was not the only one to figure out Aschard’s trick.”


                He continues.  “Indeed, the little gray bars were soap, a cargo that the merchant had been reluctant to carry, since there is little gold to be made in selling such things.  Nevertheless, it was a cargo he could arrange without waiting several weeks for something more profitable, and Aschard was not much for staying in one place very long.


                “Now, I’m sure some of you can already see exactly where this story is going, but please humor me and allow me to share the ending.”


                Many people in the crowd silently nod their agreement.  One laborer on the opposite side of the circle shoves the man sitting beside him.  The latter must be the one who yelled about the soap.


                “So,  there is Aschard, surrounded by a half-dozen naked soapy trolls.  Any of you who have shaved a bear and put it in a washtub can imagine it pretty easily.”


                A few people stare in disbelief before their ale-addled brains realize the man was joking.  The rest of you roar at his absurdity.


                “With daybreak nearing, he tells the trolls they must hurry or they’ll have to wait until the next day.  ‘The lotion is only activated by the first rays of sunlight in the morning, so you’ll have to be outside when the sun rises.’


                “Their stupidity aside, trolls do have some basic survival instincts, and telling a troll to sit outside and wait for dawn is like telling a mouse to pick a cat’s nose.  When they began to balk at the prospect of putting Aschard’s lotion to the test, the man began to worry.  Had he kept himself alive for such a  long time only to be killed with dawn so near?


                “With the trolls beginning to eye the growing light outside warily and him hungrily, Aschard attempted one last deception.  ‘If it will make you all feel better, I’ll be happy to sit outside with you just to prove I’m not lying.’


                “Amazingly, the trolls, in the excitement of the moment, somehow managed to forget that humans suffered no ill effects from sunlight, and they took his offer to mean that he had no treachery in mind.


                “Led by Randall, the troll clan and Aschard walked outside to wait for the sun to crest the hills to the east.  Nick remained in the cave momentarily, having realized at the last moment that he hadn’t lathered up the bottoms of his feet.


                “The trolls watched the horizon anxiously.  Aschard wondered how long they would take to turn to stone.  If it was a long process, they would have time to snatch him up and return to their cave.  He decided he would start running as soon as the sun peeked over the treeline, just in case.


                “Finally a sliver of the sun became visible.  As the trolls stared at it, Aschard crept backwards inches at a time.  When Bob started to shout, he turned and started sprinting away from the mouth of the cave.  Unfortunately, he tripped almost immediately over a fallen branch and crashed to the rocky ground. 


                “His heart froze when he realized that Bob’s shout was one of joy.  Did his soap somehow have the real effect of protecting the trolls?


                “Bob’s brother Charles began to yell too.  ‘It worked! We’re going to be rich!  It wor....’  The troll fell silent.


                Aschard clambered to his feet and looked back at the trolls, ready to run.  However, he saw that there was no need, as the trolls were now motionless.  Their color was now that of dark stone, and there was no life apparent in their forms.  Relieved by his escape, he walked up to them to examine them more carefully.  Every hideous detail of their bodies was still there, but they no longer seemed threatening.   He moved from troll to troll, amazed.  But why were there only five?


                “‘Wait for me!  I’m coming!’  Aschard jumped as Nick came charging into the sunshine, finally done lathering his feet.  Aschard was certain that his death was at hand after all, but before the troll had taken three steps he too was transformed into stone, frozen instantly.  The momentum of Nick’s running caused the sun-carved statue to crash forward and it landed with a thud in Ashard’s wagon.


                “And that, my friends, is the end of the story.”


                With those last words the man reaches for his ale, his story apparently done.


                “Wait!” the man next to you calls.  “What about treasure?  I thought all trolls collected treasure!  And what did Aschard do after he killed the trolls?”  Other listeners clamor for the same information.  What is a troll story without the treasure at the end?


                The man puts his tankard back on the table.  “Of course!  Forgive me.  I’m due to meet a business associate here, and it must have slipped my mind.  Let me fill in those details for you.


                “Although weary from his ordeal, Aschard wanted to be on his way as soon as possible, hoping to leave before the next night began.  Believe it or not, but at first the thought of treasure didn’t enter his mind.  Instead, he just wanted to load his wagon and be on his way.  But the crates that had once held his cargo of soap were shattered, and the remainder of the soap itself had been strewn across the filthy floor of the cave.  To make matters worse, there was now an enormous statue of a troll filling most of his wagon and his mules were still tied to a tree some distance away.


                “So, first he went to find his mules.  It didn’t take him very long, but he almost had to drag the poor animals to get them to approach the foul-smelling troll cave.  He had to tie them to one of the troll statues to keep them from bolting.  He knew the mules would be useless for trying to unload the statue until they calmed down, so he entered the cave to see if his cargo could be salvaged.


                “Looking around the cave, he saw that he might be able to save a quarter or so of the soap, but that would mean a couple hours spent patching together a crate and gathering the unspoiled cakes of soap.  To make things easier, he thought maybe he could find something else to carry it in, so he began to explore the deeper portions of the cave.


                “Now, it seems most of you know what to expect to find if you search a troll lair, but Aschard was completely surprised by what he found.  There weren’t piles of gold taller than his head like some stories suggest, but there was all manner of loot that the trolls had taken from their victims.  Much of it was in such poor condition that it was useless.  There were large rolls of fine cloth, now stained and worthless.  There were kegs of fine brandy, all of which had been spoiled or consumed by the trolls.  There were weapons and armor of various types, most ruined by rust. 


                “But there were other treasures too, treasures that filth and lack of care hadn’t destroyed so easily.  There was a small gilded chest full of gems.  Jewelry fine enough for a princess.  A dagger wrought from pure silver.  Some other things of that sort.  And yes, an oaken chest half full of gold coins.


                “Needless to say, Aschard forgot all about picking up the rest of his soap.  He didn’t even try to unload the stone troll from his wagon, since there was still enough room to hold all the valuable treasures.  The chest of gold was too heavy to lift so he had to spill out the coins, put the chest in his cart, then refill it.  Regardless, he was guiding his mules back to the road and heading to his destination to the east within an hour.


                “As for what Aschard did with his fortune, I’m afraid I don’t know, as the story as I’ve heard it didn’t follow him that far.  I suppose I could just say he lived ‘happily ever after,’ and leave it at that. 


                “I must thank you all for spending the evening with me.  It’s made my first visit to this inn quite enjoyable. ”


                He picks up his drink again, this time without interruption. 


                You realize that it is nearly dark outside, and shove a mouthful of cold beef into your mouth, chew it quickly, and wash it down with your ale.  You’re going to have to hurry to make it home before it is totally dark.


                Most of the other patrons now rise and leave, off to their own homes.  Several of them approach the storyteller with coins in their hands, but he waves them away with their attempted donations.  Except for a few people finishing their meals, like you, only the bard and a few merchants who have rented rooms at the inn remain in the common room.  The serving women busily clean up the dozens of mugs, tankards, and plates left behind by the crowd.


                As you push the last bite of your meat into your mouth, the inn door opens and a man with a sword at his hip enters.  The newcomer is well-known to you, at least by sight.  It is Orimar, the veteran captain of the city watch.  He walks right up to the bard and takes a seat.


                “Orimar.  You’re late!” the bard greets him.  Clearly they have met before.


                I’m late?  You never showed up at the barracks today with the supplies you were supposed to bring.  I figured maybe you got delayed or something.  I didn’t really expect to find you here tonight.”


                “To be honest, for a while I didn’t think I would be here tonight either.  But I’m afraid I wasn’t able to bring your supplies.”


                You chew slowly despite the approaching night, wanting to know more about the mysterious tale-spinner.  Apparently he is also a businessman of some kind.


                “You weren’t?  What happened to them?” the captain questions.


                “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Orimar.  I’ll just repay you and save us both the trouble.”


                “Aschard, do you know how bad a barracks full of unwashed guardsmen smells?  I really needed that soap.”


                Your food gets caught in your throat, and you cough it up onto your plate with some difficulty.  For the slightest instant, upon hearing the man’s name, you thought perhaps his story had been true.  But you realize that he had probably put his own name into the story for fun, or maybe he had made up the whole story on the spot as a humorous excuse for missing his delivery.


                “Hey, want to see my new harp?  I picked it up on the way here.”  Aschard pulls the fine harp out of its case.


                “I’d accuse you of stealing my soap to buy it, but that thing could bring ten times as much.”


                “I wouldn’t steal from you anyway Orimar.  That sword of yours makes a pretty good deterrent.”


                Orimar chuckles.  “I guess it does.  Well, give me back my money so tomorrow I can send for someone else to bring some soap.  It’s going to be a rank couple of weeks in the guardhouse.”


                “I’ve smelled worse, believe me!”  Aschard laughs at some joke you didn’t catch.  “Come out to my wagon with me, I left the money there.”  He rises from his seat and grabs his satchel, stuffing his harp case back inside as he moves.  “While you’re out there you can help me unload something.  I can’t move it myself.”


                The two men walk out the door together as you drink the rest of your ale and use a remaining crust of bread to soak up the juices left behind by your cut of beef.  Still chewing, you leave the inn and begin jogging down the street in the growing darkness.  Only the widely spaced oil lampposts light your way home, but you arrive safely nonetheless.


                After work the next day, you walk over to the Wandering Dog for dinner.  Once again a crowd of people circles around something, this time outside the inn.  When the object comes into view (from some distance away, considering the number of people surrounding it) you are stunned.  Disbelieving, you push your way through to the front of the circle.


                Standing there is the most bizarre thing you have ever witnessed.  Alongside the street a statue now rises more than twice your height.  The statue resembles a man, though with much thicker proportions.  Powerful muscles are evident on the arms and legs, but rolls of fat ripple down the torso to an extended belly.  The head is brutish, with a sloped forehead and pronounced brow.  All in all, it is a grotesque figure.


                What makes the statue so bizarre, though, is that the figure is completely nude and its face has an expression of pure excitement and eagerness.  One arm is raised over its head and it appears to be running.  The detail is incredible, with individual hairs noticeable in places.  Strangest of all, visible in the lower of its massive hands is a tiny stone bar of soap.




                The statue, and the story left behind by Aschard, make the inn one of the most popular establishments in the entire city.  Visitors from nearby cities go out of their way to stay at the Soapy Troll, as it is now called.  Those who were present when the bard visited are often begged to share the tale and rarely have to buy a drink of their own.


                You seem to have your own knack for storytelling, and with your unique experience of overhearing the conversation between Orimar and Aschard, you are even more popular.  The innkeeper gives you free meals to encourage you to visit often, which brings in more customers eager to hear your retelling of Aschard’s story.


                The city is divided over the story and the statue.  Some people believe that Aschard was speaking of his own recent experiences when he shared the story, and that the statue is a genuine troll, frozen forever in stone.  Others believe the whole incident was an incredibly well-planned and executed hoax, that the troll was carved in advance just for the story.  Friendly arguments often erupt, with the skeptics claiming that believing in trolls shows a distinct lack in intelligence and the believers claiming that no living sculptor could manage the detail captured in the statue.


                Orimar refuses to answer any questions on the matter, which only fuels the debate.  Most of the population agrees that he was involved in some way, with his participation ranging from helping to defeat the trolls, to being the mastermind behind the most brilliant trick the city has ever seen, to simply helping unload a wagon for a friend.


                No one in the city has seen or heard about Aschard since that evening, but the pair of guardsmen assigned to watch the west gate that night claim to have opened it just before dawn for a man driving a nearly empty wagon pulled by two mules.  The man drove his wagon to the west, into the wilderness.

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