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Groon walked through Garfah, the sun baking its cobbled streets. A cool breeze blowing in from the Blue Ocean brought a smile to his face, two large teeth overlapping his upper lip. Eyes closed, a small tuft of black hair swaying to and fro on his head, Groon took a deep breath of the salty ocean air, relishing the beauty of the day and the city.
Garfah, much more reminiscent of a small town than a capital city, was the pride and joy of its inhabitants. Though tucked away in the far, southern edge of Ranellia, it was a quaint and wonderful place to live. The sun gleamed through open windows of the small homes lining the narrow streets, butchers working in their open-air stores hang their meats for all to see, and vendors of all sorts sang the praises of their goods from booths and stands. Groon’s nostrils flared as he drew in the air, now rich with the delectable aroma of roasted stag. He believed at that moment that life could not get much better. He almost had a twinge of regret at the thought of leaving his beloved home behind, but he felt that he had something to prove and the feeling that he would get from accomplishing that would make it all worthwhile.
“Groon! Groon!” a voice shouted from behind. He whirled around, a rough bag, hewn of the hardy grass found in the forest and filled to the brim with local herbs, hanging over his shoulder. Groatal ran up the street towards him, obviously excited. He must have heard the news from the tavern, Groon thought as his friend approached. Groatal stopped only feet from him and bent over to catch his breath. Finally, he looked up, hands on his knees.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked loudly, breathing heavily. Groon put his leathery, brown hand up, palm forward, as a sign for him to quiet down.
“Because I knew that you’d get overly excited,” he said softly. Though word was already floating around the tavern, Groon did not want everyone in town knowing his business too far ahead of time. “I can’t have everybody knowing just yet. I haven’t told my father, nor any of my uncles.” He pointed a jagged, black fingernail at Groatal, who had finally regained his composure, and said, “And I knew that if I told you that you’d let it slip to my sister and then I’d be in for it.” A confused look crossed Groatal’s face. Groon could always tell when he had perplexed his friend when his bottom lip jutted out and he began lightly pulling at it.
“So, if you’re going to do it anyway, what does it matter if they find out now?” he finally asked, failing to grasp a single reason as to why Groon would try to keep the whole affair a secret. Groon motioned for his friend to walk along with him. The roasted stag up the street called to him.
“Well, Groatal,” he began, “I’m going to do it regardless of what Father or my uncles say, but I want our remaining time together to be pleasant.” His friend nodded as if beginning to understand. “As soon as they find out, everything will change. I don’t want my memories of the last days living together with my family to be of arguments and hard feelings.” It looked as though Groatal finally understood and he silently walked along with his friend, suddenly realizing how much he would miss him. Finally, he broke his silence.
“Groon,” he said, his voice concerned, “We’ve been friends for a very long time and I want the best for you. That’s why I am going to say this.” He stopped abruptly in the middle of the street, staring down at his feet absently, almost sheepishly. Finally, he asked, “Do you think the humans will ever accept you, Groon? Accept a troll?”
Groon looked at his friend thoughtfully, touched by his uncommon show of concern, which was very well founded. Though the other kingdoms recognized the Nation of Garfah - even the haughty Empire of the Crescent grudgingly acknowledged it - there would always be a stigma attached to trolls. However, the similarities between the trolls of Garfah and the other trolls of the vast lands of Ranellia were in name only. Whereas the typical mountain troll was little more than a primitive, savage hunter of little intelligence, the trolls of Garfah had organized themselves into a small city-state years ago. Though mostly the same in appearance and strength, the trolls there were much more intelligent, softhearted, and civilized than their brethren. They were skilled artisans, traders, and keenly interested in philosophy and science – the intellectual equal of any human. Unfortunately, many humans did not make the distinction and judged them by name only.
Groon slapped his friend on the back and pointed up the street at the stand where a whole roasted stag hang, swaying lightly in the wind, by its hind legs, the cook cutting generous portions from it and dropping the meat atop brewis.
“Come on, old friend,” he said smiling at Groatal, whose eyes shimmered with tears. “Let’s grab a bite and wash it back with far too much ale. What do you say?” Without saying anything, afraid that a spoken word would bring the tears from his eyes, he nodded. Groon squeezed the younger troll’s shoulder and the two walked towards the stand where he would purchase a steaming treat for each of them.
“No!” Groon’s father thundered as he slammed his fist down onto the thick, wooden table. “I forbid it! You have duties at the shop and your family’s home is here and has been for four generations.”
He had expected such a reaction from his father, but at least he had been able to delay telling him until the night before his departure. Groon was actually surprised that his father hadn’t discovered the news from elsewhere - a small miracle of sorts with the way that gossip spread in Garfah.
Groon the Elder paced back and forth, his frustration apparent as he shook his head, stopping only to glare at his son. Groon’s uncles were there as well. Ronwell sat on a flimsy stool that somehow held together under his massive body and Kotes stood by the window staring at nothing in particular, not sure of what to make of the situation with his beloved nephew. Groon’s father walked over to the table where his son sat and leaned down, his heavily creased face only inches away from his son’s. “I didn’t raise you,” he whispered, “just for you to run off to a human city where you could end up hanged, quartered, or worse. You know that even if we accept them, the humans will never accept us.” He stared into Groon’s small black eyes, imploring him, pleading with him not to go through with his plan. Though he believed his son could do anything, he did not want him to lead a life in a strange world where he would be unaccepted, discriminated against, and hated for what he was. He hoped he understood.
Groon suddenly rose from his seat and threw two long, lean arms around his father, hugging him tightly. Ronwell raised a bushy eyebrow at the show of physical affection, not commonplace in a troll society - even among those in Garfah. Even Kotes momentarily turned his attention away from the window.
“I love you, Father,” Groon said, his voice a whisper. Then, he pulled away from his father and stood up straight, appearing proud and determined. The uncles exchanged a wary look. “But, I have to do this. I know that it will be difficult and there will be very bad times, but I can do this. I want people to understand that we’re . . . not the same as the others.” He paused, reflecting on how far his people had come from their primal roots, from their brethren still living in forests and mountains throughout Ranellia.
“I - I can do it,” he finally announced in quiet determination. Both uncles were smiling, satisfied by the confidence their nephew displayed. Groon the Elder stood quietly, staring at his son before finally speaking.
“You’re stubborn,” he said shaking his head, “just like your dear mother.” He thought briefly of his late wife and what she would have wanted for her only son. Then, he spoke again: “Your sister can assist me in the shop when she’s not helping out in the tavern.” He motioned over at Ronwell, so large that he appeared to be immobile. Ronwell eyed him suspiciously. “When she’s not available, perhaps I could bribe your uncle into helping.” Ronwell shook with laughter, belly jiggling, as did the other three trolls in the room. Groon’s uncle was, indeed, nearly immobile and very sedentary. The absurd thought of Ronwell waddling around broom in hand brought a tear to Groon’s eye. He would miss them – his family. The laughter quieted down as Groon realized that his time with them was short and his father and uncles realized the same.
“I leave in the morning,” Groon said, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. “I’ll board the trade ship that’s leaving for Ashford tomorrow morning. I already have everything that I need. Nolan recently returned from there and arranged for an elven friend of his to let me use one of his vacant stands until I save up enough money to open my own shop. It’s going to be wonderful, Father. I’ll sell medicine made in the troll fashion, herbs from Garfah, and other goods that only a troll can make.” His father nodded.
“The Kingdom of the Blue, eh? And how will you get these herbs and other materials from Garfah?” he asked studying his son’s face, wondering if he had really worked out all of the details. Groon smiled for he had everything sorted out well ahead of time.
“Nolan frequents Ashford,” he said. “He is going to make sure that I get everything that I need from home and he promises not to charge me a thing until I have enough money to stand on my own two feet.” Groon the Elder looked over at the uncles who nodded approvingly.
“That Nolan,” Groon the Elder started, as he sat down heavily by the table, “he’s a trustworthy and good man, for a human.” Ronwell smiled and looked up as if remembering something. Then his large mouth started to move.
“Ah, Nolan,” he said in his graveled voice, “He was the very first human that came to live here. At first, everybody suspected that he was sent as a spy from the empire or one of the other kingdoms, but they all figured out that was nonsense soon enough. I was a bit younger when he first arrived.” He slapped his expansive gut, hanging far over his trousers. “Long before I got this and I was still able to stand and work in the shop, I let Nolan help me out - a decent blacksmith, but a far better student and teacher. He learned our language very quickly and helped many others learn the human tongue of Ranellia.” He coughed loudly, clearing his throat, and then spoke in the common tongue of the humans.
“How you human talk, Groon?” he asked, his words broken and heavily accented, but the meaning understandable. He obviously took a great amount of pride in his limited ability though. Groon nodded in acknowledgement.
“It is good, Uncle,” he said slowly, trying to sound the letters out without his thick lips and tongue slurring the words. “Nolan is old, but he is still good teacher.” Ronwell clapped his hands together applauding his nephew. Though not perfect, his speech was very impressive. Groon the Elder slammed his hand down on the table yet again.
“My son!” he bellowed. “If he is to be a merchant in a faraway land, then we will drink and feast the night away! By the Gods, we will make it a night to remember!” Groon looked at him in bewilderment. Only a short time earlier, he adamantly opposed his decision. His mood and demeanor had changed completely and Groon could not help but think that his words had been the cause.
Maybe I will be a successful merchant after all, he thought happily as Kotes stirred from the window to fetch a barrel of ale and Ronwell and Groon the Elder launched into tales about old Nolan.
It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in sight, the sky more bright and radiant in its blue than the ocean. The small harbor was all but empty. A few sailors, just back from a long voyage to Tansa, joked with one another as they walked up the dock about who would spend all of their pay on drinks and card games first. Groon sat on the deck of the wooden, creaky ship overlooking the sparkling water, so clear he could nearly see to the bottom. He gazed out at the horizon and the unending ocean that seemed to blur into the sky in the distance.
Everything about the morning was perfect. The breeze against his skin, the warmth of the ship’s planks against his bare feet, and the way the sun looked, its reflection like a shimmering, orange orb bobbing in the water. He had said his goodbyes to his father, uncles and sister and promised that he would see them soon. Thinking about the night of drinking and storytelling he had the night before, the young troll pulled a piece of dried meat from his pocket and took a bite of it. His meager supplies were already stowed below deck so there was nothing left to do but enjoy the trip. A voice from behind caused him to turn in surprise.
“You know the view from Ashford is just as spectacular,” Nolan said, his command of the troll tongue flawless. “And it’s not like you can’t come back. A ship sails from here to Ashford every couple of weeks.” Groon was delighted to see the old man, who looked remarkably young for his age. After all, it was Nolan’s stories of the world, adventures far and wide that first inspired his interest in leaving Garfah for a more adventurous, exciting life. The troll extended his hand to Nolan, a typical human greeting he had been practicing, and the two shook hands. Groon kept a firm grip on Nolan’s hand.
“You’re doing it too long,” the old man said nodding down at his hand. Groon released his hand abruptly and looked down, embarrassed. Nolan put a wrinkled hand on his forearm, unable to reach his shoulder. “It’s okay, Groon. You’re still learning.” Groon put the bit of awkwardness aside.
“What are you doing here, Nolan?” Groon asked. He wasn’t expecting the old man to make an appearance, but he was very glad to see him nonetheless.
“I was worried about you, lad,” he said cheerfully. “You’ve never even left Garfah and yet I expected you to go to a busy port where you’re unfamiliar with the language and then venture into the city where you’re going to stick out like a goblin masquerading as a hare to find an elf, a creature you’ve never even seen before.” Groon contemplated the task. Until Nolan had actually detailed the undertaking, it hadn’t seemed so daunting. “But no worries, my friend! I will accompany you to Ashford.” A wave of relief washed over Groon. He was eager to arrive in Ashford, but having a friend along would make finding Asilon, the elf, a much easier process.
“Thank you,” Groon drawled in the human tongue. Nolan looked pleased. A gull cried overhead prompting the two to look up before the old man fixed his attention back on his pupil.
“You are welcome,” he responded slowly. He took the troll’s arm and began walking, pulling him along, towards the aft of the ship. “Let’s work on that common tongue of yours. We’ve a few days to spare and we’ll work wonders on that unsteadiness in your voice.” The two got to work right away, the old man asking simple questions and Groon answering them. Only an hour later, the ship bound for Ashford set sail and Groon and Nolan waved to the troll children gathered on the dock to watch the ship as it glided through the water away from Garfah.
Groon rubbed his eyes, overwhelmed by all that he saw. The harbor at Ashford teemed with people, swarming throughout the docks. The flurry of activity reminded the troll of an ant bed that had been poked with a stick. He had only seen a few humans in his life. He had known Nolan since childhood and he had met a handful of odd, eccentric travelers and rare merchants that found their way to Garfah, but he had never seen anything like the docks of Ashford. Now, there were a mind-boggling number of people everywhere; all of them shouting, carrying cargo away, and otherwise going about their business. Men stood in knots singing songs that Groon couldn’t quite understand, alongside them crates serving as makeshift gambling tables for other men cheering, tossing coins down and rolling dice. For Nolan, the hustle and bustle of the docks reminded him of years past, long before he settled down in Garfah, when he was a sailor one day, part of a traveling caravan the next. However for Groon, the sheer chaos of it all quickly became an almost desensitizing experience. A hard slap to his lower back brought his mind back to the ship.
“Welcome to Ashford, Groon,” Nolan said looking up at the troll’s face. “I know that this is all a bit much for you, but try and remember what we talked about. I’m going to be here to help you too, okay?” Groon nodded absently, barely hearing the old man above the din of the crowd.
On the way to Ashford, Nolan had assured his young friend that the Kingdom of the Blue was a much different place than any other in Ranellia. Renowned for its magic and mixing of cultures, the Kingdom of the Blue’s population was much more accepting of differences than elsewhere. Though he still would not be accepted as readily as an elf, dwarf, or mage, Nolan assured Groon that he would find a much more receptive environment in Ashford than anywhere in the world. The dockworkers were accustomed enough to the small band of trolls that made the biweekly sea voyage to Ashford for ale, fabric and other goods - though they always approached with a bit of hesitation and veiled nervousness at being in such close proximity to the trolls, each towering above them at seven-to-eight feet tall each.
However, Nolan knew that the average city-dweller would not be the same as a dockworker. In the back of his mind, he worried for the troll - so naïve, young, and inexperienced in the ways of humans. He feared the discrimination he might face, but he kept those worries behind a mask of excitement for his friend.
“How is my talking?” Groon asked, his words flowing much more fluidly. Several days of steady practice aboard the ship had served him well. Nolan beamed with pride; the troll’s progress remarkable.
“You already sound like a local!” the old man declared. He motioned vaguely at the city. “So, Groon, are you ready to grab your bags and head out into the city and find Asilon?” The troll cleared his throat, dry with nervousness, and spoke.
“Yes, Nolan, I am ready,” he said, controlling his nerves and speaking the common tongue with added confidence. Nolan began walking down the ramp to the stone dock, Groon close at hand, two heavy bags, each the size of a man, hanging over his shoulder.
The sea of people on the streets of Ashford separated as Groon walked down the thoroughfare behind Nolan. A disquieting hush fell over the crowd, a dull murmur working its way through the mass of people. The youngest of children, those who only knew that he looked very different, laughed and pointed in curiosity before a parent noticed and jerked them from the street. His face burned under the eyes of the crowd.
“The trolls of Garfah are still misunderstood in this world,” the old man said sadly as he shook his head. “However, don’t be deterred, Groon. The people here will warm up to you just as the docks did to the sailors from Garfah. It’s just going to take time for them to realize you’re not the monster from the tales of soldiers and children.” Groon walked along quietly, trying to ignore the townspeople staring at him but pretending as if they weren’t.
How will I ever gain their trust, he thought. Nobody here is going to trust a troll. Hell, elves and dwarves have been allies, or at least been on decent terms with the humans for ages. All my kind has ever done for the humans is maim, kill and eat them. We’re not the same in Garfah, but how will they ever get over what they already know to be true with the rest of the trolls in Ranellia?
A sharp elbow to the side regained his attention. Rubbing his ribs, the troll looked down at his elderly companion, pointing to the corner ahead. He squinted his black eyes in the morning sun and saw Asilon. It could be no other. Eyes fixed on the two approaching him, he stood nearly six feet tall with a mane of gray hair and impossibly pointed ears. Cheeks suddenly caving in, he drew deeply from the long pipe he held between his thumb and other fingers; a bluish ring of smoke drifted effortlessly from his mouth afterwards. Groon knew elves were all but immortal, but this one seemed to transcend even that - especially to one having never seen an elf.
Nolan raised his hand, as did Asilon in return. The two exchanged greetings and pleasantries while the troll stared down at the elf dumbly. Finally, Asilon turned and looked up at him. Groon gazed into his eyes, transfixed. The gray cloudy eyes seemed to swirl with the memories of eons past.
“So you want to be a merchant, eh?” he asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke. He ran one hand through his gray tangled mane. “I’ll do what I can to help you out, kid. Mostly because this old bird here - ” he motioned at Nolan “ - says you’re a quick study and tired of the simple life down in Garfah.” He studied the troll’s face. It was no wonder that the humans were so terrified of the creatures. His face was flat for the most part with a jaw thicker than a cow’s head. Of course, the two large teeth resting firmly against his upper lip would do little to put a nervous human’s mind at ease. But the elf could see more in young Groon. Maybe it was the uncanny ability in elves to see a person’s true heart, or maybe it was just Asilon’s knack for picking up on a person’s character, but he nodded approvingly before inhaling from the pipe again.
“I see a kind, generous man that only wants to be accepted by the world,” he announced. Nolan smiled. He had known this for years. Then Asilon raised an eyebrow and whimsically added, “And you obviously have a taste for adventure or you wouldn’t be here. Centuries ago, I did as well. I think that we will get along well, troll of Garfah.” Groon smiled for the first time since leaving the ship. He had made his first friend in Ashford. Asilon motioned towards a small storefront just behind him. “Enough standing on the corner. Let us go in where it’s private so I can explain what I expect from you.” Before Groon and Asilon entered the shop, Nolan said his farewells and set off to one of Ashford’s many bookstores – his voracious reading appetite was the stuff of legend - before heading back to the ship bound for Garfah.
Asilon’s requests were far more than reasonable. Groon had actually thought far more would be expected of him. He was to help clean Asilon’s shop, a small general store specializing in elven ware, go to market for him when necessary and keep him company. In return, Groon would be entrusted with a small stand across the street selling his own troll-fashioned items and his own small room in the back of the shop. The setup seemed unnecessarily fair and he wondered if Asilon had taken him in just to have a project to keep his mind occupied since he could not imagine any other benefit of his presence.
The immeasurably long life of an elf did have its drawbacks, such as boredom, but Groon could not imagine the kindness behind the calm and collected exterior of the elf. Though he did treat him as a pet project - near immortality did get awfully boring at times - of sorts, he wholeheartedly wanted to see the troll succeed and become a fixture in the mixed community of Ashford’s Market District. He knew it would take time though. Time - well, it was not a factor for Asilon, but would it be too much for Groon? He worried that it might.
The day after arriving in Ashcroft, Asilon had Groon sweep and clean the shop and later explained the finer points of haggling to him. Initially, Groon could not come to terms with this concept for the shops in Garfah all had fixed prices and that price is what the customer paid. After silently watching Asilon haggle with a couple of younger elves (one has to apply young very liberally to an elf), he began to understand the strange practice.
Later, the elf took Groon on a tour around the city, showing him different shops and districts and introducing him to a few other open-minded merchants. Groon didn’t believe that one in particular - a boastful dwarf selling weaponry - would have cared even if he were an ice troll, perhaps the most treacherous type of troll of all. He immediately introduced himself as if Groon were a human, or a dwarf like himself, and launched into the lewdest and most crude joke that the troll had ever heard. After the dwarf told story of one lucky sailor and a brothel of elven harlots, he extended a standing invitation to drink with him anytime. Though Groon had never met a dwarf, or anybody as vulgar, he heartily accepted.
Finally, on the third day, Asilon helped the troll set up the booth across the street, stocking the old wooden table with herbs, medicine, fruits and spices, all from Garfah. Smoking his pipe again, Asilon pointed to his own shop across the street.
“If you need anything - anything at all - just walk over and get me,” he told Groon. The young troll stood awkwardly by his stand, dressed in his nicest shirt, unbuttoned down to his sternum with sleeves rolled up revealing his bulging forearms, a pair of suspenders supporting the brown trousers that ended just above his ankles and bare feet. He had tried to wear boots over the past couple of days, but he found them extremely uncomfortable. “And remember what I taught you about people talking you down! Some people will take you for everything you’ve got if you cave and sell too cheap.” Groon nodded and the elf walked across the street to his shop. With his table piled with goods, the young troll was finally a real merchant. Now, all he had to do was sell something. He stood and waited for his first customer. And waited. And waited.
The hours passed. The day wore into the afternoon and not a single person had approached Groon. People only came close enough to determine his race before crossing the street to avoid him.
Nobody’s going to buy anything from a troll, especially anything made by trolls, he thought, dejected. What am I doing here?
Asilon watched from the window, feeling the same hurt that Groon experienced – all elves share the emotions of others they develop a close bond with. Still, he allowed Groon to carry on. Finally as night fell, he realized that Groon was not going to leave the stand until he went and fetched him back to the shop. That night, the two sat and ate in silence. The next day and the following days passed much the same.
Depressed, Groon began packing his goods back into his large canvas sack. A week had came and gone and he had not sold a single item nor attracted a single customer. Asilon encouraged him and begged him not to go, but he refused to impose on him any longer. The elf had already been far too generous. Besides that, Groon was crushed. He expected that he would have a tough time attracting customers, but he never expected that the rejection would be so bad, so hurtful. Though initially filled to the brim with enthusiasm and determination, he had given up. Over the past week, the young troll had experienced a depression unlike any before. He missed Garfah. He missed sitting and listening to Nolan’s stories for hours in the old man’s cottage. He missed tossing back pints of ale with Groatal. He missed working at his father’s shop where he knew everybody in town. He missed his Uncle Kotes and Ronwell and his sister.
“What a stupid dream,” he muttered silently trying to hold back his tears until he would be alone on the next trade ship to Garfah. He stuffed fruits and spices in his bag by the handful.
“What’s this here?”
The voice startled him and he dropped several of his fruits to the sidewalk, one of which rolled into the street. The human bent over, grabbed it and stood to hand it back to the troll. Groon took the fruit back and nodded, not sure what to say. The man pointed down at the table to one of the remaining bottles containing a greenish, grainy liquid.
“So, what is this?” he asked again.
“It’s - it’s elixir from Garfah,” Groon stammered in the human tongue. “Made from herbs and spices found there. I make it.” The human nodded thoughtfully as he picked the bottle up, studying the viscous elixir.
“What’s it for?”
“Erm,” Groon hesitated. “It is for . . . vitality is the word I think.” The man removed the top and smelled of the concoction. It had a sweet scent, but it was spicy enough to make his nose run a bit.
“How much you want for it?”
“We will bargain,” Groon announced as he set his sack down. The two settled into friendly negotiation of the price as a mother and child approached the stand and began looking and poking at the exotic, odd-looking fruits from Garfah’s coast. Asilon stood watching from across the street, pipe in hand, a grin creasing his face.
The story overall is good. Nice dialogue, interesting world. But the build-up's pretty slow, you might experiment with jumping into the story in the middle and then going back to tell the start. Begin with the tensest, most conflict-ridden part, the part that's sure to suck a reader in; and tell from there.
Wasn't sure about the character names at first but soon got into the story. Really well written and I'm eager to read more.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
|Outrunning the Storm|
|The Dreaming Fire|