Troll Mountain:The Complete Novel(6)
Author:Matthew Reilly


    “Ooh-ahh, Düm! Don’t lose your balance!”

    Raf frowned. The four pursuers seemed to be, well, drunk.

    And indeed, just then, another of them took a lusty swig of foamy liquid from his own goblet before hurling it at the fleeing troll and striking him on the back of the head with it.

    “Na-ha! You got him in the head!”

    “Well, we know that won’t hurt him!”

    The fleeing troll—Düm, Raf guessed—risked another leap to the next pillar and made it, again struggling mightily to retain his balance where Raf would have found it quite easy.

    The pursuing trolls started throwing other objects at Düm: branches, stones. They bounced off his thick gray hide.

    And then one of the pursuers threw a larger rock.

    It hit Düm squarely on the side of the head, causing him to lose his balance, and he tumbled from the pillar, falling for fifteen feet, cartwheeling in mid-air, before he landed feet-first in the gripping mud, embedding his legs all the way up to the hip in the viscous goo.

    The look of pure fear that flashed across Düm’s face when he saw his predicament struck Raf to the core of his being.

    It was a look common to all creatures—man, deer, hound and, evidently, trolls—the look of profound terror that follows the realization that one is moments away from death and there is absolutely no escape.

    The four other trolls exploded with laughter when they saw him drop into the mud. Two more rocks were thrown.

    One called, “Maybe you should have thought about this before you spoke to Graia. Stupid Düm. See you in the afterworld, you foolish dragger.”

    A final rock thunked against Düm’s head and the four trolls lumbered off, crashing through the thorn bushes, heading back toward the mountains, leaving the troll named Düm to die.

    *

    Raf had watched it all with a kind of grim fascination and he was staring at the swaying thorn bushes on the other side of the stream when he heard the troll in the mud whimper forlornly.

    Raf slid out from under his leaf-covered blanket and moved to the brink of the stream.

    “Raf—!” Ko hissed.

    Raf just held up his hand.

    He looked down into the bog and saw the troll hopelessly lodged in it, panting as it struggled in vain against the gripping mud. With every movement the troll managed only to sink itself further into the ooze.

    It looked pathetic and terrified. It was going to die here, slowly and alone.

    “Hey …” Raf called.

    The troll jerked round in the mud, looking this way and that before it realized the voice had come from the southern side of the muddy stream.

    Its fearful eyes found Raf’s and in a single instant Raf saw a complex series of thoughts pass through them: this troll needed a human’s help, but given the history of human–troll relations, such a thing was unlikely to happen.

    “Please help Düm,” it said as it sank another inch into the mud.

    Raf looked long and hard at the creature. He thought of his mother in the grip of a wild troll. He had never contemplated that his own first encounter with a troll might involve saving one.

    “If I help you,” he said, “you won’t hurt me?”

    “Düm no hurt. Düm promise no hurt.”

    Ko came alongside Raf and whispered, “Not all trolls fully understand the concept of a debt of gratitude, Raf. If you save him, he may not believe he owes you anything.”

    Raf pursed his lips, still thinking.

    Ko said, “This doesn’t have to concern you—”

    Raf spun to face Ko. “Yes. It does. I will not stand by and watch a creature die.”

    With those words, he pulled out his axe, tied his rope to its handle and, holding the other end of the rope, threw the axe down to the stricken troll.

    It landed in the mud next to Düm and he grabbed hold of it.

    “Hold on and we’ll pull you up,” Raf said.

    The troll obeyed and with slow, careful movements, Raf and the far more reluctant Ko pulled him through the gripping mud to their side of the stream. Once Düm was out of the mud and standing on more solid dirt, they used the rope to help him scale the sheer wall of the stream until at last the troll stepped up onto their bank.

    He rose to his full height, looming head and shoulders above Raf and Ko.

    There was a long pause as he stared at them.

    “Düm would be pleased to know your name, so Düm may thank you.”

    Raf smiled. “My name is Raf.”

    “Thank you, Raf. Thank you for saving Düm’s life.”





    Chapter 8



    Raf, Ko, and Düm were sitting around the remains of the fire. It was very late. The forest was dark and still. Raf stared at the huge troll with wary fascination. Düm looked big and powerful but quiet, not enraged and wild like the troll that had killed his parents.

    “Why were those trolls chasing you?” Raf asked.

    “Düm refuse challenge, so they chase Düm,” the troll said. “Try to kill Düm.”

    “You refused a challenge?” Raf asked.

    Ko explained. “Troll society is a highly ritualized warrior culture. Arguments are often settled by challenging another troll to combat on the Fighting Platform. One cannot refuse such a challenge and combat is a fight to the death.”

    Düm nodded sadly. “Düm only wanted to help Düm’s friend Graia.”

    “What happened?” Raf asked.

    “Düm’s friend Graia is she-troll. Graia beautiful. Graia always nice to Düm, even though Graia she-troll of high birth and Düm just a dragger.”

    “A dragger?” Raf glanced at Ko.

    “Draggers are the laborers of the troll world,” Ko explained. “All day long they drag heavy stone sleds packed with supplies up the side of Troll Mountain.” He lowered his voice to a whisper: “Draggers are not as bright as the ruling trolls, as you can see from this one’s speech.”

    Düm went on. “Yesterday, Düm see Graia crying and ask what wrong. Graia say she betrothed to Troll Prince Turv. Troll Prince Turv is son of Troll King. Very strong troll. Very powerful troll. But Graia no like Troll Prince Turv. She say Turv mean troll and she no want to be betrothed to Turv.

    “Since Graia nice she-troll and friend to Düm, Düm seek audience with Troll Prince Turv. Düm tell Turv it make Graia unhappy to be betrothed to Turv and that maybe Turv find other she-troll to marry.”

    Düm sighed sadly.

    “Turv get very angry with Düm. Turv challenge Düm to combat on Fighting Platform. But Düm not a warrior, Düm only a simple dragger. Düm know that Turv will certainly kill Düm in fight.”

    The big troll bowed his head in shame.

    “So Düm flee from Troll Mountain and hide in Badlands. Turv send his warrior friends to beat and kill Düm. Warriors track Düm into forest. Lucky for Düm, they plenty drunk and so make much noise. But then Düm reach muddy river here and fall in. Düm surely die in mud if not for Raf throwing rope. That why Düm here.”

    Raf looked at him closely. “The troll prince sent his friends to kill you because you tried to persuade him not to marry a girl?”

    Düm nodded.

    Ko said, “As I was saying to you before, because of the size of their brains, trolls are very black and white in their perception of things. They do not see nuance. Even the smallest slight is taken very seriously by a troll. And when one troll challenges another, the challenge must be accepted. By fleeing from a formal challenge, our new friend here broke a very serious social taboo. He probably cannot go back now.”

    Düm nodded. “That right. But Düm very thankful to Raf for saving Düm’s life. If Düm can help Raf in any way, please allow Düm.”

    Raf looked from the troll to the Black Mountains, dark shadows against the night-time sky.

    Düm followed his gaze and then turned to Raf, as if he had just realized something. “What bring Raf so deep into Badlands forest?”

    Raf turned back to face him. “I’m on my way to Troll Mountain, Düm. I’m going there to steal the Elixir.”

    Düm’s face went pale. “Wh … what?”

    “My sister is dying of the disease and the trolls won’t release the cure. I have no choice but to go and take it.”

    Düm shook his head. “Master Raf. Please. Düm wish he could help, but after another human chief sent thieves to Troll Mountain to steal Elixir, Troll King doubled guards on all watchtowers leading there. None can approach Troll Mountain now without being seen, not unless …”

    Raf’s eyes narrowed. “Unless what?”

    “Not unless one go through old hobgoblin kingdom,” Düm said. “Hobgoblins take over old cave system inside mountain east of Troll Mountain. Called Forbidden Mountain. Hobgoblins crafty, shrewd. And can see in dark. Fill tunnels of Forbidden Mountain with booby traps that trolls cannot pass. But now it claimed that hobgoblin kingdom deserted.”

    “If it’s deserted then we should be able to pass through it unhindered,” Raf said.

    “Traps still there,” Düm said, “and traps still work. Mountain called Forbidden Mountain because trolls forbidden to go there. No troll who go into hobgoblin kingdom ever return.”

    “And in my experience,” Ko said ominously, “no former kingdom is ever truly deserted. Something always moves in to fill the void.”

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