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 Trollbabe's Tales

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyFri Feb 18, 2022 9:01 am

He made at least one other Elfquest cameo. I can't find it in elfquest.com, though.

In "Rogue's Curse", a circus magician enchants an audience member and causes him to humiliate himself. The hapless fellow looks like Elfpop.

In a non-Elf title from the "Myth" series, the Pinis appear as Lord and Lady Pinchpini.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyFri Feb 18, 2022 9:27 am

Trollbabe wrote:
He made at least one other Elfquest cameo.  I can't find it in elfquest.com, though.
another than "just being Adar"?

The one from Rogue's Curse? http://elfquest.com/read/index.php?s=RC&p=71 Never noticed before O.O

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyFri Feb 18, 2022 9:53 am

Yes, that's it. Thanks!

IMHO Nonna and Adar are Mary Sues rather than cameos. My character Cowl is a Mary Sue, which is why I consistently fail to give her character flaws. It's a tendency of a Mary Sue author to protect her ego by creating a character with no faults.

Wendy Pini drew herself into a short story, with Cutter and Skywise, not as Nonna, but it had no impact upon the Elfquest stories.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyFri Feb 18, 2022 10:01 am

I've found at least one page online Smile

Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 CD3KF9gNJJ1lAB9k5p3qzUT5KY-RY3kt2P5cNdP7U3isPlzH8y1Ydczl6J_MAmNMPZHOc5L542P1=s0

... and derailed your thread quite a bit. Embarassed

My apologies to Cowl!

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptySat Feb 19, 2022 12:36 am

No derailment here.  Cowl and I are open to any discussion.

Yes, that's the story I was recalling.  (I remember thinking the last panel resembled a suicide note.)

The new Trolls look a bit like Two-Edge. I'm not sure why they have elephant ears. Maybe it distinguishes them from the Trolls we already know.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyTue Feb 22, 2022 4:05 pm

Continuing the story.


Crumple and Groundling were kind enough to wait until I set my load of wood by the fire, and took a seat at the table with Grud.

I draw a deep breath to calm myself, then look from face to face at my three companions.

Grud shows no sign of surprise.  Clearly they discussed this in advance.  The men note my reaction and wait for me to relax.

My mother was very young when she fled the Elf sorceress of the Blue Mountain.  After I was born, she lived and died in the fishing village.  She never married and never had any other children.

I keep my silence, waiting for the elders to continue.

"Not by your mother," says Groundling.  He pauses as Grud pours hot tea into his wooden mug, specially carved for his aging fingers.

"Long time ago, in my travels," Crumple continues, "I learned a bit about your father.  I know he was a Kingdom Troll.  We trade with these type o' folk on a one-to-one, y'know, but we've no official business with 'em."

This much I understood.  Kingdoms are run by a single Troll whose word is law.  No votes, no appeals, no concensus of elders.  Favoritism, and endless infighting that depletes their numbers.

"Now, this is not t' disparage your sire, Milady, so take no offense.  I heard it from another Kingdom Troll who was WAY out of earshot of his fellows."

He made a wide sweeping gesture, flexing his mighty shoulder muscles. Nothing Crumple could say would cause me offense.

"According to his story, your father was an ordinary Troll.  Not bad in any way, but he hadn't much luck with the ladies."

"Nor with his King.  He worked his job, he earned his grub, but he hadn't anything to make him stand out.  Plenty of competition from the other young bucks, for maidens and for promotions."

"Then one day, maybe the King grew weary of him.  Maybe the other Trolls thought it foolish to go on adventures.  Or maybe your father volunteered, hoping to better his odds."

"Your father was sent on a mission.  Something about magic.  He ne'er came back."

Crumple, Grud and Groundling look at me in silence.

"Missing, and presumed dead," Crumple continues.  "No wife, no mumps to mourn him.  And the King didn't miss him either. He had a dozen other smiths, all of them fightin' for his favor."

I wait patiently for him to continue.  Grud serves me lavender tea in a silver cup.

Groundling picks up the story at this point.

"We know there are other places, other people, who live underground as we do.  There are Trolls like us who stay out of sight of the humans.  And the elves."

"This is why we were so careful with you.  We had to be certain you wouldn't bring any more people with you.  But you earned our trust."

"The Elves are not as wise.  Some of them fight with humans.  Some of them use the humans through trickery."

The Bird Spirits, I thought.

"What do you know of the Elves?" Groundling asks, more for the benefit of the other two than himself.

"Only what my late mother told me," I respond, "I've never seen an Elf."

"My mother was born to the Hoang G'Tay Sho.  The humans who lived at the foot of Blue Mountain.  The Elves lived in caves and tunnels, inside the mountain."

"The Hoang G'Tay Sho worshipped the Elves.  They called them the Bird Spirits, because they flew on the backs of giant birds."

"Some of the Bird Spirits flew on their own, but not all of them.  The sorceress couldn't fly."

The others nod and look at each other.  They know about the Bird Spirit Sorceress.

"Mother said that some of her people went to live with the Bird Spirits.  It was a special privilege.  They went inside the mountain and were never seen again."

"When my mother was a girl, there were many boys.  She said there were few girls."

I remember how my mother looked sad when she told this part of the story.

"The elders didn't think my mother was pretty or clever enough to secure a husband. They needed girls to marry and have children."

"So they tricked my mother.  They told her she would be a beautiful gift to the Bird Spirits.  They dressed her up and offered her to the Bird Spirit Sorceress."

"My mother went inside the mountain.  She saw the other Hoang G'Tay Sho, who had been offered to the Bird Spirits.  She wasn't allowed to speak to them."

"Then the Sorceress took her further into the Blue Mountain.  One of the Bird Spirits called the Sorceress 'Winterkill.'"

"She made my mother work hard, serving herself and the Bird Spirits.  Mother hardly ever saw sunlight."

"Winterkill and the Bird Spirits spoke to each other in a way that Mother didn't understand.  Just as I didn't understand Grud, when I met her."

"Winterkill spoke a few words my mother knew, but she demanded silence.  Mother didn't see any other humans after her first long night in Blue Mountain."

"Sometimes Mother cleaned the high cave where the giant birds were kept.  The smell was awful.  She was terrified the birds would eat her."

"Without companionship, without anyone to whom she could talk, my mother grew so lonely she sometimes thought about running to the edge of the high cave and jumping to her death.  But she could never get close to the ledge."

"One day Winterkill took my mother down tunnel after tunnel until she felt they were deep under the Blue Mountain.  It was chilly and damp, and quiet except for dripping water."

"When she thought they could go no further down, my mother says she heard strange sounds.  She couldn't imitate them for me.  Like a rock hitting another rock, but the rocks were singing."

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyTue Feb 22, 2022 4:36 pm

Story's going on! Like

Please follow this LINK to the Dollz thread and see how Prism imagines Cowl, Trollbabe!

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyTue Mar 01, 2022 10:42 pm

And on, and on...

"Your mother might have heard the sound of iron ringing against iron," says Groundling.

"She also described a 'green man' who worked with fire, and a hammer.  Had she any knowledge of steel?"

"No," I reply, "and neither did I, before I reached Fox Caverns."

This is the name of the endless complex of tunnels and chambers that Groundling, Grud and their people inhabit, and into which I have lately been welcomed, after a year inhabiting one of its minor entrances.

"Had she ever seen a Troll?" he asks.

"No," I recall, "nor did she see the Bird Spirits up close, until she entered Blue Mountain."

I tell a story I had told Groundling and Grud before.  Crumple hears it for the first time.

"The lady Winterkill took my mother to an immense chamber that smelled of smoke.  She gave my mother to the Green Man who worked there, with hamers and fire.

"She left my mother with the Green Man, as if she were his possession.  Then she disappeared.

"He showed her how to labor over a device that blew air into a stone pit of coals.  It was hard work, hot work, and they both became exhausted.

I blush a little as I recount this part of Mother's story.

"They went to bathe together, in a pool of still water surrounded by crystals.  Then they lay together in a bed as soft as flower petals.

I rush nervously through the rest of the story, wondering what my new friends might think of my long-deceased mother and mysterious father.

"My mother slept.  When she awoke, the Green Man was gone.  The sorceress was there, and she was laughing.

"She led my mother back up the tunnels.  It was a long, long climb.  Mother never saw the Green Man again.

"Months passed.  My mother's belly began to grow.  She found a way out of Blue Mountain, and fled to the south.

"I was born in the fishing village, and knew no other life until many years after my mother passed on.  She had no other man, and no other children."

Crumple, Grud and Groundling exchange looks and nods.  I wonder what they think of the lonely girl, so long ago, who fell into the arms of a strange-looking, strong man with eight fingers, eight toes and skin the color of juniper boughs.

I wonder, too, what Crumple must think of me, a half-human outsider born of a twisted sorceress' games.  Not at all like himself, so typical a Troll, and yet so perfect.

Grud begins in her sweet, reassuring voice.

"Your mother loved you enough to save you from the Sorceress," she says, "and we loved you enough to open our home to you.  Fox Caverns is your home for as long as you wish."

I smile, as tears fill my eyes.  I dab them away with my linen handkerchief, a gift from Groundling.  Grud continues.

"We have other storytellers, like Crumple, who travel abroad and gather information.  They are experts at hiding in plain sight, sometimes dressing and painting themselves to look like their surroundings.  Green blends into green."

"We avoid attracting the attention of Troll kings.  They can be greedy and agressive.

"The Troll Kings, like the Elves of Blue Mountain, believe in possessing others and forcing them to do their work.

"Sometimes the Trolls fight with each other.  Some Trolls fight with the Elves.  Some Elves fight with humans.

"If your mother's people, the Hoan G'Tay Sho, ever realize how the Elves are using them, perhaps they will rise up and fight as well.

Such a sad and terrible world, I think to myself.  I was fortunate to live so long and travel so far in peace.

"You're a lucky lass," says Crumple. "You've not seen how terrible the world can be, how cruel folks can be to one another."

His voice is like a deep, mellow horn sounding to call the fishing fleet in for the evening.

"I've heard tales," I respond.  "My elders told me of roaming bands of humans who sometimes attack honest people and take what they want.

"They warned us as well, of tricksters who appeal to our kindness, our pride, or our greed in order to rob us of provisions."

"Your elders were wise, M'Lady," answers Crumple, "but they didn't know the half of it. This sorceress, this Winterkill, your Ma described... she is worse than you can imagine."

My poor mother.  No wonder she fled Blue Mountain as soon as she knew I was quickening.  What a terrible place to have been born!

"Why didn't she come after me?" I ask

"She had other games to play," said Crumple.

"Besides, she never leaves Blue Mountain.  You've seen how our healers and our cooks experiment with herbs.  How our smiths experiment with metals.

"This sorceress, this Winterkill, she experiments with living flesh.  Amuses herself by shaping and breeding people... and other things."

Crumple looks down and blushes.  Groundling picks up the narrative.

"The Elves possess the power to shape themselves into other people, and into animals.  We believe they can fool us, even spy on us in these disguises, just as we spy on others by disguising ourselves as part of our surroundings.

"This is why we never bring animals into Fox Caverns.  Why we took such a long time to evaluate you.  We wanted to be certain you were not a spy."

This explains things, although I've never heard of adults spying on adults.  I thought it a children's game.

"We also believe the elves can fool the animals into thinking they are animals.  Even for the purpose of breeding with them.

Grud has heard this before, but she still flinches. Groundling continues.

"You may have heard children's tales, about a wolf that walks upright on its hind legs, or a boy who flies with bird's wings.  We believe these stories have roots in reality.

I remember the story about the bird-man, a giant bat with pale flesh and big eyes, who snatches great fish out of the water.

"We believe these creatures are the work of the sorceresss' magic.  We believe she breeds Elves with birds and wolves, and in your case, a human with a Troll, for her amusement.

"If what your mother told you is true, she never told your father about you.  But if the lady Winterkill didn't miss your runaway mother, she was not yet finished with your father.

After much conversation, the Trolls are finally getting to the part that most intrigues me.  Yet their grim expressions and somber tone suggests a less than happy announcement.

Groundling sips his tea in silence, as he does when he thinks carefully about what to say next.

"The Elf sorceress used your Troll father for one more... experiement.

"She enchanted him, and drew him into her own chamber, and lay with him herself."

I should have known this was coming, but I sink into my chair, shocked and nauseated.  All are silent for a minute, allowing me to absorb this news.

"Your Pa's trail went cold, as far as rumor goes," says Crumple.

"If we put the pieces together, we believe he gave her a son.  Afterwards, she disposed of him."

"Enchanted?" I ask, "Please tell me that my father wasn't a rutting buck, looking to breed with anything female."

If that's the case, I think, what does that make me?

"Hardly," says Grud in her soft, maternal voice.

"Your mother was lonely, and your father must have thought she was beautiful. They lay together, of their own free will.

"Most likely the sorceress discovered them asleep, and used her magic to cause his seed to take root in her belly."

"According to the story your mother told you," she continues, "your father knew nothing about you.  In the stronghold of Elfin witchery, I suspect he might have even been made to forget her entirely."

The Trolls are sophisticated healers who know far more about the body than I ever will.  I take this as an explanation that brings me comfort.

"This half-brother?" I finally ask.

"We believe he is younger than you," says Groundling, "by how much, we can't say."

"He has a reputation as a master smith, teaching the Kingdom Trolls all sorts of ingenuity."

"Crumple, didn't you say you heard his voice?"

Crumple sits up in his chair, his warm, dark eyes wide.  He takes a sip of wine before he replies, stroking his luxurious beard.

"Indeed, m'lord, I heard him once, but never seen him. 'Twas a long, long way from here... thankfully.

"He spoke in a singsong, rhyming voice, far away in a dark cavern. 'Gold and rubies, sapphires bright', somethin' somethin'.  Like he was tempting me.  Like he wanted me to follow him."

"What did you say to him," I ask in amazement.

"Nothin' at all," Crumple responds firmly.

"I moved as quietly and as quickly as I could, in the opposite direction.  Even went topside, in a blizzard, hoping I'd lose him.

"I knew enough of his reputation to avoid him at any cost.  He's as mean as his mother, but the worst of it is, he's insane.  As clever and as mad as a dog-elf with foaming sickness."

"You might be kin to him, M'lady, but if I're you, I'd leave it at that.  If yer lucky, he doesn't know you exist."

That's the end of it, I think.  Why tell me this, if we are never to meet? The others sense my curiosity.

"We wanted you to know this, as a warning," says Groundling.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyTue Mar 01, 2022 10:58 pm

Incidentally, there is a trope in TV and movies that I feel defies nature.  It's kind of like the horses that gallop on and on, whenever a rider wants to get somewhere in a hurry.  Or a certain Vulcan who has green, copper-based blood and pink skin.

Caves, tunnels, caverns, ledges, canyons, craters, moons, asteroids and just about any geological settings for human activity always have a relatively horizontal flat floor.

In addition, caves, tunnels and caverns are always high and wide enough for a grown man to walk, or even run, even if he has to stoop a bit.

Should you ever visit caverns that are open to the general public, you'll find they have been modified to accommodate crowds of able-bodied tourists. This includes installing platforms, or even pouring concrete, to create a floor.

If you recall Junior High science, bedrock is either igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic, if I spelled it right.

(Hooray, the Prez is on TV...)

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyTue Mar 01, 2022 11:40 pm

The Trolls whom I know personally live and work in sedimentary rock.  It's softer than igneous rock, and they prefer to stay far away from volcanoes.

The desert landscape of Sedona, Arizona, USA is a good example of sedimentary rock that remains in a position in which it was formed.  

In contrast, the movement of tectonic plates often fractures and thrusts sedimentary layers out of horizontal alignment, forming mountain peaks and other formations that might remind you of a slice of layer cake deposited on a plate at an angle.

Layers of sedimentary rock vary in thickness and in substance.  An ideal setting for a Troll community is a very thick layer of rock, not too soft, lying perfectly level between two layers of hard rock.  From this we can dig working and dwelling spaces high and wide enough for us to live and travel comfortable.

(Cousin Carbuncle says that we Trolls are like the candied fruits and chocolate chips distributed throughout a tasty layer of the cake that is sedimentary rock.  I contend that some of us are nuts as well.)

This perfect horizontal orientation just doesn't happen in the real World of Two Moons.

More often than not, this layer of workable rock, the stuff of our walls and tunnels, lies at a treacherous angle.  Picture a block of townhouses built on a thirty-degree hillside.

Our homes and workshops can have multiple floors that are level, but our tunnels and open spaces are more like ski slopes than ball fields.

Some of our black-diamond slopes are strung with knotted ropes, anchored at intervals, providing handholds.

(Edit: Elder Sixtoes likens it to a very large multi-deck cruise ship that's listing twenty degrees starboard.)

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyThu Apr 21, 2022 11:12 pm

Prism's illustrations of Cowl are helping me get a better idea of my character and how she responds to situations.

Cowl is very interested in Crumple, but she doesn't know if the feeling is mutual.

If it is, how would they proceed?

Will their future be like that of a full-blooded Elf and a Wolfrider, doomed to end when one outlives the other? Or does Cowl have the same life expectancy of a full-blooded Troll?

Cowl has outlived two human husbands and has never been pregnant. Her second husband was a widower who fathered children by his first wife, so the limitation is obviously hers. But is she able to have children with a full-blooded Troll husband?

(Her half-brother Two-Edge was born to two immortals, so he is likely to be immortal.)

Knowing the possibility of having no natural heirs, and of losing Cowl to old age, would Crumple even consider building a relationship with her?

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyThu Apr 21, 2022 11:26 pm

Today Trollhubby and I were waiting for our ride outside one of the many doctors' offices he visits. The landscaping outside of the building include a park bench, and concrete steps, ramps and sidewalks bordered by loose pebbles. The pebbles range in size between that of an egg and of a potato, and are different shades of gray and white, some with stripes.

Trollhubby sat on the bench with his walker in front of him. I sat beside him on the steps. I picked up an interesting pebble, brushed it off and handed it to him. We talked about how pretty the pebble was. Then he handed it back to me to replace. I handed him another pebble, and we continued in this manner until our ride showed up.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptySat Apr 30, 2022 10:20 pm

Trollhubby is in the hospital on oxygen, and I am missing him terribly....

Transitioning from the ongoing story of Cowl:

Crumple tightened the straps on his backpack and adjusted his tool belt for comfort. It was a warm, dry night, fragrant with hornblossoms and ringing with the calls of owls, bagfrogs and crickets.

He had already bid a reluctant farewell to his Fox Cavern friends and family, as well as the newcomer Cowl.

From the peak of Fox Mountain, he gazed eastward into the valley concealed between the northern and southern ridges of the mountain range. Here the Fox Caverns Trolls raised crops and livestock, far from prying eyes.

Somewhere to the west lay the seacoast that Cowl had described. Crumple avoided beaches and other open spaces. Perhaps someday, should his eyes and ears become dull with advanced age, he would visit the sea. Part spy and part trader, for now he traveled only where he could hide quickly.

Would Cowl, a half-human, grow old at the same rate as the rest of us, he wondered. Would she be able to have children by a Troll husband?

He cleared his thoughts and shifted his focus to the stars. The sky was good for travel, but he would have to find shelter before morning.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptySat Apr 30, 2022 10:52 pm

If you return to the first page of "Trollbabe's Tales", you'll see Embala has posted a black-and-white map on which Blue Mountain is highlighted in blue.

Just south of Blue Mountain is the river that Cowl's mother followed westward, in her escape from Winnowill.

She crossed over to the south bank and arrived at the coast of the Vastdeep Water.

Then she followed the coast southward, until she reached a fishing village, where she gave birth to Cowl and remained the rest of her life.

Long after her mother and both of her husbands died, Cowl wandered southward along the coast, until she was roughly at the same latitude as the desert that the Wolfriders would someday cross.

After settling near the coast for a long time, she moved eastward and inland until she reached the westernmost mountain that lies directly south of Blue Mountain.

This mountain is Fox Mountain, home of the Fox Caverns Trolls.

Entrances to Fox Caverns are carefully disguised, and usually hard to reach.  Cowl arrived through a small cave on the western slope.

The eastern slope of Fox Mountain descends into a valley that is flanked by two mountains on its north and south sides.  These mountains form a range that continues east.

This eastern slope, hidden from the view of outsiders, is carved into terraces that are farmed by the Fox Caverns Trolls at night.  The higher terraces are used to grow crops.  Lower terraces are used to collect water and corral livestock.

The Fox Caverns Trolls keep small livestock like goats, sheep, ducks, geese and pigs.  Cattle and horses draw attention.  They don't want to be spotted by the Gliders, who live far off to the north, but are capable of reaching Fox Mountain if they so desired.

They don't bring live animals into Fox Caverns because they are wary of shape-changing Elves.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptySun May 01, 2022 9:54 am

I don't have a title yet, but this is the origin of the Fox Caverns Trolls.

After examining them for soil or wear, Butler hung up his uniform and his work undergarments.  He stepped into his bath slippers, wrapped himself in a coarse towel, and entered the communal bathroom attached to the male workers' quarters.

Butler enjoyed a long hot shower as much as any othe Groundling.  Yet he scrubbed himself hastily and diligently from scalp to toes, keeping his back turned to the rest of the room.

It didn't make sense, he thought, that he felt uncomfortable exposing his lower parts to the other males.  The engineers didn't seem to care, and even failed to notice their own buttocks peeping out when they squatted over their repairs.

Butler dried himself off, donned his towel and slippers, and pinched a lock of his red hair thoughtfully.  He would need to ask Hannah to give it another good trim.

Hannah worked in the galley, preparing the meals that Butler served to the High Ones, but she was skilled with scissors.

Butler's hair curled when he allowed it to grow more than a finger's thickness.  He had long since grown weary of the High Ones stroking his hair, admiring his curls and even plucking at them to see them spring back.

Butler dressed in casual clothes that Tailor had made for him, a short tan pullover smock and a pair of pajama-like trousers, all made from a tan woven material similar to linen.  He fastened the Roman style sandals that Cobbler had made as casual footwear for all of the Groundlings.

No trade existed among the Groundlings, but Hannah and Butler often shared leftover food with those who did them favors.  The High Ones either didn't know, or didn't care, as long as the Groundlings worked in harmony and completed their chores on time.

Lately the High Ones had been so absorbed in their plans, Butler and Hannah had more free time, as did Anna.

The three friends gathered for a leisurely meal in the servant's mess, lingering a while to chat.  There wasn't much to discuss, and Butler wasn't prone to gossip.  But he somehow enjoyed the company of females over that of some of his rough, sullen colleagues.

Hannah and Anna wore ankle-length smocks, identical except for color.  Hannah's had faded from bright red to pink.  Butler noticed how Anna's faded blue garment almost matched her eyes, while it set off her pale gold hair.

"Butler," asked Hannah, "have you ever thought of a name you would give yourself, if you could choose your own name?"

The Groundling was taken aback.  Such a question hadn't occurred to him for a long time.

"Once," he replied, "just as a flight of fancy."

Anna sighed as Hannah continued.

"We talk about it often.  The High Ones gave us rhyming names for their amusement.  They thought it would be cute."

Butler looked cautiously over his shoulder.  He rubbed his face, as if feeling the exasperation the two women shared.

The three companions looked up to see Scamper approaching.  Adept at climbing, the systems engineer had earned a name the High Ones considered equally cute.

Anna receded into her chair as Hannah and Butler greeted Scamper.  She showed obvious relief as he continued on his way.

"What's your problem with him?" asked Hannah.

"Nothing personal, I hope," added Butler.  Conflicts among the High Ones' servants drew unpleasant attention from their masters.  Life was humiliating enough.

"He's a troublemaker," stammered Anna.  "Talks openly about rebellion."

The table was silent for a minute.  Other workers drifted out to attend to their duties.

Hannah spoke quietly.

"Seriously, how do you feel about our... situation?"

Butler shrugged.

"Could be worse," he said.  "We're fed, we're cared for, we have duties to occupy our minds, and plenty of leisure time."

"What more could we want?" asked Anna.  "All I really have to do is dress up and dance for their amusement.  Lately, they've been so preoccupied, I've had time to put up my feet and work on new moves."

"Things could improve," said Hannah.  "I've heard talk that we will be visiting a large planet, with a good atmosphere and gravity, and just enough sunlight to make it habitable."

There was silence as Butler and Anna imagined a world outside the Palace.

"If they let some of us leave," Butler suggested, "maybe we could survive.  Even thrive."

"Why would anyone want to leave?" said Anna.  "We have everything we will ever need, right here.  And we're safe here."

So we believe, thought Hannah.  Even the High Ones are capable of making mistakes.

"I don't follow Scamper's reasoning," said Hannah, looking around nervously.  "I agree, he's a troublemaker.  I don't want to fall in with him and face the consequences of his scheming."

"But I agree with you, Butler.  If they form a landing party, and let some of us go with them, I'd be willing to consider staying behind.  What's the worse that can happen to us?"

"We could be torn apart by wild beasts," said Anna.  "We could starve or die of disease."

"We could live long and exciting lives," said Butler.  "The point is, we would do so at our own discretion."

"Count me out," said Anna.  "I can live a long life right here."

Hanna changed the subject.  Eventually Piper joined them and played a new tune as Anna rose up and danced.

Two of the Winged Ones, attracted to the music, twittered and floated around the dining hall in time to the music.

Mesmerized, Butler watched Anna glide about in her bare feet.  How beautiful she would be, whirling under the moons and stars of a new land full of mysteries and wonders.

Hours later, Butler lay awake in his bunk.  In the darkness he heard the rhythmic breathing of several other male Groundlings, fast asleep, and the distant, steady hum of the Palace at rest.

He imagined a Palace, many times larger than the confines of the spaceship that had been his home for as long as anyone could remember.

He pictured chambers studded with sparkling stones, engineers toiling at making beautiful things of bright metal, and women weaving soft, colorful fabrics for Tailor.

There was jolly Piper, with a band of musicians, and Anna dancing in jewels and bright colors, and Hannah carrying baskets of luscious fruit.

And there was a circle of sturdy benches, in a warm, well-lighted chamber, where everyone would gather and sort out their problems, and plan their own destiny.

There would be respect, and dignity, and friendship.  And he would choose his own name.

Without a sun to mark them, days, months and years passed uncounted, except by the High Ones, and those engineers whose jobs depended upon schedules and time measurement.  Hannah cooked, Butler served, Piper played, Anna danced, Tailor sewed, and Ginger tended crops and harvested the food that Hannah cooked.

Ginger's hair was a lighter shade of red than Butler's.  She kept her long locks tightly braided and wore sturdy overalls and boots when on duty.

The High Ones usually ignored her, but the Winged Ones sometimes pestered her.  Secretly she preferred their attention to that of her masters.

Once after an evening meal, Butler, Hannah and Ginger gathered in the galley and talked for hours.  After dropping off a tub of ripe fruit, Ginger had stayed to help Butler and Hannah with the dishes.

The three enjoyed making up stories and jokes.  Ginger and Hannah ached to share ideas they had about cooking and gardening, ideas that their masters would never allow them to practice.  Thinking was the right and privilege of High Ones.

Butler listened intently, even when the ideas went over his head.  He treasured these times which fed his imagination.

Ginger returned to running errands as Butler and Hannah returned to their respective dormitories.

In the dim light of a common bedchamber, Hannah crept quietly to her bedside.  Anna and Selma were asleep, and someone was in the shower.

Hannah soothed her worn hands with the lotion that Ginger had given her long ago.  It smelled like the flowers Butler sometimes arranged in the High Ones' dining room.

As Hannah set aside the lotion and collected her nightgown and slippers, the room light flickered from dim to dark, over and over.

Hannah set down her nightclothes and waited for the flickering to stop.

It continued.  Hannah switched on a bedside lamp, to no avail.  The overhead light continued to flicker unevenly.

The sound of running water in the bathroom ceased abruptly.

Getting no results from the faucet, Debra slapped the shower wall and muttered.  Nothing.  The bathroom lights were flickering as well.

Wiping the soap from her eyes, she groped her way to the sink, hoping to rinse her hair.

Suddenly the floor listed.  Debra grabbed the edge of the sink with both hands as her feet slid out from under her.

Water plumed from the sink and flowed onto the slick floor.  Debra scrambled to the doorway on her hands and knees.

Outside the bathroom, the bedroom carpeting gave her enough of a grip to rise to her feet.

Anna and Selma screamed and bolted upright in their beds.  The floor was rocking like a ship in rough waters.  The steady hum of the Palace turned to an uneven rumbling.

Naked, wet and dazed, Debra steadied herself in the bathroom door frame.  Anna and Selma climbed out of their beds and clung to each other in terror.

One, two, three, four, thought Hannah.  If we lose the lights, we can't lose each other.

Another tilt, and the water from the bathroom sink flowed into the bedchamber.   The beds remained anchored, but the pillow and mattresses were sliding onto the floor.

Cabinets swung open and spilled their contents. Hannah thought fast and snatched up a folded blanket.

She whipped the blanket outward, as if making a bed.

"Grab the corners!" she barked.

Not knowing what else to do, Selma, Anna and shivering Debra seized the corners of the sturdy blanket.

With her discipline as a dancer, Anna was better able to keep upright and to keep moving, as Hannah led them to the dormitory exit.

Some of the doors were automatic.  Hannah didn't want to be trapped inside if they malfunctioned.  The bedchamber reminded her of the inner barrel of a laundry washer.

Outside the dormitory, the auxiliary lights glowed steadily.  Hannah let go of the sheet and steadied herself against a Palace wall.  Anna and Selma wrapped the blanket hastily around Debra.  Selma knotted it at Debra's shoulder like a toga.

Where was everyone, thought Hannah.  Where were the engineers and the maintenance staff?  They should be hard at work, taking control of the situation.

The Palace jolted.  The four women dropped to the floor.

"Brace yourselves against the wall!"  Anna shouted, "Hands behind your heads!"

The women sat side by side along the base of the wall.  Selma was sobbing.

The High Ones were absent as well.  Nothing to do but wait for orders, or for everything to stop moving.

A chain of small figures approached.

"Ginger!" shouted Debra.  "Over here!

Looking up, Ginger followed Debra's voice and led the others toward the wall.  Five other Groundlings followed her.  Each was tied around the waist with a single rope, forming a chain, like mountain climbers.

Following the example of the four women, they lined up with their backs to the wall, sat down and covered their heads with their hands.

At the sight of the other Groundlings, Selma regained her composure.  The quaking continued, along with the rumble of the Palace, and the clatter of its contents.

Hannah leaned forward to identify the Groundlings who were strung together like beads.

Butler, Ginger and two engineers were still in uniform.  Piper and Tailor were in nightshirts.  Tailor's shop apron, his prize possession, hung loose around his neck.

Hammer, one of the engineers, shouted, "He did it.  The fool actually did it!"

"And we were bigger fools for allowing it," grumbled Piper.

"Where are the High Ones?" cried Selma.  "Why aren't they helping us?"

"They don't trust us anymore," said K'meer, the other engineer, "They think we're all siding with Scamper in this stupid plot."

"We're on our own," said Ginger, "and we'd better stick together."

And die together, thought Tailor.  He shivered.  While his apron kept his chest warm, his nightshirt, made from scraps of the finest available fabric, did little to keep the chill from his shoulders.

Piper wished he had at least one of his instruments to calm his nerves.  He hummed a slow bedtime tune to himself.

From somewhere in the Palace, voices high and deep shouted in confusion.  Objects crashed and scraped.  The hum of the Palace had risen to a deafening roar.  

Is it getting colder, thought Debra.  She already felt she was going to freeze to death.

All at once, the ten companions fainted.  The air in the corridor had grown thin and frigid.

Hammer awoke first, unable to determine how much time had passed.  The complete silence of the Palace was such a shock to his ears, he though for a moment he'd gone deaf.

He cursed as he realized he'd emptied his bladder upon himself.

His five companions were still tied to him.  The four women hadn't drifted far.  Selma lay in such an odd position, Hammer wondered if she had broken her neck.

"High Ones," moaned Tailor, "Help us."

"Tailor?" called Ginger, as Selma arose.
Gradually all ten Groundlings awoke, some in tears, but none worse than scratched or bruised.  One by one, they arose to their feet.

They all felt heavy.  K'meer wondered if someone had adjusted the gravity controls.

The odd-smelling air was warm and rich with oxygen, flowing from somewhere beyond the corridor.  There was barely enough light to see the far wall.

A Winged One fluttered above them, chattering ceaselessly.

"Quiet!" hissed K'meer.

The others strained to hear, as the sharp-eared engineer pressed his ear to the far wall of the corridor.

They heard the fading scream of a High One, and growling voices they didn't recognize.

Then silence.  Not a sound, not even the familiar hum of the Palace.

"The rest of you, stay here," whispered Hammer, "I'll investigate."

Hammer wasn't the bravest, but he knew full well he was the biggest and the strongest.  That made him the best choice to face the unknown.

As he untied himself from the rope, he felt a fleeting thrill at the knowledge that he had chosen his own path.

What he and the other Groundling men would each discover, after a lifetime of servitude, was the instinct common to countless other species, to defend and provide for the females of the species.

Thus, as Hammer crept around a corner leading to the front hall of the Palace, Piper, Tailor, K'meer and Butler motioned for the women to gather against the wall, as they formed a line in front of them.

As she huddled together with Hannah, Selma, Anna and Ginger, Debra brushed her hair back from her face, and noticed it was now dry.  How long had they been unconscious?

The main hall was no brighter than the corridor behind him, but the main hatch at the end was wide open.  It was rectangular this time, resembling a massive doorway.

One, two, three, four, counting his steps, Hammer edged along the wall until his foot hit something soft.

Cautiously he squatted down, hands groping the floor, buttocks against the wall, not wanting to lose his way.

He felt something warm, and silky, and wet.  The odd smell reminded him of iron.

His gaze met the lifeless, staring eyes of a High One.

Hammer fell to his hands and knees and vomited.

He sat back on his heels and spat.  Irreverently, he wiped his bloody palms on the High One's robes.

Further down the front hall, eerie light from the main hatch revealed two more bodies, and a trail of bloody footprints leading outside.

Hammer arose, steadied himself, and made his way back to the others.

"There's no pleasant way to describe it," he began as he described the scene to the others.

Groundlings weren't used to deciding, nor to taking a vote.  But they soon agreed that splitting up was a bad idea.

"It'll be my idea," volunteered Butler.  "We'll all go, and if it's a bad idea, you can all blame me."

"Follow Hammer and I," volunteered Anna.  "We can pretend we're doing a dance, and I'm leading the rest of you.  Keep in step, now!"

Hannah felt pinpricks as a Winged One settled upon her shoulder and clung tightly.

Butler felt immeasurable gratitude to Anna.  The memory of her merry dancing to Piper's tunes kept his focus from the horror of the moment.

"For the sake of your sanity, don't look down," said Hammer, as he led his nine companions toward the exit.

K'meer followed behind, not looking back once at the only home any of them had ever known, grateful that he wasn't among those barefoot and in nightclothes when the world ended.

Debra strained to hear sound of any kind.  Gradually, as they approached the door, she heard strange, faraway noises outside.  Some of the sounds were like voices without words, others like air blowing through crisp fabric.  Trees and wild animals were beyond her experience.

For several minutes, all ten Groundlings huddled together inside the main hatch, looking out at the unfamiliar scene.

Ginger tested the ground with the toe of her work boot, and stepped out.

The gravity was just as firm as it had been inside the Palace when it came to rest.  The air was filled with odd sounds and smells.

The light of two moons revealed footprints in the dust beneath her feet.  Footprints of High Ones, Groundlings, and some unidentified, barefoot creature, halfway between the two in size.

Too many toes, thought Ginger.  She halted, listening for voices.

"Quietly," she said to Hammer as she motioned for the others to follow her outside.  He passed the word on, untying and gathering up the rope that had still held some of them together.

Slowly the ten Groundlings emerged from the Palace for the first time in their lives.  Only Butler, Hammer, Ginger and K'meer wore work shoes.

The air smelled foreign, and the gravity was slightly stronger than it had been in the Palace in flight.

"Stay together," urged Butler as he took Debra's and Selma's hands.  Debra held the blanket around herself with her free hand.

They crossed a clearing and sought cover beneath the branches of a leafy tree.  It spread out, dome-like, concealing them from anyone who may be lurking in the shadows.

Here they sat quietly, listening for the hostile cries of the strange creatures, and the familiar voices of the High Ones and the Groundling rebels.  Having been servants of the High Ones, all ten were accustomed to holding their tongues for hours on end.

The two moons rose higher in the sky.  Tailor quietly removed his work apron, its pockets filled with tools and thread.  He slipped off his soft, finely-stitched nightshirt, then tied his work apron firmly around his neck and waist, over his bare chest.

Tailor folded the nightshirt and passed it to Debra.  The men averted their gaze as she removed the blanket and slipped it on.

It extended down below her knees.  Hammer cut a piece of the rope for Debra to use as a belt.

The five women attempted to share the blanket, which proved to be too small.

At K'meer's suggestion, the men and the women separated, then formed two lines and sat, toboggan-style, the men's shoulders against the women's.

They weren't comfortable, but they were able to conserve heat in this manner.

Piper almost dozed.  He was startled awake by loud grunting and knocking.  The ten-toes ones had returned, and were beating the walls of the palace with sticks.

Satisfied that it wasn't going to go anywhere or do anything, they ambled off.

"We can't stay here," whispered Hannah.

"We need to stick together," replied Hammer.

From the back of the toboggan formation, Hammer arose and crept to the edge of the tree canopy that was opposite the direction of the Palace.  Butler joined him.

Beyond the shelter of the tree, the ground sloped gradually upward.  Butler pointed to a bright star near the horizon.

They returned to the group and reported what they had seen.

"I have an idea," said Butler, "and I will take full responsibility if the rest of you should choose to follow me."

"I say we move in the direction of the star.  I think that being uphill from the native creatures will give us an advantage."

"What about the High Ones?" asked Debra.

"And the others?" asked K'meer.

"We can't speculate about them," replied Hammer.  "For all we know, we're on our own.  Stay here with the dead, and soon we will join them.  No time to waste on indecision."

Ginger shuddered.  Piper felt queasy again.

Minutes later, all ten Groundlings were making their way uphill, away from the Palace, in the direction of the bright star.  They gathered deadwood to use as crude walking sticks.

Twice they stopped to make a head count, then separate and relieve themselves.  Then onward they moved, feet bruised and bleeding, ever upward.

Before twilight, Selma discovered an outcrop of stone, half-concealed by bushes, extending at angle from the slope they were climbing, like a tilted slate tombstone in an abandoned cemetery.

The Groundlings pulled back brush and vines to find a patch of soft earth sheltered by the outcrop.

K'meer, Hammer and Butler each collected a piece of flint and began burrowing, as the others removed the loose dirt, stones and uprooted plants.

By dawn they had created enough space to sleep in two rows of five.

Hungry, thirsty and exhausted, they collapsed inside their primitive shelter and slept through their first day on the World of Two Moons.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyMon May 02, 2022 9:08 pm

Ginger was at a loss to identify edible foods among the plant matter of the World of Two Moons. She found that birds and insects were capable of eating fruit that she found bitter and even irritating to her skin.

Tailor developed a painful sunburn on his bare shoulders after helping her search for food in the daylight. He did succeed in gathering straw to weave into hats.

Eventually they were reduced to eating grubs, worms and roots in order to survive, and licking dew from leaves, until trial and error resulted in a list of edible plants.

Together Selma and Debra found a fresh water spring that trickled down into a pool lined with tender plants that proved digestible. The Groundlings had agreed never to leave their camp as fewer than two, even for a few minutes.

It took Anna the longest to accept that the High Ones were never going to come looking for any of them. All were accustomed to working hard, but Anna's skills as a dancer felt useless.

Butler did his best to comfort her, while firmly reminding her that she had to look to their collective survival.

Nor were the rebel Groundlings anywhere to be found. The Winged Ones had also disappeared. The "Ten", as they began to call the group, were on their own.

K'meer figured out how to spark a fire with stones. The Groundlings became fascinated with the rocks, clay and soil of their new home.

Hammer well remembered working with metal. He wondered where metal originated. Could stones be persuaded to yield their secrets?

Hannah worked with the engineers to build a primitive hearth and a latrine. The living space beneath the rock outcrop grew as the Groundlings instinctively dug deeper and wider, creating for themselves individual sleeping recesses filled with dry grass. They built crude walls of sticks and clay on either side of the outcrop, to keep out the wind.

Piper taught himself native bird calls, and developed them into a system of communicating with the others while in hiding.

Tailor wove grasses into mats, baskets, sandals, and parts of the walls on either side of the outcrop. He sewed leaky cups out of bark. With practice, he was able to make a water pail, caulking the gaps with plugs of moss.

He encouraged Anna to keep a record of the nights as they went by, and of the accomplishments of the tiny tribe of castaways.

Anna made up songs to help her remember their progress. She occupied her time knapping flint into blade tools. Her hands instinctively took to working stone.

Lack of privacy and differences of opinion began to wear upon morale. Eventually Selma came up with a way to let off steam. Anytime two or more Groundlings left the camp for more than a few minutes, the others would gather around and criticise those who were absent. Eventually everyone would get a chance to gripe about everyone else. When all were reunited, there would be peace.

While foraging one night, Tailor and K'meer froze as a herd of deer sprung across a ravine.

All of the them cleared the gap, but one aging doe stumbled as she landed. She somersaulted forward against a boulder, breaking her neck.

The rest of the herd vanished. K'meer and Tailor studied the carcass.

Tailor remembered catching a glimpse of the two-legged creatures that slew the High Ones. They were dressed in something resembling the coat of the animal that lay dead at their feet.

The skin. He could save it. He could make useful things out of it.

Eagerly he described his idea to K'meer.

"Are you mad?" hissed his companion. "Scavengers will be here as soon as they smell the blood.

"Then we must work quickly. And cleanly!" replied Tailor.

Reminding himself that he could rant all he wanted to the others at Tailor's next absence, K'meer struck a spark and ignited a small torch he carried for emergencies.

He tried not to watch, or to hear, as Tailor expertly peeled the hide off from scalp to flanks, leaving the tail attached.

Tailor shoved the whole piece into a crude basket. K'meer held the torch as the two men hastened back to camp.

Their companions reacted to the find with a mix of revulsion and curiosity. Selma suggested marking out a grid on the raw side of the skin, then applying different substances to each section to see the results.

Tailor built a frame of four sticks. He stretched out the skin, then followed Selma's idea, applying wood ashes, clay, crushed beetles and anything else that he could find.

Afterwards they all went to bed, except for two who were posted on watch.

Tailor dreamt that he saw the doe alone, drinking at a waterhole.

She lifted her head, turned and approached him as he stared in amazement.

Then she stood facing him. She bowed her head down before him, unafraid.

Tailor lifted up a large rock that lay at his feet. He brought it down swiftly on the crown of the doe's head.

The head split open, revealing a gray brain, like the meat of a nut.

Tailor dropped the rock. Reaching inside the split skull, he scooped out the brain with both hands.

"Tailor... you're talking in your sleep!" whispered Piper. As a musician, he had the sharpest hearing.

"Sorry!" Tailor whispered. Feeling a draft, he rolled onto his side and pulled a stiff straw mat over his shoulder.

It couldn't possibly stay warm, he thought. We need better clothes, better shelter.

Sitting up in her dug-out bunk at twilight, Anna looked out at the stars shining through gaps in the leaves tree branches.

Butler seemed confident that nothing would be predictable. Sometimes it became cloudy, and wet, and you couldn't see the stars. Perhaps the leaves wouldn't always be there either.

She couldn't count on the Palace, the High Ones, even the majority of her fellow Groundlings who had led everyone to ruin, and then deserted the ten of them.

Could she count on herself? Butler seemed to think so. Piper said he needed her help to keep everyone else's spirits up.

In the Palace, some of the Groundlings occupied themselves with games that involved tossing small stones, and seeing which side was exposed when the stone landed. They called it "gambling."

Maybe life was a gamble, she thought.

She and her companions were thin and sore, with calloused feet and countless scratches and bruises.

They lived hand-to-mouth, day to day, and fought the constant temptation to lash out at each other, and to steal and to hoard provisions.

Anna looked over at Selma, asleep in the pale light.

Selma is a crier, thought Anna. I envy her for producing tears so readily. Everyone thinks I'm strong.

Except Butler. He sees me in all my weakness, in all my desparation, and he accepts.

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PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyMon May 02, 2022 11:11 pm

"Anna's light, swift feet allowed her to sneak close to the Human's camps.  Piper's sharp hearing allowed him to listen closely and learn the primitive Human-speech."

"Did they marry?" I ask.

"No," says Groundling, as I set down my embroidery to add another log to the hearth.

"Though they married other Groundlings, Anna and Piper had descendents who shared their gifts.  Eventually, two of them wed.  They had a son who was light-footed and sharp-eared."

"... And handsome."

I blush.  Nothing is a secret to Groundling.

"Crumple's ancestor Anna remained close friends with Piper.  He made pipes of reeds, and the two composed songs about our history."

"Tailor, Hannah and the engineers passed their skills on to generations of Trolls.  Selma and Debra, who were little more than housekeepers and servants in the Palace, became known for their wise counsel."

"Before the first winter, they had taken to living underground, but only after the Great Ice moved southward, swallowing up everything in its path, did the Trolls move to warmer territory.  By then they numbered eight times eight, and more."

"Ginger and Hannah discovered hundreds of plants that were useful for food, crafts and medicine."

"What became of Butler?" I ask.

"Butler and K'meer both changed their names.  K'meer said his name was nothing more than a lazy way of saying 'come here.'  Given to him by the arrogant High Ones."

"K'meer was skilled with stone, clay and eventually metal.  He asked the others to give him a new name.  That's how he became Blade."

"Butler chose his own name, Liberty.  He married Anna, and they had many children.  As did the others, once they found their first underground home."

"Along with Debra and Selma, Liberty led our community in setting standards and making fair decisions.  They taught these skills to the next generation, and the next."

"Did they ever meet any other Trolls?" I ask.  Crumple had told me all about the Kingdom Trolls.

"They did, several times, and sometimes they even intermarried.  But we didn't care for their system of government.  And we also didn't care for their attempts to capture us, and force us to work.  Hammer saw to that."

Groundling rubs his brow a moment, as if sorting through the pages of his memories.

"Once they were free of the Palace, and the rule of the High Ones, many of the rebel Groundlings forgot where they had been.  They reverted back to blind obedience."

"Rather than working hard at building a system of cooperation and mutual respect, they fell back to being servants of whoever was strongest... and even cruelest."

Groundling seems uncomfortable with this part of Troll history.  I return to my embroidery, and wait until he feels like speaking again.

"Those Kingdom Trolls, mostly women, who tired of the violence and foolishness, joined our ranks one by one as we traveled south."

"Selma and Anna taught the women trust and self-respect.  Liberty made sure that the men learned more skills than digging and using weapons.  In turn, they taught us how to defend ourselves against the forces of the jealous Kings."

"Did you ever have to fight?"  I ask.  Maybe it's a sensitive topic, I suddenly realize.

"Fortunately, no," says Groundling.  "When we settled here, permanently, in Fox Caverns, we found few of the gemstones and precious metals that the Troll Kings crave."

"On the hidden side of Fox Mountain, we found abundant fresh water and fertile soil.  We built terraces for crops and livestock.  The stone walls around the terraces mark each family's property."

"We harvest mushrooms and blindfish inside the mountain, as you've seen.  The Troll Kingdoms show little interest in Fox Caverns, because, frankly, our economy is based upon hard work and fair trade."

"And not forgetting how we came to be.  Anna and Piper saw to that."

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Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 Empty
PostSubject: Re: Trollbabe's Tales   Trollbabe's Tales - Page 2 EmptyMon May 02, 2022 11:34 pm

I watch Groundling's eyes close. He dozes off a moment, then stirs.

"What?" he asks.

"I said nothing," I reply. It's best not to tell him he fell asleep.

"My hearing's not what it used to be. I suppose I imagine things. Then again, imagining things is how we create, and creativity is how we make progress."

Groundling reaches into a basket beside his armchair. He pulls out a piece of fine cloth, rolled up tightly and fastened with two cords.

He unties the cords, unrolls the cloth in his lap, and lifts a silver flute to his crinkled lips. Richly engraved, the flute glistens in the firelight.

I sink back into my chair, fascinated, as the room is filled with rich, soft tones.

Eventually Groundling falls asleep again. After several minutes, I pick up the flute and wipe it off with a bit of chamois.

I've learned enough of the Troll language to understand a little of the engraving. I try to read it, before rolling it in the cloth, binding it up and returning it to the basket.

Something about gratitude. Honor. The lettering is worn in places.

Then, plainly, in larger letters: "To Piper."

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