By: Matthew D. Hammond
Date: 5th of Rubalkun, 351 6gc
The grounds of the plantation felt eerily empty in the stillness of the twilight. Dugalan walked along the northern thoroughfare, following the line of trees to the left of the road. The soft blanket of pine needles resting in the ditch beneath his feet masked his footprints and sent him reminiscing of a time in the dawn of his life, before his aging slowed and before he had murdered his first man. The dead foliage and the cold dew of the morning were beacons in the fog of his mind, and he could almost grasp what it was like to be a child again, wending through the trees on an aimless journey of discovery and imagination.
Thunder churned in the western sky, forcing his attention back to the present. He turned and cast his gaze over his shoulder briefly; the dark grey pillars of rain could be seen plummeting down from an ominous cloud bank in the distance. They disappeared behind the dark treeline, almost twinkling in the thin light of the eastern sun. It must have been a trick of the eyes, he wagered; the sun would still need some time to crawl above the horizon.
Looking across the road to the south, he saw the silhouettes of the Basai’van family’s mansion, lodging houses, barracks, and the stable of the livery yard. No lanterns were lit; no torches broke the pall of somber darkness. It was as if the quake of the coming storm had lulled the landowners and their hired hands into a deeper slumber. He smiled knowingly; if the storm was heavy and long, work would be suspended until it cleared. There would be repairs to tend to when the weather lessened, but it was a small price to pay for even half of a day of precious recuperation.
He ducked into the woods near a brittle grey snag and navigated a maze of bushes and brambles, employing his best effort to avoid stamping any of the plants into the dirt. He could not risk disturbing the natural undergrowth much; given how often he sequestered to the dock, a trail might begin to form that could eventually draw the attention of the guards. Soon, the remnants of an overgrown gravel path began to emerge. Two tall, thorny evergreen bushes stood framing the old trail as a gateway, cold beads of dew resting on their waxy leaves. He ducked beneath them without so much as rattling a branch, his eyes resting comfortably on the trail unfolding beneath him.
Then, an odd feeling took him that made the tufts on the end of his ears bristle and the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Instinctively, his gaze snapped ahead of himself; there, at the end of the dock, sat a figure in velvety black. Jet hair tumbled down her back in loose, natural waves, barely discernible against her shawl and further hidden by the shade of her small umbrella. Dugalan felt a smile within, but could not bring himself to show it. After a glance about to secure the safety of his surroundings, he strode forth from the treeline.
As he approached the wharf, a patch of loose gravel crunched softly beneath the ball of his foot, breaking the silence of the little glade. Erdinai met him with a startled glance and a gasp--a surprise that melted away into a professional but cautious smile and the stiff posture of fine breeding. “You trolls, you are so quiet.”
His feet met the old boards, issuing a sad, world weary creak. “You won’t flatter me by complimenting my kin,” he said as he came to an early stop, his tone frank, but pleasant, “as most are not. I am silent because it was my job to be.”
Noticing a concern in his eyes that his reticence had not yet betrayed, she extended a hand to her left. “It is alright. Join me. I was waiting for you.”
With a proper bow, he found the end of the dock and sat with his feet over the edge and his tail in his lap. “Thank you, m’lady. I admit that I did not expect to see you after our first meeting.”
“I know that I must have given you the wrong impression, but forgive me. Business took me away to the city,” she explained. “I had truly intended to meet you the next day.”
“You still give me more respect than I am due,” he responded, “I am in no place to forgive--only accept.”
“Must you be that way?” she sighed.
“Indeed, I must.”
“By my order, then: stop that.”
A brief, heavy silence hung over them for a moment. After consideration, he acknowledged her request with a nod and scanned her apparel. “A storm is coming. It will reach us soon.”
She shrugged and looked to the dome of the sky above them, framed in a broken circle by the treetops. The soft light reflected in her dark brown eyes as delicate, pale orbs. “I’ll be alright.
The rain will do well for my health, and I’ll have my family know that I was caught in the storm as I was arriving home, if they care to inquire.”
“I see. They are not aware of your arrival, then.”
“Clever, isn’t it?” she gushed. “The polite fellow manning the carriage had other business to see to, so I paid him early and opted to walk the rest of the way.”
“He was surely concerned about your well being.”
“Of course, but nothing I couldn’t downplay with a few reassurances. I told him that the house guards would have someone stationed to meet me at the old monolith by the entry. He had no reason to suspect otherwise.”
She was answered with a weary sigh from the troll. “I wish you weren’t so trusting, m’lady. You do not know me enough--you may never know me enough--to find yourself alone here, unaccounted for.”
“I can handle myself should I need to,” she said with unwavering, calm confidence. “You do not know me enough to underestimate me so. Besides, I came with the intention of remedying that lack of knowledge between us.”
“Farbeit from me to stand in your way, then,” Dugalan said, shrugging apathetically. “Carry on.”
Before she could speak, the sky let forth another vehement groan that shook the countryside. She paused until the noise spread thin. “You mentioned that part of your job was to be silent. What did you do before you were brought here, Sir Koldroskaro?”
His eyes sank to his feet as he pondered, finding the right words. “In layman’s terms, I was a scout, a warrior, and an assassin. The truth is more complicated, but I’m sure that won’t deter you from wanting to know: I was a member of an ancient society devoted to the protection of Koldrogan.
In our tongue, we were the Kamunagi. In yours, I believe that would be,” he wrinkled his brow, struggling with uncertainty, “Those Sworn to the Stars.”
“Stars?” she said, her tone laced with the soft lilt of amusement, “are you sure?”
He acknowledged her with a swift nod. “Of that word I am most certain. Traditionally, we worked only in the night, tirelessly combing the forests and plains for any signs of enemy infiltration.
Our purpose was to seek out and ambush any threats that crossed our border from At’mavi. It’s been over a thousand years since our origin, though, and we’ve evolved into a very versatile order, replete with skilled assassins, spies, and like agents that work under sun or moon.”
“Which were you, then? A spy, assassin, a scout?”
“Whatever I was needed to be,” he grunted indifferently, “they were an outlet for me to practice my darker talents, giving me more purpose than the army ever could. I accepted missions eagerly, regardless of their difficulty or immoral implications, and over the span of my service, they gave me a taste of every kind of dealing the Kamunagi got involved in, save one. However, that one side of the Kamunagi is something I am sworn to never speak of outside of the company of my brethren.”
“In a way, they seem similar to our Uramjen,” she said, directing her eyes to his own. For the first time, she saw him smile. It was a conceited smile, albeit small--one of both familiarity and superiority--the kind of arrogance that would be unattractive on any other face. Somehow, she thought, it suited him.
“Uramjen,” he reflected, “I know them well.”
“Oh? How do you know of them?” she asked, repositioning herself as to face him more directly. “They are so reclusive and secretive!”
“I’ve killed my share,” he chuffed proudly, “and we’ve accumulated several texts referring to them, although they are dated. We’ve been observing them since the beginning of our order, archiving what details we could parse from their movements and techniques in and out of battle.”
He paused, peeling up the sleeve of his tattered shorts and pointing to a pale scar on the otherwise fallow brown skin of his thigh. “One struck me here during a mess of a battle. I thought I might bleed out before the fight was over, but my comrades saw me through it.”
She smirked, impressed by the sudden spark of life in him. “We almost never hear of stories where the Uramjen have failed. Please, tell me more.”
He let loose the fabric and straightened it back out over his leg. “I’ve been present during my share of attempted murders. My cousin, the tribe-founder, and my master in the Kamunagi were both targets of Uramjen’s elite, and both lived to boast about it, thanks to my order. We’ve also intercepted several of their forces en route to other targets, and, needless to say, they did not make it to their objective.
I confess due admiration, to be fair; they are certainly well trained and they do a respectable job for humans,” he said, clearing his throat, “and not all of my encounters with them ended well.”
A wry grin played across her lips. “Sorry--for a human? Are we not capable of greatness like your people?”
“No, m’lady, let me clarify. I mean no ill will toward your people, but you age and expire quickly in our eyes,” he explained.
“I suppose I can let that slide, then,” she said, “but you’re in my debt, so if I say something foolish, you must correct me and let it go.”
At first, he nodded affirmatively, but before she could continue, he began to chuckle softly. Shaking his head, he said, “It has been a long time since I have been in debt.”
“Why is that funny, sir Koldroskaro?” she inquired lightheartedly.
“You’re funny,” he responded, bearing no explanation.
“Why ever for?” she inquired, folding her arms comfortable and low across her midsection.
“You know why, m’lady, you know why,” he snorted. A pattering sigh emerged faintly at an indeterminate distance in the woods to their left, almost drowned out by the churning current of the nearby river. Dugalan’s ear flicked upward as that of a horse or deer as he hearkened the coming rain. “The weather has almost reached us.”
She looked beyond him, toward the dark of the treeline, stilling her breath to better listen.
“How ever did you hear that-- nevermind. Just one of the superior faculties of your people, I’m sure.”
“What you do is up to you, Lady Basai’van, but I must take my leave. I’ll not avoid getting wet, verily, but I must try to make it back without becoming too suspiciously drenched.”
Her eyes caught his profile and lingered for a brief spell as his words bore a frown upon her face. “We've only just begun, Sir Koldroskaro.”
He calmly rose, taking a deep breath and expelling it as he looked to the dim glaucous sky above. “If your duties permit, we will meet again in the coming days. For now, I bid you farewell.”
She gradually nodded and looked away into the waters of the pond as he walked the length of the wharf. When her eyes rose again, his figure was almost gone, cloaked in the brush of the undergrowth. The coming rain shrouded the sound of his footsteps as it neared, its lulling roar a portent of renewal.
She fidgeted with a tassel on her blouse, the elements of his story--as well as each question she’d readied to ask--echoing in her mind. Just as an idea caught her attention--to write down her questions once home for safekeeping--another sprung into being that quickly replaced the notion: she could document his stories to the best of her memory, creating an archive of knowledge about his culture and his people. It may not be well received by her countrymen, she figured, but if there was a single person she could inspire with the knowledge she could mine, it would be a worthy endeavor.
Bursting with a rush of excitement, she stood and patted down her dress before making her way cautiously across the withered boards of the dock and through the winding briars between the waterside rendezvous and the comfort of her home.
Matthew D. Hammond
~ 2014 ~
Author's Notes: I have not yet clearly addressed the differences between human and troll anatomy/biology, only made references here and there. I am not sure if I'll be directly addressing it in a story, but expect at SOME point a post to clarify both the anatomical differences and the psychological differences.