In the Castle of King Celery the Halfwit
Five trolls moved heavily (the only way trolls can move) through the City of Celestial Celery in the direction of the castle of King Celery the Halfwit. In one of the thousand rooms in that castle their greatest enemy lounged in the lap of luxury. Had King Celery only the wit to know it, the man was also his greatest enemy, but Celery was not called The Halfwit for nothing. Bale played the madman and plotted the overthrow of the man who fed and housed him.
Trolls are not noted for their brains, but it must be said that the five who approached the castle had far more than the king, even individually--a low standard, but one they easily beat. The five trolls--five friends, to the pleased surprise of Gorg Trollheim, who had been a loner so long he didn't know there was any other choice--had created what they hoped was a plan. They knew the steps they needed: enter the castle, find Duke Bale the Artichoke Hearted, and reduce him to dust. The details, however, were a bit vague.
A good fourth step to have planned would have been “escape alive,” as King Celery considered the Duke to be hopelessly insane and thus harmless and worthy of protection. The leap from "insane" to "harmless" was a perfect example of his hopeless stupidity. Bale might have been insane, but he was by no means harmless.
The trolls were less concerned about protecting the king than they were with exacting their revenge. In pursuit of his own nefarious ends, Bale had turned several of Gorg's kin back into the stone from which trolls came. Or rather, because even such a small change required magic--trolls are nearly stone even at their most animated--Bale had directed his pet sorcerer to convert the trolls.
Gorg had dealt with Mergle months before. He'd also taken care of Stenrect, Bale's next magical assistant. But Bale himself remained always just out of reach. While Gorg had battled Stenrect, for example, Bale had floated to freedom in a gas-filled balloon. The five trolls had vowed to put an end to his escapes, in the most final way.
So, with the night well spent, they moved up the cobbled streets, stopping occasionally to snack on a loose stone. Up, toward the castle that topped the hill, surrounded by high-walled gardens. The first test came at the outer gates. The guards were unlikely to admit a single troll, let alone five. But Gorg and Pulgrum Stonelump had come up with a plan. They loaded Herg Rockling and Pulgrum's brother, Krump, onto a cart along with the fifth troll, Daisy Basalt. They dragged the heavy cart slowly up the last blocks to the gate, saluted smartly--Gorg rather overdid it and chips flew from his forehead where his hand struck--and said "Delivery of statues for the King's rock garden, sir!"
The guard, sleepy and stupid in the last hour before dawn, waved them in, only vaguely wondering why the king would want such ugly statues for his garden. Perhaps he figured they would frighten off the birds that ate the young vegetables. Gorg would have been surprised to know what the guard was thinking. He considered young Krump, and especially Daisy, very good looking indeed. They would add a touch of class to any rock garden.
As soon as they were out of sight of the guard, Pulgrum asked, "Where are the gardens?" That stumped them until Gorg remembered, "We don't want the gardens. We want Bale!" That contented them until they realized they had even less idea where to find Bale than the gardens.
"Then we shall all go be statues after all," Daisy suggested. "We will sit where we can watch as much of the castle as possible and see who goes where. Inside."
They all became still as . . . stone, thinking about that. Getting inside the outer walls had been easy,. Could they pass as convincingly as statuary in the very halls of King Celery's palace?
Gorg could. He would do anything it took to get to Bale. He looked at Daisy with ever-increasing admiration. Beauty and brains.
By down, five new, rather rough, statues of trolls graced the major corridors of Celery Hall. They did not move all day. Trolls are very good at standing as though turned to stone. If Bale had seen them, he might have guessed. But Bale was locked in his room, pretending to be a madman while he laid his plots. No one else in the palace paid any attention. The decor changed so often, according to the whim of the king.
By night, Gorg knew where they had to go. He, being unfamiliar with the ways of the city and the palace, had sought a dingier corridor where he felt more at home. This proved to be the servant's hall, and the servants, he found, gossiped non-stop. And griped. Two in particular griped about having to carry food clear to the top of the tower for the crazy man, who not only demanded they return for a different kind of wine, but grabbed their bums every chance he got.
That sounded like Bale, Gorg thought. He was rude to the servants on whom he depended. And he was more than rude to trolls, who never forgot or forgave. Well, they had him now.
At midnight, the new statues were on the move. First they found each other, then the tower stairs. There was only one stair up or down. There would be no escape for Bale now.
By dawn, the killer of trolls and plotter against kings was gone. He had leapt from the tower window rather than face five angry trolls.
The trolls, too, found there was no escape. They had been cornered in the tower, arrested, and now faced the difficult task of convincing King Celery the Halfwit that they had been protecting him. Gorg didn't know if it was possible to explain anything to Celery, but he would find out. He had thought that if he punished Bale he didn't care what followed, but he found he did care. He and his friends would talk their way out of the dungeons. They must, for the others must not suffer for his revenge. Especially not Daisy.
Gorg began to marshal his thoughts and prepare his arguments.