Gorg and the Strong Drink
Gorg the Troll was in trouble. He didn’t mind that so much, but he found he very much objected to his friends being in trouble with him. He hadn’t known that would happen, because until he had arrived in the City of Celestial Celery and met the Stonelump brothers, Herg Rockling, and Daisy Basalt, he hadn’t had any friends, though he’d known the brothers back home long ago.
The five of them together had managed to destroy the Destroyer of Trolls, Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted. Unfortunately, they had gotten themselves into trouble with the King’s Guard in the process, since the King believed Bale was mad, not evil. Gorg, who was very good at direct action, found he wasn’t so good at talking his way out of trouble.
Not that the trolls really minded the dungeons. They were a bit damp, but trolls didn’t get rheumatism, and at least the walls and floors were stone. Trolls always preferred to be surrounded by stone. The city had troubled Gorg, because so much was constructed of wood, and the Watch objected when he pulled up cobbles to nibble on them. So the dungeon wasn’t uncomfortable, but still, they would have preferred freedom. And none of them liked to think what King Celery the Halfwit might decide to do with them.
It wasn’t easy to kill a troll outright, but a sorcerer of at least moderate power could turn one back into the stone from which they were so barely removed. That had been the crime Bale had committed—or had committed for him—that had brought Gorg all this way in pursuit of him. Now the only thing protecting the trolls was the King’s willingness to listen to them explain what Bale had really been up to. Unfortunately, the King had a very limited attention span. He’d soon tired of trying to judge and turned the case over to his advisors.
King Celery’s advisors were not half-wits. Nor were they great fans of trolls. But after a lot of talking, Gorg managed to get the advisors to agree to sit down with him over drinks to talk it out. Trolls, being made of stone, didn’t need to drink to live, but even a troll could enjoy a glass of something. Gorg thought drinks might help keep things friendly while he explained that Bale had been planning to murder the king and take over the kingdom.
The Earl of Beetroot led Gorg out of the dungeon, and up into an elegant drawing room on the ground floor. Gorg didn’t like the Earl’s face. It reminded him of Bale—the face of one who was always plotting. He would have to be ready for whatever trouble Beetroot might be planning. Gorg was beginning to think everyone in the castle was up to something sneaky.
He was right. The Earl of Beetroot wanted to be the one to solve “the troll problem” and so win the complete trust of the king, which he could use for his own ends. He poured Gorg a large goblet of a grey liquid, and allowed the Count of Cabbage to fill equally large goblets with wine for the humans. Beetroot himself drank water. He would be the only one with a clear head.
“Stonejuice, Master Gorg? We might as well be civilized here, hey?”
Gorg saw the cynical smile and lifted the goblet to his lips, sniffing. He felt a bit of . . . amusement. Beetroot, like so many others, assumed that because trolls spoke and thought slowly, they had no senses and no sense. Gorg was not stupid, though a brain made of something like stone worked more slowly than a human brain. His senses, however, worked just fine. He could tell this wasn’t stonejuice. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was. He sniffed again, sorting the aromas.
A touch of celery juice—that was risky in this kingdom, as mistreating the vegetable could be taken the wrong way. Likewise he detected the fermented root of the skrapule plant, which grew only on the plains about the City of Celestial Celery and was mildly poisonous, at least to humans. Gorg took a tiny sip of the liquid. He rolled it about on his tongue, and concluded that the skrapule wouldn't hurt him, in this concentration, perhaps less than a dozen drops in the whole cup, which was mostly wine. Wine would have no effect on him. The identity of a final ingredient eluded him, but he could sense no harm in it. He took a swallow.
The liquid ran through him like a fire. Like lightning. And equally like lightning, he knew that he had underestimated the unknown ingredient.
So had the Earl of Beetroot. The symbiotic fungus that Beetroot had cultivated and fermented into a drink that rendered humans incapable of coherent thought or speech was, until now, untested on trolls. Beetroot watched with interest over his own glass as Gorg’s body jerked, stiffened, and then sagged.
A contented smile began to spread over Beetroot’s face. It was evident that the effect of the mixed drink he called the Tongue Knotter was very strong. His fellow advisors would be happy to add the trolls to the rock-garden when Gorg began to babble and swagger under the influence of the Confusion Cocktail.
The smile vanished when Gorg opened his mouth. Instead of the babbled nonsense Beetroot expected, what came out was an eloquent point-by-point account of the misdeeds of Bale the Artichoke Hearted, and a plea for freedom for himself and his companions in thanks for the service done the kingdom. Beetroot stared in confused rage. The other advisors stared in awe.
“By all the gods!” exclaimed Duke Rutabaga. “The creature has uncovered the most diabolical plot! He should be richly rewarded, not punished.”
The Count of Cabbage and the Earls of Parsley and Turmeric nodded grave agreement. “I think,” said the former, “that we have underestimated our trollish friends. Perhaps we should offer you a job, Sir Gorg.”
Gorg, who wasn’t at all sure he liked the feeling the drink gave him, nevertheless took another cautious sip. He didn’t want to turn his innards to molten lava, and the stuff felt like it might do just that. He liked the way it made his head feel, though.
Beetroot began to argue against the trolls, but his every point was met and bettered by Gorg’s eloquence. After a few minutes, Beetroot took the glass from Gorg’s hand. The troll let it go. He had drunk enough. His newly heightened senses told him that, and his newly enhanced intelligence told him to stop drinking.
Beetroot, losing the debate and desperate, took a gulp from the glass of grey liquid. If it could make a troll intelligent, what might it do for a man as clever as he!
It did exactly what his early tests had said it would. Mid-sentence, just as his audience was beginning to listen and wonder if the troll might have dazzled them a bit too much, Beetroot ceased to utter sense.
As the humans gathered around in bewilderment, Gorg explained that the drink Beetroot had given him was clearly only meant for trolls, and the man had been foolish to drink it, or perhaps merely forgetful of what he had brewed. As the Advisors led the babbling Beetroot away, Cabbage stopped and tossed a key to Gorg.
“You and your friends are free to go. Make yourselves at home here in the castle if you want.”
Gorg thanked him, but added, “I believe I at least will return to my own valley. The city lacks easy access to rocks, and variety in our diet is vital to good health. I shall endeavor to persuade my friends to accompany me.”
And he would make sure he was well out of the city before this drink wore off. Gorg wasn’t sure he liked the effect, though it was useful. Thoughtfully, he took up the flagon from which Beetroot had poured the drink, stoppered it tightly, and carried it off with him.
You never knew when you might need some extra brain power.
©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014