Gorg at Midwinter
In the kingdom of King Celery the Halfwit, all business stopped at the festival of Midwinter. No one attempted to travel during the week of celebrations that marked the end of the year. Everyone remained at home and marked the return of the sun with family and friends, and a fair bit of food and drink.
At least, that was how Celery saw it. If there were those in the kingdom who had little with which to celebrate, he was far too deep in his celebrations to know of it, even with the half a wit he retained.
Far across the kingdom, in the Valley of the Baleful Stones, Gorg Trollheim celebrated nothing at all.
Gorg was in trouble. He had returned to the Valley of the Baleful Stones, where his greatest enemy had held sway before what Gorg hoped was his death. Gorg had returned to the Valley because events had planted doubt in the troll’s stony mind, and he believed that if Duke Bale the Artichoke Hearted lived, he must return to his home.
Unfortunately, Gorg was correct. Unfortunately both because the kingdom would have been much better off had Bale remained dead, and because Gorg, deep in thought about the portents leading him back, had walked into a trap. Now it was Gorg who languished in a tower prison, with only the smallest of windows from which to watch the approach of the longest night of the year, wishing for family aznd friends.
If Gorg had still had with him the five trolls with whom he had conquered Bale a few months previously, no tower could have held them. But Gorg walked alone. Or, as now, sat and brooded alone.
The trap had been so simple. Gorg had been drawn by the sight of a new tower rising from what should have been the rubble of Bale’s castle. And then there had been a pit. A pit, such as one might use to capture any dumb beast. From the bottom he had looked up to see the loathed face sneering back. Bale’s latest pet sorcerer had sent him by magic from the pit to the sealed room at the top of the tower.
There were no stairs down. There was no opening in the floor at all. Only the tiny window gave light and air.
Bale didn’t bother to send up food or drink. In that, Bale showed he had also forgotten much about his old enemy, for Gorg needed no water, nor did he go hungry. Gorg ate his prison.
The floor, though stone, was too tightly fitted to allow him to pull up any bits from it. But he crumbled the edges of the window, which every day grew slightly larger, so that as the sun shone the less, the gap by which it entered his prison widened and let in more light.
From this prison, Gorg occasionally saw Bale and his new pet magician—the sorcerer had given no name, nor shown his face—about their tasks. Neither acknowledged in any way that they had a prisoner in the tower, and by all appearances he was forgotten. He tried pitching a few stones at them, but they never ventured within range.
Gorg did not believe for a moment he was forgotten. He knew Bale had something in mind for him, though he knew not what. He still had his flask, and the potion that made his mind move with un-troll-like celerity, but he saved that for a time when he might need to think quickly. In the tower, nothing happened. He could afford to think at a troll’s pace.
Nor did Bale seem to be moving fast. In the deeps of winter, the stinking vents that gave the Valley of the Baleful Stones its name stank less, but their warmth kept the ground in the valley free of the deep drifts of snow that make the lands beyond impassible. Only the route across the Iron Desert lay free of snow, and daily men entered the valley by that harsh track.
Bale was assembling an army, Gorg saw at last.
Gorg knew then that he must free himself, and he must stop Bale from marching forth with his army. Midwinter’s Night found Gorg lost in thought as he pondered his course. Idly, he reached a hand into the window and pulled loose another stone with which to quell his hunger. The sulfurous stones of Bale’s valley tasted vile, but they kept the troll alive, and the window grew larger.
Gorg looked again at his window. Yes, it was much larger now. Almost large enough to allow a troll to escape.
Looking carefully about to be sure he was unobserved, Gorg leaned as far out the window as he could and studied the sides of the tower. As he’d suspected, despite the care taken to make the floor of his cell impervious to a troll’s prying fingers, no such care had been taken with the exterior of the tower. The rough stones left plenty of hand- and toe-holds for a troll, who could grip the tiniest crack and would in fact become quite literally one with the rock if not careful.
Whatever Bale planned for Gorg, he was not watching him when the darkest night of the year became still darker in the blowing, whirling snow. As the sun set on that longest night, Gorg ceased fretting for the family he no longer had, and set about escaping from the man who’d killed that family. He no longer ate the stones he pulled from around the window, but stacked them hastily into the corner.
At the midnight hour, when all was dark and nothing still in the howling wind, Gorg pulled himself out the window and began to climb down the side of the tower, twining fingers and toes into the gaps and cracks between stones. Nothing disturbed his climb, and no one watched as he disappeared into the swirling snow.
©Rebecca M. Douglass
|Can you see Gorg?|
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