Gorg in Pursuit of Bale (Part 2)
Gorg could feel his fingers growing into the rock. His stone-bound Troll mind cracked here and there as part embraced the rock, and part struggled to move. He looked down at the glassy surface of the water below. A twist of his head showed the other side of the gorge only a dozen yards away. But it might as well have been a hundred miles, because he could not cross that water.
Trolls can’t swim. Being born of stone, they sink. And one need they share with humans: they must breathe. Deep water meant death and an end to Grog’s quest. Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted would never be punished for having Gorg’s uncle, brother and three cousins turned (back) into stone. He would either descend and drown, or stay where he was and become one with the cliff.
The thought roused him to anger.
“NO!” Gorg’s bellow echoed back and forth between the canyon walls. A few pieces of rock broke loose and fell with a hollow plunk into the water below. And Gorg moved his left hand.
Slowly his fingers separated themselves from the rock face and he moved his arm upward, seeking a new hold. The right hand followed. His booted feet hadn’t had time to reach through the heavy dragon-hide to embed themselves in the rock, so they shifted easily to new knobs and ledges.
Retreating was hard. Gorg had single-mindedly pushed forward, following the winds that had carried his enemy away, until it had become nearly impossible to do anything else. Being born of stone makes trolls’ brains less nimble and flexible than humans’ minds, more tenacious and unbending.
When he stood on the rim of the gorge once more, Gorg turned his head and felt the wind. It had shifted. With relief, he turned and followed the gorge down the mountain.
Three days later Gorg stood on the Great East Road, which rolled between the Plains of Fruitfulness and the mountains. Still following the wind, he turned south again. Somewhere off there he would find Bale.
He would also find the City of Celestial Celery, home of King Celery the Half-Wit. Gorg hadn’t yet worked out Bale’s plan with regard to the so-called King, but he knew his kin had been guards at the castle before becoming statuary in the Royal Gardens. Bale might return to the scene of the crime. And the wind led him in that direction.
A human traveler would have enjoyed the trip through the Plains of Fruitfulness. It was the heart of the kingdom, farms as far as the eye could see, and well-watered by the rivers flowing from each crack and gorge of the mountains. Gorg had to stay on the edges of the Plains, for deep, rich earth covered the rocks he needed to keep life in his stone body. For all the challenges they posed, the mountains were more friendly to his nature. He pushed on.
The City of Celestial Celery shone in the last light of a clear day when Gorg passed the gates and entered. The last time he’d been in a city, a magical token had drawn him to his target. This time he had no such help. After wandering the streets for hours—and being threatened with fines for vandalism when he plucked up a cobblestone and ate it for a late dinner—he turned in at a way-house that advertised accommodations for Trolls.
Gorg paused just inside the door, his eyes adjusting to the dim light, and from a table to his left a voice called, “Gorg! Gorg Trollheim!”
He turned. “Pulgrum Stonelump!” His luck had held, bringing him among friends. And friends who knew the gossip of the City. Three glasses of the powerful drink they called Stonejuice had loosened more tongues than Gorg’s, and he had told of his quest—and heard that the arrival of a balloon bearing a madman had been all the news for the last week.
“They say he is completely insane, can’t talk so anyone can understand. So King Celery has taken him in and given him a room and nurse.”
“Huh.” Gorg wasn’t a city troll with lots of learning, but he knew a bad smell when he smelled it. Gorg wouldn’t believe Bale was crazy and harmless even if he saw it with his own eyes. And Crazy or not, Celery really was a half-wit if he took in his worst enemy right into his own castle. “I still have to kill him.”
The other trolls nodded. “You do. And he still needs it. But you can’t just go in there and do it, you know. Celery won’t allow it. We need a plan.”
“We?” Gorg felt something he’d never felt before. He felt. . . friendship. He knew kinship, and the rights and responsibilities it gave. But others, trolls who would help him because they had known his uncle and cared about the revenge and the king and maybe even Gorg himself? That was new. They leaned their heads together, careful not to touch—it was annoying, how quickly trolls could grow together, rock calling to rock even faster than Gorg’s fingers in the stone of the gorge he’d so narrowly escaped—and began to talk in low voices.
To save Celery from Bale, they had to save him from himself. It wouldn’t be easy. But a half a dozen trolls made a formidable force, an unmovable obstacle to a regicide.
Up at the castle, in a luxurious room lit by scented candles and cushioned with fine tapestries and feather comforters, Duke Bale stretched out on the bed, put his hands behind his head, and smiled to himself. The winds of luck were still with him.
|Gorg and his friends at the table?|