Betrayal, Assassin, CaveGorg Trollheim forced his way through drifting snow and howling winds, away from the ruins of Castle Bale. He didn't look back at the devastation he had caused, but even if he had, he could have seen nothing through the night and the blowing snow. He turned his stone face toward the Iron Desert, and plodded on. Blizzards could not harm a troll, though if it grew cold enough, he would become too slow to move, and would simply stand rooted until the storm had passed and he warmed up again.
Gorg did not want to remain a frozen stone until spring. He pushed on, looking for shelter to wait out the storm. The hills to the south might provide cover, and he veered that way, turning his back a bit to the wind. His thoughts moved as slowly as his body in the intense cold.
With an effort, Gorg pushed his mind back to the castle he had left behind. He would have smiled, except it might have broken his face. That was no castle now. For the second time, Duke Bale the Artichoke Hearted had lost his castle and his life to the troll he'd wronged. After a long time, that thought formed the rest of the way in Gorg's mind. He shouldn't have needed to kill Bale twice. That wasn't right. And he hadn’t seen the body.
Just like the last time. Gorg stopped. He turned slowly. He should go back, sift the rubble until he found Bale's body, and grind it to dust. Or whatever you got when you ground squishy creatures. He took a tentative step back, and stopped. He could not do it. The wind would petrify him, and when a troll got petrified, it wasn't a figure of speech. They were always so easily returned to the stone from which they sprang. He gave a massive shrug and turned his back to the wind once again. Until the storm ended, he could only go forward to shelter.
The wind beat on him less fiercely now, and Gorg knew he was in the lee of the hills. Now to find a cave. He would be safe in a cave, surrounded by rocks, until he could go back and make certain that Bale would never kill another troll.
At last Gorg found the shelter he sought. The cave was not large, but it was deep enough that the rocks in its depths had not frozen, so Gorg sat against the back of the cavern, snacking on a few light stones, and waiting.
"What are you doing here?" It was the voice of a troll. Gorg looked around, interested. He hadn't known there were any other trolls within a four days' walk.
"Waiting. You?" A troll didn't waste words, but he wanted the other to speak so he could locate him. The light was dim, and he didn't see any troll.
"I live here. I was waiting too." The voice was all around him. Gorg was no longer so sure it was a troll. Had his ears deceived him, abused as they were by the storm? But he felt no real concern. In a cave, surrounded by stone, a troll would be secure.
Secure even from a sorcerer? Gorg felt the thought force its way into his still-frozen brain. Could Bale have had yet another minion ready and waiting? The thoughts were too difficult, his mind too slow. Gorg settled more firmly against the back wall of the cave, and let himself thaw slowly. With greater warmth came clearer thought, and vision. Gorg could see now that there was no one in the cave with him. No troll, no sorcerer.
Which, since the voice continued to speak of long years of waiting in the cave, of patient silence, and a million other things with little meaning to a troll of Gorg’s temperament, meant that there was definitely a sorcerer in the cave with him.
Gorg noticed something.
The entrance of the cave had vanished. He was sealed underground with the voice that would not be silent. The cave, the stones which he had trusted for safety, had betrayed him. He was sealed in with the assassin, the one sent by Bale—before he died, or after?—to ensure that Gorg would never live to see the results of his victory. And the man would not be quiet.
Gorg stood up. “No. You will not win.” He moved to where the entrance had been a short time before, and reached out to touch stone. Stone, but not stone. This was no stone, but magical illusion, and he could feel the difference though he could not pass through. And that meant he was up against a very powerful sorcerer indeed, because it was not easy to make the basaltic brains of trolls see and feel illusion.
“That’s right, Gorg Trollheim,” said the voice. “You are sealed in, and when you have died, as you must when the air runs out, I will collect my fee from Duke Bale.”
“I trust he paid you in advance. Bale is dead.”
“Dead? I fancy not!” The voice laughed, and Gorg fought to control anger.
“Buried in the rubble of his castle, not a day since. Dead.” For now.
He was suddenly alone. The silence in the chamber could be felt. It formed a thick layer, overlying the false stone, the stone he could not crumble and erode because it wasn’t there.
But real stone could not resist him. Gorg felt for the join between the real and the magical, and his fingers found it. They worked their way into the tiny fissures and cracks. Within minutes, he had created a gap, just enough to let in fresh air. Gorg breathed thoughtfully of the cold air, felt the draft, then backed up and sat down again.
He could rest here. The storm would be over in the morning, and he would leave. No need to go out in this weather.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015