Upper MG Fantasy
It had to be the mushrooms.
It’s the one thing I can’t resist, and Rot knows it. Not juicy blackberries, wild onions, or any other tempting forest delicacy. Nope. Had to be mushrooms.
And the worst part? I didn’t even taste them. Not a lick. I mean, yes, it’s kind of bad that I’m hanging upside down from a tree, but I can get over that. Not the mushrooms, though.
Now they’re scattered below me in pieces on the ground, their perfect white skins marred by the scuffle only moments ago. I’ve had my eye on them for a while, knowing today they were going to be perfect.
Looking back, maybe I was too obvious in my search for a meal. Trolls don’t exactly forage for food from the forest floor. Yes, trolls; nasty, ugly creatures that live in caves and under bridges. It’s what we do. Well, it’s whatthey do when they’re not torturing me. We guard bridges, take tolls, and occasionally grind bones to make our bread.
Well… sort of.
Even the trees are laughing at me, the scratchy sound of rubbing bark echoing the grumbling laughter of my captors below. At least the wind seems to be on my side. A strong gust gives me a boost and I start swinging. I stretch my bound hands as far as they will go. If I can just…reach…
The branches have gone from laughing to screeching as I twist and turn to free myself, but it’s not going to happen. If I was the size of the other trolls, this slender tree wouldn’t even be able to hold me.
I’m not, though, and everyone knows it. I guess you could call me the black sheep of the family. Maybe not a sheep though, since my family eats those…I’m pretty sure they don’t want to eat me. I’m a vegetarian, which doesn’t sit well with them at all because the main staple of troll life is bone-bread. Made from…you know…bones.
Kind of like the one being shoved in my mouth at this very moment. I grit my teeth, but it’s no use. “Here you go, little River. I know you missed breakfast.” Rot says, inspiring roaring laughter from the other trolls. I bite down in anger, but I think a tooth just cracked, so I try to relax and settle for glaring. At least the bone has been boiled clean. The last time I wasn’t so lucky.
I try not to puke at the thought.
Truthfully, I prefer to eat things that didn’t scream in fear when they died. Like berries, mushrooms, and whatever I can poach from the farmer’s crops at the edge of the forest. I’m not proud of stealing the food, but at least I’m not trying to eat the farmer. One night I took my baby sister, Ivy, with me, and things got a little ugly. She’s three, and big for a troll of her age. Anyway, the farmer’s dogs chased us out of the tomato patch, and, well, my sister was hungry. Let’s just say the farmer has one less dog now.
I won’t make that mistake again.
I just wish I could say the same thing about my current situation. Unfortunately the mistake I keep repeating involves breathing, according to my exceptionally foul-tempered cousin.
“Line ‘em up, boys.” Rot’s deep, grumbling voice says from behind me. His sausage-like fingers grab my sleeves and stop my dizzying spin of death. I look up at the sky, which is also in line with my feet, and wonder what I am to be used for today. “It’s a good day for bowling, eh, River?”
Great. I would reply and say something clever just above his intelligence level, but I can’t speak around the bone. I settle for rolling my eyes like I don’t really care.
I do care though, but letting him know only makes it worse. I’ve learned to endure it, because I can’t seem to avoid it.
Sludge and Mire, Rot’s most loyal cohorts, gather nearby, trying to painstakingly place whatever targets they have gathered in a small pile. I hope it’s mushrooms since I’ve missed breakfast, or something soft that won’t leave a mark on my face. When the hulking, lop-sided trolls finally move, a patch of angry forest gnomes stand glowering, tied up more tightly than I am. They’re tired and filthy. No doubt Rot has had them trapped for a while, awaiting this special occasion.
One of them bares his teeth at me. He looks hungry. Or rabid.
I cringe as the gnome snaps those teeth. This day is going downhill fast. As the rest of the trolls line up on either side of my intended path, I see flashes of silver and gold. They’re taking bets and it’s not even past breakfast.
Rot pulls me back, his dark chuckle close to my ear. “See that little one in the middle? I saved him ’specially for you, River. He’s a hungry one.” Rot steps back again, taking me with him. The vines creak in protest. I’m pretty sure my body does too.
The trolls lean in for a better look, their crooked faces making a grey, mottled patchwork against the deep green forest. They’re probably betting on whether or not I’ll scream.
It’s a definite possibility.
I close my eyes. Those gnome teeth are really going to smart. What would my father think if he knew the heir for his throne is currently being used as a hanging bowling ball?
Rot lets go and I’m flying through the air, and none of that matters anymore. The trolls cheer, stomping their blocky feet against the moss-covered ground. The gnomes cringe, realizing too late what’s about to happen to them, not that any of us can do a thing about it now.
Suddenly I stop.
I’m a hair’s breadth away from snapping, yellow gnome teeth. It would probably offend him if I told him he needed to clean them. Forest gnomes aren’t known for their social graces, not like the tamer garden gnomes that live in the farmer’s crops.
I hear an irritated sigh and look up, only mildly surprised to see my twin sister, Peat, staring down at me.
I smile in relief.
“That’s twice this week, River.”
I shrug, waiting for her to notice I can’t speak. She doesn’t seem to care.
“Enough, Rot. This has got to stop.” She stares hard at our cousin, her flame red hair flying around her like some wild huntress of the forest. “River’s done nothing to you. Father won’t be pleased when he hears about this.”
“Oh? And who’s going to tell him?” Rot walks slowly over to Peat, eyeing her like a dragon eyes a sheep.
“I am, you big oaf. This is ridiculous.” She waves her arm, “All of you should be on duty right now, guarding against the fairies, but here you are, gambling and tormenting innocent creatures.”
The trolls laugh, but I don’t care what she calls me, just as long as she gets me down. She pulls her dagger and slices it across the vine holding my feet.
I fall head first onto the ground. Thanks, Peat.