Dappled sunlight poked through the leaves, speckling the mud below. Kalan stared into the mush, brow furrowed, making sense of the obscure prints. They were a step long and half a step wide. Yesterday’s rain had washed away all other information. Kalan gave an exasperated sigh. He leaned against a nearby Oak and stared into the dappled light above. Anything from a Saber-tooth to a large Elk could leave tracks that large. He’d been so close to catching the infamous sheep-killer just to be placed back in square one by a thunderstorm.
It’d been six months since the town of Riel had woken to find the bloody remains of their flocks strewn about the fields. Every stable in the vicinity had been broken into and the animals inside slaughtered. Kalan could hardly walk into town that day without smelling or seeing a dead thing every few paces. And the smell, by Ather, the smell - Kalan crunched up his nose just thinking about it. It took a week to clear the corpses.
Kalan’s father had been especially angry to find their stable broken into and the half-eaten remains of his favorite steed strewn about the hay. It seemed the creature’s had had their fill before reaching their barn, as the steed’s ribs had been eaten out and the rest left untouched.
The town’s veteran’s, Kalan’s father included, had noted the similarities to the battlefield. Other townsfolk had started blaming each other, suspecting foul play. In the end, Mayor Jalan resolved the feuding by forming a group to find the sheep-killer Since then the Stormorin family followed different leads. So, here he was, a league from Riel, tracking a creature that may not even exist.
Kalan gazed up to the dappled light poking through the canopy. A soft southern wind rustled the leaves, a sign of the coming Autumn. He met a dead end.
What to do? Continue north in some hope of a miracle or head back?
He was about a league north of Riel, any farther and he’d reach the Army encampment. Any farther than that and he’d be in Norn territory. Would a pack of Trolls really travel several leagues to kill farm animals? Maybe his father had been wrong for once.
Kalan leaped from the tree. He yanked out his bow and sheathed an arrow, observing his surroundings.
“Hmph! Hmph!” That grunt had a different tonality to it.
“Hmph! Hmph! Hmph!” The grunting was louder towards the north. He steadied his breath and watched his step, careful to avoid even the slightest sound. He slid into the shade of a tree and peeked out at his target.
A moss covered cave entrance lay thirty paces ahead. At its entrance was a rocky outcropping where three fur-covered beasts crouched in a circle. They were large and bulky and covered in brown fur. Each had a set of three eyes focused downwards on the bloody carcass of a sheep. Two more beasts lay asleep near the cave’s entrance, making five in total.
Their identity was unmistakable - a nest of Three-eyed Trolls!
Yet, something was wrong. A Troll could smell a rabbit half a league away. Why hadn’t they come upon him as he was following their tracks?
It was the southern wind, it blew my scent south as I followed them north.
He shivered with a mixture of fear and excitement. Had the wind changed direction for but an hour, five fully grown Trolls would have caught him by surprise. He would be the one being hunted, and his corpse would be in place of the sheep’s.
He breathed in, then out, calming his shivering. Father and brother Tel had predicted one or two Trolls, yet this was a whole nest. He was alone, with nothing but a bow and a blade against five Trolls.
Can I do it? Will I be ripped to shreds before I can even kill one?
Peraps it was best to retreat and return with Father and Tel. The three of them together could do it. Yet could he return empty handed? He imagined himself returning to Riel having spotted the sheep-killers but leaving them alive. Father and Tel would understand, yet he knew they’d be disappointed. He thought of Mayor Jalan’s disappointed face. He imagined Janus’ gloating, his enchanted blade in hand, promising to succeed where he had failed. Damned Highborn.
Most of all, he’d be disappointed in himself - having seen the goal but doubting his ability to accomplish it.
No, he could do it. Father and Tel had trusted in his ability. Besides, he had one more weapon besides his bow and blade - the initial attack.
He watched his breathing as mother had taught him, calming his nerves.
Breathe in, breather out, focus.
He turned to face the nest of Trolls with bow raised and arrow notched. It all depended on how many he could kill in the initial attack. He could deal with two - three being a stretch - Trolls with his blade. So at least two had to fall by the bow. It’d take a moment for them to guess his position once the first arrow flew. After, they’d charge him. Speed was of the utmost importance. He readied three more arrows between his fingers.
He breathed in, then breathed out. In a flash of movement, he let three arrows fly. The nest jerked their attention towards the whistle. Two of the three Trolls feasting found arrows embedded into their forehead’s eye and dropped, dead. The third arrow landed low, placing itself halfway in the Troll’s throat. Kalan cursed. That wasn’t enough to kill a Troll.
Kalan threw his bow to the ground and unsheathed his blade. The Trolls roared in unison and charged the new threat. He charged forward onto the rocky outcropping, seeking even ground for footing. The Troll with the arrow stuck in its throat met him first. It’s eyes were blood red in anger, canines displayed and mouth drooling with bloodlust. In his periphery, he noted the two other Trolls charging in the same manner.
He stomped his foot and swung his blade from ear to toe, decapitating the Troll. He took a step back, resuming his stance. There were two remaining, charging from left and right. A flanking maneuver. He dashed towards the right. The Troll stretched it’s hands, reaching for his chest and head. Kalan dashed sideways and swung his blade down, dismembering the Troll at the elbows. He then slashed under its armpit, leaving a cavity from its underarm to heart.
He pulled on his blade, attempting to yank it from the Troll’s thick hide to no avail. He kicked the Trolls carcass off and turned to face his foe. The Troll crashed into him. A rush of momentum knocked him back, blowing the wind out of him. Kalan found a three-pronged hand on his chest and others grasping his hair. The Troll’s canines lunged for his throat as they traveled backwards with speed. He smelled it’s rotten breath speckled with hints of decaying flesh and filth. He brought his blade against his face, blocking the Troll’s canines from tearing his neck out.
He twirled his blade so that its edge faced the troll’s mouth and pushed. The Troll dropped dead and they crashed against the ground.
Kalan pushed the carcass off him and stared into the canopy above. He’d done it.