Excerpt From Elf Killers
“Isbal! Reina! Strangers!” bellowed the troll as he wheeled and vanished into the adjoining room.
“It talks!” cried Kieran, springing after to let fly an arrow which glanced off a long polished table top and stuck in the far wall.
“Stop!” shrieked a woman, suddenly appearing from the hallway.
“Aunt Isbal!” cried Oisin, letting down his bow. “You’re alive!”
“Yes I am. Now don’t shoot our troll…!”
“‘Our’ troll? Who else made it through the massacre? And how would you ever have a troll?”
“Your aunt Reina is who else. Now you heard me about not shooting him, right?”
“How does one not shoot a troll?” said Kieran.
“By being polite enough not to, Kieran!” said Isbal.
“I’m sorry, Isbal. I just saw them kill…”
“Yes. So did I. But this one won’t. Come on out Darragh. Come on now.”
After a pause, a chair scooted away from the long polished table with a screech on the stone floor as Darragh lumbered out from under it and slowly stood up.
“Now this is Darragh, and I swear he’ll not harm a single hair on your head…”
“What’s the matter with it?” said Olloo. “I’ve never seen one with snow white hair before. And what’s wrong with the thing’s eyes?”
“Shake their hands, Darragh,” she said as she gently took him by the wrist and held his hand toward Kieran.
Kieran stepped back as Oisin came forth in his place and took Darragh by the hand.
“How do you?” rumbled Darragh with a beetle browed nod as he pumped out a couple of giant handshakes.
“Carefully, sport,” said Oisin with a wary look as he stepped back.
“Meanie. And he meanie, too,” said Darragh, wrinkling his nose with a sneer and pointing at Kieran and Olloo
“Well shake his hand, Kieran,” said Olloo.
“No!” said Darragh, shaking his head from shoulder to shoulder. “He big big meanie. He dirtybutt stinkerman.”
“Well,” said Olloo, “there’ve been moments on the way here when we’ve thought so ourselves, Darragh.”
Kieran bit his lip and kicked Olloo in the ankle.
“See?” said Darragh. “Meanie!”
“So how did you come by him?” said Oisin. “And where’s Aunt Reina?”
“Back through the house,” said Isbal. “I can see that this will require some refreshments. Let me take you to the sitting room. Come along, Darragh.”
Soon they had exchanged greetings with Reina and were all seated comfortably around a tea table in a small parlour. Isbal and Reina disappeared into the kitchen and returned shortly with hot blackberry tarts and tea. “We harvested the blue maidenhair you’re about to drink last year right after the massacre,” said Reina as she set down the tray with the steaming pot.
“Why do you have it so dark in here?” said Oisin.
“The light hurts Darragh’s eyes,” said Isbal. “If we don’t keep it dark, he’ll sleep all day and keep us awake all night…”
“Drum and hoot-hoot, Isbal?” said Darragh as he tumbled onto the floor in front of her and pressed his cheek to her foot. “Please hoot-hoot?”
“That’s probably a good idea. Go get the instruments,” she said as he sprang to his feet and raced out.
He was back in short order with a field drum and two clay jugs. He set the drum on its side with a bang and reverently nestled the smaller jug in Isbal’s lap before plumping down cross legged on the floor with the larger jug. He scooted the drum about until he could touch its head with the ball of one foot. Like a conductor tapping his baton, he shifted about for a moment and got still. Presently he began a brisk tapping of the drum with his foot: pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum..
Isbal joined him in time with her jug: foof…foof…foof…foof…
Darragh in turn added a commanding: toofa…toofa…toofa…toofa… so that together they went: foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa… for a very long time. After a spell, it became quite mesmerizing indeed. Suddenly he stopped his jug with a loud thump of his drum: bam!
Isbal continued: foof…foof…foof…foof… until Darragh went: wham! on his drum, sprang to his feet and gave a dignified bow. For a moment, there was not a sound in the room.
At last, Oisin set down his teacup with a clink. “Why, I’ve never heard the like,” he said. “That was quite impressive, Darragh.”
Darragh grinned hugely and bowed again and again.
“Darragh,” said Isbal, holding out her jug, “why don’t you go out and play for a while? I promise that as soon as Reina has the next pies out of the oven, we’ll call you in.”
“Oh good, good!” he said with a bounce as he gave her a squeeze and took her jug. He scurried out at once with the jugs. He was back immediately for the drum, pausing to stick out his tongue at Kieran. “Bad meanie stinky privy seat!” he rumbled. He gave his chest two good thumps with his fists and tramped out.
“Just what does he have against me?” said Kieran.
“I expect he takes exception to being shot at,” said Isbal.
“Nay. He’s just a good judge of character, is all…” said Olloo.
Kieran leant aside with a frown and gave Olloo a smack on the back of the head.
“Well, speaking of fighting and dying, if you know what I mean, how ever did you come by Darragh?” said Oisin. “Do you really trust him?”
“So the dear child scares you, does he?”
“Not as much as on first sight. Child? I can see that he sort of acts like one, but he’s a good head taller than me and might weigh as much as all three of us.”
“He’s not an Elf Killer,” said Isbal, looking up as Reina returned with another pot, “Well troll he be, but he is indeed innocent.”
“How can you call any sort of troll a ‘dear child,'” said Kieran, “or innocent?”
“Because that’s what he is, Kieran,” said Isbal. “Darragh wouldn’t harm so much as an insect unless it bit him first.
“Aye,” said Reina as she poured tea all ’round. “We reckon that trolls are grown enough to start pestering sows at about eleven. You’d have to bathe him, but you’d see he’s not near there yet.
“They’re pretty short lived. When did you first get giddy over girls, two hundred and ten or two hundred and twenty, perhaps?”
“But trolls are monsters, Reina,” said Kieran.
Reina sighed and carefully set the teapot on the marble tea table. “Monsters they be, Kieran,” she said. “We were captured, don’t you know, along with who knows how many others.” She turned a haunted look to Isbal and licked her lips. Isbal took up her hand and squeezed it, but neither of them smiled.
Everyone sat for a moment, stunned by this. “How did you ever…?” said Oisin.
“Oh, as far as we know, we were the only ones to escape their horrible fires. They had so many captives, and were all gone wild with their hellish carousal that they seemed to have no interest in a couple of dried up old gammers. They never even bothered tying us up. They just threw us down in the dirt outside where everyone could see us. We were so terrified that we just stayed right where they put us, doing everything we could not to watch what was going on. We still wake up in the night with horrible dreams…”
“Then a scrap broke out right in front of us,” said Isbal. “The big old trollbrutes tore Darragh away from his mother. The moment they took out their sharp flints, fixing to cut him open, she stopped kicking at them and began licking their feet…”
“With her tongue?” said Olloo.
“Yes indeed, all over the tops of them and between their toes, and it stopped the curses from cutting him open. They yanked him up onto his feet by his hair and shoved him at his poor mother…”
“And the instant they did that,” said Reina, “I grabbed Isbal and we ran for the brush as hard as we could go. Just after we’d got well out of sight of the fires, the mother grabbed us by the hair and yanked us onto our backs. As we were a-struggling to get up, she shoved Darragh at us and got on her hands and knees and went to whimpering and licking at our feet. Poor Darragh was crying and carrying on too, and she bit him good a couple of times and made him go with us.
“We ran for what seemed like hours, and Darragh stayed right with us, hanging onto us for dear life. When we got back here, we found no one alive and we spent the next several days, burying bodies. We just kept running into them. Darragh kept trying to help us, so long as we didn’t go out in the bright sun. He also started in right away, trying to use our words. He won’t use trollish…”
“How can you be sure he won’t turn on you sometime?” said Kieran.
Reina heaved a sigh. “Well he’s not about to,” she said. “A few weeks ago, maybe fifty trollbrutes came back here late in the evening and nosed around through building after building for long enough, we thought they’d never leave. Darragh hid us in a passage in the palace that he’d found. He was playing outside when they showed up and the very sight of them terrified him. He was trembling all over and he kept calling them ‘monsters,’ and we couldn’t begin to coax him out of the passage until long after they were gone. He won’t ever talk about living with the other trolls, but over time we have managed to piece together that he was tormented by them day and night, and that they were continually threatening to eat him.” She clapped her knees with sudden resolution and stood up. “I think the pies must be ready by now.”
“Yea,” said Isbal. “It might do you some good, Kieran, if you went out and got Darragh. My guess is that he’s out in the stable. He won’t be far. He’s crazy about blackberry tarts…”
“Just go out through the kitchen.”
Seeing that no one was about to come to his aid, Kieran sheepishly rose and followed Reina. Beyond a long roofed breezeway, he stepped into an enormous barn like a rough hewed cathedral. “Darragh?” he called. There was no answer. He went from stall to stall along both walls, standing empty in the cobwebs. “Darragh?” Not finding him, he climbed into the mow. Pigeons cooed and strutted along a great timber, high up the far wall. “Darragh? Darragh! Come on! They’ve got pie!”
“No!” cried Darragh, standing up in the hay. “You dirtybutt meanie!”
Darragh shook his head from shoulder to shoulder. Without warning, he threw a fist sized rock, taking off Kieran’s hat, making him see stars and setting him down hard upon the mow floor. Darragh was standing over him at once. “We even, Dirtybutt!” he cried as he gave his chest a good drumming with his fists. He held out his hand. “Now maybe you no more be meanie.”
Kieran took his hand and stood up.
“Now. Any more meanie?”
“No. I came out here to get you for pie.”
“Good, good! I like pie.”
“Even better than what you ate when you lived with the Marfora Siofra?”
“Boof! Dyrney no eat good things. Dyrney say they’ll eat me and say they’ll eat me and say they’ll eat me. Dyrney even want Fmoo to eat me.”
“Are Dyrney the Marfora Siofra? Who’s Fmoo?”
Darragh clenched his teeth and his fists and gave an angry shudder as he nodded and hissed through his nose. “‘Dyrney’ be troll talk for ‘people,’ but Dyrney no be people. Dyrney be awful, awful, awful, awful monsters.”
“Fmoo be my real momma. But ‘fmoo’ and ‘Dyrney’ be troll words. I hate troll words. Just Elf words, please? I be Elf now.”
“You’ve got a deal, Darragh.”
“Good, good!” cried Darragh, with a thundering leap on the mow floor. “We eat pie.”
The heady aroma of blackberry tarts met them as they returned to the parlour beyond the kitchen. “Kieran no more be dirty butt meanie,” said Darragh as he scurried up to sit on the floor before the tea table.
“Why, that’s remarkable,” said Olloo, earning another smack on the back of the head as Kieran took his seat. “We never quite managed.”
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps