Crystal Trial, Part 2
Michael and his group came to the tree line, where the beach fell away to the jungle. He was standing with the others, though the man with the knife seemed to be taking a point position.
They spread out a little at the edge of the trees, looking for any fruit trees or berries or anything they could scavenge. Michael was careful to watch for movement while the others fanned out and searched, though he didn’t see anything besides trees and vines. He had a sense that this was part of the trial, and that there would be something dangerous in the jungle, probably a panther or a wild boar or something.
When they found nothing edible the survivors returned to Michael and he urged them further along. As they moved further into the trees the growth grew thicker, so that their movement was slowed. They made it far enough inside that the beach and the sounds of the ocean faded away. Michael was suddenly very glad he’d been careful with his clothes, because the jungle was overgrown with prickly grass and grasping vines. Ants and spiders crawled everywhere, though they scurried away as the group approached, and he had to swat away biting flies and other buzzing things.
They came to a sort of clearing, though that wasn’t really the right word. It was simply a place where the ground was hard packed and the underbrush had been trod down. It was a natural pathway for animals, which Michael thought might indicate game was nearby. He turned to his group.
“Be ready and try to move quietly,” the told them. “This seems like a place where animals travel, so it might mean they live nearby. If you see something, throw your spears, so we can at least bring back some meat.” The survivors with him all nodded, though none of them spoke. They had strange, blank expressions on their faces: mildly determined, though they didn’t seem to be aware of anything else. He motioned ahead and had them follow the way of the trail.
Up ahead, there was a rustle in the undergrowth. Everyone stopped and Michael felt his heartbeat quicken. It pounded in his ears. This was it: their dinner. He took a tentative step ahead and waved to his point man with the knife to inspect further. The man did, moving ahead with slow, careful steps, doing his best to be quiet.
From the bush there rushed a shadowy figure, a small, thin creature with large hands. It jumped at the man and was on him. It swung a heavy rock before the man could get his knife up and they both went down. The man hit the ground, the thing on him, raising its crude weapon for a final strike.
Michael hesitated for only a moment, though the others just stood, frozen in shock or awaiting orders, he wasn’t sure which. He rushed at the creature as it raised its rock to again drive it down, this time into the man’s head. Michael jumped ahead, holding his crude spear in front of him, but not bringing it around to stab. He pushed the creature over, off of his man, just as it swung. The rock battered uselessly against Michael’s leg. It stung something awful but it seemed far away. Michael rolled with the creature and finally broke free.
Michael went up to his knees, the creature also trying to get up. It was smaller than Michael, with dark pink skin and bulbous features. Michael found it strangely inhuman, hard to look at. It scared him. His hands tightened on his spear. He was suddenly panicked. His only real weapon, the knife, had twisted away, lost when the man fell. And, though he had led ten others into the jungle, they had all frozen. His throat was dry and tight. The creature finally pulled itself up and shook its head. Then, it raised its rock and seemed to eye Michael, wagering if it should charge.
“Wait,” Michael finally said. He felt desperate but he managed to keep his voice steady enough. “Stop. We don’t want to hurt you.” The creature paused. It looked at Michael with wide eyes. It hesitated, holding the rock loosely, as though it were going to drop it.
“Don’t try nothing too precious, humey,” the creature barked, its voice harsh like a cough. “This is trolls lands, not humey lands.”
“Troll lands?” Michael said. He shot a look and his fellows, who watched on the other side of the small troll. He thought they would intervene if things went south, but for now, Michael wanted to negotiate. “Can you help us?”
“Help a humey?” The troll seemed to consider. “What would you gives us?”
“Give you?” Michael didn’t know what they could give it. “What do you need? We don’t have much. Our ship wrecked.”
“We need slaves,” the troll said. “That’s what we needs.”
“We aren’t going to be your slaves,” Michael said flatly. “That’s a silly thing to ask for. What do you need slaves for anyway?” The troll had not seemed to consider this. He looked confused by the question.
“To build things and do our work.” The troll gripped its rock more tightly but then seemed to realize that it was surrounded. It thought for a long moment. The process looked visibly difficult. “How abouts you help us build some things? And we’ll be friend-like, you see? How abouts that, humey?”
“And what do we get?” Michael asked, though he wondered if maybe not having a fight here was reward enough.
“Some things. We gots food,” the troll barked. “You hungry, humey? We give feed.” Michael acted like he was considering for a moment so the little troll wouldn’t know they were desperate.
“That’s good,” Michael said. “We help you and you help us, but not today. It will be dark soon and we’ll want to rest. How about this, if you can tell us where to find some plants we can eat for food, we will give you some of the food to take back to your, what, village? Clan? That will mean we’re friends who help each other. Then, in the morning, you can come to the beach and take us to do some work for you, so long as we can take some materials for ourselves.”
The troll considered and then nodded. “Okay, humey, okay. Sorry bout your mate there, aren’t I? So sorry. This way, c’mon here.” It walked over to the man who had had the knife and looked over the wound. “Not bad,” it said. “I’ll go ahead, you come along after.” The little troll pointed into the jungle. “That way, just a bit, some trees.”
Michael and the others took some time to see to themselves and get their downed comrade back into shape. Then, they walked the direction the troll had gone. They found him soon enough, a few meters away from the path. He stood beneath some trees that had heavy green and red fruits hanging from low branches. Though the branches were low, the troll could not reach them, as short as he was. He’d found a medium sized stick and was jumping, trying to knock one free. So far, he’d had no luck.
With their height, reach, and sturdier cudgels and spears, it didn’t take Michael and his group long to knock down plenty of the fruits. He loaded up a crude sling for the goblin that he had one of the survivors fashion from some leaves and sticks. When they were finished he thought he saw the fruits sparkling in the dimming light.
“In the morning,” the troll said. “I’ll come to the beach with me fellows. I’ll find you there?”
“Yes,” Michael said. “We will work together.”
“Being mates with a humey,” the Goblin said. He put his hand on his forehead. “By good Titan’s spirit.” They parted ways then.
That evening, Michael helped cut and clean the fruits and pass them out to the other survivors. He was surprised to find the food sweet and tasty, the meat of the fruit soft and wet. He had almost forgotten he was inside some kind of dream or illusion.
He didn’t sleep much that night, half worried that the troll would come back with some of his so-called mates to rough them up again, but as the sun crested the waves and the sky turned from deep blue to gray to soft blue, he realized his fears were unfounded. He rested for a while longer and then got his band of survivors up and fed. He looked around for any tools they might need for their work, though there were precious few. He settled on getting together a mix of rope and first aid supplies, hoping that would help with whatever problems the trolls were having.
He decided to keep the same group as he’d taken out the day before. He didn’t want the trolls to know exactly how many of them there were. He also made sure that they brought their spears. He’d had them burn the tips in the fire the night before. He’d remembered reading about that at some point, though he wasn’t sure exactly what it did or if he’d even done it right. Maybe he’d made them worse.
They walked away from their camp and up to the place where the jungle met the beach. Then, they walked along the tree line in the same direction they had searched the day before. Eventually, they saw the group of trolls.
Even knowing he had at least 10 fellows, the troll had only brought 3 others to meet Michael and his survivors. It seemed they had made the right choice working together, because the human survivors easily outnumbered the trolls, and with more sophisticated weapons it would have been an easy fight to win.
“Hello, humey,” the troll said as they approached. It had a wide smile in its face and its hands were empty. The others stood around, much like the survivors did. Was it possible this troll was doing a trial as well? Michael wasn’t sure if that was even possible.
“What should we do first?” Michael asked. The trolls smiled.
They spent the rest of the morning working hard. After the trolls led them to their village, which was small and populated with only two more trolls, they started thatching the houses. They helped gather food up and prepare it. One of the survivors even set to cooking.
They hauled water and wood and food scavenged from the jungle. They collected wide palm leaves and thatched roofs. Michael didn’t know how to do half of the things they needed, but someone always did and the work came easy.
By midday, when they stopped for a meal, Michael was exhausted. The trolls sat with the people, smiling and eating. When they were finished, the trolls gathered up the leftover materials they had all gathered and brought them over to the fire.
“Here you are, humey. Your fair share.” The trolls put the wood and leaves and food down in front of Michael.
“Thank you,” Michael said. He held out his hand to the head troll and they shook. There was that sparkling again, for just a moment. Then Michael felt himself drifting backwards again, floating down into warm water, as the world turned back to white.