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  • Writer's pictureRichard Sparrow III

Read an excerpt from my latest book, "The Legend of Griff"

Part One

Hedgehog Stew

Wind stirred the trees, carrying the unmistakable stench of man. Olog lifted his shaggy head and tasted the air, his mismatched nostrils flaring angrily. The smell of human soldiers hung thickly in the damp morning breeze; that familiar stink of perspiration and filth congealing beneath unwashed leather and rusted mail announcing the imminent arrival of his quarry. He could smell horse too, and not too far away his keen ears caught the sound of approaching hoof-beats and hushed conversation. The rebels were close, though he could not yet determine how many made up their party.

“Brace yerselves,” he barked over his shoulder. “They’re comin’ this way.”

Behind him, twenty trolls wielding large oaken clubs and round shields shuffled about clumsily in the snowy undergrowth as they tried to hide themselves in the shadows, something that is not particularly easy to do when you are over ten feet tall. Many feet were accidentally trodden on as the bandits attempted to conceal themselves behind narrow trees and undersized bushes, resulting in much whispered bickering and angry threats. Olog, having had to deal with this nonsense for several days of marching, rolled his eyes to the heavens in exasperation and shook his head.

Their trek through the Great Untame had been an uncomfortable one, which had only been exacerbated by the enmity shared between the bandits. Some of them were hill trolls, while others were forest trolls, and the only thing the two proud tribes seemed able to reach an agreement on was that they hated each other more than daylight itself.

Since beginning their excursion, tensions had been at a constant risk of boiling over into spontaneous fist fights and declarations of eternal blood feuds. Even now, two young trolls were competitively insulting each other’s mothers and seemed moments away from exchanging fists.

“Oi!” snarled Olog at the squabbling bandits, having reached the zenith of his decidedly limited patience. “Pack it in, will yer! Or I’ll ‘ave the lot o’ yous on quarter-rations for a month!” At that, the trolls ceased their squabbling and grumpily reassumed their positions, though not before exchanging seething looks. “Save it for the rebels,” Olog advised. “They’ll be upon us soon enough.”

“How soon?” demanded Hamshield. “We bin waitin’ ‘ere long enough.” Hamshield was the recently elected chief to the hill tribe. One thousand pounds of muscle and belly, there was no visible transition to determine where his head ended and his shoulders began, save for a sausage-like wedge at the base of his skull in lieu of an actual neck. Olog thought him a clumsy fighter and a dimwit. The double-headed battle-axe that hung from his belt would probably have been put to better use in the hands of a near-sighted lumberjack, although even Olog had to admit that what Hamshield lacked in skill he compensated with a kind ferocious enthusiasm for bloodletting.

“We’ve been sat ‘ere twiddlin’ our thumbs for hours,” Hamshield said. “I can ‘ardly feel me arse.”

“Well none of us is gonna feel it for yer, mate,” jested Skullknuckle with an evil grin. Skullknuckle, uncommonly lean for troll, was the chief of the forest tribe, though he took the position with an infuriatingly lax approach, as with most everything else. He and Hamshield shared a petty rivalry due to some millennia-old feud between their two families, the exact nature of which neither of them could quite recall, but which was apparently beyond pardon. Hamshield opened his mouth to retort.

“I said pack it in!” repeated Olog. He shot the two chiefs a look that could have melted stone. They wilted satisfyingly and obliged to the command without another sound. Grunting in irritation, Olog returned his eyes to the road.

Olog was a mountain troll, and Head Chief of them all. At twelve feet and three inches tall, he was considered large even by his kind’s standards, and practically towered over the rest of his band. A seasoned bounty-hunter, he had a broad, muscular physique, with moss-colored impenetrable skin, biceps like boulders, and a face that Skullknuckle had once jested, well beyond Olog’s earshot of course, could launch a thousand ships in the opposite direction.

His fierce jut of a jaw looked like a cinderblock. His misshapen nose, while still fully functional, had never fully recovered its original shape after it had been caved in by a dwarven morning-star over a century before. His thick, tattooed forearms bore the symbols of his tribe, and his hair, graying in his middle-centuries and sharply receding at the temples, grew down between his shoulder blades to the small of his back in thick, unwashed festoons, threaded with beads and shards of bone.

His preferred weapon was an enormous, steel war hammer, which he needed only one hand to wield. He gripped it readily as he waited, secreted in the shadow of a wide oak.

They had been hunkered down amid the trees by the edge of the Grendelyn River since the black hours of the morning. Dawn had broken less than an hour ago, however it had snowed the night previous, and the grey sky promised a dreary day, or so Olog prayed. Trolls are, by necessity, a nocturnal people, and do not like to operate during the day if it can be avoided. Then again, there in the Great Untame, where the trees grew tall and crooked, sunlight was thankfully a lot scarcer. Olog kept his eyes fixed unblinkingly on the road.

Presently, a party of four men astride horses emerged over a snowy slope of land and began to make their way down the path. Soldiers, just as Olog had anticipated, though he had been expecting a much larger convoy. As they drew closer, he was surprised to see an elf among them- a foreigner no less, judging by the looks of him- and a dwarf too. Not that he could have possibly foreseen that, there being little if any distinction between the smell of humans and their relatives. And besides, they were not important; hired muscle most likely, if he were to judge.

For reasons he could not quite fathom, it took him a few moments to find his target, the unassumingly frail figure bundled beneath layers of furs and blue robes on a small pony, strategically situated between the three sentinels. His outline seemed intangible somehow. Blurred almost, like a smudged painting. Were it not for his sharp eyes, Olog fancied he might have easily looked right through the little old man without spotting him at all. Some form of magic he supposed, perhaps an enchantment. He anxiously fingered the heavy silver chain hooked to his belt.

The old man had a dazed and wearied expression, yet Olog had long ago learned to never measure a man by his look, and he took note of the queer way his right arm clung to his chest protectively. Sure enough, poking out of the seams of the ancient man’s robes, Olog could see the glint of a sword pommel.

As the rebels approached, Olog hissed a command to his bandits. Hamshield, along with two of his kinsmen, abandoned the secrecy of the trees and assumed their prearranged positions in the middle of the road.

Olog tightened his grip on his war hammer and waited.

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