The boys and girls who lived in Skogville, a small village at the edge of the Dark Forest, were very smart. Or at least smart enough to know better than to wander into the woods on their own. Because every time they went to bed, their parents would tell them all about the world outside the village fence. They would tell them about sneaky little gnomes who lived in the mountains, stashing away piles of gold and gems.They would tell them about the Bog Witch in her Drifting Hut that floated to and fro over the murky Leech Swamp, spreading a foul stench and clouds of mosquitoes along the way. And of course, they would never forget to mention the Old Troll that snatched away little boys and girls who didn't listen to their parents.
Truth be told, snatching away small children was not a habit of the Old Troll. However, he did pay occasional visits to the village, sneaking in unseen and unknown. And true – he did come to steal something very precious. But children? Stinky, noisy, useless, whiny little children? Bah! The Old Troll wanted something much tastier than that. He wanted the villagers’ delicious cheese! For the cranky Old Troll loved a mouthful of rich, smelly cheese more than pigs love puddles. But alas, there was not a goat to be found in his Dark Forest, nor a single cow to be seen, much less milked. So what could a poor old troll do, but pay the occasional visit to the villagers’ butteries and cellars to treat himself to a nice juicy bite of cheese?
Oh, but he was well aware of how quick the peasants were to turn their pitchforks and torches on the likes of him. So much did he fear being caught that a cold shiver would run down his spine just at the thought of it. But he couldn’t help it – when the cheese called, his mouth watered and his stomach rumbled, and nothing else seemed to matter! He did everything he could to keep his visits a secret. Until one day...
It was a bright sunny morning in the first days of summer and all the villagers had gone to work in the fields. The Old Troll snuck into the village, just as he had done many times before. He walked out of the forest, quickly hobbling on his old crooked legs. On his left side he carried a worn out over-the-shoulder bag, all covered with stitches and patches. It was his very special Cheese Bag – he could fit three big wheels of cheese in it. This time he needed even more – it was his turn to host the Midsummer Night party for his family this year and he was hoping to get his supplies replenished today, so he wouldn't have to come again before the holiday. There would be so many other preparations to deal with then!
He climbed over the village fence and headed toward one of the houses that he knew had the best cheese in the village. Drooling and slurping in anticipation, the Old Troll crossed an empty yard and approached a small door at the back of the house. It was the door to the cellar, where the owners kept their wine, cheese, and sausages during the summertime. The Old Troll let himself in and sniffed at the stale air. Some old spices. Last year's potatoes. But... No cheese! The shelves were all empty! He couldn't believe his eyes.
Confused, he moved on to the next house. To his deep dismay, there was no cheese there either. He went on. The same!
The Old Troll was growing desperate. Casting aside caution, he ran from one house to the next, breaking into butteries and storerooms… just to find empty pantries and dusty shelves. He felt as if he were going mad!
Finally, he found himself in a small cellar he had never visited before. It belonged to a small house on the far side of the village, amongst a row of humble cottages where he usually didn’t bother to plunder.
It was cold and gloomy inside. Some old rags were hanging here and there on the walls. With very little hope, the Troll sniffed around and... yes, there was definitely some cheese in this room! He darted straight to a tall cabinet in the corner. The smell was so fresh and strong, he could almost taste it, but when he opened the cabinet doors, he stopped and sighed in disappointment. There was only one small wheel of cheese, humbly nestled deep inside. He reached out for it, upset and angry, when a sudden squeak came from the hinge of the door behind him.
The Old Troll’s heart skipped a beat. He slowly turned his head. A little boy, no more than five years old, was standing in the lit doorway. The Troll tried to swallow, but his throat suddenly went dry – if the boy screamed for help, it would be the end of the Old Troll.
The little boy, however, did not look like he was going to scream. His big blue eyes studied the Old Troll with curiosity.
The Old Troll realized that the boy must have never seen a troll before. He would have heard the villagers' stories, which all described trolls as ugly, monstrous creatures. And while some other trolls did actually have a terrifying appearance, the Old Troll knew that he looked rather like a tall, slouchy man, dressed in a shapeless tunic.
“Who are you?” asked the boy.
The Old Troll looked around in panic. As so often happens in desperate moments, a brilliant idea suddenly came to him – he grabbed a worn-out bonnet from the wall and put it on his head.
“Don’t you recognize me, my dear?” he said in a thin voice, pulling the bonnet strings down to hide his big ears that stuck out like a pair of tree mushrooms. “Oh, you were very little when I last saw you.” He squeaked and shrilled, trying to sound like an old woman. “I’m your Aunt Malin!”
The boy looked puzzled. “Aunt Malin?”
“A grandaunt, my dear. Your parents asked me to fetch this cheese and bring it out to the field. They want it for lunch.”
“Really?” replied the little boy. “Are you sure? Mom said it was the last one.”
“The last one? How so?” squeaked the Old Troll.
“We had to give Lara to the Landlord. Our cow. And the same with Anton’s parents, too. And others.”
“Why?” asked the Old Troll, putting the cheese in his bag.
“So we can keep our fields for the rest of the summer. Father says we'll get her back as soon as we sell the crops in the fall.” The boy grimaced. “Stupid fat Landlord! I'd just finished painting a plaque for her stall, right before they took her away!”
He kicked at the doorstep and sniffed. “Dad says just one silver coin would do.” He paused and then looked back at the Troll with his big eyes glistening.
For a very, very quick moment the Old Troll felt uncomfortable.
“If I had a silver, my dear, I would certainly help you out,” he mumbled. “But I don't!”
He was telling the truth. He didn't have any silver – trolls preferred pure gold. Unlike hard silver, the soft golden coins could sponge up a troll's magic spells. They had used gold in all sorts of deceit and trickery for thousands of years and even now, the Old Troll had a dark-yellow Krona in a little purse that hung from his belt. Just in case.
The Troll was ready to leave, but the boy was still standing in his way. Now that he got a better look at his unexpected guest, a hint of suspicion flashed in his eyes. “Are you sure about this… Aunt Malin? Mom told me we were saving that cheese for a special occasion.”
A chill went down the Old Troll's spine, but he gathered up the nerve to answer in his impudent trollish manner: “Why, wouldn't you call this a special occasion? It’s not every day you have a guest like me!” He smiled, baring his crooked teeth.
His grin was so hideous, the poor boy flinched and the Old Troll used this moment to slip past him through the doorway.
He hobbled across the yard as fast as his old legs would carry him, when he suddenly heard the boy shout, “No! Down boy, down!” Before he knew what was happening, there was a short snarl and something grabbed onto his bag.
His eyes went wide with terror! He jumped two feet into the air, he tried to swing his staff at the dog, but the vicious animal wouldn't let go. The Old Troll fought for his precious plunder like a mountain lion, kicking and jumping, and he finally made it to the tall palisade that surrounded the village. He couldn't remember how he managed to climb over it and land safely on the other side, but he did, leaving the dog behind him, barking and growling.
Long, long after the village was out of sight, the Old Troll finally stopped to examine the damage. The Cheese Bag was ripped and torn, but luckily, its contents were unharmed. The Old Troll chuckled in relief, but when he put his hand on his belt, the crooked grin vanished from his face. His purse was gone!
As the sun went down and the villagers came in from the fields, the Old Troll watched anxiously, hiding in the bushes outside the village fence. It had taken him too long to return and now it was too late.
He saw the little boy run out to meet his parents, who were just returning from the field. The boy held up his hand and showed them something shiny lying in his palm. The Old Troll knew right away that it was his gold. He ground his teeth in helpless rage and just at that moment he noticed that the bonnet was still on his head. He yanked it off with a growl and stomped on it, waving his arms and cursing fiercely in ancient Trollish.
“A full-weight golden Krona for a little cheese!” he moaned, “What a lousy deal! But you should know, my dear villagers, that in the end, the trolls’ gold always serves the trolls!”
He pointed his staff toward the golden coin and whispered:
Winds and shadows, moss and roots!
Golden coin spin and roll,
Bring the cattle back to stall!
The staff quivered as the magic ran through it.
Pots and ladles, jars and spoons!
Salt and sugar, milk and brine,
I will come to take what’s mine!
The Old Troll lowered his staff. The sun was setting, it was time to leave.
“Just make sure those shelves are full by the Midsummer Night,” he murmured, heading back home. “I'll be needing my cheese then!”
When the time had come, the Midsummer celebrations were unfolding far and wide across the Northern Lands. The people in their villages and the magic creatures in their forests ate and drank and danced to the sound of pipes and violins all night long.
There was a little imp who showed up last to the big feast at the heart of the Leech Swamp, when most of the other guests were already full on bog grog and hot-smoked leeches. He told everyone that not a day before, he had seen the Old Troll carrying his bag through the bushes, stuffed so full that he could barely lift it. The imp swore there must have been at least five big wheels of cheese in it.
Imps are known to be notorious liars, so no one believed him – it was well known that the Old Troll's special Cheese Bag could hold no more than three.
Bio: I'm a software engineer from Boston. I love making up short stories for my little daughter and I write some of them down so other children can enjoy them too. Readers can find similar stories at http://theoldtroll.com