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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2206576
Slugbreth's struggle with tradition. Second in the No Dialogue Contest, November 2019.
The Trouble With Tradition

Slugbreth von Grimestone III had a problem. It was a tradition that, on the twenteenth of Ogtober every year, all cave trolls of the Grimestone clan would gather in Crunchburg Cavern for the Great Annual Cookery Challenge. Normally, Slugbreth would be one of the crowd tasting the products of the contestants and indicating appreciation or disgust at the experience, but last year Slugbreth had caught a mole a few days before the contest. This was an opportunity to produce an exotic dish beyond the grubs and worms forming the usual ingredients used and Slugbreth had decided to have a go at it.

To his surprise, he had won the competition and his recipe was entered in the Scroll of Scrumptious and Sapid Surprises. Which was all very well but tradition insisted on his entry to this year’s contest to defend his crown. And that meant he had to find something special on which to base his offering. Therein lay his problem.

For a week, Slugbreth had searched his tunnels and passages for unusual culinary volunteers but without success. Beetles skittered through his halls and worms emerged from the walls, salamanders slithered under rocks and colourless fish swam in the pools, but all had been tasted before. Even the fungus, roots and tendrils, pale and ghostly in the darkest pits, offered only familiar flavours.

Something completely new was needed and, as every day produced the same old fare, Slugbreth admitted to himself that only one place could supply what he wanted. The Outside, that land of dread and daylight and doom, must be his ultimate destination. He pondered long on this, weighing the benefits of guaranteed success in the Challenge against the known dangers of The Outside.

Most obviously and importantly, it was well known that sunlight scorches and dessicates a cave troll until nothing is left but a shrivelled, burnt husk no longer recognisable as a troll. If Slugbreth were to venture out, it would have to be at night.

Then there was the possibility of rain. Cave trolls have no objection to having wet feet or hands from splashing through underground rivers in search of a fish dinner, but to be soaked in an Outside downpour is not to be countenanced. The likelihood of the rain washing off the protection of the troll’s natural skin oils and accumulated dirt was bound to lead to some terrible disease or other.

Slugbreth was not unaware of the perils inherent in a sally into The Outside, therefore. The chance of bearing off the Challenge spoils two years in a row was too great a temptation, however, and he began to prepare carefully for the venture.

Cave trolls naturally have pretty good eyesight in the dark but, even so, Slugbreth made a point of collecting as many of the rare squobnip root as he could find. He had heard that consumption of these tasteless little roots was beneficial to night vision. To make sure that he was properly provisioned for his expedition, he cooked large numbers of grubs and worms as light but nutritious food for the journey. Deciding that he was going for bigger game than was his wont, he did not pack his nets and traps, relying instead on the old battleaxe he had inherited from his grampa troll, Slugbreth von Grimestone I.

As a final measure, he went down to the deepest pool in his caverns and rolled in the mud to cover himself in an armour against all eventualities. He was ready to go and set out along his tunnel to the surface, arriving at the exit just as the twilight deepened into night. For a few lonely moments, he gazed out into the dark. Then, with a great grunt of expelled breath, he stepped forward over the threshold and began his journey.

It was, surely, only bad luck that a dragon was flying overhead at that precise moment and that, swooping down behind the troll, it fricasseed him with a quick blast of fire from its nostrils. Slugbreth may not have defended his crown that year but he did form the basis of the winning entry at the Dragons’ Delicious Dinners Debate.

Word Count: 694
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