A man is captured by trolls who force him to marry their daughter.
|Will Mosley's parents died while he was still a young man. With a little hard work, the farm they left him could have made him quite prosperous, but work did not appeal to Will. He would much rather spend his time drinking at the tavern or hunting in the woods.
The day the trouble started, Will was planning to shoot a couple rabbits, but he had not seen a single one. The woods had been unusually quiet all morning. He stopped on the edge of a small gully and listened to the silence. Something must be spooking all the animals. Will could sense it himself.
With his next step, he lost his footing and slid into the gully. On the way down, he knocked an old log loose. It tumbled down after him, rolling over his legs and pinning him under it. He tried to push the log, but it was so heavy he could not budge it.
Will was wondering what he should do when he heard something moving in the brush. It sounded like something large, too large to be human, but Will could not think of anything else that would be as careless about the sound it made. He looked for his rifle and saw that it had landed out of his reach.
He was trapped and unarmed, with no idea whether the sound came from his only chance of getting help or a threat that would take advantage of his predicament. He was still trying to decide whether he should call to it or try to hide from it, when the creature stepped out of the bushes and made his decision irrelevant.
It was a troll and it was huge. If Will had been standing he would have barely reached the troll's shoulders and his body was at least twice as broad as Will's. The troll had a long curved nose, beady little eyes under thick bushy brows and skin as wrinkled as old weathered wood. The clothes he wore were made of coarse-woven cloth sewn together with rough stitches. At the end of his long tail was a tuft of black bristly hair, just like that on his head.
The troll walked over to where Will was trapped under the log and greeted him with a smile, showing Will his big crooked teeth. "Good day to you."
Will was relieved the troll had not attacked him, but he was not in a mood for pleasantries, so he grunted back, "Nothing good about it. I'm trapped under this log."
The troll nodded. "So I see. I'll get that off of you in a minute."
"That'll be great." Will had never seen a troll before. He had always heard they were dangerous things that ought to be avoided, but now he felt very fortunate that this troll had found him.
"I just want to get my sack ready." The troll laid a large burlap bag he had been carrying on the ground near Will and propped the opening up with a stick.
"Yeah, if I got to fumble around with it, the critter I'm trying to stuff in it usually gets away."
Will realized he was not nearly as fortunate as he had thought he was. "You're not going to put me in that sack!"
"Don't like small places, huh? Believe me, it's the easiest way to carry you home. And if I don't bring something home for supper, my wife's going to yell at me something fierce."
Will's legs felt a little numb, but he had received nothing worse than a few bruises. As soon as the troll picked up the log and tossed it aside, Will jumped up and tried to run away. He had barely made one step when the troll grabbed him as easily as a man scoops up a stray kitten and threw him in the sack. Then the troll tied the sack shut and flung it over his shoulder.
Will pleaded to be let out, but the troll ignored him and hummed to himself as he walked along. He tried to kick the troll but it was difficult to move in the sack and the troll paid no attention.
After a while he heard a sound like a door opening and shutting, then a voice he assumed was the troll's wife say, "I suppose you've come back empty-handed again."
"Not this time, my little muffin. Look what I've brought.
The troll opened the sack and shook Will out on a sturdy wooden table. His wife left the big pot she had been tending on the stove and came over to see what her husband had brought. She was shorter than her husband, about the same height as Will, but just as broad. Her nose was not as long as his, but it was swollen and covered with warts. A short-stemmed pipe was clenched in her yellowish brown teeth.
Will screamed, "Let me go! Please! Let me go!"
The troll woman said, "Hush." and wrapped her gnarled fingers around his throat. She could have easily crushed it, but for now she held it just tight enough to keep him quiet.
"Hmmmm. You've done good, Moad. Too scrawny for roasting, but he'll make a decent stew."
Moad grinned at his wife's compliment. "Thanks." He looked around then asked, "Where's Odora?"
"Where do you think? In her room moping 'cause she doesn't have a husband."
Moad threw up his hands. "Still? I thought I explained it to her. She can't have a husband 'til we've saved up enough for her dowry."
"You're wasting your words. She's gotten it in her head she needs a husband and there's no way we're going to change it." The troll woman poked Will's chest, then his arms and legs. He struggled a little, but she squeezed his neck a bit tighter and he stopped. "While you're standing over there, fetch me my big knife."
Moad pulled a large knife out of the block where it was stored. He was about to hand it to his wife, when he stopped and pulled it back. "That human, Bouelle, that's the answer."
Bouelle snickered, "It'd be a pitiful husband that'd take one scrawny human as a dowry."
"No, I mean Odora can marry that human."
"Moad, you've had some stone-headed ideas, but nothing to match this. Why would you want our daughter marrying a human?"
"They don't live very long. Most don't even last one century."
Bouelle looked at Will, then back at her husband. "True, but why's that a reason to marry one?"
Moad explained, "We can't afford to get her a decent troll husband. She'd have to settle for the dregs that nobody else wants and then she'd be stuck with him from then on. A human probably won't be any better, but he'll only be around 'til he dies. By the time he does, we should have enough saved up for a proper dowry."
His wife puffed thoughtfully on her pipe. "For a stone-headed fool, sometimes your ideas aren't that bad."
As he left the kitchen, Moad said, "I'll get Odora. I'm sure this'll make her happy."
Bouelle stared at Will, releasing her grip just enough that he could breathe freely. "You better make her happy. Else, you'll still end up as our supper."
A few minutes later, the troll came back with his daughter. Odora was even uglier than her parents. Her ears where huge and pointed. She had a snout much like a pig's with a pair of curved tusks sticking up from her lower jaw. Her mousy brown hair hung down in matted, greasy strands. The worst thing was her eyes. The left one was very large and it stared straight ahead, never moving. The right one was about half the size of the other and it constantly darted about under swollen lids.
The troll girl was quite short, she would only reach the middle of Will's chest, but very plump. She followed her father into the room, asking him, "You've really got me a husband?"
Moad nodded. "I certainly have. There he is on the table."
Odora looked at Will, then her smile turned into a frown and her tail dropped down limp. "That's a human!"
Her father replied, "Well, yes, he is. Like I said, we can't afford..."
Bouelle interrupted, "I imagine there's not a girl around here who's got a human husband."
Odora studied Will. "No, I imagine there isn't."
Her mother continued, "You'd be the first one. I'd say the other girls'll be jealous."
"You really think so?"
"Certainly." Bouelle looked at her husband and said, "Won't they be jealous?"
Moad nodded and agreed, "Yes, very jealous."
Odora went over and leaned on the table. "What's your name."
"Will." He coughed. The troll girl smelled like a pig barn that needed cleaning.
She smiled at him. "Do you want to marry me?"
Bouelle gave his neck a brief squeeze to remind him what his other option was. He answered, "Yes, I'll marry you."
Odora looked at her mother. "Could I have a few minutes alone with my future husband?"
Bouelle snapped back, "Alone. I don't think so."
The girl turned to her father. "Please. I promise we won't do anything improper. You do trust me, don't you?"
Moad replied, "Of course we do." Looking at his wife he said, "They do need a little time for courting."
"Well, I suppose they do." She pulled Will by the neck and he stumbled awkwardly along with her until they came to a wooden door. She opened it with her other hand and shoved Will into a narrow room with shelves on either side. "That's the pantry. This is the only way out, so don't think you've any chance of getting away. We'll be right outside and if we hear anything that sounds like trouble, we're coming in."
Odora came into the pantry and closed the door behind her. She whispered to Will, "You don't really want to marry me, do you?"
Will fumbled, "I...said I'd marry you."
"'Cause your scared of Mama?"
"I don't think it'd be a good idea to disagree with her."
Odora giggled, "No, it isn't. "But if you weren't afraid we'd eat you, you'd never marry anyone as ugly as me, would you?"
"I didn't say you're ugly."
"You didn't have to. I know human men aren't like troll men. You like pretty wives. But, I'll tell you something about trolls. We can look like anything we want to."
For some odd reason, Will felt compelled to glance at the jars on the shelves for a few moments. When he looked back at Odora, she had completely changed. She was now almost as tall as he was and quite slender. She had long blond hair, a pair of clear blue eyes, exactly the same size, a perky little nose and a gentle smile.
She asked softly, "Is this better?"
Will grinned, "Yes, you're beautiful."
"When we're married, I can look like this all the time. But, don't let Mama and Papa know. I don't think they'd approve."
Looking down, Will noticed Odora still had a tail, although now it had a fluffy, blond tuft. Odora wagged it playfully and said, "So I don't forget I'm a troll and think I'm really human."
A loud pounding on the door drew Will's attention to it. On the other side, Bouelle shouted, "That's long enough."
The door swung open. Will looked back at Odora and saw that once again she was a fat, pig-faced troll.
The trolls kept Will locked in the pantry until the wedding. Dozens of trolls came and they had a raucous feast that lasted all night. At first, the other trolls mocked Odora for marrying a human, but she acted like it was something they should envy, so soon they were all jealous of her.
After the wedding, the new couple settled in at Will's farm. They had been there a few days when Will decided that since he had a wife, he should fix the place up for her. The paint on the house was faded and peeling, the barn looked even worse, so he set off for town to buy some paint and brushes.
He was going out the gate in front of their house, when he saw Odora sitting on the old, stone fence, her feet dangling on one side and her tail on the other. She asked him, "Where're you going?"
"To town. To get some paint and things to fix the place up."
Odora looked at the house and then the barn. "Looks like that'd be a lot of work."
"I suppose it will be."
"If you're going to town, why don't we go to the tavern instead. That'd be a lot more fun."
Will had never been fond of hard work, so Odora had no trouble convincing him to change his plans.
When they got to the tavern, they drank and sang and everyone complimented Will for having such a lovely wife. If anyone noticed she had a tail, they did not mention it. After a while, they joined a game of poker. When Will looked up from his hand, he saw that even though she still appeared mostly human, Odora had her mismatched troll eyes. Good poker players study their opponents for clues about what they might be holding, but watching those eyes just made the other players queasy. None of them played very well that day, so Will and Odora went home with a considerable amount of money.
A few days later, Will was looking at his fields where the weeds were growing better than his crops. Since he had a wife to support, he felt he ought to take better care of them. He was heading out for the fields when Odora caught up with him.
His wife asked, "What're you going to do today?"
"I thought I should get rid of some of those weeds."
"You could do that, but it's going to be really hot out there in the sun. It'd be much nicer in the forest where it's cool and shady."
Will could not disagree with that. He asked, "And what would we do in the forest?"
"We could go hunting. Wouldn't you like that?"
"That sound's good, but I've only got one rife. What would you use?"
Odora giggled, "I don't hunt with a gun."
Some birds flying overhead squawked loudly and Will looked up to see them. After the interruption, Odora continued, but her voice was now deeper and raspy. "I hunt like this."
When he lowered his head, Will was startled by Odora's appearance. Her body was like a very large, black dog with a pig's snout and a black tufted troll's tail. She had long, twisted tusks, huge claws and gleaming yellow eyes.
Will could not decide if she was more hound or hog, but Odora could track down, flush out and fetch back game better than any dog he had ever had. It was not too long before they had several rabbits, a few squirrels and a couple partridges. They spotted a bear once, which usually made Will nervous, but it ran off as fast as it could as soon as it saw Odora.
After they were done hunting, Odora became nearly human again. They walked through the forest, holding hands and laughing more from the joy of being together than from anything they said.
Suddenly, Odora lowered her voice and said, "Quiet, we mustn't disturb them."
Will could not see anyone around them, so he whispered back, "Who?"
Odora pointed ahead of them. "Over there. The Old Couple."
"I don't see anyone." All Will saw was a rock formation, two large pillars of stone rising out of the ground at an angle so they leaned together and held each other up.
"They're trolls. Sometimes, when trolls are very, very old and too weary to do anything else, they turn to stone and stay that way. The bigger one's the husband and the smaller one's his wife."
They walked past the stones in silence and Odora began to cry. When they were some distance away from them, Will asked, "Did you know them?"
Odora shook her head. "No, they've been stone for as long as I can remember. I was just thinking we'll never be like that. Someday, you'll die and I won't and we'll never be together again. But, at least you'll be happy."
"How could I be happy?"
"'Cause you'll be in heaven. When I was a little girl, I asked Papa if we were bad because we kill animals and eat them. He said we're not. Animals have souls and when they die, they go to heaven and in heaven, everyone's always happy."
Will squeezed Odora's hand. "I can't imagine being happy anywhere if you weren't there. If they want me to be happy in heaven, they'll have to let you in, too."
Odora shook her head slowly. "Trolls don't have souls. We can't even really die."
Will stopped walking and gently held Odora's chin. "I don't know what will happen, but we're together now, so we should be happy while we are."
Weeks passed and they were very happy together. Then one day, when he was sitting down for supper, Will felt a sharp pain that made him jump up and knock over the chair.
Odora hurried over to him and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Something poked me. There must be a nail sticking out in that chair."
His wife bent down and ran her hand over the back and seat of the chair. "There's nothing here."
"I certainly felt something."
"Let me see. Maybe you've hurt your back."
Odora pulled his shirt out of his trousers and started to examine his backside. "Here's the trouble. You've got a lump back here."
"Yeah, definitely a lump." She chuckled. "I think you're starting to grow a tail."
Will twisted around but he could not see the lump himself, so Odora brought him a mirror and said, "Maybe you're turning into a troll."
"Can that happen?"
"I've never heard of it, but I don't think a human's ever married a troll before, either. We should go and ask Mama. She'd might know."
Will was not eager to see his wife's mother again, but he did want to know if he was becoming a troll, so the two of them headed into the forest. When they got to her parents' home, Bouelle was outside sweeping the river rock paved path that led to their door.
When she saw them approaching, she pointed an accusing finger at her daughter and scolded, "Don't think you're coming into my house looking like that."
Will realized Odora had forgotten to change her appearance. He looked at Bouelle to see what the old troll would do, but she just smiled and said, "There, that's much better." When he looked back at Odora, she was the same ugly, little troll she had been the first time he saw her.
Odora hugged her mother and asked, "Where's Papa?"
"Out in the woods somewhere. He saw me with the broom and hurried off so I wouldn't put him to work." Bouelle looked her daughter over carefully. "Something's troubling you?"
Odora nodded. "We think Will's growing a tail."
Bouelle hooted, "A tail? I've got to see that."
The old troll woman felt Will's lump with her bony fingers, then pricked his back with her long, pointed nails and smelled the drop of blood that formed there. "That's the beginning of a tail alright, but for now, he's still human."
Odora asked excitedly, "But he's going to become a troll?"
"As long as you two stay together, that's what's going to happen."
Will reached back and rubbed the lump. "You're certain?"
Bouelle grumbled, "Yes, I'm certain. Can't say when, but I imagine that since the tail has started to form, it won't be too long. We better decide what to do about it."
Odora asked, "Why do we have to do anything about it? This is a good thing, isn't it?"
Her mother answered, "It spoils our plan. The only reason we let you marry a human was so you'd stop making a fuss until we had your dowry saved up. We didn't care if he wasn't good enough for you because it wasn't suppose to last that long."
Odora protested, "We're already married. You can't change that now."
"He's not a troll yet, so there's one easy way to handle it. We cook him for supper."
Odora stepped in front of Will. "You're not going to cook my husband!"
"I'm your mother. You don't tell me what to do."
"But he's a very good husband."
Bouelle shifted her pipe to the other side of her mouth. "I'll be the one to judge that. He's a farmer, so I imagine he spends a lot of time in the fields."
Odora shook her head. "No, he goes hunting in the woods when he should be tending his crops."
Will could not believe what his wife had told her mother. "But, she..."
Bouelle turned to him and reached out to grab his throat. "I'm talking to my daughter, not to you. I can keep you quiet, if you can't do it yourself." Will closed his mouth and backed away.
"It sounds like your husband doesn't work very hard."
"Not at all. He says he'll fix things up, but then he goes drinking and gambling instead."
Bouelle stared at Will and he felt a chill go down his back. "It sounds like you're a lazy, lying, irresponsible slackard." Then her face broke into a wide grin. "Just like a troll husband should be."
Will was speechless and Odora said, "I told you he was a good husband."
Bouelle held up a long, bony finger. "Not so fast. There's still one thing that bothers me. The way you looked when you came here. Was that his idea?"
Odora stammered, "No...we...came through town...and people threw stones at me. I made myself look like that so they'd stop."
The old troll sniffed loudly. "That smells like a lie. This time, I want the truth."
Odora bowed her head. "I did that so he'd like me. He didn't want to marry me when I was ugly. Once he's a troll, I'm sure that'll be different."
Bouelle cackled, "Oh, I doubt that. I don't imagine there's a troll in this world that'd want to even kiss your cheek looking like that."
Odora took her husband's hand. "I don't understand. I knew humans didn't like ugly wives, but I thought trolls did."
"You got that wrong, girl. You know how jealous trolls can be. Most of the time, we make our selves ugly so other fellows aren't attracted to us, but we don't stay that way when we're alone with our husbands. Normally, we tell our daughters that when they get married, but I had no idea what human men liked."
"You certainly know what I like." Will put his arm around his wife and kissed her right on her pig snout. He would not mind at all keeping her beauty to himself.
Odora smiled at Will, then asked her mother, "Then you approve of him?"
"I do. If we saved 'til you're as old as I am, I doubt we'd afford a better troll than I think he's going to be." Bouelle puffed on her pipe and blew out a cloud of smoke. "And we didn't have to pay any dowry at all to get him."
Will did become a troll, just as Bouelle said he would. They sold the farm and moved into the forest, not too far, but far enough, from where Odora's parents lived. Will and Odora live there to this day and they are still very much in love.