The Journey of the Troll
In the land of our dreams that seems so far away, yet lies so close, there is a river. It is a River of Death that separates the place of light from the place of darkness. This river runs through one of the many lands in the country of our dreams. Many are lost to the river and some wade through it to end up in the darkness. As human curiosity and desire for controlling power is so great few choose to stay in the light into which they are born. When people arrive into this land of their dreams they can choose to stay or go, choose the light or try to conquer the river and/or the darkness; but whatever their choice, they must live with the consequences.
As with all rivers, a bridge has been built by those not wanting to stay in the darkness alone, yet a group of people who realise the danger of that bridge have brought together a small band of men to try and protect any soul attempting to cross. The men volunteer to guard the bridge for two years knowing that by the end of their first year they will be completely transformed into a troll as they live near the death effects of the river, the haunting of the darkness and the lingering oppression that exudes from all those deluded by power. By the end of the second year their duty is complete and another volunteer replaces them to suffer the same fate in order to protect whomever they can from death and darkness.
As we visit the bridge it is spring, the butterflies and birds are the decorations for the land of light. The Troll has completed his first year of guarding and is no longer identifiable as a man. The singular part of his past he has kept is his voice. His voice being the only echo of the gentleman he once was, a cultured voice of calm kindness with a tone of hope still lingering in the knowing of the goodness of his purpose. He eats the fruits of the trees and the fish of the river, which in turn contribute to the layers of ugliness he must bare.
The start of spring is also the beginning of the season for the Reformatory for Nonconforming Ladies (RNL). It was the second week of term that one of the school’s students managed to escape from the walls of the reformatory and find her way down to the river. It was a very dark night, the clouds were covering the stars and the young maiden did not know where she was going in her escape. With his troll senses and ability to see in the dark, the Troll saw her stumble towards the river. He watched her from his hiding place under the bridge. He waited to sense whether or not she was in danger, whether or not she was seeking death or darkness. He watched her fourth stumble in the dark as she fell onto the grass and broke into continuous heart wrenching sobs like he had never heard in his lifetime. His heart was moved, but he knew the rules, he had to keep hidden until the last second of hope as a human approached the river or bridge. He waited as each of her sobs seemed to echo the torment in his own heart over the choices he had made. After more tears than he could ever count, she calmed down and got up again, slowly moving forward towards the river. He poised, ready to either catch or scare her, he couldn’t figure out which he would have to use, and usually his instincts knew exactly what to anticipate and do. This was different. She was a step away from death’s edge and still he didn’t know. Split seconds happened, and the next moment froze in time. He stared in amazement as her foot hovered above the water, and unbelievably he could not move. Then a bouquet of butterflies arose all around her and turned her towards where she had come from; moving her to the reformatory. Lightly guiding her back to the walls from which she had escaped.
While on guard the next day, the vision in the Troll’s mind replayed itself over and over again, and he decided that it must have been a dream. There was no other explanation. Yet that night his rationale became void as the same scenario played out again; then again the next night and for the rest of the week. The only change was that the maiden cried less tears each evening, which allowed his heart to feel less pain with every encounter. By the second week the clouds had lifted and the stars shone brightly in the night sky. The maiden came to the river without any stumbling as the stars guided her steps. As she reached the water’s edge she smiled with joy, not realising it was the River of Death. The Troll knew his job, but he didn’t want to lose her to death or to fear, so for the first time, he used only his voice from under the bridge. "Stay away from the water!" he called.
The maiden was startled. She jumped and ran back to the walls from which she had come. The Troll knew it was for the best, but it saddened him that this creature of the night had run away upon hearing his voice.
The next few nights offered only rain and the Troll had nothing but thoughts of the maiden and the butterflies and seeing her running away.
On the next clear night the Troll was patrolling the water and checking the bridge when he heard a twig snap in the distance. He went back to his guarding position once again, only to see the maiden had returned. This time she walked slowly, tentatively, watching all around her, as if looking for something or someone. She stayed far away from the water’s edge and sat in silence on the grass hugging her knees and watching the water flow. The Troll stared at her. She had an angelic innocence like he had never seen before. She sat there surrounded by a calmness he had never encountered. In the moonlight she seemed to exude a peace that was completely contradictory to the tears and sobs she had shed before. He stared, fascinated, betwixt something real and something of his dreams, he couldn’t say which. She arose as gracefully as she had sat down and made her way to the walls once again. The Troll knew not what to make of these nightly visions, he didn’t know how to understand what was happening or how she was transfixing him with her mere presence. Reason and logic eluded him all day.
The next night was a repeat of the last, but before she left she once again walked towards the water and once again he chose to call out: "Stay away from the water!"
She did not run, instead she asked: "Why?"
He paused, uncertain of what to call now as she stood there waiting, he breathed and replied: "This is the River of Death, if you drink of it you will age, you will sacrifice life, you will sacrifice time, you will lose hope, you will lose love and take on fear."
She paused and he could see that she had many questions, but all she replied was: "Thank you," and then made her way back to the reformatory.
The next night she arrived once again, but sat nearer the water, and closer to the Troll.
After a long silence she spoke: "Who are you?"
"I’m the guardian of the human soul." There was a long pause as she contemplated his answer.
"That must be a lonely job," she said, almost to herself. "Is it a lonely job?" she asked earnestly.
No one had spoken to the Troll like a person for over a year, he had been so busy doing his duty of guarding that he had never stopped to think about it. He thought about it now. He realised that if he were to be honest, he could only give one reply: "Yes," came his barely audible answer.
She sat there staring at the water. She appeared to want to ask him something, but didn’t know if she could or should. He found himself wishing she would. She didn’t, instead she said: "Thank you," and made her way back to the reformatory, much to the sadness of the Troll at seeing her go, he couldn’t help himself and whispered to himself in reply: "Goodbye."
The following night she arrived and sat perturbed, restless, haunted, and didn’t say a word. Over her hour near the water the stress physically drained from her and seemed to seep into the river below, leaving her with a luminescent glow by the time she got up to go. The Troll wanted to speak to her again, but he couldn’t. She wasn’t too near the water, she wasn’t in harms way, she wanted silence, and he put his words away; keeping the dream of seeing her glowing to get him through the next day.
As sure as the stars arrived, so too did the young maiden. She sat down with a grace he had come to adore. She sat in silence and regained her strength in a way that deepened his respect for her and made him wish he could help her each night in the process of restoring her glow, but he couldn’t, he knew he could only watch and protect her if the necessity arose. Watching her strength, watching her patience and perseverance every night he doubted there was anything he could do at all, doubted that he could ever protect this young maiden like her butterflies had. He felt he had nothing to offer her at all.
The third night after she had spoken to him she arrived and sat for a short while, as her glow returned more quickly than it had before. She spoke again: "Guardian, I have sat here thinking about your River of Death, thinking how wonderful it would be to drown in it. Thinking how one dive could end all my agony; and then I think of you. I think of how it may hurt you to lose another soul. I think how powerful a soul can be. I think of the beauty that surrounds me here, and the horrid darkness over there. I can feel that you don’t want me to see you, and I don’t want to hurt you, but I think the only way I won’t end up in that river is if I have a friend. Guardian, please, I beseech you, for both of us, would you be my friend?"
The Troll knew he would do anything for the young maiden, but be her friend? An ugly friend who couldn’t hold her, or sit next to her, or comfort her? He couldn’t possibly do that to her. Yet, he knew it would kill him to see her dive into the River of Death.
"Young maiden. I’m sorry you are hurting and I hate to see you cry, but I’m no one you would want as a friend. I’m a Troll, serving his duty, I’m no friend."
"Guardian, your voice sounds nothing like a Troll. If you are here to protect souls, if that is your duty, then please protect mine and be my friend. I don’t have to see you, I ask only that you listen and share my burdens. Please?" her plea resonated within him in a way that nothing ever had before. Her desperation to appease her agony and her loneliness resounded through every syllable she spoke. He knew he could not say no.
"Young maiden, if you require someone to listen, someone to share your hurts with, then I am at your service for as long as you need."
"Thank you," she said with unabashed humility, and made her way back to the reformatory. Once again to the sadness of the Troll at seeing her go, he couldn’t help himself and whispered in her wake: "Until the next time, my friend."
The next night the young maiden arrived and told him her story: "I come from the neighbouring land on the other side of the Highest and Most Dangerous Peaks. I was brought here by carriage, escorted by my dear nurse as her husband drove the carriage. My mother believes there is something wrong with me, that I am not normal, and I need to be fixed. She believes that because I have the only blue eyes in the land, I need to somehow repair them. Each day the reformatory try different ways to get them to change colour, but nothing is working. During my first week here, each night they took my sight completely and I spent every night praying for safety and healing. The worst part, the secret I cannot share with anyone, is that my blue eyes see the truth in everything. My eyes show me the hurt in others, the lies that are spoken, and the frustrations so many have when they have to conform to the norms that they don’t like or understand. I see that. I know that. My eyes show me truth. If anyone knew, if anyone could feel my loneliness, feel my strength drain each day with their pain, then I fear what they would do to me, I fear what punishments would befall me, I fear they would force me to become another angel statue locked away in the boxes they love so much. Guardian, I feel within me that you can understand. I feel that you are as lonely as I am; I feel we are both beautiful creatures protecting souls. Do you think I am mad, Guardian? Do you think I am strange too? Because my heart tells me I shouldn’t be going through this agony, I don’t need to be fixed, even if others think I do."
The Troll instinctually related to every word she said. His complete recognition startled him. He knew she was not mad, he knew she did not need to be fixed, he knew, from his year of protecting souls, that she was truly blessed, and already an angel.
"No, fair maiden, you are not mad; you are not strange, and you are not alone. I am here for you, fair maiden. I pray you can see that truth too."
"I can’t see you, but I can feel your truth. Thank you, Guardian. Thank you." she said with genuine appreciation and once again went back to the walls that were trying to kill her soul.
"Until the next time, my friend." Was the whisper that followed her that night and every night through the rest of the spring and through the summer; until the fair maiden arrived no more.
The Troll waited every night in hope and expectation, and every night he was disappointed. He had learned more of her family and how different she was to them. Learnt more of the reformatory and the killing of souls that the maiden had had to witness and endure within those walls. Watched her reenergize each night to handle the next day… and then she arrived no more. The autumn began get cold and then the ice of the winter chilled his bones, all the time he thought of nothing but her. Hoping that she was well, hoping her eyes were still blue, and praying the butterflies were still keeping her safe.
On the first day of spring he went on his rounds of the river and the bridge, ensuring all was as it should be. As he completed his rounds he was met by a young gentleman.
"Good day," came the fearful voice of the young volunteer, "I have come to perform my duty."
The Troll looked at the dedicated young man, who was holding back his fear as he looked on the hideous future Troll creature he would become. The Troll wanted to tell the man not to worry, that he would stay on, but he knew he couldn’t, he knew that to stay on would mean his own disintegration into insanity and inability to protect anyone’s soul. Silently he led the young man through the ceremony he had received two years before, then he left to find himself a home in the forest. He decided that as difficult as it would be to be a Troll living in the light, he would do so nonetheless. He found an adequate spot near water and fresh fruit, and he built a shelter to hide himself for the days ahead. After a month in the spot he realised that the butterflies in the area were too hurtful a reminder of the fair maiden. He moved. Then he moved again and again and again, throughout the spring and the summer. Until the date was one year since he had seen her. As he tried to fight off sleep once again, knowing that dreams would come, he lost the battle and slipped into a slumber where the story in his dreams was another of a fair maiden with blue eyes. Yet this dream was different. This dream was one of him standing on the top of the Highest and Most Dangerous Peaks, looking over the neighbouring land across a great lake at his friend singing by the waterside, with butterflies all around her.
He awoke with an ache in his heart beyond any of the aches he had experienced thus far. He awoke to realise that he couldn’t be away from her anymore. He realised that she was the protector of his soul and his soul was lost without her. He realised that the River of Death was near to him and would begin to call his soul towards the darkness if he didn’t follow the love that had ingrained itself within him. He could see no other choice than to persevere like she did, follow his heart like she did and keep going in the hope that she could still be his friend despite his appearance, despite his feeling inadequate, despite the fact that his only desire was to be there for her.
The Troll began his journey that morning. His mission of love was all that fuelled him. All his strength he found in the vision of her faith even when she couldn’t see. His perseverance came in the thoughts of all the agony she had lived through. His determination and hope lay anchored in his dream that she was beyond the lake.
As he journeyed for over a year he met many trials. He passed a Circus that tried to capture him for their freak act; he broke the bars of the jail they put him in and escaped. He crawled out a House of Ill Repute where they fed him ale and tried to appeal to his physical frustration with beastly things. He persevered out of the Casino of Reward where he won millions as the managers tried to coax him to stay and live in pleasure. He was disciplined at the last stop of the Palace of Strange Things, where the king of the Palace was a beast like himself. The king fed and clothed him, and all the serfs made him feel a comfort like he had never felt before. This was the stop at which he stayed the longest, until he could fight off his dream of the lake no more.
As he left the palace he arrived at the base of the Highest and Most Dangerous Peaks. With his backpack full, and his vision clear, he resolved to conquer the mountains, and conquer them he did. Eventually he found himself standing in his dream, facing the neighbouring land and looking over to a lake in the distance. His downward journey was as challenging as the upward journey had been, but now he could taste the victory, now he could feel the glory of being reunited with the protector of his soul. He could feel an inexplicable love driving him forward with each exhausting step.
At the base of the mountain he came across a road where a carriage drove towards him. He waved it down. The driver didn’t seem to be taken aback by a beast on the side of the road and the Troll was relieved. He asked the driver if he knew of the fair maiden with blue eyes.
"Yes," was the reply, "my wife is her nurse."
The Troll couldn’t believe his luck, and could barely contain his excitement: “Where can I find her?” he implored.
“Follow this road to the lake. The journey is long, but it will bring you right to where she sits and sings when she needs to escape from the world.”
The Troll ran as much of the way as he could, until exhaustion forced him to go slower. It took him six days and nights of walking before he reached the lake at the end of the seventh day.
He arrived and saw her sitting on the sand beyond, surrounded by butterflies, just like he had seen her in his dreams. He dropped the backpack and dived into the water to swim across the Lake of Life. With aching arms, legs, body and heart he reached the other side and managed to walk onto the sand. She raised her head from her book and stared at him aghast. As he saw her face realisation dawned on him. In his swimming, in his fatigue, in his mission of love he had forgotten what he looked like. He’d forgotten about all his ugliness. He realised that he could never be seen with this fair maiden in public. He froze, not knowing what to do, left only with the feeling of the longing in his heart about to explode from within. He fell onto his hands and knees and began to sob. He sobbed as hard as she had the first night he saw her near the river in the dark.
She slowly lay down her book and moved towards the sobbing heap on the sand. He wanted to move away, he wanted to hide, but he was too tired, he was too heart sore to find any energy now. She carried on towards him and then he sensed her kneel down next to him and place her soft hand on his back, and wait for his sobbing to subside.
Quietly she asked: "What is wrong dear sir?"
He looked up from the sand and into her blue eyes, the eyes she had told him so much about. He saw more than he had ever expected or dreamed of. He could never lie to, or hurt this fair maiden. "I’m sorry fair maiden, my tears are the result of my many faults. I cannot hide that truth from you."
Her forehead frowned slightly as he spoke, he noted confusion flash momentarily through her eyes, until they settled on recognition and unadulterated kindness as she smiled a smile that made his heart feel larger than the universe.
"It’s you! My friend from the river! The one who protected my soul from the darkness and saved me from the River of Death!” she extended her smile to her arms and hugged him in a way he’d never experienced in his life before: unconditionally.
“It is I fair maiden, but how can you bare to hug a Troll like me?”
“Yes, fair maiden, your eyes always see the truth. I can’t possibly hide myself anymore.”
“Yes, my eyes always see the truth my friend. Come with me to the water.”
She helped him rise and together they walked towards the water’s edge, which was now as still as a looking glass. Behind them, in the sand, they left a trail of two sets of human footprints. Together they looked at their reflection in the water…
The Troll’s mission of love, his dedication to his duty, his search for truth, his conquering of rewards and comforts, his sheer perseverance and determination to his mission, and finally his swim through the Lake of Life; had slowly, layer by ugly layer, taken away all that the darkness had bestowed upon him; to leave behind, a perfect gentleman with an unforgettable voice.
© Copyright 2016 Shannan Browne. All rights reserved.
Book / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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