Continued from part 2...
And then, one day as autumn approached, the flute made her move. They were back in the mud hut, biding time till night arrived and their liaisons resumed. The troll stood by the hearth stirring brain stew, unsuspecting. Leaping out of the cupboard where the troll kept her, she hurled herself across the room and beat him viciously about his backside.
“What are you doing?” He yelled. “You’re a maniac. You’re unstable, I tell you.” And all the while he skipped and howled due to the ensuing attack. “Stop that.” He pleaded in between cries and curses. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Establishing exactly who’s in charge here.” The flute replied with cool calculation. “Any questions?”
Her point was made convincingly and the troll cowered accordingly.
"What do you want then?” He asked the flute, full of suspicion and dread.
“I must have that bird.” The flute demanded.
“She has an ‘usband, you know.” The troll protested. “He fancies her too, I bet.
We’ll not easily persuade the bird to come with us. We won’t.”
“I don’t care.” The flute had of sudden adopted the sensibilities of a spoiled royal. “She’s mine and I want her here with me, all the time. She became mine once she made harmony with my music and our notes became one, and now I won’t share her.”
“She thinks it’s me making that music, you know.” The troll informed her. He had an ego, like any other. “Besides, I can’t just snatch her. The last time a troll tried that his entire village was butchered and burned to the ground by those angry humans. They get funny about things like ‘at.”
The flute aimed her mouthpiece towards the troll’s lips and, with a zap, turned them into two striking snakes that hissed and sank their fangs into him, biting him all about the face and neck. The troll, wide eyed with panic, pulled and yanked at the snakes in an effort to subdue them, all the while doing harm to his own face as they were as much a part of him as his own lips had once been. And then, in a blink, he was returned to normal, although, breathing heavily and shaking like a leaf.
“I can do worse.” The flute informed. And the matter was more or less settled from that moment on.
That night, when the bird was getting ready to return to her farmer in the stone tower, the troll tried a direct, if lame, approach.
“Come with me.” He said. “ I will take good care of you and then we can make music whenever we please.”
The bird looked at him as if he were daft, laughing lustily at the notion.
“Don’t be silly.” She dismissed him. “Our music belongs to the night, but the day to my husband. And I will never leave him.”
And then she started for the heavens, pointing her beak beyond the tops of the trees and into the – dirt, brown eyes of the troll who was breathing his horrible brain breath all over her. He held her carefully, yet firmly, by her little bird legs. And it became crystal clear to her that in less time than it took to breathe out, she went from being a companion to a prisoner.
“Fast as lightning.” The flute spoke in the bird’s presence for the first time, very pleased with the troll’s skill.
“What have I done?” The bird breathed out, heavily.
The flute barking orders like a general and cackling with delight, the troll trudging diligently behind doing as he was told, the unfamiliar forest rushing past her in a whirl, and the night sky dawning purple and orange; These are the things of which our bird took note before she fainted away in the troll’s hand.
Back at the stone tower, day broke. Our farmer yawned and reached for his wife to greet her with a kiss but found her absent. Bolting upright in bed from the shock of it, he saw her standing strangely still at the window and called to her.
“Fiore! Fiore! The morrow has come and have you been so observant as to meet it at the window?”
But she answered not; She was not.
He grabbed his wife by the shoulders. They were cold, like the waters of the river and while her eyes were open, staring, they were blank and vacant. The magnitude of his wife’s condition came crashing down on the farmer’s head. His life shattered.
“Fiore! Fiore!” He begged, “Return to me, Fiore, bloom once again.” He carried her body in his arms to their bed and covered her with the quilt to warm her. “You are withered and have faded away. Your fragrance is gone but yet your beauty remains. Oh, Fiore, Fiore, may life return to you again.” Throwing himself over her body, the farmer drenched their bed in tears.
It is true that he became undone. But, it is equally true that his pure devotion would eventually undo the spell. For, this maxim is sure and tested and can be relied upon, that in the end, love wins.
Back at the hut, the victory the flute was so certain she’d secured in stealing the bird, quickly turned into defeat. For a mysterious illness descended upon the tribe, affecting the bird worst of all. She lay in the cage the troll had crafted for her in a state of fever-induced delirium and could scarcely lift her head.
Down at the well, where our troll was drawing water for the feverish bird, he heard his troll mates talking.
“I tell you it’s those blasted watermelons.” Said one, “They are bad news, those fruits, full of fever-n-ague. Every time the fever-n-ague comes along, you can bet some worthless troll’s been filling his hairy stomach with that melon.”
“Well, I ate some of those watermelons.” Said another, “And I don’t have the aches. How do you explain that?”
“Maybe, it’s all that bog whiskey you drink killing off everything that would kill you first.” Said the first one.
“I like watermelons.” Said a third.
“Besides, fever-n-ague don’t account for all the trees that are dying and the frogs and lizards that are turning belly up by the bog.” It was an odd, and terrifying fact that if one took time to notice, it was apparent that not only were the trolls in the tribe sickly and some unto death, but that the very earth around where the trolls lived was under some kind of attack from disease. “No, something altogether nefarious is come upon our tribe,” The second troll rightly concluded, “And if there’s not a malefic and powerful spell behind it, I’ll give up whiskey. I will.”
“You’ll give up breathing, before you’ll give up whiskey.” Said the first.
While they continued to bicker, our troll hurried back to his mud hut with his bucket and attempted to drop sips of water into the bird’s mouth with a tiny spoon. But, it was no use. Our bird was fast becoming non responsive. She would be dead soon, as would his whole tribe, and perhaps even the whole forest if he did not return her to whom she belonged.
The troll thought hard about his present predicament and this is the way he saw it. The witch had taken what was not hers because she was greedy and just plain mean. The flute had demanded what was not hers because she was power hungry and full of pride. The troll had taken what was not his first because he was greedy and then because he was afraid. The bird had given away what was not hers to give because she was lonely and miserable. And even our farmer who, back at the tower, attended to his sick wife in an unbroken vigil, praying for her recovery, was not innocent for he did not give what he should have because he was afraid.
Our troll assessed the damage and in a moment of raw bravery, counted the cost and accepted the bill. He set his jaw and determined in his heart that although he was not alone in the sin that caused this disease, he alone would take the consequence, however terrible. Choices, it seems, make or break people. What happens after is for destiny to sort out.
He was to return the bird to her tower that night. But first, he sought out his bed to rest and gain strength for the mission looming large only hours away. When he slept, he dreamt of Viking ships and foreign shores.
Unbeknownst to the troll, the flute was becoming rapidly weak and feckless. Her power was derived from the sound the bird’s song had upon her melodies. But because the farmer’s grief was making the bird ill and unable to sing these many weeks, the magic was quickly dissipating. So, when evening settled upon the tribe and our troll, readying to go, grabbed our flute and stuffed her into one of his shirt pockets, she was helpless to do anything about it.
The troll carried the bird gingerly to the river in the cage meant to constrain her. When he came to the banks, it became quite clear that our bird was too ill to fly away home. He would have to cross the river and brave the crocodiles with their chomping jaws, and fight the currents that licked at his ankles wanting to drag him to a muddy death.
Before he began, he said goodbye to the bird, whom he loved. They might not live to see the other side of the river, after all.
“Forget me not, my song bird.” He said, laying bare his heart. “Or I will go down to my grave in grief.”
Barely conscious, yet somehow aware of the sacrifice her troll was making for her, our bird responded, “I shall keep the music we made in my heart, my flutist, and take it with me into eternity.”
Of course, by “flutist” she meant “love” and that is exactly the way he heard it.
Having settled that matter, the troll was careful to spy out where the crocs where hiding, they looked like logs but different and he knew the difference. Presently, there was a nest of them about a quarter mile upriver, but that was only a matter of minutes away with the way a crocodile can swim. And, then he found a natural bank in the river where the waters didn’t look over his head. This was important because our troll was a poor swimmer and it was vital for him to cross the river quickly, as it was his only chance against those dreadful lizards.
Carrying the cage high over his head, for he knew the bird would not survive the temperatures, he quickly slid down the side of the bank into the icy water of the Red River. The water was intensely cold and felt like fire on his skin and a hammering to his marrow. It sucked all the breath out of him, sucking it like a vacuum and not letting up. His heart felt like it was exploding and he thought he would die. But then he caught his breath and found new focus. He was alive, he was still holding the bird above the water and other side of the river was large in his vision. So he trudged onward.
Trolls are big, lumbering brutes and this was to his advantage. A smaller creature would have succumbed to the river’s death call. For the currents were indeed strong. So much so that our troll had to concentrate and fight to keep his feet on the narrow bank where the water was shallow. Exasperating the struggle was the fact that the bank was built up by many shells and rocks made incredibly smooth from erosion and he found it nigh impossible to find sure footing. One slip and he would be done for.
At one point, still several feet away from the other side, he was splashed in the face with a huge wave of water and was blinded momentarily. It was the tail of a crocodile swooshing the water as it turned away from him. And that’s when he noticed a low rumble, that familiar bass noted hum emanating from his chest. It was the flute, still nestled safely in his shirt pocket. She was using her magic against the crocodiles. And here he thought he had been doing this all alone.
At last, when our troll was reaching to grab hold of the solid roots of a willow growing on the side of the bank and pull himself out of the river, his foot failed. Swiftly, the currents dragged him along, like a leaf blowing in the wind. The troll clawed the earth, desperate for something to hold onto. The muddy riverside was rough with broken limbs, and exposed roots and stones and his hand quickly became cut up and raw. But, the troll ignored the pain and continued to grasp for something to save his life. Our bird was submerged once, twice and over again, each time gasping for air and feeling her death near her bosom. The river moved him with startling speed and determination and as strong as he was, he was no match for her. Finally, mercifully, his shirt snagged on a protruding limb rescuing him from the claws of the currents. He was able to catch his breath and set the birdcage on solid ground. Groping clumsily, he opened her little door and set her free. Looking up, she saw that she was underneath her window at the stone tower.
Home. Her spirit revived within her.
“Go!” The troll yelled through clenched jaw when she looked back at him, hesitating.
With all the strength she could muster, our little bird flew up through the window and back into her body where she was instantly made whole.
In the water, our troll’s shirt began to tear away from the limb. The currents were unrelenting, like a ghoulish army pulling him down to Hades. Suddenly the shirt ripped in half from the force of the water and the flute fell from his pocket into the river. The troll saw it, a tail of copper darting downstream but due to the frigid water and the incredible pull of the river, what he could otherwise do so easily, so mindlessly with poison lizards and birds, he was unable to do this time, the only time his life depended on it.
And so the flute was swept miles away before it finally found a place to rest in the watery deep. There it would dwell for millenniums until a mountain-altering earthquake would change the course of the Red River forever. Then, the half brother of Prince James would stumble upon the flute partially encased in a boulder made from the river bottom clay hardened in the sun. And that discovery would alter the subsequent histories and kingdoms far more than the any earthquake ever would.
As for the troll, after he witnessed the flute escaping his grip, he had no time at all for remorse. Being no longer protected by the flute’s power, a snapping crocodile not a man’s length from the troll, opened wide his mouth and shut it tight over his middle. He was dragged under water, into a murky world where he saw only in shadows and perceived that his body was being shaken back and forth like a toy in a dog’s mouth, but was not certain. Maybe he was completely still and the earth was swirling around him. In his state of shock, he thought that might be the case. Soon, he felt a surge of warm, thick water enveloping him like a lovely blanket. This is my blood, he thought without passion. He was glad to have so much blood that it could keep him warm in this icy grave. And he was pleasantly surprised because being eaten by a crocodile doesn’t hurt at all.
But before he closed his eyes forever, the face of the witch came before him. And he knew, with a flash of pain, that the curse of the witch had been fulfilled that day. The witch cackled and flew away on her broom into the night, the dark, eternal night absent of stars or moon.
To be -I can not believe that a silly little troll story that kept me up one night and that I thought I could write in five pages, is going to need a fourth part - continued.
by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved