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A Deepening Enmity

The Sad Tale of a Troll

From Time-Life Books
The Enchanted World


Life in Lapland; that vast wilderness stretching across the top of Scandinavia, long had a changeless quality. Summer after brief, bright summer, Laplanders in hide boots, many peaked embroidered caps and coats of red and blue let their reindeer herds roam free in the mountains of the western coast; each year when a chill returned to the land, they gathered the animals in and drove them east to the bog laced plateau, called the vidda by the Norwegians where the herds and their guardians settled in for the season of darkness.

In the old days, the Lapps rarely ventured north toward the Arctic coast: They were hardy people, but all knew of the land in the north called Trollebotn, or Troll Bottom, a windswept waste haunted by huge, murderous beings. No Laplander cared to face those trolls, some of them three headed, some with more hideous deformities, all malevolent and filled with hatred for humankind. But a Lapp woman and her son once were forced to cross the boundaries into trolls' territory.

This is their tale:

The woman, called Mari, was the wife of a rich herder. Her journey began in the day, just after the time when the herds were gathered in. At that season, mists hung all day over the mountain lakes, the birch forests flamed into autumnal gold, and long skeins of geese and ducks trailed southward across the pale skies. Already the afternoons were drawing in.

This year was not like others, however. Mari had seen strange shadows in the twilit afternoons, and they frightened her. She had protested when her son Nils left to hunt alone before the family's journey east; she watched every evening from the house, her fingers plucking nervously at the logs, while her husband headed out toward the trees to milk his reindeer does. And because she watched, she saw him die. A massive figure leaped upon him from the trees and knocked him to the ground. A knife of bone flashed up and down in rhythmic arcs, spattering blood in the air. No sound came from Mari's husband: He twitched under the knife thrusts and then was still. When his movements ceased, the creature that had killed him, a giant troll, turned toward Mari, who stood paralyzed in the door of her house. The troll's form was roughly that of a man, but it was twice a man's height. Over hunched shoulders, its white head gleamed bare. From its forehead protruded a stiff curving horn of flesh; from its gaping mouth grew large and fang like teeth.

The troll shambled toward her with a curious, lopsided gait, the dagger in one of its hands. But it did not stab her. It raised its free hand to strike, and that was the last thing Mari saw for a long while.

Troll and Mari


When consciousness returned, she found herself trussed and slung over the troll's shoulder. The creature was striding over rough ground toward the north, as Mari could tell from the direction of the last remaining daylight.

How far she traveled in this miserable fashion, she never afterward could tell. The ground passing beneath her eyes changed from leaf littered forest floor to green bog to dry meadow to lichen covered rock. The air grew steadily colder, and snow fell, first in large flakes, then in a shifting veil of white that blinded the woman and muffled the troll's footsteps.

The journey ended high in the mountains, at a hut half buried in snow. Within its dark confines, the troll set Mari down and tethered her to a post by a length of thong; although she had some freedom of movement, her hands remained tied. The huge creature kindled its hearth fire, then squatted near the woman and surveyed her with dull, empty eyes.

"Pretty," it grunted. "Wife." It fumbled at her skirt with its four fingered hand.

Mari replied in a faint but steady voice, "My son will follow us. When he finds you, he will kill you for murdering my husband and stealing me away. "

The troll gave a bark of laughter and shook its head so that its horn quivered. In a groaning mumble, it chanted its power, explaining why such a mission of revenge was bound to fail. Its soul, said the troll, was hidden in an egg in a hen in a sheep in a cask on a fire rimmed island of ice beyond the North Cape, and a body without a soul in it could not die. Only when the soul was slain would the troll perish, and no living mortal could find the soul.

The North Cape, jutting into the ice choked Arctic Ocean, was far from the world of humankind, Mari knew. She leaned her head against the post and wept for her husband's death, for the son she would never see again, and for herself, trapped like an animal by a soulless thing that itself was even less than an animal.

While she wept, the troll remained squatting; it stared but made no further move to touch her. At last, it rose and shuffled to the door. "Food," it said, and trudged out into the blowing snow. She was left alone with the hiss and crackle of the fire on the hearth and her own sobs. She quieted at once, however, when a low whistle echoed through the shadowy chamber. The next instant, the curtain of hide that served as a door moved. Mari's son, tall, strong and with a hunter's tautness about him, strode into the room. "Nils?" she said with wonder.

"I followed the track", Nils said. "Now I will free you and we will leave this land. I have carried skis for you". He set at once to work on Mari's bonds with his hunting knife.

It was useless, however. The knife slid off the thongs. Finally Nils gave up. "These are troll made, and no human knife can cut them. I must kill the troll to set you free", he said.

His mother shook her head. Weeping once more, she told Nils how the troll had hidden its soul away. "Then I will find the creature's soul", said Nils, matter of factly. He kissed his mother and was gone.

After a while, the troll returned, bearing a fat salmon it had caught. It paused in the entrance, swinging its heavy head from side to side and working its nostrils.

"Man smell", it said.

But Mari simply looked at the creature, and it turned its horned head away. Evidently it was uncomfortable under the direct gaze of a human. At length, it squatted and threw the fish onto the fire.

Weeks went by, and the troll and Mari fell into a dismal routine. Each day the troll left the hovel and hunted, providing Mari at least the gift of solitude. Eventually, it returned with a fish or hare or other game, and this it roasted on its hearth. Then it fed her, stuffing the smokey meat into her mouth with its claws; never did it untie her hands so that she could feed herself. Each day it spent hours staring at its prize. Sometimes it fumbled at her clothing and said, "Pretty," and "Wife," but Mari found that it would back away if she fixed her eyes on its face.

The period of daylight grew ever shorter until, finally, the sun did not shine at all. Then the troll seemed to grow in strength, and even Mari's angry eyes were no defense. The troll pawed freely at her. At night it tightened her bonds and slept with its heavy body leaning against her, and its rank odor filled her nostrils. She ceased to look at it or listen to its clumsy speech, she simply endured.

One day however, when the longest of winter's nights had passed, the troll's behavior changed. It lurched in its usual fashion to the door of the hut, but there it hesitated. With a guttural cry, it swung around on Mari and struck blindly at her. Its claw missed and cracked against the post. After that, the creature stood quite rigid, swaying. Its breath came and went in a horrible liquid wheezing, and black matter bubbled at its lips. At last, dropping to its knees, it crawled out into the snow.


Run Mari, run . . .


A miracle followed: The thongs that bound Mari fell away. She crept to the door and peered out. The troll was lying on the ground, drooling its lifeblood onto the snow. A crack of returning daylight showed at the rim of the sky. She ran outside, but where was she to go in this unknown and frigid land; She could do nothing but huddle by the troll's hearth and wait for help, while the troll itself lay beyond the door, its body shrouded by the drifting flakes.

Within days, help came: Nils returned to her, laughing with triumph and full of tales of enchantment. He had skied north toward the end of the world, he said, finally reaching a rocky cape that bordered a frozen sea. During his journey, he had not been alone. Many animals, strangely intelligent, lived in Trollebotn. Nils surmised that they had once been men, but trolls magic had changed and bound them. In any event they seemed to sense his mission and helped him on his way. A wolf carried him through rings of fire to the island of ice where the troll's soul was hidden in a sheep's body. The wolf tore the sheep apart, revealing the body of a hen. A hawk opened the hen, exposing the egg that sheltered the troll's soul. A heron caught the egg in its beak. Then, said Nils, he himself had smashed the egg. At that instant, the ring of fire died into the water around the island. The animals vanished, and three men stood in their places.

Dead Troll


The moment when Nils crushed the egg was the same moment when, far from the ice island, the horned troll had staggered from its hut and died in the snow. It was the moment when Mari's bonds no longer strengthened by troll magic, had fallen away, and when the first returning daylight had shown in the east. Mother and son marveled. Then they left Trollebotn, that place of evil magic, and took up life again among their own kind.

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Romeo's Castle | Credits | A Gothic Bedtime Story | Sad Tale of a Troll
The Trolls are Back | Chase's Troll Cave | Trollish Links
Three Billy Goats Gruff (A Play) | What is a Troll | About This Troll

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