This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/
The theme for this story is ‘Hair’ This is my fiction piece.
The whole army was behind him, their swords sharpened, their armor clanking a cacophony of sound as they marched along the river bank.
John had seen the river before, long ago, and although his men grumbled at his back, he swore on his grave that it hadn’t been this big. He had played in the water with his sister. Their father had crossed on horseback.
Now the river had swelled; that or it had eaten another river. No horse could cross, let alone a man on foot. John was unsure a boat could cross without the river greedily swallowing it whole. With the advice of the local farmers, John now lead his army three miles out of their way to a bridge. John and the army were coming on it now, and a cry snaked its way back through the ranks of men. They stopped to rest along the banks, stretching and drinking from the flowing waters.
After speaking with a few of his generals, John approached the bridge, meaning to walk about halfway out to examine the river, when a strange sound greeted him.
It was a laugh that, at one point in time, must have sent lesser men running with chills in their bones. Now, it was half cackle and half cough that leaned more towards a lung deflating wheeze. It bordered on alarming, so much so that John searched frantically for the source so that he may try to aid it.
A troll loped up from under the bridge. Its skin was sallow and slate colored; large, sunken yellow eyes bore into him. It was not the large, land troll that John had previously encountered but the wily, river kind. At least it had been. A mess of white hair lay about its pointed ears. One hand was missing a thumb among its long, centipede fingers. It wore a dusty tunic, perplexingly dusty given its proximity to water.
“Halt!” It cried, wheezing. “Who goes there?”
“Are you alright?” John asked as the troll fell into another fit of coughing. He risked a look behind him, but none of his men seemed to notice the troll.
“This is my bridge and none shall cross!” the troll cried. It pointed menacingly at John, sharp teeth peeking out from a broken grin.
“I have an entire army at my disposal. Please, move or be destroyed.”
“An army?” the troll asked. John nodded and pointed behind him. “Oh,” It said. “Well perhaps then I’ll need to kill them first.”
“Go ahead and try!” He goaded.
The troll closed its eyes and chanted a song strange and gruesome; something old and devastating, sung in a language that had never been written down for fear of what the words might do or where they may try to go.
The water in the river began to rise, forming a wall one hundred feet high. It stood, full of kinetic energy waiting to be unleashed, and John did not want to watch it crush his army like ants in the rain.
“Wait!” he cried. “What is it you want? Please,” he finished lamely. Two of his best generals came running up the bridge, one with an arrow notched in his bow. John motioned frantically for them to stand down.
The troll opened one eye and exhaled slowly, the wall of water shrinking with its breath. It cackled again, this time without wheezing.
“I’ll need four pigs, a knife of infinite sharpness, five pounds of gold, the liver of two chickens,” it began.
“They are yours. Anything else?”
The troll smiled an evil smile. “Yes. Your hair.”
“Um,” said John.
“What is it?”
John removed his helmet. His bald head shone in the sunlight.
The troll said, “Oh.”
“Oh my. You’re, um,”
“I am,” John said.
“But you’re a young man! How?”
“It runs in my family, I’m afraid. I lost it all completely a few years ago.”
“I’m so sorry!”
“Yes, well, now you’ve gone and made me feel bad about it,” John said, annoyed.
“I didn’t mean to!” The troll protested.
“Doesn’t matter if you meant to, you’ve done it. It’s bad enough that I’ve no hair left, you had to go and rub it in.”
“It’s shameful, you know? Shameful to be the young, virile King of an entire land and be completely bald, but you don’t care do you? You just go about, willy-nilly demanding hair from people, and why? Because you’ve magic powers that can drown an entire army? My men don’t even know, by the way. But perhaps I should show them? Perhaps I should go show my bald, shiny head to my men so that they can laugh right along with you. That’s what you want too, isn’t it? To humiliate me!”
“No!” cried the Troll, shaking its head miserably.
“It is! You magic folk are all alike, picking on humans. You’re no better than the elves that come to the castle, laughing away, calling me ‘Baldylocks’ and ‘King Hairless III’. I’m not even the third! I’m John the Sixth! Cheeky buggers!”
“I am sorry King John, I- I did not, please I did not know, I swear!”
“No, it’s fine. You may have your other demands. I am sorry I cannot provide you with hair. Perhaps we can shave my steed. It is only fitting, I suppose, for a bald King to ride upon the back of a bald horse!!”
“Please, please no! It’s no matter, really. I am sorry! Let me make it up to you! You and your men may cross my bridge, no charge!”
“Are you sure?” John asked.
“I would be an honor for a great King such as you to pass overhead,” the troll shook John’s hand and retreated back under the bridge, bowing repeatedly to cried of ‘all hail!’ King John and his two generals made their way back to the banks of the river.
“Your majesty?” The taller of the two Generals asked. “Permit me, Highness but… well, you’re not bald.”
“No, I am not.” John said, smiling.
“So, you knew-”
“Let’s get a move on, men!” John called. He smiled and mounted his horse. “When faced with the unexpected,” he said running his hand over his smooth head, “Always prepare.”