Part 2: Trinkets, Trolls & Tyrants
By Raymond Keith
“Trinkets? Even you may be impressed by my trinkets, Daggnir. They will make fine additions to your collection. That is, if I decide to leave them for you.”
Hereb sat against the wall of the cavern, barely able to move due to his injuries. His foe, Daggnir, mocked him from the shadows of his lair. Hereb may have lost his sword and spear, but he still had one weapon left to use: his wits. He did not know if he would survive, but he was not ready to die. Whispering a short prayer to the only god he thought might be real, he prepared for the next battle.
Daggnir laughed through his coughs. “Hmmm, what trinkets? Why don’t you elaborate? I doubt I will be impressed.”
“Well,” Hereb grunted loudly as he shifted his battered weight to pull a small, folded cloth from behind his belt with his still-functioning sword hand. “To start off, right here is a unique silver coin. I discovered it while walking the streets of the fabled Silver City of Hagdan.” Laying the cloth on his leg, he unwrapped it one-handed. In the middle was a large, engraved coin, the crevices blackened with age. He held it up to his face but was unable to see it in the darkness.
“A special coin? Found at Hagdan?” Daggnir mocked. “Hagdan is still lost, my little tale-spinner. Though my den is remote, I do know much of what happens in the world. Do not think you can deceive me so easily.”
“I understand if you do not believe me. I have not spoken of this to anyone until now.”
“A dying confession? Hmm, I have heard of the human habit. How amusing you should share it with your bane.” Daggnir burst into a new coughing fit that lasted several minutes.
“I did not have the heart to tell anyone. It is truly the most magnificent city ever built, whether of elves or dwarves or men—just as legend claims. The silver columns, marble fountains, bejeweled domes. Many an adventurer had searched for it, and many had failed, some even giving their lives. But it was I that found it! I was the first to see it in a thousand years. What riches could there be in such a place? What glory would I receive from all the world? What a life I have lived! Could anyone boast as much as I?” Hereb remembered the moment so clearly still.
“Sounds exciting, if true,” Daggnir replied. “So, what is so unique about this coin? What magic does it hold?” The dragon began to purr, broken by occasional coughing fits.
A dragon purring? Who had heard of such a thing? Hereb wondered. Was he finding pleasure in my story, or perhaps my approaching death? Or did I touch a greedy nerve with the coin…
“As I walked those streets, I came to a sudden understanding. Looters would come. Exploiters and destroyers. They would strip it all in greed. It was a sad thought. Then I realized I was not much better—only here for my own pride and glory. I had searched for the city so I could pawn it off and enrich my own ego. Nothing more at the heart of it. Sitting in the high tower, I struggled for days. On the third morning, I knew what I must do. I would leave it to the jungle. So, I pocketed a few coins I had found, strolled the streets one last time, and left. I have never spoken of it before this moment.
“I headed back to civilization, feeling lost. Who was I and what would I do now? The first community I came to had an orphanage. The children were hungry and cold. Many more still roamed the streets. The workers were struggling to care for them all. So, I gave the silver coins to them.”
“How noble,” Daggnir chortled in disbelief, which brought on a deep cough. “Spend lots of your time daydreaming, I see. Hero of your own tales. Finally, started believing your own fantasies, didn’t you shaddi? I would wager you are really just a homeless bard or a penniless rogue. Finally, thought you would try to be a real warrior? Come rescue a maiden and all that? But this little adventure here did not go so well, did it?”
“Not so noble. Those who labor away their days caring for those orphans are the real heroes, not me. If I really cared, I would have stuck around and helped, at least made sure they got their money’s worth from the silver. Those coins could have bought the Palace of Sikė, but they probably didn’t know what to do with them. Sold them for a song, I am sure. But I did it just so I could feel better about myself.”
“Spare me the false humility. What about this coin? What is so different about this one?” Annoyance touched his voice.
“I keep this piece in my belt as a reminder of that city and the struggle that night. This coin changed me. I stopped living just for myself. Maybe it will have the same effect on you.”
“I have my doubts. Whatever its real value, soon this too will be added to my collection,” Daggnir’s purr became a spasm again, sputtering out a few more coughs. “So, what came next? Slaying dragons and rescuing damsels?” Daggnir chuckled at his own humor.
“That came later. Thought I would start out small: trolls. I encountered a troublesome brute not too long after that.”
Daggnir snorted. “Miserable, filthy things. Taste terrible and smell worse.”
Hereb continued. “I drifted about after giving away the coins, trying to figure out my purpose. That is when I came to the village of Farewell.”
“Never heard of it, little man.”
“No doubt. Long way from here. It has a bridge over a crag just outside one of its gates. A troll had moved in. Underneath the bridge, I mean. It was eating everyone who got too close, mostly travelers from out of town. Bad for business.” Hereb paused, taking a deep breath. His sides ached terribly, but he stifled his moan this time. Talking was exhausting.
“I was crossing the bridge, heading into town, when the flabby beast stopped me. Wanted me to empty my pockets so he could see my trinkets. Must be a fetish. Apparently, he thought I was to be his dinner. Ugly beast, not very bright, but terribly strong. I recommended he move on and find another place to settle, but he wouldn’t listen. Said he liked it there, that it was a nice place to call home. He put up a good fight. He was quick despite his big belly, but I prevailed in the end. Rolled his corpse into the crag and dragged his head into the town square. The villagers were very grateful to be rid of him and offered many gifts, but I was content with the few choice pieces from the troll’s lair. He had a few good treasures under that bridge. Nothing compared to yours, of course. Your collection is quite impressive, I must say.”
“I am almost insulted by the comparison, shaddi. Is that where you got this sword? It was not made around here.”
“No, no. That blade is far too good to be found in a troll’s hoard. I got it afterward. That sword has a tale all its own.”
“Do you still have the time? Or will you be passing soon?” taunted Daggnir.
“I will keep it short. Just the highlights. Are you sure you do not have other things to do?”
“I have no plans other than to monitor my uninvited guest. Entertaining can make one hungry, however. Maybe the troll had the right idea.” Daggnir chuckled, then wheezed.
The monster shifted his weight, the sound of scales scraping against rock sending chills down Hereb’s spine.
“You are welcome to hold onto it for now. That sword belonged to the tyrant of Chu before I possessed it. He gave it to me… sort of.”
“Was it a true gift or did you steal that, too? Or maybe you killed a troll for him? Perhaps you picked it up in a lost city.”
“You have a quick wit. I would laugh more if it didn’t hurt so much,” Hereb complimented. Daggnir just coughed in response.
“After slaying the troll, I stayed in Farewell for a while. The troll was right. It was a good place to be. Wonderful folks. An old farmer took me in, and I worked the place with him for a time. It was a good life, but I could not stay. Very religious people. The place made me realize I did not like the man I was. So, I traveled east to learn their ways and to find others to help. I entered a small kingdom where the people were all living in fear. A warlord from Chu was terrorizing the people all around. He had quite an empire by the time I arrived. These villagers were next on his list and asked me to help them, so I did. We were able to outwit the tyrant in battle, destroying his army. On the battlefield, he refused to yield and challenged me to a duel. I took the sword from his dying hand. He was a cruel man, but he respected a skilled warrior. He nodded his approval as he breathed his last. It was the finest sword I had ever held, so I kept it.”
“I think I actually believe that one, shaddi.” Daggnir coughed for a while, then resumed his purr. “You claim to be quite a traveler, according to these stories of yours, anyway. Do you not have a home?”
“Not really. Left my small village when I was young looking for adventure.”
“Sounds like you found some—maybe more than you can handle,” Daggnir purred. “So, did all this excitement satisfy you? Was it worth it? Any regrets?”
“I do not regret the adventures or seeing the places I have seen.” Hereb’s voice softened as his memories drifted. “The most beautiful place you will ever come upon is Dova. It is even more awe-inspiring than Hagdan. Nothing compares to it, and I will never forget. No decent mortal could look upon the magical pools sparkling in the morning sun without weeping. The waters are sweeter than any nectar you will ever taste. I drank from every pool. The headwaters are the most satisfying. Just a drop will heal body and soul. I long for a sip now. My heart is refreshed at the mere memory.” Hereb sighed. “I do regret the many years of selfish living.”
Hereb sunk down the wall, cold and exhausted. He found it odd to be bearing his soul to this great beast with whom he had just battled. But now, he was too out of breath for more stories. The den fell silent except for Daggnir’s ponderous purring that filled the light-starved chamber. Hereb knew that cats purred for pleasure or to get attention, but he had also heard once they would purr to enhance healing. Could a dragon heal by purring? Hereb knew the dragon was wounded from their battle, but he could not guess how bad. Was Daggnir increasing his strength as Hereb’s drained away? Was he just toying with him? Was it a matter of time before the beast decided he had enough of his pest? Was the time growing near?
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