Troll Mountain

Troll Mountain

by Matthew Reilly

Hardback Publication Date: 01/06/2015

  $24.99
A young hero.

Barbaric monsters.

An impossible quest.

In a remote valley, a tribe of humans is being killed off by a terrible disease.

There is a rumour that the trolls of Troll Mountain have a cure for the illness: a miraculous elixir.

When Raf's sister gets sick and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, he makes a courageous decision. He sets out on his own for Troll Mountain ... to steal the elixir.

The journey to the mountain has begun ...
ISBN:
9781743537053
9781743537053
Category:
Fantasy
Format:
Hardback
Publication Date:
01-06-2015
Publisher:
Pan Macmillan Australia
Country of origin:
Australia
Pages:
240
Dimensions (mm):
207x127x23mm
Weight:
0.29kg

Exactly where the notion of a large, thick-skinned, semi- intelligent and usually hostile creature known as a troll originated is not known.

Some anthropologists have postulated that the term ‘troll’ was used by early humans  to describe isolated groups of declining hominids: Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, or even the so-called ‘Missing Link’

in the human  evolutionary chain. Others suggest that trolls were simply another species of mega-fauna—like mammoths and sabre-toothed cats—that became extinct as northern  climates warmed  . . .

 

Once upon  a time  in a river  valley far  to  the north, there  lived a tribe  whose  members suddenly started  dying from a mysterious  illness.

It was a singularly horrible way to die. Pus-filled sores would appear  on the victim’s skin, then their gums would begin to bleed. Soon, unable to move, covered  in boils and  with  their  teeth  falling  out, the victim would  fall asleep, never to wake.

Then, as if to compound the tribe’s misery, the river that  flowed into  their  valley from  the north dried up.

Even though  the tribe had sent forth its annual tribute  to the trolls,  the trolls  had  decided  to cut the flow of water  from  their  dam  upstream. This was something the trolls did from time to time, for no other  reason,  it seemed, than  to remind  those who  lived in the valley of the trolls’ cruel domi- nance over them.

In a few short months  the lands in and around the valley became dry and barren. The soil crum- bled.  Game  became  scarce.  It was said that  even the hobgoblins—who with their wiry little bodies could  survive  for  longer  in  tougher   conditions than  just  about   any  other  creature—had aban- doned  their lair in the low mountains in search of more plentiful lands.

For  the  Northmen tribe,  things  became parlous. The harvest was so poor that food was rationed. And it soon  became  apparent that  the lack of both food and water was aiding the spread of the illness. Tribe members fell ill in greater numbers.

Prayers were offered to the gods. They did no good.

Sacred essences were burned. That  also did no good.

More  members  of the tribe  were struck  down by the disease.

Something had to be done.

Two  elders  were  dispatched  to  begin  talks with  the trolls,  to beseech them  to release more

water. They  departed  wearing  their  best  robes and  the distinctive  wooden  necklaces  worn  only by elders.

Those elders never returned.

*

Then came worse news.

It  became  known   that   the  trolls  themselves were also suffering from the terrible illness but that they had  chanced  upon  a cure for it, an elixir of some sort.  It was further  said that  upon  payment of a ‘special tribute’  the  trolls  promised  to  cure any tribe’s victims of the disease.

Some leaders of the smaller tribes in the valley had  gone  to  Troll  Mountain with  their  sick  to enter into this pact with the Troll King and, at the same time, to beg him to release more water.

A  week  later,  the  sick  returned to  the  river valley,  miraculously  cured  of  the  disease,  with tales  of  drinking   the  fabled   Elixir—a   stinging yellow liquid.

Unfortunately,  they  reported  that   the  Troll King had flatly refused to release any extra  water from his dam, keeping the tribes of the river valley firmly under his thumb.

More ominously, the tribal leaders who had conveyed their sick to Troll Mountain did not return.

The cured had no knowledge of what had happened to their leaders in the Mountain King’s halls, but deep in their hearts they all had the same suspicions.

*

Such was the life of the people of the Northmen tribe.

After a time, however,  it was noticed  by some that  while the river dried  up and  the crops failed and  the Northmen fell ill in greater  numbers,  the head family continued to eat well.

For generations, the chieftain’s family had been taller than the other members of the tribe, sturdier, stronger,   and  so  they  designated  themselves  the tribe’s warriors. And since it was imperative  that they  remain  healthy  so  they  could  defend  their people  from  the other  major  tribe  in the valley, the Southmen, the head family got first rights to the already limited supply of food—and  only then, of course, after tribute  had been sent to the trolls.

‘They are only the warriors because they keep the art of wielding  weapons   within   their  own

family,’ Raf  grumbled  to  his sister,  Kira, as they left the chief’s elongated  hut  one day, having  just delivered to the head family an extra share of their meagre harvest.

‘Quiet, Raf,’ Kira whispered. ‘You’ll get into trouble  again.’

‘And  the  more   they  eat,   the  stronger   they remain,  so they perpetuate their high status—’

‘Shh!’

‘What can they do to me?’ Raf said.

‘They can banish you.’

‘The  way  things   are,  banishment  is  hardly much of a punishment. What difference is it to anyone if I starve here or elsewhere?’

‘It would make a difference to me,’ Kira said softly,  touching  his arm.  Their  parents  had  died when they were young.  Kira shrugged.  ‘It is how things  are,  and  how  they have always  been.  The big have their way. The small, like us, survive.’

Raf frowned.  ‘I don’t  like the way things  are. They could be better.’

*

But the truth  was, Raf was small and had always been  so.  Even  though   he  had  just  reached   his seventeenth   year,  he  was  boyish  in  appearance, thin and gangly, with a mop of unruly sandy hair.

However,   what   he  lacked   in  strength,   he made  up  for  in speed:  he was  nimble  and  fast, which in his younger  days had helped him avoid a thrashing or two  at the hands  of bigger boys. And he was an exceptional climber—of trees and high rocks—which had  also helped  him dodge a few beatings.

It should also be mentioned that Raf was inven- tive. He spent all his spare moments designing new farming implements, cooking utensils and some- times—in defiance of the tribe’s rules—weapons.

The invention  that  Raf looked  upon  with particular pride was his rope: an ultra-long spool that he himself had braided together over many months.  Fully extended, it was perhaps  fifty feet long.  And  it was  strong.  It had  to  be, since Raf used it to scale the cliffs at the rim of the valley, hundreds of feet above a sheer drop.

His mother  had actively encouraged his inven- tiveness. Serene and calm, she would examine each of Raf’s new inventions and ask him pointed  ques- tions, sometimes  causing him to dash off to make amendments to his original  designs. But when the item was finished, she would  always use it, which made the young Raf especially proud.

Sadly, encouragement of this kind was not common  in Raf’s tribe.

Once,  as a  boy,  Raf  had  offered  to  help  the chief build weapons  for the tribe’s warriors. He’d even made a special sample to show the chief: a double-bladed axe.  Till then,  the  tribe  had  only used axes with a single blade.

The fat chief had roared  with laughter,  saying in a booming voice, ‘What fool would use a double- bladed axe in battle? I only need one blade to bring down my enemies! Leave the fighting to us, boy!’

The other members of the head family had guffawed,  especially  Bader,  the  chief’s third  son who,  although the same age as Raf and  once his childhood playmate,  now stood  a foot taller than Raf and ordered  Raf around as if he were an elder.

Raf  had  left the  chief’s hut  embarrassed and humiliated. On  a tribe  based  around families  and  a ruling clan, it didn’t help that  Raf and his sister were orphans.

It had happened when Raf was twelve and Kira eight.

One day their mother had not returned from gathering   berries   in   the   hills   with   the   other women. Instead,  one of the women had raced into the village, screaming: ‘Troll! Rogue troll!’

Their father  had immediately  dashed  off toward the berry hills, followed by a group of warriors (who, Raf thought, hadn’t moved quickly enough).

Leaving Kira with a neighbour, Raf had hurried after  them,  tracking  them  first  by  the  sound  of their voices and then by their footprints.

As he arrived  at  the  berry  hill on  the  eastern rim of the valley, he heard  the troll.

A deep guttural roar echoed through the trees, followed  by shouts,  the crash of branches  and the swoosh  of a giant hammer  being swung.

‘Force it back! Force it back against  the cliff!’ Raf arrived at a spot where the top of the berry

hill met  the  base  of a high  rocky  wall.  There  he was stopped  by one of the younger warriors.

‘Raf!’ the  youth  said.  ‘Don’t  go any  further! You shouldn’t  see—’

But Raf had to see.

He  pushed  past  the  young  warrior and  burst out into the clearing to behold—

—a great  troll  gripping  his mother  like a rag doll and bellowing  at the five adult  warriors surrounding it and prodding it with spears.

The great grey creature was only a couple of handspans taller than a man, just shy of seven feet, but  it was far bulkier  than  any man Raf had  ever seen: it had  broad  shoulders,  a thick  neck,  and  a brutish  block of a head  that  was all forehead  and jaw. Its skin was a thick hide like that of an elephant.

The troll stood with its back to the rock wall, trapped, holding  Raf’s  mother  around the  waist

in one of its mighty hands  while with the other  it lashed out with a huge battle  hammer.

In horror, Raf saw that  his mother’s  eyes were closed  and  that  her  body  swayed  lifelessly with every movement the troll made. His mother, his beautiful, calm and encouraging  mother.

His father rushed forward to grab her hand.

‘No—!’ someone  yelled,  but  it was  too  late. The  troll  swung  its massive hammer  round  and it struck  Raf’s father  square  in the head,  sending him slamming into the rock wall. He hit the wall with  terrible  force  and  crumpled,   killed  in  an instant.

Raf screamed  in horror.

Then, with another bellowing roar the troll discarded  its hammer,  threw Raf’s mother  over its shoulder  and  clambered  up the rock  wall, out  of sight.

Raf never saw his mother  again.

*

As he grew into his teens, Raf kept more and more to himself.

His  sister  Kira  worried   about  him,  doted  on him,  and  often  shushed  him  when  he  voiced  his

increasingly  dissatisfied  views of the  head  family. He had felt the warriors’  efforts to save his mother had been half-hearted, ineffective, and hadn’t justi- fied their extra allotment of food.

Which  was  why,  when  he wasn’t  farming  his little  plot  with  Kira  or  constructing implements that  made  their  toil  a  little  easier,  in  secret  he would  practise with his weapons.

He made his double-bladed axe smaller and lighter  so  that  it  could  be  wielded  with  greater speed.  He  even  gave  this  new  model  a  hollow handle,  inside of which  he slid a long, thin  knife made of flint.

When he went hunting at the edge of the Badlands,  which  lay  to  the  north   of  the  river valley,  Raf  would  practise  extracting the  knife from the axe’s handle, executing the move very quickly so that  if he were ever confronted by an enemy,  he would  have  weapons  in both  hands in  the  blink  of  an  eye. He  practised  thrusting and slashing with his weapons in a dance-like motion. Had anyone been watching him, Raf thought, they  surely  would  have  thought him mad.

As it turned  out,  unbeknownst to  Raf,  there was often someone watching him as he practised alone by the edge of the Badlands.

*

At the height of his disgruntlement, during one year’s summer harvest festivities, Raf did an outrageous  thing:  he  asked  to  compete  in  the annual  harvest  games.

During  the  harvest,  the  ruling  family  always held games. These usually involved fights and wrestling matches between the chieftain’s sons, allowing  them  to  show  off  their  warrior  skills. Even in lean times, the games were very popular among the tribesfolk.

When  Raf  asked  to  compete  in  a  wrestling match,  the fat chief laughed  loudly, just as he had done before—but  this time Raf asked him in front of the tribe and all were watching the exchange closely.

The  chief  threw   a  look  to  his  sons  before nodding  nonchalantly. ‘Are you certain  you want to do this, lad? Farm boys should not challenge warriors. I would  not like to see you get hurt.’

Some of the tribesfolk  tittered.

‘I would  still like to try,’ Raf said.

The  chieftain  shook  his  head  and  said  to  the crowd, ‘Let no one say I didn’t warn him!’ He turned back to Raf. ‘Fine. You shall wrestle Bader then.’

His heart  pounding, Raf stepped  into the makeshift  dirt ring and faced off against Bader. As the fight began,  they circled each other,  and  then Raf pushed  off the ground  to engage with  Bader, but as he did so, one of Bader’s brothers stretched a surreptitious foot through the ropes of the ring and,   unseen  by  any  of  the  other   tribespeople, tripped  Raf.

Raf fell and Bader pounced  on him, wrapping him in a headlock  and  pounding him against  the ground.   What   followed   was  a  humiliation,  as much to crush Raf’s spirit as it was to provide  an example to the other members of the tribe. It took weeks  for  the  cuts  and  bruises  to  fade  and  Raf was an object of ridicule every time he passed the ruling family.

He  would   just  bow  his  head  and  walk  on, fuming.

*

And so Raf spent his days as an outsider within his own  tribe—farming with  his sister,  inventing  his

weapons and training himself in their use, climbing and hunting  alone at the edge of the Badlands.  It was  during  this  time  that  water  became  scarcer and people started  dying in greater  numbers.

And then came the day that  Raf’s sister fell ill with the disease.

Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly is the internationally bestselling author of the Scarecrow novels: Ice Station, Area 7, Scarecrow, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves and the novella Hell Island; the Jack West novels: Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, The Five Greatest Warriors; the standalone novels Contest, Temple, Hover Car Racer, The Tournament, The Great Zoo of China and Troll Mountain.

His books are published in over 20 languages, with worldwide sales of over 7 million copies.

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