This is the 11th installment of the Troll Serial. To read from the beginning, or to find past and future installments, click here.
Kutril woke up with the smell of dried blood in his nostrils. He tried to stand up and lost his balance, seating back painfully. It took him some time to stand up and stumble to the dying fire. He threw a few logs on the coal and turned to the sprawled body he thought to be Kratan's.
His chin fell to his chest when seeing Kreptus's bloody face. He rushed to his side and waked him up. Kreptus groaned and shook himself off Kutril's arms. He sat and glared at his nephew, who staggered back to get the last bandages.
Kutril wrapped them around his uncle's head, who grumbled, "Do you know how hard it was to get these? In one night you idiots used them all up, one night!"
Kutril was too sleepy to hear, his full attention focused on his hands and the crimson head beneath them.
"There," said Kutril, sitting before the fire. When Kreptus seemed to start recovering, Kutril asked, "What happened, uncle?"
"Get me something to eat. Then I'll talk."
"No freaking buts with me!" Kreptus winced, and then growled, "Just do as I say, you moron. You're too sleepy to understand anything anyway, and I need food to get better."
In response, Kutril stiffled a yawn and asked, "Where's Kratan?"
"What did I just say?" He glared.
Kutril sighed. "Okay..."
Kreptus pointed to his back and said, "Take the dry exit. Follow the path with more footsteps and you'll be fine."
"Okay..." said Kutril, standing up. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, son. Just remember that we're in the middle of the night. You don't have much time."
Kutril nodded and left. The dry exit opened to a vast forest with no sign of human civilization in any direction. He crossed paths with several eatable animals: deers, boars, and in case of emergency, bears. Unfortunately for Kutril there were no goats. He came back tired and annoyed at the prays' increased speed.
"What the hell did you catch?" said Kreptus, getting up. He swayed and supported himself on the wall behind him, never loosing the grasp on his club.
Kutril hadn't noticed having arrived. Startled, he looked up from his feet and said, "A bear."
"Why would you do that?" said Kreptus. "There are plenty of harmless preys out there." He walked towards Kutril to certify that the bear was dead. "Look at these scratches! You look like shit."
Kutril blinked and then yawned.
"What the hell; let's eat," said Kreptus, sighing.
Kutril dragged himself to the fire and sat down with a thump.
"Get your fat ass back here!"
Kutril looked back through heavy eyelids. "What?"
"Help me out, you idiot."
Soon Kutril was snoring. Kreptus finished eating and crossed the waterfall, climbing down to the pool below it, as fast as he could. By the time he finished up, the sun was drinking the water right above Kreptus's cave, its tongue licking further down at each passing minute. At his arrival, he made an unguent with the fresh herbs he'd collected, which he put on Kutril's wounds and on his own. He lied down watching Kutril through the low flames, the slightest smile creeping on his face, and fell asleep hugging his club.
The next night Kutril woke up feeling refreshed. He stretched, yawned broadly and sat up, catching up instinctively a large meat loaf thrown at him.
"Eat," said Kreptus.
Kutril's nostrils flared at the smell of fresh food and a grin formed in his face, which died into a frown as soon as he identified it.
Kreptus shook his head. "Shut up and eat. I've got some explaining to do."
Kutril took a bite meekly and said, "Okay uncl--"
"What did I say about talking with your mouth full?"
Kutril opened his mouth and closed it with a click. He swallowed forcefully and said, "It's not polite."
"That's right. Now shut the fuck up. I have a headache, which you may share with me soon."
Kutril cocked his head to the side. His uncle lifted a prohibiting finger and Kutril covered his own mouth with his free hand.
"There's something I need to tell you, and you're not going to like it."
Kutril swallowed again.
"Kratan left and I don't think he's coming back."
"What? Where did he go? Why didn't he wake me up?" gushed out Kutril, with trembling lips.
"Calm down, son."
Kutril forgot about his food, watered eyes focused on Kreptus. "Where is he?"
"I don't know," replied Kreptus. "But I have an idea of where he might be heading to."
"Is he okay? His head hurts too and I'm worried about him."
"I'm afraid there's not better way of putting it," said Kreptus, with a pained voice. "He's in danger, and so are we."
Kreptus told Kutril what had happened the night before, limiting himself to the facts. Kutril shook his head throughout Kreptus's explanation.
"This cannot be, uncle. Kratan would never do that!"
"I know. Normally he wouldn't, but he's not himself. Or rather, he is himself since last night."
Kratan kept shaking his head. Losing his patience Kreptus stood up and slapped him on the face.
"Listen to me, smart ass. You think you know Kratan but you don't. And you don't know yourself either."
"What do you mean?" said Kutril, massaging his cheek.
"Remember what I said about no one knowing you can turn back from stone?"
"Well, that's because you're different, and being different is dangerous." Kutril kept silent, so Kreptus continued, "Neither of you were like this before."
"Before..." Kreptus trailed off, thinking of the best way to make himself understood. "Once, you were like all the other trolls." He made a broad gesture, as to encompass the whole species.
Kutril chewed on that thought. "But the other trolls are scary."
"Precisely. And dangerous. You see, Kratan is like them now."
Kutril frowned and Kreptus continued before he had the chance to react further, "We have to stay away from him for a while, until he gets better."
"We need to help him!"
"Good boy," said Kreptus with a rare smile. "That's exactly what we're going to do, and for that, we need to find the knight with white eyes."