This is the 18th installment of the Troll Serial. To read from the beginning, or to find past and future installments, click here.
This episode has a few references to previous scenes that I couldn't resist pointing you to. I've added links in the text to identify them; however, I've also added a list of links and the episodes they refer to, so the links won't get in the way of your reading. :)
Kratan headed northwest, passing through the first clearing and confirming his early suspicions that De Faumont had been there. He recognized his faint smell, as well as his horse’s. He maintained direction and grudgingly crossed the river, waking up the unconscious Aimee when tripping in a hidden rock.
Aimee groaned and looked around dizzily. She wondered if that river was the same where the trolls had forcefully bathed because of her garlands. Kratan turned east and then southward, following the river from the other side. Shortly, Aimee could see a castle’s light, surrounded by an enormous half-moon shaped city which end she couldn’t see. It was very disorienting to watch it all from upside down. As she knew from merchants’ descriptions, this should be the capital, the king’s diamond belt she had dreamed to see her whole life.
However, the effort was too much for her and darkness engulfed her. She woke again with a small rock falling on her neck. Kratan had moved her and she was on top of Velin’s body. She twitched, startled with the leathery skin below her.
“Quiet, girl, or I’ll drop you off.”
Aimee glared at Kratan’s back in response, and got dizzy again. Letting her body loose, she took a deep breath and decided to investigate her surroundings in a safer fashion. This caused only another wave of vertigo and a deep chill running up and down her spine. She was facing a dark abyss that seemed having no end. The pain and the cadaver’s smell made her sick. Velin was showered one last time as Kratan climbed a waterfall and headed south with great stealth. He put her and her companion down only when they arrived in a cave, leaving her alone in the dark. He came back shortly with enough wood to keep the fire up for days.
She woke up with the sun’s brightness dazing her. Kratan was at the other side of the dying fire, protected by the shadows. Velin’s body was entangled with her. It took her such a great effort to free herself that she concluded that flight was impossible. Once again she’d have to be rescued. She punched the floor in frustration and grunted in pain. Breathing hard she directed her attention to her surroundings.
She learned that they were at the entry of a cave with one large chamber downwards and several small entries. A worn out path into the darkness called her attention, but for now she resigned to her fate and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Kratan shook her off the bliss of forgetfulness. “Eat,” he said, while throwing at her an armful of fruits. She devoured them in a twisted dejà vu, looking up to him only when she was able to slow down. He was watching her with an empty gaze. She could not read his emotions for the first time and it scared her.
“I can’t have you getting thinner than you already are,” he said. “I like juicy bones, you know?” He grinned, but there was no glee in it.
She cocked her head, wondering the reasons for this other change. Kratan wasn’t having the usual fun on abusing her mentally. She pondered if their new location had anything to do with it but it was too soon to draw any conclusions. She would be patient, she decided, the nights were getting longer and she doubted help would come any soon.
The next night she decided to investigate. “Where are we?” she asked.
Kratan looked up startled. He searched the cave with an empty gaze and turned to her, still unfocused, “Not sure.”
She was so bewildered with his answer that she gaped at him until his head went down again. She rubbed her chin and after some pondering she tried a different strategy. “Kratan?” He looked up slowly. “My side hurts. I think I broke something.” No reaction. “Would you mind searching for something to help? If there are fruits around here, there might be herbs to make a cataplasm…” He stood up mechanically and left.
Looking at his back, she noticed that the sun was still a thin line in the horizon. With a chilled grip in her stomach she realized he would have walked right into the sun in this strange state. She’d have to keep an eye on him.
It was pitch dark when Kratan came back. He chewed several different herbs Aimee couldn’t identify in the dim light, and spit on the mixture. He went to one of the cave’s inner chambers and retrieved a large roll of bandages, to which he applied the concoction. He kneeled down beside her and lowered it, pausing when rubbing his fingers against her dress. He stayed there robotically, with unseen eyes.
Aimee mustered courage for a few moments. Slowly, she undressed her upper body, shyly covering her breasts with one arm. He lifted her other arm to discover that her whole hind was black and there was a strange protuberance in it. She saw a flicker of life in Kratan’s eyes and almost yelped, but he calmly put the bandage down and looked neutrally to her. “You’ve got a broken rib. This is going to hurt a bit.” Before she could reply he covered her mouth with one hand and poked at her rib pointedly with his index. The bone clacked into place and she shrieked in pain, tears rolling down freely. Kratan placed the medicine gently on her wound, and tightened the bandage comfortably around her shivering body. He then laid her down ever so slowly and left her breathing hard on her make up bed.
He sat down on the other side of the fire, shoulder and head supported by the thick wall. As soon as Aimee could move again she asked, head turned to him, “What are you thinking about, Kratan?”
Absent mindedly, he replied, “My family.”
This is a list of links to previous events mentioned in this episode:
1) Kratan's suspicions about the first clearing - epi. #14 Bell Alarm
2) Trolls taking a bath because of Aimee's garlands - epi. #3 The Most Horrid Torture
3) Ravenous Aimee and her dejà vu - epi. #2 - Landy's Hands