Fiction by Lou Anders | Illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo
Kori thrust his sword at the dragon. Confronted by the mighty warrior, the monster hesitated before the magic blade.
“Take that, foul worm!” Kori yelled.
The serpent roared, spitting fire from its lips.
Truthfully, it chittered. And spit fragments of acorn shell.
Kori sighed, lowering the wooden stick.
“You could at least pretend to be afraid,” he said to the squirrel. It sat on a branch, fussing at him for daring to wave a twig at it.
Kori tossed the stick aside and resumed walking along the forest trail. Excursions into the woods near the family farm usually cheered him up, but today he felt more angry than adventuresome.
He’d been fighting with his brother, Ori. Father had ordered them to spread manure on the homefield, but Ori had tricked Kori into doing his share. It wasn’t the first time. Although they were twins, their resemblance was only skin-deep. Kori was athletic and adventurous. He always spoke his mind. Ori, on the other hand, was clever, humorous and sarcastic. But Ori was also lazy. He always seemed to get away with doing less than his half of the chores.
It didn’t help that Father didn’t seem to mind. Kori had been born minutes before Ori, which meant he would inherit the farm. More was expected of Kori than of his younger brother. But running the farm was a distant promise. Worse, Father was always stuffing Kori full of proverbs, saying things like No lamb for the lazy wolf and Fear is the mother of defeat.
Sometimes Kori felt so full of wisdom, he might burst. What use were proverbs, anyway, if all he ever did was spread manure on the homefield?
Kori swung his pack around to hang before his belly. If the woods couldn’t cheer him up, perhaps a snack would. He reached inside for the smoked halibut and ball of cheese his mother had made for him. Kori bit into the fish, enjoying the salty taste on his tongue.
Then the world darkened.
Kori spun around to see what was blocking the sunlight.
The troll was enormous.
It stood 8 feet tall. Its warty gray skin looked as tough as stone. Its yellowed teeth were filed to wicked points. And it brandished a crude ax made from a boulder lashed to a tree trunk.
“What a bit of luck,” the troll said. “I was just wondering what to eat today, and along you come.”
Kori made to run, but the troll lowered its ax, blocking the boy’s escape.
Kori wished that he had his father’s sword. Or any weapon at all.
Then his father’s unappreciated advice came to him: Better is a stout heart than a sharp sword. Fear is the mother of defeat. Bravery is half the victory.
But how could bravery help when he was about to be a troll’s breakfast? Kori wished his father were here. He even wished his brother had come along. Ori was the clever one.
Kori tried to be brave like his father and to think like his brother. Trolls were powerful and dangerous, but no one would call them smart. Maybe he could trick the troll the way Ori was always tricking him.
“It is good luck that we meet,” said Kori. “But my luck, not yours.”
“What do you mean?” the troll asked, frowning. “Maybe you think it lucky to be eaten?”
“Not at all,” said Kori. His heart hammered, but he kept his voice steady. “It’s my luck, because I’m going to eat you.”
The troll’s laugh was like the sound of thunder booming.
“You eat me?” it said. “You’re joking.”
“I promise you I’m not,” said Kori, hoping bravery really was half the victory. Now for the other half. “I am Korlundr Kolason. I come from a line of great warriors. Why, I am so strong I can squeeze water from a stone.”
The troll blinked.
“No one can squeeze water from a rock,” it said.
“Watch me,” said Kori. He held up the cheese his mother had packed for him. The round lump didn’t look unlike a stone.
Kori gripped it in his fist, gritting his teeth to appear as though he was applying effort. Moisture ran through his fingers and fell to the earth. The troll’s eyes went wide.
“Let me see that,” it said, reaching out.
Kori popped the cheese in his mouth and munched it hastily.
“No,” he said. “The stone was my meal. But I’m still hungry.”
“You eat rocks?” The troll scratched its knotty head.
“Don’t you?” Kori asked. “Or aren’t you strong enough to chew them?”
“Of course I am!” protested the troll.
“Prove it,” said Kori. “I challenge you to a rock-eating contest. Whoever eats the most rocks wins and gets to eat the other.”
“I like the sound of that,” said the troll. “An eating contest it is!”
Kori selected a small stone from the ground. The troll grabbed a stone of the same size.
“Oh, no,” said Kori. “You can’t pick a small one.”
“Small?” said the troll. “I picked the same size you did.”
“You did not,” said Kori. “My stone is the same size as my fist, but yours is tiny in your hand. You must pick one that fills your fist like mine.”
“Uh … that makes sense,” said the troll, obviously confused. It picked a bigger rock.
Kori brought his stone to his mouth. While pretending to eat, he dropped the stone into his pack, which still hung before his stomach.
The troll blinked in surprise, but it bit into the large rock. It winced as it chipped a tooth.
“If your teeth are too soft to chew the rocks,” said Kori, “you can swallow them whole.”
The troll growled, but it swallowed the rock with a big gulp.
“Next one,” said Kori, taking another stone and employing the same sleight of hand as before.
Grumbling, the troll choked down another rock.
Kori continued to drop small stones into his backpack. And the foolish troll continued to gulp down large rocks. After it had swallowed 20 or so, it whimpered and placed a hand on its belly.
“You can give up if you’re too full,” said Kori.
“Oh, no,” replied the troll.
“Good.” Kori handed it a rock as big as a loaf of bread.
The troll looked uncertain, but it stretched its lips wide and swallowed it. The troll’s stomach bulged and it sank to the ground. Its gray skin looked distinctly green.
By now, Kori’s pack was as full as the monster’s belly.
“We’re out of rocks,” the troll said.
“I’ll find us more,” said Kori, stepping away.
“No, wait!” The troll struggled to rise, but the weight of the rocks in its belly was too much. Its feet wobbled, and it fell.
“Oh, dear,” said Kori. “Is there a problem?”
“No problem,” said the troll, struggling. “But I can’t move!”
“Well, you’re in luck,” said Kori.
“Why is that?” asked the troll miserably.
“Because I’m full,” laughed the boy and ran from the glen.
Kori’s steps felt lighter as he hurried home. He was oddly grateful to his brother. And he’d never begrudge Father his advice again. Sometimes a stout heart was better than a sharp sword.