Chapter 1

“It all sounds like it was very hot. You’ve been close, haven’t you son?”

Sheriff Daniel was a little older since the last time Humphrey had come to Gladeton. Humphrey didn’t get there often as he had the first two years after the Troll War.

Trolling Down to Old Mah Wee-A Sample

Trying to leave the army after the war had become impossible. General Ellers and General Packer would not let him. The First of the Council had put pressure on him to stay on as a soldier, and then Gwendolyn had also. She was better at making him do what she desired than the others combined.

Six years since the wars, and three since Gwendolyn and he had married. She had broken their engagement off four times before they actually did wed. He had walked away once. That was what finally had her marry him. She could not imagine him spending time at Lady Stephanie’s House in Torahn and so hooked him back to her.

“I’ve been as close as you can go, at least a human can go. The Dwarves with us got a lot closer. They’ve told me they have rivers of such molten rock in their homes under the mountains. They said with the right type of thin tunnels, for they can make such little ones like tubes as thin as your finger, they can heat an entire mountain so it is comfortable to live in. They told me that there are gases that the rivers give off that you can not see that have to be vented away, else you would die of breathing.” Humphrey might not have believed such a thing before he had left Gladeton for the Troll War, but now he accepted such things as truth.

He knew that there were sounds he could not hear, but they had saved his life at the end of the war. That he was very thankful for. Though he never told Gwen that, but it was one reason why he loved her. She had found the Talisman when all believed it did not exist. Including Humphrey. The Talisman they had named after Saint David and Great King Adam.

Gwen had found the magic talisman and even figured how to make it work. That was impressive. He knew he would never understand that. As he sat in front of the Crowing Rooster with the Sheriff, Majister Burns came out with mugs for all of them. “Shame you know. Lost our best wood cutter when you left,” the blacksmith said handing out the refills. They had already had two other rounds. Those Humphrey had brought.

“Thank you for saying it. Means a lot,” Humphrey smiled.

“Bet you don’t get to cut much wood these days, general,” Majister Burns said.

Humphrey sent his glance to the heavens. “I do when my wife makes me crazed. The men all know to get out of my way and let me cut a cord or two,” Humphrey chuckled. The other men did also. They both had wives that could make them crazy as well.

“Now lets sit and just enjoy the beer. No titles. Harry you know that when Humphrey comes home he does not like to talk of such things.” That was an uncle Daniel saying. Things had changed since his last visit. It would change again when there was the next visit. Each time  Humphrey knew that he was further removed from the people that had raised him from when his parents had died to when he had left for the Troll War.

“Yes, you can fill me in on all the gossip. Hopefully of people I know.”

Daniel laughed, “Well, you got one of old Sergeant Gardener’s boys with you now in Torahn I hear. The older one married Farmer Bales’ daughter and is now working land up near Loud Creek. You may remember the land that was Michael Carther’s place. He died back in the war when you went away. So the place was vacant and needed someone…” The two men started to fill him in on a great deal how the older of Gardener’s sons had taken to the land. Pretty poorly at first it had been. Now he was at least not losing money or too many crops.

His friends were right about the younger Gardener. The man was now one of the lieutenants in the army. In his own division. Over the next hour his old friends, father figures in his life, told him of what had occurred since last he had come to the town. News that he followed but found that he did not care as much as when Gwen told him that Lord Pete was being henpecked by his wife once more for coming home late from Lady Stephanie’s House. Probably the best whore house in Torahn.

Or that Lord Whelan had a cold and that so to did three maids who worked in his household but no one else was affected. It left those who heard the tale to speculate that Lord Whelan was not spending any time with his wife any longer but enjoying the entertainment he wanted to.

He would tell Gwendolyn of things that were part of his day. Matters of the army and the defense of the Valley Kingdom. The defense of Torahn was something that he interpreted very broadly, just as General Ellers and Packer were teaching him to do. The generals had momentum from the Troll War and they were not prepared to give back any of their gains now that the realm was at peace.

As Humphrey was often sent to visit the other races in the valley and see how they fared as an ambassador for the Council of Twenty-One and as a military commander, he had much to report to her about that as well. She liked to accompany him when he visited the Elves. Gwendolyn had not liked the visit to the Dwarves and had found entering a mountain and not trying to envision it collapsing on her, hard. She never went again.

Humphrey though liked his time with the Dwarves. They also liked him. Two of them, after listening to the tales of how he had used the axe to fight Trolls thought that he was, as they put it ‘Strahaked,’ and had taken to following him everywhere. They had left the Dwarven city and were now part of his permanent staff. They were in the Crowing Rooster trying to show his old townsmen that they could out drink any man.

It was good to reminisce. Gladeton had lost a good many men to the war. Now, as a general, Humphrey had begun to think of the boys that went to the fight as men. He gave them that respect.

When he had left Gladeton and gone to Forest’s Edge, he had not thought much of those who had gone with him. They were boys, barely able to find hairs to shave. But they had died and that made them more than boys. Too many had died.

Humphrey though was the bonafide hero of Gladeton. A general in the army, killing more Trolls than any other man. Marrying the daughter of the First of the Council of Twenty-One. Humphrey was a success. It did not make up for the many that had not come home, but it gave Gladeton pride, Sheriff Daniel had told him before. Something that no other Town in the Valley Kingdom could boast.

The town’s pride was a reason that caused him to return often. Even as Humphrey knew he had changed more than any would probably expect. At the end of the war, he might have been able to come back to Gladeton and put away his war axe for that of a woodcutter. Over time he would certainly have allowed the memories he carried form Karasbahn and Teantellen to fade. The many dead. The killing of the Trolls. The very real fear that would wake him from a sound sleep shaking and drenched with sweat.

Even as he finished another jack of ale, he could see in his mind how he might have come back to what had been his home and resume the life he had led before the war. The life that none thought he would have come back to, for even Sheriff Daniel had thought that Humphrey had marched away to die.

Humphrey might have found a wife then, surely as a local notable, he would have a better pick, and being so successful, he might even be thought of to take a job like Sheriff Daniel had. The man had to retire, and of his two sons, one had died in the fighting. The other was not that imposing to look on. The Army of Torahn and the First though had no intention of letting Humphrey disappear back to Gladeton.

The First surely made it so that he had a great deal of time spent with Gwendolyn, and not many other women in Torahn. Lord Faireweather, along with the Generals, had decided Humphrey’s fate more than he had. He could admit that he was attracted to the First’s daughter, and liked her a great deal. He had returned to the Capitol though with no expectations of seeing Gwendolyn.

She was his escort to every victory celebration, since she had found the Talisman that saved them. Prior to the Talisman of Saint David and Great King Adam he had wielded the axe that many said saved the Valley Kingdom. Gwendolyn and he had become the heroes of all Torahn. That someone said aloud they should get married had driven them away from each other as if they had been separated by a scissors cutting two halves of a string.

That separation didn’t last for the First meddled. They were together often, but not as a couple. Which is why their affection for each surely had deepened. He had admired and desired Gwendolyn before he had come to love her. But love her he did. Even when she threw the crockery at him.

He smiled as he stood to fetch the next round of ale, “And this is the last round else I will not be able to walk up the stairs to my room.” His wife was mad for some reason that he had not fathomed, and when she said that he needed to get better, he reminded her that he had to come on this trip. Then she picked up a ceramic candlestick and it went flying for his head.

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