Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Summer Troll

by Francesca Quarto
"Ah, such a perfect day for the hunt, my dear!"
Old Lord Buckley was brimming with the excitement of a young boy, at the prospect of the fox hunt being prepared.  He was happily immersed in the organized confusion of the busy courtyard. 
The scruffy barn boys led the last two gleaming steeds from their stalls. Grooms were putting finishing touches on the tack of the skittish mounts. Their ears, flicking with the growing tension in the crowd, before the horn was blown.  They pranced, tightly bunched together on the cobblestone, sounding like a massing army. 
The head groom went about checking cinches and bits, readjusting saddles, especially for the few women who would ride with His Lordship's party.  Keeping their seat, while maintaining proper decorum, was important for the women in the ensuing, wild ride. 
The Lady of the Manor, Drusilla, Lady Buckley, stood at her husband's side, watching the frenetic activity swirling around her.  Her husband would look over at her from time to time, winking his pleasure at the coming hunt.  She smiled easily into his rheumy blue eyes, noting to herself how much like a country bumpkin he was at heart. One of his many endearing qualities.
Alfred, Lord Buckley, was as round as a barrel of the fine wines he so enjoyed.  His legs were more like stockinged broom sticks protruding from a melon by way of Harvest Day decoration. A mop of black hair, had long been supplanted by wisps of gray, decorously spread about and plastered with pomade, unfortunately giving his head the look of a newly hatched baby bird.
Drusilla glanced over at her husband, jumping from foot to foot in his anticipation.  The others in the party stood in small knots of watchers.  She knew they loved this type of outing, if not for the hunt, definitely for the gossip!
She married the Lordship a few months earlier, a twenty-year old beauty from the north.  Her father was a prosperous farmer and owner of a fine grain mill.  Drusilla, it was whispered, was a much sought-after beauty of that distant county, when his Lordship spotted her at a local market near his vast estates.
The gossip flew, when he brought her back to the Manor House after a whirlwind courtship and lightning-quick nuptials. 
While her golden hair and fine features were undeniably alluring to many males, the gentlemen of his acquaintance, acted alarmed at Buckley's precipitous marriage. At least, they pretended concern.
"She could only want his fortune," Lord Hadsome now clucked to the others standing at his elbow.  He had been closely observing the fine cut of Drusilla's figure in her riding dress and hat. 
"Oh, indeed, Sir Lawrence.  She's all the look of a hussy in silks," another of the hunting party snickered back. This was a younger man, who had lustful dreams of the lovely young bride and only a plain, drab wife, to act them out upon.
Drusilla noted the side-glances the men were giving her. Standing about in their perfectly tailored hunting costumes, looking down their patrician noses at the stable boys and grooms, or ignoring their existence altogether.
There were two other women beside herself that would follow the hunt. They huddled apart from the men and, pointedly, away from the object of their tittering chatter.
Drusilla remembered her reception upon her introduction to this closed society.  The men leered like a pack of slavering mongrels when she entered the drawing room of the Manor House.  Her new husband never noticed, as his attention was fastened on her lovely face, the love shinning from his pale eyes.
The so-called gentlemen and their ladies, offered their congratulations and best wishes to the Lord and his wife, but Drusilla felt the undercurrent of base desire from the men and suspicion and envy from the women.  She knew her life as the Lady of the Manor would present challenges and she needed help if she was to find happiness here.
Shortly before the invitations to the hunt were sent, Drusilla had her favorite horse, a burnished-coppered mare, with the delicate look of a racer, saddled for an unchaperoned ride. 
She always enjoyed the freedom of the open countryside and often rode out alone, for the sheer pleasure of her own company.
This day, however, her solitary excursion was abruptly interrupted when she approached a long wooden bridge, spanning a wide, fast flowing stream. 
The horse placed a hoof, than another, and unexpectedly, backed off the planks and onto the dirt road. No amount of encouragement from the rider would convince the mare to proceed over the bridge.
Drusilla, a fine horsewoman,understood that something had unsettled the beast.  She was curious, as nothing seemed amiss in the surrounding area.  Then she smelled it.  A sharp odor, riding the soft breezes.  At first she couldn't identify the deeply unpleasant smell, but being raised as she was on a farm, she finally recognized it as the stench of decay.
Something was lying dead nearby, and the horse was spooked by the foul smell.
She slipped gracefully off the saddle and stood, holding the reins while looking around.  The mare was restless to be gone from the area and she decided to walk her back toward the trees nearby and secure her there while she investigated. 
When she approached the bridge again, she heard a distinct sound of laughter coming from below the warping boards.
"Who hides beneath this bridge?  Show yourself to me at once!  I am Lady Buckley, your Lordship's wife!" she said as officiously as possible.
More chortling and then a deep voice.
"You are obviously not the old man's first wife, long gone from this realm.  Which means, you are both new to him and to his holdings.  I, on the other hand, am an old resident here and look upon no mere man as my lord, even one as affable as Sir Alfred."
"Why, so you are acquainted with my husband?  Come forward and identify yourself, since you must be another of his friends...a lord of the Realm, perhaps?"
There was a loud splash of water and before she could run away, a tall, well built being stood before her.
He had wide shoulders and muscled arms and legs and except for his gruesome visage, would be considered a worthy Adonis by any woman.
But his face, hanging like melted wax under a bush of reddish hair, would be the very image of every child's nightmare. 
Tar black eyes, deeply set under a broad, high ridged forehead, boldly studied the beautiful Drusilla.  For her part, it took all of her considerable courage to stand her ground under his frank gaze.  But she saw no threat within that open stare and let his eyes roam over her body without speaking until he seemed satisfied.
"You are indeed a young wife to an aging Lord Alfred, but I can sense you married him out of love of his kind nature and not a baser motive."
"I will confirm this much as true, but I must confess to surprise, at finding a..a.."
"Troll?  I believe that is the word you are searching for my Lady.  I have lived under Lord Alfred's very eye now, for many years.  He and I reached an understanding when he was a young gallant trying to fill his father's slippers.  I live in peace and provide him with certain entertainment from time to time.  The planned hunt for instance."
"You'll be with the hunt?" Drusilla asked, incredulous that one such as the Troll would be allowed to join in with the "beautiful people."
"I can change my look anytime I so desire and I often do, in order to perform small services for Lord Alfred.  A few days hence, I am to arrange a surprise for his vain and unfaithful friends."
She was shocked that even a Troll, saw her husbands crowd of hangers -on, for what they truly were.  A bunch of self-promoting opportunists, who mocked him behind his back. 
"When you ride through the woodlands in pursuit of the prey, the hounds baying and nipping at one another's haunches, the nags quarrelsome, as they whinny and rip at the earth for speed and place in the chase, I shall be preparing a unique experience for these bogus, bosom friends.  Your presence will make it all the more delightful to Lord Alfred!"
Without another word, the Troll glided like a cloud's shadow over the grass and reentered the darkness under the wooden slates of the bridge.  Drusilla was struck by the beauty of this creature as he turned away, and wondering at the same moment how the waters didn't freeze at the reflection of his face upon the surface.
She waited along with the others, most preening as they sat astride their horses, casually ignoring their host, sending the occasional leering glance her way.
You have a surprise waiting for you all, that shall wipe your face clean of that smirk, she thought with an inward smile.
The grooms moved off to the side, the head of the hunt held the brass horn to his mouth and blew with much gusto.  In a flash, the horses flanks were a blur of shine as they pushed off.  To Drusilla's surprise, Lord Alfred hung back, allowing the others to pass, leaving him to straggle behind the herd of flying legs.
"Dru my darling girl!  Shall we take a different route than the others?  The dogs are onto a scent, but I assure you, it's not the fox they seek that awaits them." 
He was chuckling at his private joke, but Drusilla was beginning to feel uneasy.
"My Lord husband, I have met the Troll living under the old bridge in the woodlands; a bridge the hunt must pass over."
"And so they must, my dear!  Follow me and we'll have a much better time than that pack of ninnies!"
Drusilla followed on her copper-colored mare, the gentle beast happy to be away from the aggressive hunters.  They moved on for twenty minutes when Drusilla saw another bridge looming just ahead.
"My Lord husband, shall we pass over this span to find the fox's den?"
"Why no my dear, not over, but under, to a new home and better life for one as lovely as you deserve."
Drusilla was dumbfounded as the portly Lord Alfred snatched her reins from her hands and pulled the mare, unresisting toward a deep gully near the water.  While this was the same stream, it was wider and deeper here and Drusilla became much alarmed as she could not swim if she needed to escape. 
Her husband was acting so strangely. Gone was the sweet and gentle demeanor she found comfortable and safe in her marriage to him.  He was more self-assured and commanding now.
They entered the gloom under the bridge and Drusilla asked "Why here, my Lord?"
A deep voice answered from the shadows, "Because this is where I live my dear. As soon as the hunters arrive, the fun shall begin!"
Drusilla sat rigidly upon the docile horse as it tried to crop the dead grasses scattered among the bones.


Diane Burton said...

Francesca, your stories have such interesting twists.

Nancy Gideon said...

LOL! Fran, where do you hide this dark side in person? It's delightful.

Francesca Quarto said...

Being a tad twisted, must have occurred in the womb as I'm a twin and my brother is a saint. One too many kicks to my head??