Just another day in the life of a rancher.
Starting his day
Lucas looked out the open door of his kitchen. His eye was drawn to the edge of the plateau. Standing sentinel was Whiskey, his treasured mustang stallion. Lucas could trust Whiskey to do what he was meant to do. Guard and Alert! At the moment, Whiskey was relaxed, tail swishing gently, ears up, body relaxed. Lucas went back to the business at hand, making his breakfast. He had cooked up the last of his elk sausage. It was time to put another elk into the freezer. Since first thaw Lucas had been watching the herd and the oldest elk was getting on in years, it was time to cull and allow the next generation to thrive.
He was looking forward to having some eggs with that bite of elk sausage but the gathering of those eggs had been a story indeed. One man against a flock of angry chickens and all he got were three brown eggs! Funny that the gathering of eggs made his nerves stand to attention but the thought of shooting an elk didn’t cause even a stir! He smiled at a memory of watching his wife and daughter gather eggs. The two of them could come and go from the hen house and all you heard were their soft murmurings and the chickens clucking contentedly. He figured it was a female thing. He missed them both with an ache he couldn’t speak of, even after all these years
The land Lucas cared for bordered the deserts edge and the Turtle Mountains. Its borders were irregular, following the river as it wound through desert and mountain. Lucas’ favourite lookout was a wedge of land shaped like the handle of a cooking pot with the river as the divider between his plateau and the foothills. Whiskey was in that spot right now, guarding his territory. From that point Lucas could see north and south of the river and with Turtle Mountain on the east side of the river that meant Lucas could defend not only his land but also the border of his sovereign’s outermost kingdom. Lucas took his responsibility seriously. There were people that wanted what both Lucas and his high King held. If guarding the border was all Lucas had to worry about that would be difficult enough but there was another danger, one that had Lucas on high alert this morning.
For the past week, Lucas had seen signs that Zuvashinn had been creeping around and stirring up trouble. He knew it was Zuvashinn by the noxious smell of burning dung that would hang in the air for hours after the troll had left the area. Trolls cannot resist eating scat and to avoid getting worms the dung is cooked by the bile in their first stomach. By the time a troll has digested scat the waste produces quite a stink! Lucas knew it was Zuvashinn because he only ate dung from skunks so Zuvashinns' farts had the same pungent odor! What Lucas didn’t understand was why the smell only led from the edge of town back to the river; he couldn’t tell where Zuvashinn had started.
He decided to wait, hide and follow the troll. Lucas packed his backpack with a change of clothes, in case of rain, dried meat and the rest of the cornbread from his dinner the night before. He would get his water from the river. With his rifle in its scabbard of the saddle and his bow and arrow across his backpack, he could be gone for several days without any problem.
Lucas took it easy, letting Whiskey determine the pace. He wasn’t worried about being detected by the troll. The day was bright and no troll could abide sunlight because all the evil a troll commits will appear in his or her shadow and devour him or her. By four o’clock Lucas was settled in his dry camp with a good view of the knoll where Zuvashinn slept under the ground. Dusk came, went and still no sign of the troll. Had he been discovered Lucas thought to himself or was the trolls appetite for mischief abated? If that were the case, Lucas would have to wait a fortnight for the troll to emerge. All trolls go into a type of hibernation after a rampage but there had not been any news from town of missing persons or livestock being slaughtered and left half eaten.
Lucas sighed and shifted his weight.
A pretty woman
Just at that moment, Lucas saw a flash of colour in his peripheral vision. Something yellow. Lucas was surprised to see a woman walking up the hill and not just an ordinary woman but a pretty one! Not gorgeous but not plain either. The woman was about five and half feet tall, reddish brown hair that curled at the ends just past her shoulders. She had on jeans, a black shirt and a scarf. That was the yellow colour Lucas had seen. The scarf was yellow with green dots and light enough to flutter in the breeze. She passed Lucas’ hideout without a glance. Lucas decided to follow the woman and worry about Zuvashinn another day. He glanced at Whiskey but he was still grazing and didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. Lucas put his bow over his shoulder, and followed the woman on foot. He knew he could leave his campsite with Whiskey there and everything would be the same when he returned.
Lucas was wary and made sure to walk without sound, who was this woman? Her ears were not pointed; she had no elf blood that he could tell. She wasn’t overly tall, so that meant no giant blood either but there was something about the way she walked that puzzled Lucas. She didn’t have a feminine walk, no sway of the hips, no swinging of arms. Course that didn’t mean much, lots of females have just a straight kind of stride but watching the woman made Lucas think he had seen her somewhere, or rather the way she walked reminded him of something or someone.
After walking for about an hour, he reached the edge of town and saw the woman down the street, just at the door of the Deer Track Bar. The music was loud, the laughter and sounds of a pool tournament in progress spilled into the street. Lucas sat down at the far end of the bar. He could see the front door and the pool table from where he sat plus the door to the alley was on his right. Lucas liked knowing he didn’t have his back to any door. He had gotten caught in the middle of a fight when he was young because his back was to a door and a goblin had crashed openmouthed through the door and into Lucas’ back before he could turn around. He still carried a piece of that goblins front tooth in the back of his skull that the doc hadn’t been able to dig out.
Lucas pretended interest in the pool game but his attention was on the woman. A few people nodded at her, which she ignored; she was in deep conversation with a young rancher named Craig. Lucas didn’t know him well; he and his family had only been in the valley a few months. Lucas wondered what game the young man thought he was playing. From Lucas’ view it was obvious the woman was doing anything but playing. There were a lot of smiles and she kept touching young Craig on the arm a bit too fondly in Lucas' opinion for a young man with a wife and new baby on the way. Lucas reminded himself that everyone is different and what Lucas thought was moral didn’t mean everyone thought the same way. The pair stayed together all night and left about one. They took the back door out which Lucas thought was odd. Odd enough to make him follow them at a distance. Lucas’ suspicions played out as the woman and young Craig went into an abandoned barn on the edge of town. Lucas kicked dirt with his boot and fought with himself. What to do. Would interrupting the couple make things a bit worse or just plain worse?
The decision was taken out of his hands when a scream came out of the night. Lucas took off running, notching an arrow into the bow as he ran. He had trouble with the door; it was as if someone was holding it shut from the inside so he gave the elvish command of ‘Ajer!’ that made the door open easily. Young Craig was nearly dead. The woman had gutted him. Intestines spilled out between his legs, steam rising in the cold air. A long knife skewered his thigh into the dirt floor.
Now Lucas knew who he was dealing with now but he had to hurry, he only had a few hours before dawn.
Young Craig’s’ scream had brought everyone running from the bar so Lucas didn’t waste any time. Giving a high-pitched whistle, he released the notched arrow and watched as it flew into the clouds and north towards the Turtle Mountains. Lucas began the whispered spell that would alert his sovereign of the evil in his kingdom. Sprinting towards the river Lucas met Whiskey coming toward him at a flat run. Neither one hesitated. Grabbing a fist full of mane Whiskey turned as Lucas swung himself onto his back. Crouching low over Whiskeys neck, they raced towards the river. Lucas had to get to the first clearing of trees past the river’s edge before the evil. If it got into the foothills Lucas could lose him and he didn’t care to risk more lives being taken if the hunt continued past dawn.
Turning Whiskey northeast Lucas entered the river parallel to the evil. He knew he was gaining when he caught a whiff of her perfume. Keeping an eye on the tree line to his left Lucas began to slow Whiskey enough so he could drop to the ground. Lucas took a deep breath and watched as the woman came running out of the trees with astounding speed roaring her rage. Lucas held his ground. She could smell him better than she could see him and he knew better than to turn his back on a weretroll. He had the spell on his arrow and almost released it when the weretroll turned and began to run, yellow and green snot trailing out behind it. Lucas laughed at himself. Yellow scarf with green dots indeed!
“Zuvashinn!” yelled Lucas.
Lucas began to whisper a spell that might buy him some time, a spell to send the east wind into Zuvashinns right side. Unfortunately, east winds are sensitive to certain odors and refused to come near the troll. Lucas couldn’t really blame east wind; the skunky farts of the weretroll were even more horrendous for having been held inside Zuvashinn while he wore the shape of the woman. Troll and rancher continued to race north. The troll was desperate to get into cover before sunrise.
Dawn was turning the sky to pinks and blues when Zuvashinn let out a triumphant howl when he shoved aside the massive rock that acted as the door of his underground cave. He turned and delivered a rude gesture with his notching finger; as a troll he hadn’t ever touched a bow but Lucas caught the meaning nonetheless.
Lucas let out all his rage and frustration with one yell, “Zuvashinn!”
The troll just laughed and dove for the darkness under his knoll. He probably would have made it too if it weren’t for the mesquite next to his right leg. Poor tree had nearly gotten crushed by the rock Zuvashinn used as a door. Mesquite are hardy and forgiving as trees go but think about it from his perspective. Mesquite existed to give shade, beans and firewood to all creatures and did so with a loving heart. But eventually, after decades of being the recipient of noxious odors, rough treatment, being used as a spittoon and worse, well what would you do?
Mesquite held Zuvashinns’ leg long enough for the sun to finish what Lucas had not been able to accomplish.
Whiskey shook his head and set his bridle to tinkling; Lucas smiled and sent his thanks up to the sky.
A family of quail came heads bobbing and soft mutterings and crossed in front of rancher and horse, totally unconcerned and confident they were in no danger.
“Come on boy, let’s go home.” Lucas turned Whiskey towards home. Just another day in the life of a rancher. Or at least, one whose ranch separated the lands of humans from everyone else.
The river and the mountain are there still. If you are in the area, take a walk in the state land. Never know, you might see troll rock and give a thought for Lucas and Whiskey.