This little story is guaranteed not to contain the words #cocky or #cockygate. I may or may not have had four hours sleep the night before writing the last two thirds of this.
Kevin the Knap: Volume 1 of the TrollBane Chronicles
Once upon a time, there was a man called Kevin the Knap. He was called that because he was a flint knapper; one of those whose profession it is to take a dull rough pebble and knock shards from it to leave a sharp edge, one of the sharpest edges you will ever see. Those carefully sharpened edges will slice through almost anything, in the right hands. They can be useful household tools; they can be deadly weapons. They are valued either way.
It takes time and practice to learn the craft of knapping, and Kevin had put in plenty of both; a lifetime’s worth, in fact. Now he’d retired, and was putting those skills to a different use; knapping a different sort of stone, more brightly coloured, with rough and smooth surfaces in different parts, and even yet the occasional sharp edge to cut the unwary. These stones were not tools or weapons in the normal sense, although some could be used as such. No, most were tools and weapons for the mind, and were more than that besides. In the right hands the stone became beautiful to look upon, and far vaster on the inside than one would think looking at the outside. Never judge a pebble by its dull outer skin, for if you strike a shard from it you may find inside the delicate forest of dendritic agate, or the deep red depths with silver threads of a star ruby, or even the glittering galaxy within a sunstone.
These stones were portals to other worlds, both near and far from the plane where Kevin resided. There were many, many knappers of these pebbles; some humble, some great, all of them creating keystones for the bridges through portals to other lands and times so that the inhabitants of the plane could visit for a little while. Some knappers strung their keystones as beads on a necklace, stepping stones leading the way deeper into one of those worlds. The knappers gathered in clans according to their favourite type of stone, but there was much conversation between the clans, and often a knapper would visit with another clan and perhaps even stay.
Some knapped for the simple pleasure of it and the admiration of others. Others asked for some more tangible token of appreciation from those seeking to cross a bridge, for knappers have to eat just like everybody else. The fee to cross the bridges into other worlds was readily paid by many who sought a change of scene.
And then one day a knapper heard a terrible sound. From under her bridge there boomed a voice, “Who’s that trip trapping across my bridge?”
“Your bridge?” asked the knapper, unable to believe her ears.
“My bridge,” the voice said. “I have been to the Arbiters of the Arena, and they have granted me ownership of this bridge. Not just this bridge, but any bridge built from this type of stone.” The owner of the voice came out from under the bridge. It held in its hands stone and tools, but it was not quite like any knapper she had seen before. “Furthermore, you owe me rent.”
“Rent?” Why on earth would this creature be owed rent? “On what?”
“My bridge. You’ve been using it without my permission. More than that, you’ve been charging people to go across it. You’ve been making money out of me by copying my building techniques and my stone knapping designs without asking, so you owe me rent. Backdated rent. The Arbiters have said so.”
The knapper could hardly believe her ears. “I’ve never heard of you. How could I have copied you?”
“You have. I know you have. I first thought of using this particular shade of ruby red, and hunted down this pattern of silver threads forming a star. Nobody else had ever done that until I did, which I did at least two years ago, and now everyone’s copying me. And stealing my tokens of appreciation.”
The knapper said, “Er, I built this bridge three years ago.”
“Well, I thought of it before you did.” The creature stamped its foot and pouted. “All of you! The Arbiters say so. I’m the clever one who thought of this way of knapping. Nobody else could have done it, and you’re all cheats and meanies!”
The noise attracted the attention of other ruby knappers. “What on earth is going on?” they cried. They looked, and one of them said, “Oh my God — that thing sent me a parchment edged with sharp flint, warning me that there’d be a lot more flint coming my way if there weren’t tokens of appreciation going the other way, and right quick about it too.”
And with that, the floodgates opened. More than one knapper had received such a parchment, and more than one of those knew fine well that the idea of using that particular shade of ruby and those arrangements of silver threads had been around for a very long time. But the creature continued to shout that it owned all of the bridges built of those rubies, because it had found the ruby mine first and any rubies plucked from the gravel of the river below the mountain belonged to the owner of the mine, no matter when they had been panned and washed from the gravel.
The ruby knappers called to the leaders of their clan, saying, “What shall we do about this? Can you ask a knapper of flint to make us a parchment edged with sharp stone?” And the wise leaders said, “Half a mo, and we will need copies of the parchments that have cut your fingers.”
By now the hubbub had attracted the attention of neighbouring clans, and Kevin the Knap wandered over for a look. He recognised the creature at once. “That’s a troll. It’s from the Trademark tribe. I had dealings with those when I knapped flint.” He tapped his hammer stone meaningfully against the palm of his other hand, and those around him saw a phantom sheet of parchment flash in his hand for a second. “Maybe I need to come out of retirement.”
“What were the Arbiters thinking of?” asked the gathering crowd.
“The Arbiters weren’t thinking at all,” said Kevin the Knap. “They’re overworked and underpaid, and they don’t have time to check the truth of every claim that comes before them.” He looked thoughtfully at his hand, and now that parchment was real and solid. “I think I shall draw this claim to their attention.”
Someone in the crowd piped up, “Kevin, it’s not just that some of us had used this style of stone for years. This troll has also claimed to own a style of engraving a pattern on a stone, even though the smith who created those engraving tools has specifically said anyone who uses his tools can’t do that.”
“Interesting,” said Kevin very softly, and the parchment edges seemed to glint in the sunlight. “Let me just talk to a few of my friends from the old days.” Those were the days when Kevin had dealt all too often with the troll tribe led by Pat Pend, and others of Pat’s kind.
The troll roared in reply, “Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Alphole man.” It glared round at the crowd. “Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind your bones to make my bread.” For the troll was perfectly happy to steal the thunder of giants to impress its friends, and thought it could do the same to these little people. It brandished a pendant stamped by the Arbiters with a sigil. Those at the front of the crowd could just make out a circle surrounding the letters T and M. “See! That stands for Troll Made!”
By now the disturbance had attracted attention from far and wide. Some of the crafters who engraved shards of silicon with pleasing patterns arrived and looked at the creature standing with a possessive hand laid against the bridge. “Oh bloody hell,” one of them said, “the Squatters on Copyright Organisation has spawned.”
A woman who smelled faintly of malt and hops peered over his shoulder. “Yes, there’s a lot of those buggers about now.”
The troll stared up at them all, eyes wide. It looked almost about to cry. Then it stamped its feet again, and screamed, “You’re all big meanies. It’s mine and I’ll show you all up for the meanies you are!” It snatched the keystone ruby from the bridge and ran like lightning, screaming curses as it went. Everyone was too shocked to react before it was out of reach, but in the distance it could still be heard sobbing and screaming imprecations about thieves and bullies.
The crafter clans looked at one another for a moment. The silicon engraver who’d spoken before said, “It’s a bloody Hydra. Lop off one head in battle in the Arena and it grows two more. Let the things breed and soon you’re hip deep in trolls with no room to move.”
There was a low rumble of agreement from certain sections of the crowd who knew too well of what he spoke.
“Right,” said Kevin the Knap. He snapped his hand down, and his parchment rolled up into a narrow tube bound at the hilt with red ribbon and set along its length with very, very sharp shards of flint; shards that could snicker-snack as well as any vorpal blade would. “I’m going on a troll hunt. Who’s with me?”
“I am,” said a flint knapper. A parchment appeared in her hand as she stepped forward.
“And I,” said another. More stepped forward, flint edged parchments hanging from their belts. Some also carried rubies. The clans did visit one another, after all.
“We will run and find more sheepskins for your parchments,” said the ruby knappers. “We will wrap them around some of our old gems, so the Arbiters can examine them in the Arena and see how very long ago they were knapped and strung on thread.”
Kevin the Knap looked around at the band of troll hunters and smiled. It took him back to the old days, the days when he had knapped flint all day long. He liked shaping sunstone very much indeed, but a pebble of flint still fitted into the shape of his hand as well as it ever had.
“I think we’ve got ourselves a TrollBane.”
To be continued.