eSpec Books and author Jeffrey Lyman are proud to announce the release of The Troll King, a novella-length steampunk interpretation of The Troll King’s Daughter, now available on Amazon.
Life is no faerie tale under the rule of the Troll King.
Each year the eldest sons of the conquered kingdoms must present themselves at the court of King Klamp. If they survive three days of challenges against armored ogres they will receive enough gold to buy their village. Most will be lucky to make it one hour. Given his physical challenges, Jack is not expected to last five minute.
Just goes to show, they don’t know Jack.
Please enjoy the below excerpt.
The Troll King
Jack followed the forty-seven other young men across the drawbridge and into the mighty castle of Klamp the Magnificent, The Troll King. It wasn’t the scarred granite wall above, target of many catapult attacks, which slowed him. Or the heads on spikes, in a horrific row stretching to left to right across the battlements. Or even the massive ogres standing guard on either side of the gate. No, what slowed him were his twisted and uneven legs, which weren’t cooperating today.
He’d already accepted his fate, and refused to let himself cry like some of the others. He was the eldest son in his family, after all, and at nearly eighteen, he knew he had to set an example for his brothers and sisters, and for his village. Next year it would be some other boy’s turn on this drawbridge—some other eldest son.
Leaning on his stout hickory staff, making his feet move, Jack passed the two ogres all decked out in gray steel and leather straps. Jack stared enviously at the pistons and tracking gears at their knees. If he had something like that, he could walk behind the plow as well as his father. He could court one of the village girls.
Wishes were useless. Might as well wish he could fly as wish he had steam-driven legs like the ogres.
Jack passed from sunlight into the shadows of the entry tunnel, then back into the bright light of the castle’s courtyard. Crowds clustered to watch the parade of eldest sons. Guards of all shapes and sizes stood everywhere: imps and ogres, trolls, even a fair number of men. They had tried to maintain a path for the boys to walk, but with the main crowd of sons already through and Jack lagging behind, the path had begun to break down. Grieving parents who had accompanied the boys moved toward the inner gate. Jack wished his family had come, but there was no money for travel and they couldn’t leave the farm untended for days on end.
Jack hurried, using his strong arms and his staff to push his legs more quickly. A few in the crowd jeered at him, no more than normal, but most were already focused on the spectacle inside. Some of their sons would survive, some always did, and the crowds loved to bet.
Beyond the inner gate, the crowds were shunted by a truly massive ogre toward the side stairs and the upper viewing galleries. Jack looked up warily at the fat, green beast towering over him. This one didn’t even wear armor, and rested a huge maul hammer on its shoulder. Jack barely came up to its bellybutton.
He sped up again as a well-dressed young man in crimson velvet gestured impatiently from the door into the inner court. Jack was careful to keep his feet under him, planted as best they could, but he wanted to stop and touch that velvet. He’d never seen anything like it up close.
“You won’t last five minutes,” the young man smirked as Jack struggled by.
Jack held up for a moment, balanced carefully on his feet, and whipped his staff around into the back of the man’s knees. As the man pitched forward, Jack smoothly continued the rotation of the other end of the stick across the man’s ribs, then spun it around again and planted it before he toppled over.
“You didn’t last one minute,” Jack said to the man gasping and wheezing on the cold stone floor. He didn’t think he’d broken anything. He’d learned the hard way how to handle the boys who wanted to cause trouble, after years of being shoved and tripped and punched. And once he’d started using his staff, he’d also learned not to hurt them so badly they couldn’t work their fathers’ farms. Life depended on the harvest, and you didn’t do that to a family. Just before Jack reached the inner door of the ballroom, the young man hurriedly limped past him with a glare. He couldn’t retaliate with everyone watching, but Jack gripped his stick and touched the wall with his fingertips for balance just in case. He never took the shame of a beaten man for granted.
Emerging from the narrow entry hall like a cow into the slaughterhouse, Jack stopped, agape. He craned his head. He’d never imagined you could be in a space so large and still be inside. It was like standing in a vast field surrounded by towering trees, only the trees were stone and the sky was too. Great banners hung from every mighty column. The skins of the six kings the Troll King had defeated, along with those of their sons and their generals, were arrayed across the high walls. Stone Ribs crisscrossed the ceiling in ornate patterns. Gas flames danced in braziers along every wall. The hall dwarfed the group of eldest sons and their guards. It dwarfed the crowded galleries of spectators. It dwarfed the six captive kings—younger sons or dissolute nephews of those originally defeated six—on small thrones flanking the Troll King. It even dwarfed the Troll King himself, despite the mechanical armor that made him thrice as large as life.
Men made this? It had truly been a golden age of art and engineering before the Troll King arrived. There was even an ornate, raised pond built next to the king’s throne.
“Eldest sons,” boomed the Troll King from his throne of granite slabs, “approach. Be honored this summer solstice.”
The guards had to push and shove to get the terrified group into motion. Even then the pace was so reluctant and broken that Jack had little problem keeping up. Feet shuffled across square flagstones as broad as a man was tall. Jack kept his head high as the swelling cheers and shouts and whistles from the galleries drowned out the other boys’ whimpers. The galleries were alive with waving arms and smiling faces. Jack’s attention was pulled from the vast room by the spectacle of drunk nobles thronging the upper galleries and commoners the lower. The whole six kingdoms must be here. He’d never seen clothing in such vibrant colors, all the colors of the six kingdoms in their loudest hues. One moment he felt naked in his linen tunic and trousers, and the next he wondered how you could move with so much fabric tangling your legs and arms.
The Troll King stood and the galleries quieted. He was smaller than a grown man, misshapen, but he sat resplendent in the armor’s seat with each of his limbs sheathed in leather and black iron, riveted brass and chains, gears and linkages. His legs extended three times as long as nature had gifted him, and where his feet lay visible in tight stirrups, massive geared knees bent backward like a rooster’s. Likewise, each of the long, mechanical toes of the armor’s feet ended in sharp, curved talons. How could the six subjugate kings bear sitting next to him?
Jack, used to being far to the rear of crowds, found himself at the front as boys shoved back. He felt exposed.
“Now,” the Troll King rumbled, “you are the finest young men of your small kingdoms.” His gaze drifted across Jack and he felt himself blush. “Or you are the ones lucky enough to get chosen by your councils. You will prove yourselves in three contests over the next three days. Those who survive will be granted six purses of gold, one from each kingdom. Enough to buy your home villages.” He laughed to himself, a chuffing, grunting laugh. With a clanking clatter, his legs unfolded and he rose higher than the armored trolls standing at his right and left. “The one I deem the winner will be granted an additional boon, if you amuse me.”
His left arm, with an elbow near at his natural hand just as the mechanical legs were knee-hinged at his feet, ended in a wooden cudgel embedded with iron spikes instead of a hand. His right arm ended in a mockery of a hand, each finger a knife blade. The knives clattered restlessly and tiny puffs of steam continually erupted from the armor’s joints.
Those nervous knives rose delicately and tapped a measure on the Troll King’s armored chest. There was an occasional wet splash from the raised pond beside him as something breached the surface and then subsided again. The king leaned down and brushed the reflective water with the bare tips of his finger-knives, trailing ripples as everyone watched, mesmerized. Jack jumped along with everyone else as the king drove his knives down through the surface up to the wrist of the armor.
He swiveled back to his audience and raised his grotesquely elongated arm, lifting a large fish on the ends of the blades. Jack thought it looked like a carp, but it was mottled with brilliant golds and ivory whites. Then the king tugged his flesh-and-blood arm out of the armor and yanked the fish free. He bit deeply into its side.
“Even though they are my beloved pets,” he said, chewing, “they exist for me to eat. Remember that.” He tossed the fish onto the floor and shoved his arm back into the harness of the armor.
“I have had suits of armor made for you,” he continued. “Three suits, one for each day of the challenge. Tomorrow you will be released into the King’s Wood to be hunted by my hungry ogres, also in armor.” Faces drained of color. No one wanted to face the ogres, their hunger was legendary. “Different challenges will greet you on the later days. Some of you will survive, many will not, so try to enjoy yourselves.
“Let the feast begin!”
Cheers from the galleries greeted his pronouncement.
The group of boys was quickly divided into six, one group for each kingdom, and seated at tables in a side room of a more modest size. The feast was greater than any of them had ever seen, though Jack knew that quite a few of his companions, as eldest sons of their villages, had some money. But village wealth was not city wealth, and meat was reserved for holy days in the villages. Jack dug into a great slab of pork with fervor.
He had hoped the six kings might appear to offer a benediction, and he wanted to see his king in Taurriggen blue up close. Instead they endured a steady stream of lords and ladies and merchant princes sizing them up for the betting. The lords bore the same look on their faces as his uncle did when sizing up dogs at the dogfights. Who’s fastest, strongest, hungriest? Some boys huddled over their food, heads down, others preened at the attention. Jack watched everything. A lady in flouncy Adhenion yellow could barely fit her skirts down the aisles between tables, while the lady in narrow-cut, Ghurian white behind her looked annoyed. An elegant, young woman in brilliant green with long, thick, chestnut hair stood by the far wall, her eyes far away.
One of the ogres clomped by in steam-armor, pounding the floor in wheezing, piston-driven steps, its bald head nearly touching the high ceiling. Flouncy yellow struggled to get out of the aisle while green’s expression turned fierce and angry. She watched the ogre pass and then caught Jack looking at her. She turned and walked from the room at a controlled pace. Jack watched her go and then looked at the ogre. How fast could they run in that kit? They’d beaten the armies of men when the Troll King arrived from the west, but those knights had been running at the ogres, not away.
He jumped, startled, as someone tapped him brusquely on the shoulder. It was an older lord in a teal-checkered waistcoat with broad lapels and high collar. “Excuse me, boy.”
“I’m Jack, son of…”
“Do you think you’ll last more or less than five minutes?” The man held up a gold pocket watch on a chain. He smelled of sweet liquor. “I need to place my bet.”
Jack glanced at the two bemused men standing behind and then back to the lord. “I plan on winning.”
The man stood and barked a loud laugh.
“Oh,” said Jack, faking a smile, “then by all means bet everything you have that I’ll trip in less than a minute.”
“Cheers.” The man raised a pretend-glass and staggered off.
“Don’t mind him,” said one of the other two as they started to follow. “He gets excited during these games. It’s all we’ve got.”
The gas lights along the walls burned with a steady, sulfurous light, so unlike the warm tallow candles of his mother’s table. Jack watched the trio go, disliking everything about this cold stone place and the notion that these were just games.