31. When Trolls Fly

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Gerald grabbed Ashley's hand, and they ran, the noble knight practically pulling his princess's delicate arm out of its socket. "Ouch!" Ashley cried, stumbling over the whipped cream peaks of newborn snow, furthering the near shoulder dislocation. "That hurt."

"Not as much as being stomped on by a troll," Gerald pointed out, somewhat rationally. "Oh, forget it," he said, lifting her into his arms and galloping like a hormonal unicorn. Her arm was no longer at risk of dislocation, but the up and down motion caused her brain matter to pound against her skull like a mallet tenderizing meat.

The medieval-feminist part of her wanted to pummel his chest and insist he put her down. But honestly, it was nice being carried against his warm chest, making it possible to ignore the ever-increasing barrage of snowflakes. And her sore calves had a moment's rest, so Ashley wrapped her arms around Gerald's neck and settled in.

"Consarn it all!" Gerald said through his wheezing.

"Language, my knight," Ashley said.

"I shall curse when I like, Princess," Gerald huffed. "And right now, we have a lot on our plate. More than worrying about offending your delicate senses."

"I'm not that delicate," Ashley snapped, tired of the princess stereotype. "And is there something on our plate I don't know about?"

"All this new snow."

"Why is that a problem other than because it's wet and slushy and freezing and gets everywhere?"

"I'm not sure, but I think a lot of new snow can cause instability. Avalanches." He leaped over a "no trespassing" sign like a horse in a steeplechase, gasping for breath, and stuck a landing so hard, Ashley bit down on her tongue, tasting the metallic tinge of blood. But before she could holler in pain (as close to his ear as possible), or ask more about the avalanche thing, they'd almost reached the entrance to the bridge, and it didn't seem right to rupture his eardrum when he'd been so chivalrous.

Suddenly, a dark shadow passed over. Ashley looked up to discover the two-thousand-pound troll hurtling toward the bridge, club arm outstretched like a soldier racing into battle. Ashley barely had time to absorb the fact that apparently, trolls could fly, when it touched down with an explosion of snow, toppling most of the nearby bloody no-trespassing warnings. Bones splintered in the air, and a femur landed with a thud at Gerald's feet.

Everyone screeched (well, not screeched, more like whimpered and gasped) to a halt.

"Put me down!" Ashley beat against Gerald's very firm chest. Gerald obeyed. Once separated from him, she realized he had made an excellent windscreen from the blustering snow.

Why did he have to listen to her now?

Wait, she wanted to be put down.

To stand on her own frostbitten feet.


The troll crouched at the bridge entrance, clapping her club into an open palm, while a small lake of drool began to pool at its grizzled feet. She sized up each human as one might a plump headless turkey, hanging at the butcher's stall on market day.

Ashley's knees quivered; her stomach filled with acid; images of her friends hanging upside-down in a butcher's stall danced in her head. The weight of responsibility on her shoulders was unyielding and oppressive as an ox's yoke.

Right now, in a quest, the heroine would have a flash of inspiration, and a solution presented itself fully-formed and perfect. There would have a moment of "why didn't I think of this sooner?" and then she'd manage to save the day. Her friends would be impressed by her out-of-the-box problem-solving. There would be a great deal of cheering, possibly a shoulder-carry, champagne spraying, followed by everyone returning to their home and hearth to relax in front of the fire with a good book.

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