After the priest had said his prayers and after the mourners had left, a young David Dartmouth continued sitting on the ground. Sitting and staring at the section of the cemetery where his family–mother, father and sister–was buried. All but him were buried beneath there. Those modest mounds in the earth were the best a squire could afford and, wiping away a tear, he felt ashamed that he could not do more.
The sun had begun to set, brilliant streaks of red and gold mottled the sky, and, still, he sat and stared at all he had known that was now under the ground. All that had been ripped from him so suddenly by the vile creature, the spawn of demons and the beast of evil: a troll.
But why? Why them?
He shuddered each time he thought of what they had endured while he had been away with his master. He hoped–though not with very much hope, as it had been him that had found the bodies–that they had not suffered much at the troll’s hands. Even the bones had teeth marks and everyone knew that trolls liked their meat fresh…
He should have been there! Why was he not there? He could have defended them with his sword. Should have protected them!
And then he narrowed his eyes and nodded, his knuckles unclenching and stood up.
“You will be avenged,” he said simply and turned to go.
David Dartmouth’s sword came to a dead stop deep inside the minotaur’s body. The beast’s roar choked into a death rattle as it slowly slumped down and collapsed into a bloody mess on the ancient maze’s ground.
“My lady, the beast is dead,” he said, wiping the blade off with the minotaur’s course, dark brown fur, “Let me break those chains and I will escort you out.”
She smiled and he surprised himself as, at that moment, he knew why the minotaur had kidnapped her and chained her in his maze. She was the kind of beautiful that bards sung of, artists painted and wars were fought over. Even covered in dirt and grime, her dress torn and chained against a wall in this crumbling maze, her smile lit up the chamber and set his blazing heart fluttering like a scared bird in his chest.
“Thanks, good Knight,” she said, her eyes holding him in their emerald gaze and a coy smile lighting around the edges of her mouth, “I do hope you will not just be escorting me out of this maze, but also home? The roads are dangerous for a lady alone and I would be most grateful for your firm company.”
He scowled, stepping forward to unchain her. After accepting his knighthood, he had eternally been on one single quest. Even today, he was still on the quest to avenge his family as he had not yet found the troll. But, he also acknowledged, he could not in good conscience save this maiden only to allow other evil befall her.
“Y-yes,” he nodded, resigning to delay his quest of vengeance, “My name is Sir Dartmouth and, yes, m’lady, I will see you home safely. Where may it be that you reside?”
He had faced many dangerous monsters by now but the smile she flashed him was a new danger entirely. Old men and many a wives’ tale had warned him of this. All his instincts welled up in him and his heart pounded, but all he could do was stand and stupidly stare at her as she giggled and then spoke:
“Oh, good! Reside? Well, Sir Dartmouth, nowhere near here. Quite, quite far, indeed. Yes, most certainly, very, very far…”
“Dear, where are the kids?” his wife asked, as beautiful–but a lot cleaner–than the day they had met in the minotaur’s maze. At the time, little had he realized the significance of what he had saved that day: love. He suspected that she had been a lot quicker to realize this little fact than he had.
“Oh, Lady Dartmouth, I think they are out in the garden, playing?” David Dartmouth answered, puffing his pipe and not looking up from the newspaper in his hands, “Why?”
They had fallen in love–and, perhaps, a little more than that–on that long journey back to her father’s castle. She had taken him the long way there and he had not resisted. They had fallen so deep into love that when her father had asked him to name his reward for saving his daughter, he had immediately asked for her hand in marriage.
Given his good family and his standing as a knight, there had been little resistance to this request and, well, the rest was their three, happy and healthy children now.
He could not change his family’s tragedy–sometimes he even visited their old graves–but a life squandered on tracking that single troll down and taking vengeance upon it would also not bring them back. His father and mother and his sister would all understand. He was sure. Lady Dartmouth had helped him realize that; she and her tender love, and the three beautiful, vibrant children she had born him…
Though sometimes he did brood on his loss and wondered what became of that wicked troll, he would not change a thing in the world. He was–they all were–happy.
After all, he often thought, the best revenge is a life well lived.
“I think you should go check on them,” she said, sipping her tea and reading her book, “I heard some shouting and they may be playing too rough. I think Junior might have pushed his little brother too fast in the go-kart and had a tumble again? They keep leaving that bloody go-kart lying around… Please, dear, go see to them.”
He pulled deeply on his pipe, its bitter-sweet tobacco filling him, as he folded and placed the newspaper beside his chair. He stood up, stretching–a cloud of smoke blowing from his lungs–and, on old impulse, reached out and took his old knight’s sword off the wall. It was still as sharp as the day he had slain the minotaur and won his love’s hand in marriage.
“Sure, love,” he nodded, sighing a little, “I have my sword so they know I am serious. Their father is a knight and they best act accordingly. It’s all rough and tumbles until someone loses an eye or pokes a troll.”
His wife snorted, blew him a kiss that he returned, and then went back to her book.
The moment he got outside, David Dartmouth knew something was wrong: the garden was silent–no birds or insects anywhere–and his three children’s pale, frantic faces put ice into his heart. Toys abandoned and scattered across the lawn, all three children were running full tilt from the dark, depths of the small estate’s gardens up towards him at the front door.
Slowly, their shrill voices began to reach him but the large looming shadow parting the trees made their communication redundant.
It was a troll!
“DAVID DARTMOUTH!” the Troll boomed out, pushing over a tree as it lumbered out from behind them, “DAVID DARTMOUTH! I WILL NOT LIVE IN FEAR OF YOUR PRICKLY LITTLE SWORD SLITTING MY THROAT WHILE I SLEEP. I WILL BRING YOUR VENGEANCE TO YOU NOW AND, IN YOUR DEATH, I WILL BE ABLE TO SLEEP PEACEFULLY AGAIN!”
He went cold. This was the troll. The same troll that had slain his family all those years ago, and it was here to finish things!
His knuckles went white around his sword. It’s weight comfortable with old instincts kicking in. He was running and shouting at his children passing him: they must go to their mother and hide! He sped passed them without a glance, focusing on the monstrosity stepping onto his lawn. And, before he knew it, he was standing in the middle of that lawn, sword raised pointing at the Troll, shouting in his old, military voice:
“You! You! You dare threaten my family you spawn of wickedness! You shall leave now, never to return, or I will slay you where you stand!”
The troll stopped just after the line of trees at the bottom of his garden, it’s head in line with the very tops of them. The beast threw its head back in vile laughter, clutching its sides and wiping a foul, green tear away from its wrinkled, grimy face.
“SLAY ME? SLAY ME! LITTLE PUNY HUMAN, I WILL SIMPLY STOMP ON YOU BEFORE I CHEW YOUR FAMILY’S BONES!”
And with that, the Troll stepped quickly forward. Perhaps it was the old, pent-up paranoia about him hunting it that exploded into reckless action? Perhaps it was hoping to move quickly and catch him off guard, or perhaps it was just too big a being to look at little children’s toys on a front lawn? Whatever it was, the Troll’s quick step forward landed its foot on top of Junior’s go-kart.
The go-kart slipped right out from under the Troll, its foot with it. More a moment that lasted an eternity, the Troll’s balance teetered on the brink before it slipped into an awkward, forward lunge that toppled the beast forward and on to its face.
Its face, right next to David Dartmouth!
He darted forward and–with every ounce of his late-middle-aged strength, all the sorrow and rage of his lost parents and sister, and every instinct to save his family in the house–he rammed his sword deep into the Troll’s bulging, unprotected eye. He plunged the sharp blade so hard and so deep until even his forearm was embedded and the point of the aged, well-used blade pierced deep inside its monstrous skull.
And, as the Troll that had torn David Dartmouth’s young world apart and threatened his current one breathed its last, foul breath, he leant forward and whispered in its ear: “I forgive you.”