It was completely dark. Pitch dark. I was trying to feel my way forward. The cold, uneven stone walls stretched deep into the mountain. I had no way of telling where I had come from or where I was headed. I couldn’t even remember how I got here in the first place. I just knew I had to keep going – for as long as I could. Then at least there would be hope of finding something. If I stopped, I would die. I might anyway, but at least then I’d know I had tried.
So, I kept going.
Moving my feet ever so carefully and following the walls with my hands. Damp cold air filled my lungs.
I took another step, and then another.
I don’t know how long I had been slowly moving through the web of tunnels when I glimpsed light at the far end. It was a yellowish light, which made me conclude it wasn’t daylight. It must be the light from a fire. I heard cheerful voices too. Soon I scented the familiar smell of smoke as well. I could increase my pace as the tunnel was lit ever so little, but compared to the pitch-black it felt easy.
My eyes adjusted quickly.
The noise from the voices grew in volume and I could make out some kind of music and singing. For a moment I felt like a party-crasher. I advanced for the last bit and peered around the corner.
Startled, I saw trolls of all sizes dancing and singing. Some were smaller than me, others the same size and then others who were larger than me. The largest troll of them all sat on a throne in the centre of the great wall. He was covered in gold and shiny things. His throne was heavily decorated with crystals and precious metals. I had never seen anything like it. I was thinking of old cathedrals, but these memories paled in comparison.
Suddenly one of the trolls who was just my size caught me and pulled me out onto the dance floor.
“Join us,” he said and twirled me around.
I was rather tired after the long walk and swayed a little.
“Oh, you’re worn out!” the troll exclaimed. “Come, have some food and rest.”
I was pulled firmly to a large table filled with all kinds of things to eat. Some looked near inedible and others I recognised as familiar vegetables and fruits, cheeses and meats. I was given water to wash my hands and face, and then I ate. It was all delicious. I can’t describe the more elaborate courses as I was not inclined to try them. One step out of my comfort zone at a time, thank you! Most of this was outside my comfort zone anyway.
When I had finished, I watched the dance and the troll king – or at least that is whom I assumed he was. He didn’t join in with the dancing. There was a strange smile on his face, but he looked mostly deep in thought. I couldn’t determine whether he was worried, anxious or simply frustrated. Maybe he felt it all. How was I to know?
Near the table was a door. I was a bit overwhelmed by everything, and so, when I felt certain no one was paying attention to me and my whereabouts, I sneaked through this door.
I sighed with relief. It was silent but comfortable in here. Then I saw her, traditionally dressed in white with her long silver-blonde hair curling over her shoulders. She had the veil of lace and pearls in her hands. Next to her lay a bouquet of shimmering summer flowers. She was such a contrast to the party.
“Hi,” I said hesitantly.
She looked up. I must have been a sight, covered in mud and dust from my adventures, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“Hi,” she replied. “Is it time?”
“Time?” I asked foolishly.
“For the wedding?” she asked.
“I don’t think they’re ready yet,” I said.
“Oh,” she sighed.
“Who are you marrying?” I asked.
“The king of the trolls,” she said. “My father has given me to him to seal the peace between the trolls and his kingdom.”
This explanation disturbed me in so many ways that I could say nothing for a minute.
“We could escape,” I offered, finally. The princess looked at me, torn.
“How?” she asked.
“This way,” I said, without a clue.
But as we made it through her chamber and another couple of smaller rooms we came to an underwater river where there was a boat tied up. I helped her into the boat, and we set off. After a little while we came out of the mountain and the full moon gazed ardently on us. Stars decorated the never-ending sky. There was no wind, just stillness. Then the princess started crying.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I don’t want to run away,” she managed at last.
“Oh…,” I faltered.
I quickly managed to tie the boat to a tree on the bank. Although the river was flowing slowly, I wasn’t strong enough to row upstream.
“I’m so sorry, I thought…,” I said and felt more confused than ever.
“Oh, I was angry,” the princess explained. “When I first met him, I looked right into his soul, and I just knew I loved him. But in this marriage, we’re not compatible. I just don’t see how it can work,” she explained.
I didn’t really know how to reply. Perhaps I needn’t say anything. I understood what she meant. She had fallen in love with the troll king, the large troll I had spotted on the throne. But she was tiny and petite. They would love each other for sure. But they could never share their passion. I looked at the stars and sent a silent prayer. That was all I could do. Distant voices caught my attention and soon another boat came down the stream. It was trolls from the party. They were pointing at us and I waved back. The princess looked mortified.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the trolls. “The princess wanted to look at the stars. I didn’t think about how to get back.”
It was a poor explanation, but it worked. The trolls tied our boat to theirs and spread some magic dust over the boats. We travelled upstream and back into the heart of the mountain. I helped the princess to pin on her veil and walked just behind her into the ballroom.
The King of Trolls had risen and stood anxiously waiting for his bride. They were married. The ceremony was one I didn’t understand, but that was of little importance. It was a beautiful moment nonetheless. The troll king leaned forward and kissed his wife very, very gently. His lips were almost as big as her face. But the moment their lips touched he started to glow brighter and brighter. Everyone present, trolls and humans, had to cover our eyes. When the light went out and our sight returned a man stood in the troll king’s place. He was holding the princess’ hands as he spoke:
“Thank you for seeing my true self, my love. Hundreds of years ago I was cursed with the shape of a large troll and escaped to the mountains. Only she who could see my soul through my appearance would break this curse.”
His voice was hoarse with emotion. He could not stop looking into her eyes. Now she understood who it was she had seen and her doubts were gone. Completely.
I suddenly understood the expression on his face earlier. The thoughtfulness and the anxiousness. Of course, he had wondered whether this would be the moment! After all these years, would he finally be free and happy? I was grateful I hadn’t managed to destroy anything. Somehow the greatest lesson seemed to be mine.
From my book Evanescere.