Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights to Olaf the Troll remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episode, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television show. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. The works of Robert E. Howard, including the Conan stories, are in the public domain according to United Kingdom copyright law. In the United States the copyright is claimed by Conan, Inc. and by Paradox Entertainment Inc.
The Hour of the Troll
Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.
Hither came Olaf the Troll, orange-haired, sullen-eyed, hammer in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his fur-booted feet.
Let me tell you of those days of high adventure…
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A tall figure made his way through the narrow alleys of Yarmouk. He was clad after the fashion of an officer of mercenaries, in hauberk of ring-mail and cloak of Ophirean scarlet, and an Aquilonian broadsword hung at his waist. A recurved Hyrkanian bow was slung across his broad shoulders. Atop his head sat a horned helm in the style of the Aesir. Locks of dark hair emerged from the helmet and brushed his mailed shoulders, and blue eyes smoldered beneath his brows. He was Conan, a Cimmerian, who had wandered far from his cold Northern homeland in search of riches and adventure. He was yet a young man but a veteran of a score of pitched battles, a hundred skirmishes, and individual combats beyond all counting. The locals turned their heads to watch as he strode by.
Conan cocked his head as he heard a commotion in the market-place ahead. Bellows of rage, shrill shrieks and cries, and the crash of breaking wood. There was no clash of steel, and so the warrior deduced that this was a mere brawl; no invaders had penetrated the city, no revolt raged in the streets, only some dispute between locals or perhaps mercenaries like himself. He strode on toward the sound of the disturbance.
When he emerged into the market-place he could see the fight that was in progress. The central figure was as strange a man as Conan had seen in all his wanderings. A full head taller even than the mighty barbarian, broad of shoulder and with a chest like a barrel, the brawler was tossing his opponents through the air with an ease that spoke of immense strength. Yet his size was the least of the man's notable features, for his skin was of a greenish hue, and from his head protruded a pair of horns.
Conan's eyebrows rose. He lowered a hand to the hilt of his broadsword, ready to battle the monster, but then relaxed and moved his hand away. Despite the strange appearance of the huge man he was no monster, no demon creature from the outer darkness or the pits of Stygia, for his battle-roars were those that a mercenary would utter in like circumstances.
"Puny ones!" shouted the horned man. "Pelt me with fruit and various meats, would you? I shall pummel you without mercy. I shall pillage your vegetable stalls and fish counters, I shall rattle your teeth in your skulls, and I shall make merry feast upon your more attractive haunches of venison!" Suiting the action to the words, he brought down a massive fist upon the head of a trader, sending the man crashing to the ground, and then seized another man who sought to smite him with a stool. He hurled the man high into the air, so that he landed upon the awning that shielded a market stand from the sun, and then tossed back his huge head and roared with mirth.
Conan grinned. The man with the horned head, despite his monstrous aspect, appeared to be a man after Conan's own heart – and not in the sense in which various evil High Priests had been after Conan's heart at various times in the past. The grin vanished as he saw one of the market traders, dirty and bedraggled and with a smear of blood from his lip to his ear, reach into a barrel beside his stall and pull forth a wicked, foot-long, poniard. Conan frowned. The use of the deadly weapon would turn the harmless brawl into something altogether different. The merchant approached the horned man from behind with the dagger poised to strike. The giant was holding a defeated foe by the collar with one hand, the legs of the captive dangling two feet from the ground, and shaking the man as he laughed. He was unaware of the peril that approached.
Conan rushed forward. He grabbed the trader by the arm and squeezed with savage force. "Cowardly dog, would you draw steel against an unarmed man?" he growled. The shopkeeper yelped and the dagger fell to the ground.
The horned giant whirled around at the sound, his free hand clenched into a massive fist, but he relaxed as he saw what had transpired. "So, there is a true warrior in this city, I see, and not just mewling babes," he said. He tossed aside his catch and sent the townsman crashing down upon a stall laden with farm produce. The impact shattered the table and catapulted fruit upwards. The huge man snatched a flying apple from the air and grinned at Conan. "I thank you, black-haired one," the giant said. "I did not see that the tiny man had a knife."
Conan dipped his head briefly and smiled. "You can buy me a drink in yonder tavern," he suggested.
"Alas," said the horned man, "I have no coin of this land. I sought to sell my bracelet of hack-silver but," he waved a hand to indicate the devastated market-place, "none would trade with me."
Conan shrugged. "Then I shall buy drinks for us both, for I have coin in plenty; plunder from my travels in Keshan and Punt." He saw a city guardsman approaching with cautious steps, the point of the man's spear wavering with nervous tremors as he drew nearer to the giant, and Conan pulled a pouch from his belt. He spilled forth a heap of golden coins into his palm and tossed them to the guard. "This shall pay for the damages, man," Conan said airily.
The guardsman knelt to pick up those coins that he had failed to catch. At once he was surrounded by the traders, some still bleeding from broken noses and smashed lips, all eager to stake their claim to the largest share of the barbarian's gold. Conan laughed, turned his back on the market-place, and led his massive new companion toward a tavern.
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"I am Conan, a Cimmerian," the barbarian introduced himself as the pair of warriors took their seats at a tavern table and were served with mugs of ale by a wide-eyed wench. "Who are you and from what far land do you hail?"
"Well met, Conan," the giant responded. "I am Olaf, and I come from the kingdom of Erik Edmundsson, in the country of Svearike, a northern land of ice and snow."
"I have traveled the length and breadth of Hyboria, from Asgard and Vanaheim in the North to the Black Kingdoms in the South, from the Pictish wilderness of the West to Vendhya in the East, and never have I heard of such a land," said Conan, a frown coming to his brows.
"I have heard of none of the lands you name, save that Asgard is the name of the abode of my people's gods," said Olaf. "I suspect that this is not my world, for I was banished from there by an evil witch." He shook his head. "I hate witches," he reminisced. "My wife was a witch, and she turned me into this trollish form that you see, for no more than a little idle dalliance with a barmaid. Another witch then imprisoned me within a jar for centuries until I was set free by a curious chance. I had little opportunity to enjoy my freedom, time only for a single barrel of ale and a brawl or two, before yet a third witch transported me to this land. Perhaps it is for the best, however, if this be a place of bold warriors and battle such as my heart desires."
"Indeed it is such a place," Conan confirmed. "This is the city-state of Yarmouk, a petty kingdom on the border between the realms of Shem and of Koth, one of several. I have been to two other such kingdoms before this one and in each I found battle aplenty. In Khoraja the Princess made me commander of her whole army, for a short time at least, and I rode away with saddle-bags bulging with gold. In Khautan it was I that fell afoul of a witch, who had seized the throne from the Queen her sister, and her consort had me nailed to a tree in the desert." He glanced down at the scars that still showed on the palms of his hands. "Yet I won free, and prevailed, and nailed my enemy to the tree in return."
"Hah! A good vengeance," Olaf said approvingly. "And did you slay the witch too?"
"A comrade of mine drove his sword through her breast," said Conan.
"So perish all witches," said Olaf, and he raised his mug and drank deep. "Tell me more of this city, Conan. Are there witches here? Foes to slay, gold to enrich us, wenches with whom we can make merry sport?"
"I have been here only a short time," Conan replied, "but the signs are good. King Albinus is old and ill, indeed they say that he is on the verge of death, and he has no son. His two daughters contend to be his heirs. Spirited wenches they seem, one fair as a Brythunian and the other dark of hair like a Shemite, both comely maidens. I did not tumble Princess Yasmela of Khoraja nor Queen Taramis of Khautan; perhaps the third of these border states will be the charm and I shall have merry sport, as you say, with one of the princesses."
"And I with the other? Let us hope, then, that such is the way things shall turn out," said Olaf. "If there be princesses, though, then there will be princes seeking their hands, for such is the way of things."
"Indeed so," agreed Conan. "Princes and noblemen from Koth, from Shem, from Argos and from this and other city states. Soft men of the civilized lands, no match for barbarians such as ourselves, and besides it is not the hands of the princesses that interest me."
"True," said Olaf, grinning, "although the dainty hands of a woman may also give pleasure. Yet man may not live by merry sport alone. What gold may be gained here?"
"From pleasure to treasure," Conan said, with an answering grin. "Where factions strive, there may a sell-sword gain riches. There are the two princesses, who may be gathering swords lest their contention become open struggle. There are two rival High Priests, striving for influence at whatever new court arises; or rather a High Priest and a High Priestess, for Mitra is served by a man and Ishtar by a woman. Perhaps there might be profitable employment to be found there. Doubtless there are priests of other gods in the city too, skulking minions of Set plotting doom in dark places, and sorcerers and conjurers of demons working their evil. They would have treasures to be looted. I would not take service under such, though, no matter how well they might pay. Bah! Sacrificers of maidens and babies."
"A waste of both maidens and babies," said Olaf.
"True," said Conan. "Maidens may be tumbled, and babies may grow up to be pretty wenches, staunch comrades, or welcoming innkeepers."
"That was not my thought," said Olaf, "but it is a good one anyway. Yet suppose the babies grow up to be shrewish nags, or cowardly traitors, or mean-spirited innkeepers who water the beer and provide thin blankets?"
"Time enough then to ignore them, or take the sword to them," said Conan.
Olaf nodded. "Indeed so. You are wise, Conan the Cimmerian. We shall smite those who would sacrifice babies."
Conan raised his eyebrows. He had been called many things before but never wise. "We shall put them to the sword, and take the jeweled idols from their blood-stained altars, and sell them to get coin for ale and women," he said. He raised his mug to his lips and drained it. "First we must get you weapons and armor."
"If we may find armor to fit me in this city," said Olaf, "for I am not a common size. A shield and a war-hammer will suffice."
"They should be simple enough to obtain," said Conan, "and then we shall seek employment."
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"When I am ruler of this city I shall fill it with beautiful things," said Princess Basina. She curled her top lip and gazed coldly at Olaf. "There shall be no room for those who are ugly."
Conan narrowed his eyes. "A warrior's worth is not measured by his appearance," he said. He cast a contemptuous glance at the bodyguard who stood a few paces from the princess. The man was tall, his features chiseled, and his fair hair was neatly trimmed. His breastplate gleamed in polished splendor and his sword pommel was of gold. The man's hands lacked calluses, however, and his skin was free of scars. If he had ever seen action outside of a parade ground Conan would be astonished. "Olaf could snap your pretty boy there like a twig," the barbarian told her. "If you wish to have fighting men to back your cause we are the two best in the city."
The princess tossed her head, sending her blonde locks swaying about her pretty face, and frowned at him. "A barbarian and a… giant, compared to true-blooded Kothic knights? I think not. Away with you both!"
Olaf snorted. "The woman is a fool, Conan, and I think that she would be no use even for merry sport. Let us seek employment elsewhere." A chain shirt now covered Olaf's chest, for he had found one made for a warrior of great girth who had died of a surfeit, and although it came down only to his waist instead of his hips it fit him well enough. A helmet crowned his head, with holes new cut through which his horns protruded, and the effect was such that he looked almost human save only for the color of his skin. He hefted his newly acquired mighty war hammer and glared at the bodyguard, causing the man to recoil in alarm, and took a stride toward the door.
"Do not think to join my sister," Basina warned. "The people are with me. She has no chance of ruling and, should she try to take the throne, she will fail. Those who stand with her will be cast out."
"There will be no need to cast me out if you come to the throne," said Conan. "I shall go to Aquilonia to fight the Picts on the western frontier. That would be more pleasant, I deem, than living in a city under your rule. Come, Olaf, let us go. Perhaps one of the High Priests might be a more congenial prospective employer."
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Princess Amestris poured wine from a flagon into three goblets. She passed one to Conan, one to Olaf, and took one for herself. She settled herself on a couch, brushed a strand of her jet-black hair away from her face, and smiled at her visitors. "Either of you would make a fine Captain of the Palace Guard," she told them. "My sister is a fool."
"That is what I said," Olaf agreed. His eyes lingered on Amestris and widened as she leaned forward, pushing a tray laden with meats and pastries closer to the two men, and in the process displayed her assets to considerable advantage. "Guards should strike fear into your enemies, not be mere ornamentation for the palace. There are statues for that purpose."
"Exactly," said Amestris. Her skin was darker than that of her sister, and her nose was somewhat too prominent for her to class as truly beautiful by the standards of the Western lands, but her limbs were long and sleek, her waist was slim, and her breasts were enticingly large. "Alas, I think that I am unlikely to be in a position to select a guard captain. The wealthy and the powerful support my sister's claim to the throne."
"How so?" asked Conan. "You are the elder, and thus the rightful heir, unless things are done very differently in this city than in most other lands that I know."
"That is true," said Amestris, "but my mother died when I was but a child. She was a Shemite woman, and not favored by the Kothic nobility, and Basina's mother was much more pleasing to them. Basina is their choice. The common folk would prefer me, or at least such is my belief, but their opinions count for little in the matter of the crown."
"Huh!" Olaf grunted. He swallowed a piece of meat, washed it down with a mouthful of wine, and wiped his lips. "You would make a much better queen than your sister, who is a cold fish, whereas you have a fine understanding of hospitality to strangers. Give the word and we shall set you upon the throne. We will break the heads of those who oppose you."
Amestris shook her head. "I do not wish the throne at the price of civil war," she said. "The people would suffer, as they always do, and the city would be weakened and made vulnerable to seizure by Koth or Shem. Let Basina have the throne if she wants it so much."
"Then it seems that there is no employment for us here," said Conan, "unless one of the High Priests has a mission for us, or we can find an evil cult to strive against and plunder." He shook his head and picked up a triangle of pastry stuffed with veal. "I thank you for your hospitality, Princess, but we must go."
"I am sorry that your visit was wasted," said Amestris.
"Not wasted," said Olaf, draining the last of his wine and setting down his goblet. "We have shared food and wine with a beautiful princess. No-one could call that a waste of time."
"I thank you," said Amestris, her face breaking into a smile that lit up her face, "but I am well aware that my sister is the beautiful one in the family."
"Hah! She is cold and pale, with narrow hips, and hair like straw," Olaf declared. "You are warm and golden of skin, your hair has the sheen of a raven's wings, and your breasts…"
"Enough!" Amestris cut him off, raising her hand in protest, but her smile was still there and there was laughter in her voice. "I must believe that your flattery is sincere, for I have already told you that I cannot employ you, but you praise me overmuch."
"A woman who serves such pastries deserves much praise," said Conan, "even did you not have such shapely limbs and sparkling eyes."
Amestris laughed aloud. "I did not make the pastries," she pointed out, "I merely had the sense to employ a fine cook. Your words are good for me to hear, and almost you make me rethink my lack of ambition for the throne, that I might appoint both of you to positions of command, but no. The cost would be too high. Finish the meats and pastries if you desire, and drink more wine if such is your will, but then I think that it would be best for you to leave. Perhaps the Priestess of Ishtar might have some task that you could perform. She is my aunt, sister to my late mother, and you may tell her that I recommend you."
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"She would make the better queen, as you say," Conan judged, once they had left the quarters of Princess Amestris, "but we can hardly set her upon the throne against her will."
"True," said Olaf. "'Tis a shame, for she would be a fine queen. Still, there is yet a chance that one of us might make merry sport with her, and that would be a great delight." He rested his hammer upon his shoulder. "To the Priestess of Ishtar, then?"
"I shall leave that to you," said Conan, "and I shall go to the Temple of Mitra. The Mitrans are well-meaning, in my experience, but sometimes nervous of things strange to them. Your appearance might well cause the High Priest to shy away from employing us."
"A good thought," Olaf agreed, "but what if we are both successful and each temple wishes us to attack the other one? I could be employed to fight against you, and you against me. I do not wish that, Conan, for you make a fine shield-brother and I would rather stand beside you in battle."
"The temples of the two gods exist side by side in many cities in this region, and rarely do they come to conflict," Conan said. "I doubt that what you fear will come to pass. If it does, though, we shall get what payment in advance we can and then leave the city. The Aquilonians pay well, and one can earn riches fighting against the Picts, but I fear that there would be few opportunities for, as you term it, merry sport."
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"Conan of Cimmeria," mused the High Priest, Chilperic. "I have heard of you. A ferocious warrior, they say, perhaps the mightiest of all. Did you not take the city of Khoraja by storm?"
"Not by storm," said Conan, "for the populace was on my side. I lured the occupying mercenary army of Constantius forth from the city onto the plain, defeated it there, and then liberating the city with the aid of the townsfolk was but a simple task for my desert warriors."
"You see yourself as a liberator, then?" Chilperic raised an eyebrow. "Your reputation is somewhat different."
"I have slain many, and stolen much," Conan admitted, "but I do not harm the common folk who wish only to live their lives in peace. Rather wouldst I steal from fat merchants, who are as sheep for the shearing, and who make their wealth by gouging their customers. Sorcerers, demon worshippers, and tyrants are those who I seek to slay."
Chilperic nodded slowly. "I may be able to find some of those for you," he said. He went to a table and picked up a jug. "Wine from Argos," he said, beginning to tilt the jug over a goblet.
Conan held up a hand. "Not for me," he said. "I have drunk both wine and ale already this day, and I would keep my head clear until we have done with our discussion."
Chilperic's eyebrows rose once more. "You surprise me, barbarian." He set down the jug and picked up another. "The juices of refreshing fruits," he explained, and poured out a yellowish liquid into two goblets. He picked them up, passed one to Conan, and drank from the other.
Conan sipped at the drink, recognized the taste of a fruit that he had encountered in Zingara, and drank more deeply. "You say there are demon worshippers in this city?" he asked, lowering the goblet. "I trust that you do not mean the Temple of Ishtar, for that goddess is no demon, although the ways of her worshippers are not those of the Mitrans. I speak of those who summon creatures from the pits or from the outer darkness, those who spill the blood of innocents upon their foul altars, and those who seek to corrupt the souls of men."
Chilperic pursed his lips. "Those that I would have you slay are evil beyond all doubt," he declared. "I shall show you proof in a short while."
"Why not now?" Conan asked.
"Very well," Chilperic replied. "Wait here and I shall bring you my evidence." He turned on his heel and walked from the audience chamber.
Conan sat and waited. He looked around the chamber, assessing the value of the statuary therein, and tapped his fingers on the pommel of his broadsword. He finished off the goblet of Zingaran fruit juice, reached out to set it down upon the low table that stood in front of his chair – and missed. His fingers betrayed him and the goblet clattered to the floor. "Crom," he muttered. "The wine that the princess gave us must have been stronger than I thought."
He bent forward to retrieve the fallen cup and found himself slipping from his chair. He clutched at the arm to catch his balance but it did not help and he toppled to the ground. The chair fell beside him with a crash. "Crom's devils!" Conan growled, trying without success to climb to his feet. "I am poisoned. Was it Princess Amestris?" Even as he spoke he realized that he was losing control of his tongue.
High Priest Chilperic re-entered the room. He was not alone; two brawny men in priestly robes followed at his heels. His upper lip curled in a sneer as he saw Conan on the floor. "So, barbarian, the drug has taken effect," he observed. "Your mighty thews are as weak now as those of a new-born babe."
"You!" Conan grunted, his speech coming thickly and at great effort. "What have you done, and why?" He fumbled at the hilt of his sword but could not draw the weapon free.
"The juice of the purple lotus that grows in the swamps of Stygia," the High Priest explained. "It was in your goblet already, barbarian, so that it mattered not whether you drank wine or the juices of fruits." He turned to his acolytes. "Seize him, and carry him down to the crypts," he commanded. "Take care, for even drugged he may yet be dangerous."
"Why?" Conan demanded again.
"You are known to interfere in what does not concern you, barbarian, and I feared that you would oppose my plans," Chilperic replied. "Imagine my delight when you walked in here, unsuspecting, like a fly paying a visit to a spider."
"What deviltry do you plan?" Conan choked out, as the priests dragged him to his feet and bound his arms with cords.
"Deviltry? Nay, the very opposite," Chilperic claimed. "I shall destroy the false priests of Ishtar, who ensnare the gullible with their vile and licentious rituals, and secure this city for the true god Mitra. As for you, Conan the reaver, there are those in Argos, in Ophir, and in Turan who will pay well for you. Argos is closest, of course, and so it is to there that I shall send the news of your capture. You shall be kept in chains until I know if they require you alive or if I can send just your head. Preserved in a keg of salt, perhaps?" He clapped his hands together. "Take him away!"
Conan strained against his bonds but, with his muscles paralyzed by the foul drug, his struggles were futile. The acolytes dragged him from the room and down into the blackness of the crypts.