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Under the Hill and Far Away
It was early evening when Iolaus reached the village of Tegea, the long warm twilight of summer making deep shadows under the trees while the brilliant blue sky was still alight with sunset. He could tell right away something was wrong.
The village lay in a clearing in the lower reaches of the Arcadian mountains, rising above the trees like looming giants, the high snowcapped peaks and blue slopes seeming to float in the mist. The thatched houses were clustered around a small common area with a well but there weren't many people out taking advantage of the warm evening. A group of men were standing there, some of them clutching sarissae or scythes, all looking nervously up at the nearest tree-covered mountain slope. No women washing up the dinner dishes or relaxing after the long day, no kids playing.
Great, Iolaus thought with a sigh, there goes a quiet evening. Frowning, he crossed the rocky little stream and threaded his way through the dirt path between vegetable gardens and goatpens. He had his pack, bow and quiver slung over his shoulder and his sword at his side; he had been travelling alone for several days and had been looking forward to company tonight. He and Hercules had split up down in Bassae, Hercules to deal with a rogue warlord further north and Iolaus to handle some mercenaries who were terrorizing a village not far away. They had planned to meet up here but Iolaus had dealt with the mercenaries sooner than he had expected and thought he was probably a day or so ahead of the demigod. He had been planning on a dinner he hadn't had to cook himself, finding out if any of the girls he had met the last time he was here were still unattached, and sleeping in a real bed, hopefully with company.
A wildly barking dog ran up then fell in at his heels as if it had been expecting him. The men turned to look and the gray-haired one who he recognized as the headman broke off to meet him, hurrying down the path.
"Thank the gods you're here, Iolaus," the man said breathlessly. "You came about the--" He jerked his head nervously up toward the slopes. "How did you know?"
"I came to meet Hercules," Iolaus told him. It was gratifying to be recognized since it was a couple of years since he had last been through here, and this cheered him up a bit. "What happened?" He was guessing harpies, considering the terrain and that it seemed be something the villagers had spotted from a distance.
They had reached the hard-packed earth of the common area and the other men muttered greetings, still unsettled by whatever they had seen but watching Iolaus with hope and relief. A few shuttered windows on the nearest houses opened, the women inside looking out cautiously.
"Lights." The headman, whose name Iolaus finally remembered was Opheas, pointed up to the slope, his hand trembling. "Blue lights flashing, spinning in the air, right there."
"Blue lights?" Iolaus said, startled. He stared up at the spot on the slope as the other men nodded confirmation.
Opheas swallowed, his face drawn and pale as he faced Iolaus. "We've heard the stories from Cenchreae and Thespiae. The blue lights mean something's--" he hesitated fearfully, "Something's come. Something's up there."
Iolaus took a deep breath. He felt a sick sensation in the pit of his stomach. Blue lights meant a blue swirly doorway, a vortex opening between this world and someplace else. Since Dahak, or maybe since the first doorway had opened to the Sovereign's world near Ares' main temple, they had been more frequent. Or maybe they had happened all along and no one had known until now what the lights meant. He would have to go up there, track whatever it was until Hercules arrived and they could kill it. No matter that his brain and his gut were both telling him to run in the opposite direction. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, it means something's up there."
The night was well-advanced now and Iolaus moved as swiftly as he dared up through the trees toward the spot where the villagers had seen the blue light. Rocky outcrops splashed with moonlight filled the gaps between the pines and he scrambled quickly over them, careful not to disturb slides of pebbles that might alert anything stalking the dark to his presence. The terrain was rough and uneven; the little valleys and nearly flat meadows below had suddenly given way to slopes with thick pine forest interspersed with shelves of rock and boulders. He had been listening hard but couldn't hear anything other than the wind through the trees, an occasional owl hoot and the splashing and trickling of streams playing over the rocks.
He had told the villagers to send Hercules after him and took the provisions they offered, since he had no idea how long he would have to track this thing. He wasn't even considering the possibility that the door had opened and closed without allowing anything through; his luck just didn't run that way lately.
The cool evening breeze carried the scent of pine, earth and water; suddenly it shifted and Iolaus smelled something rank. Really rank. He froze, flattening himself against the bole of a tree. A troll? he wondered, wrinkling his nose. There was death in that smell, something that liked live prey, instinct told him.
A heartbeat later he heard trees crashing to the ground and a throaty roar. Cursing under his breath, Iolaus bolted toward the sound, ducking under branches, roots clutching at his feet. There sure as Tartarus wouldn't be any difficulty in tracking it, not with the swath it must be clearing down the forested slope. If he could just get a good look at the thing in the moonlight so he would know what they were up against.
He ran downhill, trying to get below it so he could watch it pass, scrambling over rock and smashing his own smaller course through the underbrush. As he reached a copse directly in its path, Iolaus' sharp hearing picked up something else -- running footsteps and frantic gasps. Dammit, it's chasing somebody.
Iolaus ran uphill between the trees, his own breath loud in his ears, slamming to a halt as he caught a brief glimpse of the runner in a path of moonlight. It was a kid who would stand no higher than Iolaus' elbow when not flat-out running for his life. Past him Iolaus could see something large and dark smashing through the branches, plunging down the slope like an avalanche. Iolaus caught a glimpse of big scaly arms, a knobby round skull. It is a troll, he thought in dread, backpedaling rapidly, a freaking giant troll.
Iolaus ducked back into the deep shadow of the trees, quickly shedding pack, bow, and quiver. Fortunately this copse was pitch black, impenetrable even to a creature who could see in the dark; still this wouldn't have a chance of working unless the boy kept that lead. Iolaus braced himself against a tree, waiting until he heard the frantic boy draw close. Then he dove, tackled the kid around the waist and rolled them both through the undergrowth and down into the rocks on the other side.
They fetched up against a big boulder and Iolaus shoved the boy into a hollow in its side; there wasn't room for both of them but he pushed in as far as he could and then went still, trying to look like part of the rough stone surface. The moonlight shown through the gaps in the trees here but they were downwind and in the boulder's shadow and it just might be enough.
The boy had squeaked in terror when Iolaus tackled him but now he was quiet, obviously realizing the dire need for silence. The troll bashed its way through the copse above them and continued on. Before Iolaus could take a breath in relief it crashed to a halt, giving a howl of rage that was probably audible down in the village. Then Iolaus heard a low grumble of frustrated anger, then more thrashing in the undergrowth. He swore under his breath. The troll knew it had lost its prey, it just wasn't sure where. The boy made another muffled squeak and buried his head against Iolaus' side.
The troll was damnably persistent, searching the rocks further down, crunching bushes and small saplings under its feet, pawing at the branches in the trees. This gave Iolaus time to form an important realization: the person he had rescued that was now huddled in his lap, whose heart he could feel pounding in terror against his arm, was not human. Iolaus wasn't sure how he knew, unless it was a combination of factors: The weight and muscle he had felt rolling down the bank that was too solid and heavy for a human boy that size, the scent, the feel of the hand that was digging into his forearm above his gauntlet, the texture of the mop of curly hair. Too big for a gnome, at least any gnomes Iolaus had ever seen before, he was wearing wool and leather clothing and smelled as if he had had a bath more recently than Iolaus had. Whatever he was, he was small and terrified and Iolaus didn't mind rescuing him. If he suddenly decides to bite your throat out, he told himself ruefully, won't you be surprised.
The troll cast around, coming nearly to their hiding spot before finally snarling with frustration and stomping off up the slope again.
When the crash of its passing faded, Iolaus meant to catapult himself out of arm's reach and from there figure out just what it was he had rescued. But the little guy sobbed with relief and instead Iolaus found himself patting him on the head and saying reassuringly, "Hey, come on, it's all right--"
He looked up and all Iolaus could make out in the dark was the wide eyes. "Are you an elf?" he asked in a frightened whisper.
"Am I a what?"
"An elf. My cousin Samwise says the elves live in strange deep forests and this is a strange deep forest so--"
"Wait, wait," Iolaus stopped him, sensing a potentially lengthy tangent. The guy had a light tenor voice and was speaking Greek with a thick accent. "What are you?"
"I'm a Gamgee. Halfred Gamgee, from Northfarthing."
"That's your name, then," Iolaus seized on this apparently relevant piece of information. "Half-- Hafed-"
"Halfred," he corrected. "We was exploring, on account of never being too far from home, and then-- Oh, my friends!" Halfred leapt to his feet, appalled. For some reason, he was wearing what looked like heavy fur boots. "That troll, he trapped them up by that cave!"
"So it was a troll," Iolaus muttered incredulously, pushing to his feet. "Damn, I didn't know they grew like that. What did you say about--" He looked to see Halfred warily backing away a few paces. "What's wrong?"
"You're big." Obviously gathering his courage, Halfred stepped forward again, saying stoutly, "You must be an elf."
"I'm not an elf." Iolaus didn't know what an elf was and wasn't sure he wanted to know. He started back up the bank. "What was that about your friends?"
Halfred scrambled after him. "The troll that was chasing us through the cave, it trapped us in some rocks where we tried to hide. I got away, but it caught Togo coming out and put a rock over the hole to keep them in, then took out after me." Iolaus reached the tree where he had left his gear, finding it uncrunched by any troll feet. It was a relief, because he had the feeling the bow was going to come in handy while he was extracting Halfred's friends from the troll. As he shouldered the pack and quiver, Halfred began to jump up and down in agitation. "I've got to get them out! Will you-- Will you help me, Mister Elf?"
"Hold it." Iolaus turned to confront him, looking down at the worried, wide-eyed face he could barely see in the moonlight. "Yes, I will help you, but only if you stop calling me whatever it was you just called me. My name is Iolaus. All right?"
Halfred nodded rapidly. "Iolaus," he repeated, badly slurring the pronunciation.
"Good." Iolaus braced the bow on the ground to bend and string it, trying to think how he was going to handle this. Distract the troll somehow, then free the other...whatevers.
Halfred stepped close to peer at the bow, then gave a satisfied nod. "Let me guess," Iolaus said, resigned, and started up the dark corridor between the trees, the grass underfoot flattened by the troll's passage. "Elfs carry hunting bows."
"Elves," Halfred corrected, sounding vindicated as he hurried after him.
"So if I'm an elf, what are you?"
"I'm a hobbit!"
Beating the troll up the slope to where the other hobbits were trapped would have been ideal; unfortunately the damn thing was fast. Iolaus and Halfred reached the moonlit clearing at the base of the large rocky outcrop in time to see the troll arrive, bashing its way through the dark woods. Here Iolaus could see its big shambling body was more than three times his height and it was powerfully muscled, with a bullneck and arms that dangled nearly to the ground. Dragging Halfred into the cover of some rocks and brush, Iolaus whispered tightly, "Where are the others?"
Halfred sat up enough to point cautiously through a gap in the thornbush. "There," he whispered back, "Those rocks."
Iolaus nodded. Large rocks, too big for a hobbit or a human to shift alone, were piled up near the base of the outcrop over what might be a crevice or hollow in the stone. Not far above it he could see the black opening that must be the entrance to the cave that held the blue swirly gateway.
There hadn't been much time for conversation along the way, but the couple of questions Iolaus had asked Halfred had been enough to discover that the hobbit and his friends had been exploring some caves in the hills near their village, encountered the troll, and run into a cave passage to escape it. Only the troll had followed them. The blue swirly light had appeared suddenly when they were halfway down the passage and the next thing they knew they had tumbled out of the cave into this clearing. They had thought they were safe, if lost, then the troll had appeared too.
Watching the thing bash around the clearing, taking its frustration out on the trees and rocks, the moonlight glinting off its scaly hide, Iolaus knew there was no way he could kill it alone. He thought hard for a few moments, then shook his head in resignation. It was going to have to be the hard way, of course. He would have to wait until the troll moved the rock trapping the other hobbits too, which made the timing tight. "All right, Hal, listen. You wait here and when the troll leaves, you run over and get the others out. Then you all run back through the blue light in the cave. It should take you right back home."
Halfred nodded, watching him worriedly. "But why will the troll leave?"
"He'll be chasing me." Iolaus sat up a little to take another look at the creature. He shed his pack, stuffing it down next to the rock. He wanted to be as unencumbered as possible for this.
Halfred blinked. Sounding even more worried, he said, "That's not a very good plan."
Remembering how many times he had said exactly the same thing to Hercules, Iolaus flashed him a grin. "I know, but you'd be surprised how often it works. Now wait here and be ready to move."
Iolaus eased to his feet, his eyes on the troll, when Halfred grabbed him around the knee. "Be careful, Mister Elf! I mean, Iolaus!"
"You bet." Distracted, Iolaus watched the troll rumble over to the rocks where Halfred's friends were trapped. It sniffed around the stones, nodded to itself in apparent satisfaction, then grasped the large stone.
As it shifted the rock, Iolaus stepped into the open, nocking an arrow and drawing the bow. Aiming in the moonlight was difficult, but the troll's earhole stood out as a round dark shadow on its lumpy skull. He waited until the troll set the boulder aside and started to reach one long arm down into the opening. Then he let fly.
Iolaus missed the straight shot through the ear canal that would have made all this much less complicated; or maybe he had hit it dead center and the troll just wasn't much effected by barbed metal, wooden shaft and feathers lodged in its brain. Whichever, it screeched and grabbed its head, whipping around to glare in his direction.
Iolaus had time for one more shot and aimed for the eye; the shaft bounced off its forehead as the troll roared and lunged after him. Then he ran.
Iolaus plunged down the hill, ducking under branches, leaping over fallen logs, finding himself in much the same situation as poor Halfred had been in earlier. But Iolaus was more accustomed to being chased by large hungry predators and forced the troll to crash through the deepest thickets, slowing it down. The creature howled in rage as it tore through the trees, the sound making the ground tremble.
All he had to do was keep the thing distracted long enough to let Halfred and his friends escape, Iolaus told himself, dodging between two large oaks, barely glimpsed in the deep shadows. His foot came down on empty air suddenly and he tumbled down a narrow gully. He landed on his back, winded, scrabbling in the rocks and dead leaves, desperate to get his feet under him. Above him he saw the dark shape of the troll slam into one of the oaks. It staggered back, squawking loudly in pain and outrage as the hardwood branches poked and jabbed rather than giving way. Iolaus struggled to his knees, pulling the bow off his shoulder. He got off one more shot then leapt to his feet and scrambled up the sloping side of the gully.
Iolaus bolted across a short but dangerous stretch of open ground, through another dimly seen copse then down a hill. He slid to a halt suddenly, heart pounding, realizing with shock that the moon-bleached shapes he had taken for another pile of boulders were actually the wall of a gorge, too high and too steep to climb. He whipped around in time to see the troll tear through the copse and pause on the hill, snarling as it spotted him.
Thinking stupid, stupid, stupid, Iolaus backed away. His jaw set in a grim line, he gave the troll more arrows, drawing and nocking them as fast as he could, buying himself a few more heartbeats as it batted in annoyance at the multiple shafts piercing its hide.
He dropped the bow, drawing his sword as the troll lunged forward. A big hand grabbed for him and he slashed at it, diving away and shoulder rolling back to his feet. Suddenly the troll pulled back, batting at its head. Turning away with a snarl, it lunged at something in the trees. An unfamiliar voice shouted, "Come and get me you smelly great-- yah!" as the troll reached for it.
"Over here! Over here!" Another voice shouted in alarm, drawing the antagonized creature back to the copse. Rocks came from several directions, bouncing off the troll's hide.
Iolaus sheathed his sword, snatched the bow up and bolted, dodging past the distracted troll and scrambling up the hillside to the bank. He paused there, breathing hard, as more rocks peppered the angry creature's head.
A voice whispered cautiously, "Iolaus, is that you?"
"Halfred?" Iolaus turned, studying the dark undergrowth, and saw a familiar short shape emerge. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, exasperated. "You were supposed to escape, that was the whole point!"
"I know that! I got the others out like you said but we couldn't leave you to face that thing alone." Halfred pointed adamantly at the troll. "It nearly ate you just then, I saw it!"
"Yeah, well, it wasn't that close. It was close, but it wasn't--" Iolaus gave up, grinning. "Come on, let's go rescue your friends again."
It seemed like hours later -- Iolaus was sure it was hours later -- when he jumped to the top of a boulder, for the umpteenth time waving to attract the troll's attention. It stared at him, its lidless eyes wide. Iolaus realized he could see the creature's outline much more clearly and its hide had taken on a green-gray color. It's nearly morning, he thought, amazed that they had been at this all night with no casualties. That was the dawn light beginning to filter through the trees. The troll turned suddenly with a wild yell and started upslope, clods of dirt flung into the air as it plowed upward.
"What--" Iolaus gasped, feeling almost outraged at the creature's failure to continue to play along. "Where in Tartarus is that damn thing going?" he demanded.
Halfred staggered out of the brush, staring after the creature. Four more hobbits of various sizes, all no taller than Iolaus' elbow, stumbled out of hiding, looking after the rapidly disappearing creature. "We scared it off!" one of them gasped, and another expressed his opinion on that statement by swatting the optimist in the head.
Iolaus jumped down off the rock, hobbits scattering in alarm at his sudden appearance among them. "Come on, we've got to see where it's going!"
Iolaus forced himself to run, keeping the troll in sight as it charged dementedly up the slope. The increasingly light in the sky made this easier. Relatively easier. I never, ever, want to see another mountain again. After the long night his legs felt like watery porridge and his chest ached.
He reached the clearing in time to see the troll dive for the cave. It was nearly the size of the entrance and had to crouch and scoot forward, gradually wedging itself inside. Soon the only part still visible was its rear end and legs, filling the cave mouth as it squeezed through. As exhausted as he was, Iolaus couldn't resist that target and reached instinctively for an arrow before he remembered his quiver was empty. Then the sun broke over the mountains, flooding the clearing with bright drawn light. The troll froze.
Iolaus blinked, taking a cautious step forward. The troll had really frozen. It wasn't moving at all. He thought it must be stuck in the cave but it wasn't even trying to free itself. He moved closer, realizing the green-gray hide had turned to bleached white again and it wasn't just a trick of the light. "It turned to stone," he said aloud, then hastily backed away a step, in case this was some elaborate troll ruse.
The hobbits caught up with him, panting, red-faced and as exhausted as he was. In this light he could see the little guys weren't made for long distance running, though their legs were long in proportion to their stocky bodies
Iolaus looked at Halfred helplessly as the hobbit stumbled to his side. He pointed at the troll. "What's that about?"
"I've heard tell of it," Halfred said slowly, nodding to himself. "Sunlight turns trolls to stone."
"Huh." It sounded reasonable. Iolaus approached the creature, shifting the bow off his shoulder and using it to give the petrified troll a cautious poke. Then he carefully touched the surface. It felt like stone all right. He jerked his hand back as he realized it was still warm. Having been turned to stone himself once, he would've felt sorry for the troll, if it hadn't been trying so damn hard to eat them all. "Permanently?"
Halfred nodded, moving up to give the creature a cautious touch. "That's what they say."
"Oh." Iolaus pushed his hair back wearily. "Good. I don't think we could've kept that up much longer."
There was a murmur of agreement from more than Halfred and Iolaus looked down to see the other hobbits clustered around him. In the growing light he had his first good look at them all. There were four of them besides Halfred, all regarding him with equal though wary curiosity. They all had mops of curly hair and wore well-made wool pants, shirts and jackets or vests. Last to emerge from the brush was a little girl hobbit, about half the size of the others, with blond pigtails and an embroidered dress. Iolaus blinked. And they weren't wearing furry boots; those were their feet. He rubbed his face, squinted up at the growing dawn light, trying to control his expression. He was too tired; if he started laughing he wouldn't be able to stop.
"But how are we going to get back through the cave?" Halfred wondered.
"He's really jammed in there," one of the others contributed.
"There's got to be a spot where you guys could squeeze through," Iolaus said, devoting his attention to this problem to keep himself from collapsing into hilarity. He circled around the troll as best he could, looking for hobbit-sized cracks, and the others moved in to help.
"No, no, this isn't going to work," Iolaus said finally, helping Halfred down from the top of the troll. He stepped back, dusting off his hands. "We'll just have to wait."
"Wait?" Halfred repeated blankly.
"How long?" one of the others said worriedly.
"I have a friend who should be on his way here," Iolaus told them reassuringly. "He's just the guy to take care of this."
The smell of cooking mushrooms woke Iolaus. Again.
He sat up, running a hand through his hair. He had spread his blanket on a flat grassy area a little down from the cave, where brush and an overhanging tree shaded him from the sun. The hobbits had built a little campfire not far away. "You're eating again?" He squinted up at the sky. "It's not even noon yet."
"It's elevenses," said Togo, who was the boldest next to Halfred. The others were still a little shy of him, though they smiled and didn't look as if they wanted to run away every time he moved anymore. They had the mushrooms skewered on sticks and were holding them over the flames. "Don't elves have elevenses?"
"It's too early in the morning for a question like that." Iolaus rubbed his eyes wearily. Hobbits might be small, but they ate like starving hoplites. They had gone through all the provisions in his pack, even the pinenuts which they had first regarded doubtfully. This was their third meal of the day and it wasn't even time for lunch yet.
Iolaus sat up straight suddenly, frowning; something was coming up the slope. He pushed to his feet just as Hercules came barreling out of the trees below, slowing to a jog as he spotted Iolaus unharmed. Iolaus grinned and waved, starting forward to meet him.
Then Hercules saw the troll's stone backend hanging out of the cave, did a distracted doubletake and halted. Staring at it, he slowly started to smile. "I take it that's not a natural formation."
"I'd call it downright unnatural," Iolaus said, reaching his side and contemplating the troll.
Bemused, Hercules glanced down at him. "So...what happened?"
"Hold it, you're never going to believe this." Iolaus looked around, realizing the hobbits had disappeared. If not for the fire, the remains of their meal, the flower chains Primula had decorated the campsite with and the giant troll butt blocking the cave entrance, he would have thought he had imagined the whole thing. "Guys, come on out, it's all right." Iolaus peered into the bushes, spotting slight movement. "Hal, Poppin, come on."
Halfred emerged first, peeping cautiously through the greenery.
"What the..." Hercules murmured.
"It's okay, Hal, this is my friend," Iolaus coaxed. "Come out."
"He's awfully big," Hal said, still not emerging from the bush.
"Who did you think was going to get the troll's butt out of the cave, a gnome?"
Halfred withdrew to have a whispered consultation with the others, then one by one they started to emerge.
"This is my friend, Hercules," Iolaus said, then braced himself, set his face in a politely serious expression, and continued, "That's Halfred Gamgee, Fosco Loamsdown, Poppin Goldworthy--"
Hercules looked down at the ground, then squinted up at the sky. "You're making this up," he accused under his breath.
"No, that's really their names, now shut up," Iolaus whispered, continuing in a normal tone, "Moro Frumblefoot, Togo Boffin, and his sister Primula. They came through a blue swirly doorway in that cave and they'd like to go back, but--" He gestured toward the troll butt.
"I see." Hercules had managed to control his amusement and regarded the stone troll with as serious an expression as he was capable of under the circumstances, which wasn't very. "All right, ah, this shouldn't be much of a problem."
As they started up toward the cave, Hercules asked softly, "So what are they?"
Iolaus replied in a low voice, "They say they're hobbits. They're gutsy little guys, for their size." He glanced back at where the wary little group was gathered, watching Hercules nervously, and gave them a reassuring wave. "You should've seen them distract that troll. They eat like ogres, though. They have to have a full meal every hour or they think they're starving. And they talk constantly."
"Sounds familiar," Hercules said under his breath.
"Nothing." Hercules smothered a grin. "I'll just take care of this."
As Hercules circled around the protruding troll, eyeing the obstruction thoughtfully, Halfred moved cautiously to Iolaus' side and whispered, "What is he?"
Iolaus glanced down at him, smiling. "He's a demigod."
"Oh." Halfred didn't seem much reassured. "He doesn't eat hobbits, does he?"
"Oh no." Iolaus shook his head. "Hardly ever."
Halfred peered at him suspiciously, making sure he was joking. "Hmph."
Hercules broke up the troll with a few punches and cleared a path through the debris, then tossed a stone through the cave to activate the blue swirly doorway. It sprang immediately to life, the coruscating blue light glowing from the cave mouth.
Once the demigod had backed away to a safe distance, the hobbits came up to say farewell to Iolaus. "You can't come visit us?" Halfred asked regretfully. Behind his back, Togo and Fosco exchanged an appalled look.
"Nope. After you go back through, Hercules will seal up the cave so nothing can use the door again," Iolaus told him, barely able to keep a straight face. "It's better that way. Trust me on that one."
Halfred hugged him, though none of the others were quite that daring, and little Primula gave him a flower. Then they hurried back through the doorway.
When the light had died away, Hercules set about using pieces of troll and the boulders scattered around to block the cave permanently, while Iolaus put the fire out and gathered his belongings.
The cave entrance blocked, Hercules strolled back. Wearing his "I'm not only a demigod but a comedian too" expression, he said, "You know, those guys seemed familiar." Iolaus rolled his eyes as Hercules pretended to just recall something and asked earnestly, "Hey, didn't your great-grandmother on your mother's side come from around here?"
"I know where you're going with this," Iolaus said darkly, shouldering his pack, "and I'd like to remind you that you have to sleep sometime."
"All right," said Sam, laughing with the rest. "But what about these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back."
Disclaimer: No internationally copyrighted trolls were violated in the making of this story.
See more stories at http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/chimera/legends.htm The Less Than Legendary Journeys