The Valor of Cappen Varra

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The Valor of Cappen Varra Page 3

by Poul Anderson

not be so ungallant as to have beautytoil for me." Cappen plucked at the troll's filthy dress. "It is notmeet--in two senses. I only came to beg a little fire; yet will I bearaway a greater fire within my heart."

  "Fire in your guts, you mean! No man ever left me save as picked bones."

  Cappen thought he heard a worried note in the animal growl. "Shall wehave music for the feast?" he asked mildly. He unslung the case of hisharp and took it out.

  The troll-wife waved her fists in the air and danced with rage. "Are youmad? I tell you, you are going to be eaten!"

  The minstrel plucked a string on his harp. "This wet air has played thedevil with her tone," he murmured sadly.

  The troll-wife roared wordlessly and lunged at him. Hildigund coveredher eyes. Cappen tuned his harp. A foot from his throat, the clawsstopped.

  "Pray do not excite yourself, mother," said the bard. "I carry silver,you know."

  "What is that to me? If you think you have a charm which will turn me,know that there is none. I've no fear of your metal!"

  Cappen threw back his head and sang:

  "_A lovely lady full oft lies. The light that lies within her eyes And lies and lies, in no surprise. All her unkindness can devise To trouble hearts that seek the prize Which is herself, are angel lies--_"

  "_Aaaarrrgh!_" It was like thunder drowning him out. The troll-wifeturned and went on all fours and poked up the fire with her nose.

  Cappen stepped softly around her and touched the girl. She looked upwith a little whimper.

  "You are Svearek's only daughter, are you not?" he whispered.

  "Aye--" She bowed her head, a strengthless despair weighting it down."The troll stole me away three winters agone. It has tickled her to havea princess for slave--but soon I will roast on her spit, even as ye,brave man--"

  "Ridiculous. So fair a lady is meant for another kind of, um, nevermind! Has she treated you very ill?"

  "She beats me now and again--and I have been so lonely, naught here atall save the troll-wife and I--" The small work-roughened hands clutcheddesperately at his waist, and she buried her face against his breast.

  "Can ye save us?" she gasped. "I fear 'tis for naught ye ventured yerlife, bravest of men. I fear we'll soon both sputter on the coals."

  Cappen said nothing. If she wanted to think he had come especially torescue her, he would not be so ungallant to tell her otherwise.

  The troll-wife's mouth gashed in a grin as she walked through the fireto him. "There is a price," she said. "If you cannot tell me threethings about myself which are true beyond disproving, not courage noramulet nor the gods themselves may avail to keep that red head on yourshoulders."

  Cappen clapped a hand to his sword. "Why, gladly," he said; this was arule of magic he had learned long ago, that three truths were theneedful armor to make any guardian charm work. "Imprimis, yours is theugliest nose I ever saw poking up a fire. Secundus, I was never in ahouse I cared less to guest at. Tertius, ever among trolls you arelittle liked, being one of the worst."

  Hildigund moaned with terror as the monster swelled in rage. But therewas no movement. Only the leaping flames and the eddying smoke stirred.

  Cappen's voice rang out, coldly: "Now the king lies on the sea, frozenand wet, and I am come to fetch a brand for his fire. And I had bestalso see his daughter home."

  The troll shook her head, suddenly chuckling. "No. The brand you mayhave, just to get you out of this cave, foulness; but the woman is in mythrall until a man sleeps with her--here--for a night. And if he does, Imay have him to break my fast in the morning!"

  Cappen yawned mightily. "Thank you, mother. Your offer of a bed is mostwelcome to these tired bones, and I accept gratefully."

  "You will die tomorrow!" she raved. The ground shook under the hugeweight of her as she stamped. "Because of the three truths, I must letyou go tonight; but tomorrow I may do what I will!"

  "Forget not my little friend, mother," said Cappen, and touched the cordof the amulet.

  "I tell you, silver has no use against me--"

  Cappen sprawled on the floor and rippled fingers across his harp. "_Alovely lady full oft lies--_"

  The troll-wife turned from him in a rage. Hildigund ladled up somebroth, saying nothing, and Cappen ate it with pleasure, though it couldhave used more seasoning.

  After that he indited a sonnet to the princess, who regarded himwide-eyed. The troll came back from a tunnel after he finished, and saidcurtly: "This way." Cappen took the girl's hand and followed her into apitchy, reeking dark.

  She plucked an arras aside to show a room which surprised him by beinghung with tapestries, lit with candles, and furnished with a fine broadfeatherbed. "Sleep here tonight, if you dare," she growled. "Andtomorrow I shall eat you--and you, worthless lazy she-trash, will havethe hide flayed off your back!" She barked a laugh and left them.

  Hildigund fell weeping on the mattress. Cappen let her cry herself outwhile he undressed and got between the blankets. Drawing his sword, helaid it carefully in the middle of the bed.

  The girl looked at him through jumbled fair locks. "How can ye dare?"she whispered. "One breath of fear, one moment's doubt, and the troll isfree to rend ye."

  "Exactly." Cappen yawned. "Doubtless she hopes that fear will come to melying wakeful in the night. Wherefore 'tis but a question of goinggently to sleep. O Svearek, Torbek, and Beorna, could you but see how Iam resting now!"

  "But ... the three truths ye gave her ... how knew ye...?"

  "Oh, those. Well, see you, sweet lady, Primus and Secundus were my ownthoughts, and who is to disprove them? Tertius was also clear, since yousaid there had been no company here in three years--yet are there manytrolls in these lands, ergo even they cannot stomach our gentlehostess." Cappen watched her through heavy-lidded eyes.

  She flushed deeply, blew out the candles, and he heard her slip off hergarment and get in with him. There was a long silence.

  Then: "Are ye not--"

  "Yes, fair one?" he muttered through his drowsiness.

  "Are ye not ... well, I am here and ye are here and--"

  "Fear not," he said. "I laid my sword between us. Sleep in peace."

  "I ... would be glad--ye have come to deliver--"

  "No, fair lady. No man of gentle breeding could so abuse his power.Goodnight." He leaned over, brushing his lips gently across hers, andlay down again.

  "Ye are ... I never thought man could be so noble," she whispered.

  Cappen mumbled something. As his soul spun into sleep, he chuckled.Those unresting days and nights on the sea had not left him fit for thatkind of exercise. But, of course, if she wanted to think he was beingmagnanimous, it could be useful later--

  * * * * *

  He woke with a start and looked into the sputtering glare of a torch.Its light wove across the crags and gullies of the troll-wife's face andshimmered wetly off the great tusks in her mouth.

  "Good morning, mother," said Cappen politely.

  Hildigund thrust back a scream.

  "Come and be eaten," said the troll-wife.

  "No, thank you," said Cappen, regretfully but firmly. "'Twould be illfor my health. No, I will but trouble you for a firebrand and then theprincess and I will be off."

  "If you think that stupid bit of silver will protect you, think again,"she snapped. "Your three sentences were all that saved you last night.Now I hunger."

  "Silver," said Cappen didactically, "is a certain shield against allblack magics. So the wizard told me, and he was such a nicewhite-bearded old man I am sure even his attendant devils never lied.Now please depart, mother, for modesty forbids me to dress before youreyes."

  The hideous face thrust close to his. He smiled dreamily and tweaked hernose--hard.

  She howled and flung the torch at him. Cappen caught it and stuffed itinto her mouth. She choked and ran from the room.

  "A new sport--trollbaiting," said the bard gaily into the suddendarkness. "Come, shall we not venture out?" />
  The girl trembled too much to move. He comforted her, absentmindedly,and dressed in the dark, swearing at the clumsy leggings. When he left,Hildigund put on her clothes and hurried after him.

  The troll-wife squatted by the fire and glared at them as they went by.Cappen hefted his sword and looked at her. "I do not love you," he saidmildly, and hewed out.

  She backed away, shrieking as he slashed at her. In the end, shecrouched at the mouth of a tunnel, raging futilely. Cappen pricked herwith his blade.

  "It is not worth my time to follow you down underground," he said, "butif ever you trouble men again, I will hear of it and

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