|With the golden key, Conan easily opened the dungeon door. He turned
back to where Reynard cocked his head in the window trying to see down
"Have you any more hints for me, little friend?" Conan asked.
"Just make the right choices and strive for the high ground," Reynard
replied. "With luck and skill we will meet again soon." He was gone before
Conan could reply.
The corridor turned out to be a maze. Around the first corner, Conan
found his sword leaning against the wall. An empty sack lay next to it.
He picked both up, slung the sack over his shoulder and with sword in hand
continued. Around the next corner a two-headed dragon blocked his path.
"Lexxx," hissed the left head; "Nexxx," hissed the right. Both heads
bobbed and weaved, looking for an opening. But Conan gave them none. His
sword flashed in the torchlight as he feinted to the left then swung sharply
to the right and back to the left again, cutting off both heads. The monster
made no sound, but collapsed and melted into a puddle of thick, foul-smelling
Conan stepped carefully around and was surprised to discover a bar of
gold behind where the dragon had stood. He deposited the gold in his sack
and went on.
The ceiling of the corridor grew higher until the torches could no longer
illuminate it. The corridor itself widened only slightly but seemed to
go on and on into ever darker shadows. The air became redolent of wood
smoke and Old Bay seasoning. Conan suspected a dead end when he began to
hear the sound of his steps coming back to him, but the smell of seafood
lured him on. A great wooden door blocked the end of the passage. To one
side, smoke curled around a great pot, wafting the smells that made Conan's
stomach rumble. Under foot he noticed that the simple stone floor now included
a mosaic design based on the letter T. He advanced cautiously.
A troll squatted in the dim light by the fire. He looked like a typical
troll, except for the neatly trimmed mustache. "Welcome, Traveler," the
troll said with a chillingly pleasant smile, "Come forward and show me
"Tribute!?" Conan's voice betrayed his information warrior's sensitivity
to budget issues.
The troll stood, stroking his chin with misshapen fingers. "Perhaps
I should introduce myself," he said, "I am but one of the Legion of Trolls
and lord of this hall. You may call me Brian. As you see, I am better prepared
than you and well positioned in front of the only door. So, show me the
Conan regarded the door. It bore the T logo but no visible lock or handle.
It blocked the passage with a solid finality. Less bleak was the prospect
of the fire and the feast spread out around it.
"Yes," the troll said, "I can also offer you a wide variety of comestibles.
This little recipe I picked up on the waterfront." He smiled. "Our collective
vision is to devour the entire world."
It was the only food he had seen since landing in the dungeons and its
wonderful smell overpowered any misgivings Conan might have had about accepting
the hospitality of trolls. As they shared a pleasant meal, Conan listened
to the troll brag of his acquisitions. After dessert, Conan emptied the
contents of his treasure sack. The troll counted it up and, when he was
sure the bag was empty, deemed it satisfactory. He then muttered an enchantment
that ended with "so open then, eh?" and the massive door swung inward on
Behind the door a stairway led upward. Conan climbed, not missing the
treasure's extra weight. At the top landing he found an amulet on a chain
and two oblong bars wrapped in paper and labeled simply "food." He secured
these items in the pouch on his belt and, following Reynard's advice, turned
right. And so he continued for some time, fighting monsters and collecting
treasures. With every level he rose the monsters became more terrible,
the treasures more grand. When he became fatigued the food bars restored
his strength, though their chocolate flavor left an artificial aftertaste.
He was feeling tired again when he came to a particularly dark intersection
on the seventh level. The sound of footsteps approaching from around the
corner stopped him. The footsteps stopped. He held his breath and waited.
There was silence, then the sound of shallow breathing and a stealthy step.
Conan jumped out, sword raised, and found himself facing a beautiful woman
dressed in warrior garb, a broadsword clasped in both hands.
© 1997, by Hadley V. Baxendale