(For other "Stories about Trolls", see the listing.)
Thumbprint was stationed at the desk which held court at the center of Trickleclaw's holding area. Her tiny friend was loosed from its aviary, hopping hyperactively from one ornament on that desk to another; the worn leather bracer, the carved wooden perch-ring, two cases of supplies for the task at hand, a thick clay bowl, and the glazed moonmoss pot illuminating the scene. The one thing it did not alight upon was the tiny brass brazier, the polish mottled from countless heatings, partly full of water slowly coming to a boil.
"Wetstuff make bubblehots!" It chimed. "Spoot now? Spoot now?"
"The specimen's silk glands are located in positions analogous to a Troll's tonsils, one lateral and one medial. A pair of spinnerets, upper and lower, comprise the external appendages of each gland. At active position, these angle toward a common focusing point just past the mouth. However, each is independently mobile to a range of 15 degrees, and rest against the inner cheek when inactive."
"Not quite yet," Thumbprint said patiently, "You know the order of things." From the smaller case, the one she had brought in from outside, she procured a vial of viscous grey fluid. She poured its contents into the steaming water, releasing a pungent odor akin to overcooked grain. It was a reduction of boiled-down termite casings. Just why the mixture — which could just as easily be made from ants or spiders and such — was needed was still under scientific investigation, but needed it was. The slurry was time-consuming to create, and best done outside the aviary's stingy ventilation, which was why she much preferred doing it off-site.
"Now, please," she smiled to her companion. Trickleclaw obliged with a healthy dollop of wrapstuff into the clay bowl. "Not too much, dear." From the larger satchel, she then produced a short wooden stick. It was bulbous at one end, ink quill thin at the other. When Trickleclaw's head was clear, she added the boiling water, using the stick thin to help tip the brazier. With the thick end, and a practiced dexterity that belied her thick trollish fingers, she stirred the concoction.
"The glandular excretion is comprised of two components. A very fine silk, and viscous organic compound similar in many respects to pine sap. The organic compound has been proven to contain antiseptic properties. However it has also proven impossible to cultivate without rendering it inert. This and the limited amount produced per extraction reduce its usefulness to practically none. The silk can be reduced from the other, with effort."
The cloudy mixture needed to cool to lukewarm before she could clear the silk fibers from it. She gave Trickleclaw some wax crayons and parchment to pass its time, and spent her own clearing the station for the next steps in the harvesting process. The brazier was replaced with a drop spindle, and a small drying rack was placed over the bowl of coals that had heated the water. A gold ring, and a wire needle-threaders were brought out as well.
"Controlled experimentation with the specimen's diet has yielded no notable differences in the volume or consistency of the glandular secretion, nor of the quality of silk harvested. Woven swatches have been shown to degrade over time at a measurably slower rate than silks harvested from spiders and mothworms."
One by one, Thumbprint teased finer-than-hair strands out from between gummy clumps of separated 'spit-stuff', with the thin end of her wooden tool, setting each to dry quickly near the dying heat. When she had six that were moderately dry, she ran them together through the ring. Pressure and residual moisture bound the six together. The six-strands slowly accumulated into a loose roving, while the small rubicund individual hummed and chittered to itself as it crafted its latest masterpiece.
"It should be noted that loftier properties as described in the Most Ancient Scrolls have yet to be observed. The number of like specimens needed to envelop an entire being at once, based on data from lifetimes of harvestings, is estimated to be in the dozens. The number of like specimens needed to reposition a being for total immersion front and back is estimated, based on observed lifting capacity, to be over one hundred."
Next, the drop spindle. A hooked whale-bone dowel with a smooth wheel near the hook, a cone of wound thread below. The frayed tail of the thread was tied taught against the hook. Thumbprint collected a swatch of roving and blended into that end. With a leftward spin and a drop, she imparted a twist to the thread. By catching dowel and letting the twist travel up a measure of roving, via deft movements of fingers holding it firm, she tightened the loose pieces into packed thread. On and on this would go until the day's collection of silk fibers lay wrapped around the spool as finished product. It was a tedious process, but one that after many long years of practice she was able to perform with a minimum of mental investment.
This left Thumbprint’s mind free to compose and rehearse the briefing that she would soon be delivering. Ratchet, a venerable Troll seated second-highest among the House of Inventors and Tinkers, had succumbed to sudden illness and was now on his deathbed. Leaving a void in House Leadership. Already there would be jockeying for position. The new rankings would be decided before the ancient Troll was gone from this life -- unofficially of course -- and once matters were settled on paper someone would be selected in to fill Ratchet’s place specifically. That new leader would be granted access to, among other secrets, the knowledge of Trickleclaw's captivity. Thumbprint's duties included filling such individuals in on all that they needed to know.
"Rest assured that this report does not seek to place the veracity of the Most Ancient Scrolls in any doubt. Any number of unobservable factors may be responsible for the discrepancies in the tales of our ancestors. It may be some interaction between Palace Keepers and their living instruments, or proximity to some unknown property of the Palace Keepers themselves, that allow the fantastical feats mentioned in our people's recorded oral histories. What can be stated conclusively is that exposure to the then recently-deceased female Palace Keeper has had no impact upon the specimen's capacity to produce the glandular excretion.
Some time into the weaving, Trickleclaw, having realized its services had yet not been requested again, looked up from its scribbles. It regarded the bobbin, and its guardian. "Is all? Trickleclaw can spoot more! Much much much more!"
"I know, dear. I know," She answered warmly. And I'm the only one who needs to know.
Thumbprint's recorded data on the limited output of Trickleclaw’s wrapstuff over the decades were quite accurate. Her oral presentation would be equally so. They simply did not and would not mention that she herself — like her line of custodians before her — was the limiting factor. The less the leaders of the other Houses knew what Trickleclaw was truly capable of, the better.