(For other "Stories about Trolls", see the listing.)
A tall pair of ornately carved doors marked the portal into the Grand Banquet Hall. Inside, an untold number of high-status Scholars were enjoying what was no doubt a memorable feast the likes of which their House rarely savored. Recompense for services provided to the generous and plentiful House Of Provisions.
The waiting room before those doors was crafted to whet the appetites of those who might partake of the bounty beyond them. Rounded alcoves retained oversized sculptures of mushrooms, edible roots, fruits and gourds, a wealth of fish and fowl. Just some of the raw ingredients that would be knitted together by master chefs. Each display backlit by a living tapestry of cultivated glowmoss, their subtle shifts of hue adding an organic contrast to the stone avatars.
Driftwood sat on a waiting bench, seated beside the mushroom niche. Reflexively scratching at the wispy black whiskers that were starting to come in under his nose and cheeks, he waited. Beside him was a rolled up scroll and a leather satchel. He was wearing borrowed clothes. A middle-low ranked hunter by trade, he had never before been in this place where the goods he secured were put to such savory-smelling use. Just getting this far had been arranged in part by his former trades-master; the rest was up to him. The troll Driftwood wanted to see was notoriously hard to get a hold of, and his ally was not willing to trade in the number of favors it would take to get a personal appointment.
The heavy doors opened, releasing the contemplative melodies of a spike fiddle ahead of the Scholars who came milling out. Driftwood sat and watched, eyes keen, to spot the blazing white mane of Blotter. Then he saw the old troll, sharing very quiet words with a rotund woman whom he believed to be Thumbprint on their way out. Driftwood turned his face and playacted reading the scroll -- which he'd brought along in case he needed to look busy -- lest the female notice him. It was after all her cousin who'd trained him up as a surface-hunter and who had helped make this ambush possible.
Thumbprint's murmurs came to an end, and her footfalls disappeared down a corridor. Blotter took another, and Driftwood was soon on his heels. "A word with you if I might, master Blotter! The name’s Driftwood. Provisions. I have tried to arrange an appointment with your-"
"Whoever you are, I do not have time for you." In contrast to his wild hair, Blotter's manner was stoic and his words evenly measured. He did not stop walking.
Nor did Driftwood, who scuttled ahead of the old troll and kept pace, keeping to one side so as not to offend by attempting to block Blotter's path. "I can see you're a man of thought and action. The short version is I was off seal clubbing not long ago and I came across a most intriguing discovery, if I do say so."
Blotter stopped. Moved a hand to lead Driftwood further aside. Resumed walking.
Driftwood did not let shock deter him. He stood firm, calling after the departing troll. "My old trades-master Tallcrag told me you were the one to come to with objects of this nature!" He raised his voice, emphasizing the word 'objects', just enough to risk being overheard by lingering ears. "Do you recall the name, sir? Tallcrag?" He spoke the name a little louder. Sometimes the best way to begin a quiet negotiation was to draw attention to oneself.
The tactic had the desired effect. Blotter stopped and turned, his eyes measuring the upstart youngster before locking in on the satchel. "Follow me." The elder troll led Driftwood through a short series of turns and corners to a small room with a small table. He closed the door and waved Driftwood toward the end opposite the one he chose to sit at. "Speak quickly."
Driftwood smiled a merchant's grin. "I think my little beauty here can do plenty of talking for itself." He unbound the package with two quick swipes. What emerged from the leather was a good-sized wooden cone that had once been stained a taupe grey. It was covered with decorative carvings of vines and pointed leaves, the stain holding best along the line work. The thick end featured a large indentation, one once was polished smooth by regular wear but was now was showing signs of scouring by salt and sun. The rounded tip at the short end was beginning to split in places where the weathering was worst.
The hunter had to admit to himself he liked the symmetry of a troll with a name like his coming across such a unique specimen bobbing along the shoreline. "I think we can agree this is an artificial leg, yes?" He leaned in closer, his hand bobbing along the piece, pointing out the interesting bits. "But take a closer look. The shape of it, sire. Too short for a grown small-ear. Too wide for one of their grubs, and too heavy I'd wager. Made for a point-ear, it was." Blotter's face was inscrutable, so Driftwood offered other evidence. He tapped the peg with a knuckle, letting the prospective owner savor the deep sound that resonated out the stump-pit for himself. "I know my woods. This oak is too dense for its kind. Too strong. And there should be more weather-wear than there is, coming from where I found it. This has been touched by their cursed powers! The evil ways they have of bending the very trees to their will!" There was nothing wrong with a little showmanship.
"May I?" Blotter asked, and was obliged. He took the pegleg in hand and examined it from multiple angles, posing it like a telescope at one point that he could peer into the damage where the 'foot' had met ground countless times. If he was excited or bored by the piece was impossible to tell. Raising an eyebrow to his younger, he asked. "And just where did you come across this alleged artifact?"
Driftwood parted his hands in a 'can't help you' gesture. "Let's just call that little tidbit part of the bargain, shall we? If I might?" Tallcrag had advised the lad not to give too much away. The young hunter held his hand out for the piece and was obliged, after a brief pause that might have been hesitation in Blotter's part.
Driftwood put the pegleg back under wraps. The fish had bit, and there was no gain in letting other sharks see it should one swim by. "So let's get to it. We both know that if I wanted trivial material things, there are other people I could have taken this treasure to. Places where it would end up sitting in a secret shelf somewhere. Never being put to practical, academic use." The existence of a black market in illicit paraphernalia -- the hoarding of elven artifacts simply because they were taboo and rare and therefore valuable to folk with skewed priorities -- was an open secret among those whose careers brought them into potential contact with same. "My desires are more provincial. What I'm looking for is a patron. A positive word in the right ear, and a letter of recommendation in the right hands. And we both know these things hold more weight if one can gather them from outside one's own House as well as one’s own."
"You would continue where Tallcrag left off, now that his current duties keep him to Underhaven?" Blotter interrupted, taking for the first time the initiative in this conversation.
"That I would, sir." Driftwood carried on, "I bring you trinkets and bones as I find them. You help lift me to higher status. You can check my references with Craggy himself, if you like. Now I've made my pitch, I think he'll have a freer tongue. Of course given the nature of this enterprise, he couldn’t very well be expected to have put something to parchment on my behalf.”
For the second time, Blotter looked Driftwood over, this time lingering on his face. Looking for tells? A reason to trust? Whatever he was looking for, after a long moment the old troll seemed to find it. "Agreed." His voice was as evenly measured as it was when he first spoke. "You'll have your patronage. When the doors of opportunity open to you, I will be there to counterweigh them open. I expect Tallcrag has already informed you that I am a man of my word."
And a weighty word it was! "Excellent doing business with you, master Scholar." Driftwood grinned wide, and handed over the treasure. "I look forward to bringing you more of the like in the future."