“GREEAAYYARGGGHH!” Percival the Troll yawned deeply, stretching his arms wide and twisting this way and that to get that nice popping noise from his back. If anyone unfamiliar with trolls had been present at that instant, they may have commented on the fact that Percival’s yawns and his roars sounded remarkably similar. However, perhaps surprisingly, Percival was less angry today than he had been in some time. In fact, almost for the first time in his life, he had a sense of job satisfaction. Taking care of the three prisoners was significantly easier than he thought it would be, and it made him feel good to finally be doing something important with his life. That, and the fact that if he ever started feeling particularly unhappy, he could just stomp down into the dungeon and yell at the prisoners for a while, and there was no one to make him stop. He’d tried yelling at lots of other people before, but he always got in trouble for it afterwards. He never got in trouble for yelling at the prisoners.
So this morning, Percival yawned instead of roaring. He still had all of his normal duties to attend to, but none of them seemed quite so onerous as before. When he was in the pigsty, he envisioned locking up the prisoners in the pigsty and feeding them slop. On his way out, he patted each of the pigs on the head, perhaps a bit more roughly than usual, as he pretended to be leaving a deep, troll-fist-shaped impression in the faces of the prisoners – especially that snotty one with the long black hair and the ugly-looking tattoo. On his way up to the battlements to empty out the Duke’s chamberpot, he cackled gleefully as he pictured shoving the prisoners off the top of the walls and listening to them scream all the way down. Then he pictured himself emptying the chamberpot on top of their battered bodies, and walked back down to the ground level with a grin plastered all over his face. He terrified more guards that day than he had in a long time – a troll with a smile is not something a normal person ever wants to see. After he finished shoveling the cow manure (picturing himself filling a large vat with it, and tossing the prisoners in for a swim), Percival finally decided it was time to serve the prisoners their gruel. He walked over to the kitchens and filled up three bowls, taking great care to leave an equal-sized bubble of troll spit in each of them, and, balancing them precariously on his left arm, plodded down to the dungeons, whistling merrily.
When he arrived, something looked a bit different, but Percival couldn’t quite figure out what for a few moments. Then he realized what was wrong; all three of the prison cells where the prisoners had been held were empty, with the cell doors wide open.
And just like that, Percival was angry again.
At that instant, a loud, tolling alarm bell started ringing from the castle. Ser Robert’s body had been found, and Castle Whitefall turned into a madhouse. Shouts echoed through the courtyard as the castle guards began searching for the murderer, and it was a long time before anybody thought to check with Percival on the status of the prisoners. When Duke Edmond learned that the prisoners had escaped as well, he went from utterly terrified to completely panic-stricken. How did the prisoners escape? Did they have an accomplice? How could they possibly have snuck into the castle to murder Ser Robert without being caught by the Duke’s guards? And most importantly, what was the Duke going to tell the White King when he arrived?
In the nearby town of Whitefall, the villagers had different worries. They heard the alarm bells echoing from the Castle, and soon after a company of militia could be seen approaching in the distance. The men, unsure of the nature of the emergency, quickly gathered what weapons they could, and marched out to meet the militia. The women, for the first time in a long time, did not gather in the town center to gossip. Instead, they stayed in their homes and locked their doors.
When the captain of the palace guard explained to the townspeople what had happened, the men’s fear slowly turned to anger. “I knew we should have executed them,” they said. “I can’t believe that the Duke consented to such an obviously dangerous arrangement. And now Ser Robert has been killed, and an army of grey reavers is on its way to interrogate a group of prisoners that isn’t here.” Desperate to find the prisoners, the villagers quickly organized a complete search of the town, as well as the surrounding Tao fields. Every room of every house was scoured by the militia as the women and children huddled in corners and tried to stay out of the way. The men of Whitefall began marching up and down the rows and rows of Tao, making sure to stay within eyesight of each other, and calling out to each other periodically. Alas, the searching was in vain; the escaped prisoners and their murdering accomplice were nowhere to be found.
In the castle, however, the castle guards found two important clues after some investigation: the first, a single long grey hair that had fallen on Ser Robert’s body, and secondly, a number of long, deep grooves in the western wall of the castle. It was immediately apparent from these clues that the prisoners had at least two accomplices; one human who had killed Ser Robert, and one Chimera, who (presumably) had scaled the walls with its long, blade-like appendages, carrying the prisoners over the wall. This news did not improve Duke Edmond’s day in the slightest.
While the hunt for the escaped prisoners continued, Percival was experiencing another emotion that he had never experienced before: depression. For the first time in his life, he had been given a real, important job to do, and he had failed. Somehow, even though he had been on guard the entire night, the prisoners had slipped out from under his enormously unsightly nose. He thought back to the events of the previous day. He had taken his mid-afternoon nap, and then proceeded down to the dungeons to yell at the prisoners for a while. The prisoners had definitely been present when he was yelling at them. He knew this, since the ugly one had started yelling back. However, he had let loose a very loud, passionate roar, which shut him up quickly. No one yelled at a roaring troll.
After his (very cathartic) yelling session, he had gone about the rest of his evening duties. He scrubbed down the walls of the goat pens; then he had picked all of the slugs off the staircase up to the battlements (they came out in such droves in the late fall that it made the stairways dangerously slippery), and finally he had gotten ready for his guard duties for the night. And then… well, what had happened next? He vaguely remembered some sort of strange, chittering noise coming from behind him, and then he had… done what? He didn’t remember. Now, this isn’t especially surprising, given his intelligence, but nevertheless he felt as though there was something he should have remembered. Something… unusual. But the harder he thought about it, the more frustrated he became, and thus the less likely he was to remember the Chimera that had snuck up behind him and with a powerful push of Tao had knocked Percival into a deep sleep, before proceeding down into the dungeons of Castle Whitefall.
Percival didn’t know what to do. Most people were too busy to pay him any attention at all, and so he sat for hours staring at the empty cells in the dungeon. Every once in a while, a great, green, slimy tear would trickle down his face. He had tried to help in the search process, but he had just gotten in the way; he couldn’t remember the locations that had already been searched, so finally the guardsmen had snapped irritably at him to get out of their way and let the people with a brains larger than a damn squirrel’s do the work.
Percival sat there well into the night, while the castle continued to bustle with activity. The militia continued fanning out their search in an ever-increasing radius; several mounted scouts were sent out, ranging far and wide across the countryside, looking for signs of the escaped prisoners or the Chimerae. Most found nothing; one scout never returned, and his mutilated body was later found in the bottom of a ditch, together with his horse, long deep gashes running down its side.
Percival wondered what would happen to him. Would he be sent away again? This time he didn’t have a Princess to vouch for him, and he knew that everyone else hated him. He didn’t know what happened to dungeon keepers who failed at their duties. Maybe they were executed! Were they going to execute him? Percival thought perhaps it would better if he had never been born, or if he had been killed along with the rest of his family in the Great Troll Hunt.
Then, in a flash of troll-like inspiration, it came to him. He knew what he had to do; he knew how he would redeem himself. So, just after midnight, he slipped up the stairs into the castle courtyard. He deliberately and solemnly marched down to the pigpen, where he patted each pig on the head (quite gently this time), and sorrowfully said, “Good piggy,” one last time. Then, he returned to the courtyard, and tried to stealthily slip out the front gate of the castle into the countryside. Percival failed rather miserably at being stealthy, but luckily for him, no one was paying much attention to the large yellow troll in all of the commotion. He looked over his shoulder a couple of times to ensure that he was not being followed; once satisfied of this fact, he took off across the country in a great, galloping pace, a look of grim determination on his face. He didn’t know where he was going, nor did he know how to get there, but that didn’t matter right now. Percival the Troll was on the hunt.