glimpse into the seeds of a maze

I haven’t decided if this piece will be a novella, or a novel when I have the time for it(I’m kind of busy on a novel, already) and I doubt I’ll keep this little snippet from the journalings in whatever final form emerges…
***
Trolls walked among my nightmares more than most of the rest of the beasts. Trolls were hideous with sap for veins and a hunger for meat.

I once hid in a very lonely old oak tree and held my breath while a six trolls ate the girl that wasn’t as fast as I was, and wasn’t as quiet. I took small sips of air, and clutched at the highest branches I dared climb. The trolls didn’t look up at me. They had someone to eat at their feet. They probably thought I had turned a corner in the maze and then another and then another until my trail was lost in the tesseracts where the trees ended. Then, the men came with fire and brickbats and drove the trolls away. Four dead, that time, and two of them from where the barricade had been broken.

The trolls were fibrous like dead trees, and moved stiff. They covered their bodies in bird guano. When they walked, they sounded like creaking branches in breezes too strong for these halls.

Minotaurs, too, hunt for meat among the stones. They tend to work alone. I have never seen one alive – thank Lucius’ God – but I have seen them dead. They taste terrible, but they don’t make you sick and when winter comes every ounce of meat jerky helps us survive the snowfall. They have big, brutish heads with long snouts, and black hairs. Their horns are wild and curve up towards the sky. When they catch their prey, they gore them on the horns, and eat them that way.

The last time we caught a minotaur, Saitan was out on patrol with an older man named Brim. Together they smashed the minotaur into a pulp with their brickbats. I could barely make out its skull.

Brim had been gored by it. He held his own intestines in with one hand, and leaned on his brickbat with the other, using it like a cane. Saitan dragged the dead minotaur behind him. Two trails of blood led off into the maze until the rain washed the blood away. Brim went straight to his hut, his wife. She bathed him three times a day. She fed him by hand for a week. Everything he ate fell out of his stomach, half-digested.

Brim never cried out. He just stayed there, in his hut with his wife, for thirteen days lingering. When he died, his wife, Justine, sliced off all her hair. She poured it over his body where we had left the body for the crows and vultures and bugs.
Justine cried a long time. I worked with her sewing nets, and she couldn’t stop crying. Geraldine yelled at her for crying on the birds we had caught. Geraldine said it was bad luck to weep while we pulled our supper from the nets. Justine called Geraldine all sorts of names, and in the end, Justine ran off with her sister and never came back to the nets again.

When the meat was done smoking, we wanted to give Justine more of it, but she wouldn’t touch any of it, even if it meant starving. When winter came, all we had for a week was dried minotaur. She still wouldn’t eat it. She got sick. Enyo put her out in a hut by herself so she wouldn’t get the rest of us sick. When the solstice flies finally came, Enyo brought all he could to her in her hut, and nursed her back himself.

Justine doesn’t talk very much, anymore.

Stonecows aren’t vicious, and don’t eat men, but they’re just as dangerous. They’re huge beasts and covered in a thick hide of stone. They walk the halls, nibbling on pebbles and rocks and fallen stones. When they found plants, they ate among the roots, until the roots dwindled like naked, muddy ropes struggling to hold their plants in place, failing, falling down, and then there are no more tree. Stonecows move in huge herds. They must be pressed back with strong sticks and barricades of wood, lest they come into our grove and eat our trees to death, dumb herding beasts. We have not found a way to kill them, but they are not immune to the pester of our sticks. We shout and whack at them, they fall back into their herd. Their herd falls back into the halls. They wander away from us. I’ve heard they can trample someone to death if they get really scared and all start running, but I’ve never seen it.

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