"Whatever are you doing?" shrieked Ingrid, bustling forward. "Untie the boy, you brute!"
Uncle Baldur looked around at her, mildly surprised. "Got to fasten up the livestock," he explained. "Chickens or boyscan't have 'em escaping, running around loose." Ingrid opened her mouthand shut it. She looked at Peer. Peer looked back. See? he told her silently.
"Gee! Hoick!" screamed Uncle Baldur, climbing on to the driving seat and cracking his whip over the oxen. The cart lurched. Peer stared resolutely forward. He didn't wave good-bye to Ingrid.
Soon the town of Hammerhaven was out of sight. The steep, rough road twisted up into stony and boggy moorland, looping round white rocks and black pools of peat water. Low woods of birch and spruce grew on both sides of the road, and rough clumps of heather and bilberry. If the oxen tried to snatch a mouthful as they passed, Uncle Baldur's whip snapped out.
"Garn! Grr! Hoick, hoick!" The cart tilted like the deck of a ship as one wheel rose over a huge boulder, then dropped with a crash that nearly drove Peer's spine right through his skull. The oxen snorted, straining to drag not only the cart but big fat Uncle Baldur up the steep slope.
"Uncle," Peer hinted. "Shall I get out and walk?"
But his uncle ignored him. Peer muttered a bad word under his breath and sat down uncomfortably on a heap of sacks. His arm was stretched awkwardly up, still tied with twine to the rail of the cart. The pile of chickens slid about, flapping as the cart jolted. He counted them. They were all there: the little black one with the red comb, the three speckled sisters, the five big brown ones. They rolled red-rimmed eyes at him and squawked.
"It's not my fault," he told them sadly.
Over the end of the cart he could see Loki, trotting along with his head and tail low. Peer called. Loki glanced up briefly. He looked miserable, but the limp had gonehe'd been faking it, Peer decided.
They came around a bend in the road. Peer turned his head, then pulled himself up on to his knees and gazed.
In front, dwarfing Uncle Baldur's bulky shoulders, the land swooped upward. In heaves and hollows and scallops, crag above crag, upland beyond upland: in murky shouldering ridges, clotted with trees, tumbling with rockfalls, the flanks of Troll Fell rose before him. The narrow, rutted track scrambled breathlessly toward the skyline and vanished.
Tipping his head back, Peer stared upward at the summit, where he thought he could discern a savage crown of rocks. But as he watched, the clouds came lower. The top of Troll Fell wrapped itself in mist.
The light was fading. Fine cold rain began to soak into Peer's clothes. He dragged out a sack and draped it over his shoulders. Uncle Baldur pulled up the hood of his thick cloak.
Great shadowy boulders loomed up out of the drizzle on both sides of the track. They seemed to stare at Peer as he huddled uneasily in the bottom of the cart. One looked like a giant's head with shallow scooped-out eyes and sneering mouth. One had a blind muzzle poking at the sky. Something bolted out from under it as the cart passed, kicking itself up the hillside with powerful leaps. Peer sat up, startled, as it swerved out of sight. What was that? Too big for a hareand he thought he'd seen elbows. . . .
From the hidden crest of Troll Fell rolled a sinister chuckle of thunder. A wind sprang up, hissing through the rocks. Mud sprayed from the great wooden cartwheels. Peer clutched the sodden sack under his chin and sat jolting and shivering.
At last he realized from the angle of the cart that they were over the saddle of the hill, beginning to descend toward Trollsvik. Leaning forward, he looked down into a great shadowy basin. A few faint lights freckled the dim valley. That must be the village. Frozen and soaked, he thought longingly of dry clothes, a fire, hot drinks, and food. He had hardly spoken to his uncle all the way, but now he called out as politely as he could, "Uncle? How far is the mill?"
From Troll Fell. Copyright 2004 by Katherine Langrish. All rights reserved. Excerpt reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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