The Torgrith of Pallonia
I had one job to do which the whole of the Pallonian kingdom was relying on me to carry out. That one task was all I did and, for which, I was paid handsomely. Some things people were not able to do but I, an inconspicuous little Torgrith, had the gifting and the knowledge, handed down through the generations, to do what others were unable to.
The high granite tors of the Black Lands were my home. I hid away amongst the rocks and ravens all year round, fine-tuning my craft until the time came. Now, with a pony in tow carrying my supplies, I travelled down through the forests and valleys. I finally approached my destination in the evening of my third day of trekking. There, on a promontory overlooking a river, stood the imposing fortress of Dhurlstone Castle.
Towering above me were two great gates set within a granite gatehouse. This was surmounted by a watchtower, the occupants of which I would be relying on for the next few days. There were no guards on duty so I reached up to pull a large iron ring attached to a rope which disappeared into the stonework. A muffled jangling could be heard from inside the structure and a small window set within one of the gates opened above me.
‘Who’s there?’ asked a rough voice.
‘It is I, the Torgrith of Pallonia,’ I said, looking up at the window.
‘Where? Oh, down there,’ the voice said and a head peered out and stared down at me. ‘Right you are, come on in.’
The window closed and I heard a deep rumbling noise accompanied by loud clankings and grindings as huge pieces of machinery engaged to open the enormous gates.
I walked through the gateway, my pony dutifully following. In front of me, the expansive bailey opened out to reveal numerous small dwellings and workshops around the perimeter. People, dogs and an assortment of livestock were going about their daily business. The main castle was at the far end, a substantial structural cacophony of walls, towers, battlements, roofs and flags. My focus turned to the middle of the bailey and to the large area given over to the cultivation of glewberries in a series of well-tended allotments.
‘Welcome, my friend!’ A shout echoed around the walls and a stout, bearded man dressed in a purple bathrobe and gold slippers ran towards me followed by an entourage of somewhat flustered courtiers and servants.
‘Your Majesty,’ I bowed in return. Thick arms closed around me and my feet left the ground as the King lifted me up with a hug that squeezed all the air from my lungs. My face disappeared into his wiry beard and his breath smelt strongly of garlic.
‘I can’t believe it has been a year since you were here last,’ the King said, lowering me back onto my feet. ‘Look, the glewberry harvest should be a good one this year – it will only be a couple of days away.’ The King was right, the crops did look good. I peered over a wooden fence into one of the allotments. The glewberries looked like very bushy strawberry plants. Each was laden with small red berries sparkling in the sunshine for their skin had the appearance of being covered with a red glittery frosting.
‘It is all up to you now, no pressure!’ He gave a hearty laugh. ‘Come, my people will show you and your pony to your stable lodgings and bring you a meal and drink. Then we will leave you alone to get a good night’s rest. Just call if you need anything, my kingdom is at your disposal. Good day to you.’
I awoke the next morning to my pony nuzzling my ear and giving me a sharp head-butt. Soon, the morning sunshine enticed me out into the castle grounds and I began to formulate a plan of action. This didn’t take long as it was the same every year. People waved to me and several engaged in conversation. Before long, a tall, woman with loose waist-length red hair and wearing a bright sky-blue dress with knee-length leather boots appeared beside me.
‘Good day, Little One,’ Queen Amarantha said. She always called me that. ‘I’ve heard that they arrived at Castle Medrock yesterday. Fortunately, the Torgrith there did as was expected and there was no problem. Would you care to join us for breakfast?’
‘Thanks, but no, your Majesty. I must begin my work. The vayregrols could arrive at any time. I trust the guards in the watchtower have been fully trained?’
‘Of course. As soon as they see the flock approaching they will sound the alarm. They know death will be their reward if they fail.’
‘I wish there was another way we could kill them,’ I said.
‘I think hanging is quite reliable, do you not? It is less messy than shooting them, or throwing them to the wolves.’
‘No, I meant the vayregrols.’
‘Oh, yes, but you know they will destroy our crop of glewberries if we don’t. We cannot allow that to happen. Glewberry wine is such a staple part of our culture, without it we would face civil unrest and the potential collapse of our kingdom. And, besides, the vayregrols are themselves an important part of our food supplies during the winter; and you would be out of a job!’
‘I agree,’ I said. ‘Perhaps I am getting old and the magic is taking too much out
Preparation was straightforward. First, I set numerous clay dishes around the allotments in the form of a grid and charged them with a mug full of Grublack’s powder. Then, above them on special metal spikes, I set small bottles of blue phoregenium and attached a string to the tipping mechanism. Lastly, I threaded all the strings back to where I would be sitting. Thus, with one pull on the strings, all the bottles of blue phoregenium would tip into the bowls of Grublack’s powder at precisely the same time and… whooomph!
By early afternoon, most of my work was completed without disturbance. The King always made it quite clear that if anyone were to interrupt me, they would be severely punished. My final task was to check my bows and arrows. I always had a backup though none had ever failed me. Wrapped around the tip of each arrow was a tight padding of wool and I laid them out on the ground next to the bows. Beside them were a couple of bottles of firebright. Lastly, I made sure there was enough wood for the fire which had to be kept alight.
I sniffed the air. Yes, there it was, the slight fruity fragrance glewberries emitted when almost ripe. Vayregrols could detect this from many miles away and it would not be long before they gathered for the attack. They were still a few days off being ready for picking as they were at their best when overripe, but the vayregrols always arrived a day or two earlier. I looked up to the watchtower and a guard waved back, holding up a large, twisted ram’s horn as he did so. He knew his job and was ready and waiting. I once heard of a castle where allotment holders tried to cover the glewberries with a netting of woven hemp rather than employ a Torgrith. It worked for a few moments until the supports gave way as the vayregrols landed on it and chewed their way through the fibres. The whole crop was lost.
The afternoon passed to evening, and evening passed into night. Sleep would have to wait. I sat outside the stable beside my fire, alert to anything moving in the dark above me. Every bat, every owl, every change in the breeze until, as the dawn light washed over the castle walls, I sensed an unsettling in the chickens roosting nearby. I stood up and looked to the watchtower. As I did so, the long clear tone of the ram’s horn being blown filled the dawn. This was it. I moved into position, anticipation building with every moment, my years of training ensuring I held my composure and focused my mind on what I was about to do.
They came. A flock of several thousand, swirling above the castle in a mesmerising dance of twists and turns. I could hear their voices, calling with excitement in a language of their own. And then the singing began and they swooped down to the allotments – a mass of small gold coloured figures with spindly arms and legs, jet black wings and faces full of evil – intent on consuming and carrying away as many glewberries as they could.
My timing was perfect, as always. Once the vayregrols had all landed, as they were wont to do at almost the same instant, I pulled the strings hard. Clouds of blue smoke erupted from wherever the phoregenium tipped onto the Grublack’s powder, enveloping the whole of the allotment area. With a few swift moves, I poured a bottle of firebright onto the wool padding of one arrow and watched it burst into flames as I lit it with a stick from the fire. I placed it in the bow, drew back the string, lined up my sight and released my fingers.
A streak of bright green flames leapt from the bow and headed for the centre of the blue cloud. A blinding flash of light lit up the castle bailey leaving the air clear apart from a few stray wisps of vapour. All around the allotments, the vayregrols lay motionless where they had fallen, lying like torn black rags scattered over every glewberry plant. A few fluttering wings and limbs remained and these finally gave up their lives, succumbing to the sudden shroud of death that had so unexpectedly brought their foray to an end.
Copyright Matthew Slater 2022. No reproduction allowed in any form without permission.