Once upon a time there was a princess who had gained the reputation of being strong-willed, intelligent, incorruptible and upright. Curiously, this made her an unsaleable commodity. Her mother despaired of finding her a husband and her father was growing heartily sick of explaining away his daughter’s attitude to disgruntled ambassadors. The problem was, that being strong-willed, intelligent incorruptible and upright, the princess found it impossible to spend more that a few minutes in the company of her many suitors before she was either bored rigid or furious.
“I refuse to marry a man with the intellect of a boiled potato and the charisma of a dead rat,” she said of the Sultan of Ispahan’s son.
“That’s what you said about the Rajah of Pashastan,” her father said in exasperation.
“No, he was the toad with the manners of a baboon and the morals of a…of a Rajah,” she retorted.
“Well what about Prince Fabian of The Scented Isles?”
“Thick as a brick and wet as a Bank Holiday Monday.”
“King Hakkon the Nordling?”
“He tried to bribe me with a huge pile of gold he was going to steal from his people and call it ‘The Princess Tax’!”
The king threw up his hands in despair. “If that’s going to be your attitude and you refuse to make a marriage that will be advantageous for the kingdom, then you can take over the troll-trawling from your Aunt Jasmin whose eyesight is no longer up to it.”
“I would rather trawl for lice in the hair of a mountain troll than give myself to any of the royal pretenders you have found so far,” she said with dignity and went to prepare herself to descend into the dungeons where the mountain troll was kept.
Any treasury with a captive mountain troll was assured of never running dry, as it is a well-known fact that the lice of mountain trolls are of solid gold, as long as they are removed from their host by the fingers of a princess. The lice-picker’s fingers don’t really have to belong to a princess, but the pretext has always been a good one for dealing with uppity female members of the royal family. Aunt Jasmin, for example, had, in her youth, smashed the skull of a prince with wandering hands using a millefiore paperweight.
After an initial (understandable) reluctance, the princess began to find her new occupation rather interesting. Each louse was unique and quite beautiful in its own golden way, and the glass jar where she placed them was filled with an ever changing pattern of light. In addition, the company of the troll was much more agreeable than that of the pretentious and vacuous princes and courtiers, the only company that had ever been allowed her.
The troll, despite his years of captivity had a fund of stories of the wild dark mountains and the deep dark forests of his home. As the jar of tiny golden beasts filled, and the troll’s stories painted a magical fresco across the dungeon walls, the princess found herself being drawn deeper into a wild plan. One evening, long after she had picked a last golden louse and dropped it into the glass jar, and the troll’s deep voice had fallen silent, she gave a great sigh.
“I’d love to see your mountiany land,” she said.
“You’d like it there,” the troll said in his slow, booming voice. “Waterfalls and forests, and the golden beasts that fill the shadows with bright glitter. We don’t like the full sun, you know.”
“And the little golden beasts are drops of sunlight?”
The troll smiled, a slow and charmingly hideous smile, and nodded his shaggy head. “Trolls don’t like Sun’s fierce rays, but we keep drops of his light about us to keep up company in the long winter nights.”
“And there are no princes?”
The troll shook his head. “No kings, no queens neither. Just trolls and beasts.”
“I think I will like it there,” the princess said and got to her feet. She took a key from her pocket and unlocked the troll’s shackles. Then she tucked the jar of golden sunlight under her arm and gave her hand to the troll. The castle slept. No one crossed their path as the princess led the troll to her room high in a tower.
“This was my christening present from my fairy godmother,” the princess said as she shook out a multi-coloured carpet.
“Magic?” the troll asked.
The princess grinned. “All aboard!”
“Home!” the troll roared as the carpet billowed and whisked them through the open window and into the starry night.
And that is how the princess took the mountain troll home and released the golden sun beasts that dance all through the winter nights with the silver moon drops and the blue and green water stars and fill the northern sky with lights.