I had a long Easter weekend away from the Internet, so I'm just now getting to Saturday's "T" entry in the A to Z Challenge. This one is another installment in the Otusworld project...
Leading a team of work horses along the tow-path, Ansolm warily guides the river barge up the mist-shouded Seynoah Canal. Alert for upended trees and eroded banks that would halt his progress, or worse, cripple his horses, his real cause for vigilance is the big-headed bog monster that is known to dwell in these parts.
Suddenly, a succession of loud crunches and Ansolm struggles to regain control of his startled team. Glancing down, he catches sight of a carpet of bones and the occasional skull.
With he squeak, he utters, "It's 'round 'ere, ain't it master Kelso?"
"Aye lad," replies the older man manning the rudder and peering into the fog with alarm. A half-dozen mercenaries sight their crossbows into the gloom from between the crates and bundles tied to the deck.
"Tabar the Tollkeeper, " Kelso spits in disgust. "Bastard son of a bog hag and demon prince, or so they say. Curse the night that he was born."
Looking at the steely-eyed Amarjan mercenaries in their fine breastplates and man-portable ballistae, Ansolm regains a measure of his youthful courage. "Surely the creature will take his tribute and slink back into the slime pits from which it came. What could possibly stand against men such as these?"
Shaking his head at the youth's innocent bravado, Kelso says "Aye lad, it will leave us alone. Or that is the hope. But don't think it'll do it in fear of our little company. If the brave heroes Bozen and Kreel could not drive him off, never mind three score of the bossman's best men-at-arms, I doubt a handful of hired swords would cause old Tabar to even flinch.
"No, my lad, old Tabar's not about to uproot his silver tree. He's got a good thing going here. Since trade's reopened with the Otasian uplanders and the lands beyond, he's enjoyed a steady tribute of... well... let's just say that the monster is living large and getting fat. And he doesn't even have to risk stubbing his toes while razing border ranches."
"But what could he do with the tribute? It's not like he's going down to market to provision whatever hole in the ground he calls his home. Or do you mean that he's sitting a pile of coins like some runty dragon on his horde?"
Kelso simply shakes his head, "No lad. You know he doesn't take gold."
In the choking fog, Ansolm fails to notice Kelso's eyes go wide and the mercenaries sighting their weapons with greater purpose. He enquires, "You mean there is truth to those tales that he demands the flesh of young virgins? I think I'd know if we had any pretty young virgins in our hold... what's that smell?"
Kelso can barely make out the grinning, over-sized head of Tabar the Tollkeeper licking his lips as he pulls the unconscious boy into the brush. A knowing glance passes between monster and merchant and then he is gone. Several mercenaries already are on shore and steadying the panicking horses.
Under his breath, with a tear in his eye, Kelso says, "You my boy, you are the tribute."
TABAR THE TOLLKEEPER
Description: Grotesque 8' tall humanoid with an over-sized head and razor-sharp teeth. Its rubbery hide is a disgusting shade of greenish-blue and the black hair atop its leering head resembles the refuse from a barber shop after being cast into an open sewer.
Cliches: Marauding Bog Troll (6), Infamous Barge Extortionist (4), Cannibal Gourmand (2)
Hook: Susceptible to lightning and various energy weapons that might turn up in the ruins of the ancients.
Marauding Bog Troll: Being prodigiously strong and fearsome; shaking off and regenerating tremendous injury; ripping people to shreds. Due to coating of river slime, he is not particularly vulnerable to fire or acid.
Infamous Barge Extortionist: Intimidation, demanding tribute; disrupting trade patterns.
Cannibal Gourmand: Has this fantastic recipe for spicy long pork...