Author’s note: My take on the #vss365 Twitter prompt “yoke” was a little too short to convey what was in my head, so here’s a fleshed out version in verse (shut up, I like rhyme). I’ve spent a lot of time just walking in the snow, battling armies of trolls and ice wraiths hiding in the woods.
There’s no soft snow where Thomas lives,
just the sort that sticks.
It does not fly like powder does
it stops him when he kicks
He pulls, just like the other boys,
the ones beneath the yoke
And listens to the ice troll tongue
(they call themselves troldvolk)
If little Mike stopped shivering
Tom could hear old Jöt,
who jabbers on in frosty breath;
His troldwyfe listens not.
She hums instead, a troldwyfe’s tune
beside him on their sled
while human children pull them on
with sunken eyes half dead
Jöt yanks the reins to make them stop
and more to make them go
Thomas knows the ice troll words
for pup and move and snow
As far as he can tell there is
no troldvolk word for love.
Nor word for human, friend, or hug
or any happy stuff
Atop the tiny hill between
the human town and theirs
Jöt commands the team to stop
he rubs his beard and stares
Then tugs the reins and off they go
careening down the hill,
The other boys all scream and run
They trample one — it’s Bill.
You pull too hard! his troldwyfe scolds.
Jöt puts down the reins.
It’s CRUEL! she says, and Thomas knows
just what that troll word means.
CRUEL? Jöt says, incredulous
Mike’s shivering now stops
CRUEL is what I took them from —
What nature gave these pups.
Cruel is hungry, cruel is cold
Cruel’s their father’s voice
Who bellows, bring my whiskey, Tom,
and slaps him on the face
Chastened thus, the troldwyfe turns,
resumes her humming song.
Jöt slaps the reins once more and now
the children move along.
Then Thomas stumbles, just like Bill
His ankle thrums in pain.
And limping up the second hill
He listens once again.
Let’s go back to troldvolk town
the troldwyfe now suggests
I’ll make a stew to feed the pups
and let them have their rest
Without warm food, they have no strength
to pull our heavy sleigh.
I’ll feed them and I promise you
they’ll pull another day
He has no clue what ice trolls eat
Still, Thomas does not care
If he had a bowl of troldvolk stew
he’d eat it then and there
I rather like Jöt’s wife, he thinks
reminds me of my mum
the way she says those gentle things
the lovely song she hums
We have no meat, the ice troll says
with which to make your stew.
Have no fear, my husband dear
— The limping one will do.