The title, however, was Silverfish's. Although Dibbler had assured him that Cohen the Barbarian was practically historical and certainly educational, Silverfish had held out against Valley of Blud!

Victor was handed what looked like a leather purse but which turned out to be his costume. He changed behind a couple of rocks.


He was also given a large, blunt sword.

'Now,' said Dibbler, who was sitting in a canvas chair, 'what you do is, you fight the trolls, rush up and untie the girl from the stake, fight the other trolls, and then run off behind that other rock over there. That's the way I see it. What do you say, Tommy?'

'Well, I-' Silverfish began.

'That's great,' said Dibbler. 'OK. Yes, Victor?'

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'You mentioned trolls. What trolls?' said Victor.

The two rocks unfolded themselves.

'Don't you worry about a fing, mister,' said the nearest one. 'Me and ole Galena over there have got this down pat.'

'Trolls!' said Victor, backing away.

'That's right,' said Galena. He flourished a club with a nail in it.

'But, but,' Victor began.

'Yeah?' said the other troll.

What Victor would like to have said was: but you're trolls, fierce animated rocks that live in the mountains and bash travellers with huge clubs very similar to the ones you're holding now, and I thought when they said trolls they meant ordinary men dressed up in, oh, I don't know, sacking painted grey or something.

'Oh, good,' he said weakly. 'Er.'

'And don't you go listening to them stories about us eatin' people,' said Galena. 'That's a slander, that is. I mean, we're made of rock, what'd we want to eat people-'

'Swaller,' said the other troll. 'You mean swaller.'

'Yeah. What's we want to swaller people for? We always spit out the bits. And anyway we're retired from all that now,' he added quickly. 'Not that we ever did it.' He nudged Victor in a friendly fashion, nearly breaking one of his ribs. 'It's good here,' he said conspiratorially. 'We get three dollars a day plus a dollar barrier cream allowance for daylight working.'

'On account of turning to stone until nightfall otherwise, what is a pain,' said his companion.

'Yeah, an' it holds up shooting and people strike matches on you.'

'Plus our contract says we get five pence extra for use of own club,' said the other troll.

'If we could just get started-' Silverfish began.

'Why's there only two trolls?' complained Dibbler. 'What's heroic about fighting two trolls? I asked for twenty, didn't I?'

'Two's fine by me,' Victor called out.

'Listen, Mr Dibbler,' said Silverfish, 'I know you're trying to help, but the basic economics-'

Silverfish and Dibbler started to argue. Gaffer the handleman sighed and took the back off the moving-picture-box to feed and water the demons, who were complaining.

Victor leaned on his sword.

'Do a lot of this sort of thing, do you?' he said to the trolls.

'Yeah,' said Galena. 'All the time. Like, in A King's Ransom, I play a troll who rushed out an' hit people. An' in The Dark Forest, I play a troll who rushed out an' hit people. An', an', in Mystery Mountain I play a troll who rushed out, an' jumped up an' down on people. It doesn't pay to get type-cast.'

'And do you do the same thing?' said Victor, to the other troll.

'Oh, Morraine's a character actor, ain't you?' said Galena. 'Best in the business.'

'What does he play?'


Victor stared.

'On account of his craggy features,' Galena went on. 'Not just rocks. You should see him do an ancient monolith. You'd be amazed. Go on, Morry, show 'im yer inscription.'

'Nah,' said Morraine, grinning sheepishly.

'I'm thinking of changing my name for movin' pictures,' Galena went on. 'Somethin' with a bit o' class. I thought “Flint”.' He gave Victor a worried look, insofar as Victor was any judge of the range of expressions available to a face that looked as though it had been kicked out of granite with a pair of steel-toed boots. 'What you fink?' he said.

'Er. Very nice.'

'More dynamic, I fought,' said the prospective Flint.

Victor heard himself say: 'Or Rock. Rock's a nice name.'

The troll stared at him, its lips moving soundlessly as it tried out the alias.

'Cor,' he said. 'Never fought of that. Rock. I like that. I reckon I'd be due more'n three dollars a day, with a name like Rock.'

'Can we make a start?' said Dibbler sternly. 'Maybe we'll be able to afford more trolls if this is a successful click, but it won't be if we go over budget, which means we ought to wrap it up by lunchtime. Now, Morry and Galena-'

'Rock,' corrected Rock.

'Really? Anyway, you two rush out and attack Victor, OK. Right . . . turn it . . . '

The handleman turned the handle of the picture box. There was a faint clicking noise and a chorus of small yelps from the demons. Victor stood looking helpful and alert.

'That means you start,' said Silverfish patiently. 'The trolls rush out from behind the rocks, and you valiantly defend yourself.'

'But I don't know how to fight trolls!' Victor wailed.

'Tell you what,' said the newly-christened Rock. 'You parry first, and we'll sort of arrange not to hit you.'

Light dawned.

'You mean it's all pretending?' said Victor.

The trolls exchanged a brief glance, which nevertheless contrived to say: amazing, isn't it, that things like this apparently rule the world?.

'Yeah,' said Rock. 'That's it. Nuffin's real.'

'We ain't allowed to kill you,' said Morraine reassuringly.

'That's right,' said Rock. 'We wouldn't go round killin' you.'

'They stops our money if we does things like that,' said Morraine, morosely.

Outside the fault in reality They clustered, peering in with something approaching eyes at the light and warmth. There was a crowd of them by now.

There had been a way through, once. To say that they remembered it would be wrong, because they had nothing as sophisticated as memory. They barely had anything as sophisticated as heads. But they did have instincts and emotions.

They needed a way in.

They found it.

It worked quite well, the sixth time. The main problem was the trolls' enthusiasm for hitting each other, the ground, the air and, quite often, themselves. In the end, Victor just concentrated on trying to hit the clubs as they whirred past him.

Dibbler seemed quite happy with this. Gaffer wasn't.

'They moved around too much,' he said. 'They were out of the picture half the time.'

'It was a battle,' said Silverfish.

'Yeah, but I can't move the picture box around,' said the handleman. 'The imps fall over.'

'Couldn't you strap them in or something?' said Dibbler.

Gaffer scratched his chin. 'I suppose I could nail their feet to the floor,' he said.

'Anyway, it'll do for now,' said Silverfish. 'We'll do the scene where you rescue the girl. Where's the girl? I distinctly instructed her to be here. Why isn't she here? Why doesn't anyone ever do what I tell them?'

The handleman took his cigarette stub out of his mouth.

'She's filmin' A Bolde Adventurer over the other side of the hill,' he volunteered.

'But that ought to have been finished yesterday!' wailed Silverfish.

'Film exploded,' said the handleman.

'Blast! Well, I suppose we can do the next fight. She doesn't have to be in it,' said Silverfish grumpily. 'All right, everybody. We'll do the bit where Victor fights the dreaded Balgrog.'

'What's a Balgrog?' said Victor.

A friendly but heavy hand tapped him on the shoulder.

'It's a traditional evil monster what is basically Morry painted green with wings stuck on,' said Rock. 'I'll jus' go an' help him with the paintin'.'

He lumbered off.

No-one seemed to want Victor at the moment.

He stuck the ridiculous sword into the sand, wandered away and found a bit of shade under some scrubby olive trees. There were rocks here. He tapped them gently. They didn't appear to be anyone.

The ground formed a cool little hollow that was almost pleasant by the seared standards of Holy Wood hill.

There was even a draught blowing from somewhere. As he leaned back against the stones he felt a cool breeze coming from them. Must be full of caves under here, he thought.

- far away in Unseen University, in a draughty, many pillar'd corridor, a little device that no-one had paid much attention to for years started to make a noise -

So this was Holy Wood. It hadn't looked like this on the silver screen. It seemed that moving pictures involved a lot of waiting around and, if he was hearing things right, a mixing-up of time. Things happened before the things they happened after. The monsters were just Morry painted green with wings stuck on. Nothing was really real.

Funnily enough, that was exciting.

'I've just about had enough of this,' said a voice beside him.

He looked up. A girl had come down the other path. Her face was red with exertion under the pale make-up, her hair hung over her eyes in ridiculous ringlets, and she wore a dress which, while clearly made for her size, was designed for someone who was ten years younger and keen on lace edging.

She was quite attractive, although this fact was not immediately apparent.

'And you know what they say when you complain?' she demanded. This was not really addressed to Victor. He was just a convenient pair of ears.

'I can't imagine,' said Victor politely.

'They say, “There's plenty of other people out there just waiting for a chance to get into moving pictures”. That's what they say.'

She leaned against a gnarled tree and fanned herself with her straw hat. 'And it's too hot,' she complained. 'And now I've got to do a ridiculous one-reeler for Silverfish, who hasn't got the faintest idea. And some kid probably with bad breath and hay in his hair and a forehead you could lay a table on.'

'And trolls,' said Victor mildly.

'Oh gods. Not Morry and Galena?'

'Yes. Only Galena's calling himself Rock now.'

'I thought it was going to be Flint.'

'He likes Rock.'

From behind the rocks came the plaintive bleat of Silverfish wondering where everyone had got to just when he needed them. The girl rolled her eyes.

'Oh gods. For this I'm missing lunch?'

'You could always eat it off my forehead,' said Victor, standing up.

He had the satisfaction of feeling her thoughtful gaze on the back of his neck as he retrieved his sword and gave it a few experimental swishes, with rather more force than was necessary.

'You're the boy in the street, aren't you?' she said.

'That's right. You're the girl who was going to be shot,' said Victor. 'I see they missed.'

She looked at him curiously. 'How did you get a job so quickly? Most people have to wait weeks for a chance.'

'Chances are where you find them, I've always said,' said Victor.

'But how-'

Victor had already strolled away with gleeful nonchalance. She trailed after him, her face locked in a petulant pout.

'Ah,' said Silverfish sarcastically, looking up. 'My word. Everyone where they should be. Very well. We'll go from the bit where he finds her tied to the stake. What you do,' he said to Victor, 'is untie her, then drag her off and fight the Balgrog, and you,' he pointed to the girl, 'you, you, you just follow him and look as, as rescued as you possibly can, OK?'

'I'm good at that,' she said, resignedly.

'No, no, no,' said Dibbler, putting his head in his hands. 'Not that again!'

'Isn't that what you wanted?' said Silverfish. 'Fights and rescues?'

'There's got to be more to it than that!' said Dibbler.

'Like what?' Silverfish demanded.

'Oh, I don't know. Razzmatazz. Oomph. The old zonkaroonie.'

'Funny noises? We haven't got sound.'

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