A Troll for a Bridge

February 9, 2015 - Short Story

A Troll For A Bridge – A Short Fantasy Story By Kelly D. Tolman
Gorbon sat under the shabby stone bridge, contemplating. The late sun had just set, and the world was settling into a calm, dark quiet. A large trout broke the surface a short distance upstream and the songs of frogs along the bank were rising with the clouds of mosquitoes. The troll sighed and frowned and looked up at the bridge. His wide, yellow eyes noticed the moss over the stones and the broken gate with the tumbled toll sign. The once white paint was chipped and worn where it was not covered with moss and lichens. The troll put a stumpy fist under his warty chin and slipped into misery. “No one uses my bridge anymore,” he sighed.
At length, when the stars were high in the summer sky, and the moonlight danced on the stream, Gorbon sat up straight and exclaimed, “I’ll get ‘em to visit me.” He fished around in the dark for a moment, until he caught a slimy treat, and then, with a wink at the dark he clambered his way out of the ravine.
To the east lay a wide field of wheat set on gentle slopes. To the west was the dark forest where the woodsmen went to labor. “I’ll find the way the woodsmen use,” thought the troll as he turned north along the river, following close to the forest. A mile or two was all he traveled when he found another bridge. In the dark he heard a ruckus louder than the frogs, so terrible it shook the ground. A mighty nose snoring beneath the bridge. Undaunted, Gorbon went ahead, until he saw the fiend, a squat green troll with a mangy mane asleep beneath the bridge.
The gate on top was clean and neat, and the stones were painted bright. The roadway up was paved and even. A high railing had been set along the bridge to keep the travelers safe. “Isn’t that sweet,” growled Gorbon to himself, as he set about his work.
In the dead of night, until the light of dawn, Gorbon labored on his bridge. He scraped the moss and mended the gate while the stars twinkled in the cloudless sky. But the next morning no one came to his bridge. Angrily, Gorbon spat and growled at the lazy stream. “I’ll show ‘em yet,” he cried, and that night once more he went upstream.
The nose continued to sleep an easy sleep, but now Gorbon turned mean. With the stealth of a master thief, he crept to the enemy bridge, and one by one he moved the stones. At the base of the bridge with his mighty arms, Gorbon undermined the foundations. At last, with a shout of glee, the bridge began to tumble. The nose awoke with a start, but too late, as the bridge toppled over him. Gorbon giggled to himself as he tore down the gate, and broke the paving stones. And then he wandered home.
In the early dawn, a steady clop, clop was heard on the roadway overhead. Gorbon awoke with a start, and rubbed the sleep from he bleary eyes. “Who is it that disturbs me sleep he called, on this misty morning?”
The woodsman stopped his cart, and stared about in fright. “I am but a simple woodsman,” he said, “and meant no harm. I come to cut a living for myself in the woods beyond.”
“Simple or not, the toll is for all. A penny to cross, or I’ll eat your bones.”
“A penny,” said the woodsman, “I’ve but half that much, and must get to the woods to live.”
“The toll is fair,” replied the troll, “and will be justly used.”
Sadly the woodsman turned away, and the clop was heard fading in the distance. Gorbon giggled to himself in the water under the bridge. The day was cool, and the muddy banks seemed merrier than they had been in years. “Torment is gladness to my heart,” he laughed, “and the woodsmen will soon pay tribute to me!”
Not an hour passed when more carts clopped their way along the newly paved road to the troll’s painted gate.
“Who is it that disturbs my peace,” growled Gorbon angrily.
“We are but simple woodsmen,” came the shaky reply, “come to seek a living in the woods on the other side.”
“A penny each wagon,” said Gorbon, “and you shall see the other shore. Or I’ll eat your bones and cook your skins for my dinner.”
“We’ll pay, we’ll pay,” the woodsmen cried, “don’t eat us yet.”
Gorbon laughed aloud on the muddy banks below, and giggled as he lifted the lever to open the gate. The clink of cons hit the box, and Gorbon frolicked in the water. All that day Gorbon laughed, and as the woodsmen came, or the hunters on their proud horses, he growled and snarled, and made them all drop in their copper penny. When night came he washed the bridge and mended the stones, and locked the gate tight.
Then under the bridge in the dank shadows he slept, more peacefully than he had slept in years, and dreamed of new torments for his visitors. In his sleep he giggled, and snickered out loud. The frogs became annoyed with his sounds, and moved their songs to other parts. The fish and the night birds took their homes to quieter ground, and left the troll alone. Gorbon paid no head to them; glad he had scared them too.
Each day the woodsmen came, and each day the toll they paid, and if they argued, Gorbon laughed and growled, and scared them away. For a week or so, Gorbon was happy and content. Then one night as he slept, he heard a scrape and a laugh. He woke in time to see the last stone pulled, and the bridge came tumbling down. He heard a raspy, nasal voice, “now, thief, that’ll teach you to meddle with my things.” The raspy laugh disappeared, and Gorbon was covered in rubble.
The woodsmen came in the early dawn, as Gorbon crawled from ruin. “We’ll pay no toll,” they cried, “to a master who cannot keep his own.” And in the dim gray morning they steered their carts to the north.
Gorbon looked on the wreck of his home and snarled at the sky. His broken bones felt sore inside his body, so he found a cool pool in the shadows beneath the stones and nursed his anger. Gorbon waited, and rested for three days while his bones mended. His mind was busy planning a fitting revenge. “That old nose will pay,” he grumbled, and the men will mock me no more.”
In the cool of the night, Gorbon built up his bridge again. He labored carefully, and kept a watch for any enemy who might try to stop his work. Deep in his memory he sought the learning of his youth and all the craft of the ancients was poured out into the bridge. At long last, when summer was failing, the bridge stood tall and strong. Gorbon paved the road, and raised a new gate, and waited for the woodsmen to come.
The dawn brought no one. Gorbon waited, plotting carefully. “The nose has them,” he grumbled, and slept the rest of the day.
That night he stole his way along the woods to where the nose was hid. The enemy bridge stood tall, though less tall than it once did. The gate was broken, and moss grew where the paint once was. Gorbon looked with surprise on the scene, and approached cautiously. The frogs and night birds sang heedless of the troll, and nowhere could the nose be found.
“Nose or no nose, the bridge must go,” hissed Gorbon angrily. Gorbon knew that he must hurry, for already the night was getting old. He heaved at the rickety stones, and clawed through the mortar. At first the stone resisted, but soon the foundations fell. The gate toppled last, and Gorbon slipped silently back to his home.
The morning dawned, and soon thereafter the wagons came. One by one Gorbon stopped them, “a penny, or I’ll munch your bones,” he growled.
“You’ll munch nothing, troll, and soon you’ll see that it’s better to leave simple men alone. We’ll pay today, but tomorrow you had better be gone.”
Gorbon laughed loud and long at the frightened men. With a growl he sent them on their way. “Tomorrow I’ll be waiting,” he scoffed, “and tomorrow you will also pay.”
He watched and waited all through the night ready for any enemy. No one came. With the sun, the woodsmen returned. Their frightened faces told the tale, and Gorbon collected his penny from each. Giggling he found a cool shadow beneath the bridge and fell asleep. Gorbon kept one eye half open, though, and both ears cocked for danger.
The afternoon brought a clatter to the bridge, and Gorbon started awake. “Who is it that stomps on my roof,” he growled, “and ruins my daily rest?”
“’Tis I,” rang a proud voice from above, “Sir Derrol, come to avenge thy wrongs to the simple woodsmen.”
“Go away, human, before I eat your bones,” snarled Gorbon, “I’ve no time to waste on you. It is a penny to use this bridge, now pay or go away.”
“I will not go until you take down your gate,” said Sir Derrol.
Finally Gorbon clambered his way from beneath the bridge, squinting in the sunlight. “I gave you warning,” he said, “now I’ll eat your bones.”
Sir Derrol waited on his charger, with his lance and sword ready. Gorbon licked his lips, and cracked the knuckles in his fingers.
“Your large nosed friend was as discourteous as yourself,” said Sir Derrol, “but I’m sure you’ll give me no more trouble.”
The knight charged, and Gorbon leapt out of range of the lance. With lightning speed, and granite arms, he grabbed the horse’s hindquarter, and threw him to the ground. Sir Derrol came away unscathed, and drew his sword. The knight moved quickly, and his sword bit into Gorbon’s leather hide. Undaunted, the troll continued the attack.
“Yield, troll,” Sir Derrol cried, “and I’ll spare you and your bridge.”
Gorbon hesitated, but he caught the pant in the knight’s voice, and noticed the slowing of his blows. “I am no nose,” he growled, as he leapt one last time, and Sir Derrol fell.
In the morning, the woodsmen came, and found the troll laboring at the gate, removing the last stains of the battle. “A penny from each wagon,” he growled, “to cross my land and abuse my labor.” The woodsmen looked about in fear, but at last they paid. Over time they grew used to the growling troll, until they came to expect his angry voice in the morning. Never again did Gorbon wander from his happy bridge or let it fall into disrepair.

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