Most people think that the Bridge Trolls build their own bridges.
While trolls, of course, concur hotly with that idea, if someone asked the oldest and the wisest of the mountain gnomes, they would only shake their heads and smile. That is because they knew perfectly well whom the First Troll entrusted to take care of the mountains, who were the first masons and the first architects in the World, and who carried out their duties with full hearts and great diligence for thousands of years after he retired.
“The First Troll is snoring again,” the gnomes of old used to say every time the Blue Mountains rumbled and trembled, bringing down masses of dirt and stones. “He’s snoring and we’re restoring,” they’d say, and they would roll up their sleeves.
It was a big job for such little folk — all the streams and meadows had to be cleaned of the rubble, all their gnomish roads and caves repaired. And yes, it was up to them to build bridges when a new gorge appeared where solid rock had stood just a moment ago.
But even the oldest of the gnomes could not tell when and why the gnomish tribes decided to abandon their post. One giant hall after the other, they built their own world deep underneath the Blue Mountains, and no one would see them on the surface anymore. For centuries, the roads and bridges remained forsaken, crumbling away one little stone after another...
And then the new times came, and the first people settled in the North. They built their first forts and first villages, first farms and first mills, and the first merchant embarked on his journey through the Blue Mountains for the very-very first time.
It was a big surprise for that brave man to find the wild and uninhabited Blue Mountains crisscrossed with hundreds of paved roads and passages. But an even bigger surprise awaited him on a tall bridge in the very heart of the Mountains — an ugly troll with a club in his hand and a crooked grin on his face!
When he finally came out of his bedroom, no one could look at him without shedding a tear — the Old Troll was all skin and bone. He had lost so much weight that he looked thinner than his staff, which waited for him faithfully by the headboard of his bed.
The Bridge Troll, fresh and frisky as usual, jumped off the dining bench and rushed to hold his uncle by the elbow. He wasn’t the tallest troll in the family, and with his head barely reaching the Old Troll’s shoulder, it wasn't an easy task.
“How are you feeling, Uncle? Do you need a pillow?”
The winter was almost over. The snow outside of the Bridge Shack shined brighter than the sun itself and the light pouring in through the windows was positively blinding. The Old Troll took a couple of steps and sat heavily on the bench.
“I’ll be alright.”
“I’m so glad you’re getting better,” boomed the Mountain Troll from the other side of the table. “We’ve been so worried!”
He was way too big for the little kitchen, so he had to sit on the floor with his legs crossed, watching his every move, desperately trying not to break anything.
“Are you hungry?” asked the Bridge Troll. “I was going to heat up some fruit soup for lunch, so you’re just in time!”
He opened a small door in the back and rushed downstairs, into the cold darkness of the cellar. He returned momentarily with a wooden bucket full of sweet pink ice. Tiny stems of crab apples stuck out of it. While he pecked on the frozen soup with a kitchen knife, trying to cut out a piece that would fit into the pot, the Old Troll gathered the strength to speak.
“I’m sorry,” the words passed through his throat with great difficulty, and not only because of his long sickness. “I’ve been imposing on you greatly.”
Ice crumbles showered the room as the Bridge Troll threw his hands up in a sign of protest.
“What are you talking about, Uncle!”
“I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”
“Stop it! If you want to repay us, please eat and drink and gain some weight, for the Mountains’ sake! You’ll need a lot of strength if you want to make it back to the Dark Forest...”
He cut himself off in the middle of the sentence, but it was too late — the awkward silence that filled the room was nearly palpable.
“There is nothing for me to go back to,” said the Old Troll quietly.
“I didn’t mean… You can stay as long as you wish!”
“I’m going to go outside...” mumbled the Mountain Troll, who was easily made uncomfortable.
His little cousin snapped at him with a “Sit!” and the ten-foot-tall giant sat back with a sigh. The Old Troll gave them both a miserable look.
“I know I’ve been a huge burden.”
“Please, Uncle!” The eyes on the round face of the Bridge Troll filled up with tears. “Don’t say that!”
Covered head to toe with ice sprinkles, he rushed across the room to give the Old Troll a hug. The Mountain Troll used that moment to escape outside.
They joined him shortly, taking places at a large granite table in front of the house. The table was big and formidable enough to accommodate even the largest of mountain trolls. A hot copper pot was placed in the middle and once the lid was off, all three found themselves submerged in clouds of sweet steam that smelled of apples and highland herbs. The next fifteen minutes were filled with enthusiastic munching and slurping. The fruit soup was so hot and spicy, that by the time the pot was empty, it was the trolls who were steaming.
“I would still like to be of some use,” said the Old Troll, puffing and tugging on the neck of his tunic. “Can I at least help you with some chores?”
“Thank you so much, but there aren’t too many,” replied his nephew. “I mean, there’s still snow all over the place. I’d rather see you rest and get better.”
“There must be something I would be good for. How about I take a watch at your bridge?”
His nephews exchanged glances.
“I think you should rest...” started the Bridge Troll again, but the Old Troll had already made up his mind.
“Nonsense. I can put a chair on the watch spot. I’ll be resting just fine.”
All three looked up.
The Troll’s Bridge loomed high above their heads, connecting two sides of a wide ravine. Right under its western edge, on a little platform halfway down, nestled the Bridge Shack. Three flights of stone steps lead from the Shack up onto the bridge and another three flights lead down, to the river at the bottom. As it’s always been in wintertime, the river was buried under ten feet snow, but not fully frozen. It looked dead and motionless, but if he strained his ears, the Old Troll could hear the crystal whisper of water still babbling somewhere deep underneath the icy crust.
“I’ll be fine,” he said again, “just give me some blankets and help me get the chair up there.”
It didn’t take long before his eyes started to hurt from the sparkling of the snow and he had to shut them. He didn’t really expect anyone to travel through the mountains at this time; he simply wanted to spend some time alone, brooding on his grief, away from the chatter of his very kind, but overly attentive nephew. So when he heard people’s voices and a squeaking of wagon wheels, his mind simply rejected it as impossible.
“Move, you wretched devils! Pull ‘em Gordy, come on!”
The Old Troll opened his eyes.
The watch spot was aptly hidden behind a crevice in the mountain, just above the edge of the gorge. It opened a broad view on the bridge and the road to the watcher, while hiding him from the eye of a traveler. He saw a tall merchant’s wagon approaching the far side of the bridge, pulled by two squat and furry mountain horses. A boy in his early teens walked by the left one, tugging at her bridle every time she tried to stop.
“Come on!” shouted the merchant from his high seat.
His thick clothes were colored black and orange, and from a distance he looked like a giant ruffled-up bullfinch. Though he cracked his whip left and right, shouting and cursing, the wagon still moved at a snail’s pace, plowing heavily through the snow.
“I can't believe this,” muttered the the Old Troll.
He looked down, hoping to see one of his nephews near the house, but neither of them was around.
“...our little mountain horses,” the boy was saying, “I wish we had a couple of steeds from the royal stables, did you see how big they are?”