“We have an arrangement with the Merchant Guild,” he said. “I keep the road in good condition and the guild pays me every year. The members of the Guild have a free pass on my bridge.”
“You have an arrangement,” said the Old Troll slowly, “with merchants.”
The Bridge Troll couldn’t bear his uncle’s heavy gaze and cast his eyes down.
“I meant to tell you, Uncle, but there was never a good time. You must understand that none of us are getting younger... a deal with the guild is much more convenient than trying to get a fare out of every single merchant, can’t you see?”
The Old Troll shook his head.
“Uff-da, I never thought I’d live to see this. If your father was still with us, he would be devastated.”
“I’m going to check on the grog,” mumbled the Mountain Troll, who had just joined them at the table, but was already eager to leave.
“You have to understand, Uncle,” replied the Bridge Troll emotionally, “the times are changing. Not all of us can live the way our fathers did.”
At these words, young Gordy finally broke his silence.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you, Dad.”
The merchant’s cheeks reddened.
“Young man, you should have some respect and keep quiet while the grown-ups are talking. Nobody needs to hear what you have to say.”
“But they do need to hear,” said the boy with a challenge in his voice, “and I wish you would too, Dad, for once.”
“Shush!” Honorable Otto’s face went from red to a dark shade of purple.
He turned to the trolls.
“You’ll have to forgive my son’s manners. He got it in his head that he wants to go to the Capital and become a royal messenger. Silly.”
He squeezed out an awkward giggle, trying to illustrate how silly it was, but Gordy held his ground.
“Why silly? What if I’m good at it?”
“I’m through with your nonsense!” exploded the merchant, unable to control his temper anymore. “How can you know you’re good at something if you’ve never done it in your life?!”
It was a good argument. The Old Troll expected Gordy to give up, but to his utter surprise, the boy turned away from his father and looked directly at him with a wide smile on his face.
“Mister Old Troll,” he said, pulling a small package out his jacket, “I’d like you to accept this urgent message from Skoggeville, if you please.”
In complete silence, the Old Troll took it.
“How...” started Honorable Otto, when he regained his ability to speak. “What is this?”
“A letter,” said Gordy. “My friend Olsen asked me to deliver it when I saw him back in Molenheim, and he got it from that boy Peter, who lives in a small forest village.”
While the boy, beaming with triumph, was telling the story to his father, the Old Troll examined the package. It turned out to be a clumsily made envelope, cross-packed with cheap thread. He tore it open and pulled out the letter.
“Well?” asked his nephew, intrigued. “What does it say?”
“How in the Forest would I know?” grumbled the Old Troll, still baffled and confused. “It’s written in stupid human letters — it might as well be written in Gnomish runes!”
“Gnomish runes?” piped up the Mountain Troll, emerging from the house with a steaming pot full of rock grog. “Can I see?”
“I can read it for you,” said Gordy, who enjoyed being the center of attention, and grabbed the piece of paper before anyone had a chance to speak.
Dear Old Troll,
I hope this letter finds you well, because there is no one else who can help us.
Since we saw you last, things have gotten really bad. The Red Jaeger and his hunters are coming to the village every day to borrow dogs and men for their raids into the forest. They keep telling our parents how dangerous the forest creatures are and how the village should unite and fight them all together. Many of our friends at FaN-C believe them. We don’t have meetings anymore.
The other day, Alfred saw a cage brought to the Landlord’s manor. It was covered with cloth but he heard the voice coming from it, shouting and cursing. We snuck in that night in and sure enough, it was Alina. They captured her when she was going to the gnomes to ask about Olle. We still cannot believe what happened, and we hope that you will forgive us one day...
Gordy squinted and moved the paper closer to his face.
“There are some smears in here, the ink is all blurry.”
“Go on,” said the Old Troll in coarse voice. “Keep reading.”
...Alina said that the situation in the forest is also quite bad. The Witch is in command now. She blames you for everything. The magic folk are scared of the hunters and she tells them that the only way to stop the raids is to attack the village. More and more of them agree with her every day. Alina’s sisters are asleep until next Spring and the only one who could try to stop the Witch is you. She said you must have gone to your nephews who live in the Blue Mountains. We will try to send this letter with our friends in Molenheim. We hope it finds you, and if it does, please come and help us before something terrible happens.
Mary and Peter
Gordy put down the paper. They all sat at the table for some time, sipping their drinks. It seemed that Gordy had many questions on his mind, but one glance at the Old Troll’s solemn face was enough to make him concentrate on his cup of spiced apple juice.
When the grog pot was almost empty, the Bridge Troll stood up and cleared his throat.
“You’ve been a great help to us, young Gordon,” he said with a bit of pomp. “We appreciate it greatly.”
He fumbled with a purse on his belt and produced a shiny silver penning. At the sight of money, the merchant’s boggled face gained a sensible expression. He gave a nudge to his son, prompting him to take the coin and express his gratitude. After a series of thanks and goodbyes, the host showed his guests back onto the bridge, where their horses had patiently awaited them all this time.
The Old Troll didn’t join them. He sat still, staring blankly at the table in front of him, unable to gather his thoughts.
“What are you going to do?” asked his nephew, when the guests had departed.
The Old Troll shook his head bitterly.
“My beloved Forest is bustling with hunters. My fellow magic folk hate me and the only friend I’ve ever had is gone. What am I going to do, you ask? Nothing. My time in the Forest is over. No more cheese for me.”
The younger troll lifted the massive grog pot and poured the leftovers into his cup.
“Maybe it’s not my place to say this,” he said, savoring the spices, “but there’s more to life than cheese.”
The Old Troll gave him a long look, but said nothing. It was so quiet, that even after the travelers were back on the road, the trolls could still hear their voices.
“Do you see what happened?” sounded Gordy’s exalted voice. “I’m just like Ulrik! I traveled through the mountains, I delivered the letter, and stopped the war!”
“Sure,” replied the merchant, “that’s good, letters and all, but I hope you’re smart enough not to blow through your first earnings buying sweets. We should think long-term investment...”
A gust of a wind took away the boy’s response, but it didn’t sound like he was very enthusiastic about making investments.
The Old Troll suddenly realized how tired he was. He wanted to return to his bed, but just as he was getting up, the light faded in his eyes. His head spun and it appeared to him that he was back in the Forest and his little nisse was sitting on the Summer Table right in front of him, in his brown jacket, hiding a sad smile in his beard.
“Did he?” asked Olle. “Did the boy stop the war?”
The Old Troll’s eyes filled up with tears.
“I’m just an old and tired troll who can barely drag his feet,” he said. “What can I do?”