“Everything,” was the answer the nisse gave him. “Everything that needs to be done. There is a part of the First Troll in you, never forget that.”
The next thing he saw was his nephews’ worried faces.
“Uncle? Are you alright?”
The giant held him up as carefully as someone would hold a butterfly.
“I’m fine,” mumbled the Old Troll, getting back on the bench.
The Bridge Troll wiped his forehead with a sleeve.
“Oh, it’s my fault. Your first day out of bed and so much excitement... Let me help you back in.”
“No need, just let me sit here for a moment.”
“I’ll fetch some water,” said the giant, and squeezed himself into the shack.
The Mountain Troll’s back was so large, it seemed impossible for its owner to get through the door, but somehow he managed every time.
“Oh, I know what can cheer you up!” said the Bridge Troll, switching to his usual positive tone. “Do you know what my dear cousin has been up to? Listen to this. He decided that he wanted to build his own bridge and he’s been taking masonry lessons.”
“He... what? Where?”
‘“From the gnomes.”
“Oh, yes! Every Wednesday he goes to a gnomish town, the one that’s in the White Peak Hall, about ten miles from here. He can get inside the hall, but he’s way too big for the classroom, so he just sits outside, peeking through the window and making notes. I saw him there once; it was the funniest thing ever! And last week, when I was cleaning the pantry storage, I found a stack of masonry books, all in Gnomish.”
The Old Troll grunted.
“I can’t imagine… How can he read them? They must be the size of his toenail!”
“I don’t know and I’m afraid to ask. You know how sensitive he gets. But wait, that’s not all. He made friends with some of the young gnomes, the students. They call him Little Ville.”
The Old Troll smiled and shook his head.
“A troll with a name… Speaking about the times changing!”
“Yes, the Mountains are a different place now. I would think you have lots of changes in your Forest, too.”
“In my Forest...” said the Old Troll, and his smile faded.
“Even if I wanted to go,” he said thoughtfully, “how would I get there? I’m not in any shape to brave my way through the mountains again.”
“What about the road?”
The Old Troll’s faced soured.
“The road, as I have recently learned,” he said, “is crawling with merchants even at this time of year. I doubt many of them will be happy at the sight of an ugly old troll gallivanting in the open daylight like it’s nobody’s business.”
His nephew scratched his head.
“Well, what if you could travel in disguise? Or… wait! Otto will be going back to Molenheim in two weeks. What if I asked him to hide you in his wagon? This could be a good idea!”
“What idea?” asked the Mountain Troll, showing up with a jar of water.
“Nevermind,” said the Old Troll. “Little Ville,” he muttered, shaking his head, and then he laughed for the first time that winter.
Just as the people in the Northern Lands had lost all hope and made their peace with the thought that winter would last forever, spring finally came. The winter fought to the last soldier, pushing back with freezing nights and high winds, dealing desperate blows with storms and blizzards, but one day it gave up.
The snow under the Troll’s Bridge receded and the river carried its waters boldly and proudly, babbling and swirling at the foot of the giant pier that split the icy stream in two. It was about that time when the strangest thing happened to little Rulle, the 10-year-old son of a dairyman from Norville.
The court at the coaching inn on the Molenheim Route was crowded with horses, carts, and wagons. It was quite an easy place to get lost, so Rulle’s father told him to stay put and mind the cart while he went to fetch water for the horses. Shortly after, a tall merchant wagon pulled in. Just as its driver was getting off his high seat, a long, bony hand with creepy black nails stretched out from the wagon’s window and snatched a bit of cheese from Rulle’s dairy cart!
When his father got back, Rulle tried to tell him about the ugliest face that peered from the darkness of the wagon, the shaggy grey hair and mouth full of crooked teeth. But the dairyman did not believe the story. He said that a young man should not take food without permission, let alone lie to his parents. At those words, Rulle could have sworn he heard giggles coming from the merchant’s wagon, muffled by vigorous chewing and slurping.