by Jonathan Kemmerer-Scovner
Zuna Blackiron feared no trolls, nor did she think twice before crossing their bridges.
She was a young girl with bright eyes and skin as black as the woods where she made her home. As she did every Solemnday, she took a jar of freshly-sewn tea bags along the wooded path to Old Mister Joe’s hut, crossing the small footbridge over Babylon Brook, when a deep voice demanded, “HALT!”
From the depths arose the troll, green-skinned, blood-red eyes, rings in its ears, nose and lips.
“Before you cross, you must first answer a riddle!” it growled. “What has four wheels and flies? Answer quickly!”
“A garbage cart,” Zuna answered.
“Very well! You may pass!”
“Well, thank you so much!” Zuna skipped across, excited to see Old Mister Joe, and... drat! She’d forgotten the sugar!
Zuna walked back across the bridge, and again that deep voice yelled out, “HALT!” and again she halted. Again the troll demanded, “Before you may cross, you must first answer a riddle!”
“All right, but please hurry!”
“It has a golden head and a golden tail,” the troll growled, rubbing its hands together. “But no body! What could it possibly be?”
“A coin,” Zuna answered easily enough.
However, no sooner had she reached the other side that she realized, Silly me! She had brought the sugar after all, it was in her pouch! So, back around she turned, back across that bridge, when out popped that grossly disfigured, roaring, gnashing troll, demanding even more loudly,
“HALT! You must first answer a riddle! What is both black and white, whilst being red all...?”
“The newssheets from the printmaker!”
“Blast it all! How do you know all the answers?”
“Seriously?” Zuna rolled her eyes. “I cross this bridge every day! If you want to eat me, get some new riddles!”
“Very well!” stated the troll, laughing darkly as he descended beneath the depths of the bridge. “Very well!”
Later that day Zuna was a bit nervous about crossing the bridge on her way home. Suppose the troll had learned some new riddles and she wasn’t able to answer them? Suppose he wouldn’t let her cross the bridge? Suppose…he ate her?
She stepped slowly. The troll didn’t appear.
She even called out, “I’m crossing the bridge now!”
But there was no answer.
“I’m nearly there!”
Then she heard sobbing. When she reached the other side, she slid down the bank.
She found a bed and table, both fashioned from dark wood, and a large bucket filled with water. She’d always wondered what it was like beneath a troll bridge, and now she knew.
There, with its massive knees brought to its chest, wept the troll.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me a riddle?” she asked.
“I don’t know any new ones! What good is a troll who doesn’t know any new riddles?”
He was a sad sight, Zuna had to admit. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Well, Lars, if you want to learn some new riddles, you could always go to The Rhino Fish.”
The Troll looked up hopefully. “An oracle?”
“A tavern! Every time my dad goes there, he comes home with loads of new riddles!”
It seemed, she supposed, a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon.
Zuna accompanied the troll to the tavern. But the troll stopped outside the door. “I can’t go in there, I’ll scare everyone!”
The two of them had trudged through the woods until they’d reached the village. Sure enough, there was loads of laughter coming from inside the small tavern.
“Just wear this!” Zuna produced a large blanket from her basket and handed it to the lumbering troll.
“I don’t know...” he said, wrapping it around himself.
“You look great! Now get in there and learn some new riddles!”
Indeed, no one in The Rhino Fish looked twice at him. Not at first.
It was dark inside and smelled like salty fish. Men and women sat at large tables, talking and laughing.
“Tell me, what’s brown and sticky?”
Lars turned to find two men sharing a drink together.
“I dunno,” said the second man. “What?”
They collapsed in laughter.
Lars chuckled, running the riddle over in his head. Brown and sticky...
“Speaking of brown,” continued the second man, “what’s brown, but tastes like red paint?”
His friend finished off his pint and answered, “Brown paint!”
Lars chuckled once more. It was a deep and throaty chuckle, which sounded of thunder. These humans had a funny way about them.
“But I’ll do you one better than that!” said the first man. “What’s brown and sounds like a bell?”
Together, both men intoned, “Dunggggg..!” then clanked their glasses together.
Lars continued through the tavern. He came to a man who was standing at the head of his table, declaring, “There once was a man from Mon-Frunket, who kept all his gold in a bucket! But his daughter named Nan, ran away with a man, and alas for the bucket, Nan-tuck-et!”
“Har-har!” The troll laughed heartily at this one. So heartily, in fact, that all conversation and laughter stopped just so they could see the source of the guffaw.
“Nan took it!” Lars wheezed. “That’s good, very good! Har-har!”
“Er... glad you like it.”
“Whereabouts you from?” asked another.
“Why, I live under the bridge…” said Lars. “Er…”
Zuna had been watching from outside the window. She immediately hopped down off the barrel.
“Hey, this isn’t a place for kids!”