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Emsy the Reluctant Troll

Posted on: November 14, 2008

Once upon a time many, many years ago, on the uttermost edge of the Snocone Mountains, there lived a troll named Marrowcrusher Underbridge. Now young Marrowcrusher, or Emsy, as he preferred to be called, was descended from a long and illustrious family of bridge trolls. Their territory included all of Foggybottom Vale, and Fogstream Bridge in particular.  Night by night and day by day, each Underbridge troll took his or her turn roaring out the terrible challenge that turned the hearts of travelers to jelly.

 

Grandfather Bonebreaker was particularly horrifying. “WHO’S THAT TRIPPTIY TRAPPING ACROSS MY BRIDGE?” he would thunder in a voice so great it shivered the stoutest heart. But it was his Scare Song that really sent hopeful wayfarers gibbering in terror back to their homes.

 

 “Flesh to rend, and blood to suck,

Brains that leak into the muck,

Below my bridge by water dark,

Your life will lose its feeble spark.

No toll to pay, no way to pass,

Your brittle bones I’ll smash like glass,

And as I slurp viscera hot,

Your small trapped soul begins to rot.”

 

 

As you can quite imagine, this little ditty was enough to send even the bravest adventurers scampering in terror.

All of the other Underbridge trolls strove to please Grandfather Bonebreaker, to be as hideous and terrifying as possible. All the brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins, aunts and nephews and grandchildren spent hours and hours refining their own Scare Songs, and practicing their very best gravelly voices.

 

All but one, that is.

 

You see, Marrowcrusher, or Emsy, was a bit of a sensitive lad, and having been frightened himself as a very young child by the roarings of Grandfather Bonebreaker, he couldn’t quite get into the spirit of things. Instead, he spent his time bird watching, secure in the knowledge that, as the youngest of all Underbridge trolls, it would be years before he was called upon to contribute to the family business.

 

About the time of Emsy’s one hundred and sixty-thirteenth birthday (which is very young for a troll indeed!), something changed in Emsy’s world. All across vale, from Clearsight Ridge to Mount Tumbledown the cry was

heard, “Gold! Gold!” It echoed in deepest dells of Foggybottom Vale, it swirled around the waters of the Fogstream, and whispered through the pines of the Snocone Mountains until it filled the wide world. And all the adventurous folk from the east and west, north and south, up and down all heard the siren call of the gold, and from east and west, north and south, up and down they flooded into the quiet, forgotten lands of Foggybottom Vale, and they began to try and cross the Fogstream Bridge.

 

Well, Grandfather Bonebreaker was delighted! Here was the opportunity of an age; a veritable bonanza of food and plunder in the form of unwary travelers. Chortling with unholy glee, he called a meeting of the Underbridge Trolls.

 

“LISTEN ALL OF YOU!” he thundered to the assembled trolls. “WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR RICHES NOT YET SEEN IN THE LIVES OF MEN AND TROLLS, AND FORCES ENOUGH TO PULL IT OFF! I WANT EVERY ONE OF YOU, EV-ER-Y-ONE! OF YOU ON THE BRIDGE AT DAWN!” And with this pronouncement he glared upon the assembly one by one, until at last his gaze came to rest on poor, trembling Emsy.

 

“EVEN”, he grated, pointing his gnarled old forefinger, “YOU!”

And with that he turned his massive back to the family and stalked back to the bridge.

 

As dawn broke the next morning, Emsy crept to the bridge, miserably frightened and bleary-eyed with fatigue. He

had been awake all night working on his Scare Song, but one night is a very little time to practice a Scare Song, and he knew it wasn’t a very good one.

 

As the very first traveler began to approach the bridge, a cousin (trying to be kind) gestured that Emsy should begin the days festivities.

 

“Wh – who comes trippippity –trappting ‘cross my bridge?” Emsy tried to squeak politely.

His cousin Jawripper gaped at him in disbelief.

“Louder!” he whispered frantically. “You must yell louder!

Emsy gamely cleared his throat and tried again, but his voice cracked into a higher register on ‘trippippity’.

 

“Oh….” Cousin Jawripper moaned, “You must do better than that, and before Grandfather hears!”

 

“I, er, I don’t really see the point in being rude”, Emsy whispered back, “I mean, Grandfather will eat him in a moment.”

 

“Not if he gets across that bridge!” his cousin rejoined, teeth clenched, “Quick, sing your Scare Song!”

 

So Emsy closed his eyes, and began to sing his newly-minted Scare Song in his thin, piping voice.

This is what he sang:

 

“Run away run away traveler fair,

and you may still escape by a hair.

Throw us your gold and we’ll leave you alone,

no rending of limbs nor breaking of bones.

Give us your riches and be on your way,

And mayhap you won’t lose your life this day,

so turn back, traveler, and beware,

Of the trolls of Underbridge’s wicked stares. “

 

As the last wobbly note of his song died in the still morning air, Emsy opened his eyes to find Cousin Jawripper staring at him in distress.

 

“Oh, Emsy, what have you done?” he cried. “Surely the prey will escape, and … oh by the Great Rock, here comes Grandfather!” and overwrought, cousin Jawripper fled.

 

Bravely, Emsy turned to find Grandfather Bonebreaker bearing down on him, his craggy face black as a thundercloud.

“MARROWCRUSHER, WHAT PANSIED TRIPE IS THIS? IT IS NO WAY FOR AN UNDERBRIDGE TROLL TO BEHAVE!” he rumbled.

 “YOU HAVE LOST ME A KING’S RANSOM IN GOLD, AND MY BREAKFAST!”

 

Emsy cowered at the base of the bridge, paralyzed in the face of his grandfather’s fury. The great troll took one threatening step toward him, when suddenly a veritable of rain of jewels and gold came down upon him.

 

 “Spare me fiend, spare me!”  the trolls heard the traveler cry. “Take my gold, my horse, and all my jewels but let me keep my life!” he beseeched them, his voice quaking with fear.

 

“HMMM….” rumbled Grandfather Bonebreaker, considering. “GO!” he roared suddenly, and the bridge above clattered with the speed of the terrified wayfarer’s flight.

 

Slowly, old Grandfather Bonebreaker turned and looked at Emsy’s white, pinched face; the boy’s large eyes dark with apprehension. He opened his great, fearsome mouth to speak, and then paused, and an odd expression came over his face. The pause grew into a moment, and the moment grew long, before Emsy recognized Grandfather Bonebreaker’s expression.

 

He was amused! Finally, the old troll allowed a small twisted smile to grace his craggy face. “TRAVELERS ARE TASTY FARE, BOY,” he said, BUT THE BUTTONS DID ALWAYS GET STUCK IN MY TEETH.”

 

And with that startling pronouncement, he picked up little Emsy, and placing him carefully atop his massive shoulders, strode away.

 

Emsy and his family passed many a long, happy year under Fogstream Bridge. Even Grandfather Bonebreaker soon adopted Emsy’s strategy, as increasing age stole from him the strength to crush bones and snap spines. The family had grown rich  and complacent from the gold of many terrified wayfarers, and even became accustomed to buying horses for their nightly feasts! When the Scourging of the Trolls came to pass and all the Trolls perished from this earth under the fierce onslaught of angry Men, Emsy’s family had long been forgotton in their quiet corner of Foggybottom Vale, and so were spared.

 

For all I know, they live there still.

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