idol survivor | challenge 4 | ~1800 words
A Bridge You Must Cross
Goats were suspicious by nature, and trolls doubly so.
If a goat saw a bridge, it wanted to know what was underneath it. If a troll lurked under a bridge, it always knew when someone above it wanted to cross without payment, which no self-respecting troll would ever allow.
Trolls and goats were therefore natural enemies.
Jo-Jo Hobbs, apart from the name, was a typical troll. He liked dirt and stones and creeping moss, and he liked shouting and storming about and brooding. He had a favorite team of screeching crows and hated it when they lost, and he had a favorite hop-toad racing team and loved it when they won. He was hard to please and easy to annoy, and he was always spoiling for a fight: "Make yer move. I dare ye!" he would say.
Jo-Jo lived entirely alone and imagined he wanted a wife, but not even the basest of she-trolls would have him.
Other trolls worked in mines or crafted metalwork like their dwarf cousins, or attempted to learn shoemaking or toy-building trades from their cousins' cousins' cousins, the elves. But Jo-Jo took it upon himself to make his living via extortion. He found a bridge over a river on a heavily traveled path, and set himself up as its unofficial toll-taker. This was exactly the sort of reason Jo-Jo never got invited to parties.
The other trolls found this incredibly annoying. "Who do ye think ye be?" they would ask.
"The troll what's in yer way. Tuppence to cross," Jo-Jo would growl.
"Piss off before I chop that beard off with me axe," the other trolls might reply.
Trolls obviously were not ready sources of income for Jo-Jo, but with entire villages and forests of smaller creatures to terrorize, he was unconcerned. He made his home under that bridge, down in the shadowy space above the waterline. He slept at night and dozed during the day, always listening for the sound of a foot or paw or hoof overhead, and then scrambling up-top to demand his due.
Not all travelers could pay, and Jo-Jo was not always sorry, for there were times he preferred to eat the travelers instead of collecting their silver. Little brown bunnies in particular would be the wiser to reconsider pursuing any employment or recreation that lay beyond the confines of that river.
It was all much the same to Jo-Jo, as long as he had enough to eat and to set wagers on the hop-toad races, and as long as he minimized his encounters with detestable phrases such as, "Who be this fellow, anyway?" or "Get a real job, why don't ye?"
After a long week of harassing other members of the community, Jo-Jo might drop in at one of the village taverns for a few skins of ale. The selection was usually limited to those places where neither Jo-Jo nor the proprietor could remember the last time Jo-Jo had been tossed out for starting a fight.
Ridiculous! Jo-Jo always thought. Fighting was what trolls did, or so he'd heard.
Hadn't he? It was difficult to be certain, since he got along so poorly with other trolls. Evidenced again by all the fights...
With how scarcely Jo-Jo socialized, he was rarely up on the local gossip. Thus, he was deep in his third tankard one Saturday evening when he happened to become aware of a conversation about an infestation of goats.
Ooh, hate them buggers, Jo-Jo thought. Goats were almost as disagreeable as trolls, which for Jo-Jo made them utterly intolerable.
"And then," Bartlebeard said, "the scoundrel knocks me flat an' trots off wit' me supper in its jaws."
"Yon beast wants punishin'," Micklewort muttered.
"Aye, that it does, that it does…"
An hour later, Jo-Jo was dusting the tavern's stable-yard dirt off his britches and pondering where he'd take his drinking the next time around, now that the Sly Fox was off-limits again. Three weeks he'd had there, better than most runs the last few years.
By the time he stumbled home, he'd forgotten everything but the fight and the remainder of the last tankard of ale he'd had to forgo.
Awakened the next day by heavy hoof beats that set his head pounding, Jo-Jo writhed and groaned and stayed abed. By the weight alone, he knew it was some horse or cow, and he'd never made a penny off such large creatures. A pity they had to disturb his sleep on top of it all. He resumed his snoring.
But later, when the sun was high and the shadows beneath the bridge had shrunk to nearly nothing, he heard another sound. Trip! Trip! Trip! it came, and Jo-Jo scrambled up to begin his vexations in earnest.
"Who dares to cross me bridge?" he bellowed.
"'Tis I, only the tiniest of goats," a little voice bleated.
"Ye must pay before ye can pass," Jo-Jo growled. "Tuppence or terror, which shall it be?"
"Please, sir!" the little goat trembled. "My brother approaches apace, and he shall pay whatever I owe!"
Jo-Jo squinted down the dirt path, and indeed, another goat seemed to be making its way toward the bridge. "Go!" he told the little goat, although as it trotted past him he noted a certain deliciousness worth pursuing, should the second goat not pay as promised.
The second goat reached the bridge none too quickly. It was larger than the first, and its hooves went, Trap! Trap! Trap! as it stepped onto the wooden slats.
"Halt!" Jo-Jo shouted. "Ye must pay to cross, and I already be owed for yon brother afore ye even think o' joinin' him."
"Another brother comes soon, and shall pay for us all," the second goat said.
Again, Jo-Jo looked farther down the path, and saw a third goat following several hundred fathoms behind. "Very well," he grunted, and let the goat pass.
The third goat arrived much sooner than Jo-Jo expected, for it was much larger than it had first appeared to be. Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! went its hooves, and Jo-Jo felt the bridge tremble under his feet.
The goat glared nose-to-nose at Jo-Jo with its evil, slotted eyes. "Think carefully before ye speak," it said.
Jo-Jo could feel the creature's breath on his skin. Its horns glinted in the afternoon sun.
"Safe travels," Jo-Jo squeaked, and stepped aside to let the goat pass.
"Wise decision," the goat muttered, and continued on its way.
Jo-Jo went back under the bridge and sulked. A few more transactions of that sort and he would lose his livelihood along with his reputation. He heard the goats coming back the other way before sundown, but he didn't even bother leaving the safety of his bed.
The next morning, he heard hooves on his bridge again: Trip! Trip! Trip! He got up more cautiously to see who had come along.
This appeared to be a different little goat from the day before. "Tuppence to cross!" Jo-Jo shouted.
"Aw..." The little goat looked sad. "I've heard the grass on the other side is especially delicious."
"Nevertheless," Jo-Jo said.
The little goat sighed and turned around, walking back the way it came.
A little later, it returned in the company of the largest of the goats from the previous day. "Move," the big goat said.
Jo-Jo scowled and moved, and thought black-hearted things about the entire goat species as he watched them trot away. If 'tis a war they want, a war they shall have.
Jo-Jo took his knife and went into the forest. He found a long, sturdy branch there, and he stripped the twigs off of it and whittled a sharp tip onto it. Then he carried it home with him, grumble-humming as he went.
When he heard Trip! Trip! Trip! the next morning, Jo-Jo was ready. He leaped up onto the bridge with his spear and found another little goat starting across.
The little goat darted around Jo-Jo and scampered off across the bridge before Jo-Jo had even finished his demand.
"Arghhhh!" Jo-Jo shouted. All of these goats were a plague upon trolls, himself especially.
He was still glaring after the little goat when the bridge shook underneath him. Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!
Jo-Jo turned around, and there was the ridiculously large goat who'd bested him twice already. "No ye don't!" he said, sticking the spear out before him.
"Move," the goat said.
"Not likely!" Jo-Jo retorted.
The goat lowered its head, and butted Jo-Jo clean off the bridge. Jo-Jo splashed into the river, spear and all, and fetched up along the bank halfway to the next village.
Humiliating! he thought.
The next day, Jo-Jo collected tolls from a deer, a sheep, and a gray fox, before a cluster of little goats showed up again.
"Tuppence each!" He looked at them with a steely gaze, daring them to thwart him.
"Our friend Billy says he'll be along in a minute," one of the little goats bleated.
Sure enough, Jo-Jo could see the big goat trotting out from the edge of the forest to join them. He stepped aside and let the little goats pass, feeling smaller by the moment.
The big goat arrived. "So ye be Billy, then?" Jo-Jo said.
"Aye. Have ye learned now, or are ye hankerin' for another swim?"
Jo-Jo sighed. "If ye like that side of the river so much, why don't ye just move there?" he asked.
"Because no one likes a bully," the goat growled at him. "When ye've found another way to make yer livin', perhaps we won't need to be travelin' back and forth each day."
"But what else is there to do?" Jo-Jo cried. "This is all I know!"
The goat tilted its head. "Have ye never been to the other side o' the river? Ye never know what ye might find."
"Much the same as here, I expect," Jo-Jo said. "And I doubt the other trolls would take to me any better there."
The goat thought for a moment. "Maybe ye need to become a different sort of troll," it said. "And where better than where ye've no reputation to overcome?"
"Do ye really think I might?" Jo-Jo wondered. He'd never thought about the possibility of starting over again.
"And why not?" The goat continued over the bridge, with Jo-Jo trailing behind him. "A new setting, new opportunities…"
"Hmmm," Jo-Jo said.
"Anything's possible." The goat pointed its hoof at the group of little goats and chuckled.
"After all, a few years ago, I was one o' them."
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