Bill patted the horse at his side, waiting patiently for the merchant that had requested his company to finish arguing with his staff. The fellow wasn’t much to look at, but then again, neither was Bill, so he reserved his judgement.
When the workers finally left, the merchant, Tom Fyle by name, joined him, head shaking. Bill said nothing, having heard enough of the conversation to know Mr. Fyle was not having a good day.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Wick,” Fyle said, trying as hard as he could to look Bill in the eye and failing. Something about the mercenary scared him to death.
Bill shrugged. “It’s none of my business, Mr. Fyle. I’m here to deal with you, not them.”
Fyle nodded his head and waved Bill over to his desk, upon which was spread a map of the road between Linta, the city they were currently in, and Phoggus, the nearest major trade city. The distance, as Bill recalled, was around one hundred miles, and through dangerous territory.
“You ever been to Phoggus, Mr. Wick?” Fyle asked as he sat, feeling somewhat more powerful when he did.
Bill nodded. “Many times. Nice place.”
“If you say so,” Fyle sighed. “For me, it’s all about business, and Phoggus is the gate way to the Eastern Reach, and Tam. If you want to do business there, you have to go through Phoggus, plain and simple.”
Bill nodded again. “What’s this got to do with me?”
“Recently,” Fyle told him slowly. “I’ve bartered a very profitable arrangement with a group of local merchants. By combining our disparate organizations into a single venture, we have the ability to expand our bargaining power considerably.”
“United front,” Bull replied. “In a place like Phoggus, not to mention Tam, having a powerful bargaining position is a necessity.”
Fyle blinked, obviously surprised. “Basically, yes. However, in order to get to Phoggus, we have to cross the Girian River, here.” He tapped a spot on the map.
“Hardly an issue, as there’s a bridge,” Bill pointed out.
“And now a Troll, as well,” Fyle told him.
“I see,” Bill mused. “So you want me to make sure your convoy of wagons arrives at Phoggus without loss of life?”
“No, I want you to make sure it arrives without loss of property. Lives are cheap, Mr. Wick. Merchandise is not.” Fyle snorted at the very notion he would pay Bill’s price over a few lives.
Bill narrowed his eyes a bit. “I don’t agree with that, Mr. Fyle, but it isn’t my place. You want me, you got me, half up front, and half when we arrive in Phoggus.”
Fyle thought about telling Bill Wick just what his place was, then decided not to. The man was a seasoned killer, after all, while he was just a merchant. Still, it irked him that this oaf would think so highly of himself.
“You have a deal, Mr. Wick,” he said at last. “Meet the caravan at the north gate in the morning. We leave with the sunrise.”
Bill nodded and walked away. Fyle was an unsavory sort, the kind he preferred not to deal with. However, since he and Kris were headed to Phoggus anyway, he may as well make a bit of money along the way.
Outside, Kris sat on the curb, watching people and wagons pass her by, hugging her stuffed rabbit. Hearing him, she looked up and smiled.
“How’d it go?”
“Just fine,” he replied, offering her hand, which she accepted.
“We’re going to Phoggus?” she asked as he pulled her to her feet.
“And getting paid to do it,” he told her with a grin.
Kris beamed. “Yea! I can’t wait!”
“Why do you want to go there so bad, anyway?” he asked.
“Bunny has family in the area,” she replied.
Bill frowned. “Bunny does, huh?”
“Yeah,” she said, swinging the rabbit around. “He misses them.”
Bill nodded. “Well, I guess we’ll have to look into that for him then.”
“For free, though, cause he’s family,” she told Bill in her most serious voice.
She smiled and ran ahead of him, leaving Bill shaking his head. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder why she really wanted to go to the trade city so suddenly. Whatever it was, she’d either forget before they got there, or fill him in when she was ready.
He was use to both, and didn’t pursue the matter any further.
A week later, and the long convoy of wagons was nearing the bridge the Fyle had warned Bill was now the home of a Troll. What Fyle hadn’t known was that the road had also recently become popular with bandits, a detail Bill let him discover on his own.
Bill had done his job, of course, and sent the bandits packed, but only after they’d almost taken a piece of the good Mr. Fyle with them. Bill really didn’t like it when people placed no value on human life.
Through the entire trip, Kris had ridden in the wagon with Fyle, driving the man to the brink of hysterics with her non stop rambling nonsense. More than once, the merchant had approached Bill to complain about the Elf, but had always veered away at the last moment, afraid of incurring the mercenary’s wrath.
Bill thought the entire thing hysterical. Kris seemed oblivious to it, and often commented to Bill that Fyle was an excellent listener. This only made him find the merchants plight that much funnier, of course.
Now and then, Bill could be a rather cruel person.
Still, as they spotted the bridge in the distance, Bill knew it was time to set aside his personal torment of the merchant. Trolls were serious business. Big, mean, and stupid, they enjoyed nothing more than killing creatures weaker than them. If he was to get everyone through without loss of life, he’d have to act quickly.
He looked back at where Kris was flogging Fyle with Bunny for a moment, wondering if he should have her join him. Ultimately, he chose not to. After recent events, he was in no hurry to drag her into a fight.
What she could do often frightened even him, and he was fearless.
With the caravan hanging back, Bill approached the bridge, easily spotting the Troll as it sat hunkered by the river bank. He paused a moment, making sure the strap on his sword was loose, and his shield was ready. He knew how fast, and strong, these monsters could be.
As he approached, he began to get the feeling that something was off, however. The Troll did not face him, or in any way acknowledge his presence, though Bill knew it was aware of him. He thought about just killing it while it had its back turned, but that felt cheap to him, so instead he simply cleared his throat.
The Troll ignored him, remaining hunkered, obviously doing something with its hands. Bill wasn’t sure he wanted to know what, and coughed loudly to get its attention.
The Troll paused, sighed heavily, then went back to what it was doing. Bill frowned. This was out of the ordinary, and he spent all his time with an insane Elven druid.
“Excuse me,” Bill said at last.
“You’re excused,” the Troll replied sarcastically.
Bill cocked an eyebrow. He hadn’t been expecting that.
“I don’t mean to be a bother, but this caravan with me plans to cross this bridge, so if you intend to give us any trouble, you and I are going to have a problem,” he said after a bit of thought.
The Troll paused again, turning its head slightly to the bridge, then shrugged. “Cross it all you want. I don’t care.”
“Oh, um,” Bill replied, feeling very off balance. “That’s very nice of you.”
“Whatever, man,” the Troll grumbled.
Bill looked at the creature for a moment. Unlike most Trolls, this one was dressed, wearing a black shirt, tight black leather pants, and heavy boots with chains wrapped around them. Its hair was not the tangled mess most Trolls sported either, but sleek and well groomed, with a single raspberry lock falling down the right side.
“Well, then, I’ll just be going,” he told the Troll.
“See ya,” the Troll answered.
Bill backed away, wondering if it was some sort of trap. If so, it was far more clever than any Troll he’d ever seen, which could only mean this one was far more dangerous than any other he’d faced.
“What’s going on?” Kris asked, making Bill jump half out of his skin.
“Nothing,” he said when he caught his breath. “The Troll is being kind enough to let us pass without a fight.”
“Oh,” Kris said, staring at the Troll. “That’s boring. Kick his ass, Billy.”
“Dude!” the Troll cried, finally standing as it turned to face them.
Kris screamed, stared at the Troll for a minute, then screamed again. The Troll stared at her in shock. Bill did too. Kris screamed one more time, cause it was kind of fun.
“What are you doing?” Bill asked.
“It’s a Troll!” Kris said, pointing at the Troll. “Wearing horn rimmed glasses!”
Bill tried to think of something to say to that, but couldn’t. The Troll was, in fact, wearing horn rimmed glasses. Something in Troll has been scrawled across the front of his shirt as well. He wore a black, silver studded belt, and held a book in his hand, accompanied by a quill in the other.
“I’m near sighted, okay?” the Troll sniffed.
“Oh, that explains the glasses,” Kris nodded.
“It does?” Bill asked.
“Well, yeah,” Kris said. “He’s near sighted.”
“Right,” Bill sighed.
“It’s not something I’m ashamed of,” the Troll put in.
“That’s, um, great,” Bill stammered.
“You’re very brave,” Kris said sadly.
“I’m brave?” the Troll asked in surprise.
“Kris, what are you doing?” Bill asked.
“Complimenting him,” Kris answered.
“Thank you,” said the Troll.
“Why?” Bill inquired.
“Can you imagine how much he got picked on in Troll school?” Kris asked.
Bill stared at her in disbelief. The Troll stared at her in confusion. Kris posed a bit, since everyone was staring at her.
“I’m sorry,” Bill said after shaking his head. “We’ll just be going now.”
“He’s got a book!” Kris screamed, waving her staff at the Troll.
“I don’t think it’s dangerous!” Bill yelled, grabbing her staff before she could fireball the creature, sending the magical assault into the sky, were it slaughtered a flock of birds.
The Troll shrieked.
It was a bit effeminate.
“It could be,” Kris told Bill. “You scream like a girl,” she told the Troll.
“It’s a book, Kris,” Bill argued.
“I have a deviated septum,” the Troll whined.
“I can’t talk to both of you at once,” Kris pouted. “One of you needs to be quiet.”
“Dude, what the hell?” the Troll asked Bill.
“Long story,” he said with a nervous shrug.
“Story time!” Kris squealed and sat down.
“Kris, get up!” Bill ordered, pulling on her arm.
“Wow,” the Troll marveled.
“I want a story!” Kris screamed.
“You’re embarrassing me in front of the Troll,” Bill snapped, then stopped to wonder at the impossibility of that sentence.
Kris popped to her feet, pouting. “If you won’t give me a story, then I want one from the Troll!”
“What?” the Troll cried.
“What?” Bill cried.
“What?” Kris cried, cause everyone else was.
“I’m confused,” the Troll whined.
“Oh, I wanna be confused to!” Kris squealed.
“Is this really happening?” Bill pondered.
“BOOK!“ Kris screamed, leveling her staff on the Troll, who cowered.
Bill wrestled the staff away from her. Kris pouted. The Troll looked for some place to hide.
“We’ll be going,” Bill panted. “Thank you for the use of the bridge.”
“It’s a free bridge, man,” the Troll told him. “Everyone can use it.”
“Right,” Bill nodded, now completely lost.
“Left!” Kris squealed. “This is fun! Up?”
The Troll stared at her in bald faced fear. Bill kind of felt for him. Kris smiled at nothing in particular.
Bill struggled for something to say. Kris did a weird dance. The Troll backed away.
“Let’s go, Kris,” Bill finally managed.
“But I wanna know what’s in his book,” Kris argued.
“Nothing’s in his book, Kris,” Bill told her. “He’s a Troll. He can’t read.”
“Yes I can,” the Troll said, a bit indignant.
“Yes he can,” Kris echoed, also indignant.
Bill buried his face in his hand.
“That was mean of you, Bill,” Kris scolded him, then kicked him in shin to emphasize her point.
“Ow!” Bill yelped.
“Apologize to the Troll,” she told him without a trace of irony.
“Is this actually, really, happening?” Bill asked the sky.
“Who are you talking to?” Kris asked. “Cause I’m down here.”
“I know where you are, Kris,” Bill sighed.
“Yea!” Kris squealed. “We found me! Now you hide.”
“You people are crazy,” the Troll told them.
“I’m crazy,” Kris said, pointing at her nose. “He’s Bill. But Dwarves call him William. It’s his Dwarf name.”
“What?” the Troll asked, an note of panic in his voice.
Kris crossed her eyes as she stared at her own finger. Bill pushed her hand away. She swayed a moment, then smiled at him. Bill shook his head.
“What’s in the book?” Kris asked.
“Nothing,” the Troll said, suddenly turning shy. “Just stuff I wrote down.”
Kris squealed in excitement. “He can write, Bill!”
“I kind of figured that out when he said he could read,” Bill told her.
“He can read too?” Kris asked in awe. “He’s a magic Troll!”
“Dude,” the Troll said softly.
“Kris, we’ve got a job to do,” Bill reminded her, pointing back at the caravan.
“I know,” Kris pouted. “But I wanna know what he wrote in his book.”
“Why?” Bill asked.
“Cause,” Kris said.
“Cause why what?” Kris asked.
“Stop that,” Bill told her.
“Stop what?” Kris asked.
“This?” Kris asked, waving her arms over her head.
“Dude!” the Troll exclaimed.
“Story time!” Kris squealed, running towards the Troll, who panicked at her approach, until she flopped on the ground, producing her stuffed rabbit from nowhere and hugged it.
“Really?” Bill asked the heavens again.
“Bill!” Kris snapped. “Be quiet! I can’t hear the story.”
He sighed and walked over, waving for the Troll to go ahead. The Troll stared at him in horror for a bit, then nervously lifted the book.
“It’s just some poetry,” he told the mad Elf nervously.
“I love poetry,” Kris squealed.
“Since when?” Bill asked.
“Since always, silly Billy,” she answered. “It’s like singing without any music.”
Bill blinked, then shrugged at the Troll. The Troll seemed as lost as he was. Kris drooled. The Troll made a disgusted face. Bill wiped her chin.
“Do I really have to do this?” the Troll asked.
“Yes,” Kris said emphatically. “Or Bill will beat you up.”
“I will?” Bill asked.
“Yes,” Kris answered.
“Why?” Bill asked.
“Cause, silly, he’s a Troll,” Kris replied with annoyance. “Geeze, Bill, try to keep up.”
“I’m feeling a little self conscious about this,” the Troll said, eyeing Bill’s sword.
“That’s cause you’re a Troll,” Kris replied. “A hideous, ugly, near sighted Troll.”
“Hey!” the Troll exclaimed. “I’ve got self esteem issues!”
“Shame on you, Bill,” Kris cried.
“Me?” Bill barked. “What did I do?”
“You made the poor Troll feel bad about himself,” Kris answered.
“How did I do that?” Bill asked.
“By being better looking than him,” Kris told him. “Try to be uglier for a little while, okay?”
Bill stared at her in shock. The Troll stared at her in confusion. Kris stared at Bunny in affection.
“If I read her something, will she go away?” the Troll asked Bill in desperation.
“I hope so,” Bill sighed.
“But probably not,” Kris intoned with a wicked smile.
The Troll swallowed nervously and lifted the book, thumbing through the pages slowly until he found one he liked. Kris hugged Bunny and smiled. Bill tried to grasp what was even happening.
“Song to my mother, by Clyde,” the Troll said.
“Who’s Clyde?” Kris asked.
“I’m Clyde,” the Troll replied.
“You’re Clyde?” Kris asked.
“Yes,” the Troll, Clyde, sighed. “I’m Clyde.”
“Wow,” Kris said slowly.
“What?” Clyde asked. “Do you think that’s a stupid name?”
“It’s a fine name,” Bill said. “Please, read, so we can leave.”
“It’s a stupid name,” Kris nodded.
“It’s not a stupid name!” Clyde cried in indignation.
“Bill, is it a stupid name?” Kris asked.
“For a Troll, maybe, yeah,” Bill agreed, trying to placate the Elf.
“Dude!” Clyde whimpered. “That really hurts!”
“What?” Bill exclaimed.
“Bill, shame on you,” Kris scolded. “Now you hurt Troll Clyde’s feelings.”
“Me?” Bill cried.
“It’s okay, Clyde,” Kris soothed. “Bill’s name is just as stupid.”
“How is my name stupid?” Bill demanded.
“It’s a ducks mouth,” Kris told him seriously.
Bill gaped. Clyde gaped. Kris gaped, cause everyone else was, and she hated being left out.
“You gonna read that poem or what?” Kris finally asked, hugging Bunny.
“I… what?” Clyde stammered.
“Just read the damn thing so we can get moving,” Bill sighed.
“Right, yeah,” Clyde said, lifting the book, staring at the mad Elf in outright fear. Kris just smiled back at him and stroked Bunny.
“Song to my mother, by Clyde,” he started again.
“I heard that part, already,” Kris pouted.
“Kris, stop,” Bill scolded.
“Sorry, Clyde,” she said.
He nodded, fingers squeezing the book. Nervously, he pressed on.
“Born in a cave, sworn in a slave, to your dreams, and your schemes,” he read.
“Ohh,” Kris cooed.
“Raised a beast, at the least, you broke me, roiled my sea,” he continued.
“Ahh,” Kris sighed.
“Heart pleading, then bleeding, I begged for love, and to be heard of,” he regaled.
“Eee,” Kris cried.
“The wide world I see, outside of just me, reaching for the dawn, begging me on,” he pressed ahead.
“Faaa,” Kris blubbered.
“I leave you behind, even in my mind, as I must to be, free of your cruelty,” he finished.
“Naar,” Kris drooled.
Clyde closed the book slowly, looking away, clearly lost in the pain of remembering what had driven him to write what he had. For a moment, behind the glasses, he almost seemed to cry.
“That was pretty,” Kris said, hugging Bunny tighter.
“It was stupid,” Bill snorted.
“Bill!” Kris cried.
“Well, it was,” he said. “Look, Clyde, I get it. Your mother, she was lousy. Trust me, I understand. But you don’t cry about it. You man up and move on.”
“Billy, be nice,” Kris told him. “Clyde’s sensitive.”
“Clyde’s a Troll,” Bill retorted. “Just eat her or something.”
“Eww,” Clyde recoiled. “Dude, I’m a vegan.”
“Oh, come on,” Bill groaned. “A sensitive vegetarian Troll? Seriously? Buddy, grow a pair!”
“Bill!” Kris snapped.
“No, listen, my mother was a prostitute, Clyde,” Bill told him. “She tried to sell me at one point, to a Half Orc, for dinner.”
“Wow,” Kris gasped. “You never told me that.”
“That is harsh,” Clyde agreed.
“She was drunk, and I got over it,” Bill told them both. “So, you know, stop being so… this. You’ve got your own life now. Go live it, and don’t be such a whiny pussy all the time. Geeze, you’re a Troll for crying out loud!”
Sobbing from behind them drew all their attention. Mr. Fyle knelt in the grass, wiping his eyes, crying uncontrollably. He tried to stop, to say something, but ended up only sobbing more pathetically.
“What now?” Bill groaned.
“Troll,” Fyle whimpered. “You’re poem, it’s like, you looked inside me, and wrote it! My mommy never loved me!”
Bill buried his face in his hand. Kris cried with Fyle, going and throwing her arms around him, letting him hug Bunny with her. Clyde sniffled.
“Really? Are you really going to?” Bill asked him.
“Dude,” he said, then went and hugged Fyle as well.
Bill stared at them, as they hugged and cried. Fyle and Clyde for the love they never knew. Kris because… actually, Bill wasn’t sure why she was crying. He shook his head, looked at the bridge, and desperately, more than anything, just wanted to cross it.
“We’ll be okay,” Clyde cried.
“We’ll be okay,” Fyle sobbed.
“I want a cookie,” Kris wailed.
Bill went to the bridge post and slammed his head against it.
A week later, and they were in Phoggus, Bill relieved to finally be free of the merchant Fyle, not to mention Clyde, who Fyle had insisted come with them. Why, Bill didn’t know.
He and Kris left the merchants behind, Fyle paying him in full, even as he promised to help Clyde find a way to move more people with his beautiful poetry. Bill wasn’t sure what part of people he planned to move, but he suspected it would be lower than their hearts.
“Now that that’s over with, let’s go find Bunny’s family,” Bill sighed. “They can’t be any weirder.”
“Bill,” Kris said with a touch of concern. “Bunny’s a stuffed rabbit. He doesn’t have any family.”
“Of course not,” Bill agreed with a bit of exhaustion.
“Sometimes I worry about you,” Kris told him.
“So do I,” Bill said.
“I’m glad we met Clyde,” Kris said as they headed for an inn.
“Why?” Bill asked. “All he did was cry.”
“Well, he helped you deal with your issues,” Kris pointed out.
“I don’t have any issues,” Bill growled.
“Oh, right, that’s me,” Kris giggled. “I’ve got whole subscriptions!”
Bill stopped to wipe the drool off her chin.
©-2017 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No bridges were harmed in the writing of this short story.