Monday, November 26, 2007

Troll Booth

All was going well today. Plack and I had been walking along the Greenhouse Cliff road for several hours, having slept at a slightly wider spot covered in moss last night. There are flowers and mushrooms everywhere. Moss covers every inch of rock rough enough to grip, trees and flowering plants grow out of the moss, and more moss and flowers grow on the branches of the trees. It's the same in every direction - left or right, up or down. The roots of the trees above the road hang down and embed themselves in the miniature gardens growing on the trees below. The Cliff jungle grows on itself as much as it grows on the cliff. The trees are only one layer thick; beyond the row of trunks is nothing but empty gray fog. Insects fly everywhere, drops of condensation fizzing off of their rapidly beating wings. Small birds of every possible shape and color are almost as common. Some of them visit flowers; others eat the insects. They have to work harder to find the green or cloud-gray ones. Whole colonies of small frogs fill every rock crevice and bromeliad.

We had just navigated the hairpin turn onto yet another switchback (half the road had crumbled away at the corner, which made it interesting) when we saw a small house ahead. It was two stories high, wedged beneath an unusually high part of the overhanging rock, and about six feet wide. Only two thirds of it actually fit on the road. The remaining two feet hung out over empty space. Another story - a basement? - stuck out of the cliff face beneath the rest of the house, supported by a network of rotting wooden beams.

Though the basement level was sagging and covered with moss, the upper floors of the house were perfectly neat and painted spotless white. A little stove chimney hung out over the cliff on the top floor.

We were standing there, staring at this odd little house built right across the road, when the troll came out.

Like most of the turnstile trolls that plague bridges and narrow roads all over the world, he was large and lumpy, with gray scales and hair. Unlike most of them, his hair was neatly combed (even his mane and ear tufts), and he was wearing an embroidered tunic and stockings. There were buckles on his shoes. Obviously, this was a rather successful troll.

"Your house," said Plack bluntly, "is in our way." He was still behind me, due to the narrowness of the road where we were; I suddenly wished that he wasn't.

"I knows it is," said the troll. With a wide grin full of gleaming white fangs, he then gave us the traditional turnstile troll greeting.

"Your money or your life!"

(This is not strictly true, as trolls have rarely actually killed anyone. It causes them more trouble than it's worth. The worst they usually do is hit people when they're irritated. It sounds scarier this way, though.)

Plack was not scared and not amused. "Why don't we keep both and you move your stupid house?"

"Your money or your life!"

"Or we could move it for you."

"Your money or your life!"

"Oh, shut up," snapped Plack. "Besides, what are you going to do if we don't pay you, you overdressed mushroom? Sit there and blind us with your teeth?"

I was starting to feel rather nervous by that point. When someone is insulting a troll, it's generally not a good idea to stand directly between them.

"You no pays me?"

"No. We doesn't."

The troll then proved himself to be one of the few trolls in the world who had never met a llama. With a slightly more evil grin, he pulled what looked like a four-foot spatula from inside the front door. "Then I wallops you until you does-"

A brown blur flew over my head, landed with a CLANG, and became Plack, standing in front of me and glaring at the troll. The spatula was bent in half in the middle. The troll was standing about a foot farther back than he had been; his feet had left skid marks in the dirt of the road.

His grin didn't even flicker. "-Then I lets you through right away and gives you breakfast."

He proceeded to do just that, showing us through his tiny and spotless kitchen (the entire first floor of his house) with all the care and politeness of a Clam-Porklian waiter. It was less than two minutes before we were on our way again, Plack with a basket of salad and a bottle of grundle juice, me with a sort of mushroom omelet that turned out to be better than what you get in most restaurants. The troll waved us happily on our way and sat down to wait for the next travelers. He might not have known about llamas before, but he does now. Trolls don't become successful by being stupid.

"'Never happened before,'" Plack snorted as we continued down the road. "Hah." He didn't say another word all day, but the smug smile didn't leave his face until after he was asleep.

In the past, several turnstile trolls have made a fairly good living for themselves thanks to me. I should have started traveling with a llama years ago.

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