Here is a woods, a nice, quiet place, with a stream running through it, and birds in song, and the singing of the fairies, and the grunts of song from the local goblin clan coming from over the next hill. There s a nice fire going in a castle to the east, where a dragon has laid waste to the village, and eaten the king, and all around the place was a pervasive un-calm. But the woods were calm. In fact, they were eerily quiet compared to their surroundings. They boded. It could be said that they lurked, if it weren t for the faeries. They brightened the place, but it still lurked on the horizon.

Urk lurked. Specifically, he lurked in his home under the bridge, in the woods. He lurked because he couldn t skulk, not at ten feet tall, and because he couldn t read, not in the dark like this, not with the damp, either. So he lurked. He wasn t particularly fond of lurking, but it was better than simply waiting, which was just plain boring.

Urk was a troll. Trolls are not to be confused with ogres, goblins, hobgoblins, that scary thing that lived under your bed when you were five, or giants. Ogres travel in clans and are pretty stupid. You could run up to one, make a face at it, take its club, hit it over the head with it, assuming you can reach its head, or even its belly button, and run away before it figured out what happened. The face is the key. As long as it s confused, it won t react at all. This is why ogres, at least, are going extinct.

Goblins and hobgoblins are the same thing as the other, actually, but humans are rather stupid and needlessly complicate everything. They live, as was previously mentioned, in clans, and are amazing blacksmiths. They outclass dwarfs by miles, and the dwarfs rather resent this, as goblins first learned smithing through a dwarf who took a goblin prot g . This is the reason for the continued war between the goblins and dwarfs, and, unfortunately, it looks like they re both losing.

Giants are non-existent, or at least, there is no species called giant. It comes from ignorant humans not knowing the name for something and just saying big. The scary thing under your bed, since it was probably not an incubus (you were 5) was your imagination.

Trolls are none of these. Trolls are large, cunning monsters, who are made of rock. They have no grasp of the words pity or mercy, but they grasp the word gold quite well, although they would rather grasp a bag of gold. The average person will not see a troll, and the average person who sees a troll does not do so twice. They live under bridges or in caves at mountain passes or in law firms, and generally do their best to acquire as much gold as possible with as much pain as possible. They experience happiness only through acquisition or acts of sadism, or, if they are lucky, both at the same time. They are also vain, a strange trait in a gargantuan creature of rock with the facial features of a gorilla burn victim. They have long since recognized that there s no improving on themselves, and often try to acquire the trappings of society. This is rather difficult for them, as the only contact they have with society is through helpless travelers and their arch nemises, knights.

Urk lurked in the hopes that a knight would have a book someday. He d learnt to read from his mother, before he ate her, but had no books. He had a table, and a door, and a bookcase, and with these things considered himself high society indeed. But he wanted, above all things, a book. He d even let a few travelers go when they promised him a book, but they had, unsurprisingly, reneged on their promises. So Urk lurked, and there we will leave him until we need him again.

A knight rode over the nearest hill at top speed, pursued closely by the goblin clan. He had rid them of some troublesome dwarfs, and, as a sort of payment for his troubles, had taken a large bag of gold and their holy book. They rather objected to this, and were running after him in an attempt to lodge their complaints, and, if they could, their axes. They were gaining, too. Fast little buggers, the knight thought fervidly, as he applied the spurs once more. He aimed at the woods in an attempt to lose them there, and did, to his surprise, when they wouldn t enter under the canopy of the woods. Being rather more intelligent than the average knight, he retreated further, rather than waving his sword and making faces at the goblins.

It was then that he noticed the faeries. They danced and spun through the air, tiny, beautiful creatures with shimmering wings that you could barely see. They floated and danced out in front of him, as a fluid as he passed through their midst. There were thousands of colors for the looking, each one unique to a fairy. At last he came to a stream, and, to his surprise, there was a bridge.

It was, of course, Urk s bridge, but the knight wasn t to know that. There was a sharp drop into the stream on both sides throughout the woods, and the bridge was the only way across, something the trolls had long since seen to. The stream was deep, and turbulent, not something you could wade across, unless you were, say, ten feet tall and made of stone. The bridge itself was small, and wooden, covered in ivy, and not something you could get across if you were ten feet tall and made of stone. These things don t just happen naturally. Trolls actually build these bridges to a rigid specification, and an expert can immediately tell if it is a troll bridge or not. There are not, however, very many experts. And, unfortunately for him, the knight was not one of them.

He stopped at the bridge and looked at it, carefully. Although he didn t know that it was a troll bridge, he sensed something wrong, in the way the faeries seemed to avoid all but one part of the stream, over which they hovered more densely than normal. He knew that faeries both loved and hated water. They loved to see their reflection, but couldn t stand getting wet, which made actual flying over water a strange activity for them. Nevertheless, he couldn t see anything immediately dangerous, and started over the bridge.

Urk had seen the change in the flight patterns of the faeries over his feeder long before he heard the footsteps across his bridge, and was already moving before the third step fell. He was rather proud of his feeder. It was a flat rock just under the surface of the river, placed just so that he could see it from his cave. He placed bits of whatever his most recent meal was on it, since the faeries weren t picky, and was able to tell when anyone entered his forest when the faeries started moving more quickly. He d known about this one from his first step in the forest, judging by how long it had taken him to arrive at the bridge. This surprised Urk, as only a knight drew this much attention from the faeries, and he didn t get many knights these days. They mostly went after dragons now, or the occasional swamp creature, when they weren t off killing other humans. It wasn t something to be proud of anymore, killing a troll, they told themselves. In reality, it was a matter of self-preservation. There are many, many, more weak, fleshy parts on a dragon than a troll, and dragons play by the rules.

Urk stood up. Even though the bridge was a good six feet off the surface of the water, he was eye level with the knight. He stopped lurking and suddenly menaced, and made the ritual demand.

Pay your toll, play my game, or be eaten, stranger. Old words, but they got the point across.

The knight stood and stared. He d never seen a troll before, or really had an accurate description. It was huge. It seemed to go on forever, and he couldn t see an end to it. So, of course, being human, he asked the natural question.

What s the fee?

That would be a bag of gold or a book, stranger, or you can play my game. Or be eaten.

Oh. Um. That s a rather steep toll. What s your game, then?

Urk appeared to consider, and he was, but not the question. He was trying to decide whether he should follow the rules or just eat the funny man who kept asking questions that everyone knew the answer to. Didn t they?

You answer my riddle. If you get it right, you go across, no questions. If you get it wrong, well, I m hungry and not too picky, human. Urk grinned here. It was not a pleasant grin, and seemed to contain things that most people had only one or two of, i.e. various body parts.

Alright then, what s the riddle?

Walk on the living, they don t even mumble. Walk on the dead, they mutter and grumble. What are they? Urk spent a lot of time thinking about leaves, as he was surrounded by them, and had several riddles to which Leaves was the answer.

Um. Here the knight paused. He d never really had a chance to use his brain before, and it was painful. Can I just pay the fee, instead?

Of course, said Urk Trolls are not unreasonable.

Alright, then, said the knight, and handed over his recently acquired payment from the goblins. And, of course, he turned around to walk across the bridge like a fool, instead of keeping an eye on the troll. Everyone knows you can t trust a troll any more than you can plead with it, right?

Urp, said Urk. It was much later that day, and he was full, and content. He had gold, and a book, and a long book at that. It was good for everyone but the knight. The faeries had a meal again, and Urk had too, and, eventually, when a piece of armor came out of the woods from the river, the goblins were sure of their revenge. Urk read as darkness set in, and was content.