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Fiction Fantasy Funny

Most people call me “thief” or “crook,” and say that I’m “devious” or “underhanded.” But I think that something like “benefactor” or “protector” would be more appropriate. 

I’ve prevented (or at least delayed) three wars, paved the way for brand new lives, and maintained an incredibly valuable piece of architecture.

The war part sounds outrageous, but the truth is that I am the gatekeeper between two great nations: Graepjoos and Appeljus. The mighty Grapple River divides these lands, and I faithfully guard the only logical (or convenient) way to cross. 

When King Jusiah of Appeljus galloped to my domain with a vast host of 20,000 warriors at his back, prepared to avenge the perceived wrongs of the nation of Graepjoos, I reminded the king that a price must be paid for every single man who seeks to cross the raging Grapple.

“I cannot afford such a price!” whispered King Jusiah, glancing back at his men as if they might hear his humble protest. 

I crossed my arms. “Then you will have to go home, Jusiah. If you so badly want to wage your little war, go back and scour your palace for sufficient coin. Shake out your cushions. Kneel down and look under the furniture. You might find a few spare coins.” I smirked. 

King Jusiah’s face flushed red as a ripe apple. “How dare you-,” he muttered. He pulled his sword a few inches out of its scabbard. I grinned a bit wider and unraveled and flexed my arms. That was enough. The king gave the order, and his thousands, thoroughly confused, turned tail and marched away. When they glanced back my way, I gave them a smile and a wave farewell. 

Not a moon’s turn later, Queen Joosephine of Graepjoos arrived at the other side of the Grapple with an even more impressive host. She refused my terms as well. Though I could sense her fear, her immense rage turned her face a dark purple. Unlike Jusiah, she did not hesitate in drawing her weapon. I did not wish to destroy her, and so I calmly swatted her into the torrent of the Grapple. Her men were terribly baffled for a moment, and then they took off at a sprint to recover their sputtering and wailing queen, who was already a good ways downriver. I have not seen Queen Joosephine or her men since. 

After her scare, King Jusiah must have assumed that the nation of Graepjoos was in a vulnerable state. He returned with his army just a week later. Judging by their dirty and sorry countenance, I believe they had not even made it back home. The king had stopped halfway and came back.

On this occasion there was no time for words. The king sent forth his strongest champions, armed with greatswords, axes, and spears. They each met the same fate as Queen Joosephine: tossed into the swirling drink. Pale and defeated, the king and his men went home for good. 

I cannot say I do not enjoy telling the tales of the wars that I singlehandedly prevented (or delayed), but the feat that I revel in most is offering people a new life on the opposite side of the river. It gives me satisfaction and a sort of hope to know that a man who has worn out his welcome on one side of the river can find new purpose on the other side. For a price, that is. And depending on the price on one’s head, that price can at times be substantial. 

One particular day was quite fruitful. On the Graepjoos side of the river, I spotted a rarity. A man dressed in finery approached my crossing. 

He willed himself to look me in the eye. The man was inflated by pride alone. “I need to cross,” he said. 

“State your reason for seeking a new life in a new land,” I said. 

“I am no longer welcome in the land of Graepjoos.” He looked back with disdain. 

“What offenses have you committed in the land of Graepjoos?”

“I have committed no crime.” He adjusted his gilded robe. “The queen does not know wisdom when she hears it.”

“Fallen out of favor with the queen? If I turn you over to her, I’m sure she would pay quite a price.”

“No need for that,” he said. “As her treasurer, I know where her gold is kept.” He pulled a bloated purse out from under his robes. “I believe this will be more than enough.”

I took the bag and looked over its sparkling contents. “It will suffice.” I answered, waving the man across. 

Next came a knight from Applejus, who climbed down off his horse and knelt. “I have come to cross to the other side,” he said. 

“State your reason for seeking a new life in a new land,” I said. 

His face turned sour. “I know when I have been defeated,” he said. “When the king sent me to clear the way for his army, you bested me. Now I live in disgrace. My honor is tarnished. I wish to cross and serve Queen Joosephine instead.”

“And your payment?” I asked. 

He tossed me a purse. “It’s all I have left,” he said. 

I checked the meager bag of coins. “Not all.” I narrowed my eyes. “I require something more. Your pretty shining armor.”

“But...I am a knight. What would I be without it?”

“One who still lives,” I answered. The knight nodded and shed his armor there at the crossing. He watched me the whole way across. 

Another man showed up just as the sun began to set. He was thin, dressed head to toe in nothing but rags with a hood covering his head. 

“I seek passage across the river,” he said. 

I eyed him with interest. “State your reason for seeking a new life in a new land.”

The man hesitated. “Well, I...you see…I’ve run into some trouble with the law.”

“Do tell,” I answered. None of this surprised me. Most people who approach my crossing have committed one crime or another. 

The man glanced nervously behind him, and his hood slipped from his head for a moment. He pulled it back over his head, but too late. “It’s...quite complicated,” he said. “I’m not sure you would understand.”

“Oh, I understand.”

“You do?”

“Of course. You have been here once before. Only last time it was on the other side of the river.” I could see the man shaking. I continued. “You were in deep trouble the last time. I believe you dipped into no less than six stolen purses to pay your way across?”

The man’s chin dropped to his chest in defeat. “Yes, yes, I admit it. It was me.”

“You must be mad to want to go back to lands that you were forced to flee. Mad...or desperate.”

The man tried to stammer out a reply, but my gales of laughter interrupted him. I held my stomach and bent over, wiping tears of mirth from my eyes. “Did you know,” I said, “that in thirty-four years of guarding this crossing, you are the first to ask for passage BACK to the place that cast you out?!”

This time he was silent. “You escaped the law in Applejus to make a new life in Graepjoos,” I said, “and now you want to go back. What is the reward this time? Does the one who turns you in get to marry the queen?” I chuckled, but he found it less amusing. “Truly, what is the reward?” I held out my hands. “You know the price. You have done this before. You pay me what the reward demands. So what is it?”

“Five hundred gold pieces!” the man blurted out, too quickly. 

I wagged a finger at him. “Don’t lie to me.”

“Seven hundred then.” He seemed to shrink. 

I glared back skeptically.

“It doesn’t matter anyway!” he cried. “I can’t pay you! I only came here because it’s this or the gallows! Please! I have nowhere else to turn!” He groveled on his knees. 

“Well, then I will keep you here and take the reward when they come to collect you,” I replied. 

“No, please! Anything! I’ll do anything! I can pay you back!”

“On second thought, you would be a nuisance. I have other customers, maintenance to perform…” I pretended to think for a moment. “No, I think I’ll just carry out your sentence myself.”

“What? What do you mean?” he cried. He turned like he was going to run away back down the road. 

I reached down and plucked him up by his shirt with two fingers. He kicked and squirmed, but it was useless. He would never be free again. As I watched his tiny limbs flail about, I realized that he was indeed quite scrawny, but sometimes the thin ones are pleasantly crunchy. I shrugged and dropped him into my mouth. 

I enjoyed my meal and belched loudly at the end, satisfied. What a stroke of luck! Never before had I gotten both coin and a meal out of one customer. Usually it was one or the other. 

With the sun finally setting below the horizon, I closed up and settled down for the night. Not a bad day for the troll under the bridge. 

January 07, 2021 23:48

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3 comments

Orenda .
13:25 Jan 09, 2021

the nations' names are so clever. I chuckled at Appeljoos. Woah! Hats off to you 🧢 this one is as unique and hilarious as the other one and congrats on the shortlist! Much deserved, though. and what? The guardkeeper's appetite is humans?? Jeez, that was a crazy twist and I gasped. incredible read! I hope to see more from you :)

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Caleb Goehring
18:05 Jan 09, 2021

Thank you! It was fun to write!

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Orenda .
18:17 Jan 09, 2021

of course! And it was too fun to read ;)

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