The journey to Ankheim took longer than expected, as Trundles was a boar with little attention to her rider’s directions and a powerful appetite. After three stops for snacks, it was decided a solution was needed for the sake of expediency.
Aranza smiled back at Temperance and Monty from a good distance ahead, the apple she’d rigged up to a simple combination of rope and a stick that was held just out of Trundles’ reach a powerful motivator for the boar.
“Don’t look so smug there,” Monty called. “You’ll be the first one to be eaten by the Bridge Troll if this goes sideways!”
“She had a good idea, though,” Temperance said. “Clever of her to use the boar’s endless appetite to her advantage.”
Monty gave Temperance a sideways glance. “Don’t let her hear you say that or she’ll never shut up about this.”
“Too late, I heard all of it!” Aranza shouted back.
“Gods damn it,” Monty said.
The horses clipclopped along the weathered dirt road, the metal of their horseshoes occasionally striking a stone from a time when there may have been some improvements in process before being abandoned.
“Have you ever been to Ankheim?” Monty asked Temperance, his eyes still fixed on the road ahead. They continued along at a pace that would ensure their arrival before sunset, which in turn guaranteed they would encounter the Bridge Troll they were tasked with removing.
“Sorry, did I need to use your title there or something to address you properly?” Monty asked “Guild Paladin Temperance, have you ever been to Ankheim before?”
Temperance blinked. “Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t…” she hesitated. “I didn’t think you were talking to me, to be honest. No, I haven’t. I have heard quite a bit about it, as they pay handsomely for special Guild protections.”
Monty chuckled. “Tell me something I don’t know,” he replied. “You’re in for a treat. Assuming we can deal with this Troll, that is. Better than going straight after a Lich, I suppose.”
Temperance smiled. “Suppose you’re right.”
A walled town appeared on the horizon. The heights of its walls glittered gold in the fading sunlight of the day. Two massive, iron doors blocked the only point of entry to the town and were the only thing separating the town from the bridge that spanned a steep valley and kept travelers from plunging into the Ankheim River. Few would suggest the Ankheim River is anything shy of a pleasant and slow-moving, but to follow it for too long beyond Ankheim would lead one to the Serpentus Falls. These were noteworthy for being a very sharp drop that was followed by an abrupt, often deadly stop.
The bridge that spanned the gap was stone, and fairly standard in appearance. Any bridgebuilder would be proud to call it their work, and rightfully so as it had occupied that span for greater than one hundred years without incident.
Aranza brought Trundles to a stop the easiest way she could manage, by dropping the apple. She dismounted, hammered a tent post into the ground, and tied Trundles’ harness to the post.
“By the Gods, you two certainly took your time,” Aranza taunted. “Busy having a buddy adventure back there while I scouted ahead?”
“You know my only friendly travel companion is you, Aranza,” Monty snarked back. “Any word on the Troll with whom we are to contend?”
They stood just beyond the edge of the bridge and considered their options. Bridge Trolls were at home in the underside of bridge, and often laid traps for careless travelers. Some, however, favored brute force over brainy approaches. The one universal truth to Bridge Trolls, however, was a simple one: pay the toll or be devoured by the troll.
Temperance unsheathed her sword and stepped forward. A sudden flurry of movement was barely visible beneath the bridge–little more than a large, dark shape that moved in the shadows.
Aranza elbowed Monty. “Don’t think we get off the hook if let her die, Monty,” she pointed out. “Flip a copper to see who goes to save her?”
Monty sighed. “You’re not wrong, but we don’t have time,” he replied. He palmed a dagger, the flash of silver gone as quickly as it appeared, and walked with purposes to meet Temperance before the Bridge Troll did.
“Let’s be reasonable here, my goodly Guild…handler? No, that’s not the word I’m looking for, is it,” Monty said as he stepped between Temperance and the last step onto the bridge. “You are clearly a Paladin of action, and that’s admirable.”
“We cannot let a monster dictate the terms by which our people live,” Temperance replied. She opened her mouth to speak again, only to shut it abruptly. Her eyes grew wide.
The rumbling grew from a subtle accompaniment to the river’s babbling below to a cacophony on par with an avalanche roaring down a mountainside.
“Monty, you were supposed to stop her,” Aranza called out as she ran over to join her traveling companions. “Not step onto the bridge, you gnollwit!” She smiled sheepishly up at the Bridge Troll.
The troll towered over the trio, at least twice Monty’s height. Muscles, built for scaling cliffs and clinging to the undersides of bridges (that also served their owner well in ventures such as smashing careless adventurers’ skulls), bulged within the troll’s stone-like slate gray skin. Long, curved fangs jutted out of the troll’s gaping maw at wild angles as it returned the smile.
“Goodness me, what a curious predicament we’ve got ourselves here,” the Bridge Troll said.
Temperance assumed a defensive pose while Monty moved out from between her and the troll while he muttered a series of apologies.
“You’re right,” Temperance said. “You’ve extorted your last gold piece from Ankheim and its good people!”
The Bridge Troll cocked his head, his large red eyes squinted in visible confusion. “The good people of Ankheim?” he roared with laughter. “You Guild types are all the same. Proper jesters and fools, really.”
Aranza stifled a chuckle. “I feel obligated to disagree presently, but say for the sake of curiosity I’d like to know what makes this particular Guild fool a fool in this case?”
Temperance shot a quick, dagger-filled glance over her shoulder at Aranza, who simply shrugged in reply.
“Ankheim weren’t Ankheim forever, you misinformed miscreants,” the Bridge Troll sneered. “That’s enough talk, methinks. Either pay the toll, or…Well, surely you lot know the rest.”