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Please Pay the Troll (Lady Madeline Pt. 10)

They didn't talk much in the next hour. Most of the time, they just moved without talking — which was fine with Madeline.

Handsome, of course, was silent the whole way. For some reason, he insisted on bringing the tree branch with him. They simply couldn't convince him that it was useless.

Sometimes Roderick'd try to warn her about the troll again, tell her that she needed to be able to fight the thing. It was getting annoying. There was nothing she could do to get rid of the troll. This was their only path, and they didn't have much time. If she didn't need him as a guide, she wondered if it might have been better to go on her own.

To be honest, Madeline didn't think much of her plan either. "You distract him, and I'll run past" sounded like a great way to get eaten. At least it was better than Roderick's crazy "Let's attack an five-ton troll with a stick" idea. Weren't there supposed to be magical swords in stories with giant trolls?

The got to the bridge at about lunchtime. It was a long, wide, wooden bridge that went straight across the river. It was held up by a series of wooden platforms that had been pushed into the mud at the river bottom.

Madeline saw the bridge and gasped. It was much too long to outrun a troll, and if they were attacked in the middle of the bridge, then the troll would catch her and eat her for sure. Suddenly, Roderick's idea about fighting seemed like it might be worth considering. She did have the large branch that Handsome had dragged through the forest, but somehow she doubted that would matter much.

"So, any new ideas?" Madeline asked.

Roderick fluttered over and scratched his head, "Stick?"

But before Madeline could answer, a giant "roar" came from the direction of the bridge. A giant creature pulled itself up from the mud by the side of the platforms, it must have been ten times taller than Madeline if not more. This had to be the troll.

It stepped towards them, Madeline and Roderick froze. Handsome dropped the branch and began to bark, "HEY! HEY! HEY!"

The giant laughed. The sound was deep and booming. "Well, what have we here?" He was closer now, at most a few yards, less than the length of her school classroom. "It looks like I'll have some human for lunch!"

He stepped closer and raised his arm, hand open, like he was ready to grab Madeline and gobble her up in one bite. Madeline was scared, but she knew that it was all up to her. Roderick would just fly away, and the troll didn't care about Handsome. What is something that trolls like in books?

"STOP!" She shouted, "You don't want to eat me."

The troll put down his arm, smiled, if you could call it that, and laughed. "Because you're small and your big brother will come later?"

He knew about the Billygoats Gruff! Time to try a different tactic.

"You need to let me pay the toll!"

"No, I don't!" The troll said.

"You let other people go by after paying a toll," Madeline said.

"She's right," agreed Roderick.

"You can't pay it. You don't have the money," the troll snorted.

She knew that he had a point. She didn't normally carry money with her, and today was no exception. She left the house that morning without even a one-dollar bill. How was she going to be able to pay him the money she'd need to in order to be able to get through a toll, let alone one to this foul creature?

"What if we have a contest, and if we win, then you let us by."

The troll laughed, louder this time, "And if I win, I get to have you for lunch."

Madeline frowned. She was not happy about letting him, but at this point, he was close enough that she couldn't do anything about it.

She needed a contest that she could win, but the troll would think he could beat her. Otherwise, he'd never be willing to compete. She didn't think he'd go for a dance contest — though it would be fun to watch a giant troll try to keep the beat — and a spelling contest was probably also a bad idea. Same for math.

Then, it dawned on her: "Fine," she said, "then we should have a riddle contest."

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