A Bridge, A Reflection- JP

Word Association, but with the addendum (the permission?) that it be fun to write.

Narcissus was a great bull troll, the tallest of his breed, and though it won him admirers from all around, it bent him right up in two beneath the bottom of his little stone bridge. He was terribly effective, even bent as he was, and most of the time, travelers would hear a muffled rhyme and meet their end in his giant green mouth if they could not pay the fee. Still, there were times, to his shame, that all they heard was the crunch and shuffle of his heavy weight struggling to free itself from its cramped quarters, and were across the bridge and long gone before his bulbous head could make its way into the light of day. The bridge had been his father’s, and his father’s father’s before him, and though he suffered mightily and his pride hurt something fierce, he could not abandon it, no matter how much he might wish to.

Echo was a water cow, a daughter of the river. She slid her slimy tail past algae-covered stones and frolicked in deep pools beneath the shadows of tall trees. She could not speak the tongue of air-living races, though her voice was a soothing baritone that lulled all the fish to sleep, a dulcet melody to the frog and salamander. In the air, it came out as a low, and this had many times been mistaken by men for the howl of a banshee; a fairy woman, they claimed, who must have drowned in this very pool in this very mountain stream where they rested.

Now Narcissus, as big as he was, had no room under his bridge for a bride, though many a sow troll had tried to squash herself flat with a mallet to take that place. Bent over as he was, he found that his only friend was his own reflection. Echo, the waterborne, one day slipped beneath his bridge, and lingered in the shade of the pool beneath his arched legs. Looking up, she saw every bit of the mammoth troll, chewing on the arm of an unfortunate traveler. His appearance captivated her, enthralled her-- the spiraling horns of dull white and tusks to match, a nose so full and furless, slimy like her tail, and his eyes, oh eyes! of dull gleaming ochre, like the sun at dusk dying in the water.

Echo was a creature whose whole lusts in life were for the splashing of a mayfly or the sweet scum of pollen on the water in spring. The dull ochre gleam of Narcissus’s eyes sent her into paroxysms of passion. She hovered in the water just below Narcissus’s reflection, and poked her fluked snout out to kiss him.

Now Narcissus was napping, and the wet slurp of sea-daughter snout took him quite by surprise. So much surprise in fact that he reared back a sudden, and the enormity of his bulk tore the bridge from its foundations and sent it showering backwards into the river, creating a dam behind which the water began to pool. He looked down at his reflection, and shouted “’Allo?” which is always the first thing a troll shouts when it’s taken by surprise. 

Echo, in the meanwhile, felt the water beginning to ebb around her, and, terrified, let out a shout as loud as she could, begging Narcissus to help her, but all that came out was her usual low, the only sound she could make with her mouth out of water. And this, oddly enough, sounded precisely like the tail end of a troll shouting “Allo?” when it was taken at once by surprise.

Narcissus stared at his reflection for a moment, then a moment longer. “Reflection,” he said, “did you kiss me a moment ago?” In response, Echo lowed again as fiercely as she could.

Now it is important to understand at this point that trolls are not terribly bright creatures, and it is not entirely uncommon for them to answer a question in the affirmative by simply repeating the last word that was spoken to them, this being deemed much easier than going to the effort of coming up with one’s own words, such as "yes" or "right-o." The more educated trolls who have taken to living beneath the bridges in London or Milan or in the catacombs beneath Paris have largely abandoned this practice, and go quite out of their way to make intelligent conversation with passing travelers before devouring them, but our story takes place, as it does, deep in the mountains of Greece, and as such Narcissus was familiar with the more traditional practice. Which is why, when Echo let out her mighty low in response to his question, he heard it as a repetition of his own question, and therefore, as a “yes.”

“Good lord,” Narcissus exclaimed, bending down to the water. Echo, despite her dire predicament, was so enchanted by his beauty that she reached up her snout and gave him another kiss, just as his face approached the water. Narcissus was taken aback again, and looked wildly around him, noticing for the first time that the water was receding.

It was at this point that a troubadour came by and happened upon the scene. “Good sir troll,” he said, staring upward, for the fully revealed Narcissus stood twice his height, even with the troll standing, as it was, on the stones about the bed of the river, “it would appear I have arrived at a most inopportune moment. For it was my plan to cross this small bridge of yours on my way north to Macedon, and I see that is no longer a viable option.”

“You must help me!” Narcissus cried. “My reflection has fallen in love with me and now it is dying!” And with that he threw himself onto the stone bridge with a fierceness and pawed at it, tearing it away as rapidly as he could.

The troubadour, a bit confused but trying to appear unruffled, bent over the broken edges of the old bridge and spotted the flapping fins of the water cow, who was desperately trying to remain near her beloved even as the water level sank lower and lower. Being a clever fellow, the troubadour put together what had happened, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and came up with a plan.

“If you will take me gently to the other side,” he told the frenzied troll, “I will tell you how to save your reflection, and your bridge to boot.”

Narcissus, who was at this point beside himself, agreed, and quickly lifted the man to the other side of the river. “Save it!” he cried, pointing to the evaporating pool where Echo lay, trapped now by the receding waters.

“Certainly,” the troubadour told him, unstringing his lute and bringing forth a burlap bag. “But you must not look, or the magic will not happen.” The troll turned away, and when he did, the troubadour took the strings of his lute and constructed a little cradle from them, which he slipped beneath Echo’s slimy tail and lifted her into his bag.

“You may turn around now,” he said. Narcissus did, and the troubadour held up his bag. “I have your reflection in this bag,” he said, “and may do with it as I please. No doubt you can lift that bridge back into place now that you have the time to do so carefully, but you shall not have your reflection back unless you do what I say.”

Narcissus nodded his ponderous head. “But I must have it,” he said, “for it is the only thing that can fit beneath my bridge with me, and I am terribly lonely there. My bridge is too small, you see. And it is my reflection besides; how will I know where I am without it?”

The troubadour thought and thought for a long moment, then held up his finger. “I have a plan,” he declared. “A plan that will solve all your woes at once. But I have recently taken a commission that will bring me through this path often, and I require free passage from this day forward. Moreover, you must not eat another person, but only billy goats, and if a person cannot pay your toll, you must simply turn him away.”

Narcissus huffed, and he puffed, but ultimately, he knew he needed his reflection, and so he agreed. The troubadour smiled, and produced a length of thick rope from his pack.

From that day forward, Narcissus no longer ate people, but only goats, and anyone who could not pay his toll was simply turned away. Echo lived from then on in his reflection, and kissed him with her cold snout whenever she could. Narcissus himself lived a much more comfortable existence, with his father’s father’s bridge tied to his back, and was only forced to double over when someone paid the toll and he had to put the bridge in place for them to cross. Even this, he did not mind, however, for whenever he bent over, his loving reflection was waiting there to adore him.

As for the troubadour, he went on to play in the courts of many kings, and wherever he went, he told a strange story of a man who was in love with his own reflection and a woman who could only repeat what was said to her.