Trolls at Tibbitymark (Bernie and Tish holiday story)

Mon 9 Dec 2019, 11:05 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
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Bernie’s stomach rumbled and grumbled, as troll stomachs often do. Where was a crunchy beetle when you wanted one? He flipped over a rock near the swirling waters of the Garlknack River. There were a few ants, so he licked them up but they tickled his cheeks and weren’t very satisfying. “Have you found anything yet?”
His best friend, Tish, shook her head, hair bouncing this way and that as she plodded slowly along the shore. Forest trolls like Bernie had no hair on their heads, and it looked odd to see some on Tish. She and Granny Mac were the only hill trolls Bernie had ever known, and their grey skin and hairy heads made them stand out among the green skinned forest trolls.
Tish picked up a small pebble, but barely glanced at it before tossing it into the water.
Bernie yawned. “Hurry up. It’s getting late, and I don’t want to miss the fun.” Bernie already had his dangle. He’d found it the day before, a piece of wood that twisted around on itself. On the first night of Tibbitymark, young trolls all brought dangles to hang on the trees around the bonfire. Shadows from the firelight on the dangles danced among the trees, which Bernie found a little scary, but he never told anybody but Tish.
Almost anything could be a dangle, but it was tradition to find one that reminded you of a special skill or strength you had. Bernie liked the way the wood twisted around because it looked like two friends side-by-side. Bernie thought he was a good friend, though he wasn’t sure. He’d asked Tish, but she just laughed and said he was silly.
“They’re going to start the bonfire without us!”
Tish didn’t answer, but stared at a bit of something floating in the waters, spinning around closer and then farther from shore. She hurried after it —trolls don’t run unless they must—and grabbed it as it spun close to shore. “Aha!” she cried, shaking the water off.
“What is it?” Bernie asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe a bird’s nest but missing the middle.” Tish held up the soggy ring of twigs with feathers stuck in it. “It’s beautiful.”
“It would be more beautiful if it had baby birds in it,” Bernie muttered. He’d never eaten a bird, but he felt like he could eat anything. Maybe not a bear. He shivered at the thought. “I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry!” Tish laughed. 
“Um, why is it a good dangle for you?” Bernie couldn’t figure out what the twigs and feathers meant to Tish, but he was sure she had a reason.
Tish scratched her head. “I think I like it because I make things. Remember that stool I made for Granny Mac? This was made by a bird.”
Bernie nodded. Trolls don’t usually make things, they usually break them instead. But Tish was not a usual troll. “Also, the feathers look a little like hair,” he suggested.
“That’s right. Oh, I love it. Hurry up, let’s get back to the bonfire.” She took off toward Bernie’s bridge, and he had to hurry to catch up. He didn’t like hurrying, but he bet his mum had something special for them to eat tonight. Treats for Tibbitymark were enough to make even Bernie hurry.
Bernie always felt nervous when he visited the Hollows. Some of the older trolls were rough. A few were still mean to Tish for looking different, though none dared say anything when Granny Mac was around. But tonight was different. Tonight was the first day of Tibbitymark, and his mum and dad were already over helping with preparations.
“Granny, look at the dangle I found. Isn’t it perfect?”
Granny Mac was the oldest looking troll Bernie had ever seen, but he also knew she was tougher than she seemed. She and Tish lived in a cave behind a waterfall, and when Bernie visited, she smiled so broadly he didn’t notice the wrinkles so much.
“Oh, that is special,” Granny Mac wheezed. “Did you make it?”
“No,” admitted Tish. “I found it, but I think I could make something like it if I tried.”
Just then, Medoroc, one of the largest trolls in the Hollows, called loudly to everybody that it was time to begin. Bernie hurried over to a tree and hung his dangle. Tish insisted on hanging hers from a rock on the side of one of the caves because she was a hill troll. Bernie was glad it wouldn’t cast any shadows.
After the trolls all hung their dangles and had a chance to explain why they chose them, it was time for the feast.
Oh, the feast. Minnows and slugs and a worm soup that wriggled and churned. Special treats with moss and mosquitoes. Lizards and mice that skittered around so you had to catch them before you ate them. Bernie and Tish laughed and ate until they were stuffed. All the trolls lay around, burping and complimenting the food. A few nodded off, as trolls like to nap especially after eating.
But all the trolls who were still awake gathered near the bonfire to play guessing games. Trolls love guessing games, especially riddles, though most of the older trolls knew all the riddles and all the answers. Bernie didn’t guess any right except the ones Tish whispered in his ear so he could answer.
Finally, the trolls agreed to a game of  Who Smells? That was Bernie’s favorite. The idea was that everybody would sit very still, and the troll whose turn it was would think about something that smelled or tasted unusual, something like trouble or danger or surprises. It was hard to create a smell or taste just by thinking about it, so the troll would try to really feel it, but hide what they were feeling. In this game, Tish had to sit out while Bernie guessed, because only forest trolls can smell and taste feelings.
When it was Medoroc’s turn, Bernie hunched over to sniff carefully. He tasted the air. Everybody was quiet, trying to figure out what Medoroc was feeling. Suddenly, Bernie smelled a slight spicy cinnamon smell. “Trouble,” he yelled, trying to be first. 
“No, that’s not it,” Medoroc said. But then Bernie’s mum said, “I smell it, too. Are you sure it isn’t trouble?”
“Aha,” said Bernie’s dad, grabbing Tish by the ear. “I think I found the troublemaker.” Sure enough, Tish had gotten bored and hid a pine cone under Medoroc’s butt while he leaned forward. Hill trolls are very sneaky.
Everybody laughed, and tried to figure it out again. Finally, Grokko said the air tasted salty and called out “Sadness!” Medoroc said he was right, and amid yawns, the trolls headed off to bed.
Remember, Medoroc said to the young trolls. Tomorrow is your Kindness day. See if you can find a special Kindness before the end of the day and then we can share around the bonfire tomorrow.
Bernie scratched his knobby head. “Um, can we do a Kindness together?” he asked. He glanced at Tish and she nodded.
“Certainly,” Medoroc said. Friends can do a Kindness together, but make sure it’s a good one. Remember, you should find your Kindness all by yourselves, not just ask your parents.”
Bernie chewed his lip. “Do you have any ideas?” he whispered to Tish. 
“No, I thought maybe you did.”
Bernie shook his head. “Oh well, we’ll figure it out tomorrow. At least we can do it together.”
With that, the two young trolls walked slowly home, thinking about the feast and the games. Granny Mac and Bernie’s mum and dad walked along behind them, chatting together.
* * *
The next morning, Bernie couldn’t wait to get over to Tish’s to start looking for a Kindness. He was tempted to ask his mum and dad, but remembered Medoroc saying they should figure it out for themselves. He bolted his cold stew, not even complaining about the dandelion stems his mum had snuck in.
Outside the waterfall, Tish was waiting. “What are we going to do? Have you had any ideas?”
“I was thinking we could break something for somebody,” Bernie said.
“Why wouldn’t they just break it themselves?” Tish asked. “Besides, breaking things is fun. I think maybe a special Kindness has to be something you wouldn’t just do for fun anyway.”
Bernie nodded. “This is hard.”
The two trolls sat on the ground and thought so hard, their ears rose, but they couldn’t figure out a Kindness.
“We’re going to have to ask Granny,” Tish said finally. “I can’t think of anything.”
The two trolls walked toward the waterfall. Bernie dragged his feet, as he really wanted to come up with a Kindness all by themselves. But he couldn’t think of anything.
To get to the cave behind the waterfall, Bernie and Tish had to jump through the stream of water. Tish went first. Bernie followed, after glancing nervously down at the pool of water below. Trolls don’t swim, they sink. But he’d made it before, so he gritted his teeth and jumped through, getting a mouthful of water in the process.
Tish was already by Granny Mac’s side, waiting for the old troll to finish her cuppa, as she didn’t like being interrupted.
“Ugh,” Bernie said, spitting water onto the rocky floor. “When did your stream get salty?”
Both Tish and Granny Mac looked up. “What do you mean?” asked Granny Mac, her wheeze a little better after the cuppa.
“The waterfall,” Bernie explained. “It tastes salty.” He stuck a hand out, then licked it off and made a face. “Really salty.”
Tish rushed over and cupped her hands under the stream, then brought it to her lips. “Stop joking,” she said sharply. “It tastes fine.”
Bernie tasted it again, but made another face. “It’s awful. Can’t you taste it?”
Tish shook her head. After a minute, Granny Mac lifted herself up and came over to try as well. “Tastes fine to me,” she said.
“Wait a minute,” Tish said, eyes brightening. “If I can’t taste it and Granny Mac can’t taste it, maybe it’s something only forest trolls can taste. Like you could taste the trouble last night.”
“But what tastes salty?” Bernie asked. Something tickled in his mind, like he could almost remember but not quite.
Tish shrugged. “I don’t know. Have you ever tasted it before?”
“I think maybe.”
Granny Mac shooed them out of the cave. “I’m sure you’ll remember if you try, but I want to finish my cuppa in peace.”
Outside, Bernie though until his ears rose up in the air when he finally remembered how sleepy he’d been at the end of Who Smells? the night before. Somebody, he thought it might have been Grokko, might have said something tasted salty. “Sadness!” he cried out. “Grokko guessed it last night.”
“Sadness?” Tish looked surprised. “Does that mean the Lillygusset is sad? How can a stream feel sad?” 
“No, no,” Bernie said. “Somebody is feeling sad, but it isn’t the stream.” Then he clapped his hands together. “Maybe we can find the someone and help them feel better. That would be a great Kindness.”
“Yes!” yelled Tish. “We’ll follow the stream up until we find who it is.”
After telling Granny Mac they were searching for their Kindness, and having her warn them not to go too far, they set off. “I almost never go this direction,” said Tish. It made Bernie’s stomach hurt, but he wanted to be brave, so he said nothing.
Soon after, Bernie stopped. "Do you hear that?" he asked in a whisper. 
Tish stopped and listened as well. "It sounds like someone crying."
The sound was coming from a little upstream, so they kept walking along the bank, pushing aside the hanging vines and moss. After one particularly dense blanket of leaves, they stepped out into a clearing.
In front of them sat a beautiful maiden. She wore no clothes, but her long, willowy brown hair hung down and covered her like a cloak.
She looked like human, but wispier and wilder, as if she was part of the trees and river and clearing. Her hair reminded Bernie of the weeping willows, the more so as she was weeping herself.
"Hello,” said Bernie shyly.
“What’s the matter? Why are you crying?" asked Tish, walking up to the maiden.
Bernie couldn’t believe she was so brave, but forced himself to walk up behind Tish.
"Who… who are you? What are you?" asked the girl, standing up and backing away. She was taller than Tish, but not so tall as a human.
"We're trolls. I am Tish and this is my best friend, Bernie."
She waited, but the girl said nothing.
"We won’t hurt you. We just want to know why you’re crying. "
"What business do you have by my stream?" asked the maiden, angrily.
"Your stream?" asked Tish. "This is the Lillygusset. It’s our stream."
"But that's silly," said the girl, and she laughed in a way that sounded like the brook chuckling over the pebbles in the springtime. "Without me, the stream wouldn’t be here."
Tish stared at her. "What? What do you mean?"
The girl laughed her tinkling laugh again. "I am Calinaiad, the spirit of this stream."
Tish gaped for a moment, and then said, "You're a nymph, aren't you? A water nymph?" She turned to Bernie. "The water nymphs are supposed to live in the rivers and streams, and oversee them. But I thought they weren't real."
The nymph sighed. "We are real, I promise, but I am so sad, I may stop the stream."
“You can’t do that!” gasped Tish. “Maybe we can help.”
The nymph frowned and said, "Go away now and leave me to my sorrow."
Bernie spoke up. "Please, tell us what is wrong?"
After a long sigh, the water nymph told her story.
"Until very recently, I was happy here, as I have been for hundreds of years since I was born to take care of this stream. My sister, Erinaiad, and I played and frolicked, and the waters ran clear and strong. But last year, my sister’s stream dried up. Before she disappeared, she made me a crown to remember her by. But now, I have lost it.”
She started weeping again, and though Tish tried to get her to say more, she just shook her head.
“We have to find her crown,” Tish said. “We can’t let her stop the stream.”
The two trolls looked everywhere, up and down the edges of the Lillygusset, under the trees, and even back into the forest.
“What if it sank to the bottom of the water?” Bernie asked.
“I think she’d find it, then. She’s a water nymph,” Tish reminded him.
The two trolls trudged back to Calinaiad. “Could you tell us something about your crown? What does it look like? Where did you see it last?”
Calinaiad wiped her eyes. “Erinaiad made it out of twigs and leaves that fell into my stream, so that I would always be connected. I lost it when I visited my cousin. He has a river…”
“Your dangle!” Bernie cried. “I think your dangle is the nymph’s crown.”
Tish’s face fell. “Oh. But it’s mine now.”
Bernie patted her on the shoulder. “It’s really important. Besides, giving her back the dangle, er, her crown would be a great Kindness.”
Tish perked up. “Yes,” she said.
They explained to Calinaiad, who leaped up and danced with joy. Bernie stared when she danced across the water without sinking in. But then he and Tish hurried back to the Hollows and got the dangle.
When Calinaiad saw it, she cried again, but tears of joy. She hugged them both, though Bernie felt quite bashful. At last, the two trolls left to go back to the bonfire.
“Thank you for giving up your dangle,” Bernie said. “You can share mine.”
Tish grinned and grabbed his hand. “This is the best Tibbitymark ever,” she said.
If you enjoyed this holiday story, why not pick up a copy of Danger Tastes Dreadful, perfect for 7-11 year olds. Exciting, a little scary, but family friendly and great to read aloud or read along.
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When Bernie tastes danger in the air, he knows his best friend, Tish, will help solve the mystery. But after the danger turns out to be giants who stomp into town and grab their parents, the two young trolls must follow and try to rescue their loved ones.
Thus begins a harrowing journey across the wasteland to the mountains where giants live. Inside Mount Dreadful's smoky caverns, Bernie and Tish discover the giants have enemies of their own who may prove even more dangerous. Bernie and Tish must figure out who is friend and who is foe, rescue their captured parents and escape the mountain, all without getting squashed or roasted or eaten alive.
Barnes & Noble:
Copyright © 2019 Ben Langhinrichs

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