When dawn broke over the rooftops of Poort Van Winkle, the bridge troll was already awake, sipping bittersweet tea and leafing through the morning newspaper. He had noticed that Mamma’s motor-car was no longer parked by the canal, and he hoped that spelled the end of yesterday’s unpleasantness.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the first boat of the day arrive, and without even looking up to see who it was, extended the fishing line with the wooden cup.
“Six bits for passage,” he grunted.
When he reeled the cup back in, he discovered twelve bits inside. Frowning, he looked up to see the motor-car, tied up once more against the canal wall.
“Not again,” groaned the troll.
Tok, tok! came a knock on the troll’s booth door.
He opened it, unsurprised and unhappy to find Mamma standing there. She was covered in flour like a dough boy, with wild hair and dark circles under her eyes, and she had something wrapped in cloth tucked under her arm. Before he could even open his mouth to protest, however, she pulled him up and into a mighty hug.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m truly sorry. I shouldn’t have called you names.”
She patted his back. The troll grunted and wiggled. Mamma set him back down. “I noticed your feet,” she continued. “They look awfully crooked and painful.”
The troll brushed himself off. “They are,” he said. Secretly, he was pleased she had noticed.
“I had these made just for you,” said Mamma, extending him the object wrapped in cloth. “I hope they fit.”
The troll unraveled the baker’s cloth to find two humungous breadclogs. He eyed one, sniffed it, then took a large bite out of the heel. The crust crunched noisily, but the inside was soft and doughy.
“Trolls don’t wear shoes,” he said, chewing. “We’re proud of our feet. Rough feet means a hard worker.”
“Well, that’s certainly true in your case,” said Mamma.
“But they’re good for breakfast,” said the troll. “Thank you.” The more he chewed on the tasty shoe, the less grouchy he felt. “Sorry for dumping garbage on your head,” he said.
Mamma shrugged. “I deserved it.”
The troll broke the second breadclog in two. “It’s too much to eat by myself,” he said. “Want to join me? I’ll make some more tea.”
It wasn’t long before Mamma and the troll were sitting on the side of the canal, sharing jokes, strong tea, and bites of troll-sized breadclog. They talked about bridge maintenance, troll mothers, and recipes for salted fish and sour wine. The troll cranked open the water gate and left it open, and Mamma extended the fishing line to passing boats to collect the toll. She even haggled with some of the bigger ones for a larger fee.
To Mamma’s surprise and delight, the rest of the family Wicklow appeared soon thereafter, bringing smoked cheese, butter, and marmalade from the Merry Mariner. They were worried after Mamma hadn’t returned that night, and had assumed she would be hungry. Verona and Pip explored the troll’s booth while the troll explained to Waldo how the mechanics of the water gate worked. He then talked to Pappa about the history of bridge-trolls in Poort Van Winkle, and showed the twins how to make some truly awful faces.
Together, they picnicked on the side of the canal, the family Wicklow and the toll troll, and when the time came to part ways, everyone felt they’d made a new friend.
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