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Clippity-Cloppity Goat and the Troll under the Bridge.
Clippity-Cloppity Goat was a young kid, and like young kids everywhere he was easily bored. He liked going out and about, hoping he might find something exciting and different. But given that he lived in a field, this was pretty difficult. After all, one patch of grass looks much like the rest. So one afternoon, with the sun high in the sky, Clippity Cloppity Goat let loose the gate and scampered out along the path.
He felt excited and free. The sensation was intoxicating and he laughed. He splashed in puddles, bleated at the goats he saw in other fields and butted trees to show them who's boss (and got a bit of a headache as a result). But, being a young kid, he soon began to get bored. And that's when he saw the bridge.
It wasn't a particularly special bridge. The road above was paved and rutted. But underneath in the dark, mingled with the burbling noise of the little river the bridge forded, Clippity Cloppity Goat could hear a deathly growl.
Now, it's fair to say that the goat was at least a little nervous. What could possibly be there? He'd heard all manner of stories about the weird creatures that lurk in the dark, never going out anywhere. He'd heard that they were aggressive and hateful and were part of the reason that all the fields around here weren't as green as they used to be. Wanting to be a big ram, Clippity decided he'd make a point and have a laugh at the same time.
So Clippity Cloppity lived up to his name. He strutted up to the bridge and Clippity Cloppity-ed his way over top, stamping as hard as he could on the cobbles, whilst shouting in his loudest voice;
Trolls who live under bridges smell
They spend our hard earned cash
Claiming not to be very well
Trolls who live under bridges are bad
They never go to parties
And they never look glad
Trolls who live under bridges deserve to die
They're a waste of space and air
And everything they say's a lie
Of course, as with all people who show off, Clippity Cloppity hadn't actually been paying attention to what he'd been doing. Somewhere around Verse Two he'd climbed up onto the edge of the bridge and, still stamping, had managed to dislodge one of the stones. With the final line he gave a great stamp, which echoed. But as the echo died, the noise was replaced with a scraping and the great block upon which Clippity was stood gave way and the young goat was thrown down into the cold water below!
He scrambled about in the river, choking and crying in fear. You see, he'd grown up in a field all his life and he'd never had anything to do with water deeper than a puddle. He couldn't swim! He shouted out for help, not really expecting any reply, but he was desperate! What could possibly save him?
It was then he heard it. The growling noise had stopped, and in its place there was a calm and gentle voice talking to him.
"Relax little one." said the Troll, his voice deep and tired-sounding, "I know this river well - I've watched it every day for years - and you've fallen on the shallowest part. If you relax and put your hooves down, you should be able to stand on the bottom."
Clippity Cloppity, gasping and thrashing, was almost too scared to take this in, but there was something about the calm, caring voice that made him trust it and he stuck his feet down, throwing his head up. And the Troll was right - he could stand on the bottom! And although the water was very cold and the current quite fast, he was able to walk towards the deep voice. As he neared it, the water got shallower and shallower, until he was, at last, out of the river and shivering on the bank.
Blinking the water out of his long lashes, the goat looked around him. His eyes were used to the bright sunshine on shiny grass, but under the bridge everything seemed shades of black and green. Eventually, though, his eyes adapted and he could make out a large shape comfortably ensconced in an alcove. The hard stone was padded with great blankets and pillows as big as a Ram. The Troll himself looked very strange, having many features which were unlike those of any goat. Clippity felt scared, but he was too tired and cold to just run away.
"Who are you?" Clippity stammered.
Looming out of the darkness, the Troll's face slowly became distinguishable. It certainly wasn't the kind of face Clippity was used to seeing. And being a young kid, he saw lots and lots of faces. In fact, he thought the world was made entirely of the kind of faces he was used to seeing. So he felt scared. And yet, the face did not seem angry. And the more he looked at it, the less scared he became.
"I'm Arnold" said the Troll. And this surprised the little goat, as Arnold seemed like the least scary name he could imagine. Arnolds should not live under dark bridges.
"What are you doing here?" asked the inquisitive little goat, his whiskers twitching in curiosity.
"I live here" breathed the troll, the growl of his voice distant like far off thunder. "I am not able to leave the shade of this bridge because the sun hurts me. I was born differently to you. My limbs won't hold my weight. So I stay here on my own."
"On your own!" exclaimed Clippity. He had been away from his herd-mates only a few hours, and yet already he felt the distance between them and longed to return to his lush, green field and be surrounded by all the people who made him feel safe. "It's weird not wanting to be around people." he declared, stamping a little hoof on the muddy bank, the damp little clop echoing in the dark spaces above him.
"But I do want to be around people. I do talk to people." The troll gestured to the water, one huge hand skidding across the silver surface. "My friends all live along the river and we send messages in the water. Just this morning, my good friend Emma wrote me a lovely letter on the back of an oak leaf. I fished it out with this." He produced a willow wand, at the end of which was a simply lashed hoop, criss-crossed with bind-weed. "All of my friends are in the net."
And he was right. Clippity watched open-mouthed as Arnold up-ended the net, letting leaves, bark and sticks rain out on to the floor. Each one was inscribed and marked - some times with text, sometimes with pictures. One particularly beautiful silver-birch twig was even decorated with multi-coloured flowers.
At this very moment, a sand martin swooped low over the water, its sharp, pointed wings skimming the surface. It caught a fly, swallowed as it banked, and came around again, calling as it passed.
Arnold's face screwed up and he chuckled as only a troll could. The hair on Clippity's neck stood on end. Eventually Arnold explained "As well as the net, we have learnt to communicate through birds who send our messages. In return, we keep the bridges clean and tidy for their nests and keep them safe from predators. It's useful being able to 'tweet' a friend, especially if they live up-stream...."
"But it's not right being stuck in one place." Clippity continued, feeling, though, that perhaps the things he'd heard might not be entirely true. He was also intensely aware that for all his short life he'd been stuck in the same field. It was only today that he'd finally broken free to see more of the world. And he guessed that soon he'd have to get back. It was hard to tell in the darkness under the bridge, but the sky outside seemed to be getting darker. He would be able to find his way back in the dark, wouldn't he...?
"Stuck in one place?" Arnold said, with surprise in his heavy voice "As well as the messages I receive from my friends, I can watch the entire world go by on the river. I can smell the mountain soil on the water after heavy rain has washed it down to the sea. I can watch the cherry-blossom float on the surface when there's a strong April wind. I hear the trout splashing on its journey between river-bed and sea-deep. What am I missing?"
And Clippity could not answer. Although not able to join in with the same games all the other goats enjoyed, Arnold clearly was the same as he. They both enjoyed talking with their friends, watching all the creatures around them, and the smell of the world after rain. And they were pretty important things. But still...
"Why do people think you're so scary, then?" asked Clippity, sitting down in a comfy spot as he looked up at his new friend and listened, patiently.
"I have to sleep a lot during the day. Whenever people come along, it's likely that I'll be snoring. And when I snore, people go away, scared. I can't help it. If only they'd stop and wait, I'd wake up and they'd see I wasn't to be feared."
Clippity saw a big tear well in the dark eye of the troll. With a small 'plink', the tear fell into the river. Perhaps, Clippity thought, another troll might notice it and send a bird to check that everything was alright. But just in case, Clippity nuzzled the great troll gently.
"I'm sorry," he said "I just didn't know."
The great Troll patted the little goat on his bristly head and said, gently, "It's alright, little one. It is normal to be scared of the things we don't understand. What isn't right is to ignore reality and truth when we see it. It's not right to make up hateful stories. But you have found the truth and understood it. That is the meaning of all great quests."
Clippity felt a huge sense of pride, but whilst his heart was full and warm, he shivered against the cold wind which whistled under the bridge and, when he turned back, he was shocked to see that the world had turned dark behind him.
"Oh no!" he cried, "It's got late and dark and I don't know my way home!"
Clippity began to cry, far more scared now than he had been when he'd heard the snoring of a hidden troll. How on earth would he find his way back to his family and friends?
But the troll patted the kid again and quickly reached for one of his stores of dried leaves and delicately wrote a note on it. This was placed, gently, into the water where it was quickly taken away by the fast flow. He then carefully tapped on two of the martin nests which were dug from the fragile bank of the stream. In a strange language he spoke to the birds who had been resting, and, like bullets from a gun, they flew out into the air and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
But Clippity hardly noticed this. His vision was clouded by tears and his body felt trapped - trapped under a water of despair and floundering as surely as he had when he fell into the river. He shivered again.
He gasped with shock when a heavy weight of wool fell around him. Arnold was making for him a bed of his own blankets and pillows. Too upset to say anything, Clippity collapsed onto the soft space and, very soon, was snoring almost as loudly as the big troll who was now his friend.
Clippity awoke with a start. He was scared because he didn't know where he was. But soon he remembered and once again was overcome with remorse and upset. At that moment, however, he heard a familiar sound. It was the clank and clamour of a rough bell. The bell he knew so well. It was the bell that, for all his life, had been tied around the neck of his mother. And here she was, appearing in the glow of the fire Arnold had built especially to keep little Clippity warm.
"There you are, you young rascal!" she called. "If it wasn't for your new friend, we'd never have found you. Thank you, sir," she said, bowing her head slightly with a rattle from the bell, "We'll never be able to repay you for keeping our little one safe."
The troll shrugged, "It wasn't really me, I just sent out a message. My fellow trolls had heard young Clippity in the woods and, later, had heard your folk searching for him. With the help of our birds, we were able to track you down and guide you."
And so, with a sleepy backward glance at his new friend, Clippity made his way back home under the watchful eye of his mother (who would later have many things to say about going off on your own and the real dangers of the wood which would make a troll look like a kitten). But from then on Clippity knew that wherever he was, he was never alone. Even in the dark places and where people seemed strange and different, there was always a good chance that there would be things shared and commonly valued. He understood the difference between 'different' and 'bad'. And he also knew that, whatever he did in the coming years, he would set out to find truth and understanding and never to give in to fear. Because truth and trust would keep you safe even when the night falls.