Fishing is fun. Bethany said it was, so it must be true.
Arlyle was having trouble believing it at the moment. The death goddess perched on the edge of a bridge, her line floating down the stories to plop into the water. She twitched her stick one way and another, watching the line sway.
Nope. Nothing. Fishing was boring.
The bridge wasn’t. Bethany danced across the cobbled stones in the midday sun. She hummed a nonsensical tune that she had composed on the spot. The off-key notes reverberated across the great river, through the Eastern arch of Tranquility and the Blood Gate on the Western edge.
The trolls and elves stared at the young girl and her goddess of vengeance. The two delegations stood at the edge of their respective towns, mouths open at the two females. Who was this young girl? And this was obviously some deity, but who? What were they doing here? On this day?
Bethany was dancing. And singing. And encouraging Arlyle to keep fishing.
“I don’t like it yet,” The Scourge of Darrenfell muttered.
“You don’t like anything, Ari,” Bethany said.
“I don’t like this more,” Ari snapped. It was hot, there was no movement, and she hadn’t set anything ablaze in what seemed like an eternity. Bethany assured her it had only been a week.
“When does this get exciting?” Arlyle asked.
“When you really get into it.” Bethany smiled. “If you really put all your energy into what you’re doing, you’ll bring up something exciting.”
Arlyle frowned. She fumed for a moment, and then returned to her tiresome hobby.
“Fine, but you deal with the stupid leaders.”
Indeed. Bethany stopped her movements to regard the two delegations. Several members of both races had walked up. Their movements were carefully measured, their curiosity not mistaken for fear.
If the two girls had cared, the very methods of walking could have told them much about the two parties. On one side the elves processed forward. Their soft shoes traced across the cobble stone. Each of the three elves wore ivy-colored robes, with patterns of gold inlay marking distinctions in rank.
The elves themselves looked on the girls with soft amusement. Bellinaea, the elected leader of the village, found this amusing especially. She trailed a finger through her golden hair, curling a lock. The children must have found a way through. Curious, but understandably minor.
Trolls trudged. Foot padding after foot, stuck in boots that had to keep walking. Children were weird, especially for trolls. They didn’t want to have to deal with anything else. This day was stupid enough anyways.
Lockbite continued on his trudge, his three kin trailing behind. He scratched at his pierced ear, the leathery skin itching. It always itched when he got impatient. The troll was also uncomfortable. His mallet had been left at home, as had his favorite claws. They gave the wrong impression, and the claws were horrible on his penmanship.
It was hot, elves were here, and now this. They were here for that damnable treaty, and there were about to be complications. Blegh.
Bethany turned one way, and then the other. The trolls and elves stopped a few feet away, expectant. Three elves held their smug gazes hidden behind a veil of smiles. The trolls just glared back, determined not to say anything.
Someone needed to say something.
“My name is Bethany,” The girl said. “I am eight years old, I don’t like unicorns, and I think one of my teeth is about to pop out.”
She looked at the trolls. “What’s your name?”
Lockbite smiled, and glanced at the elves. There was a flicker of annoyance in their countenance at being the first ignored. That alone made up for the day.
“My name’s Lockbite, little girl,” He said. “Behind me are Trennik, Three Fist, and Layla-once-Smit.”
The trolls acknowledged their names. Layla-once-Smit gave a warm glow, looking at the elves. She more than any of the trolls was actually looking forward to this treaty.
Bellinaea cleared her throat, and turned to Arlyle. “I am Bellinaea, of the great city of Aalianthristhijanisfar. Behind me are our great ward Faerlin and our high priest Hillbid.”
She waited a moment, but got no response. She tried again.
“And you are?”
“Fishing.” Arlyle muttered. The elf was breaking her concentration. She was going to have fun at this if she had to break something.
“That’s Arlyle, the Scourge of Darrenfell,” Bethany said.
“Arlyle?” Bellinaea asked, amused. What an unusual name, and title. She was so amused that she did not notice Hillbid blanch. No one noticed the high priest as he turned tail and ran. He ran back through Aalianthristhijanisfar, out the city gates, and did not stop until he reached the farthest sea. Perhaps not even then did he stop.
“You have to say Arlyle, the Scourge of Darrenfell,” Bethany said.
“And why is that?”
“Darrenfell might get scourged again.”
Bellinaea laughed, and bowed. “Well, my apologies, lady Arlyle, the great Scourge of Darrenfell.”
“That’s better.” Arlyle tugged at the string. “I was going to curse your entire family for your insolence. But now that you apologized, you’re just going to have to deal with a bald faced parrot pecking at your bedroom door for a year and a day. With foul language.”
Bellinaea frowned. This creature was vile, and revolting. She sent a prayer to her own gods that it was no more than that. The eerie cackle of an unseen hen was most likely a coincidence.
“Well, regardless,” she began. She drew herself up, and gave another winning smile. “To the young Betahny and her…companion. We regret that you are in the midst of a delicate negotiation, and one that requires discretion.”
Bethany looked at Arlyle, confused.
“They’re about to talk-fight like grownups do, and they want us gone.” The goddess explained.
Bethany nodded, and looked up. “What are you about to fight about?”
“We are not…”
“The name.” Lockbite said, interrupting his elven counterpart. Finally, someone asking real questions, and in a blunt manner. He should have brought some of his own children to these meetings. The sight of the stringy savages would have thrown that smirk off of the elves’ faces. “We’re looking to rename our two towns.”
Bellinaea’s look at Lockbite could curdle a stone. “We are about to unify, and as such are to conceive a new name that is both reminiscent of our distinct pasts and looking forward to a glorious future.”
She thought about it, and turned to Arlyle. “Great Scourge, perhaps the advice of a goddess would help in expediting such matters?”
“Fishing,” Arlyle remarked. “Talk to Bethany.”
This was one shade away from being unbearable. Not even the trolls were so insufferably stubborn. And that Layla-once-Smit once bit through a fence rather than turn a doorknob. Still, the goddess – if she was indeed one – would be paying attention. Fine, the elves would deign to play this little theatre.
Bethany sat on a pillow, and smiled. People were about to ask her opinion, important people! Everyone always looked at Arlyle, but not right now. They had to talk with her now, and she’d make sure they would walk away with some real answers.
“What are our options?” Bethany put her serious face on, for a serious situation.
Bellinaea swept her hand backwards. “Behold, the city of Aalianthristhijanisfar. The great Oaken treasure of the Rivers. For five hundred years our city has grown into a bastion of intellect, trade, and beauty…”
Lockbite lumbered over next to the goddess, and sat down at the edge of the bridge. Three Fist joined them, looking down into the waters. Behind them, Trennik and Layla kept a watch over the proceedings. Those two were the closest Troll Town had to politicians. They knew how to listen.
Lockbite would rather have thrown his own line in next to Arlyle’s. Especially through Bellinaea’s description of the accolades of her city. Aalianthristhijanisfar had accumulated a lot, and some were impressive even for the trolls. But they could only listen so many times to the bloody romance of Gaeldar and his three mistresses before it became old. And that there was always an interminably long description of elvish politics leading up to the romance, well…it was enough to claw your eyes out. Or someone else’s.
“Is fishing fun?” Arlyle asked the trolls. Quietly, so Bethany wouldn’t hear. Bethany was currently asking questions about what mistresses were, and Bellinaea was struggling for a proper answer. A booming laugh from Trennik brought the trolls back to life.
“Relaxing,” Three Fist said. “Needs patience, so for those without its hard.”
Arlyle nodded. “Haven’t caught anything. Not even a bite.”
Lockbite looked at the line. “What are you using for bait?”
Arlyle pulled up her line and looked at the hook. There was supposed to be bait? She thought mortals just threw the lines in as an offering to the fishing gods. If the offering were sure, they were rewarded with plenty.
She cursed. Of course! What offering had she given? The lines and the hook were supposed to be her own, not an offering. She was giving nothing! How ridiculous of her.
Arlyle ran her thumb over the hook, and dug into the flesh. Gold blood welled from the wound, soaking into the hook. There, that should be sufficient to any river goddess or water spirit. She threw the line back into the waterway, a smile etching on her face. Fishing wasn’t so hard.
Bethany listened on, enraptured. She didn’t want to abandon Arlyle to her new venture, but the girl was in the middle of a Very Important Job. Bellinaea was saying a lot of things that didn’t seem to have anything to do with…anything, but she was saying it in such a nice manner. Bethany was holding her questions until the end.
That end mercifully came after thirteen more minutes on Aalianthristhijanisfar’s history, with just a few breaks in between for the necessity of poetic recitation. “As you can see, Bethany, the new city should be named Janisfarsarina, a continuation of the great legacy that its predecessor enacted over the centuries.” Bellinaea flashed her most winning smile to the girl and her troll counterparts. It was a perfect name. Brief, but expressive, with the important families given their due in mentioning of their ancestral feuds and glories. The city would be proud.
Bethany closed her eyes, and thought for a moment. The trolls grunted, and just glared ahead. Simple elf babble, that’s what they had to deal with. Bellinaea sounded nice, but so did a good blast from the nethers.
The girl’s eyes flew open. “What about the trolls?” She asked.
Bethany grinned, triumphant. There it was! The right question, something that made sense to ask.
Her grin faded as Bellinaea stared ahead. She almost seemed to lack comprehension of the question. “What about the trolls?” The elf leader repeated.
“The trolls have their own city, and they’re a part of the town too, right?” Bethany asked. “They might not have as many mistresses as Gaeldar, but they must have done something, right?”
Bellinaea supposed that was correct. She couldn’t think of anything. If the trolls had done anything worth mentioning, she would have heard about it, right?
Lockbite grunted. “Typical elves. The city has to be all about what came before, not what it is right now.”
Bellinaea fumed, and glared at the troll. “What would you name it, then?”
Lockbite shrugged. “Elf Town, and Troll Town. Or River Town, or Bridge Town.”
Bethany walked over to Lockbite. “Is that another history for those names?”
Lockbite looked down into the river. His eyes tracked the hook as it twitched one way and another. The current battered the piece of metal around, swirling the bit of blood attached to it in a golden mist.
“A town’s not about the people that came before. They are gone, either moved on or in the ground,” The troll said. “The trolls don’t think about their history. We just focus on what is now.”
“And such names have no character, no distinguishing feature, no nothing,” Bellinaea muttered. Her compatriot Faerlin nodded along. He hadn’t said anything because he was caught up in the enormity of the business, and also mute. Bellinaea however could barely contain herself.
“Tell me, how many River Towns, or Bridge Towns, or Troll Towns are there?”
Lockbite shrugged. “Not my problem.”
“You don’t know.” Bellinaea knelt down next to Bethany. The elf leader shuddered, and clasped the human’s hands. “You are right, our idea did not talk of the trolls. But you can see that they are obstinate. There is no insight, no deep meaning to them. They believe names are only supposed to describe their immediate moment.
“What of the history? What of what shall be discussed of this moment next year? Or in five years, or five centuries? When our children’s children look back upon us, what can they learn?”
“Worry about your own hide, and let the neighbor care for his own,” Lockbite said. Threefist and Layla immediately committed this sage advice to memory. Lockbite would not realize this, but in the coming moons he would soon be known as Lockbite the Wise, a title he hated and would have to throw himself into multiple refuse heaps to lose.
Bellinaea, for her part, was almost pleading with this stupid little girl. She was so simple. Her and her freakish pet. Fishing, and holding council like they were truly wondrous figures. It was infuriating, and yet…if they truly held power, it was frightening. Could Aalianthristhijanisfar become reduced to something so banal as “Elf Town”? she shuddered to consider it.
Bethany sat next to Arlyle, deep in thought. This was Something Important. The trolls were nice and straightforward, but maybe too much. Bethany agreed that Troll Town was not enough of a name, but the trolls didn’t seem to want to think about it any further.
The elves on the other hand did nothing but think. The leader seemed to want to break out into another soliloquy just about the magnitude of the happenings on the bridge. Could that be just as bad?
“What do you think, Arlyle?” Bethany asked.
“I haven’t heard a single word they said,” Arlyle said. She was getting close to actually fishing, she could feel it.
“Should I listen to the trolls, or the elves?” Bethany asked.
“What are the options?”
“Elf Town, Troll Town.”
Arlyle turned away from the line, glaring at Bethany. “What did you just say to me?”
“Oh,” Arlyle turned back to her fishing. “Another stupid name.” She didn’t mention that it sounded like Bethany had tried to curse her with Locust Pox for nine seasons in a strained dialect of a long-dead Gnomish language.
“They’re people, Bethany.” Arlyle said. “More than one. They’re going to have different ideas. If they aren’t involved in making their own destiny, it’s simply not worth it to them.”
Bethany sighed. “These two races have nothing in common right now, Arlyle.”
“And that’s the problem.” Arlyle felt a tug at the line. Finally! She leapt to her feet, and gave the line a heave. The stick bent, and almost threatened to snap in half.
The waters in the river frothed, furious. Great waves slammed into the support, washing up to lap at the delegates’ feet. Bellinaea and Lockbite looked at the line, and glanced at each other. For the first time, both were nervous.
Arlyle held onto the line, and tugged again. She was fishing, this was going to be successful! Behind her Bethany watched on in delight as her goddess reeled in whatever was hiding in the river’s depths.
Finally, with a mighty heave, Arlyle pulled the beast to the surface. A serpent screamed, indignant. It was over one hundred feet long, golden tinged on green scales. It howled again, furious at being summoned out of the Great Rivers across the waters of Dream. It searched one way and another, looking for the culprit.
Arlyle smiled, and handed the pole to Lockbite. “That was fun.” She gripped Bethany’s hand, and started to walk away.
“Where are we going?” Bethany asked.
“Anywhere but here,” The goddess said. “I’m bored again.”
Lockbite and Bellinaea staredup at the river monster. “Surely you’re not going to leave us like this!” Bellinaea screamed.
“But what are they supposed to name their town?” Bethany asked.
Arlyle pointed at the monster. It lunged at the delegates, sinking its teeth into the bridge as elf and troll scrambled out of the way.
“Name it Serpentwar or something, I don’t care. But did you see what I caught, Bethany? It was that big!”
The town was not named Serpentwar. Instead, the newly named Saerpentbludt was a glorious reminder to troll and elf alike. Elves for the next thousand years could recount the tales of Bellinaea, the greatest Counsel and protector of elves for centuries. Her account of how the very river had trembled at her mastery of magic was a treasure for the city, a requirement for all to hear.
Even well after all involved had faded into legend, Saerpentbludt elves could recount each blow their heroine had laid upon the beast of the vile Scourge of Darrenfell. Turning the monster’s jaws one way, and another. Hour after hour she did battle (with some minor help from the trolls that had been there), until finally she slew the serpent with its own teeth. As the blood ran over the great bridge, what else could the city be named?
The trolls liked the name because the elves finally named something that sounded accurate. Three Fist – or more accurately after the battle Two Fist the Singer – told it a little differently. How Lockbite the Wise and Three Fist each lost an arm as they wrestled the screaming elf maiden out of the thing’s jaws. And how Layla-once-Smit plucked out the eyes for amusement rather than valor.
Until Bellinaea somehow managed to not die with one of her froufy spells. That much, at least, the trolls agreed upon.
What is the truth of it? There upon the bridge a statue was erected in honor of the heroes. A true masterpiece. The monster seems to rise out of the river onto the bridge again. Bellinaea stands strong, wielding magic with confidence on her face. Lockbite and Three Fist move forward with purpose, the trolls unnaturally calm. Layla-Turned-Smit is noticeably absent.
The trolls and elves did each like the statue, in their own way. However, it was confusing with the addition made a few years later. No one knows exactly who made it, or how it came to be. It just appeared one day.
A little girl and her imp-like thing, sitting next to the battle. They look away, facing the river with a fishing rod. The little girl has a smile plastered over her face, seemingly more genuine than the rest of the sculpture. The imp frowns, concentrating. A line floats in the water. It is bare of any hook or bait, though the inhabitants of Saerpentbludt check as they pass. Just in case.
copyright 2017 Jack Holder