Katinka and the Troll
There was once a little village far up in the mountains. The people of the village fished, grew crops and raised some animals. They lived comfortable, happy lives, but whatever they did, they did it on "their" side of the river. For it was known that a mean troll lived beneath the bridge, and that this troll would eat up anything that tried to cross.
There was a little girl named Katinka growing up in this village. Every day after school, it was Katinka’s job to take her father’s sheep to graze in the mountains. It had been a very rainy spring and the mountain paths were thick with mud and impossible to pass. The sheep were hungry and Katinka didn’t know what to do! Then she had an idea. Fearful but brave, Katinka began to herd the sheep across the bridge to the grassy field on the other side. But no sooner had she herded the last of the sheep onto the bridge — and was about to step onto the bridge herself — when the sky grew dark, a cold wind blew, and the mean troll came out. He was a hideous little creature with an enormous belly and one huge lidless eye in the middle of his head. Without ceremony, he began gobbling up the sheep — one, two, three, four… — before Katinka could react, the sheep were all gone! Katinka ran home screaming and crying.
Well, Katinka’s father certainly didn’t take the news well. The sheep were all he had! He took her out of school and set her to work. He made her cook and clean and farm and sew and shop and fix and … and what else is there? And all he did was sit and watch her! Her sunny childhood disappeared. All there was was work.
This went on for a long, long time. Then one day Katinka looked up from her work and noticed her father had fallen asleep. She dropped her work and ran from the house. She ran straight to the river and right to the middle of the bridge. The sky grew dark, a cold wind blew and the mean troll came out, ready to gobble her up! But before he could do anything, she wailed: "you ruined my life!" And then she began to cry. "Go ahead," she sobbed, "eat me too!"
Now trolls are not, as a rule, sentimental creatures. But every rule has its exception. And as he watched the girl cry, a huge tear welled up in his own grotesque eye and splashed into the river below. Quietly then, without a word, he crept back to his home under the bridge. He let her go!
Katinka stood there awhile, not quite understanding what had happened. Then she went back home, resigned to resume her life of servitude. But things had changed. The meals she cooked served twice as much; the vegetables she grew grew twice as fast. The repairs she made lasted twice as long — and one day she found a bag of gold coins while digging in the garden! Her father forgave her, and sent her back to school. Lucky Katinka, as she was now called, enjoyed great popularity.
And so it went, for a number of years until it was time for her to marry. A good-natured boy asked her to be his wife and she consented.
The wedding day came. The whole village came to the little church to watch this lucky girl and this good-natured boy get married. But as soon as the preacher began to speak, the sky grew dark and a cold wind blew. It blew and blew, tearing the shutters off the church windows and the shingles off the roof, until, all of a sudden, the church door blew off! And who should be standing in the doorway but the mean troll himself. He came in. Every one of his steps landed like an explosion on the hallowed floor of the church. He approached Katinka at the altar and fell to his knees. Even people who are bad at math can put two and two together — the mean troll was in love with Katinka! The villagers fled in horror. And, as so often happens with mobs and monsters, they came back with torches and set about burning down the little church with Katinka and the mean troll inside!
Neither Katinka nor the mean troll had moved during all this time, but as the smoke began to fill the little church and Katinka’s eyes began to water, she accused him: "you ruined my life!"
"I love you", the mean troll spoke. "Say you’ll stay with me, and I can save you."
What could Katinka do? She said yes.
Lars was the mean troll’s name, and, in truth, he wasn’t really so mean. True he ate anything that came across his bridge — but he was a troll, after all, and that is what trolls do! He adored Katinka and did everything he could to make her happy. He built her a fine cottage, kept it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. He brought her fine clothes and kept her well fed. He gave her jewels and flowers and candies and anything she could possibly want! And even her relationship with Lars improved. For even though he was frightfully ugly and ill-mannered, one cannot help but respond to such devotion first with gratitude, then with true affection.
It seemed their life together would be quite happy, and so it would be. Except that not everyone in the troll village appreciated the newcomer. You see, Lars was rather attractive for a troll. He was powerful, he was wealthy — and though he had only one huge non-blinking eye, this eye was never bloodshot! The lady trolls were consumed with jealousy — to think that their most eligible bachelor had chosen a HUMAN! And how shamelessly he devoted himself to her! Try as they might they could not convince him to abandon this girl. And try as they might, they could not catch her alone!
Finally one of the lady trolls had an idea. She wrote an urgent plea to the Troll Regent. "A terrible violation is taking place, one with the most severe consequence. If you don’t come at once, our whole civilization may be destroyed!" Well, the Troll Regent couldn’t take this lying down (as she took most everything else)! She sat up and issued orders to be carried to Lars’s village.
Lars was very upset when he learned that the Troll Regent was coming. He implored Katinka: "please make everything doubly perfect for the Troll Regent. For she has the power to assure our future happiness or to condemn us to eternal strife. And whatever you do, please cover yourself. For she has never looked upon a human being, and must never do so." Faithfully, Katinka set about making arrangements. She made sure the house was clean and aired out the guestroom. She cut fresh flowers and set them about the house. Finally, she dressed in a robe that covered her completely except for a single eye. But industrious as she was, the lady trolls were more so. They dripped sticky maple syrup on the fresh-swept floors, dumped smelly rubbish outside the open windows, and put vinegar in the flowerpots so that all the flowers would die. And they put moths in her closet.
The Troll Regent arrived and was carried about the cottage. Legions of ants were swarming around the syrupy floor, and she noted them with disgust. A gentle breeze was blowing and carried in the stench of rotting garbage. To escape the stench, she bent down to smell the flowers, but the flowers were all wilted. Things were not going well! But the Troll Regent thought herself a fair troll, and was prepared to reserve judgment.
That judgment was soon to come, for the lady trolls had done their work well. The first test came at dinner. Katinka was a pretty good cook, and had done her best to prepare a traditional troll soup. The soup was indeed quite good, though it lacked a bit of seasoning. Unfortunately the lady trolls had switched the salt and the sugar. The Troll Regent, needing some salt in her soup sprinkled in sugar. The more sugar she added, the more salt she needed! "This soup is awful!" she declared at last and threw her bowl on the floor. Her attendants came and carried her to the guestroom.
Though Katinka had meticulously made up the guestroom, one of the lady trolls sneaked in after her and put a handful of sand between the bedsheets. No matter how the Troll Regent tossed and turned, she just couldn’t get comfortable! Finally she threw the sheets and blankets out the window and slept on the bare wooden bed. "This bed is atrocious!" she declared.
Hungry and sleepless — you can imagine that the Troll Regent was in a bad mood the next morning! She watched Katinka carefully, suspiciously. Is it any wonder that Katinka was nervous? Is it a surprise that she trembled a little as she served the tea, and happened to spill some hot water on the Troll Regent’s lap? The Troll Regent stood up — actually stood up — and bellowed "this human is insufferable!" Katinka stepped back in shock, only to learn of the moths’ hard work during the night — the robe’s hood came apart and there stood Katinka in her unmistakable humanity! The Regent shrieked and fell; her carriers whisked her away.
Lars was devastated. He didn’t care what the troll Regent thought. He wanted Katinka to stay. But Katinka knew she was out of place. "My life is ruined", she said. "Don’t ruin yours too."
The sky was dark and a cold wind blew as Katinka walked from the troll village. She didn’t know where to go. She was carrying a child. She could no longer take part in the world of humans. Nor could she take part in the world of trolls. She wandered along mountain passes and rivers until she came to a bridge beside a long-abandoned village. This would be her home. She lived there many years with her son. Some say she lives there still. And how would they greet you if you chanced to walk out onto that bridge? Who’s to say?