A long time ago—before your grandmothers were even born—there lived a man and his two children. The children, a boy and a girl, wanted very much to learn about the world, but the closest school was too far away.
So the man began to build a school in their village. But building a school alone is hard, so the man made slow progress on his great task. He feared the children would have children of their own before he could build it. He worked hard, but there were so few hours for such a vast job.
One afternoon, as the man rested against a tree, a troll approached him.
The troll gestured towards the crude building and in a voice like gravel rattling in a box announced, ‘I can build this. And if you can guess my name before I finish, you owe nothing.’ Then the troll smiled, and it was a horrible smile. ‘But if you cannot guess my name before the last stone is in place, you must give me the Sun and Moon—or yourself.’
The man paused because he knew there was no way he could pull the Sun or Moon from the skies, but he had no other plan so he agreed to the troll’s bargain.
For the next three days, the man rose with the Sun and went to the clearing, and each morning there was the troll, hauling timber with the ease of a hare lifting a single blade of grass.
Every day the man watched the troll and guessed. ‘Brokk? Garm? Pedar? Cnud?’
After each name, the troll shook his head.
By the end of the third day, the man had listed every name he knew: all his cousins, his ancestors, the villagers and even the few strangers who had passed through the village. The man was out of ideas.
Sadly, the man watched the troll wander back into the forest, big bare feet thumping on the ground, shaking the earth with each step.
Then the man went home and began to prepare the evening meal for his children. While he was doing so, his children approached him.
Leaning her head against his arm, his daughter asked, ‘Why are you sad?’
His son added, ‘Tell us, please.’
So the man began, ‘I met a troll at the wood’s edge, and he promised to build the school. I agreed to give him the Sun and Moon or myself if I could not guess his name by the time he had finished building the school.’
Sighing, the man rested his head in his hands. ‘He’s nearly half finished and I’m no closer to knowing his name. I’m going to have to go with him. I’m afraid I’ll never see
Fortunately, the man’s children were clever beyond compare. They knew a troll would not have offered a bargain lest he was certain he’d win, but they also knew that clever people often tricked trolls.
‘It’ll be all right, Father.’ The son consoled his father as the children looked at each other.
The girl said to the boy, ‘We’ll save Father.’
* * *
The next morning, the man went out to greet the troll as usual, but this day he asked, ‘I suppose a big fellow like you must have a strong name?’
The troll nodded.
The man circled the troll, staring all the while. ‘I wonder … would Ingrid be a fitting name?’
The troll wrinkled his red, bulbous nose at the man, and returned to lugging a thick slab of stone towards the half-finished building.
The man continued as if he hadn’t noticed the troll’s displeasure. ‘Maybe Gretel …’
The troll picked him up and roared in his face. ‘I can squash puny humans with only two fingers, and you suggest a human girl’s name? The bravest, strongest trolls have fierce names like Bonegrinder, or One-Eye, or Earthcrusher, and I am the strongest troll in these woods.’
The man smiled at his children (who were hidden behind a shrub). ‘Now I know how trolls are named! Nettleclub? Or Throttlehands? Perhaps Toothgnasher?’
The troll roared again, realising he’d been tricked.
* * *
The next morning, the man set off once more, but this time his children crept along with him and hid themselves behind a great boulder.
The troll was already there—hard at work.
The man smiled as he looked at the great progress the creature had made these past four days. ‘Why, without your iron arms, we’d have no chance of finishing the school.’
The troll grumbled, ‘Iron-Arms is my cousin, not me. Grandmother Slug-Eyes had used that name by the time I was born.’
From behind the boulder, the man’s son whispered, ‘Tell him that his name is sure to be better.’
The man opened his mouth, but the troll rasped, ‘Is that the Sun and Moon I hear behind the stone? Tell them to come closer.’
The man stood, mouth open.
They stepped forward, bravely saying, ‘We are his son and daughter.’
Trembling, the man wrapped an arm around each child.
‘Are they not your Sun and Moon?’ the troll asked. ‘Without the Sun and Moon, the sky is dark like a great abyss. Without my daughter, Moss-Toes, I would be in darkness.’
The man wept, for he knew the troll spoke the truth: the children were his Sun and Moon.
* * *
That night, the man and his children talked together in their cottage.
‘We do have another clue,’ his son said.
His daughter carried the bowls to the table. Excitedly, she added, ‘His family uses one describing word and one body word: Slug-Eyes, Moss-Toes, Iron-Arms. Don’t you see?’
‘We need to figure out what his body part is, and then guess which word goes with it,’ his son stated.
For the first time in many hours, the man smiled. Surely his Sun and Moon were the cleverest of children.
‘We know it’s not his arms.’ His daughter furrowed her brow. ‘His cousin has that name. So what else?’
‘What about his ears?’ the man asked.
‘No,’ his son replied. ‘He didn’t so much as blink when you mentioned his ears.’
And so they spent the evening describing the troll.
* * *
When the Sun rose, the three tromped to the almost finished school. As they arrived, the troll approached from the woods.
The man called, ‘So, we were conversing last evening—’
His daughter added, ‘About your great strong back.’
Her brother nodded. ‘But I thought your legs were stronger ... Was I right, sir? Are your legs or back stronger?’
The troll snorted. ‘The Sun thinks to trick me.’ The troll then lashed two sturdy ropes around several thick logs and began climbing to the roof, pulling the logs up after him.
‘And you, little Moon, do you think to trap me with your words?’
The children exchanged glances: clearly, their plan was not going as they’d hoped.
Then the man’s daughter shrugged. ‘Well, since trickery will not work, I suppose we must reason it out.’
The troll gestured to the school. ‘This will be built before the night falls, and I’ll not be tricked today.’
The man opened his mouth to speak, but his son held up a hand and stated, ‘We’d hoped to find what your strengths were, but we shall still reason it out.’
With a bright glint in his eye, the troll looked at them and murmured, ‘We shall see.’
So, they began. ‘Black-Toes? WormFoot? Thunder-Step? Tree-Legs?’
By midday, they still had no clue as to the troll’s name. They continued, ‘Crooked-Tooth? FurryEars? Green-Finger?’
Their luck did not improve.
Finally, the troll leapt to the ground and asked quite gently, ‘Do you have any last guesses, little Moon?’
‘Bone-breaker? Itchy-Skin? Treeumm ...’ the daughter spouted a tangled list of names.
‘You said Itchy-Skin earlier.’ The troll glanced at the boy, ‘And you, small Sun?’
The boy opened his mouth; a garbled word spilled out. He looked at his feet and muttered, ‘No.’
The troll glanced inquiringly at the man; the man shook his head.
‘So, would you like to see the school?’ the troll asked.
Then, without waiting for an answer, he ducked into the building. His voice boomed out, ‘It’ll need desks, I think ... Perhaps small shelves back here?’
In their determination to guess the troll’s name, the man and his children hadn’t looked very carefully at the school the troll had been building. They followed the troll to the doorway.
The walls and roof of the school were quite fine: there were no gaps between the logs that would let in cold winds in the winter, the roof had no leaks to let in cold rains. The floor was polished stone, smooth under their feet. And in the walls, the troll had left openings for windows.
Around the side they saw strong shutters lashed to the walls—able to be closed to keep in the warmth or open to let in the breeze.
The children murmured, ‘Amazing!’ and ‘Incredible, really!’
The troll beamed.
He turned to the man and asked, ‘Well?’
The man stood straight and stated, ‘It’s fine work, and I am prepared to pay my debt to you.’ He glanced at his children, only briefly. ‘I can’t give you the Sun and Moon, but I am yours to do with as you will—I am a man of my word.’
The son and daughter wept.
The troll nodded. ‘Come, then ...’
‘We will walk with you, Father,’ insisted the children.
So, as the Sun set on the seventh day, the strange troupe set off into the woods.
They had not walked far when a small mountain of a girl came hurtling out of the shadows of the forest. ‘Father!’
The troll swept the girl into his arms.
‘Are these them?’ she exclaimed. ‘Ohh! I was so excited when Father told me that you would be coming today! Can you really read? And write? And do sums? Father wasn’t sure if you could do sums.’
‘Are they always slow to answer, Father?’ Moss-Toes (for surely it could be no-one else) whispered loudly to the big, old troll.
He whispered, loudly also, back to her. ‘I haven’t told them yet, my Mossy-girl.’
‘Father!’ The troll-girl glared up at him. Then she turned towards the man and his children. ‘I want to learn. There’s no school in the forest, and when I saw you building such a thing, I asked Father to go and help since you—’ she ducked her head, and rushed through the next words, ‘—were going so slowly.’
Eyes wide, the man asked, ‘Just what is it you wanted?’
The troll, abashed, muttered, ‘Moss-Toes wants to learn, so I thought the Moon and Sun or you yourself could let her join your lessons in the new school ... maybe read books and such.’
They stood there awkwardly until the man’s daughter asked, ‘So why not just say that to my father?’
‘I’m a troll. Would you or your father have believed I meant you no harm if I did not ask for a bargain?’ the troll grumbled, cleaning his teeth with a broken branch.
‘Probably not,’ the man murmured. ‘But I suppose I should not have believed the old stories about trolls.’
Finally, the man’s son asked, ‘So, what is your name?’
‘Soft-Heart,’ the troll answered, lifting his daughter into his arms and strolling away towards the rather large troll-woman headed their way. ‘Come meet the rest of my family.’