He had marched from the last city for what felt like days. His pack on his back and nothing but his wares. He was a simple traveling trader. He tried to make sales as people passed by, but Stemy found that no one wanted to trade with him. That was the case until one day he stumbled upon fate itself.
Stemy had been walking all day, the sun beating down his back the whole way. He was sweating through his traveling clothes, or as he called them, his only clothes. He stopped at a bridge and set his pack against the wall and looked over at the river at the clear crystalline water flowed gently onward. Each bend in the water around rocks and logs seemed to have a purpose.
“It must be nice,” Stemy the troll said to the river, “to have a purpose. To be needed. Not to have to carry around some pack and practically beg for people to trade with you.” Stemy was not a normal troll, he was smaller than most and he was disfigured. Not in the way you would think, trolls in his homeland were proud of moles, broken teeth, and what humans would consider blemishes. Stemy did not have this, he was half human. His face was just different enough to not pass for human or troll. Different enough to make him an alien in both camps though.
“It could be you there too. You could have a purpose.” The voice nearly startled Stemy right over the edge of the bridge. He looked over to see a gnome, covered in filth and mud. “You could be the guardian of this here bridge. You could guard the very river below it. It could all be yours.”
“I’m not sure what you mean sir.” Stemy said confused by the sight of this gnome and the whole situation if he was being honest.
“You and I, we could make a wager you see. This is the bridge of lost debts. Each person to pass must pay their debts. I am the collector.” The gnome said smiling, his teeth sharp. Stemy couldn’t see well from where he stood but they almost looked filed.
“I do not have any debts good gnome, for I do not have much to my name at all.” The gnome’s face contorted into a wicked grin.
“We all have debts young Stemy, we all have prices we have yet to pay.”
“How did you know my name?” Stemy asked, his fear climbing up from deep beneath his stomach and right into his throat.
“Can you taste that? That’s the truth of it, right there at the back of your throat. That fear you feel is you knowing just how right I am.” The gnome began to slowly walk toward him rubbing his hands together. “Don’t worry I’m a fair man.” Stemy put his hand on his knife in his back pocket and pulled it out. The small pairing knife waved before him. The gnome laughed.
“Oh come on. That little thing.” Stemy blinked and the gnome was holding it. He didn’t even see him move, feel the knife be taken from him. “Listen hear boy. Here is how this work. We play a game of dice. Simple enough. You just need to wager something. If you win, your debts are clear and free. In fact all future debts will be free and clear. This is how kings are made boy. If you lose, I take what you wager. The more you wager, the more you can win.” The gnome smiled and held out a handful of dice.
“I don’t want to play sir.” Stemy asked.
“I’m afraid that isn’t an option.” Stemy didn’t like this response, he grabbed his pack by the handle and began to back up. Heading back the way he came but not taking his eyes off the gnome. Then Stemy bumped into something, he turned his head to see the gnome standing there hands outstretched.
“Listen, leaving isn’t an option.” The gnome said growing impatient.
“I didn’t look away from you, how did you do that?”
“I’ll tell you if you win.” The small filthy thing said to Stemy with more than a little glee in his voice.
“Fine fine, I’ll play… What are we playing.” Stemy said his voice falling apart. He set down his pack and sat in front of the gnome.
“Oh the rules are simple. We play Fate. You know how to play Fate right?” Stemy nodded. He had played the dice game Fate time and time again. Essentially it was straight gambling by chance. Two players would roll two six sided dice. A single die would be placed in a cup, rattled around and then placed face down. So no one could see the result of the dice in the cup. The two rollers would then roll their dice. Once they see their results, they can make their bets.
The cup is then removed to reveal the die in the cup’s number. The objective is to have both of your dice match exactly the dice in the cup. If this was accomplished then it is considered a win. If only one die matches it is still a win if the opponent does not have a matching die too. If both players have one matching die or both players have two matching dice, it is considered Divine Fate, and then the players re-roll Fate again to try and find a winner.
“Great.” The gnome said handing Stemy two dice. The gnome put one die in a cup and shook it, then slammed it on the ground. The two players rolled. Stemy rolled a two and a four. The gnome rolled a two and a six.
“So, what will you bet?” The gnome asked.
“What are you betting? I need to know in order to offer something fair.” The gnome thought for a moment and then nodded.
“That’s fair. I am offering the debt of your wife’s life. In three years you will marry, she will fall sick and die. I am offering her freedom.” The gnome said matter of factly.
“How can you-“
“How can I know that?” The gnome said the same time Stemy attempted to speak. “It’s magic boy. The same way I know your past, present, and future stories. I am a pledge of Wen. The God of legends. He imbues me with the power to change people’s stories.” Stemy was no stranger to Wen. He had heard of this kind of power before, but he thought it just legend.
“Then tell you what you are going to say next?” The gnome said. Stemy’s head froze, that is what he was going to say.
“Okay, I can’t leave and I must bet…” Stemy said his voice more than a little shaky. “I wager my pack.” The gnome laughed, a deep belly laugh. “What is so funny?”
“You think, the trinkets, food, and other garbage in that sack is equivalent to your wife’s life?” The gnome sneered. “Let’s take the pack and all your good luck for the next year.” Stemy’s head tilted.
“Yes I can do that.” The gnome said before Stemy could ask.
“Okay then.” Stemy said. His heart pounding. The gnome lifted the cup to reveal a single four. Stemy cheered. The gnome pouted.
“Well,” He snapped his fingers. As he did so, Stemy felt a relief from his shoulders, a stress he had not known he was carrying before it was lifted.
“Woah.” Stemy exlaimed.
“Neat huh? You don’t realize how much of your fate is already written and carried with you. The debts you owe.” The gnome said. “Let’s go again. You still have a few debts to clear. The two rolled again. Stemy rolled a three and a five, the gnome rolled two threes. Stemy grinned.
“I wager a year of my sleep in exchange for immense wealth in the next year.” Stemy called out happily.
“A year of sleep it is, in exchange for the monetary debts you would have incurred this year. You do not get to make demands, but I like where your head is at.” The gnome lifted the cup and a five revealed itself. Stemy cheered again. The gnome grimaced this time.
“Fine. One more go of it. We will clear all the slates.” The two rolled die again. Stemy rolled two ones, his heart sank. Two of the same die could mean a big win, normally worth three points instead of one, like one matching die would be. The gnome rolled a two and a one.
“Three ones total, isn’t that risky. I’ll tell you what. I’ll clear all of your debts, all misfortune for the next decade. You will live a dream life of health and happiness guarenteed.” The gnome said slyly.
“And what would I have to put up for that?” Stemy asked, more than a little tempted. After all it could be any number and then there would be a re-roll. The odds were decent of him being eternally happy.
“You take my place, you are given the gifts of Wen, but you must guard this bridge. You must be the keeper of the fates and stories.” Stemy didn’t like the sound of that. Then he thought of a beautiful woman, or a beautiful troll he wasn’t picky. He thought of happiness, he thought of how exile did not feel great now, but happiness. Happiness sounded lovely.
“And if we have a re-roll?” Stemy asked.
“Then we re-roll with the same bet.” Stemy hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t lost yet and thought, he had might have just enough luck for it.
“How long would I have to take your place gnome?” The young half troll asked.
“For ten years or until someone else takes your place.”
“Deal.” Stemy said less than a little sure. The gnome removed the cup to reveal a two. The one roll that would secure his defeat. Stemy without thought shoved the gnome backward and ran. As he ran the ground began to move under him, but he did not move at all. With a small simple snap a game of dice, a conversation and a bridge had all changed his life.
Stemy would go on to protect that bridge, gambling away the debts of strangers and earning more than a little of his fair share of spoils. Stemy would remind as the Troll Bridge of Fate.