Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was an old lady who lived in a little cottage in the woods. One day, when she was out collecting sticks for her fire, she noticed a baby, wrapped up and left under a shelter of leaves by the stream. The woman looked around but could see no one, so she went over and picked the baby up. He was a strange looking child with a wide face, big teeth and wild hair. His right eye was blue and his left eye was green and she realised that he was a troll. But he smiled happily up at her and waved his chubby arms and she thought that he was lovely. She waited with him for a long time but nobody came, so she took him home with her and looked after him from then on.
As he grew, he became extraordinarily strong but rather clumsy. He spoke slowly and carefully. He had a kind nature and helped the old lady with many of the chores, especially the ones that she was starting to find difficult. Her family were disapproving and looked on him with suspicion.
“You shouldn’t be taking on a child at your age,” they said. “Especially not a troll. It will only cause trouble.”
But the woman disagreed. And the troll child was glad.
When he was old enough, she sent him off to school. He was excited and did his best to learn and to be helpful. He enjoyed his lessons although he sometimes found them difficult. He tried hard to make friends but the other children were a little afraid of him because he looked so different with his broad frame and his big pointed teeth and his odd coloured eyes. Sometimes they would let him play with them, but often they laughed at him because his hair grew long and wild and he was very slow at running and really couldn’t catch a ball. The troll laughed with them and tried not to show how hurt he felt inside.
The older he grew, the worse the teasing became and the lonelier he felt. There were only a couple of people who would smile at him or talk to him now and he spent much of his time alone. But at home with the old lady he was happy, growing herbs and vegetables and keeping the garden tidy.
One day the woman was taken very ill. When the doctor came he called immediately for her daughter.
“Your mother is very sick and needs a lot of care,” he said.
“I will care for her,” said the troll, “as she has cared for me all these years.”
But the daughter would not hear of it.
“She will come home with me,” she said, “and I shall look after her properly.”
The troll was upset by this but the daughter was adamant. “We will sell this house and build her a room with the money.”
“What about me?” asked the troll.
“You will have to go and find work,” said the daughter. “I cannot look after you as well.”
So the troll left the woman he loved as a mother and the home that he had grown up in and went into the village to look for work. But everywhere he went he received a firm “No” and a door closed in his face. So he went out into the countryside to the farms to enquire of the farmers if they would hire him and again was met with a “No” at every place that he asked. Despairing, he went into the big city and asked at all the shops and inns he could find. Always he was met with a “No” and not just that. He could hear them sniggering and mocking as he left.
“What ridiculously big teeth.” he heard. And
“He speaks so slowly there must be something wrong with him.” And
“See those eyes. You can’t trust anyone with one blue eye and one green eye.”
The troll could find no work and nowhere to live. If he sat down to rest the guards would immediately tell him to move. Everyone eyed him suspiciously and no one would speak to him. Eventually he found a little bridge over the river and took up residence beneath it, eating fish that he caught from the waters. His despair turned to anger and he snapped and snarled and growled at anyone who came by. Very soon, people began to avoid the bridge entirely.
One day, a young woman climbed down from the road over the bridge and sat on the river bank. The noise she made scared away the fish that the troll was about to catch and, angered, he charged out from beneath the bridge, shouting at her to go away. She leapt up in fright and turned.
“I’m so sorry,” she began and then stopped. She stared at him closely. “Wait. I know you. We were at school together. We used to smile at each other when the teacher made bad jokes.”
The troll stopped, shocked. Not just because someone hadn’t run away from him, not just because someone had actually spoken to him, but also because he remembered the girl and her beautiful smile. And how she had been one of the only ones that would sit and eat lunch with him in the school hall.
She was approaching him now and he backed away, retreating under the bridge. She followed him.
“What happened to you?” she asked. She took in the cardboard boxes that he had used to build his shelter and the pole that he used for fishing. “Tell me what happened.”
She sat down next to the fishing rod. So he sat next to her and, in a voice that was gravelly from shouting and silence, told her everything. She was quiet afterwards and then she took his hand. He started at the gentle touch.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “So sorry that they can’t see the truth when they look at you. They can only see their own fears.”
After that the young woman visited the troll every day, bringing him good food and blankets, clean clothes and company. And gradually the troll found his anger dissipating and his despair diminishing. He learned to laugh again and remembered how much he loved to grow things. So he began to teach her about planting seeds and nurturing the young shoots. He created a beautiful garden in the scrubland by the river and more and more people came to admire it. When they realised that he wasn’t dangerous or fierce, they began to talk to him too.
The troll grew happy again. He built a little house by the river, just like the one he had grown up in, and when it was finished he asked the young woman he had grown to love if she would marry him. Because she loved him too, she said yes. And so they lived happily ever after.