After retrieving the cup without incident, the trio stood around examining it, deciding what to do. Josh suggested it go to Yaway, and Kyron agreed, but none of the three of them knew how it worked.
“Let’s just try filling it at the next stream and see if that works,” said Kyron. “If not, we’ll figure something out.”
Travelling over new country from the mountain, they eventually came to a rushing river. Kyron stuck his walking stick into the water just a short ways from the steep shoreline and didn’t find bottom. The water rushed by, and the lapping sound of rapids came from downstream.
“Let’s head towards the rapids and hope it settles down on the other side,” Kyron said.
They came to where the water foamed against the rocks, and there was a bridge. As they approached, a troll lumbered out from underneath. “Halt, or whatever,” it said.
“What can I do for you?” asked Yaway.
“I’m supposed to challenge you, but really… my heart’s just not that into it.”
“Well, we won’t bother you, then,” said Yaway.
“No, no… procedure and all. At the end of the day, what’s the point if I don’t even do my job? I wouldn’t even bother rolling out of bed and leaving the cave in the morning if I didn’t still have my bridge here.”
“Okay, challenge us then,” Josh said, moving his hand to his club.
“Mercy, no. I can’t afford to scar the money maker,” said the troll, flashing a gap-toothed grin half full of yellow stained teeth. “I may seem a little out of practice, but I am a wise old troll. While most of my kind are out attacking people and dying at the hands of heroes, I test the knowledge of those who pass. Even when I lose, I only gain more power, having learned something new. I’m on a pretty long winning streak.”
“How many?” asked Yaway.
“Nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine. This will be truly interesting, since as I’ve said, my challenge is a win-win proposition for me, and now it’s the same for you, as you might be my one millionth traveler served, or,” the troll pauses and laughs, “you’ll beat me and…” …more laughter… “sorry, or you beat me and you have the honor of saying you have defeated me.”
“And just who are you?”
“Enough questions. I challenge you to a test of wits for the cup in your possession in return for anything I own. You may ask the first question.”
Yaway thought for a second and looked at Kyron, who smirked. “Alright, you play for your head. My first question: what is your name?”
“Ahh, you’re smarter than you look. I am Snarky, pleased to meet you. And what are your names? My old friend Kyron and Josh excluded, of course?”
“I am Yaway.” He looked over at Josh and Kyron. “You could have told me his name and I could have asked him my name and this would be over.”
“You seemed to be handling it,” Josh said. Kyron continued to grin. “Besides, we’ve both lost to him before. It only seems sporting for you to give it a go yourself.”
“Oh yeah, from when I used to hang around under Bifrost,” said Snarky.
Josh sighed. “Ahh, back in the day…”
“It’s a pleasure to meet the last and new first of the gods, Yaway,” said Snarky.
Yaway looked down and thought hard. “Okay, what goes into the water red and comes out of the water black.”
“Hot iron,” said Snarky, without so much as a second thought. “What goes into the water black and comes out black.”
The young god put his hand to his face and stroked the whiskers on his cheeks. He sighed and scratched the back of his head, but then raised his eyebrows. “A lobster.” The troll nodded.
“All know that I exist, though I cannot be seen or touched. I am sought after by some and hidden by more. What am I?” asked Yaway.
“Too easy: my oldest friend, Truth.” The troll set his club down and leaned on it. “Anything you add to me subtracts from me, what am I?”
Yaway furrowed his brow and looked up. Some time passed before the troll asked if he conceded.
“I know the answer to your riddle is also ‘truth.’ I’m just trying to decide whether I want to ask you the next question.”
“Well, I’ve only got all day. I’m not doing overtime for an amateur.”
“Who were my parents?”
The troll sniffed the air. “Do you know who your parents are?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t believe you know who they are, so how would you know if I’m right when I tell you?”
“So you know?”
The troll laughed. “We have an epistemological conundrum. This tends to happen when you ask questions not even you can answer.”
Yaway walked up to the troll, within arm’s length. “We both began by asking questions we didn’t know the answer to, but we knew the other could tell us. You are an honorable being. You pride yourself on your accomplishments. I believe you are incapable of lying to me on this because if you beat me on a lie, you will have to live with that knowledge forever, and I don’t think you’re up for it.”
The troll glared down at Yaway. “I cannot tell you that I know who your parents are, but I also cannot know that my educated guess is wrong. In some respects, we can’t continue this until one of us knows for certain.”
“What would you guess, then?”
“Look into the water with me,” Snarky said. They both looked into the gently flowing stream. The reflection of Yaway was that of a lion-headed snake. “Well, that’s pretty interesting parentage. The lion implies leadership or nobility, while the snake… well, it’s a snake. They aren’t to be trusted and they tend to slither is totally different circles than lions. But still…” Snarky squinted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if your father was the Sun and your mother was the Earth. Both of your parents were definitely gods, that’s for sure.”
“So is that your guess, the Sun and the Earth?”
“I’m not particularly confident, since what are the odds that of all the dozens of gods who were of the solar and terran families it was ultimately the figureheads who came together… especially since they never really met, for the Sun would scorch the Earth if it got to close, and I think I would remember that… except… of course!”
“During the war of that nearly destroyed the gods, one of the fire gods and a goddess of agriculture conceived a child. I know not whether the mother survived to give birth, but his name was Loki and her name was Ceres. They were some of the most important gods, for Loki had been stolen from Olympus by Prometheus and brought to Earth to be used by man. It was Loki who first civilized mankind. Ceres also played a close role in the development of humanity, as it was she who taught man to plant the fields. It is fair to say the only gift given to humans greater than those bestowed by these two was the gift of language, or even the gift of life itself. Though to be fair, Loki played a role in this as well, for it was Loki who put the fire in man’s veins.”
Yaway stared into and past his reflection, to the stream’s bottom. He looked up at Snarky and told him thank you, and assured him he would be the first he would send word to if he were to find the identity of his parents for certain.