The spider webs thinned and stilettos of sunlight stabbed against the forest floor. Raccoon pulled a handful of the sticky threads from Owl’s sweater and they surveyed the area.
The forest dipped into a valley here. If the area around the troll’s house was split with an axe, a giant ox had ploughed the earth here. Gentle slopes led down to the wide river.
They whooped and started running down the hill.
Knee high grass nipped at their knees and then cushioned their falls as they tumbled almost in unison and rolled the rest of the way down the hill.
Owl lay on his back and Raccoon on his belly and they tried to catch their breath between fits of laughter.
A pair of mud caked boots stomped up. The boys sat up and looked at the stranger. His pants showed the high water mark above his knees. A potato sack shirt, holes cut out for arms and neck, was cinched tight from his waist to his armpits with cracked leather belts, braided wild grass and frayed ropes. A closely-cropped grey beard sparsely covered his sunburnt cheeks and chin.
He spit, doffed his floppy, wide-brimmed hat, smiled wide and introduced himself.
“Joseph William Jacob Buchanan,” he said reaching down to help them up. “If, you’re the straw-stuffed, starch collar types hung up on propriety. Most people just call me Buck. Buck the Boatman. It has a nice ring to it, if you spend a minute chewing on it and that works out fine for me.”
He hooked a thumb towards an anchored raft bobbing with the soft swells in the river.
“Orville the Oarsman would’ve served just as well.” he said, scratching his cheek. “Funny.”
“Leaping leapfrogs! I didn’t mean to stew your ears. Now, who might you boys be?”