‘Bridge’, S. Brackett Robertson

Illustrations © 2022 Josep Lledó

 [ Troll, © 2022 Josep Lledó ] The first time Linden didn’t feel lost in eir new city was when ey found the bridge troll. Ey was late for dinner. Ey’d had rehearsal with the rest of the orchestra after school, but without the other kids from the same neighborhood to follow, ey couldn’t quite find eir way home. Again. This city was made up of impossibly small streets all tumbling into one another, and Linden must have taken the wrong one, turned the wrong way, because instead of the usual playground ey passed, there was a bridge. It was small, narrower than the ones over the busy river. A creek ran below it, one Linden had never noticed before. Ey would have remembered a creek. Creeks were special. Linden held eir viola a bit tighter, and stepped onto the bridge. Ey was probably still in the right neighborhood, couldn’t be that far from home. Linden looked downstream, but the landscape curved too tightly to see where the creek was going.

Linden could hear something coming from under the bridge, a strange noise, and an occasional vibration. Ey walked down the creekside, starting tiny avalanches with each step. Ey peered cautiously under the arch of the bridge. There was a troll there. Ey hadn’t ever seen a troll before. Eir friend Keisha had brought em to the river see a centaur but ey’d only seen a flicker in the woods. Ey wasn’t quite sure if ey entirely had believed Keisha but ey’d wanted to. Some places always felt secret, and magic, and lived-in. But now, here. This wasn’t just a flicker, this was absolutely a troll, under a bridge. The troll’s skin was the same gray as the stone, and they were tall, their head almost touching the arch of the bridge, about eight feet up.

“Hello?” said Linden, cautiously. Ey didn’t want to startle them.

“Did She send you?” said the troll, not turning around, “Tell her to leave me alone! I have claims-right!”

“I…” Linden started to respond when the troll turned.

“You’re human,” the troll said, dropping the rock they’d been holding, “I think anyway. I haven’t seen a human in decades. I thought you were someone She’d sent, after the bridge again.”

“Er… yes I’m human,” Linden said. Ey hadn’t expected other beings to rarely see humans. Ey’d never thought to ask Keisha about that, “Who’s She?”

“The queen,” the troll said.

“Of trolls?” Linden said.

“Of all of us,” the troll said. The troll turned away from Linden, began arranging the branches of the bushes growing along the riverbank.

Linden turned away and looked around under the bridge. There was a nook there that Linden hadn’t noticed before. It was cement like the rest of the bridge, but shelves were carved out of it. Nothing was on the shelves.

“Who are you?”

“I am Galdina, the gatekeeper. I collected the tolls for the Queen. It is why she lets me live here, between her lands, under this bridge,” Galdina said, “The Queen appointed me, said ‘Galdina—she’ll collect the tolls at the westward bridge.’”

“This bridge? Not yours?” Linden asked.

“The Queen wants to claim it because it crosses over the creek. She can’t claim the creek, but she can claim both banks. I’ve lived here for years and years but I don’t have power like she does. If I try to challenge her, She’d win,” Galdina said.

“Well that’s unfair,” said Linden.

“She’s not fair,” Galdina said.

“What is the toll?” Linden had some small experiences with toll booths. There weren’t many in eir old city, but on road trips ey and eir dad would drive up to some small house in the middle of the highway and hand over change. Somehow Linden doubted tolls here would be like that.

“A soul is traditional,” said Galinda.

“A whole soul? That’s the most expensive toll I’ve ever heard of!” Linden said.

“Well, no one’s given me any tolls for quite a while now. But,” she said, in a quieter tone, “You could give me your faith. Your friendship with someone you’ve held close.”

“I’m not religious. And I don’t want to give my friends up just to cross a bridge.”

“Ah,” said Galdina, turning away. She seemed to be slightly deflated, discouraged.

Linden sat. The ground was rough, made up of many stones. They’d been smoothed, but they were still the size of Linden’s fist and were not comfortable to sit on. Ey began to dig through them, feeling the way they shifted and moved together.

Eir gaze traveled upwards from the stones, to the gray cinderblock bricks. It looked smaller than when Linden had first arrived. Galdina looked smaller too, her head no longer obscured by the rafters. Linden’s eyes shifted, looking a bit to the sides, behind Galdina and checked for tributes. If they were here, where were they? Or were most tributes not physical? Galdina had mentioned giving friendship. Perhaps what was valuable to a troll was different than what was valuable to humans.

Linden could see a faint trace of a painting behind Galdina’s head. It had looked like the corner of some words at first, “we were here” scrawled onto the bridge, but Linden could see more of it now, see that those were only the edges. It was a large sketch of a tree, a gorgeous drawing, though the lines were fading out. It looked to have been there for at least fifty years but the tree reminded Linden of one outside eir window. It couldn’t have stayed the same shape for fifty years. Ey traced eir eyes out from the sketch, seeing the wear on each brick and following the paths of it. There were no other drawings.

“That was a payment, wasn’t it?” Linden asked, nodding towards the painting.

Galdina turned slowly towards the sketch, and then slowly back to Linden. She was drawing herself out of some place, like pulling a spoon slowly out of molasses.

“Yes. The o… My token,” Galdina said. She stood up as she spoke, turned and reached behind her to trace the drawing. Linden was amazed that her shoulders didn’t cross the rafters of the bridge. She’d seemed to join with the structure of the bridge before.

“Could I play a song? As payment?” Linden asked. Ey hadn’t thought art could count as payment.

“Of course,” Galdina said.

Linden got eir viola out of the case, taking care to not drop it on the rocky bank. Ey wasn’t sure what to play. Somehow the songs that ey was learning in band didn’t seem right for this place, for Galdina. Linden started out improvising and gradually the notes resolved into something like a tune. Galdina was smiling as ey played, and seemed satisfied even as the song was short. Linden was struck by how much Galdina’s approval reminded em of eir first teacher’s face when ey first mastered a piece. Ey smiled in response.

“Thank you,” Galdina said as Linden gathered eir viola up and walked back up the bank of the creek. Ey could see where ey was now, that ey was just uphill from eir new house. Linden smiled as ey started towards it. Somehow, being at the creek felt like being home.

Lunch was nerve-wracking here, with no one to sit with. It wasn’t that the other students were mean, per se, but that Linden didn’t know what place ey fit. At eir last school before the move ey had a table full of kids who didn’t fit in with the other tables, but somehow fit together. They didn’t have some unified theme either; each one had their own varied interests.

Here, at eir new school, it was different. Each sports team sat together, each club too. No one seemed mixed together like eir old school. For the first week Linden had been sitting by emself, and Linden had begun to head to eir usual spot when suddenly ey was flanked by Nadia and Ada Ramirez, two of the other band kids.

“Hey! Come sit with us,” Ada said. In the back of eir mind Linden knew ey wanted to check if anyone else knew about the creek with the troll. Well, ey wouldn’t ask about the troll part. Just the creek part. If it came up.

“Sure,” Linden said. The twins were dragging em over to a tableful of the other kids in band and orchestra. Linden recognized most of them but there was one person who Linden hadn’t seen before, sitting on the other side of Nadia Ramirez. Ey sat down between her and Nadia. There was something about the person ey hadn’t seen before that reminded em of eir old friends, of home.

“Hi, can I sit here? I’m Linden,” ey said to the new person.

“Sure! Yessenia.”

“Linden’s in orchestra,” said Nadia, and resumed talking to the others rather rapidly. From what Linden could tell they were arguing about which was better, Star Wars or Star Trek. Ey dug into eir sandwich.

“They have this argument at least once a week,” Yessenia said, “Sometimes I like to pick a side, just to mess with them, but I’m not that invested. I usually go back to reading my book.”

“Ha! I’d do that too,” Linden said, “What are you reading?”

The Westing Game, for probably the millionth time,” Yessenia said.

“I love that one! Before I moved, I’d bring it down next to the river all the time, to sit and read and watch the water go by. Know of any good creeks around here?”

“Just the big one in the park,” said Yessenia.

“None in this neighborhood, though? I thought I heard one the other day.”

“Nope,” Yessenia said, turning the page in her book. Linden got out a book too. Both of them sitting there, reading their separate books made Linden think of eir old friends back home, and ey smiled. Maybe this town wasn’t so bad after all.

The jazz band rehearsal ended at the same time as the orchestra rehearsal the next day, and Linden found emself following the Ramirez twins home. Ey often walked home with the Ramirez twins. They were loud and funny during the school day and would often riff off each other, but on the way home they always walked like this, one sister ahead of the other each plugged in to their headphones.

Linden didn’t mind. Today it gave em even more of a chance to look for the bridge and Galdina. Most days it just relieved the pressure of coming up with something interesting to say. It was hard to talk to most of the people here, even the ones whose parents would exclaim “Oh but you have so much in common!” when their kids met em. They weren’t bad people, and Linden quite enjoyed their company, but they didn’t make Linden relax the way people back home had.

Ey missed feeling the calm the creek gave em. There had been some people at home who gave that feeling: Makda, who would climb trees just to sit and sketch a different view, and Khoua, who liked walks. If Linden had been at home, would ey have shown Khoua this place by now?

It felt like the adults were trying to shove em together with other kids who were “like you”, other queer kids, other musicians. But what ey missed was the friends ey could just sit in silence with in the hammock all summer, reading, napping, relaxed.

Ey didn’t want to be like anyone else.

Linden sat with the other band kids for most of the days that week, but on Friday, ey just wanted to sit alone. Linden wasn’t sure if the Ramirez sisters or the other band kids wouldn’t try to drag em to the band table, or sit with em anyway, so ey decided not to go to the cafeteria at all. The school was having a spirit rally, or an assembly, or something school-spirit related that Linden didn’t care for after lunch anyway, so ey went looking for a park to sit in instead. Ey didn’t miss the noise of the school at all after going outside, the constant chatter in the halls. Ey was surprised, though, when ey brought out eir book, that ey was thinking of Yessenia. She would probably understand the need for quiet, the need to be alone and think.

Linden went back to eir book, just as a loud car zoomed past the park ey was sitting in. Still too loud. Ey picked up eir backpack and viola, and began to walk in the direction ey thought led to eir house, or at least the direction that led away from the school and the busier streets that surrounded it. As the streets got a bit quieter, ey realized the song ey’d played for the troll was in eir head. Linden hadn’t thought of the troll at all, not since last week. Not the troll. Galdina.

Ey could hear the creek now, the same one ey had found last time. This time there was no bridge right away, no troll yet. This time the road gently made way for pebbled banks, the street signs for trees.

And there. At the end of the creek, a bridge. Linden squinted. Galdina’s form was familiar now, but still far enough away to not be completely clear. Galdina didn’t seem to see Linden yet. She was facing the arch of the bridge, touching the stone, running her hands along it over and over again. She was singing something in a low voice. Linden turned away. Ey began to walk up the bank, leave Galdina some privacy, but once ey reached the trees ey could feel the air change, could hear Galdina’s singing blending with the sound of eir feet on the rocky bank. Galdina turned around at the noise. Linden watched as the recognition overtook her face.

“You’re back!” she said, “no one’s ever come back before. Well, except the Queen.” Her expression turned blank again.

“Hi, Galdina,” Linden said. Ey wasn’t sure if ey’d hoped this was true, that ey’d really met a troll, that there really were fairy queens and tithes and bridge tolls.

“There’s been so few tolls,” Galdina said, trailing her long fingers in the creek water. “And she’s taken yours already. I can hardly feel the water, much less the footsteps of anyone coming now.”

“Why can she take your tolls? Linden asked. “Why do you let her have power over you?”

“She has a stronger claim. She has the pledges of her whole court to uphold her rule. I’m courtless, but I’ve had a contract with her. I gather the tithes, and I can keep some small piece of this land, this bridge. But… There are two queens, you see. Two courts and a war over the points that touch the Human world. My land has power. And it isn’t mine. It isn’t really mine, not unless I can claim it. I’d have to go against her court to do that.”

Linden walked down towards the water, picked up one of the pebbles that had been washed up alongside the river and tossed it as far down stream as it would go.

“Is there a way to get it back? Your bridge?” Ey pictured courts and lawyers, a room full of trolls in robes and suits, Galdina and emself standing in front, arguing their case.

“The court, I would have to fight… I,” Galdina started, then trailed off. Linden watched her eyes trail away, watched her retreat from the thought of the battle. Eir eyes stopped tracing Galdina’s, started seeing eir old home, along the river. This creek felt the same as that river, though it wasn’t as big, but everything here felt right, felt familiar.

“Who? How? How would you have to fight? Isn’t this important to you? Doesn’t this matter!” Linden found emself standing taller, stepping up the bank towards Galdina. It matters to me, Linden thought to emself. This place matters to me.

Galdina’s eyes went to the bridge. Linden went back towards the water again, reaching eir fingers down to trail along, make ripples. Ey was startled by how strongly ey felt about the bridge. Galdina’s bridge. Linden had to gather eir thoughts back together before ey spoke,

“There was a park back in the city I lived in before. It was near my school, and the students would go there at the end of lunch. It was lovely to be able to sit somewhere quiet, to be with the trees for a small part of the day. Until suddenly the school said we couldn’t go there anymore. We weren’t allowed outside during the day in winter, but this was spring. My friends Makda and Khoua and I started a petition but the school didn’t listen. So one day, we got our whole grade to go to the park for lunch period. We brought our textbooks and read aloud to each other from the trees. After that, they let us have class in the park sometimes, if our teachers allowed it. We didn’t get to go there at lunch again that school year, but they let us go outside during the day. It felt something like a victory.

“We fought then, and I want to fight now. I will stand with you. I will fight with you. I give you my word as payment for passage.”

Galdina looked at Linden for a long moment, then at the creek, then she walked to the top of the bridge, where the embankment began. She pushed a stone aside, and a drawer pulled out. Taking something from it, Galdina neared Linden again.

“Here. Take this. It is a pledge. So I can call you again.”

Galdina moved back up the bank, towards where the bridge met it and turned her back to Linden. She seemed to settle back in to a familiar spot there. Linden heard a low note, which resonated and echoed the sounds of the creek. Ey turned, and saw that Galdina had begun to sing. She was singing to the creek, and Linden almost thought it could understand. Linden began wading towards the bank, holding the pledge carefully as ey crossed the creek.

The streets opened up once ey left the creek bed. The route untwisted and Linden followed each landmark to the next until ey was home. Linden paced a lot once ey reached eir street. Ey couldn’t quite go inside, smile at eir Dad, act like the only thing that had happened today was school, not giving eir word to a mythical creature. Linden wasn’t quite sure why ey’d done it. The words just rushed up on a wave of feelings about creeks, and water, and quiet spaces. Things that felt right. Ey wasn’t sure if pledging emself to fight was reckless, but ey still felt the creek’s calm. Linden knew ey wanted to return.

Linden returned to the creek that Saturday, managed to find it after walking around for about thirty minutes, taking street after street lined with houses until the houses fell away and there was woods and a creek and a sense of calm. Linden didn’t take the bridge this time, but slowly climbed down the bank and sat on a stone, dipping eir feet in the water. The water helped em think, felt like a place ey belonged to.

Ey’d brought eir viola along on a whim, grabbed it before heading out the door. There weren’t as many places to play outside here. Or maybe there were, but ey didn’t know them yet, but it was comforting to carry, knowing that if the desire to play something struck, ey wouldn’t be lacking.

There was a bench along the shore now, that ey hadn’t remembered before. Ey sat on it, and pulled out eir viola. The bench was close enough to the water that ey could put eir feet in as ey played.

Linden played an old song, one ey knew ey’d heard before. Ey didn’t think it usually sounded like this, with all of the notes racing each other, but one of the notes in this version was the same as the first note ey’d heard Galdina sing. Ey began to play with the melody, changing the rhythm, adding in variations. Linden found emself playing along with the water, notes hitting water and water hitting rock. Ey added in eir own part, added in a part that sounded like Galdina’s movements. Ey had begun to try to build the bridge in notes, when the sound of laughter cut through eir concentration. It was Nadia, somewhere up above the creek. Ey stopped playing. The music had lost its shape again, gone back to the way it sounded in the band room and besides, Linden didn’t want Nadia to see this place. Nadia Ramirez was part of a different world.

“And I told him that’s the hardest note to play!” Nadia Ramirez was saying to her sister and a couple of the other band kids as Linden walked up.

Ey settled down at the lunch table and got out eir usual tuna sandwich. Ey’d fallen into the habit of sitting with the band kids after Nadia and Ana had dragged em over to their table. Ey was grateful for the gesture but the lunches tended to make em miss eir friends at home. Then, ey could keep up with the conversation, knew the jokes. Here, ey always felt slightly outside. Linden realized ey had begun to stare into space when Yessenia’s hand and fork crossed eir line of sight. Yessenia caught Linden looking and smiled a bit.

“Whatcha looking at?”

“Nothing. Just thinking,” Linden said. Yessenia was usually reading and quiet at lunch, but when she spoke Linden liked her wit. Today Linden thought ey’d caught the glimpse of a familiar cover under the table. Yessenia looked back down again, pulling her long black hair behind an ear and out of the way of the book pages.

“Have you ever had a place that felt like home to you immediately?” Linden asked.

“A couple, yeah. The library here at school, the meadow near my grandparents’ new house, the beach.”

“I felt that here the other day, for the first time since moving,” said Linden.

“That’s amazing!”

“I feel at home when I’m just sitting and reading with a friend,” Linden said and Yessenia nodded at this. “And this place has that kind of quiet. I’m afraid of losing it though. I had to move away from so many of those spaces. I wouldn’t want to lose my first one here.”

Linden tried to talk to Galdina through the pledge, get more instructions, and when that didn’t work ey just walked down to the creek again. Galdina was there, holding some kind of bundle of sticks close to her. She waved when she saw Linden approach.

“How do we defend your bridge? You said the Queen is trying to take it. How does she do that? How can we hold it?”

Galdina walked up the bank, towards where the bridge met the farther shore. She reached into the concrete. Eventually she brought out a woven circle of twigs. It shone with a somewhat dim light, but it shone with the glow Linden had come to think of as magic.

“I need to renew my claims-right, double it so we can leave one behind when we go to the Queen to defend. I gathered these sticks, this mud, all these parts of my home so long ago,” Galdina sat on the bank.

“So the claims-right is just pieces of the creek? Isn’t that easy to get?”

“It needs to be bound with energy and I don’t have enough from tolls, though, so there’s less to hold it together. And there needs to be a claims-right left here to defend this space when we go to meet with the Queen. The claims-right is currently too weak to be left alone. We need to strengthen it and gather a second one that we can take to the Queen.”

“Oh,” Linden said, “How do you gather one?”

Galdina paused, “I’m not entirely sure. I gathered this one when I first began living under the bridge, many years ago. At that time, the Queen was content to stay on her lands on one bank of the creek. I was able to gather it, but I don’t know if it has enough power.”

“Well, we can leave it to guard your bridge right? Maybe if we walk along the creek together we can gather the core of it first. It’s made out of sticks?” Linden squinted at it.

“It is made out of the branches that fall in this creek, the mud from the banks, water from the creek itself. You gather first and I’ll sit here with the claims-right. Then I’ll gather what we need to make it whole.”

Linden nodded and waded into the creek. Eir thoughts were muddled. What is the heart of this place? There wasn’t much ey could see in the water right away, mostly muddy streaks fed from upstream. Ey picked up a twig as it passed. I need a way to lay a claim, ey thought. Not with a court, but with myself.

The first home was the best, Linden thought. I had a treefort. I had a space. I remember the first move. I’d forget, when I woke up, where I was. Does this space remember? Does the bridge remember, the cement, the water?

Ey had walked down the bank for a while, feet half in and half out of the water. There wasn’t pavement here. Just earth and rock and water. There were some strands of grass growing up, out from beneath the rocks and chunks of broken off concrete.

Linden grabbed a piece of the cement. It was solid and old, though it had fallen away from the bridge. Galdina might’ve touched it once, leaned against it when it was part of the wall. Ey grabbed a stone next. It seemed solid, connected to the water, as well as the bridge.

I wish I could hold the water too, ey thought, then reached down, scooped up some of the earth. I could turn it to mud, get it wet. It is mud under the water after all. Ey took the mud and cement and stone and held them together. They didn’t exactly stay attached, but ey covered first the cement and then the stone in mud and carried it back to Galdina as it was drying. Galdina held a tightly woven basket that looked similar to the first claims-right. She used it to gather the creek water. Galdina began to press the mud and the twigs into the old claims-right and into another tight ball forming a new claims-right. After a while, Galdina spoke,

“These are the right shapes, the right materials, but I can tell they don’t have enough power.” She sat back, looking at the claims-rights. Linden looked at them too, then at the creek itself.

“What was that song you sang? The day I pledged myself to you. That seemed to resonate with the water. Could we use that to hold in the power?”

“Hmm. We could try that.” Galdina began to sing, the same low notes but moving faster now. Linden thought the creek began to move a bit faster too. The claims-rights were changing. The new one solidified, became more than just sticks and mud, became its own object. The old one wove itself tighter together, grew stronger. Linden found the song ey’d played at the creek coming into eir mind unbidden. It was in the same key as Galdina’s song.

When ey looked over, Galdina’s eyes were closed. She stopped singing, sighed and said, “There. I’ll summon you when the Queen calls me before her court.”

Galdina called em a week later. Linden was sure it would be sooner and ey kept checking the pledge to see if ey’d missed something. Ey was certain it would flash or make a sound. Ey felt a little silly, checking on this rock more often than ey checked eir cellphone.

Ey needn’t have worried. When Galdina called, Linden knew.

It was more of a feeling, a presence. Galdina just popped back into Linden’s mind and wouldn’t budge from there until ey went to the bridge.

Ey couldn’t see Galdina at first. Linden feared ey’d walked down the wrong bank, that this was the wrong bridge, that somehow someone had stolen Galdina away. If she didn’t own the bridge what was keeping her here?

Linden didn’t let emself stay on that train of thought.

“Galdina?” ey called. “Are you there?”


The sound came from the back of the bridge. Linden was surprised at eir relief. Was a week long enough to start worrying about someone?

Galdina’s head emerged out of the shadows where bridge met bank. Linden noticed for the first time that her hair was the same color that the vines on the cement turned in autumn.

Galdina took the claims-right she’d sung into being and put it in a basket Linden had never seen before, leaving the older claims-right on the bank. Linden followed as Galdina started down the bank, although ey weren’t quite as good at perching on the creekside stones. Ey bent down to pick up eir viola, and by the time ey had stood back up, Galdina had turned upstream and started walking in the creek.

“Where are we going, anyways?” Linden asked.

“Through the water,” Galdina said simply. “We have to pass through water first.” Linden mumbled something incoherent about new boots and mud and water stains but kept walking.

It seemed like the same creek, the same banks and the same shore that ey had walked along before, but ey could feel a tension, a tightness that sat in the air and wound up in eir muscles. Walking normally calmed em, but this walk just made eir back tighter and tighter until it felt taut.



“When this is over—if I don’t have the pledge anymore, will I find the bridge again, be able to visit you, find the creek?”

Galdina didn’t answer right away, kept striding further downstream. Linden felt eir back muscles tighten further. The air was shifting too, getting stuffier despite being outside. It smelled like the locker room at eir old middle school gym, the smell of sweat and tension and stress.

“I don’t know. No one has pledged to me before. Usually humans don’t see us when they pass by. Our tributes are mostly things they don’t know they’re losing.”

“I found it again last Saturday, just the creek, not your bridge. It was the same creek, though, I’m sure of it.”

“I expect you’ll find it when you need to, but I don’t know if you’ll always see me.”

Linden wasn’t sure how far they had walked. The banks looked the same as they did by Galdina’s bridge, but ey remembered walking for long enough for eir legs to ache and eir arm to be sore from keeping the viola case above the water.

There was no bridge here, though, and no calm feeling in the air. A different colored glow appeared on the horizon. It was a harsher light, bright and sterile. Once Linden’s eyes adjusted, ey could see a woman within. She looked regal, not just in her dress and crown, but in the way she carried herself. She walked with control.

The woman looked at Galdina as though she expected her to bow. Linden stood straight upright emself, trying to continue to look the Queen in the eye, taking eir cues from Galdina.

The eerie woman—the Queen—finally spoke,

“You lay claim to what is mine. You carry a claims-right to my bridge that crosses my territories.”

Galdina didn’t move, didn’t speak for a while. Linden tensed. Shouldn’t she be contesting the claim? The bridge was Galdina’s!

“The creek isn’t yours,” Galdina finally said, “And therefore, you cannot claim what crosses it. I have claims-right.”

“What claims-right?! It is made from mud of my banks, and by this young human at that.” The Queen’s light grew, reaching out towards the claims-right, sparking where it touched it.

Galdina crouched down a bit, but she didn’t bow, and she didn’t leave the creekwater.

“It is my claims-right. Built with my voice and my hands, and yes, Linden’s hands too. Ey pledged emself to me.”

Galdina was quiet for a moment, then started to sing the song she’d bound the claims-right with. The claims-right started glowing, and the water rushed faster, pushing away the Queen and her light. The Queen spoke a phrase under her breath and the light started creeping back towards water and Galdina’s notes started to waver. Galdina began singing louder.

Linden stood firm on the ground and thought of the quiet rushing of the creek, thought of the trees ey was named after, thought of home.

Ey took out eir viola and began to play. It wasn’t any of the songs ey’d played at the creek before, but something drawn from Galdina’s notes, meant to add back up, resonance. It sounded sort of like a song ey’d learned for the first time in the city of lakes, but ey had changed here in this city of swamps and arguments. As ey played and Galdina sang the claims-right began to emit its own light, push back the light of the Queen’s.

The Queen looked angry. She opened her mouth and began to sing some other song with notes that jarred with the song of Galdina and Linden and the creek. Little spikes of the Queen’s light started appearing, biting the water. The Queen smiled.

Linden began to add notes to eir song, make variations, try to make those bits of light go away, stop reaching towards em and Galdina and the claims-right but all eir song seemed to do was make the creek swirl around the spikes, not defeat them.

Then Galdina moved. She was still singing, but now she seemed to be dancing, her arms arching like the bridge over the creek, her body swaying with the rhythm of the small swirls Linden had begun to play. The claims-right began to change, solidify until it looked almost like Galdina’s bridge. It started sending out its own glow, breaking up the Queen’s spikes and pushing towards where she stood. The water got faster and faster again, pushing the Queen against one of the banks until finally she couldn’t move unless she turned and left. She made one last attempt to grab the claims-right, but the water all moved as a wave and soaked her.

Galdina gathered the claims-right again and sat down on the bank which heaved a bit, made a seat for her. She took a deep breath. “Thank you.”

She stood, then, and turned to walk back towards the bridge.

By the time they reached the bridge again, Galdina’s singing had become louder than the rush of the water. It looked like the bridge was glowing, flashing bright every time Galdina sang a note. Linden hung back. Ey wanted Galdina to have the bridge to herself again, to let her be home.

Orchestra practice had gotten out at a weird time again, but this time Linden knew the route home, and even if ey did get lost, Yessenia was walking about twenty feet ahead, nose in a book. The rhythm of Yessenia’s footsteps blended in with Linden’s, and also something else. Running water.

The creek!

The road they were on was about to dead end into it, Yessenia looked up from her book in time to avoid walking into a tree.

“Huh. I didn’t think I’d gotten lost,” she said, as Linden caught up to her.

“There’s a lovely creek through here,” Linden said. “Would you like to follow me?”

© 2022 S. Brackett Robertson

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