“What’s this say?” Matt asked. “It doesn’t even look like words.” He was sitting on one of the chairs on the far side of the room, and he pointed to the open book on his lap.
“Oh that?” Duncan was nearest to him, so he got up and leaned over Matt, looking at the book. “That’s Tryllic. It’s our old language to keep secrets from the Vittra.”
“A lot of the older stuff is written in Tryllic,” I said, but I didn’t get up. I’d found a passage about the Long Winter’s War, and I hoped it would give me something useful.
“What does it say?” Matt asked.
“Um, this one says… something about an ‘orm,’” Duncan said, squinting as he read the text. He didn’t know very much Tryllic, but since he spent so much time researching with me, he’d picked up some.
“What?” I lifted my head, thinking at first that he’d said Oren.
“Orm,” Duncan repeated. “It’s like a snake.” He tapped the pages and straightened up. “I don’t think this will be helpful. It’s a book of old fairy tales.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“We grew up hearing these stories,” Duncan shrugged and sat back down in his chair. “I’ve heard that one a hundred times.”
“What is it?” I pressed. Something about that word, orm, stuck with me.
“It’s supposed to explain how trolls came to be,” Duncan said. “The reason we split up in different tribes. Each of the tribes is represented by a different animal. The Kanin are rabbits, the Omte are birds, the Skojare are fish, the Trylle are foxes, and the Vittra are tigers, or sometimes lions, depending on who tells the story.”
The Kanin, Omte, and Skojare were the other three tribes of trolls, like the Trylle and Vittra. I’d never met any of them. From what I understood, only the Kanin were still doing reasonably well, but they hadn’t thrived as much as the Trylle or even the Vittra. The Skojare were all but extinct.
I’d only heard of five tribes, and all of the tribes were accounted for, yet Duncan had mentioned the orm.
“What about the orm?” I asked. “What tribe does that represent?”
“It doesn’t.” He shook his head. “The orm is the villain of the story. It’s all very Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I can’t tell it with the same flourish as my mom did before I went to bed,” Duncan said. “But the basic idea is that all the animals lived together and worked together. It was peace and harmony. Orm, which was this big snake-like creature, had lived for thousands of years, and he was bored. He watched all the animals living together, and for fun, he decided to mess with them.
“He went to each of the animals, telling them that they had to watch out for their friends,” Duncan went on. “He told the fish that the birds were plotting to eat them, the birds that the fox had set traps to ensnare them, and the rabbits that the birds were eating all their clover.
“Then the orm went to the tiger and told him that he was bigger and stronger than all the other animals, and he could eat them all if he wanted to,” he said. “The tiger realized he was right, and he began hunting the other animals. None of the animals trusted each other anymore, and they scattered.
“The orm thinks this is all funny and great, especially when he sees all the other animals struggling without their friends,” Duncan continued. “They had all been working together, and they couldn’t make it on their own.
“One day, the orm comes across the tiger, who is starving and cold,” Duncan said. “The orm begins to laugh at how pitiful the tiger is doing, and the tiger asks him why he’s laughing. When the orm explains how he tricked the tiger into betraying his friends, the tiger becomes enraged, and using his sharpest claw, he cuts off the orm’s head.
“Usually, the ending is told more dramatically than that, but that’s how it goes,” Duncan shrugged.
“Wait.” I leaned forward on my book. “The Vittra killed the orm?”
“Well, yeah, the tiger represents the Vittra,” Duncan said. “Or at least that’s what my mom told me. But the tiger is really the only animal capable of cutting off the snake’s head. At best, a fox could just bite it and the birds could peck out its eyes.”
“That’s it, isn’t it?” I asked, and it suddenly seemed so obvious to me. I pushed aside my book and jumped up.
“Wendy?” Matt asked, confused. “Where are you going?”
“I have an idea,” I said and ran out of the room.
In the ballroom, all the trackers were busy practicing moves on each other. Loki stood near the front, teaching a young tracker how to block. I tried not to think about how young that kid looked or about how he’d fight in battle soon.
“Loki!” I yelled to get his attention.
He turned toward me, smiling already, and his attention dropped from the tracker. Seizing the opportunity, the tracker moved forward, punching Loki in the face. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, and the tracker looked both frightened and proud.
“Sorry,” the tracker apologized. “I thought we were still training.”
“It’s fine.” Loki rubbed his jaw and waved him off. “Just save the good stuff for the hobgoblins, alright?”
I smiled sheepishly at Loki as he made his way across the ballroom over to where I stood at the door. I couldn’t see Finn or Thomas, but I knew they had to be somewhere in the room, working with the other trackers.
“I didn’t mean to distract you like that and get you sucker punched.”
“I’m alright,” Loki assured me with a grin and stepped out into the hall, so we could have some privacy from onlookers. “What can I do for you, Princess?”
“Can I cut off your head?” I asked.
“Are you asking for my permission?” Loki tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow. “Because I’m going to have to say no to this one request, Princess.”
“No, I mean, can I?” I asked. “As in, am I capable of it? Would you die if I did?”
“Of course I would die.” Loki put one hand against the wall and leaned on it. “I’m not a bloody cockroach. What’s all this about? What are you trying to find out?”
“If I cut off Oren’s head, would that kill him?” I asked.