“Not really.” I went over to a shelf to start gathering books for him. “Almost all of us live in North America or Europe, but we like to keep distance between tribes. It’s better that way.”
“You guys don’t get along?” Linus asked as I grabbed a couple of old texts from a shelf.
“I wouldn’t say that, exactly, but we can get territorial. And most trolls are known for being grumpy, especially the Vittra and the Omte.”
“What about the Kanin?”
“We’re actually more peaceful than most of the other tribes.”
After grabbing about a dozen books that seemed to weigh about half a ton, I carried them back to the table and plunked them down in front of Linus.
Apprehension flickered in his brown eyes when he looked up at me. “Do I really need to read all this?”
“The more you know about your heritage, the better,” I said, and sat down in the chair across from him.
“Great.” He picked up the first book off the stack and flipped through it absently. “I do like the cold.”
“The winters back in Chicago, they were always so much harder on my sisters. Er, host sisters,” he corrected himself. “But the cold never really got to me.”
“We withstand it much better.”
Linus pushed the books to the side so it’d be easier for him to see me. “How come?”
“I don’t know exactly.” I shrugged. “We all came from Scandinavia, so that probably has something to do with it. We’re genetically built for colder climates.”
“You came from Scandinavia?” Linus leaned forward and rested his arms on the table.
“Well, not me personally. I was born here. But our people.” I sifted through the books I’d brought over until I found a thin book bound in worn brown paper, then I handed it to him. “This kinda helps break it down.”
“This?” He flipped through the first few pages, which showed illustrations of several different animals living in a forest, and he wrinkled his nose. “It’s a story about rabbits and lions. It’s like a fairy tale.”
“It’s a simplistic version of how we came to be,” I said.
When he lifted his eyes to look at me, they were filled with bewilderment. “I don’t get it.”
“All the trolls were one tribe.” I tapped the picture showing the rabbit sitting with the cougar, and the fox cuddling with a bird. “We all lived together in relative peace in Scandinavia. We bickered and backstabbed, but we didn’t declare war on one another. Then the Crusades happened.”
He turned the page, as if expecting to see a picture of a priest with a sword, but it was only more pictures of animals, so he looked back up at me. “Like the stuff with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages?”
“Exactly. You’ve noticed that trolls have different abilities, like how you can change your skin.”
“That’s not the only thing we can do,” I explained. “The Trylle have psychokinesis, so they can move objects with their minds and see the future. The Skojare are very aquatic and are born with gills. The Vittra are supernaturally strong and give birth to hobgoblins. The Omte … well, the Omte don’t have much of anything, except persuasion. And all trolls have that.”
“It’s the ability to compel someone with your thoughts. Like, I’d think, Dance, and then you would dance,” I tried to elaborate. “It’s like mind control.”
Linus’s eyes widened and he leaned back in his chair, moving away from me. “Can you do that?”
“No. I actually can’t do any of those things,” I said with a heavy sigh, and he seemed to relax again. “But we’re getting off track.”
“Right. Trolls have magic powers,” he said.
“And during the Crusades, those powers looked like witchcraft,” I told him. “So humans started rounding us up, slaughtering us by the dozens, because they believed we’d made pacts with the devil.”
It was actually the changelings that got hit the worst, but I didn’t tell Linus that. I didn’t want him to know the kind of risk our previous changelings had gone through, not yet anyway.
Babies that exhibited even the slightest hint of being nonhuman were murdered. They had all kinds of tests, like if a baby had an unruly lock of hair, or the mother experienced painful breast-feeding. Some were much worse, though, like throwing a baby in boiling water. If it wasn’t cooked, it was a troll, they thought, but no matter—the baby was cooked and killed anyway.
Many innocent human babies were murdered during that time too. Babies with Down’s syndrome or colic would be killed. If a child demonstrated any kind of abnormal behavior, it could be suspected of being a troll or evil, and it was killed.
It was a very dark time for humankind and trollkind alike.
“Had we made a deal with the devil?” Linus asked cautiously.
I shook my head. “No, of course not. We’re no more satanic than rabbits or chameleons. Just because we’re different than humans doesn’t make us evil.”
“So we were all one big happy family of trolls, until the Crusades happened. They drove us out of our homes, and I’m assuming that’s what led us to migrate to North America,” Linus filled in.
“Correct. Most of the troll population migrated here with early human settlers, mostly Vikings, and that’s why so much of our culture is still based in our Scandinavian ancestry.”
His brow scrunched up as he seemed to consider this for a moment, then he asked, “Okay, I get that, but if we’re Scandinavian, how come so many of us have darker skin and brown hair? Not to sound racist here, but aren’t people from Sweden blond and blue-eyed? You’re the only one I’ve seen that looks like that.”
“Our coloration has to do with how we lived,” I explained. “Originally, we lived very close to nature. The Omte lived in trees, building their homes in trunks or high in the branches. The Trylle, the Vittra, and the Kanin lived in the ground. The Kanin especially lived much the way rabbits do now, with burrows in the dirt and tunnels connecting them.”
“What does that have to do with having brown hair?” he asked.
“It was about blending into our surroundings.” I pointed to the picture again, pointing to where a rabbit was sitting in the long grass. “The Kanin lived in the dirt and grass, and those that matched the dirt and grass had a higher survival rate.”