“What about you, then?”
“I’m half Skojare,” I told him, and just like every other time I’d said it, the very words left a bitter taste in my mouth.
“Skojare? That’s the aquatic one?”
I nodded. “They lived in the water or near it, and they are pale with blond hair and blue eyes.”
“Make sense, I guess.” He didn’t sound completely convinced, but he continued anyway. “So what happened after we came to North America?”
“We’d already divided into groups. Those with certain skills and aptitudes tended to band together. But we hadn’t officially broken off,” I said. “Then when we came here, we all kind of spread out and started doing our own thing.”
“That’s when you became the Kanin and the Skojare, et cetera?”
“Sort of.” I wagged my head. “We’d split off in different groups, but we hadn’t officially named ourselves yet. Some tribes did better than others. The Trylle and the Kanin, in particular, flourished. I don’t know if it was just that they were lucky in establishing their settlements or they worked smarter. But whatever the reason, they thrived, while others suffered. And that’s really what the story is about.”
“What?” Linus glanced down at the book, then back up at me. “I feel like you skipped a step there.”
“Each animal in the story represents a different tribe.” I tapped the picture of a cougar, his eyes red and fangs sharp. “The cougar is the Vittra, who were starving and suffering. So they began attacking and stealing from the other tribes, and soon the Omte, who are the birds, joined in. And it wasn’t long until everyone was fighting everyone, and we’d completely broken off from each other.”
“Which one are the Kanin?” Linus asked as he stared down at the page.
“We’re the rabbits. That’s literally what kanin translates into.”
“Really?” Linus questioned in surprise. “Why rabbits? Shouldn’t we be, like, chameleons or something?”
“Probably, but when the trolls named themselves, they didn’t know what chameleons were. Not a lot of reptiles in northern Canada. So we went with rabbits because they burrowed deep, ran fast, and they did a good job of blending in with their surroundings.”
Linus stared sadly at the books in front of him. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to remember all this stuff, especially not with all the different tribes.”
“Here.” I grabbed a thick book from the bottom of the pile and flipped through its yellowing pages until I found the one I was looking for.
It had a symbol for each of the tribes, the actual emblems that we used on flags when we bothered to use flags—a white rabbit for the Kanin, a green flowering vine for the Trylle, a red cougar for the Vittra, a blue fish for the Skojare, and a brown-bearded vulture for the Omte.
Next to each emblem were a few short facts about each of the tribes. Not enough to make anyone an expert, but enough for now.
He grimaced and stared down at the page. “Great.”
“It won’t be that bad,” I assured him.
As Linus studied the page in front of him, his brown hair fell across his forehead, and his lips moved as he silently read the pages. The freckles on his cheeks darkened the harder he concentrated—an unconscious reaction brought on by his Kanin abilities.
“Bryn Aven.” A sharp voice pulled me from watching Linus, and I looked up to see Astrid Eckwell. “What on earth are you doing here?”
Her raven waves of hair cascaded down her back. The coral chiffon of her dress popped beautifully against the olive tone of her skin. In her arms she held a small rabbit. A smirk was already forming on her lips, and I knew that couldn’t be a good sign.
“Working with Markis Linus Berling,” I told her as I got to my feet. Linus glanced at both Astrid and myself, and then he got up. “You don’t have to stand.”
“What?” He looked uncertainly at me, like it was a trick. “But … you did.”
“Of course she did,” Astrid said as she walked over to us, absently stroking the white rabbit. “She’s the help, and I’m a Marksinna. She has to stand whenever anyone higher up than her enters the room, and that’s everyone.”
“As the Markis Berling, you only need to stand for the King and Queen,” I said, but Linus still didn’t seem to understand.
“Bryn, aren’t you going to introduce us?” Astrid asked as she stared up at him with her wide dark eyes, but he kept looking past her, down at the rabbit in her arms.
“My apologies, Marksinna. Linus Berling, this is Astrid Eckwell.” I motioned between the two of them.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Linus said, and gave her a lopsided smile.
“Likewise. Are you going to the anniversary party tomorrow?” Astrid asked.
“Um, yeah, I think so.” He turned to me for confirmation, and I nodded once.
“He will be there with his parents.”
Astrid looked at me with contempt in her eyes. “I suppose that means you’ll be there too.”
“Most likely I will be assisting Markis Berling and the Högdragen,” I said, and I didn’t sound any more thrilled about it than she did.
“You better dig something nice out of your closet.” She cast a disparaging look over my outfit. “You can’t go to the party wearing your ratty old jeans. That might fly for the trashy Skojare, but you know that won’t do for the Kanin.”
I kept my hands folded neatly behind my back and didn’t look down. As a tracker, I had to dress appropriately for many different occasions, and I knew there was nothing wrong with my outfit. I might be wearing dark denim, but they were nice.
“Thank you for the tip, Marksinna, but I’m certain that you won’t be speaking derogatorily of the Skojare anymore, as their King, Queen, and Prince have already arrived in the palace for tomorrow’s anniversary party,” I replied icily. “You wouldn’t want them to hear you speaking negatively of them, since they are King Evert and Queen Mina’s guests.”
“I know they’re here,” Astrid snapped, and her nostrils flared. “That’s why I’m dressed properly today, unlike you. What would the King of the Skojare say if he saw you running around like that?”
“Since he’s a gentleman, I’m sure he would say hello,” I said.
Taking a deep breath through her nose, Astrid pressed her lips into a thin, acrid smile. “You are just as impossible as you were in school. I can’t believe they let you be a tracker.”