There he was, round saucer eyes, nose waggling like a sausage hot in the pan, spiky black hair reaching every which way. True, I couldn’t really see him, but I knew he was just around the corner in the upper hallway of the Hold, laughing his slow, goofy laugh.
He was still too dumb to let loose on the mountain to rejoin his own kind, but he was improving. That he hadn’t come farther was all my fault, the natural outcome of snatching a troll baby from its nest. He might catch up in time, if we kept on with the games and quests, but it was an uphill battle to get him to learn and grow normally, without the brain-enhancing benefits of troll mother’s milk.
At the time, I hadn’t felt like I had a choice.
Most of the time, I didn’t interfere, what with Mother Nature and the roll of the bone dice and all. Life works out as it should in the grand scheme, if you let it alone and don’t overthink things.
That day, I’d grabbed my rucksack and left the cabin to escape my twin for awhile—more on that later—to string up a line from cabin to cold store, and check the snares for rabbit. My left shoulder told me a blizzard was heading our way. We might be snowed in for days.
I don’t know why I turned my skis into the thick wood and farther up the mountain. When I broke through to clearing and found the cave, I didn’t stop then either.
It was clear that the nest in the cave had been abandoned. No sign of attack, no blood or disarray, but the hollows in the mass of reindeer moss indicated there had been a pair of twins, not just this one. He was alone and cold and still, and his breaths were shallow and slow. My shoulder pain had spread to my neck and the metallic smell of snow said the blizzard was ready to drop. I just wasn’t sure what to do.
Then something called, something in my lower brain. I was compelled. So I picked him up, wrapped him in a ball of the moss for warmth and well…diapering. He fit snug in the front pocket of my anorak, and relaxed against my belly. I grabbed more moss and stuffed it into the rucksack for later, checked that the two rabbits I’d snared were secured to the leather straps of my pack, and slipped on my skis to head home, just as the snowfall was thickening up.
My twin and I had been sent to a mountain cabin near Balder’s Peak. My mother told us to stay there until we could find a way to get along. In her words, “I am not spending another Winter Solstice with you two reenacting Ragnarök.”
Sonja had been born two minutes before me and was thus the older twin. And she never let me forget it. I always ended up taking care of the hard work, and she reported on “our” success and took credit for the planning (In my mother’s words, “Well now, that’s your perspective, Ronja.”). Maybe my mother knew what she was doing and decided I needed to learn to stick up for myself, because as far as I was concerned, Sonja didn’t do anything but talk, and read her books, and make notes on her papers.
In a way, troll baby Devon was a blessing. His need for care distracted me from my twin’s scheming. I didn’t have the energy to fight! Our time snowed in was peaceful, unlike any other time in our previous lives.
I always chose him over her, which meant she had to follow through with all her fine plans if she was going to get anything done, instead of maneuvering me to do it for her. It wasn’t as easy as she had thought to fetch wood for the stove and prepare meat and root vegetables for the pot.
Mother Nature and the roll of the bone dice, indeed! My true nature being called to nurture someone truly vulnerable may end up doing me some good after all. I knew it was going to be a long road raising this still-little one, but his blue-sky eyes, fuzzy black hair, and single front tooth made suffering through Sonja’s learning the basics more funny than annoying.
I don’t think my mother would have had any words for this, but she might’ve tipped her head down to her knitting to hide a smile.
So now, barely three turns later, a new game was afoot, and it had nothing to do with the end of the world. Sonja returned to her books and notes, but she added duties in kitchen and barn, as well as teaching the Hold’s young, to her day. I kept to trapping and the horses, and digging the kitchen garden, but caring for Devon took up whatever time I had left over.
It was fair.
So there Devon and I were, playing hide and seek in the upper hallway. I tipped the curved toe of my boot around the corner’s edge to attract Devon’s gaze. He liked the tassels on my boots and never failed to reach down to grab them.
Usually, I’d pull my foot back, quick as a seal diving from a polar bear, and the two of us would circle in a merry chase around the Great Hall and through the holding cells downstairs, and back up again. The few prisoners we kept down in the cells didn’t seem to mind the interruption. And it was probably good for them to be reminded that we had a troll on hand.
This time, when I’d slid my boot forward and reached up and over to tap the back of his head, I met only air. I looked up and he stood over me, his eyes squeezed shut in a throaty chuckle. He opened his eyes, winked, and held one thick finger in the air.
His blue eyes twinkled. “Got. You.”
Well, that’s new. Apparently, there’s hope for him yet. The words here are mine, but they could have been my mother’s.
© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2017)