The snow glows in the night, full of starlight and the moon. The shawl covering Hryggda’s head and broad shoulders is the red of rough tree bark, of foxes. The moon-carpet crunches under her feet. An hour hence she made herself unseen, crept into the farm-hall, outwitted the protection of open iron scissors, and performed the ancient trade of changelings. The baby of her blood, she left with the humans, and the baby they birthed is with her now: her daughter.
Inside her clothes, the baby breathes. There is a small patch of heat on her sternum under the baby’s mouth.
The moon follows them home through the wood. The sky’s night-ship protects changelings, guides their path through the night. Hryggda can feel her protection, and the baby sleeps peacefully.
The humans would have raised this baby differently. The shape of her body would have told them that she should be warlike, kinglike, head of a farm or a church. Why the sexual organs of a human should choose their life’s path, Hryggda has no idea. No troll’s life is so shaped by her body. This child will be happier as a troll; Hryggda is certain of this. Like her new baby, Hryggda is a changetroll. She too was taken in the night and brought under the moon’s protection home to her family.
In their cave-home beside the waterfall, Hryggda’s wives lie in their bed. Sivor bore the baby who was swapped for this one, and Iarnsaxa delivered her. Hryggda imagines they are not asleep. They await the arrival of their new child. In her own way, Hryggda too bears this baby, and will deliver her into her family.
The darkness changes. It seems to Hryggda as though the moon is no longer the only one who tracks her footsteps through the forest’s cloak of snow. She slows, listens, places her hand against the baby’s back to hold her safe.
Not a human; there is not enough sound. Men are noisy. Trolls and animals who do not sleep at night are quiet. But she hears something. Footsteps soft in the stillness.
“Who dogs my footsteps?” Hryggda calls, too softly to disturb the sleeping tree-hall.
She hears breathing, and then a voice furred and toothy. “I shall not be likened to a mere dog.”
Hryggda stops walking, and turns. She takes her hand off the baby, hoping her presence will not be noted. “The comparison was not intended,” she says.
The wolf, the offspring of Fenrir, wears his thick winter coat. He is as tall as the shaggy fjord-horses, and his teeth gleam as white as the snow. “Where do you go in the dark-season of the hours-turning, trollwife?” he asks.
“Home to my bed,” Hryggda says. “Do you follow me, or do our paths tend in the same direction?”
“I follow one who follows you. I am hungry.” His grey-pink tongue lolls out. He bares his teeth.
Hungry wolves eat pieces of the world, and the most ambitious hunters go after pieces of the heavens. Hryggda has heard it told. Wolves have been hunting the sun since her autumn waning, but she has escaped, hidden herself in a den to sleep until spring like a bear. And now, it seems, the forest’s hunters aim to eat the moon.
“Forget your hunger,” Hryggda says. “Deer will fill your belly’s emptiness. Find one and go home to your bed. The moon guards my path tonight. She is wary, and will not let you catch her.”
The wolf’s eyebrow twitches. One ear flicks. “The moon is a friend to trollwives,” he says, and his speculative tone makes Hryggda pause. “Careful where you walk in the dark, cave-mother.” He turns and slips away into the night. He is like a shadow, grey-black and swift. Hryggda cannot tell what direction he goes in. She returns her hand to the baby’s back, listens with her sharp troll-trained ears for the baby’s breath, and then walks on through the wood.
The dark-season begins to wane, to approach the birth of day. The snowlight is aided by slow grey dawning. The wolf is nowhere to be seen, but Hryggda feels protective of the moon who protects her.
The trees become familiar. Bent and leaning, stooped and shaggy like old women, each one her neighbor and friend. She can hear the river and the breaking of the falls. When she sees the grandmother stones, her contemplative change-journey mood cracks and she grows excited, eager to introduce this baby to her mothers.
Hryggda greets the first of the grandmothers with a hand on her shoulder. This one is Gialp, a far-traveled trollwife whose distance from the cave-door is lingering evidence of her independence.
When trolls die they become stone; they become land and lasting-wood. Some die deep in the forest and live forever under a shroud of pine needles and moss. Some die where they worked, stonily watching the passage of travelers over bridges or mountain passes. Some die peacefully at the door to their children’s homes. Generations of trollmothers mark the path down the slope to Hryggda’s cave-home. In full daylight, Hryggda and Iarnsaxa and Sivor will introduce this baby to the grandmothers. Once she is named. But for now, Hryggda only greets them, one by one as she picks her way down the falls-path.
But the grandmothers are stone and do not breathe. She hears breathing. Not her own, not the child’s. Are her wives awake and waiting at the door?
Hryggda turns a corner down the zigzagging cliff path. Someone steps out from between the shoulders of two hunched old grandmothers. Not Iarnsaxa or Sivor but a trollwife. Dressed in a green moss-cloak and fur-vest, with bright eyes and heavy brows and a bearded jaw. Hryggda does not recognize this troll.
“What do you do, trollsister, here among my grandmothers?” Hryggda asks. “Have you come calling on my family?”
The trollwife smiles and inclines her head. “Merely paying my respects to these ancestors in passing. I did not know they watched the door of a home.”
“I thank you for your respect,” Hryggda says. She is pleased to have a visitor, infrequent as they are, but she does not want this visitor now, when it is a time for family. But she must make customary greetings, politenesses. “What a fine beard you have, trollsister. What big and crooked teeth. Your beauty is remarkable.”
“Thank you kindly,” the trollwife says. “My speeches also to your beauty. I will not detain you in your homecoming.”
The trollwife steps aside to let Hryggda pass. Hryggda notices as she does so that this trollwife’s body-smell is strange, unlike the growing, cold and deep-wood smell of most trolls. But Hryggda is too eager to be home to pay it mind. She walks down the path and comes to the next turning. As she rounds the bend she hears a terrible sound: a growl, a howling screech.
Her first thought is that the wolf has come and attacked the trollwife. She turns and charges back up the path, but it is immediately clear that she is wrong.
The trollwife has thrown off her moss-cloak and troll-guise. She is no trollwife at all. She is the wolf, and he is hungry. The moon has followed Hryggda, intent to guard her all the way to the vine-door of her stone-hollow-home. But here, day is coming and the moon is weary, and she does not expect an attack so close to home. The wolf’s snarl is loud and his mouth is red—not the fox-red of Hryggda’s shawl-hood but the life-red of a violent death.
“Stop!” Hryggda calls. She bounds forward. But the baby wakes, jostled. She begins to cry, and Hryggda cannot defend the moon with a baby on her chest. She can only watch as the moon retreats between two of the grandmothers, as the wolf snarls, and the baby cries, and the waterfall thunders like the laughter of Thor. The weak daylight must offer some protection to the white night-ship, but not enough to defend her from the hunger of the wolf.
“Wolf!” Hryggda cries. “You have made an enemy of trollwives.”
But the wolf doesn’t pause, and his teeth slash, and the moon is not hidden deep enough between the two grandmothers. These old stone women cannot move to protect her. When the wolf leans back, his white teeth have dripping red on them. On the horizon Hryggda can see a rising tide of pink, the moon’s blood diluted by clouds. But she isn’t dead, only wounded.
“Hryggda!” a voice comes, and up the path from the cave-home Iarnsaxa and Sivor come running.
Hryggda feels relief wash through the marrow of her bones to see them. “A wolf is trying to eat the moon,” she calls before they reach her.
“And the baby?” Sivor asks. The baby is still crying.
“Here.” Hryggda pats her. “Only woken.”
Iarnsaxa’s fingers brush Hryggda’s in passing. She charges up the path. She is carrying an axe, the one they use to chop wood for their fires, sharp and gleaming black. She leaps onto the wolf’s back, lands astride him like a horse. He stumbles under her weight.
“Wolf,” Sivor calls, following, ready to help. “There are three of us, broad as boulders, supple as willows, angry as mother bears. There is only one of you, and you are hungry.”
The wolf snarls. Iarnsaxa leans forward and brings the axe around, touching its sharp edge to the wolf’s neck. Trollwives always know where to find the life-veins. “You have tasted the moon,” Hryggda says. “That is more than enough. Let her descend to lick her wounds and rest.”
“I will cut your throat,” Iarnsaxa says into the wolf’s fur-tufted ear, “if you do not leave here and swear never again to threaten the moon.”
But the wolf laughs. “They call me Moongarm,” he says. His voice is hoarse and stilted by the closeness of the axe. “I am not named such for no reason. One day I will eat the moon.”
“But it will not be today,” Hryggda responds. “Or on any day she guards a changeling’s homecoming.”
“That I concede,” Moongarm says. “Let me go.”
“You make a fine mount,” Iarnsaxa says. “How fast you would take me to visit my sisters and cousins.”
“I will not play fjord-horse to a trollwoman.”
The moon has disappeared, slipped away from between the grandmothers, limping to her rest. The sky is still pink with her blood and the sun’s coming.
“No,” Iarnsaxa says. “Today is not the day for that. It is a day for my family. I will let you go.” She does not move the axe as she slides off the wolf’s back. It stays still at his throat as she walks around to face him. She meets his eye.
The wolf turns to look at Hryggda. “Well met, trollmother,” he says. “Your wives are fearsome. I do not doubt your child will grow to be equally dangerous to wolves.”
“Perhaps she will tame them as horses,” Hryggda says.
The wolf grins crooked and bloody. “I think not.”
Now that Iarnsaxa is off his back, the wolf sidles away from the axe. He rests a wary eye on her, and then he turns and goes, loping up the path and away.
Silence from the trollwives. The baby, before quieted by the rhythm of voices, begins to cry again. This wakes them all, prompts them into motion like swift water cracking its thin ice-roof. Iarnsaxa and Sivor converge on Hryggda, begin unwrapping her red shawl. Iarnsaxa reaches in to touch a tuft of hair on the baby’s head.
“Home safe,” Sivor says. “Did the exchange go well?”
“Perfectly,” Hryggda says. “It was only the homecoming that was an adventure.”
Sivor smiles and kisses Hryggda. Surrounded by attention, the baby’s cries trail off again.
The morning is cold. The sun is rising. Weary, Hryggda leads the way down the path to their stone-hollow-home. With her wives at her back, there is no fear behind her, but stepping through the rustling vines that protect the doorway is a relief all the same.
On the table, the white stone bowl sits waiting, splashed with the red of the changeblood.
Hryggda peels the shawl away, and before the baby has time to cry she is placed into the bowl, head propped against its smooth stone side. The baby’s mouth forms a ring of surprise, her eyes wide as she looks up at her new mothers. How strange it is that this familiar emotion is so recognizable on one so small.
All their hands reach to touch the baby, and Hryggda stands shoulder to shoulder with her wives. In turns they dip their forefingers in the changeblood and paint the symbols of the first trollwives on the baby’s breastbone. Then each of them paints her own symbol of their family on the crown of the baby’s head.
Troll magic is not a thing of words and lightning. It is a thing of liquid connection, rivers and veins, purpose and life. Hryggda can’t help but look away from the baby to watch her wives’ faces as they wake this magic. Sivor’s face spills joy like the summer’s first elderflower wine. Iarnsaxa holds energy in the joints of her hands and the force of her smile.
“Are we decided on her name?” Iarnsaxa asks, as she lifts the baby dripping from the changebath into the blanket in Hryggda’s arms.
Sivor readies a clean damp cloth to wipe away the changeblood. “I think so.”
“How can we name her anything else now?” Hryggda says, looking down at their daughter. “She has already escaped a beast of the night. Her name will be Morn.”