- Crystal Kingdom
Five or six necklaces hung around her neck, all of them appearing handmade with leather straps and wood or ivory pendants. The thick straps of leather and hemp she wore around her wrists matched.
“Unnusakkut,” she said, which sounded like oo-new-saw-koot. It was Inuktitut for “Good afternoon,” but with more boredom and annoyance than I’d heard it pronounced before.
“Afternoon,” I replied, since my Inuktitut was never that good.
In school, we had to learn English and French because most of our changelings were in Canada or the U.S., and we also learned Swedish because it was the language of our ancestors. We had some interaction with the Inuit people who lived around Doldastam, so we were taught basic Inuktitut, but I’d rarely used it, so my fluency had gone way down.
“Oh.” She looked up at me in surprise as I unwound the scarf from my face. “Most of the people that stop in here are Inuit.”
I pulled off my hat and brushed my hand through my hair. “I’m from Doldastam, actually.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, and I realized that her left eye was slightly larger than the other, almost imperceptibly. Her nose was petite and turned up at the end, and her skin appeared fair and rather pale. Unruly dark blond hair landed just above her shoulders.
“You don’t look like you’re from Doldastam,” she said, but I’d already come to the conclusion that she didn’t exactly look Kanin either.
“Well, I am.”
That’s when I noticed the WANTED poster tacked up on the bulletin board behind her. The one that Bain had shown me. Right next to Konstantin Black, I saw a black-and-white photo of my face staring right back at me, and I realized that I might have made a mistake coming in here.
“Are you a half-breed like me?” she asked. Her eyes brightened and she stopped slouching.
I nodded. “I’m Kanin and Skojare.”
She smiled crookedly and pointed to herself. “Omte and Skojare.”
I smiled back, hoping to earn some goodwill. “It’s so rare to meet people that share a heritage like that.”
“Maybe where you come from, but not so much around here. Iskyla is where they drop all the trolls they’d rather forget about—unwanted babies, outlaw changelings that can’t hack it, half-breeds that don’t fit in anywhere.” She shook her head. “That’s how I ended up stuck here.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My parents were unmarried royals that didn’t want to lose their inheritance because of a bastard child, but apparently my mother loved me too much to just let me die out in the cold.” She rolled her eyes. “So they dropped me here when I was a week old, and the innkeeper has been putting me to work for my keep ever since.”
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Iskyla. It was very secluded, so we rarely had reason to talk about it. But since it was one of the most isolated towns in the entire troll community, it made sense that it had become a collective dumping ground.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, and I meant it. It had been hard enough for me growing up as a half-breed with parents who wanted me and loved me. I couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like for her growing up in a place like this without anyone.
She shrugged. “It could be worse.” Then her forehead scrunched up and she tilted her head like something had occurred to her. “Hey, didn’t the King die or something?”
I was taken aback by the casual way she broached the subject. Living in the Kanin capital and working for the kingdom, I’d gotten so used to the royalty being talked about with great reverence. But she seemed only vaguely aware that we even had a King.
Here in Iskyla, things were obviously very different. It was so disconnected from the rest of the kingdom—geographically and socially. It was like its own private little island.
“He did,” I said somberly.
“I heard that nobody in Iskyla was allowed to go to the funeral,” she said, then looked down and muttered, “Not that any of us would’ve gone anyway.”
“Ulla!” a voice barked from the back room. “Stop wasting the guest’s time and show her to her room.”
The girl rolled her eyes again, this time even more dramatically than before. “Sorry. I’ll get your room key.”
She turned back around and went into the back room, where she and the innkeeper immediately began sniping at each other. As fast as I could, I leapt up onto the bar and leaned forward. I snatched the WANTED poster of myself off the bulletin board, crumpled it up, and shoved it into my pocket.
I’d just dropped back to my feet when the door swung open again. The teenage girl came out carrying a large metal key attached to a big carved chunk of wood.
“Come on.” She motioned for me to follow her as she went up the stairs, each one of them creaking under her feet.
As I followed her up, I realized how tattered her layers of clothing appeared. The long tunic sweater was frayed at the edges, the fur on the hooded vest was coming out in patches, her heavy leggings were thin in the knees, and even her leg warmers had seen better days. Despite the cold, her feet were bare, and she had on pale blue toenail polish and a toe ring.
At the top of the stairs, she opened a door that had the number 3 painted on it, and she held it open for me. I slid past her into a narrow room with hardly enough space for the queen bed and a rocking chair. Several quilts were piled up on the bed, and a dusty arctic hare had been mounted on the wall.