Hyndla surged to her feet, blocking half the firelight just with her body. Hildr sat rigid in her chair, her hands tight upon the armrests, refusing to look away from her mother's distraught face. "I raised you to conquer, Hildr, to be deep-minded and courageous, not to be a squatter in some cold, rotting hall! And not to break other people's laws, either" she added. Hyndla shook her head sternly, the long coil of her silver hair falling down behind her back. "You can do better than this, and frankly, you're going to have to. At this rate, you're embarrassing me."
"Perhaps you regret adopting me," said Hildr. Her body was so rigid it ached, and her face felt like it had frozen. Her lips moved stiffly as she said, "Perhaps it would have been better if I had frozen to death in the car."
"Oh, you would have lived," said Hyndla quietly, almost absently. "It was almost dawn then. You'd already made it past the worst of the night. We were all so amazed, Laufey and I and the others. We thought for sure you would have frozen by then, like your parents had, but when we passed the wreck the second time, there you were, watching us through that broken window. I said to them, 'Now, here's a child with some backbone. She'll do great things.' So I took you back with me, to Jotunheim, where you could learn how to do them."
Hildr had heard the story of her adoption endlessly--since, in fact, she had been rescued by Hyndla from that car crash. Marveling at the four-year-old's ability to survive the temperatures, Hyndla and the other giants had taken her back with them, as a kind of reward for her refusal to die. It had never before occurred to Hildr that she might fail that early promise, but there was no denying now that Hyndla certainly thought she had.
Guilty, strangely afraid, Hildr wanted to tell her, I'm sorry. But she checked herself at the last minute. What was she apologizing for? Had she asked to be taken from that wreck? No more than she had subsequently asked to be so summarily dismissed, sixteen years later, from the only home she could remember.
"I will do great things," said Hildr, raising her chin and glaring at her mother. "And I will do them my way."
"Now that's the spirit," said Hyndla approvingly. "So long as those ways aren't the elf-ways. And you get out of this hall. And get some babies."
"What?" Hildr nearly snarled.
"You need grounding. Children are good for that. Especially for human women."
Hildr could hardly believe her ears. The taunts of the trolls were still fresh in her memory:
Go away, little girl.
To your little house and electric lights.
To your endless breeding and your short, short life.
That was what humans did: they bred. They bred continuously, endlessly, unstoppably. They made babies even when they couldn't feed them, even when sickness would take them, even when their children would be just as miserable as they. It was mankind's short-fingered grasping at immortality, this greedy need to make more, more, more of themselves, in a desperate attempt to forget how swiftly death would pluck them. All the other races knew this.
And Hildr was only human, was that it? She was broody and moody now, but a few pregnancies would set her straight. It's what she had been made for, after all. That was how her people were.
"Get out," said Hildr between her teeth.
"What?" Hyndla boomed, staring down at her with round amber eyes.
Habit nearly prevailed, and Hildr almost quailed beneath that stern, motherly gaze. Instead, she stood up, pushing the armchair back with a screech. The top of her head came only to her mother's shoulder, but she stood with her face uplifted, staring defiantly into Hyndla's wide-set eyes.
"I said, 'Get out,'" said Hildr levelly. She was so overcome with rage that she was shaking, but she kept her voice cold. "You've lost the right to show up and tell me how to live my life. If you wanted that kind of control you should have kept me with you, in Jotunheim. You didn't. So. Get. Out."