Content warning: violence, abuse
Don’t cry. If you cry, your lamina won’t form.
Adamite the troll forced the sting from his eyes as he stared at his damaged knee. He had fallen on the scree, and the sharp stones had bitten hard. There were specks of dirt and ragged pieces of torn skin in the centre of the wound, but its edges were already beginning to darken. Streaks of red, like veins of ruby running through rock, glinted in the sunshine. His leg burned like a stone left in the noonday sun.
He was young, and his skin was still soft. For now.
In time, a scab would form, and then it would fall off leaving a new surface of smooth rock, and the warm softness would become hard and cool to the touch. It was called a lamina, and it was how trolls became stone. It was how they became truly trolls.
The air in the mountains was crisp, almost crystalline. It chilled his skin and, just for a moment, he felt sadness that he might lose that sensation, soon.
Adamite took a deep breath and stood up.
It was not long after that day that his grandfather was broken. Men had come to the mountain with their red tubes which hissed and made smoke that smelled of overripe fruit. The men looked harmless – too fragile to harm a creature such as a troll – but humans could be remarkably, surprisingly destructive.
His grandfather had been too old to move much, preferring to sit and let the thin sunshine warm his rhyolite skin. The men’s sticks called the thunder and focused the lightning, and the old troll’s head had shattered into a hundred thousand pieces.
The men had taken his calcite eyes. Amazingly clear, they said.
Adamite and his father studied what was left of the broken remains.
“We must be the trolls he can no longer be,” said his father, quietly.
Then he scraped the flint-sharp side of his foot down the back of Adamite’s still-soft legs. The pain was excruciating, but he didn’t cry.
“You must be strong,” said his father. “This will make you strong.”
Shattering stone. Breaking skin. Adamite cried out as Psilomelane’s fist slammed into his cheek. His mouth was full of wet copper. His father had left his face untouched, but other trolls had no such hesitancy.
The rock beneath his back was too hard, and that was wrong. A real troll marks the ground, not the other way around.
“Stupid baby,” hissed Psilomelane, through amethyst teeth. “You’ll thank me for this.”
Psilomelane was mostly stone. There were, Adamite noticed with a strange sort of detachment, only a few patches that were still unchanged. One was around his neck. The matt skin there contrasted sharply with the dark grey that covered his face.
Adamite wondered how it would feel to lock his fingers around that soft neck.
It wasn’t only the outside of trolls that changed, of course. They had to become stone all the way through.
It was a summer day when Adamite first broke his own son’s skin. Harebell flowers were scattered over the landscape, and the air was full of grass and sunshine. Adamite’s lamina was long complete. He glittered in the sunshine, smooth stone which almost seemed polished, dotted with flecks of silver and green crystals. His eyes were perfect ovals of green chrysoprase. His teeth were shards of yellow corundum.
His son was still soft and warm to the touch. When Adamite looked at him, he felt a twinge of disgust.
He had to do it. His son had to be strong, as he himself had become strong.
And so he picked up handfuls of sharp gravel, circled his son’s arm with his own hands, and forced the small stones into the child’s skin. In, and down.
Dark fluid welled in the wounds. The young troll didn’t cry out, and that was good. His eyes, though, were too bright.
“Don’t cry,” said Adamite sharply, “it will stop your lamina from forming. Trolls must never cry.”
The child nodded. “I know,” he said.
His voice was full of the determination of youth. Somewhere inside, Adamite felt the heat of molten rock. The energy could not escape; it was locked in by his cool, rocky surface. The fires inside roared, and swelled.
He looked away from his son, and his chest burned.
I wrote this story 9 months ago and it has nagged at me ever since. It was difficult to write and it is still, even though of course I know what it says, difficult to read. And I’m agonising over the submit button even now. But it’s here because I feel it’s imporant. I’m a woman and I fully support women’s rights, but I also understand that it can be hard to be a man in modern society, particularly if you are not a man who fits traditional male stereotypes. When you force someone, anyone, into a box that doesn’t fit them, they have two options: to defy and break the box, or to become misshapen. Both of those options involve pain.
Perhaps, as a society, we could decide to stop forcing people into boxes in the first place.
If you need support, please know that there organisations who can help. One is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM. Follow the link for more details.