On the hill called Dachaigh Nan Trolls (or, Heimorr crollsrinn in some Viking records), there stood a castle. Its oldest standing parts dated to the 11th Century, but the hill held marks of an older timber motte and bailey version, an even more ancient hill fort, and perhaps an original settlement of houses typical of the period of Stonehenge’s building. The country around was beautiful in that wild way of the Highlands, but not much agricultural use except for grazing sheep and the hardy Highlands cattle. From the castle towers and walls there was a wide view of the nearby North Sea. It was a land’s end sort of place.
The hill and its castle, as well a quite span of the surrounding land, were getting a new owner. The old Laird (formally, a titled Thane) had died just shy of a century of age. He had spent freely modernizing the newest parts of the castle and restoring older parts. But, he had out lived his sons, and in fact all his direct family in the UK and Europe. The executors of the estate had found his nearest of kin off in America. Now, the staff waited to meet their new employer, wondering and worrying some whether a young man from sunny California would be actually interested in living in and maintaining a great pile of stone and brick on the stormy coast of the cold, gray northern sea. They also faced, once again, the task of explaining themselves and their connection to the place, this time to one who might not even know the history and legends surrounding it and them.
“The letter gives his title as a doctor, so he must be learned. Is that good or bad?”
“Well, as a doctor he won’t find much business around here, unless he’s a veterinarian and good with sheep.”
“What if he wants to go back to America and rent the place out?”
“OH! Dear Danu preserve us. That’s all we need is a parade of rich idiots on holiday.”
“We will just have to play this by ear as they say. Now, everybody look properly servantish. He’s arrived.”
Introductions were done. The young man explained that he was not a medical doctor, but a university professor of Anthropology. He also said that the old Laird, his great great uncle had, shortly before his last illness, sent him a history of the castle and the area, including local legends and stories. He also seemed fascinated by their appearance. They were very well aware that they looked odd to most people, so this was not a surprise, and the more so considering his profession.
Finally, he said, “The stories about this place, and even its name, mention Trolls. I can see, meaning no offense, how you all could be taken for such beings. There is a speculation that the stories of Trolls grew out of early contacts between modern humans and our Neanderthal cousins. You folks look to fit the reconstructions of how those people looked. But it is hard for me to imagine how such a small family could have survived some twenty or thirty thousand years without marrying into the modern population and getting lost genetically. What happened?”
The eldest spoke. “If you really want to know, and are ready to believe something unheard of in science, and to keep it to yourself and not turn us into laboratory specimens, we will tell you.”
“And what would happen” the newcomer asked, “if I were to betray that trust?”
“We’ve had a great deal of experience over an exceedingly long time judging the character of your kind and deciding whom we can trust. Accidents have been know to happen on these Highland roads and on the sea cliffs.” said the eldest.
“I expect there is a long standing necessity in play there. Tell me, please, how long have you lived in the castle?”
“Yes, there is,” said the eldest, “we can’t allow some scientists to reconstruct and possibly recreate what happened to us. Imagine the most wealthy, powerful and ruthless men of the world becoming immortal. We have always lived in the castle, since it was built, and on and in this hill (There is a cave.) since long before.”
Then came the story of how a mysterious illness long, long ago came to a band of hunter-gatherers, leaving half of them dead and the rest apparently immortal, not aging, and sterile, and the deals made with the newcomers who eventually built first a village, then hill forts and castles on the hill, with the help and the presumed magical protection of the resident “Trolls”.
*Dachaigh nan trolls = “Home of the Trolls” in Gaelic – Heimorr crollsrinn in Old Norse
Danu – The mother goddess of the Celtic pantheon (the “Tuatha dé Danann” in Irish Gaelic)
Thanks to L. Sprague de Camp for his story “The Gnarly Man” as inspiration.
Bob Wertzler is retired from almost twenty years in the mental health field in California and Arizona. There are times the title, “Recovering Therapist”, seems to fit. In 2006 he retired to move to Western North Carolina to help and become primary care giver for his father who had developed Dementia. Before all that, there was work at various times as a soldier (US Army 1967-70), community organizer, cab driver, welfare case worker, wooden toy maker, carpenter, warehouse worker, and other things. He relates to a line in a Grateful Dead song, “What a long, strange trip its been.”