In truth, Karr was a Grenorn, half Grendel and half Norn. His Norn traits were predominant, and you would never know he had Grendel in him except for one thing:
One of his arms was pure Grendel.
He couldn't go anywhere without the Grendel arm being noticed. Gardenfalls was so populated that even in the quietest corners, there was sure to be a norn close by. And if anyone caught him venturing over to Islandtree (which they always did), they would steer him around forcibly, warning him that Islandtree was no place for anyone, even a tough halfbreed like him.
So Karr decided, after some time, that if you couldn't beat 'em, you had to join 'em. So, when Karen, the leader of Gardenfalls, announced that she was holding a Public Service Application in the Kitchen, Karr was the first one there.
Karr was tall, even for the current stage of norn evolution, so he was easily noticed, even aside from the Grendel arm. Everyone moved apart for him when he left the Kitchen. The position that Karr had applied for was unlikely, to say the least. He had chosen to be a teacher to the young norns.
The next day, bright and early, Karr awakened from his fireside sleep. Yawning loudly, he took a sip from the coffee pitcher, then took the lift up to the computer room. As Albia awakened, Karr moved over to the teleporter so he could get a panorama of the garden.
Many norn mothers and fathers were being awakened by hyper children, who were impatient to be escorted to the computer room to meet the new teacher. Karr smiled as he idly wondered what the young ones would think of him. The smile evaporated as he looked resignedly at his Grendel arm. He loathed the Grendel blood in him, loathed the tell-tale arm, but most of all, loathed the fact he could do nothing about it.
He turned his attention to the Garden again. The young ones had crowded on the teleporter, saying goodbye to their parents while Karen got ready to escort them to the computer room. Karr stepped back several paces and waited for them to teleport in.
Moments later, the youths appeared in a flash of light. Their happy enthusiasm melted into shy astonishment when they laid eyes on Karr's Grendel arm. Karr took a small step forward, and they cringed.
"Hey, don't worry," he said, hurriedly and softly. "I don't secrete Glycotoxin or anything." He smiled at them, a gruff but warm smile. One of them giggled, and Karr knew he had weathered the storm.
"So," Karr said, sitting down, "tell me about yourselves. Let's get to know each other."
The three children started introducing themselves in rapid-fire.
"My name is Annie and I live over in the Slide Room...."
"I'm Sam, and my family lives near Lover's Leap..."
"My name is Sassy, and I live near the Hives...."
Almost unnoticed, a shy young norn climbed up the side of the house and into the computer room. Karr noticed him though, and waved to him. The kid smiled and waved back. Sitting down next to Sassy, he smiled shyly and said, "Me bibble Roxy, foo dat Islandtree."
A sudden silence claimed the other students, as they stared at the Islandtreer in a strange mixture of awe and indignation. How could this ruffian even dare to come to Gardenfalls? Sassy was edging so far from Roxy that she bumped into Sam, who, in turn, scooted over until he bumped into Annie, who continued the movement. They did that until Annie bumped against the computer.
"Hey, stop that," said Karr angrily, as he got to his feet. "A norn is a norn is a norn, so why should it matter if Roxy here is from Islandtree?"
"They live with the Grendel!"
"Yeah, an' they only talk Nornish!
"Might I point out to you, young man, that you _are_ a norn?"
"Yeah, but English is a better language than Nornish!"
"That is most definitely a matter of opinion, and - hey, Roxy? Roxy?"
Roxy, offended, had run over to the teleporter and pushed the button. In a flash of light, he was gone. Karr turned an angry eye to the other students.
"See what you did?? You hurt his feelings, and now he doesn't think it was worth it to risk the wrath of both Gardenfalls AND Islandtree to get an education! That was a very cruel thing you three did. You shouldn't think less of me because I'm part Grendel, so why should you think less of Roxy because he's from Islandtree?"
For the life of them, neither Sassy, Annie, or Sam could think of a good reason.
One night, when all of Gardenfalls was asleep, Karr sneaked carefully away. He felt a small thrill of excitement as he passed over the canopy bridge. He kept gong, all the way to the Player Piano, which was considered neutral ground. Any farther, and he would be in the small Albian jungle, which was the beginning of the Islandtree territory. Boldly but anxiously, he snuck quietly over. He stopped to take a drink of water at the pump in the jungle, reflecting briefly that Gardenfalls had no such pump. Well, they did, but it didn't work. Then, he went on. Easing quietly into the submarine, he started the engine and the sub submerged. Karr thrilled quietly to himself, aware that he was doing something that was not allowed. But he didn't care.
The submarine docked, and when he got out, he was mildly surprised to find Roxy waiting for him!
"I knew you'd come," said Roxy, in Nornish. "Ira predicted it. He's quite wise, for a Grendel."
"Islandtree is ruled by a Grendel?" hissed Karr incredulously.
"No. He's just the prophet."
"Ssssshh! The prophet."
"You guys have a prophet?"
"Yeah. We always have. Sometimes it's a norn, sometimes it's a Grendel. but we always have a prophet."
"How can they tell the future?"
"The Hand tells them sometimes, sometimes they do it on their own."
"The Hand? Oh sure. There's no such thing as the Ha--"
"Oh no?" asked an entirely different voice off to Karr's side. The grenorn turned carefully, and nearly fainted dead away right there. Sure enough, a large hand seemed to be hovering in the air there. Karr nearly went cross-eyed keeping his eyes on the Hand as it floated towards him.
"Uh, Roxy?" asked Karr, not taking his eyes off the hand, "what's it doing?"
"Don't worry," giggled Roxy.
The Hand tickled karr on the nose right about then. Karr assumed the move was an attempt to try and help sooth his frazzled nerves. It worked, a little.
"Bye," called the Hand, floating away. Karr turned back to Roxy.
"Uh, does the Hand always make sudden appearances like that?"
"Always. You know, for some reason it always hovers around us, as if it was worried we couldn't survive on this island. There is a bit of a shortage of natural food, and not all of us like coconuts, but between the hypercarrot dispensers and the occasional stolen lemon from the Garden, we do all right. Plus, the pumps on the Island and in the jungle keep us from getting too thirsty."
"Y'know," mused Karr, "it seems the Islandtree norns have a better life than us Gardenfalls norns. I mean, sure, the hives and garden are on our territory, and we have a great view from the watchtower, and we have a few other things you guys don't, but you guys have healthier food than our carrots, lemons, and honey, and you must have just as good a view from the edge of your island, and who needs a cannon, or a fire, or alcohol? I think the Gardenfalls norns have gotten soft, and can't really enjoy norn life as it should be. Our nation is overcrowded, and we have more luxuries than we know what to do with. You guys don't have that many luxuries, and what you do have is plenty for you, so you actually live life instead of watching it pass by lazily like the Gardenfalls norns."
The adolescent Islandtreer was very impressed by Karr's speech.
"That's true. The hypercarrots and coconuts aren't much, but they're enough to supply us. You guys may have all the plants and we have almost all the weeds, but we know not to eat the weeds and who needs plants when you have a hypercarrot dispenser?"
"Tell ya what," Karr said, "I'll try to get the Gardenfalls norns to chill out about Islandtree. I'll tell about your nation, and hopefully they'll see what's wrong."
Roxy smiled. "Well, before you go, I hope you'll spend a night here. If there's one thing we Islandtreers really pride ourselves on, it's the nightlife."
Karr grinned back. "I'd be glad to."
Karr made his way carefully back into the garden, still slightly giddy from the party on Islandtree. Albia still didn't exactly have day and night, but that didn't dampen the wild "nightlife" on Islandtree. Karr didn't think he'd be able to sleep for at least a month. He was still surprised that the Islandtreers managed to have such incredibly wild nights with so few possessions. A trumpet, the radio, a hypercarrot dispenser, and the parties were wild.
He looked around. He had come back just in time. Norns were waking up, the children were getting hyper, and he had to get to the computer room. Running frantically to the teleport, he hit the button and started getting the toys and books out. Two volumes of the Encyclopedia Nornica, the top, a ball, and a bubble wand, and he was all set. Soon, the eager children teleported in.
"Hi, Karr!" gushed Sassy, which set of a chorus of "Hi!"s from Sam and Annie.
"Hi there," grinned Karr. "How is everyone today?"
They went on as usual. He read to them from the Encyclopedia Nornica, grabbed some carrots for their lunch, let them play with the toys for a little while. When class was over for the day, Karr decided to tell everyone about Islandtree. He took the lift down to the Kitchen, and started looking for Karen. He found her, as usual, sitting by the player piano and staring towards Islandtree. Karr had to feel a bit sorry for her, she had loved Nathan so much, and it must have been terrible when he died. He wondered why Karen didn't hate him for being half Grendel, since a Grendel had killed Nathan. He shook his head in disgust. Another reason for him to hate his Grendel blood. Tapping her on the shoulder, he said, "Karen? I have something to say to you."
She stood and turned around, having to look up at him, being shorter than he was. "Yes?" she replied.
Karr took a deep breath. "I spent a night on Islandtree last night, and it was great. I want to make a speech to tell everyone about the place, and how it's not as bad as we think."
Karen smiled, as if she had known this would happen. Karr was impossible to restrain for long, he was like a tiger. "Alright, I'll announce it."
Karr was very relieved.
Karr watched the Garden silently from the Treehouse, smiling a bit as the trading went on. His speech had gone very well, and the two nations had made peace with each other and now traded provisions and such. Anyone from either nation was free to enter the other nation without being hassled about it. Islandtreers were being taught English, and everything was going fine. Karr smiled a bit wider, thinking that all was now well.
He stood and turned, walking along the wooden floor of the treehouse. It was the first time he had ever walked there. He was walking slowly and not looking where he was going, and was nearly startled out of his mind when he heard a dark, low, grunting voice speak to him.
"I hear you've united the two nations."
"No, I have not, I only showed them that there was no reason not to."
"Fool!" cried the Grendel. "You are a fool! Whether or not you united them it was foolish to do so! Too kind!"
Karr stared at the Grendel, a strange sense of calm washing over him. This is not Ira, he told himself. This is an evil Grendel. He managed to push the thought of him being part Grendel from his mind.
"Have you ever truly considered your Grendel blood? Ever truly felt it pound in your veins as you stalk in the darkness?"
"I am a Norn. My allegiance lies with my kind." He would never know what made him say that, it just slipped out. In response, the Grendel laughed harshly.
"Fool," he said. "You are not a Norn. Your arm is proof. You are part Grendel. You know this. Yet you shun the darkness in you in favor of the light. Why? The light is too bright, too kind. Darkness is the true power."
Karr had been growing outraged as the Grendel spoke, and now he knew what he would do. Yes, he thought, I will let the Grendel in me take power. I will.
His left hand curled into a deadly fist.
"Good," rasped the Grendel. "You understand your power, and you will use it."
"Yes," said Karr, "I will use it. ON YOU!"
Without any further warning, he struck out with the Grendel arm, the arm he had loathed and despised his entire life, probably breaking every bone in the Grendel's face. A slap with the Norn hand struck the beast off balance, and Karr mercilessly punched him, again and again, using the power of the Grendel in him. Unleashing a lifetime of pent-up rage.
Thrilling in the fight.
He paused, trembled, and realized what he had been thinking.
He had enjoyed it.
He had enjoyed every blow, not because he was getting revenge on the Grendel, but because he had been harming. Inflicting pain. He left the Grendel there, and ran.
He didn't know what he was running from, whether it was from the Grendel, himself, or that place where the Grendel in him had taken over. Non-stop, he continued across Albia until he reached the Watchtower, where he very nearly jumped over the edge and into the water, to drown himself, to end it, to resolve the conflict inside him. But something made him stop and stand, instead, staring at the water which seemed to beckon him to his doom. He did not want to die. He only wanted the Grendel inside him gone, to be pure norn. Tears stung his eyes as he realized that the grendel was right. He was not a Norn. He was nothing and everything, a halfbreed, an outcast, just one piece of the puzzle that didn't fit right. He wasn't a Norn, but he wasn't a Grendel either. He was both, and yet neither. How, how could he ever know exactly what he was?
Grenorn. Only a word, almost hateful. Grenorn. Halfbreed. Both and neither. All and nothing.
He sat there crying for a long time, feeling more alone than he had ever felt.
"What's wrong, Karr?"
It was Karen. Karr turned to face her. The company of the beautiful immortal was comforting to Karr, and he realized that he had wanted to talk to someone.
"I ran in with a Grendel," he said, and took a deep breath. "I ran in with a Grendel, and he told me that I was too kind to cause Islandtree and Gardenfalls to unite, and said that I should align with the darkness, and I told him I was a Norn, and he said no you're not, you're part Grendel, and I started punching him and realized that I enjoyed hurting him, not because he was a Grendel but because I was hurting him, and I ran, and nearly jumped over the edge of the Watchtower and I hate being a Grenorn and I want to be a norn, and I want to fit in. That's all I want, to be normal." There. It had all poured out. Karen was looking at him with an expression that was a mixture of sympathy, understanding, and sadness.
"I know how you feel, Karr," she said. "I don't fit in either. I'm immortal, I can never die."
"But you're the leader of Gardenfalls."
"Yes, but Norns tend to go all quiet when I walk by, and if I try to talk to them, they're too shy. I truly understand how you feel, Karr, I really do."
Karr smiled a bit, knowing he was no longer alone in Albia, he couldn't be as long as he lived.
But Karen was immortal, and he was not. She would live forever, and he wouldn't. And when he died, she would be alone again. He decided that he would ask the Hand to make him immortal too, so that Karen would never be alone. Ever.
"OK, that ought to do it for you Karr, do you feel any more healthy?"
"A lot more."
"Time to test it."
Karr nodded, not wanting to do it, but he had to, to know if the Hand had done it right. Taking the lift down the the Deathcap mushroom, he convinced himself to take a bite.
"GAACCKK!!" He gagged on the foul taste of it and took the lift up, back to Karen and the Hand.
"Did it work?" he got out between gags.
"Sure did," said the hand. "I'm not seeing any decrease in life force."
Karr and Karen both grinned and hugged each other. Karr was truly happy for the first time in his life. He knew there would be bright futures ahead, especially because he could share them with the only other immortal in Albia. He started to cry, not for sorrow this time, but for absolute joy. He wasn't alone anymore. Not at all.