With her heart beating frantically in her chest, Taïga sits up straight in her bed. A little disoriented, she looks around her dimly lit room. Vulturu. Missy’s house.
She doesn’t hesitate for long. Swinging her legs over the the edge of the bed, she runs over the landing towards her grandmother’s room.
She scrambles up onto the bed and leans over the deeply sleeping figure.
‘Please, Granny,’ she whispers, shaking her grandmother’s shoulder lightly. ‘Wake up!’
Granny grunts and turns her back towards the scared child. Taïga shakes her shoulder again with insisting. ‘Wake up!’
Granny blinks leaning on an elbow. ‘What’s the matter!?!’
‘I’m scared, Granny.’
‘Hush now… It was only a bad dream, Taïga…’ Granny mutters, but she hoists herself to a sitting position nevertheless.
‘I know… But it seemed so real. More like something I remember than a dream, actually. A souvenir,’ she adds with conviction.
‘Would you like to talk about it?’ Granny says a little reluctantly. She would like to get back to sleep, she has been strangely tired since returning from Monte Aquila.
‘I don’t know…’ Taïga curls up next to her, pushing the pillows a little.
‘You’ll feel better if you tell me about it. You’ll realize it was nothing else but a bad dream,’ Granny says sleepily, arranging a pillow behind her back and putting her right arm behind her granddaughter’s frail shoulders, pulling her a little closer.
Taïga hesitates. ‘I usually forget the bad dreams, Granny. Are you sure it’s not better if I could just stay here and finish the night with you?’
‘I won’t always be here, Taïga. You must learn to face your fears, and telling someone is a good way to take the drama out of any situation.’
Taïga nods solemnly. Granny is right. But she’ll better hurry telling her before she forgets about it all.
‘OK… I was in Monte Aquila, at mom’s place. It was bizarre… I was in your room, sleeping…’
‘OK… I was in Monte Aquila, at mom’s place. It was bizarre… I was in your room, sleeping…’
‘I asked him what was going on. He scared me…’
‘Who scared you?’ Granny asks, stifling a yawn.
‘The Butler. He came barging into my room while I was sleeping.’
‘Really? Why would he do that?’
‘I don’t know. He wanted to take me somewhere. Granny, I won’t be able to tell you my dream if you ask me questions all the time.’
‘If I ask you questions, it’s because I’m interested,’ Granny answers tartly. And to keep me awake, she thinks.
‘Oh. Well, first it was his clothes.’
Granny raises an eyebrow but refrains from commenting.
‘He was dressed in old clothes, like really old – 200 years or more. And he told me I had to step through the mirror.’
‘Through the mirror?’ Granny murmurs.
‘Yes… There was a big mirror, right between the windows looking out over the sea, you know, where there were a bookcase. And it was scary, too!’
A scary mirror. Granny represses a smile. ‘How was it scary? Describe it for me,’ she says softly, resting her head against the headboard.
‘It was like… Big, really huge!’ Taïga shows the size with her hands stretched out far, turning slightly towards her grandmother. ‘Granny, if you close your eyes you can’t see how huge it was.’
Guiltily Granny blinks.
‘-and there were sculptures-’
‘What kind of sculptures?’ Granny smiles wanly, trying a feeble joke, ‘Gargoyles?’
‘No. They- Well, I don’t know what a Gargoyle is.’
‘It’s a fantastic or mythical figure, carved in stone on a cathedral to lead water away from the walls-’
‘Granny. I’m talking about a mirror, not a church. And they seemed to be in iron, but then they looked at me and flapped their wings.’
‘Griffins then? Half lion, half eagle.’
‘No, it was two dragons, with wings, and their tails were the support of the mirror. They kind of held the mirror in their… err… paws? Or maybe they tried to climb it,’ she adds thoughtfully.
Granny isn’t smiling anymore. She has heard about the Dragon Mirror. ‘Go on Taïga. Tell me everything.’ she urges, suddenly aware of the importance of the dream.
‘Well… The dragons weren’t as scary as the mirror itself.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t see myself. It wasn’t a mirror at all! It was more like a… A door…’
‘The Butler told me to do it before it was too late. So I held my breath and stepped through the mirror.’
Granny scrutinizes her face. Did she really step through the Dragon Mirror? If so, how come she’s still here? ‘How did it feel? To step through the mirror – how did it feel?’
‘Wow! It was scary, like walking through a wall made of water… You know, when you dip your hand in a bath? But cold.’
Granny nods thoughtfully. What if it wasn’t a dream? But then again – nothing could explain the presence of her granddaughter here. The Dragon Mirror is a portal between worlds, between living and dead. Like in when you step through, you’re dead. End of story. ‘Can you describe what you saw?’ she cuts off Taïga in midsentence.
‘Granny? That’s exactly what I was doing. Are you listening at all to what I say?’
‘Right. Go ahead. Start from the beginning. What was your first impression?’
Taïga closes her eyes. ‘Cold. And damp. The floor planks were rough under my bare feet and the walls were of stone – like the walls you see in old movies with dungeons and such.’ She looks up at Granny to see if she gets the hinge of it. ‘There were small windows with no glass, but with bars – like a prison… And they were situated so high up they barely let in any light at all. But then again, it was night, so…’ She shudders.
‘It was really creepy. I got scared and turned to jump back again. But the mirror had gone all blank. I still couldn’t see myself, but I couldn’t push my hands through neither. As a matter of fact I couldn’t see anything… Suddenly there was a blur of movement in the corner of my eye.’
Granny is waiting for Taïga to continue.
‘Yes, about my age, dark hair and very green eyes, glowing like emeralds. I’m sure it was some kind of alien princess!’
‘What makes you so sure?’
‘Her green eyes, of course. And she had jewelry in her hair. Not a crown, but like a headband-’
‘-a tiara, yes. And a big red stone on a gold chain round her neck.’
Granny analyzes everything Taïga says, taking mental notes about the necklace and the green eyes.
‘She was sitting on the floor in front of the big fireplace, playing with two small dolls. It’s funny, but I recognized them somehow.’
‘Did she say something?’
‘To me? No… I didn’t say anything either. It was a strange feeling. She looked at me, but at the same time she looked through me!’ Taïga shudders as she remembers the words the girl sang over and over again.
Black Lady, Black Lady, answer me
Will the man with the axe lose his queen?
To the laughing boy?
To a jack or a roy?
Black Lady, Black Lady, don’t lie to me
‘Describe the room. The things you saw.’
‘Torches on the walls and a big fireplace. But the room still felt cold… There were fresh flowers and… hay! A ballot of hay!’
Granny murmurs. ‘Probably for the mattress.’
‘And there hung shields, with crossed swords behind.’
‘Could you see if there was a special mark, like unicorns, on the shields?’
‘No… there were carvings, like Viking or Celtic drawings… And there was a kind of red flag on the wall with a strange animal on it… but I think the girls dress had unicorns on it.’ Taïga frowns, trying to recall the details of the girl’s outfit. ‘It was light blue with animals. I think it was unicorns.’
‘But you’re not sure?’
‘There was also a desk and lots of books and scrolls everywhere. I turned some pages here and there, but I couldn’t read them – I think they were written by hand in a very strange language…’
‘Maybe… But the letters were like twigs!’
Granny frowns. Futhark? ‘Would you recognize the writing if I showed you?’
‘Yeah. Probably.’ Taïga continues. ‘And there was an old map on the wall, probably the map of the castle.’
‘Could you reproduce it?’
‘I could always try.’
‘And in the corner was a high pedestal surrounded by more scrolls and potions and a jar with something disgusting in it. Anyway, there was a book on the pedestal… Like your grimoires. I just had to approach, it was like it beckoned… Well, I just had to find out!’
‘I saw the princess reach for the blue wand on the pillow at her feet… but I was intrigued by the table with the old book on it.’
‘A blue wand?’
‘Yeah! Just like the one mom hid before leaving. The one I found.’
‘I see… And what about the book?’
‘It was old. Anyway it looked terribly old.’
‘Did you “turn some pages”?’ Granny asks eagerly. If she has analyzed right what her granddaughter is telling, the spell book could be Lady Ravendancer’s. But what about the princess girl? She had a child. Could it be her?
It takes a few seconds for Granny to realize what question Taïga just answered. ‘Err… Why didn’t you?’
‘Because the girl stood up and she pointed the blue wand directly at me, singsonging! I didn’t want to find out what would happen on my end of the wand. Anyways, the Butler was screaming at me to hurry! The portal was closing.’
‘He was waiting for me by the mirror, waving and stomping his feet. You couldn’t miss the urgency. And I ran. In slow motion.’ She shakes her head.
‘He jumped through first. I stopped and looked over my shoulder at the girl. She really freaked me out, Granny. Staring at me and mumbling and the wand was glowing-’
‘It’s funny… I don’t remember…’
‘Try to recall – was it reddish or greenish?’
Taïga closes her eyes and tries hard to visualize the scene. ‘Neither… it was white!’
Granny lets out sigh of relief. ‘Are you sure? It was white?’
‘Absolutely positive, Granny. Why is it so important?’
‘White is good magic, Taïga!’
‘Oh… Yeah, of course.’
‘Anyways, I knew I had to get out from there, or wake up. Jumping through the mirror seemed like the best option as I could see the room in Monte Aquila now. So I prepared to jump through… That’s when she called out!’
‘You heard her? What did she say?’
‘She said: “Wait! Don’t leave me here! Who are you?”, and I held on to the rim of the mirror. I just knew I couldn’t leave her… It was awful, like my body was torn apart…’
‘I couldn’t hold on anymore, so I had to leave her behind… I could still see her on the other side of the mirror, but I don’t think she could see me… It was awful, Granny! It felt like… dying! Like she was me somehow… and I didn’t want to leave her! It was such a horrible dream! I don’t want to sleep ever again! What if the mirror is back? What if I can’t get back home again?’
Granny doesn’t know what to answer. She is also afraid the mirror will be back, but she can’t very well say that to her granddaughter. She just kisses her forehead and mumbles soothingly, ‘Don’t be afraid. We’ll find a solution to all this. Try to go to sleep now.’
‘So I can I sleep here tonight?’
Absent-mindedly, Granny picks up Miezul Nopţii. ‘Of course, if it makes you feel better…’
She looks out the window at the dark, ominous mountains, caressing the cat.
‘Oh, and Granny! I almost forgot about the cards.’
Granny snaps to attention, and grabs Taïga’s arm. ‘What cards? Tell me! What cards?’
‘Aie! You hurt me, Granny!’
Granny lets go of her, ashamed of her violent reaction. ‘I’m sorry Taiga… But tell me about the cards. Was it an unopened deck of cards? Where they scattered?’ She swallows. ‘Or was it a house of cards?’
Taïga rubs her arm and nods. ‘A house, I guess.’
‘It was a kind of wall made of triangles.’
So a house it was. The future… Granny continues. ‘Four levels, a distinct color for each level?’
Taïga just nods.
‘Do you remember the order?’
‘I think so… Diamonds, Spades –no, the black clover-’
‘If you say so. Then Spades. Hearts at the top.’
Granny stares into space… Then she remembers her scared granddaughter, stroking Taïga’s hair. ‘Do you feel better?’
‘I guess so…’
‘Go to sleep now, I’ll see you in the morning…’
‘Where are you going? Please, hold me, Granny.’
Granny itches to consult her grimoires, but lies down next to her granddaughter, thoughts racing through her head. It wasn’t a dream… and if what she told me now is true… The Spellbook is calling out to her. Or Lady Ravendancer is… Oh, my. The cards. Heart at the top, that means that love will vanquish. But before getting there she’ll have to go through fortune and luck, death and finally love. It’s the death part that worries me…
As soon as the little girl’s respiration comes regularly, she carefully dislodges her arm from under Taïga’s head.
She fiddles around for her slippers, grabbing her robe and tying it firmly around her waist.
She leans against the desk, scanning the documents she had succeeded in rescuing from the fire. She knows the answer is somewhere in the old tomes, but where to start?
Oh, Taïga. How can I protect you? By sending you away? Far from all the dangers and temptations… I just hope it will be enough!
Taïga is visiting the princess girl again that night, but not through the mirror. In a dream she is the prisoner in the tower room, looking up at the blue summer night through the bars, waiting for the North Star.
One day I shall walk under the stars… One day…
Part I – End of Chapter 39
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