Shasta was wrong when she thought life would get back to normal again after Granny’s intervention. Leonardo still watches over her like a hawk and she only leaves the house accompanied by him or their butler. Her bump doesn’t seem to grow as she can’t keep anything down and she keeps losing weight. Her exhaustion grows for every day that goes by, so when Granny proposed to let Rowan spend the summer in the Bayou, even Leonardo agreed. But Rowan isn’t happy about leaving – he’s worried about his mother and he’s absolutely not ready to share his parents with a baby!
‘You’ll have fun in Fairview, Rowan. And you’ll be back in September, just in time for the baby!’
The baby, the baby… Always the baby…
Leonardo gives his son some last minute recommendations.
‘You’re a di Grisogno, figlio mio. And as such there are rules that has to be followed…’
Granny and Rowan leaves for the airport. Rowan refuses to talk, looking straight out the window as if trying to record everything about his hometown…
‘Alone – at last! I thought your Mother were settling in!’
‘Leonardo! She only stayed three days… And I think it was kind of her to take Rowan back with her for the summer holidays.’ Shasta briefly closes her eyes. ‘Do you think we did the right thing?’
‘Si, cara mia. Now we shall concentrate on getting you healthy again. It’s important for me that the baby is fine…’
Shasta doesn’t have the strength to ask more questions as she’s afraid Leonardo will discover her big secret – that she is no more a witch…
Taïga was surprised to see Missy coming to pick her up at St Sim’s. Missy explained that Granny had to return to Monte Vista on some urgent business. Strangely Missy didn’t want to talk about it on their flight home, instead she went on and on about vacations and that she needed Taïga to convince Granny to spend Christmas in the Caribbean Sea!
Finally at home, there is a surprise in the garden behind the mansion…
‘You want another carrot, Duke? Here…’ Taïga’s dog Valkyria follows her like a shadow, maybe a little jealous of the old horse and the attention it gets.
Three days later Granny is back – but not alone! There’s a young boy with her.
Granny beams. ‘I brought someone for the summer holidays!’ Taïga just stares. ‘It’s Rowan, don’t you recognize him?’
Taïga continues staring at Rowan. But he was just a baby last summer. ‘Rowan? But Granny!?! What is he doing here?’
‘Taïga. In my study. Now!’
Granny explains the situation to Taïga who switches from jealous to ashamed of herself.
‘… Shasta is not feeling well – she needs calm and quiet, the baby is due soon…’
Taïga runs upstairs to her room and out onto the balcony where she finally lets her tears flow. Please let Mom be OK soon, please please…
Rowan can hear her crying from his hiding place in the garden.
‘I don’t feel welcome here, Peaches. I miss mom and dad and our big sunny house! I knew it would be like this. Taïga doesn’t want me to stay here. Nobody wants me around – not my parents, not my “sister”… I guess Granny only asked me to be kind… Nobody loves me…’ How stupid of me, I’m talking to a rag doll – it’s even worse than talking to myself!
But the tension between the two siblings soon vanishes. Later in the afternoon, Taïga takes Valkyria for a walk…
‘Would you like to walk Valkyria with me? We’re going swimming at Silver Sands!’
‘Sure! I’ll get my things!’
They walk to the only sandy beach in the vicinity.
‘The water isn’t as warm as in Monte Vista, and there are no waves… But you can jump in from that rock over there – if you dare?’
Taïga sets off towards the big rock. ‘Catch me if you can!’ The water is cold. And there are no waves. But they have fun playing in the lake, searching for crayfish and throwing branches in the water to Valkyria who happily jumps in and brings them back…
‘Promise me you won’t laugh?’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘Cross my heart.’
‘OK…’ Rowan takes a deep breath. ‘I’ve got an imaginary friend! It’s a ragdoll. I mean, it’s not really a ragdoll. Well, Granny gave it to me and the other day I just put it down and well, it was real!, Rowan looks expectantly at her. ‘You don’t believe me, do you?’
‘I’m not laughing. You didn’t say I had to believe you! C’mon, I do. Believe you… I’ve got a ragdoll too, maybe it also becomes real if I put it on the ground?’
Taïga and Rowan run off to get their ragdolls and meet up behind the hay bales again.
Reverently they put their dolls on the ground. ‘Look! Buddy is already standing! Is he magical?’
‘Wait. Look at Peaches…’
‘Peaches? You call your ragdoll Peaches?’
‘What’s wrong with Peaches? You call yours Buddy and I don’t comment on that!’
The children are so busy glaring at each other that they don’t notice what’s happening to Peaches. Suddenly the ragdoll is standing tall in front of them. Rowan looks triumphantly at her. ‘See? I told you!’
‘Wow.’ Taïga can hardly believe her eyes. Peaches is just as tall as they are, but he, or she, still looks like a ragdoll. ‘It’s uncanny… Does it move? Or talk?’
Nobody notices little Buddy changing position…
‘Yeah… He talks. Don’t you Peaches?’
But Peaches doesn’t have the time to say anything. Valkyria comes running and barking, and Peaches sets off in a sprint.
‘Wait! Valkyria! Don’t hurt him! Heel!’
But Valkyria doesn’t obey.
‘Peaches! Where are you?’
‘Take away the dog!’ The trembling voice comes from inside the chicken coop.
‘I got her.’ Taïga holds on to a growling Valkyria…
‘Oh my! Those two will be my death… Didn’t you see them? Running like madmen!?!’
Granny looks up at her sister with a little smile. ‘No, I didn’t see them… But I sure heard them!’
‘Do you think everything is all right with Rowan?’ Granny stops what she’s doing and looks inquiringly at her sister. ‘Well, I’ve seen him talking a lot to himself lately.’
‘You do that a lot, too.’
‘It’s not the same thing! He’s not just talking, he’s having a conversation… with himself. Do you think there’s insanity on the Di Grisogno side?’
Granny frowns and proceeds to put the grain in the soil. Is it possible that he’s made the ragdoll become an imaginary friend? Shasta couldn’t and Taïga neither… ‘I don’t think you should worry. It’s probably just a phase he’s going through, being far from his mother, getting a sibling…’ She lets her words trail. Taïga was probably too “old” when she started playing with “Buddy” anyway…
Rowan loves to play cowboys and Indians. ‘We have a real horse outside. Why can’t we ride on it?’
‘Because we can’t bring it inside!’ Taïga laughs at her own joke.
‘Very funny. Haha… But seriously. Why can’t we?’
‘Because Duke is too old. He’s retired! And he’s not ours.’
‘Missy. She told me he belongs to the Muller’s. I told you he’s retired!’
Rowan changes the subject. ‘OK. Horse or no horse…’ He jumps off the rocking horse. ‘You’re pretty darn close! Close enough for me to catch you!’ He grabs for Taïga who dodges him. Screaming they run outside.
Every morning the children pays a visit to Duke, the old horse. They feed him carrots and brush him.
They often stay and play in the meadow…
But today Rowan has something on his mind.
‘I know I can get up there… If we only could maneuver him towards the fence, I could use it as a ladder…’
Taïga stops scratching Duke’s large head. ‘But we shouldn’t…’ Duke pushes Taïga with his head to beg her not to stop.
‘C’mon, Taïga. He won’t even feel us on his back. It won’t hurt him, I promise! And I saw a bridle in the garage the other day!’
It’s not hard to persuade Taïga, and soon they’re both happily hiking around the meadow on Duke’s large back.
‘Hold on tighter, Taïga!’
‘But…’ Rowan kicks his heels into the horses flank and Taïga almost falls backward when the big horse breaks into a gallop!
Duke sets into a comfortable loop. Taïga holds on tight to Rowan and she just can’t stop smiling.
Only two days left of the summer holidays. Taïga has to pack her suitcase this morning.
‘I’d love to bring my voodoo doll…’
Rowan stands in the doorway. ‘Don’t. You’ll scare off that boyfriend of yours!’
‘Yeah. Louis. Oh, and don’t pack that pajamas either – it will definitely scare him off!’
Taïga turns around and throws her voodoo doll at him. Rowan dodges: ‘And you’re supposed to put needles in that – not throw it on people!’
‘GET OUT! Don’t you have some packing to do?’
‘Nope… I’m staying until the baby is born…’
Rowan finally leaves her alone so she can try her uniform on. The skirt is still OK but the jacket strains… I guess I’ll just don’t button it… Taïga knows the money is scarce since the acquisition of the mansion.
I can’t take the doll but my wand yes. I sure won’t leave it here for Rowan to fiddle with during my absence… Taïga hurriedly puts her wand in her suitcase. I’m not supposed to bring it, but if I’m with Clotilde and Louise this year…
The telephone is ringing downstairs and she can hear Granny call out: ‘Can somebody answer!?! I’m cooking!’
‘Hold on, please…What!?! Could you please repeat? When? Oh…’ Without a sound Missy hangs up.
‘Who was it?’ Granny turns around towards Missy, but when she sees the look on her sister’s face she goes livid…
‘I think you should sit down, Tara.’
Like in a dream Granny listens to her sister tell her about François’s fatal accident three weeks ago, and about the new board’s “no scholarship” policy. The new Headmaster has decided to only take in aristocrats and very wealthy students – no more scholarships are to be granted, no matter how talented the student is…
With a heavy heart she walks upstairs to tell Taïga she won’t go back to boarding school this term… or ever… Taïga listens silently to her grandmother, then just as silently she starts to unpack.
Like a robot Granny walks into the bedroom she shares with her sister. Without a word she shuts the door behind her. She closes her eyes and let the tears fill them… The pain overwhelms her… And then… she cries.
Three days later, Taïga and Rowan start in Twallan’s Preparatory School in Falls Harbor; all expenses paid by Count di Grisogno. He couldn’t very well let his son start in a different school than his “step daughter”… Rowan tries to hide how happy he is that Taïga doesn’t leave. He hates to hear her cry though, and she has cried herself to sleep the last three nights. She has sent mails to her friends, but it’s still with apprehension she gets on the yellow school bus, for the half hour long trip into the City…
Missy’s “special friend”, the eccentric artist Juan, has spent many summer days helping the kids build a tree house… He takes advantage of the children’s absence during school hours to weld together the metal parts. Granny can’t help but wonder if he hides up there, pretexting helping the children just to get away from Missy’s rambling… The sound of hammering and welding effectively wipes out Missy’s droning voice…
The spaceship tree house is finally finished, and the two siblings have carried the old magical chest up there with some odds and ends…
‘Check this out Taïga!’ Rowan is holding a device with a miniature satellite dish.
‘Cool. What is it?’
‘I’m not sure… Juan said something about interstellar-radio-frequency-transmitter-thingy… But it’s cool, isn’t it?’
‘Sure! Does it work?’
‘I don’t know…’
Taïga has opened the magical chest. ‘Do you want to be yellow or white? I think we should be white astronauts…’
Soon they have changed into their white uniforms. Taïga admires their “spaceship”.
‘Juan is a genius – I think our treehouse is the only one in the world with solar electricity!’
‘Mmm…’ Rowan is concentrated on fiddling with the interstellar-transmitter-thing.
Taïga looks around her. ‘Let’s play we’ve crashed on an enemy planet!’ No reaction from Rowan. ‘… filled with dangerous beasts…’ Still no reaction. ‘… and monsters?’ Suddenly Rowan looks up at her.
‘Taïga! Check this out! I found out how it works!’ Rowan pushes a button on the handle and sweeps the device in front of him. It beeps and hums slightly. ‘Mayday. Mayday. Earth calling intergalactic forces…’
They play until it gets dark outside and Granny calls for them to come in for supper…
Someone has been hiding in the shadows, waiting for everyone in the huge mansion to go to sleep.
It’s Magnus Darkling, and under cover of the dark night and the absence of moonlight, he quickly runs over the lawn and without effort climbs up to the first floor.
He stops to listen, then he continues climbing.
There she is! My daughter… But she’s not alone… Magnus hasn’t come this far to give up now! Carefully he touches the doorknob… it’s not locked. Luckily for me the witches hasn’t signed the papers yet – the mansion still belongs to that old spinster – what’s her name again? She’s dead any way… With a slight smile he steps over the threshold…
Magnus stares in awe at his daughter. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, analyzing her scent. Carefully he approaches his hand to touch her smooth skin, but she mumbles in her sleep and Magnus realizes he has to do what he came for – before she wakes up.
He fumbles with something in his pocket and silently puts it on Taïga’s bedside table before backing out of the room. He leaves his most precious belonging, handed down to vampires of Yggve Darkling’s lineage for generations; a moon cut soul piece – the only thing that can cure a vampire from a werewolf’s bite…
But Taïga is not a vampire? And there are no werewolves? Or are there?
Without hesitation Magnus jumps down onto the lawn.
And silently he vanishes, swallowed by the dense vegetation…
But Magnus is not the only visitor interested in the old Oak Mansion that night…
‘Hey Taïga… wake up! I think I heard something…’
Part I – End of Chapter 53