It is probably one of the last warm days of October, and Rowan and Taïga are in the park while Granny buys groceries. There are no other kids around so they can pick and choose, but as usual they are bickering about what to do, never able to agree. Rowan is swinging higher and higher and Taïga wanted to seesaw, but needs someone else to make it work. She glares at her brother. He always seems to get what he wants…
‘You never talk about mom, Taïga. Don’t you miss her?’
‘Sure… But you know, she… Well. She already left me once, you know.’
‘Why are you sorry? It’s not your fault-’ But Rowan has hit a sensitive spot, Taïga is jealous of her brother. ‘-that Mom left me with Granny to stay in Monte Vista with you,’ she adds under her breath.
Guilty thoughts swirl in her head. Now he gets to know how I felt when she just left… She sighs. Gloating in Rowan’s unhappiness is not very rewarding, and she can’t help feeling sorry for the little boy. At the same time she’s worried about their mother and she desperately needs to talk to someone about her strange dreams. She has mentioned them to Missy, who laughed at her, saying it was childish nonsense. That’s why she doesn’t want to tell Granny.
That night she has the same nightmare as usual. Rowan shakes her shoulder until she wakes up. ‘You’re scaring me, Taïga. You were crying in your sleep and calling out for Mom.’
Taïga sits up, a little disoriented. She dries her tears on the sleeve of her pajamas. ‘It’s OK.’
‘Tell me. Mom used to say that if you tell a bad dream it disappears and doesn’t come back.’
Taïga remembers her mother’s words. She nods. She rolls over onto her stomach and starts telling him about the nightmares about her mother in a ring of stones, surrounded by ghouls. She tries to reach an elaborately ornate chest, but the ghouls are swarming over and around her. Shasta tries to fight them off, reaching out towards her while her lips are forming words she can’t hear. Then she tells him about her other recurrent dream, the one where a little silver haired girl is running through fields of flowers trying to catch butterflies and… fairies? At last she talks about the monster. The black, blood covered monster that raises a baby towards the sky, before turning around, his blood red eyes scanning the darkness and which she can feel is looking for her, Taïga.
‘We have to do something! She has to come here, and see us. Why don’t they just leave Frost with a babysitter? That’s what they did with me.’ Rowan jumps off his bed and starts pacing the room.
Taïga dries her tears. ‘Why don’t you ask your dad?’
‘I already have! He just tells me the same thing, “Mom can’t come to the phone, she’s nursing the baby”. Gods, that baby is feeding all the time – I hope he chokes…’
‘Oh no! Don’t talk like that. It’s not the baby’s fault!’
Rowan opens his mouth to say something but thinks better of it and resumes his pacing. Taïga watches him, thinking about her dream.
Suddenly he stops. ‘Let’s try the palantìr.’
‘Are you crazy? What will Granny say?’
‘We don’t have to tell her. C’mon, promise me we’ll give it a try.’ He’s already opening the door to the landing.
‘Yeah. Granny always tells us not to put off until tomorrow what we can do today. It’s just across the landing and I can hear both Granny and Missy snoring. We might not get another chance.’
Reluctantly, she follows her brother across the dark landing and into the faintly lit library. They take place, facing the palantìr and Taïga reaches out, willing the crystal ball to show them the whereabouts of Shasta.
When Taïga wakes up again, she’s lying on the floor with her feet propped up on a chair. Rowan is sitting next to her, holding her hand while applying a Kleenex against her bleeding nose.
‘Thank the Gods you’re waking up. You scared me witless – I thought you were dead! Can you imagine what Granny would have done to me if you were?’
‘No, you egotistical brat.’ She tries to sit up, but her head spins and she has to lie down again. She closes her eyes and waits for the spinning sensation to pass. ‘Can you help me get back to bed? I’m not sure I can walk…’
‘So what did you see?’ He helps her up, steadying her on the way back to their room.
‘I don’t remember,’ she lies. ‘I need to sleep, Rowan. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.’
Rowan cajoles her into the study again the next day after lunch, to see if being close to the palantìr would jog Taïga’s memory. He tries to be patient but it’s difficult to just sit there and wait for his sister to do something…
‘I don’t want to touch it again. You saw what happened, and I can tell you it felt like I was dying!’
‘Just tell me what you saw.’
‘I’ve already told you. Nothing.’
‘But I saw how the palantìr swirled and filled with smoke!?!’
‘Yes. But there was nothing but stones surrounded by… by darkness…’ She doesn’t tell Rowan about the glimpse of the Celtic cross, nor exactly the same treasure chest as in her dreams. She has to think about all this first.
But Rowan insists. ‘It must mean something. Describe what you-’
They are interrupted by Missy who sneaks into the study with a guilty look on her face. She is just as surprised as they are. ‘What are you two doing? You’re not allowed to play here!’
‘We didn’t play! We just tried to find out what happened to-’
Taïga interrupts her brother before he says too much. ‘Sorry, Missy. We just sat here pretending we were powerful witches, just like you and Granny!’
Missy looks disapprovingly at the two children, but Taïga can tell she’s flattered. ‘So… you might become powerful one day also, like me… But you mustn’t touch the palantìr. Just run away and play outside, will you?’
Rowan takes advantage of Missy seeming to be in a good mood. ‘Can we have some pocket money for the park? The carousel is fixed at last!’
Missy gropes for her purse, and Rowan pushes his luck. ‘Can’t you ask Granny to drive us? It’s a beautiful day and you both could walk Valkyria in the park while we’re playing!’
‘Don’t push it, Rowan,’ Taïga whispers.
‘What are you doing still seated? Follow me downstairs, and we’ll see.’ Missy starts down the ladder that leads directly to the downstairs study.
‘Why are you taking the ladder? It’s dangerous when you’re old.’
‘Because I don’t want my-’ She stops, looking nervously at the door. Because I don’t want my snooping sister to know I went here to ask the palantìr something important… she thinks, wondering if the dark handsome artist is the one for her. Well. She won’t get to know today and only the Goddess knows when she will get another opportunity. She clears her throat. ‘How rude of you, young man. I’m perfectly fit to use the ladder!’
Granny and Missy take the children into town and buy them some carousel tickets. The park is deserted in spite of the nice weather and it is probably the last time the carrousel is turning before being dismantled for the cold season.
The two old ladies take a seat on one of the benches, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the merry music. Riding round and round makes Taïga and Rowan forget their worries about their mother, at least for the time being…
Fall comes and goes, Leonardo calls once in a while, telling them they will soon come to visit, maybe for Halloween. But Shasta has trouble recovering after the difficult birth, she’s apparently suffering from baby blues. And then comes Christmas – Leonardo takes his wife on a cruise in the Caribbean Sea, a kind of second honeymoon.
The long winter comes to an end, and the children have still not seen their mother. They know it won’t be until summer anyway, as Shasta is following her husband on his Magic Easter tour in Asia.
Rowan regularly talks to his father on the phone, but their mother always seems to be too busy.
‘Si, si… Devo andare ora. Tu madre manda il suo amore, figlio. Arrivederci!’*
‘What did he say? Is everything all right with mom?’ Taïga asks. Rowan’s Italian is flowing too fast for her to understand everything he says but she has got the gist of the conversation. It’s always the same anyway, “Mom is depressed and doesn’t want to see or talk to anyone… She’s down with the flu, going on a shopping spree to Paris, spending time at some spa resort or other…”, and she knows that this time is not different just by looking at his face.
* I have to go now. Your mother sends her love, son.
Rowan stares at the phone. ‘Yada yada… Same as usual… I don’t think she loves me anymore, Taïga. What if she leaves me here? Forever?’ He looks at her for comfort, but she has none to give. She has been thinking the same, and even though being abandoned by their mother still hurts and makes her cry, the worst is past her. But Rowan will have to go through it all. At least he speaks to his father. She doesn’t even know the name of hers…
He looks at her again with his eyes filled with tears, but as she still doesn’t say anything, he runs out of the study.
Taïga stares into space from her position upside down. She has been busy lately too, reading up on Celtic customs and treasures and ghouls. She has even secretly tried the palantìr again, but she passed out, nose bleeding profusely from the effort. She recognizes that she has to wait until she gets strong enough to master it before venturing another try.
With a sigh she slides down from the armchair onto the floor. She picks up the books scattered on the floor, she’ll continue reading tonight. Now she has to hurry if she is going to make any money selling lemonade to help finance their school project. Granny has helped her fix a stand and Rowan has made pictures of different fruits, even though she is only selling lemonade.
Rowan wants to play pretend, he is already dressed in his usual cowboy gear, but Taïga is too busy preparing the lemonade. He helps her set up the stand but he soon gets bored. There aren’t many customers around. In fact, there’s only Granny and Missy, and as the manor is the only residence on their forsaken road, there is not much hope of any visitors.
Granny takes a seat on an overturned wooden case, she has been working in the garden since early morning, and a pause is welcome. Missy hasn’t done anything special, but is always up for a glass of lemonade.
She serves them each a glass, ceremoniously putting the money in a glass jar. The first 2 dollars.
‘It’s only 1 $! Have another one.’
‘Right,’ Rowan adds. ‘And if you buy about ten glasses each day until summer, we’ll give you the money so we can go to Italy and visit Mom!’
‘What about my school project, Rowan? We can’t just take the money and dispose of it as we want?’
Granny smiles. ‘We’ll see. We still have issues with the plumbing, and it would be nice to have central heating next winter…’
But at the sight of her grandchildren trying to hide their disappointment, she quickly adds, ‘I’ll try to call your mother this very afternoon…’ She finishes her glass of lemonade and pulls her gloves back on. ‘It will do you both good to see your mother.’
‘The money or your life!’ Rowan suddenly shouts, making Missy start. She lets go of her glass and the morning paper she was aiming to read.
Rowan smiles happily. ‘Now you have to buy another glass, Auntie. Or give me all your money. Your choice.’
Missy is outraged, but she obediently puts another dollar in the jar.
‘Crime doesn’t pay, young man,’ Granny says over her shoulder. She tries to keep a straight face as she walks towards the house and the important phone call.
‘You should at least make sure your victim has enough money for it to be worthwhile,’ Missy adds, sipping at her lemonade.
As soon as Granny has accomplished her mission, she returns to her little garden. She finishes planting some ornamental peas, seething. Missy joins her, munching on an apple.
‘It is not the season for apples,’ she comments drily.
‘I know. But I had a craving.’
‘You should know what using magic on food does to you.’
‘I know, I know. But it can’t be harmful once in a while can it?’
‘Well. Just continue and you’ll see what happens.’ Granny splashes some water on her recent plantations, and kneels to check on a fragile plant.
Missy looks at the apple in her hand, then she throws it over the fence onto the compost. Some magical fertilizer can’t be that bad…
She picks up the watering can, trying to make herself useful before her sister asks her. She knows Granny. When she is annoyed over something she will pick on her – do this, do that. The heart of the problem is not the apple but probably the phone call.
‘So what happened? What did she say? Are we going to Italy?’
‘She didn’t have time to talk to me,’ Granny complains.
Missy frowns. ‘Couldn’t or wouldn’t?’
Granny doesn’t look up. ‘To tell you the truth, I don’t know… Maybe I should visit them when they get back from China or wherever they’re touring… What do you think?’
Missy sneers. ‘You know your daughter. She could be rather “stubborn”. How long was she gone last time? Six years? Eight?’
Granny mumbles, ‘Ten.’
‘See? I don’t think you should worry…’ Missy empties the watering can, shaking it slightly. ‘We just have to face it – we’re stuck with the children. No way to hand them back to their parents.’ Waving the watering can in the air, she heads off to refill it.
Granny stares after her sister. Does she agree with her? No, definitely not. To tell the truth, she doesn’t want the children to leave… But better not show Missy her weakness.
Later that night, Leonardo calls to tell Granny they’ve found out their little son has a very dangerous and rare disease, and Shasta doesn’t want anyone to see him before they find a treatment…
‘But maybe I can help?’
‘No! This is beyond magic, believe me.’
‘Can I speak to Shasta, please?’
‘She’s with Frost at the hospital right now, I’ll have her call you when she gets back.’
Granny listens to Leonardo’s explanations, feeling more and more helpless…
Of course Shasta doesn’t call, Granny has to make do with a simple text the next morning…
Ever since François passed away, it seems like Granny’s life is falling apart. And now the bad news about little Frost. She has never seen her grandchild, apart from a quite dim picture from the hospital of a baby wrapped in a blanket in his mother’s arms. She tries her best to bear her sorrow with dignity, which for her is the same as not letting her feelings show. But this morning it is harder than usual. The children are off to school and the Grey sisters are having a cup of coffee on the balcony. Missy might be an airhead, but she is observant and strangely down-to-earth.
‘I told she wouldn’t call back,’ Missy says, stuffing a half Madeleine in her mouth and chewing with pleasure.
‘She sent a text,’ Granny answers primly, angry at herself for feeling the need to defend her egotistical daughter.
‘A text? You send texts when you are too scared to talk to a person live. Or because it is modern today. Whatever. I’m sure we’re stuck with Rowan, too. And don’t worry about Frost, you’ll get to know him soon enough because she’ll probably dump him on us when she gets bored. The more the merrier,’ she adds, dripping with irony, popping the rest of the little cake into her mouth.
‘How am I to break the news if I’m not even sure she won’t be back? Taïga doesn’t talk about her mother, but Rowan is asking questions all the time and I’m just stalling,’ Granny moans to herself, not expecting an answer.
Missy looks smugly at her sister. Finally the children will be of use. ‘We’ll have to divert the wretched boy’s attention, of course. I just happen to know someone who can help us build a tree house… A tall dark someone,’ she adds self-contentedly.
That is how Missy’s special friend, the eccentric artist Juan Darer, comes to spend many afternoons at Bayou Oaks this late Indian summer, helping to build the coveted tree house. He takes advantage of the children’s absence during school hours to do some hazardous work and weld together the metal parts. The sound of hammering and welding effectively wipes out Missy’s droning voice from where she is inspecting the progress from below.
Granny watches from the bedroom window. She can’t help but wonder if Mr. Darer hides up there, pretexting having to work on his own just to get away from Missy’s rambling.
She has to admit the eccentric, uncouth man is quite talented. He was quite enthusiastic about the whole project and voluntarily agreed to help out when Missy asked him over a very ceremonial cup of tea which Granny had to sit in on. He has followed the children’s ideas, developing and adding designs from what he gruffly says is his own memories from when he got kidnapped by aliens as a teenager. Granny doesn’t believe a word about the abduction but she can’t help but compare his with Mr. Vargas’ incredible story. Two inventors/artists in space. Of course, the kids hang on every word he says. She only hopes they take the tale with a pinch of salt…
The spaceship/tree house is finally finished, and the two siblings carry the old magical chest up there, together with some odds and ends absolutely necessary to conquer space.
‘Check this out Taïga!’ Rowan is holding a device with a miniature satellite dish out of the window.
‘Cool. What is it?’
‘I don’t know… Mr. Darer said something about an 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…’
‘Why not orange? I saw they wore orange on TV.’
‘Inmates wear orange. I think it’s classier with a white uniform.’
‘Wear white, then. But I want to wear orange!’
‘We are supposed to be a crew, and crews wear the same uniform.’
Soon they have changed into their white uniforms. Taïga admires their “spaceship”.
‘Mr. Darer is a genius – I think our treehouse is the only one in the world with solar electricity!’
‘Uh-huh…’ Rowan is concentrated on fiddling with the interstellar-transmitter-thing.
Taïga looks around her. ‘Let’s imagine we’ve crashed on an enemy planet!’
There’s 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!’
He turns the little disk and pushes at something on the handle while sweeping the device in front of him. It beeps and hums slightly.
‘Let me see!’
‘Wait a sec. It works better if I hold it up high.’ He stands up and vanishes inside.
She follows him inside and up the little staircase to the highest window. Rowan leans out, holding the device in front of him.
‘Mayday. Mayday. Earth calling intergalactic forces…’
‘Can I try?’ Eagerly she pulls at his sleeve and he finishes by giving the device to her.
‘But I’m the technician, so I’m the one who is using it most, OK.’
‘OK.’ Taïga gives him the device back.
They play until it gets dark outside and Granny calls for them to come in for supper.
But the strange device might not have been just a gadget. A few days later a strange star shot falls in the garden and opens on a tall slim figure with skin the same color as the manor’s paneling and big, almond shaped eyes as black as the midnight sky.
The figure looks straight at the looming old manor. Then they pull out a strange device and head for the backside of the house.
Rowan sits up in bed, blinking. He reaches over towards his sister, shaking her shoulder.
‘Hey Taïga… wake up! I think I heard something…’
‘Ummm. Let me sleep…’
Rowan looks at her for a second, then he sneaks over to the window. It is pitch black outside, but he can see light shimmering from around the corner. Someone must be playing in their treehouse. With a last look at his sister, he slides out of bed and hurries outside.
It is pitch dark outside and the lawn is wet from dew. Rowan sneaks forward, around the corner and then across the French garden, keeping low behind the well maintained ivy. He stops in sight of the treehouse. A strange whirring noise is heard and the spaceship treehouse lights up from within. There’s a tall figure standing immobile, checking some kind of bizarre device.
He ducks low behind the hedge, but he can’t be sure that the figure has seen him or not. The whirring sound diminishes but he stays low, holding his breath.
Suddenly he freezes. Slowly he turns his head to look behind him and finds himself staring at a pair of legs. His gaze travels upwards and fixes on the circular device that is now whirring full blast. When the strange figure carries him to the star-shot, he is already unconscious.
The dawn colors the east a shade of purple bordering on rose when the strange figure comes back after only a couple of hours’ absence.
They carry Rowan to the treehouse, gently putting the sleeping boy on the ground. The figure props him against the trunk, checking his vital signs. Satisfied, they return to the star-shot and in a silent blaze, vanish.
Left is only Peaches, who has seen everything but doesn’t really understand what it has seen…
Summer has come again, and Rowan and Taïga spend a lot of time at Lelawala Lake with their classmates, playing games or just fooling around in the water. Taïga’s nightmares are becoming less frequent and they are happily unaware that their mother is never going to come back again…*
When the summer festival, as usual, comes to town, they bike there as often as possible with Linn, Taïga’s best friend, who lives with her two dads.
‘Look, Rowan! There’s a fight! It’s Ismael again! We have to stop him from picking on poor Elton all the time.’
‘He has to learn to stand up to bullies. He can’t rely on his big brother Darryl to protect him all his life.’
‘You’re right, but we can’t let Ismael continue anyway!’
The kids jump off their bikes and run to see what’s going on between Elton and Ismael.
‘Hey!’ Viktor’s voice stops Linn who was running after Rowan. ‘Where are you going in such a hurry?’
Linn sighs. ‘Dunno. We were just running.’ She glances towards the fight, but the kids have vanished. ‘Do you realize we missed everything, dad?’
‘God forbid I‘d make you miss anything as important as a fight, pumpkins. Go ahead, start a new one! I’m picking up Jesper at the Art Gallery and we’ll be back here in time for Jon Lessen’s performance. Ciao!’
Taïga looks after his vanishing figure. ‘Was he serious about the fight?’
‘Of course not. Grownups have such a strange sense of humor…’
Taïga acquiesces. It was weird in the beginning, but she is now used to seeing the two men act just like any other parents.
‘They fight a lot, I’m afraid they will get divorced,’ Linn complains.
‘I didn’t know they were married?’ Taïga doesn’t actually know if two men can get married at all, but she holds her tongue, not wanting to appear stupid.
‘Not yet. But I’m so scared they will get divorced before they have the time…’
‘I don’t think you have to worry about that, Linn. I think you have to get married before you divorce.’
‘Thank God! But it would be pretty cool if they separate – I would have my own room in Iceland, because Viktor always threatens Jesper that he will move back and take me with him.’ She stops for breath. ‘And I would have my room here too. Did you know Jesper is buying us a new house with what he earned with his last Victoria’s Secret pictures? We’re visiting next weekend and they say that my room is in a tower!’ Linn and Taïga continue happily chatting about Linn’s new home.
A little later the fight is forgotten and all the kids are roller-skating. Linn’s two dads, Jesper and Viktor, have been watching Linn roller-skate for a while.
‘She seems to have got the hang of it… Oh, Jon Lessen is finally on the scene! C’mon!’ Viktor hurries towards the mass of people moving towards the far corner of the park.
‘Linn! If you need anything I’m over there-’ Jesper points towards the huge outdoor scene, ‘-with Viktor!’
‘I’m OK, dad! Have fun!’
A new boy approaches Rowan who’s hesitating to get out onto the rink. ‘Hi! I’m Loki. Is that your girlfriend? I saw you came here together.’
Rowan laughs. ‘Girlfriend? Oh no, Taïga is my sister!’
‘Great!’ Loki smiles and sets off after Taïga.
‘Have you seen the new boy? He’s watching you?’
‘C’mon… He’s just behind you. NO! Don’t turn around!’
But Taïga has already swiveled around in a gracious pirouette and started to skate backwards. She smiles at the boy and waves.
‘You’re hopeless!’ Linn giggles. ‘I think his dad is the famous author, you know.’ She tugs on Taïga’s arm to make her turn around and skate clockwise again. ‘Simmingway something.’
‘Yeah. It’s the old guy with a beard filming with his cell over there. My dad thinks he’s absolutely charming, and that his book probably is an auto biography…’
‘Have you read it?’
‘Are you crazy? I don’t know what it talks about, but dad was either giggling or blushing when he read it!’
The two girls continue gossiping…
Suddenly the new boy accelerates past Taïga, grabbing her hand and tugging her along. She’s surprised, and a little annoyed.
Tyler can’t believe his eyes. Taïga holding hands with a stranger! ‘What the heck are you doing!?! The nerve…’
But Tyler is not the only one watching the scene. Rowan stares as Taïga shakes her hand lose.
‘Hey! Let go of me!’
Before Rowan even realizes what he’s doing, Loki is on his back. ‘Don’t you ever touch my sister again!’
Rowan’s fist hurts like hell but he only wants to smash it in Loki’s face again.
‘Yeah,’ Tyler snickers, ‘you better watch out.’
But they both feel stupid when Taïga sneers, ‘Are you crazy! Why did you do that!?!’ She reaches for Loki’s hand to help him on his feet again. ‘Are you OK?’
Rowan tries to catch Taïga’s attention. ‘I only wanted to…’
‘Hey! Young man, can I have a word with you?’ Loki’s father is calling Rowan over to have an explanation…
‘Uh-oh…’ Rowan skates over to the upset man…
Back home again, after being grounded for the rest of the week, Rowan spills everything that happened at the park to Peaches, who always gives good advice. ‘You shouldn’t have hit him.’
‘But he tried to drag Taïga away against her will!’
‘Are you sure she didn’t want him to?’
‘Well… She told him to let go?’
‘Hmmm…. You never know with girls. Next time, corner him somewhere, you should take him out when you’re both alone…’
That fall Taïga finally convinces Granny to ask the Mullins if she can take old Duke over to the equestrian center for riding lessons. Linn is overjoyed at the prospect of getting lessons together. She has a brand new pony, Scarlett, and they will have so much fun at the equestrian center.
The way to the Fairview Pony Club is quite far, but there is a shortcut through the woods that will only take an hour of brisk walk. Granny insists on going with her granddaughter. Taking Valkyria for a walk is an excellent excuse to get away from Missy.
‘Hold still, Duke… I’ll have to clean your hooves first.’ Taiga grabs the immense hoof, trying to pull it up, but she falls over backwards, ‘Oh my, how heavy they are! Better not let you walk on my toes…’ She dusts off her new jodhpurs and tries again. ‘… and then… I will finally… have my first real riding lesson!’
Part I – End of Chapter 61