It’s the beginning of the summer holidays, and Rowan and Taïga are in the park while Granny is buying 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 flannel 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. Taking Rowans hands she starts telling him about her nightmares about her mother surrounded by ghouls. How Shasta tries to fight them off, reaching out towards her while her lips are forming words she can’t hear. She tells him about her other dream about a little silver haired girl, 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, 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 lets go of her hands 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. ‘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. ‘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-’
Rowan interrupts Taïga. ‘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. Now 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!’
Granny and Missy take them into town and they use their pocket money to buy carousel tickets. Riding round and round makes them forget their worries about their mother, at least for a while…
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… Regularly Rowan talks to his father on the phone, but Shasta always seems to be busy.
‘Si, si… Devo andare ora. Tu madre manda il suo amore, figlio. Arrivederci!’*
‘What did he say? Is everything all right with mom?’
Rowan stares at the phone. ‘It‘s always the same thing; “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 a secret spa resort…” Yada yada… You name it.’
Taïga frowns. She’s been busy lately too, reading up on Celtic customs and treasures and ghouls… She’s even tried the palantìr again, but she passed out, nose bleeding from the effort. She has to wait until she gets strong enough to master it…
* I have to go now. Your mother sends her love, son.
The long winter comes to an end and Shasta is following her husband on his Magic Easter tour in Asia. Taïga is selling lemonade to finance a school project, but there aren’t many customers around. In fact, there’s only Granny and Missy.
‘But Granny. Listen. It’s only 1 $! And if you buy about ten glasses each day until summer, I’ll give you the money so we can go to Italy and visit Mom!’
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 granddaughter trying to hide her disappointment, she quickly adds: ‘I’ll try to call your mother this very afternoon. I think Rowan is homesick…’ She finishes her glass of lemonade and stands. ‘It will do you both good to see your mother.’
As soon as Granny has accomplished her mission, she returns to her little garden where Missy has just planted ornamental peas.
‘She didn’t have the time to talk to me,’ she 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…’ She 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 where they belong.’
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 tell Missy that…
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…
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 finally 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 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 in the attic, 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, take him out when you’re alone…’
That fall Taïga finally convinces Granny to ask the Mullins if she can officially ride old Duke. Linn is overjoyed at the prospect of giving her best friend riding lessons. She’ll be coming over every weekend with her brand new pony, Scarlett, and they will have so much fun.
‘Hold still, Duke… I have to clean your hooves first.’ She grabs the 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 59