‘Yohoo! Taïga! I was just thinking about you!’
Taïga jogs up to her great aunt and bends over, taking some deep breaths. She has jogged all the way from home to the Darer’s, about 6 miles. She checks her watch – a little over an hour. Her condition is improving, in the beginning of September she wouldn’t have been able to keep the pace for so long. She waits patiently for Missy to continue, she probably has some household chores for her to do. One of these days Missy must learn how to manage on her own…
‘Juan is at Merlott’s with Lucky as usual since- Oh, well, nothing…- and even if he comes home early he won’t notice what we’re doing anyway… Come and have a look!’
‘Notice what?’ Taïga hurries after her great aunt, ‘Notice what, Missy?’
‘Err… We’re doing a home make-over! I’ve already started upstairs… You did bring what I asked by the way?’
Taïga fumbles in her pocket and withdraws a small package. ‘Have you got rats? Or mice?’
‘Err… No… Why are you asking?’
‘Granny thought you were making some rat poison.’
‘Why on earth did you tell my sister?’
‘I wasn’t supposed to go behind her back and steal the ingredients, was I?’
‘The thought crossed my mind. Do I have to tell you that everything I say to you is between you and me and the fencepost? Anyhow, tonight is a new moon and we shall prepare a little something… special!’
‘I can’t stay late, Missy, I have homework to-’
‘Just call Granny and say you popped in to see me and stayed for dinner. Now I think about it, you could have brought some fresh eggs.’
‘Missy, I went jogging.’
‘You could have taken a backpack or something. All right. We’ll just have something quick, like cereals.’
Taïga sighs. ‘I’ll make a salad…’
‘That’s my girl! How many times have I told you that it’s healthier to have a salad than cereals for dinner?’ Missy pushes open the screen door and precedes her niece inside.
Taïga stops at the threshold and just stares at the chaos. The floor is littered by stacks of dirty laundry, flies are crawling all over the abandoned plates from lunch and the draft from the open door sends swarms of flies up from the sink which is overflowing with dirty dishes- and what is that smell?
‘Oh. My. God. What happened?’
‘Uh… Well. The social worker delivered our child. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say dropped him off, because delivered could also mean that I gave birth and I didn’t. So he came here. And gave us a son. Three days ago.’
Taïga gapes at her, ‘So soon?’ She recovers from the surprise, ‘But that’s great, Missy! What’s his name? Can I see him? Where is he? Upstairs?’
‘Oh, I… we named him Athan after my father.’
Taïga starts towards the stairs, but Missy stops her, ‘Wait Taïga! He’s asleep! Maybe you should drop in during daytime to see him!’
Taïga isn’t used to babies, but just looking at the state of the living room, she can easily understand why Missy doesn’t want her son to wake up when he’s finally sleeping.
‘How old is he? I’d like to buy him something… A welcome present.’
‘About a year, I guess. It’s in the adoption papers.’ She lifts a stack of laundry from the sofa. ‘I was sure I put the envelope here somewhere…’
She turns towards her niece, arms laden with laundry, ‘Don’t just stand there! You know where the phone is, dear.’
‘The phone?’ Taïga had completely forgotten about staying for dinner. ‘I guess Granny isn’t home yet anyway so I’ll just leave a message.’
‘She isn’t home?’
‘No…’ Taïga finishes pushing in the numbers.
‘So where is she?’
‘At Arthur’s place,’ she holds up her hand to silence Missy, ‘Hi, Granny, it’s Taïga. I’m over at Missy’s place and I’ll stay for dinner. Don’t worry, love you.’
‘And what on earth is she doing at his place? It’s not like her.’
‘C’mon, Missy. I guess she’s feeling a bit lonely since you moved out and she’s only helping him hanging up new curtains…’ Or at least that’s what she told me…
Missy grimaces, she realizes she won’t get any more information out of Taïga. ‘Well, I’ll just put this away while you make us something to eat. I’m starving, it seems I never have time to eat properly since Athan came. I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off! Oh, and would you mind emptying the potty while you’re at it?’
Taïga grimaces. Gah, the potty stinks… She holds her nose and takes it to the bathroom to clean it out. Yuk. So this is three days with a toddler. No way I’m becoming Missy’s full time cleaning lady. No, I think they need hired help…
‘I guess we won’t do any home make-over as long as Athan is asleep?’
‘Home make-over? Err… You’re right. Better wait until he wakes up.’
‘Granny would love to help you, you know. She’s good with colors.’
‘As long as you like grey…’ Missy mutters. ‘I think being a grey witch has tainted her whole existence! All that self-contention and balance… Thank god I’m not fully a Grey witch myself!’
‘How come? Your name is Grey, and you have the same parents…’
‘Well, I’m the second born. I’m lucky to be a witch at all and being a Grey witch has nothing to do with your name. But I admit it suits my sister well. A grey witch, or neutral witch, uses magic that aren’t white nor black. More the kind of magic that does not harm nor benefit others. Boring, huh?’
Taïga shrugs. ‘It can’t be boring, having all that power…’
Missy looks up at her over her glasses, ‘I would have preferred something darker than grey, I assure you. But you don’t choose your magic – it chooses you.’
‘That sounds ominous, Missy. What’s it like, being initiated? Granny just tells me to wait and see.’
‘And for once I agree.’ Suddenly she poses her cutlery. ‘Time to make potion!’
‘Yes, and I need you to help me carry the cauldron, it’s far too heavy for me alone.’
‘I’ll just wash the dishes first.’
‘No time! I’ll do it tomorrow… Or you can do it next time you pop in. Now let’s get the cauldron…’
They stop to take a new grip on the heavyweight kettle for the umpteenth time.
‘Don’t you think it would have been a lot easier to fill the cauldron after we moved it?’ Taïga blows on her aching hands.
Taïga rolls her eyes, ‘Because it’s heavy enough empty.’
‘Details, Taïga. Details. Now stop complaining and take a new grip or all the preparation has been for nothing.’
Together they carry the heavy iron cast cauldron the last yards out to the burnt down house where they install it on the back porch, facing the marsh. When Missy insists on carrying it up to the second floor, Taïga puts her foot down.
‘Those stairs are too heavily burnt for a cat to risk using them, Missy! We almost couldn’t schlep it up the four steps to the porch! It’s far too heavy…’
Missy grumbles something under her breath and eases some dry wood under the cauldron, starting a fire.
‘So what are you preparing?’
Her great aunt ignores the question, busying herself on her knees blowing on the flames, ‘Would you mind stirring while I get the fire going?’
‘You know I’m not supposed to do magic before the ceremony.’ Taïga answers, feeling guilty. Doing magic hasn’t stopped her before…
‘This isn’t magic. Not yet anyway. There’s only water in there.’
‘Are you sure, Missy? There’s green smoke coming out of the ”water”.’
‘I’m perfectly sure. I might have thrown in a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but it’s not like you’re doing magic – it’s more like… Err… Like you’re stirring soup!’
Taïga looks at her great aunt. ‘Soup, huh?’
‘Absolutely. And I need both hands anyway to plop the right amount of special ingredients into the kettle, so would you please stop bickering and concentrate on stirring!’
Reluctantly Taïga takes the huge wooden spoon from Missy’s hands and with both hands starts stirring the bubbling mixture while Missy chants a magic formula, adding the ingredients.
‘Double, double, toil and trouble,
Three rare items make this cauldron bubble…’
Missy peers into the cauldron, ‘It should bubble more, and become green…Why doesn’t it work? Are you sure you stirred it right?’
Taïga glances at Missy, ‘Because there are different ways to stir?’
‘Of course. Clockwise and… uhm…’
‘Maybe it doesn’t work because you said three rare items.’
‘But my spell book says so.’
‘Yeah, but you’ve only added two – rat hearts and belladonna.’
‘Oups! Now what rare ingredient can I come up with on this short notice?’ She clicks her fingers, ‘I know!’
She holds out her left hand, palm up and starts moving the right in a circular motion above it. To Taïga’s astonishment an apple appear in a glittery cloud.
‘Wow! How did you do that?’
‘Granny hasn’t shown you? It’s basic magic, one of the first things you learn about as a witch. You just hold out your hand and visualize an apple…’
Taïga shakes her head, ‘It looks exactly like the apple that almost kill-’
‘No, it doesn’t.’ Quickly Missy disposes of the apple in the cauldron. ‘Oh, my! The words! I can’t remember the words! Everything will be for nothing if the words aren’t spoken! Ohmygod!’
Taïga rolls her eyes. Missy can be such a hopeless scatterbrain. She stirs the mixture in hypnotic circular movements, singsonging the simple formula over and over again…
‘Double, double, toil and trouble,
Three rare items make this cauldron bubble…’
Green whirls of smoke escapes from the cauldron, and Missy tells Taïga to stop. She takes the ladle, peeking into the depths of the cauldron, ‘Hmm… I hate to admit it, but I think you were right…’
‘So what kind of potion is it? How do we know if it works?’
‘There’s only one way to know for sure…’ Missy resolutely brings a ladleful of thick green mush to her lips and grimaces. ‘Beurk… I guess it’s as perfect as it can get. It’s still harmless to drink, but in a half-hour it should be ready to be used… Just wait a minute.’
She disappears into the burnt down house, reappearing a couple of minutes later with a plastic bag.
Missy unties the knot and empties the content of the sac onto the porch. What look like bones rattle to the dark wooden planks, followed by a skull that clattering rolls down the stairs.
‘Oups! Don’t let your stupid dog maul it!’
Taïga jumps down from the porch and wrings the cranium away from a growling Valkyria. Carefully she turns it in her hands, staring into the empty eye sockets. Is it grinning at her? She looks up at Missy. No need to ask what kind of bones this is, the skull leaves no doubt about it.
‘Where did you get this? Who is it?’
‘How do you suppose I know who it is? I took it from the Mausoleum and sincerely, I didn’t have the time to check the CV. It was the one with the best teeth.’
‘So you just went in there and took a complete skeleton?’
‘Yes. Well, I hope it’s complete anyway. And it was the one with-’
‘-the best teeth. Oh, yeah. That seems utterly logical.’
‘Don’t sass me, young lady.’ Missy checks her wristwatch again. ‘Well, could you start on assembling it? I have to rush – it’s time for Athan’s night meal! Poor boy’s waking up every night screaming. Must be the new surroundings.’
She scurries off, not waiting for an answer but leaving Taïga with the jumble of bones.
‘Yeah… I would wake up screaming too if I lived here…’ she addresses the skull before gently placing it on the burnt floorboards. She moves a large bone with the tip of her foot. Must be the tibia… Let’s see if we can straighten out this mess…
A half-hour later the skeleton is assembled, but there’s still no sign of Missy. Taïga sits on her heels and looks at the skull, trying to imagine what kind of person it was when it was alive. If it was a he or a she. The rumbling of distant thunder almost drowns out the crunching of wheels on the gravel. She watches Juan stumble out of an unknown car and head for the barn that is now the Darer’s home. Taïga watches him negotiate the stairs. She can hear him swearing and giggling, almost tipping over as he struggles out of his shoes before sneaking in. The light on the upper floor goes on, then flickers out again.
Where is Missy? She decides to go and check on her great aunt. She finds her lightly snoring on the couch, an empty pack of Oreo’s on her heaving stomach. Normally she would have been angry with Missy, going to sleep like that, leaving her to put together a freaking skeleton. But the poor woman must be really exhausted. It can’t be easy to have a toddler at an age when you’re supposed to become a grandmother. Gently she shakes Missy’s shoulder.
‘Juan is home, Missy. He must have went straight to bed.’
Missy yawns, ‘Oh my. I must have dozed off. Did you do it? Put together the old bones so it resembles a human skeleton?’
‘Yes. More or less.’
Missy fills the huge ladle with green, bubbling potion and pours it all over the skeleton. Nothing happens. She tries again, and again. Still nothing.
‘I think you should do it, Taïga. You were the one to sing the magic words when I added the last ingredient. Maybe it will work.’
Taïga is curious, and scoops up a ladleful of potion. She does exactly like Missy, pouring potion onto every single bone and adding some into the skull’s grinning mouth as well. But to no avail. Nothing happens.
‘Well. Can’t say we didn’t try…’
‘What exactly was supposed to happen?’
‘The skeleton would have come to life, and would have done its master’s –that’s me- biddings.’ Taïga stares at Missy who raises her hands in a surrendering gesture, ‘What? I really need someone to clean the house.’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘I’m sure you can hire someone to come in a couple of days a week to help you out, Missy. No need to wake up the dead.’
Irritated by the failure, Missy scoops the bones roughly back into the plastic bag. ‘You sound exactly like your grandmother – always doing the right, utterly boring thing! Your mother was a free spirit, but I start to see more and more of your grandmother in you, young lady.’ She struggles to her feet, angrily brushing away Taïga’s attempt at helping her. ‘I think you should head home now, it’s awfully late.’
‘Missy, I jogged here.’
‘Right. Come to think about it, you should probably take a shower when you get home…’
Taïga sniffs her armpits, ‘I don’t smell!’ She hurries after Missy, ‘Would you mind driving me home?’
‘No, I wouldn’t. But the car’s broken – again. And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sleep over, as the school bus doesn’t come this way and you’ll be awfully late to school tomorrow morning.’
She perfunctorily kisses her niece’s cheek and walks briskly back towards the house. ‘Don’t be afraid of the thunder, they said on the weather report that it’s not going to rain here.’
It is well past midnight when Taïga arrives home, soaking wet and incredibly angry at her great aunt who sent her running home in a thunderstorm. She eases open the door carefully so she won’t wake Granny, but her grandmother is sitting in the den, waiting up for her.
‘Where on earth have you been?’
‘At Missy’s. I left you a message, Granny.’
‘I called and Juan said he hadn’t seen you around since last week!’
Shivering Taïga hugs herself, she can’t tell Granny that Juan was wasted when he got home and wouldn’t have noticed a circus set up in his backyard. ‘I promise you I was at the Darer’s, but Juan wasn’t there, it was only Missy and… and me.’
Granny looks sternly at her, ‘I don’t like it when you lie, Taïga. But it’s late and you have school tomorrow. Go and take a hot shower before you catch a cold, we’ll talk about this tomorrow morning.’
‘I promise you I don’t lie, Granny. Call Missy and ask her!’
‘‘I think I prefer you lying… I hate to think that my sister sent you home all by yourself in this weather. But I will call her tomorrow. Oh, and Mr. Hawes called. He wants to see me. You don’t happen to know what it could be about, do you?’
Taïga bites her lip. Her math’s teacher had told her he would call her grandmother about her results in Calculus, but she had forgotten all about it…
‘Thought so. Now off you go, I’ll wake you a little earlier tomorrow so we can talk.’
With heavy steps, Taïga retreats… If only she could tell Granny about maybe having a sister, about the fairy trapped inside the gilded cage, about Missy’s child and what they did tonight…
She tries the apple thing before going to bed, but except a tingling feeling in her hand, nothing happens… I wonder if I could get straight A’s magically… I don’t care if it’s cheating…
Granny drives Taïga to school the next morning after giving her a harsh lecture concerning trust and the importance of a solid education, over breakfast. Missy doesn’t answer the phone so Taïga’s whereabouts last night are still questionable, even if Granny starts to falter. Trust goes both ways after all.
Maybe she wouldn’t have been so hard on her grandchild if she wasn’t filled with remorse. Ever since Arthur came into her life, she has probably been neglecting Taïga. Maybe she shouldn’t have left her alone so much, but she thought she did the right thing, respecting the young woman’s need to mourn.
And look what’s happening now! She just hopes Taïga has learnt her lesson and is staying away from those boys in the band and their bad influence over her…
She grabs the steering wheel hard and glances at her silent granddaughter. It seems like an impenetrable wall is surrounding her. Granny tries to break the silence, but Taïga answers in monosyllables, staring ahead with unblinking eyes. The silence makes Granny feel utterly helpless.
What is she thinking about? What is happening to us? When did we start drifting apart?
It’s the very first time she’s been asked to attend a meeting concerning Taïga’s results at school and she’s worried. It’s a good thing though, that Mr. Hawes called her, or she would still believe everything was just fine…
Taïga has always been independent, doing her homework without protests and being exemplary at school. Learning always seemed easy to her, and she breezed through middle school and Junior High… Must surely be the teacher’s fault if my brilliant granddaughter doesn’t understand what he teaches? Or maybe that school in Appaloosa Plains was too lenient, giving away good marks, and now she can’t keep up…
Matching their mood, a light drizzle start, forcing them to pull over to put the top up.
The rain is literally pouring down when they reach Fairview Heights, and the high school comes into view.
Miss Pell, the school secretary invites them to take a seat and buzzes Derek Hawes.
They hardly have time to sit downbefore the energetic teacher breezes in, a huge smile on his face, ‘Taïga.’ He nods to her and shakes Granny’s hand, ‘Mrs. Grey. Such a pleasure to finally meet you. I wish it was under other circumstances…’
He looks from her to Taïga and back again, ‘I can definitely see where your granddaughter has got her good looks from. Would you please follow me?’
Both Granny and Taïga blushes. Granny mouths to Taïga, ‘He’s so young!’
Taïga shrugs, he’s over twenty – that’s old to her.
‘Would you mind waiting while I have a word with your grandmother, Taïga?’ Holding the door for her grandmother he follows the old lady into the tiny office assigned for their discussion, leaving Taïga in the hall.
Granny looks him over, taking in the tattoos, the pierced ears. ‘You seem very young, Mr. Hawes. For a teacher.’
Derek Hawes grimaces self-consciously. ‘I get that a lot, Mrs. Grey. I’m 21, this is actually my first job.’
Granny sits back in the armchair he offers her and raises her eyebrows, waiting for him to continue.
‘Err… I’m a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in three years partly thanks to AP credits from high school. With honors in science and maths.’ He draws his breath. ‘The Fairview Heights Department of Education offered a program with the option that allowed me to start teaching in a classroom while pursuing my master’s degree. Of course I jumped on the occasion! So I passed my PRAXIS, ALST, EAS, edTPA and a content specialty test in Mathematics.’
Granny nods approvingly, ‘So you’ve got the academic skills, Mr. Hawes.’
‘Yes, and I’m improving my pedagogical abilities along the way…’
‘But enough about me.’ Granny’s piercing grey eyes make him uneasy, but he can’t keep blabbering like he’s seven years old and has forgotten to brush his teeth, or he’ll lose all credibility with her…
‘Shall we talk about your granddaughter, Mrs. Grey? Maybe you can shed some light on her background. She seems like a complex young lady…’
‘Hey, what is my best junior student doing in the hall of punishment?’
Taïga whirls around and grins at her History teacher. ‘I’ve had some trouble in math’s.’
She gestures with her head towards Granny and Derek Hawes discussing animatedly in the glass enclosed little office. Connor Frio rubs his beard. His colleague has mentioned Taïga’s lack of interest in class, but has she skipped school or something more serious? He knows about what happened last year -everybody do- but what he’s seen of her doesn’t correspond to the usual topo.
‘What kind of trouble?’
‘I think I shouldn’t have aimed so high taking AP Calculus this year, but Granny insisted on cumulating credits for college…’
Connor nods. ‘I believe you have the intellectual capacities, Taïga. We’ll see what Derek here proposes, but why not join one of the study groups? There’s one on Fridays for Juniors. Maths, of course, but also English, History… Maybe you should come and see what we’re doing?’
‘Err… I have Drama on Fridays…’
Connor taps his chin, ‘Well. There’s another group on Tuesday nights specializing in maths. Seniors, but if you’re interested, I’ll check with Derek if he’s OK to have a kid joining.’ He winks at her.
Taïga laughs, Connor Frio is so kind and understanding. And funny! ‘I’m not a kid, Mr. Frio!’
‘Great! Tuesday it is then!’
He hurries away before she can find an excuse not to go. Derek Hawes motions her to join them and she enters the cubicle, bracing herself for what she is about to hear…
‘Take a seat, Taïga. Your grandmother and I have been discussing your difficulties and your attitude in class. Don’t get me wrong,’ he looks at Granny, ‘Taïga is always pleasant and very polite.’
Granny nods, ‘Mr. Hawes tells me you’ve been rather absent-minded lately, daydreaming in class.’
She looks accusingly at Taïga who fiddles with the hem of her skirt.
She sighs, ‘I’m sorry, Granny. I’ll do my best to participate more.’ With everything happening in my life right now, keeping focused on school seem secondary…
Derek Hawes clears his throat, ‘I know there’s a lot going on in a teen’s life, and I guess girls are a little more complicated than boys – being more mature and everything.’ He leans forward, turning off the computer, ‘and you seem to have been through some traumatizing events lately…’
Taïga stares unblinkingly at a diploma on the opposite wall until her vision gets hazy. If only he knew…
‘… if she can’t get her grades up, I’ll consider sending her to another school.’
Granny’s last words brings her back to reality. ‘What? You can’t do that, Granny!’
‘I think that’s a little drastic, Mrs. Grey. I’m sure we can find another solution.’
‘My granddaughter’s well-being always comes first for me. And that means college education. I’ve been to all the information meetings, and Mr. Nowak told us parents that it gets harder for each year to get into college. He recommended signing up for AP classes so the students get as many credits as possible during 11th and 12th grades.’
‘Maybe I don’t want to go to college!’ Taïga snaps.
Granny stares at her. ‘What? You’ve never mentioned you didn’t want to go to college before.’
‘You never listen.’ Taïga mumbles, fighting her tears.
‘I think it’s a little early to decide on not going, Taïga. Especially since your other teachers are all very positive about you. Your grades are good in all subjects, except in mine and in Biology.’
‘Guess I won’t become a doctor then.’ A little ironic laugh escapes her.
‘Is that your goal? Becoming a doctor?’
She looks up at her teacher, ‘No. I-’ I want to sing! A want to travel abroad! I want Derek to come back! ‘-I don’t really know what I want anymore,’ she says in a low voice.
Derek Hawes looks at her for a moment, as if waiting for her to say something more but she remains silent.
Granny reaches for her hand and squeezes it. ‘I’m sorry too. For not listening and being too busy to understand you still need me.’
Derek Hawes passes his hand through his hair, ‘OK. Let’s recap; you’ve got a C- in calculus after the first 6 weeks. I know you can do better, so let’s aim for at least a B. But we can’t force you to learn, you have to put in some effort on your free time. I lead two study groups with Mr. Frio and Mr. West – Tuesdays and Fridays. Fridays are 11th grade calculus and history, but I’ve seen you at Drama classes, so I guess it leaves us with Tuesdays. The level is higher as the students are older – Seniors. But they are also fewer, so I would have time for you. And you’ll just come in as long as you need the extra help. Are you interested?’
‘Of course she’s interested.’ Granny adds, ‘God knows I can’t help her with math’s.’
The young teacher’s pale blue eyes don’t leave Taïga’s. ‘Do we have a deal?’
‘Yes. Thank you Mr. Hawes.’
Taïga hurries off to class and Derek Hawes escorts Granny out. They meet Connor Frio in the deserted hall.
‘Mrs. Grey, Connor Frio is Taïga’s home teacher this year.’
‘Pleased to meet you Mrs. Grey. I also have Taïga in History. Just to say, she’s one of my best students and I’m sure she’ll get over whatever problems she encounters in AP Calculus…’
Granny smiles with relief, it always feels good to hear praise over her grandchild. ‘I certainly hope so. She has always been very interested in History, Mr. Frio.’
Connor grins and adds to his colleague, ‘I suggested the Senior study group but wanted to hear with you first.’
Derek smiles, ‘We thought about the same thing, apparently. She’s signing up for Tuesdays…’
The rain has been pouring down almost nonstop since Taïga’s last visit at the Darer’s. It’s as if nature tries to make up for the terrible drought by drenching the dry earth and overflowing the lakes and rivers.
A thick fog rolls in from the slate grey sea, enveloping the countryside in a dense blanket, obscuring even the lighthouse. It’s warm and cozy in Bayou Oaks mansion thanks to the fireplaces that are lit night and day to keep the humidity at bay, but the chill of winter is on the horizon.
Granny is worried about leaving Taïga with no other way of warming the house, and after thinking it over carefully, she knows there’s only one thing she can do to be able to leave relatively serene. She must teach Taïga how to stop a fire magically, and they only have tonight, as the plane leaves at 7:30 a.m. and Arthur is scheduled to pick her up early tomorrow morning…
Missy called the other day to tell Taïga she won’t need her around for a while, they’ve got someone coming in from the Social Services to help them out, and a babysitter will take care of Athan during their trip to Lucky Palms.
‘So you see, everything works out perfectly fine.’
Taïga can hear glass breaking and a baby screaming in the background. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. Our maid needs a little training, but as long as she cares for Athan, I don’t mind the broken plates.’ As if on cue the baby stops screaming. ‘I hope you haven’t told Granny yet – I’ll do it myself. Later. Maybe we could have dinner, all of us! You could make something with chicken or maybe trout?’
‘Yeah. I mean no, I haven’t told her. I’ll come over after the weekend to-’
‘Do that, dear. Have to run! Cheerio!’
Taïga stares at the receiver. Cheerio, huh? Missy must have been watching one of those British TV-series she fancies so much…
She can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong. But Missy is a grown-up woman after all, and even if she’s a silly, scatterbrained and ultimately irresponsible person, she won’t let anything or anyone hurt her little son. Taïga is glad she doesn’t have to babysit the whole weekend, she was afraid her great aunt called to ask just that.
‘A maid is great news, after all it lets you off the hook – for a while at least.’
‘Yeah. It would have jeopardized the whole weekend!’ Taïga plops down on one of the soft new faux fur settees, ‘Jeez. I love these beanbags…’
‘Me too! Once settled in you don’t want to get up again… Don’t you notice something?’
Taïga scans her BFF’s room. ‘Apart from your dad going all out on decorating in purple…’
‘Yeah… Purple is my favorite color, but I guess Viktor got a little bit too excited when I gave him free reins and said I wanted him to surprise me! Well, look behind you! On the wall!’
Taïga turns her head. ‘Yeah?’
Linn gesticulates despairingly towards a futuristic looking picture, ‘But it’s Kaydence! Dressed as Astra Blythe! Kaydence, you know, who wrote that book about “Simtopia” I lent you last summer… I guess you still haven’t come around to reading it? Yet.’
‘No, I’m sorry. You know I’m not a sci-fi fan. But it’s on my to-do-list…’
‘You should read it! It’s awesome. But I guess we can just check out the movie! Can you imagine, she’s just our age and already going to Uni. Could you picture us meeting her on campus?’
Taïga scrutinizes the beautiful girl on the framed poster. ‘Is that a real signature?’
‘Uh-huh! Jesper got it for me, he was doing the photoshoot for the movie publicity campaign. He said Kaydence is great, very kind but terribly shy. She was reading books between make-ups and shootings…’
‘She looks kind of familiar…’
‘You’re watching “As the Sims Turn”? She’s the blond bitchy one, Alexa Barstow.’
‘No… It’s something else…’
‘She looks a lot like her mother-’
‘Ohmygod! That’s it! She’s Madison Avenue’s daughter!?! I love everything she does. Her voice is just perfect, she can sing anything and make it sound good…’
They continue gossiping about Kaydence and her famous parents, imagining how wonderful it must be not having parents on their backs all the time… Both are excited about the upcoming weekend and being “alone” for three days, but at the same time Taïga is terribly worried about Granny flying to Lucky Palms. What if something happened to her grandmother? What if the plane crashes? She shares her worries with Linn, who promptly reassures her…
This Thursday evening, the stress of her grandmother flying out early the next morning, is overpowering. She’s ranting about it to Sprinkler, who’s wolfing down a large part of pie.
‘… and they’ll be in the air for about 7 hours! Granny is old, she could get a blood clot in her legs if she sits still for too long…’
Sprinkler licks his fingers, ‘Didn’t ye say they have a stop for about an hour in Atlanta? That makes it two times three hours – not seven. I have to say I think she’ll survive that.’
‘And what if the plane gets hi-jacked, huh? Or crashes?’
She regrets sharing her fears the instant he opens his mouth to answer.
‘Aye. Ye can’t control a plane, can ye? That’s the pilot’s job, ye just strap yerself into yer seat… and ye’re helpless! Better trust him not to have had a fight with his wife before flying a gazillion ton airplane so high ye can’t even see the ground! I have to say, I never gunna do it meself. Fly in an airplane. Too risky…’
‘Sprinkles, there are more people dying in car accidents every year! Flying is the safest way of travelling!’
Sprinkler raises his eyebrows, ‘So why worry then? If ye’re not eating yer pie, can I have it?’
Aargh… She goes back to the kitchen to withdraw a box of orange juice from the fridge, letting him have her part of pie without discussing it further.
‘I must say, I want a taste of that!’
‘Hey.’ Taïga backs away her chair, holding her orange juice out of reach from Sprinkler’s greedy fingers. ‘I left you my part of pie!’
‘But that must surely be better! Otherwise ye wouldn’t have left me yer part!’
Taïga glares at Sprinkler. Sometimes his logic is a little hard to follow. ‘Read my lips; I’m. Not. Hungry! That’s why you got two parts of pie.’
‘That’s not a problem. Jaysis, I’ll have the pie too if ye insist. Now let me taste yer drink with a straw!’
They stare at each other.
Taïga sighs, and pushes her juice box towards him.
Sprinkler bends down and drinks a mouthful. ‘That’s a fret!?!’
Sprinkler looks accusingly at her, ‘It’s orange juice!?!’
‘It says Minute Maid on it! I have to say, ye should get yer money back.’ He sits down and takes a bite out of the pie, shaking his little head. ‘It is what it is. Ye can keep yer drink. I’ll stick a straw in an orange and it’s exactly the same.’
‘Well, that’s the point with fresh orange juice – even if it comes in a box.’
‘Really? Why does it say maid on it? Can ye explain that, can ye??? Can ye?’
Taïga stares at Sprinkler who’s grumpily munching on his pie. ‘Don’t say you thought it was a squeezed maid in there?’
‘Gah, you’re gross!’
The little gnome looks at her from under his hat. ‘Have ye ever tasted a freshly squeezed maid?’
She stares at him.
‘In a box?’ he adds triumphantly. ‘With a straw?’
Taïga shakes her head, grimacing.
‘Well, I thought so.’ He gets back to munching on his pie, ‘Tell me I’m gross when ye know what ye’re talking about.’
‘Well. Have you?’
‘What? Naah. I have to say I’ve squeezed many a maid in my time, but-’
‘I’ll tell ye all about it later.’
‘I’d rather not, Sprinkler…’
He calls after her, ‘Aren’t ye finishing yer juice in a box? Can I have it? Can I?’
Granny is nervously waiting for her granddaughter in her room.
‘There’s something I must show you, and I think the right time has come. Look! What do you see?’ She gestures towards her old cupboard in the corner.
Taïga looks from the old cupboard and back to Granny. Why is she asking her what she’s seeing? ‘A cupboard, Granny.’
‘Wait and see, dear. Wait and see.’ Granny opens the doors and backs away a few steps. ‘Can you see anything?’
‘Apart from your clothes and a little cobweb in the corner-’
‘Cobweb? I cleaned it out the other day… You shouldn’t run around the house barefoot, by the way. You’ll catch a cold.’
Taïga rolls her eyes. Granny is definitely getting old, more normal and less magical for each day…
‘No, Minuit, you can’t go in there.’ Gently Granny shoos away the cat before closing the door. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Err… It depends. I guess I am.’
‘Open the doors. Both of them.’
Taïga puts her hands on the handles but lets go immediately. ‘What was that?’
‘Magic dear. This cupboard isn’t like any other cupboard. It’s filled with magic… And when you touched the handles of those doors, you triggered it. Now don’t be afraid. If the cupboard welcomes you, it means that you are ready…’
Hesitatingly Taïga reaches for the handles again, closing her fingers around the cold smooth brass, her skin prickling. She holds her breath and yanks both doors open.
A blue light emanates from within the dark recesses of the old cupboard and Granny heaves a sigh. It worked!
She watches her granddaughter step into the old cupboard, inexorably pulled towards the light…
The doors close behind her with a loud bang. Granny stares at them for a moment, then she starts pacing.
She’s not yet initiated to her powers, but they are already possessing her. A couple of days can’t make much of a difference, can it? Today or on the 31st can’t be very important… Especially as I won’t fly in until late afternoon and we won’t have the time. If she wasn’t ready, the cupboard would have stayed its old normal self… How long have it been? 10 minutes? 15?’
She sits on her bed, staring at the cupboard, absentmindedly stroking Minuit’s silky black fur. The cat purrs and rubs her head against Granny’s hands.
What if she doesn’t come back? She almost got stuck in the palantìr after all. Never heard of anyone getting stuck in the cupboard though. But why does it take so long?
Suddenly Minuit tenses. On stiff legs he jumps down onto the floor and spits as the doors to the cupboard silently opens.
Granny stares with relief at the vision of white emerging out of the blue light.
Taïga steps out of the cupboard in a dreamlike state, but the loud bang of the doors closing behind her back startles her, ‘Oh, Granny, I had such a strange dream.’ She looks down at her white outfit. ‘What is this? Where’s my t-shirt?’
‘You’re a novice now and that’s your ceremony outfit. You’ll wear it on the night of your initiation.’
Taïga pinches the flimsy material and whirls around, laughing. ‘Bet I’ll freeze to death… if nothing worse happens.’
Granny chuckles, ‘You’ll be too preoccupied to think of the cold. And anyway it’s part of the ceremony. The cold, I mean.’
Taïga looks at herself in the mirror over the fire place. ‘But where are my “real” clothes?’
‘Err… They are gone, Taïga. Vanished in the depths of the cupboard.’
‘But I have to get Derek’s team shirtback!’
She lounges for the cupboard but Granny grabs her arm, ‘You can’t get back in there Taïga. The cupboard only works one way, and you never return to the same place twice.’
‘But I need his team shirt! Please, Granny. It’s important to me!’
‘Taïga!’ Granny’s commanding voice makes her stop pulling towards the cupboard. Unblinkingly she stares at her grandmother before falling into her arms, sobbing violently.
Granny hugs her shivering body, ‘Hush… It will be all right. You’re a novice now… Getting back so soon is dangerous. And you won’t get your t-shirt back.’ She holds the young girl at arm’s length, drying Taïga’s tear drenched cheeks with the back of her hand. ‘If you feel up to it, I have something important to show you.’
Taïga swallows and bites her lip. ‘I’m sorry, Granny. It’s just that… That team shirt… it…’
‘I understand, darling. But there’s nothing we can do about it.’
Taïga snivels and takes the Kleenex Granny’s offering. She follows her grandmother up the stairs to the attic, absentmindedly dabbing at the tears she had not even noticed where flowing down her cheeks.
Nothing dangerous happened to me in the cupboard, apart the risk of catching a cold as I went barefoot through the snow in that strange place… No. I’ll go back as soon as Granny leaves for Lucky Palms…
Once in the attic Granny asks her to wait while she changes into her old witch outfit. Taïga closes her eyes, inhaling the familiar musky odor of the old attic. She has already spent time with Granny here, doing her homework on the floor while Granny prepared her famous potions, helping out by fetching the necessary ingredients and sometimes stirring the kettle. But not dressed like this. She fiddles with the soft white material. And she hasn’t seen Granny in full outfit since they moved from Vulturu…
It all adds to the pent-up feeling of nervousness. This must be important, otherwise she wouldn’t change her clothes, or have made me get the outfit I wasn’t supposed to receive until the day of the blood moon…
A soft creaking of the floorboards and clinking of metal announces Granny’s arrival.
‘Here. You can open your eyes.’ Granny is standing in front of her all dressed in grey, she’s even wearing her hat. Seeing Granny like this is a little intimidating, as if it isn’t her grandmother, but a stranger. A powerful stranger.
Granny smiles, ‘I thought my outfit would be too small, but apart from the corset, it still fits. Would you mind helping me unlace it a bit?’ She holds out a large keyring, with two immense keys dangling from it. ‘I almost forgot… Here, take these. They open the door to where I keep my elixirs, and also the chest where my more lethal ingredients are kept…’
Taïga takes the keys, ‘So do I open the door or unlace your corset, Granny?’
They look at each other, and burst out laughing.
‘I guess I’m a little nervous too.’ Granny admits.
‘Come and pick out which spell book you’d like to use…’
Taïga looks at the familiar old tomes. Where’s the large one? She catches sight of it on the floor, under some dusty rolls of parchment and empty vials. ‘That one.’
Granny picks it up with a grunt, ‘I think you picked the heaviest…’
She puts the old grimoire in front of her granddaughter.
‘Do you remember when you were little and I used to read you to sleep? I though you would pick that one. Well, this is a much older spellbook. Let’s see what you can make out of it.’
Taïga lets her hand hoover over the old book. It opens and the pages start turning furiously before stopping somewhere in the middle.
Granny is surprised, ‘Wow. That was fast. But I guess you’ve seen me doing it so many times… When you helped me with the elixirs…’
‘Yes… I remember.’ Taïga leans over the old book to hide her flaming cheeks.
She has already used this same spell book so many times- to find a spell that could locate her dead mother*, to make the potion that made Buddy and Peaches come alive**, or just to learn things. But she can never tell her grandmother about it or she will freak out.
She concentrates on the grimoire, watching the ancient inscriptions form on the empty pages.
Granny tries to read over her shoulder, ‘So… What does it say?’
‘Wait a minute… It’s tells how to make a potent cure elixir???’
‘Why? What does it cure? Cancer?’
‘Oh, no. Unfortunately you don’t cure real life illnesses with an elixir. No, this elixir cures supernatural afflictions, like toadification curses. But I think it was also used against pestilence in the Middle Ages…’
‘Supernatural afflictions, you said. Like… lycanthropy?’
‘Lycanthropy? Hmm… Does it says you need Wolfsbane?’
Taïga scans the lines, reading rapidly, ‘Err… It says Glow Orbs, Ruby… And Yes! Wolfsbane Flower!’
‘Then it’s obviously also made to cure lycans….’
‘Do you mean I could remove the werewolf curse, turning the werewolf back into a human?’
‘Wolfsbane is a harmless herb, but it is supposedly lethal to the beasts. It takes a fairly large amount of it to kill one. So much it’s not manageable!’
‘About 2,600 oz (74 l) of elixir, too much to carry around… Small quantities can be used to take away their powers temporarily, though, making them weak enough to become an easy target for our magic.’
Taïga leans over the old tome. Her heart is beating so fast it feels like it’s going to burst. A cure against lycantrophy! Derek’s mother has searched for it for ages without finding anything to help her son, but now I’ll be the one who cures him from- Suddenly it feels like she’s falling. She grabs the book holder for support, squeezing her eyes shut to stop the world from spinning, What was she thinking? Derek will never benefit from this cure!
Granny’s voice reaches her from a great distance, ‘… glow orbs is used against fairy magic… werewolves don’t exist. You know that, don’t you? Are you feeling all right, dear? Maybe we should wait until next week after all.’
Taïga tries to clear her head. ‘Huh? Err… No. I’m fine… So it works on fairies?’
Granny looks worriedly at her, ‘Fairies? Didn’t I say so – one of the ingredients is glow orbs. Why? Are you thinking about using it on Sprinkler?’
‘No…’ But maybe on my sister! If I can find her. If she exists.
She brushes away a strand of hair from her eyes, ‘Let’s go ahead and make it, Granny. Like that I won’t feel so bad about toadifying people.’
‘That spell is a little complicated, it will have to wait until you’re initiated. First you have to learn the basics, like how to conjure an apple.’
‘But I’ve already threw spells more complicated, you know that, Granny.’
‘Uh-huh… It’s never too late to start on the right path, Taïga. Always remember that. Now concentrate on the elixir.’ She nods towards the open spell book, ‘Making a powerful potion isn’t like cooking dinner. Throwing bizarre things in a kettle – anybody can do that. No, your magic has to become part of the mixture that’s brewing… That means no talking.’
‘Why isn’t there a chant or something that goes with it?’
‘Who can answer that? Some elixirs need an incantation, others don’t. You can always create an own incantation if it makes it easier for you to focus…’
Taïga ponders what Granny said, ‘Yeah. I think I need some distraction from my own thoughts.’
Granny nods. ‘Go ahead…’
Granny supervises the making of the cure elixir, and she can’t help wondering over how at ease Taïga seems with the spell book. She’s singing the Latin instructions, following them like they were written in plain English, adding the ingredients without hesitating. At the end there’s a thick lava-like mixture bubbling in the kettle.
Granny takes over the stirring, ‘It’s very thick… I don’t know if we’ll be able to tap it into a vial.’
‘It says here it shouldn’t be kept in a flask, but wrapped in Chamois leather… What’s that?’
‘Shammies. Take the ladle while I fetch one…’
The wooden ladle is heavy, and she needs both her hands to manoeuver it. They watch in awe as the spoonful of mixture instantly jellifies on the piece of soft goatskin. When she turns around to get another spoonful, the kettle is empty, all trace of the bubbling mixture is gone.
‘That means a spoonful is all you get.’
‘All that potion for just a spoonful? Well, at least I won’t have to scrub it clean!’
Taïga wraps the skin around the trembling mass of cure elixir, squeezing it a little. ‘It feels like a stress ball, Granny. Here, touch it…’
Granny pinches the soft bundle. ‘We should keep this in the chest. I think it’s harmless to anybody but a supernatural, but you never know.’
Taïga notices how Granny stresses the word. ‘If werewolves don’t exist, Granny… How come you’re keeping a stock of Wolfsbane large enough to take out a whole army of them?’
To protect you, my grandchild. From a werewolf’s bite that surely would kill you… ‘Didn’t I just say it?’ She surveys her granddaughter carefully put the bundle in the little chest and turning the key. ‘You never know when you’ll need things.’
Somewhere deep down, Granny feels a rush of guilty relief that Derek isn’t around anymore, complicating things…. Did her granddaughter know his secret? Probably not. He had tried to tell her once when they were kids, but Taïga didn’t understand he was talking about himself.* And she doubts he had told her while at APYR, for fear she would have ran for the hills. Just as Taïga must keep the secret about being a witch. Hybrids are an abomination and mustn’t exist. A witch and a werewolf? Never heard of… But on the other hand, she’s never heard of a witch and a vampire neither… So is Taïga a hybrid? Until now there’s been nothing to make her suspect it.
‘I’m sorry, could you repeat?’
‘I said; It doesn’t feel safe enough with just a key, Granny. I’d like to seal it with magic.’
‘Next time you use the spell book, ask for it and see what it proposes.’
‘Am I allowed to do that now?’
‘Yes, as a novice you have gained access to the spells… Basic spells. More and more will be unlocked as you progress. I’m surprised the spell book proposed such a complicated spell at once, I thought you would make a love spell or something… easier…’
‘Missy talked about conjuring apples being the basic thing to learn. I’ve tried, but apart from a tingling sensation, I haven’t-’
‘Has Missy tried to teach you anything?’
‘Err… No. She was just surprised you hadn’t showed me this apple-conjuring-thing yet.’
‘Hmm… I don’t think you should spend so much time at the Darer’s, Missy is definitely not a good example to follow when it comes to magic. She has far too much power for a second born anyway…’ She holds out her hand, palm upward. ‘Just do as I do…’
A couple of minutes later Taïga is holding her first apple in her hand. It glows a luscious pink.
‘Can I eat it?’
‘No! It’s poisoned! Pink apples are poisoned… How come you conjured a pink apple?’
‘Err… I don’t know. It just happened, I guess.’
‘Let’s try again…’
But no matter how concentrated Taïga is on making red, yellow or even green apples, she only makes pink, poisoned apples appear.
‘My hand is starting to itch, Granny. Could we stop?’
‘Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t make you go through this whole cupboard and elixir making thing to conjure apples anyway. I want to make sure you can stop a fire.’
‘This house is old, and the fireplaces aren’t safe. I would feel more at ease if I knew you could put out a fire while I’m gone.’
Taïga is exhausted, but nods. ‘OK. But I could always use one of the fire extinguishers, you know.’
Granny looks at her deadpan.
‘Just joking, Granny.’
‘This is a serious matter, Taïga. The magic you will learn tonight, allows you to transform fire to ice. Or just about anything to ice, so you have to be careful not aiming it at a living creature, or it will die. Now gather the energy into your wand…’
Sparkling colorful dots appear and sink into the wand.
‘I think I have to sit down a while…’ Worried, Taïga watches her grandmother heavily sit on the old armchair. ‘Now close your eyes and concentrate on visualizing something that represents cold. Extreme cold. Don’t open your eyes, no matter what!’
Taïga closes her eyes and concentrates on evoking enough chill to freeze a fire. She visualizes a barren landscape, dead leaves littering the dark soil. Frost is sweeping its delicate pattern over the ground and trees until they are completely overtaken by the cold tendrils of winter. Breath steaming. Snow crunching. Ice crackling…
‘Let this be struck by a chilling breeze
That sends it into a deep freeze’
At the same instant as she lets a powerful blast of raw stinging cold escape her wand, Sprinkler suddenly appears…
‘OhMyGod!’ The poor leprechaun is instantly transforming to ice in front of her unbelieving eyes. ‘What have I done!?!’
Instinctively she acts,
‘Hear me, wise ones, old ones, those who dwell above;
Hear my call and hear my voice, hear my prayer…’
‘NO! Taïga! NO!’
‘… send to me the blessings of fire!’
In an instant it seems like the whole room is set ablaze…
Granny throws herself towards the frozen gnome to save him from the devastating heat, but in an eye blink the fire shrinks to a just a small spark.
With a piercing yell, the leprechaun throws himself into Granny’s outstretched arms.
‘Jaysis, yer granddaughter put the heart crossway in me. I didn’t see that coming at all!’
‘I’m so sorry, Sprinkler. Are you all right?’
‘Aye. A brandy would certainly help to slow me heart beat down a bit.’ He straightens his hat as Granny puts him back on the floor. ‘I think I need me a pair of new trousers, though.’
Taïga finishes putting out the fire with the newly learnt ice-blast, ‘Look, Granny! There’s not even a trace on the floor boards!’
‘That’s all very well, but the most important is that Sprinkler here wasn’t hurt. “Do as you must but harm none” is our creed, Taïga.’
‘I know, Granny. And I’m sorry. I didn’t think, I just acted. I knew it was a matter of seconds. And it worked out well, didn’t it?’
‘Well!?! I was almost barbecued!’
‘You were not!’ Taïga adds offended.
‘Would ye mind telling yer granddaughter to stop waving that wand of hers around, before she sets fire on us all? Again!’
Taïga snorts, but stops waving her wand, ‘The fire didn’t touch you! I aimed it to your side just to “defrost” you!’
‘Defrost me! Who said ye had to freeze me over in the first place!?! It’s not my fault yer spell went arseways on ye!’
‘It worked perfectly fine until you showed up without warning – as usual! You aren’t supposed to sneak up on us like that!’
‘Stop bickering, both of you!’ Granny almost faints.
‘Granny!’ Taïga grabs her arm and steers her towards the armchair.
‘I’ll get us all a brandy!’ Sprinkler vanishes, but reappears almost instantly with a crystal decanter. He pours some golden liquid into a glass and hands it to Granny.
‘It’s not necessary, Sprinkler. I don’t drink.’
‘Ah go way outta that, of course ye will have a sip. It’s not drinking! It’s medication!’
Granny sips and grimaces. ‘Thank you Sprinkler.’
Taïga takes the glass from Granny’s hand and helps her to stand up. The leprechaun sniffs the aroma clucking his tongue appreciatively. ‘Do ye think ye could use a straw? Less washing-up to do…’
Minuit follows Granny and Taïga, purring and rubbing against their legs, making them trip. She jumps up onto the bed, mewing plaintively.
‘She can sense you’re not all right, Granny. Look how worried she is!’
‘Just give me a hand with the corset, and I’ll be all right… It seems I can’t handle doing too much magic anymore…’
Taïga helps her grandmother to sit down. She takes her hat and unlaces the corset.
Granny stretches. ‘I feel a little better. You should go to bed, it’s terribly late.’
A loud knock on the door interrupts them, ‘Are ye decent in there?’
‘Not quite yet!’ Granny takes her pajamas and vanishes into the bathroom.
As soon as the bathroom door clicks shut, Sprinkler appears on the bed next to Taïga. He doesn’t say anything, just mimics her posture, short legs swaying over the edge of the mattress. Taïga doesn’t acknowledge him neither.
‘All right. All right. I shouldn’t have appeared out of nowhere like that.’
Taïga glances at him, ‘Pinch me or is that an excuse?’
‘Aw, sure look it.’
She sniffs the air, ‘Or are you drunk, Sprinkler O’Lyin?’
‘Nay. There was just a naggin’ left. Had to calm my nerves a bit.’ He peeks up at her. ‘I was a friend of Dame Alice Kytler, ye know.’
‘Err… Am I supposed to know her?’
‘She was the first woman to be condemned for witchcraft in Ireland. I helped her out of the country to England, but I was too late for her servant.’
‘Oh. What happened?’
‘People in Kilkenny were jealous of Dame Alice. She was wealthy and married four times. So of course she was accused of witchcraft. Even her children accused her of poisoning their fathers… As I said, she got away, but Petronilla de Meath –her servant- was flogged and burned to death at the stake.’ He gazes at the the opposite wall. ‘It was on the 3rd of November in 1324. More than 700 years ago, but it seems like yesterday.’
‘What happened to Dame Alice?’
He shrugs and focuses on her. ‘She escaped to England, then to the continent. She was 67 at the outbreak of the Black Death…’
‘So she died of the Bubonic Plague?’
Sprinkler shakes his head. ‘She knew what was going to happen when healers and women in general were being arrested. She had experienced it herself after all. So she fled -again. Up into the mountains, far from the persecution.’ Sprinkler’s eyes don’t leave hers. ‘In the Saint year of the Watcher, Anno Simini 1364, she found a baby on her doorstep. A changeling? Maybe… The fact is that the child was extremely brilliant, and at the age of ten, she had already learned everything Dame Alice had to offer.’
Taïga swallows. ‘Who was she?’
‘I think ye know who.’
‘The woman in my dreams…’
Sprinkler nods. ‘Her name was Valinor, later known as Lady Ravendancer-’ He pauses dramatically, ‘-and she is yer ancestor.’
‘Please tell me more about Valinor, Sprinkler! Did you know her?’
He nods proudly. ‘Did I know her? Aw, sure look it.’
Granny enters the bedroom. ‘Are you still here? Have you two made peace?’ She bends over and unfolds the blanket, ‘Don’t you think this bed is getting a bit crowded?’
‘Aye. Make the cat move over, Taïga!’
Granny eases herself into bed. ‘Would you mind? I’ve got a terrible headache…’
Taïga bends over and kisses her grandmother’s forehead. ‘Goodnight, Granny. Thank you for everything.’
‘Goodnight, darling child…’
She tiptoes out of the room and closes the door. Where is Sprinkler? Vanished as usual…
With a sigh she undresses, carefully folding the white garment over the back of a chair. She drifts off to sleep, hoping to dream of the tall woman.
Valinor… my ancestor…
The whitewashed floorboards are cold and rough under her bare feet as she tiptoes over to look through the frost covered little window. She blows and wipes with her hand until she can see outside. It’s dark, but she can sense the dawn. She looks over at the immobile form on the thin mattress filled with peat moss. She must hurry…
The knitted stockings by the fireplace are itching, but at least they are dry and warm. A handful of precious straw in her clogs will keep her feet safe from frostbite. The huge woolen shawl falls over her shoulders, and she secures it around her waist with a rope. She walks over to the bed, looking down on the frail figure staring at her with unseeing eyes. She passes her hand over the old woman’s face, closing them forever. ‘Goodbye, Nenna.’ Bending over she kisses the already cold forehead. She must hurry…
She picks up her bundle and pushes the creaking door open wide. An eerie landscape opens before her. Hugging her bundle close to her chest, she steps into the snow, the roaring of the fire following her out. She must hurry…
Part II – End of Chapter 32
“Dame Alice Kyteler (1280 – later than 1325) was the first recorded person condemned for witchcraft in Ireland. She fled the country, but her servant Petronilla de Meath was flogged and burned to death at the stake on 3 November 1324.”
Special thanks to:
venusdemilosims for the beautiful poster of her remarkable sim Kaydence and for letting me use her background story in this chapter.
RomerJon17 at MTS. All interior school scenes have been staged at his awesome school, Lucas College.