This is a translation of the original book 'Trollkarlens arvinge' into English. The complete novel is not yet translated but this is a five chapter long taste of it. If you are interested in publishing my novel in another language than the original Swedish, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Through the black autumn storm an alarm rang out across the woodlands. Birds and other flying creatures left their branches and winds darted with fearsome speed across the wastes. There was a commotion that night. A child was born at Zenithar’s castle, the wizard’s heir. Far away in the northern forests, beyond the mountains, the Witch Masters turned in their sleep. The birth made their skin burn as if their beds were filled with hot coals. They could not allow another wizard to rise against them, and prepared for battle.
A wind tore at his coat while Joso gazed across the ravaged landscape. The ancient mountains were shattered into oblivion, and what looked like a shanty town had sprouted amongst the rubble. For how long it had been there was hard to tell, but it was not new. Large labour camps looked like an open wound in the earth. No longer could he hear the chants from the mountain people in these valleys, and all the animals had fled. The air was filled with heavy smells of smoke and stone.
“Master”, Alexi dismounted. In the faint starlight you could hardly see his face. “The railway runs all the way to Misthold Castle, mostly underground.”
“As we suspected then. What is our old friend building?”
“An army?” Alexi came up beside him and took off his hat. For a second his eyes gleamed in the light from the distant fires. “There was one more thing.” he began, and one could hear from the tension in his throat that it was something grim.
The wind snatched at them and Joso drew his coat mote tightly around him.
“More bad news?”
“Someone has been selling information.” Alexi’s eyes followed his movements carefully, he seemed nervous. “Your children are in danger.”
Ice shot through Joso’s veins. His worst fear had come true and his apprentice needed no words to understand. They mounted their horses, and Joso did not wait a second but urged Silverarrow down the mountain. By the sound of galloping hooves Alexi was right behind him. While they rode, the path was lit up by fireflies and moonlight.
Chapter 1: The Letter
Autumn pressed its black hands against the windows of the school bus, and in the rain and the mist, the day seemed darker than ever. Stella dismounted and walked over the leaf-covered asphalt, the strong wind tearing at her hair. She shivered and hurried away from the traffic, ran in between the apartment buildings and up the stairwell.
She found Aldis in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a creased brow. Her aunt had a handwritten letter in her hand, and she raised her eyes as Stella walked in. The coffee machine beeped, and she left the letter on the table as she rose to pour herself a cup.
“Um…” Aldis began, but fell silent and pulled away an untamed lock of hair from her face.
Stella sat down and took a biscuit from the crumpled wrapper. It was dry and tiny flakes got stuck on her tongue. Aldis placed the cup on the table and the burnt scent of coffee spread around them. She sat down again and placed one hand over the letter.
“It’s from your father”, she said hoarsely.
Stella stared at the faint beige paper. She sat paralysed, with her eyes fixed on what lay written in front of her. A sign of life from her own father. She drew the letter gently across the table. As if to reassure herself that this was really true, her fingertips caressed the letter, tracing the beautiful handwriting, before she began to read.
Dear Stella & Jacob,
I hope all is well with you. Ever since Ingrid died I have seen it as the best choice for you to grow up with Aldis, since I so seldom have the opportunity to be at home. Despite my absence I hope to be able to resume contact and I now want you to come and stay with me. There is nothing I want more than to see you again and it was never intended for us to be separated, but sometimes Destiny decrees a different path from the one you planned to take.
I will shortly write another letter with more information about the move.
Your father, Joso Zenithar
“But I don’t even remember him…” The letter fell from Stella’s hand. She rose to unpack her sports clothes but the kitchen felt tilted and she sat down again.
“I have only seen him a few times”, Aldis said. “Ingrid met him when I lived in India.”
Stella sat in silence and felt empty. Her father: she had a father and he had written to them. Her own father, Joso Zenithar. It had always been just a name, a ghost that no one spoke of. She had no memory of him, only an old photograph: who was he? What did he look like now?
“Joso?” Stella gazed at her aunt. “Why would he want us to come and live with him now?” He had never cared. Not a single birthday, not a single day as far as she could remember, had she ever met this man. And now he wanted them to come and live with him, just like that.
Aldis sat in silence, still with a wrinkle between her eyebrows.
“Jacob and I will never move!” Cried Stella. It had always been just them and their aunt. But still: it was Joso: her father had reached out for them and she felt dizzy. Had she not always dreamed about this?
“Where are we moving?” The front door crashed and Jacob looked into the kitchen.
She was about to open her mouth, then stopped: Her fifteen year old brother was covered in mud from his shoes to his hair.
“What happened?” Aldis stared at him.
“Nothing.” He threw his coat and backpack on the floor.
“And why are your glasses broken?” Their aunt settled her own on her nose and walked around the kitchen table towards him. But before she could do anything the door to Jacobs’s room slammed shut. She sighed but knocked on it.
“Jacob?” Aldis gently opened the door. “Did you get good grades again?”
“Are the other guys jealous?”
“Come on, Jacob, tell me who it was and I’ll beat them up.” Stella said and she came and placed herself in the doorway with her arms crossed. She said it jokingly, but she would not have turned down the opportunity if it came along. Then she noticed that she was trembling and kept her arms firmly against her body so they wouldn’t see.
Jacob was looking at them with raised eyebrows. The mud on his face had run and left stripes of bare skin where he had wiped it away from his eyes.
“It doesn’t matter, we’re going to move anyway”, he grabbed an old towel and rubbed his face, “Where are we going? Rome? New York? The house across the street?” Jacob smiled faintly.
“Jacob, our…” Stella faltered over the unfamiliar word, “Dad… has written to us.” Her inside trembled. She had somehow accepted that she would never see him, but now everything had changed.
Her brother looked at her, tilting his head to one side as he usually did, when he didn’t believe her.
“What did you say?” He fumbled with his glasses, which were bent and cracked, but he put them on anyway.
“We must give it time and see what happens”, Aldis said and smiled. She ruffled Jacob’s hair, which compared to the rest of him was pretty un-muddy, and continued. “And we’ll have to fix new glasses for you, Professor. Meanwhile I’ll see if I can find your old ones.” Their aunt left them and Stella held out the letter to her brother.
“I don’t really understand it, but maybe you do…”
Jacob wiped his hands clean and read it through.
“So this is really happening?”
Stella met her brother’s clear blue gaze.
“I don’t know.”
Aldis came back with a pair of old steel coloured spectacles.
“Will you come with us?” He asked.
Their aunt pursed her mouth.
“There’s something you’re not telling us, isn’t there?” Stella looked at her intently.
“Joso said that he would get in touch one day and want you to come and stay with him, but I honestly thought he did not mean it. I know that Ingrid loved him, but I really know nothing about him except that he is used to getting what he wants.”
Stella felt a shudder run through her body.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything Ingrid told me… But one thing is perfectly clear and that is that I am not just going to hand you over to him. Maybe he is your father, but you are my children now.”
That whole evening Stella searched for the photograph. She was looking for the only proof of her father’s existence. The rain clattered loudly on the tiles like the drumming of hooves. She emptied a drawer on the carpet and looked through another pile of junk, insignificant scraps and stuff that had ended up there, just because at some point they had been considered ‘a pity to throw away’. Underneath a red envelope from a long since forgotten pen pal she found it, a photo with a small injury in one corner. Every little detail was familiar. She had been frantic when she received the photograph, at age eleven, and took it with her everywhere in the hope that one day he would come. But he had never come, and she had put it away, not wanting to see the man who had betrayed her. She thought these emotions had cooled to indifference, but as she looked at the picture she instantly felt them gnawing inside her.
Her parents sat on a stone staircase backed by an ivy-covered wall. Ingrid had a simple white dress and Joso a white shirt and black trousers, and they laughed as if the camera was not there. Her father seemed tall and strong, even handsome with shoulder-length dark hair. Stella’s father. She had not seen her parents since she was barely three years old and she could not remember them. But her mother was dead. Stella saw herself in both of them – she had the same semi-curled hair as her mother but the darker colour was more like her father’s. Full lips like her mother and a straight definite nose like her father. It was eerie to see the photo again, now that she was becoming an adult, she had truly become their likeness.
The computer blinked and Stella clicked ‘video’ and saw Linn sitting in her own room on the other side of the small town.
“Stella! Have you seen? I have purple hair!” Her friend pulled one hand through her short purple hair right in front of the camera and laughed.
“So you really did it?! I wasn’t sure you would dare”, Stella put the photograph on the desk and smiled, “It’s really neat, I like it!” She tried to sound as if she was not in shock, as if she had nothing new to say, because she did not know how or what to think.
“What are you doing anyway? Mike and I thought we might go to the movies tonight. Do you want to come along?”
“Not today,” Stella sat down on the chair, “I have got some stuff to do, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Linn pouted but nodded.
“Okay, see you tomorrow darling, peace out!”
The video went dark and Stella picked up the photograph again.
“Who are you?” The smiling man seemed nice, nasty people cannot laugh like that.
There was a knock at the door and her aunt opened it.
“Are you alright?”
“Oh, that old photo.” Aldis came into the room and looked at it. “I actually took this photo, just a few weeks after the wedding.” She put her hand on her cheek and shook her head. “I can’t believe how long she has been gone now. You look very much like her, Stella, you’re just a little taller and have Joso’s eyes.”
“What was Joso like?” He was like a black spot in her memory. Her aunt had told many stories about her mother over the years, how beautiful and intelligent she had been, but nothing about her father.
“Serious. Although he is laughing in this photo, it’s not how I remember him. He was never the type you got along with easily, but I’m sure he had his reasons.”
Stella frowned and Aldis noticed.
“He is no ordinary man”, she said emphatically, “I cannot explain it, you need to see for yourself, but he is different and he comes from a different family.” Her aunt stroked a lock of hair from Stella’s face, “I think that you and Jacob must learn about your roots, even though I don’t want to send you away. I think you need to see him now when you have the chance to.” She smiled, looking tired.
Stella nodded and hugged her.
The door closed behind her, and Stella crawled into bed thinking about what had just been said. That Joso came from a different family, could mean anything. They could be mad, or whatever. That could explain why they had had no contact with him. Was it a good idea to see him now?
She lay thinking, staring up at the ceiling. Sometimes the ceiling flashed with the light of a passing car and the shadows wandered from one side of the room to the other. Then it was dark again. How could she ever fall asleep after what had happened? She felt completely awake.
Her mobile buzzed and a message from Linn flashed up: Party in the demolition house tonight, come here! Looking at the message for a moment, Stella thought about what had come over her friend after she had got herself a boyfriend: She seemed to know about every party in town.
“Better than lying here pondering.” She murmured and pulled on a pair of black jeans and a warm sweater.
She crept out to see if Aldis had closed her bedroom door. The coast was clear. There was no beer in the fridge, so she stole out into the darkness without anything to drink. She had never sneaked out to a party before, but this night might as well be the first one, she thought, and the house was only two streets away, where the forest began.
There was no wind now and the rain had stopped. The puddles on the asphalt reflected the street lamps. She could hear music as soon as she came down the road and saw silhouettes disappearing into a garden.
Linn was standing on the road in front of the house with two boys and they were laughing.
“Stella!” Linn gave her a big hug. “You came! I said you would.” She put her arm around Stella’s shoulders, “You sounded all thoughtful and I know that you will want to do stuff, so you don’t have to think about things. And I was right, wasn’t I?”
“You know me.” Stella smiled.
“Mike knew about the party tonight, so when I suggested a movie he thought this sounded better!” She laughed again and kissed Stella on the cheek, then lowered her voice, “I think Hannes likes you, by the way”, she whispered in her ear.
Hannes took a beer out of his bag, opened the cap with his key chain, and handed it over to Stella. She took a sip. It was bitter but she swallowed it anyway.
“So, whose party is it?” Stella looked towards the sound of music and people in the old house. She decided to pretend that she had not heard what her friend had just whispered. She was simply not interested.
Together they walked into the hall and two boys darted past them into the other room, where someone had put candles in the windows.
“Well, I don’t really know them, but they go around arranging parties like this”, said Mike in his slow voice and shrugged. “I really don’t know, can’t we just check it out?”
Stella followed the others. The back garden was lit by lanterns and full of people drinking beer. Electronic music pounded from the house, but almost no one stayed inside.
“I really like this!” said Linn enthusiastically, and pulled Mike’s arms around her. Then she frowned at Stella. “You look sceptical.”
Stella looked at the garden full of drunken teenagers and thought Linn had probably read her right, but she wasn’t going to admit that.
“No, it’s cosy, but shouldn’t we go inside and dance?”
“But this is where it all happens.” Her friend muttered, and Stella shrugged. If Linn were going to make out with Mike all evening and she did not know anyone else at the party apart from Hannes, it would be more hassle than fun. She saw the boy twitch nervously and open another beer.
“Want one?” He asked.
Stella held up the beer she had and shook her head.
“I haven’t finished this one yet, but thank you.” There would not be another one. She would drink up and then go home. At least now she had tried to act like one of those rebellious teenagers, but it did not seem to really be her thing.
“Your last name is really odd, I’ve never heard of anyone else named Zenithar”, Hannes said suddenly. “Where does it come from?”
Stella thought about the letter again, and the father that had written it. She did not want to talk about her family tonight, so she responded in the way she usually did when someone asked:
“I don’t know”, she shrugged. “I don’t know my dad.”
“Okay.” He moved closer. “Sure you don’t want another beer?”
“Not yet, anyway”, she said and took a step backward to avoid Hanne’s beer breath. She studied his hazy gaze and wondered how much he had already been drinking.
Hannes did not notice the step. He leaned closer, putting his arm around her shoulders.
“I think you’re cute,” he said, and Stella felt the panic growing inside.
How could she get out of this without making a scene? She would spoil the whole party for Linn and Mike if she suddenly ran off.
“Thank you,” she said quietly and tried to gently push him away.
Drunk as he was, he did not take the hint, but seemed to believe that she wanted to touch him and his fingers dug into her hair. Stella panicked. Without thinking she pushed him away and took a big step backwards.
“Stella!” cried Linn.
She turned around. Right next to her one of the lanterns caught fire and a girl stumbled into it and fell on the grass. Lamp oil spilled all over her and the girl began to burn, flames spreading all over her hair and clothes as she screamed. All around the teenagers were watching, paralysed. Stella’s eyes were fixed on the flames and she threw away the beer and flung herself at the shrieking girl. Her hands grabbed burning arms and she pushed the girl down on the wet autumn grass.
“Stop!” Stella shouted and the fire was extinguished. “Call an ambulance!”
Hannes fumbled with his mobile and pressed the three digits.
The girl screamed and wept but Stella could see that she had not been badly burned, only her hair and clothes had suffered. She released her and the girl’s friends came and helped her. They clung to each other, sobbing.
“Stella! Did you get burned?” Linn took her hands and looked at them but Stella just shook her head.
She felt nauseous. She had lamp oil on her hands but not a single mark from the fire. The weirdest thing was that she had a definite feeling that the fire had done as she commanded. But obviously it couldn’t have. The wet grass had put the fire out. Of course it had.
“I’ll go home now,” she said, and ran.
Chapter 2: Mr Breadless
The first lesson was sports and Jacob sat cramped in his usual corner in the locker room. He pulled a shirt over his head. Ali did not dare talk to him today and that was a bad sign. Instead his embarrassed friend pretended to laugh at a bad joke Antti had told.
Jacob took his trainers out of his bag, but suddenly everyone in the room fell silent. A shadow fell over his backpack, and he swallowed. Antti looked down at him, snatched his shoes and threw them to Ali.
“Flush them.” He said, and his erstwhile friend shot Jacob a guilty look before he left and threw the shoes into the toilet. “So you’re back, you little rat?” The silence was complete and Johan menacingly set all the showers running. “Didn’t I tell you what would happen if you showed your ugly face here again?” Antti’s pig eyes glared at him with obvious disgust. “Go to the showers.”
Jacob tore off his glasses and stood up. He knew there was no use fighting back. No one would be on his side. Not even Ali. He took a few steps and heard Antti following him. Johan was standing by the showers smiling. They would soak more than Jacob’s shoes. It was not worth the effort to resist. Yet Jacob abruptly swivelled and buried his fist into Antti’s belly. The boy groaned and bent double.
“You fucking shit!” Johan shouted, and snatched hold of Jacob and threw him into the showers.
The icy water made Jacob’s clothes stick tot his skin and he shivered from the sudden chill.
“Are you begging to be thrashed?” Antti’s eyes had assumed an alarming shade of red. He plunged into the water and pushed Jacob against the wall. “Now you’re going to die, you son of a bitch!” Antti drove his knuckles into Jacob’s stomach, winding him and driving him to the wet floor. Then he kicked Jacob on the shin so that he cringed, clamping his jaws together to keep from crying. Antti had lined up another blow when a voice was heard.
“Isn’t that enough?” It was Ali, but he got a slap in the face from Johan and sat down on the bench again.
Johan laughed, he laughed uncontrollably, but the other boys silently snuck out of there. Laughter rang in Jacob’s ears and his knuckles whitened. The anger was pumping inside of him, and before he had time to understand what he did, he was up on his feet and had punched Johan in the face. The boy was so surprised that he staggered into the shower. Blood ran from his cracked lip and stained his white sweater red.
The next moment the door opened to the locker room and their sports teacher came in.
“What is going on?!” He pushed Antti aside and Jacob realised at once what it looked like. Johan was close to tears with his bloody lip and Jacob’s fist was still clenched.
“Jacob Zenithar! What the hell are you doing?!” The teacher pulled the boys out of the shower and stared at them.
“He hit me in the stomach.” Antti said.
The teacher gave Johan a handkerchief to protect the bleeding lip.
“We’ll take you to the nurse.” He said, waiting for the sobbing Johan to put some dry clothes on.
Johan acted so pitifully that even Jacob felt guilty about what he had done. He stood still and felt the water drippled from him on to the floor. The cold spread over his skin and then inwards.
“And you stay here!” the teacher turned and pointed at Jacob. “I’ll take care of you later.”
“Psycho”, muttered Antti and the tree of them walked away.
Jacob did not meet Ali’s eyes and his friend left him alone.
He pulled off his wet sports clothes and threw them, along with the trainers, in a plastic bag and shoved the bundle into his sports bag. He was not staying. His shin throbbed and a large bruise had already begun to appear. At least his glasses were undamaged this time. He put his everyday clothes on and ran.
In the hallway, he nearly collided with Julia.
“Hey, Jacob!” she said, then paused, “What happened?”
“Nothing”, he answered, he could not help but look at her. Julia was always kind and sweet, but she was also together with Johan.
“I’ve got to go now.”
“But Jacob?” her hand landed on his arm, but she quickly pulled it away when her eyes met his.
“I’m moving”, he said flatly, and left. He felt her eyes on his back, but he never turned around.
“Aldis?” Stella scrutinised the overcooked spaghetti in front of her and wondered if she could manage to eat it.
“Yes?” Aldis sat down but got up again and fetched the cheese sauce.
“Do you understand guys?”
“Would I be forty and single, if I did?” she replied, and laughed a little, then she looked at Stella with a smile in the corner of her mouth, “Is there anyone special?”
Stella squirmed and pressed the pasta into her mouth.
“No.” It was not, had never been. Maybe that’s why she asked. Linn found new boyfriends all the time and that did not make things easier. Boys simply ought to be more interesting. She was a teenager at least that was what she was called. Hannes should be interesting, for instance, there was nothing wrong with him, but she did not feel an ounce of attraction for him, rather the opposite, in fact. The only thing interesting about the party was the fire. What had happened there? It was all over so fast but she had a definite notion that she had told the fire to go out. But that was impossible. She stared at the little candle that flickered on the kitchen table.
“Jacob!” cried Aldis. “Are you coming?!”
The door to Jacob’s room opened and he dragged himself out into the kitchen and sat down. He pulled a hand through his thick dark-blond hair and looked sleepily at them.
“Don’t say anything, I know I look stupid.” He said and took off his glasses. He rubbed his eyes.
“I think they suit you well.” Aldis said. “A little more character.”
“I want contacts,” he muttered.
“We’ll see about that.” Aldis picked up an envelope from the pile on the table and put it in front of them. “There was a new letter today.”
Stella met her brother’s eyes as she opened the letter. Jacob leaned closer and put his glasses back on so that he too could read it.
Dear Stella & Jacob,
I will send my driver to pick you up on Saturday, October 16th, at seven, to bring you directly to my home. You do not need to bring anything more than the most necessary items I have everything you could possibly need. In case I have not returned home when you arrive, my colleague Alexi will meet you.
I am looking forward to your arrival.
“We have to make a decision now.” Aldis pushed her plate away and put her hands on the table. “So, what do you think?”
Jacob looked blank, so Stella realised it might be up to her. She read the letter again to make sense of it. A driver would pick them up and then another person might meet them when they arrived. When would they meet Joso? But even if all the particulars actually spoke against their father, Stella already knew what she wanted. She felt it in her entire being and there was nothing that could make her change her mind. If her father wanted to meet her then she would meet him. At last she would get a chance to see one of the two people that she had missed all her life. She was not going to let this opportunity pass, not now.
“I want to go,” she said, and folded the letter.
Aldis looked worried, but nodded.
“Look, I don’t know who he is, or if I ever want to know that.” Jacob said, and looked at Stella. “But I don’t mind escaping from my school and if you want to go I’m going with you.”
Saturday came and the sun sank slowly towards the rooftops in the quiet October evening. The only sounds were leaves rustling and falling to the ground. The cold autumn winds had finally overcome the fading summer and all one could do was await the coming winter.
A numb feeling pervaded the whole, as if a vacuum has seized the air and refused to let go. Aldis took strained breaths over and over again, as if she couldn’t breathe.
At exactly seven o’clock in the evening, a car pulled up in front of the house. Stella zipped her jacket and then Aldis followed them to the parking lot. With the headlights on the car was parked crossways ahead of them and the black paint was so well-kept that it reflected the houses around them. Even the windows reflected the surroundings, for they were all black-tinted. Aldis walked in front of them, but Stella noticed how nervous she was, so she held her aunt’s hand soothingly. A man in a white tie and big round glasses jumped out of the car. He put his comb over in place and perched an old worn top hat on it before greeting them. He bowed politely by swinging his hat so that the comb over fell askew again.
“Well, this must be Stella?” He shook her hand and then turned to her brother. “And Jacob?” Jacob nodded and the man shook his hand as well. “You can call me Mr. Breadless, I work with your father.” He said, and a warm smile spread across his face.
“I am Aldis.” Aldis extended her hand and the little gentlemen studied her.
“You look like your sister – just as beautiful.” And she received a kiss on her hand.
Stella blinked. He was like a character from a film or a different time.
“You knew her?” Aldis asked.
“Of course, ma’am, I worked for Master Zenithar during those years as well. Amazing woman. It’s a shame, what happened.” He walked around the car, opened the trunk and put their bags inside.
Aldis hugged them tightly as Mr. Breadless opened the rear door. Stella glanced at the house and then crept onto the black leather seats with Jacob behind her.
“Promise to call if you need me, I can always come for you”, Aldis said.
The driver closed the door and leapt into the front seat.
“Please tell Joso to send me a message immediately they have arrived.” Continued Aldis and the man put his top hat in the seat next to him and contemplated Aldis through the car door.
“I will certainly do that, ma’am, but I must tell you that Master Zenithar is a very busy man. Even so, I believe that he will get in touch with you as soon as he gets the chance to.”
“If he is so busy, then how will he have time for his children?”
“I understand exactly how you feel, but I can assure you that this is something that he has been looking forward to.”
Aldis nodded and looked at Stella and Jacob.
“I’ll see you soon”, she said, and the man closed his door.
Stella sank into the seat and the engine started. She could see their aunt move away from the car and then stand watching with her arms bent over each other in the cold.
“Everything alright?” Mr. Breadless stuck his head between the front seats and they nodded. A smile appeared under the moustache again. “Good. Some music?”
“Yes, please.” Stella said and he turned to the front again, pushed on the radio and then they were away.
Aldis waved but the black windows made it impossible to wave back and soon she was out of sight. Their driver already sang along with the chorus of an unknown song. It soon turned out that he liked his music and both increased the volume and started to sing along.
“Who is it?” Stella asked. Music was one of her interests, and this was like some kind of polyphonic folk music mixed with tones from both classical violin and melodic hard rock. Fully in accordance with her own taste.
“Who is playing?”
“You don’t know that?” Mr. Breadless looked at her in the rear-view mirror and shook his head. “What do you listen to if you do not listen to Emmer’s Brothers?” he asked and laughed.
They said nothing more. The car rolled through a landscape which grew progressively darker. It was like looking into a dim lit saga. Against the black sky even blacker mountains and forests were silhouetted. Lamps in the night became increasingly rare and only the car’s headlight lit up the road in front of them.
“What do you think he’s like?” Jacob asked, but as Stella said nothing he continued. “He must be rich if he has a driver.”
“Yes.” Stella replied, but sat thinking about the photo of him. He might not look like that anymore and she wondered if she would recognise him. Her hand found its way to the silver star around her neck. Her fingers fumbled over the beautiful squiggly surface. Their mother, Ingrid, had received it from Joso and Stella had carried it as long as she remembered. Aldis said she got it at the funeral of their mother.
“How far is it?” Stella asked loudly and her hand left her jewellery.
“We will be there in an instant”, replied the driver and hummed on.
A yellow light blinked by the radio and at the same time the car seemed to slow down. It vibrated and it felt like a blast hit the car. For a second she sat terrified and kept clutching the seat. But nothing more happened and she relaxed again. Confused, she wondered if she had imagined the feeling.
On the other side of the tinted windows the landscape no longer looked even vaguely familiar – it was barren and rocky. Which way they had gone and how far she could not say. Jacob sat with a brooding face and stared out of the window, as if deep in his own thoughts. It was a long time ago since Stella had been able to tell what he was thinking, he had become more and more severe the older he became. She crossed her arms and slumped down on the seat. The road in front of them shot like a grey streak through a darkening world.
Chapter 3: Zenithar’s Castle
They drove down a long avenue of knotty, bare trees and approached a shadow that grew larger and larger against the night sky. Finally, Mr. Breadless stopped in front of a large building.
The music stopped.
“Here we are.” The driver jumped out , took on his high hat and opened the door.
Cold air stroked Stella’s legs and a wind tore at her jacket. She buttoned it and looked around. A vast courtyard of grey stone stretched ahead of them in the dark and rustling leaves skittered over the cobbles. Carved winged creatures stared down at them from the parapet. In the middle of the courtyard there was a fountain. It did not squirt water but the statue of a many headed dragon raised his terrifying jaws against the darkling sky. Tall braziers which seemed to have grown out of the earth like stems gave the only light in the murky evening. In front of the siblings a wide staircase led up to the castle gates. Empty windows gaped and towers stood so high that their tops disappeared into the gloom.
“Where do you think we are?” Jacob mumbled.
Stella met his eyes but found no words.
Mr. Breadless took their bags out of the car.
“There you go.” He slammed the boot shut.
“Does Joso live here?” Stella moistened her lips.
“That’s right, miss.”
At the same moment she heard footsteps and a man in a purple coat strode down the stone stairs. He was dressed in a black top hat, black gloves and high boots. The coat was gaudy and conspicuous even in the dim light. When the man came closer Stella could see that his copper-red hair was clubbed in a ribbon at the nape of his neck. It could not be her father: he simply did not at all look like the man in the photo. Besides this man was younger than that, maybe thirty. He stopped on the last step steadying himself on his cane while waving at them. Stella pushed Jacob, they took their bags and went up to him.
“So…” The man scrutinized them with a faint smile. “This is Stella and Jacob.” It was not a question, but they nodded. “Master Zenithar had to go away but hopes to be back tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” Stella uttered staring at the man. She had sat in the car preparing to med Joso, to meet her own father, and now he was not there.
Jacob gave Stella a pitch black stare and let go of his bags.
The man in the purple coat studied his reaction , then turned around lightly on his cane.
“My name is Alexi Ravenblack. You can call me Alexi. You must be tired, come and I will show you inside.” He did not wait for a reply but turned on his heel and climbed the stairs again.
The siblings took their bags and followed him. They reached the great ironworked doors with and entered a vast hall with burning candles along the walls. Tapestries and carpets from long gone days adorned the walls and the floors with their worn patterns. Nothing looked new.
“Do you like it?”
Stella jumped and almost lost her bags. Alexi was right upon to them. He heaved the massive doors shut and bolted them.
“Do you work for Joso?” Jacob asked, but the man shrugged.
“I suppose one could say that. Come along.” He proceeded at which Jacob shook his head.
Stella gave her brother a puzzled look. Who was this man? They went upstairs where winding corridors met them with a smell of ancient stone and dust. Finally, Alexi pushed open a door with his stick.
“This is your room.”
Stella was prepared to see a bare, dark chamber, but warmth and light rushed towards her from an open fire. The walls were dark but the floor was covered in a beautifully patterned deep red carpet. A large canopied bed stood at one end of the room and in the other end there was a towering wardrobe and a desk. Three tall windows with heavy red curtains framed the darkness outside. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling lamp but otherwise the room was pleasant. As pleasant as a room like this could be. Stella heard Jacob whistle.
“And this is yours.” Alexi opened the door across the hall and Jacob immediately entered. “Freya will pick you up for supper. I shall see you then.” He left.
“Have you seen?” Jacob exclaimed.
The twinkling stars were scattered across the sky like a rain of coins. Silver dust swirled around them. Stella went further into the room to see the zodiac signs and recognized both the Plough and the Archer quite clearly. Jacob touched a lever on the floor by the door. With a heavy grinding sound a ceiling covered the glass dome. They stared while the shadow of the dome fell over them and all the lamps in the room grew brighter.
“Stella, pinch me.” he whispered.
“But what kind of place is this? Where have we come to?” she said lamely.
“Do you see how cool this is?”
Stella turned to look at her brother. His eyes were dilated and sparkling. She frowned and went up to warm herself by the fire which crackled in one end of her brother’s room. But Jacob pulled the lever so that the heavens opened again for them and sat down on the thick carpet.
“You heard Alexi, he will come tomorrow and then we can ask….”
Stella sat on the carpet next to her brother stroking her hair over her shoulder.
“This does not feel good at all,” she said.
Jacob was silent for a moment.
“No, I have a bad feeling,” he agreed.
Stella’s little brother was pale and seemed tired.
“Things will turn out fine, whatever will be will be good, we will at least find out who he is.”
“And if it is better not to know?” Jacob raised his eyebrows. “As long as one doesn’t know one can decide for oneself what a man is like. I can pretend that he is just anybody.”
“I’d rather know,” Stella looked pensively at the stars again. “Now more than ever.”
Her brother crossed his arms and looked at the floor instead. Stella tousled his almost-blond hair, his thick, his tick hair that was so nice to tousle, but Jacob put his hands up and pushed her away.
“Stop it!” He looked annoyed. “Who lives in an old castle out in the middle of nowhere? I’ll be happy if he’s not a psychotic killer!”
“Oh, come on!”
“He hasn’t wanted to see us for such a long time and now he has taken us home to sit alone in this place? Why couldn’t he be here and meet us? I don’t think I want to stay here, we should never have gone.”
“I won’t go before I’ve met Joso”, Stella said.
Stella took her cellphone from her pocket, but there was no reception.
“Have you got reception on your phone?” she asked but Jacob shook his head.
“Well, I suppose the stone walls must be blocking the signal. I’ll try to call Aldis later by a window.”
She thought she saw a shadow in the light against the wall and turned around. A cat as black as pitch was sitting on the threshold of Jacob’s room and watching them.
The cat sat there, studying them with his yellow eyes. Stella approached it and stretched out a hand.
“Are you dad’s cat, I wonder?”
The cat touched her hand with his soft little nose, sniffed and scratched against it. It was like if an electric shock ran through Stella and she jerked her hand away.
“I wonder if there are more animals here?” Jacob stood up. “I would have liked to have a dog.”
“I think it wants something…” Stella stared at the animal and did not know where the feeling came from.
The cat stretched and left for the corridor, then it turned its yellow eyes on them.
“It wants us to follow.”
“A cat can’t really be that smart!” Jacob pushed to her and smiled.
At that moment the glass dome began to close in above them and the starry sky disappeared behind the black vault.
“Did you touch the lever?”
Stella shook her head slowly and swallowed. Goose bumps climbed up along her arms.
She winced at the cat’s meowing.
“Okay, I am telling you, I get the shivers from this place!” Jacob exclaimed and looked at Stella as if she ought to do something about it. He seemed to feel the same uneasiness she did.
She watched the cat.
“Do you understand what we are saying?” she asked, but the cat rose and departed.
Stella and Jacob hurried to the door and watched it stalking at an easy pace along the corridor.
“Why did you say that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do we follow it? Jacob went out into the corridor.
Stella nodded and they followed the black cat through the dim corridor, down a wide staircase to a double door. The door opened as the cat reached it, seemingly spontaneously, revealing a candlelit hall. They remained standing at the end of the room. Two carved black dragons rose around a roaring fire. In the middle of the hall there was a table laid with arrangements of delicious smelling food: a whole chicken and sun-yellow potatoes were steaming hot. Around them were decorating fruits and autumn leaves. Lights from three magnificent candles lit the food and floor candelabra shone brightly along the walls. The room was warm, smoky and drenched in the golden light.
A thin woman with a kerchief over thick grey plaits turned to them. A little smile spread across her pale face and she went up to them.
“You’re back! Oh, you have grown.” The woman pulled up her apron and wiped a tear from her eye. “I don’t think you remember me but I am Auntie Memma do all the housework here in the castle.”
“Hello.” Stella mumbled and Jacob nodded.
“If there is anything you need just come to me, down in the kitchen.” Memma brought them to the table. “Master Zenithar wanted you to have warm food tonight when you arrived, and he had wanted to be here too.” She pulled a chair out and Stella sat down. Muttering lightly to herself while she continued around the table, she set a chair for Jacob. “Master Zenithar was so sad that he could not be here tonight.”
The cat leapt up on one of the seats of honour and sat down. Stella stared at the remarkable sight, then bent down under the table. There was a pile of books that made it possible for the cat to reach up. The corners of her mouth twitched upwards. What was that all about? The opposite seat of honour was empty, as were the four other chairs. Auntie Memma served the food and when she came to the cat she poured cream in a cup and put some herrings on a plate.
”Is that alright, Freya?”
The cat looked up and blinked.
”Is that Freya?” Stella exclaimed and the woman gave her a surprised look.
”Yes, but of course, my dear,” she smiled widely again, ”Freya guards the castle, it is she who is the lady of the house. She always has been.”
Stella looked at the cat and met her yellow eyes. She felt goosebumps all the way down her back and legs this time. Then she saw that Memma had left them and was heading towards the doors.
”Won’t you eat with us?”
”Oh, dear, oh no. I eat downstairs in the kitchen with Mr. Breadless and the others.” She went out of the room.
Stella sank into the chair and silence fell over the room. Jacob had already started eating and Freya was lapping up the cream.
”Taste it, it’s delicious!” Jacob had devoured all that was on his plate and took more food. He was constantly hungry, even now.
Stella poked at her food, fished out a little on the fork and tasted it. It was as good as it smelled and she ate hungrily. She thought about Aldis, but cooking was not one of her aunt’s strengths: what Auntie Memma cooked was delicious.
When they had finished eating, they dozed in their chairs. The cat had begun to lick his paws and pulled over his ears to clean herself. Jacob put his elbows on the table and looked tired. A strange feeling took shape in Stella’s belly and she stared into the fire. The crackling, the smell of food and burnt wood in a stone house tickled her memory. Maybe she had been here before? At the time when their mother had been here? She looked up and saw a painting. It hung above the fire and was not at all like the other dark paintings they had walked past in the castle, it had warm colours, bright colours. It was one of the most beautiful paintings she had seen: Her mother’s portrait. Ingrid smiled down at them. The portrait was lively, focused on her face, with more diffuse brush strokes further out. Around her neck the Silver star hung and shone.
”Jacob, do you see?” Stella breathed, and at the same time she could feel the jewellery that now hung around her own neck.
He turned his head.
”It’s Mum,” he said quietly.
The doors swung open and Alexi hurried in and greeted them. He threw his coat and hat over his chair and sat down.
”I suppose I am a little late, you’ve already eaten,” he murmured. His red curls were damp: he must have come directly from outside.
”Have you heard anything from Joso?” Stella asked handing him the potatoes.
Alexi shook his head and then began to eat. He moved very elegantly, as if he had complete control over every move he made and it made Stella think of a dancer.
”How long have you worked with our father?” Jacob asked.
The man pondered.
”I guess it must be eight years now.” Then he shook his head, as if he could not believe it.
”So what do you do, when you work?” Stella added.
Alexi smiled and leaned back with a glass in his hand, he had eaten the food in no time.
”Your father is a great man, and great men need an extra hand. I take care of everything that your father does not have time for personally.”
”I do not even know what kind of work he does,” said Stella, and felt that she was ashamed of it in some strange way. He was just an unknown man, and nothing else. An unknown person with an unknown profession.
”Your father is the Master of Zenithar’s Castle, and that means he is responsible for many people and a lot of land. I think you must learn that politics in these areas is very different from what you are used to. But do not worry, it will become clearer by and by.” Alexi put down the glass. ”Do you think you will enjoy staying in your rooms?”
Jacob just nodded and Stella could only say:
”Yes.” She thought of the great room. But the rest of the castle seemed eerily old and unused.
”Good. Then I hope you can get on tonight, and we’ll meet again tomorrow.” He took his things and left. It was as if he had been told to eat with them but found no pleasure in doing so. Still Stella was happy that he had stayed for a little while. It meant that at least there were more people in the gloomy castle.
Stella lay awake, staring out of the windows, until she decided to draw the curtains. When it was pitch dark, she went to bed and thought about what had happened. Why had no one told her that Joso lived in a big old castle? Or that he was a very powerful man? And where was he? It gave her the creeps not to know. She wanted to know more and regretted that she had not been able to ask Alexi any proper questions. The man certainly knew absolutely everything about her father, everything that she had never known. How they work together? With what? It was a mystery, but at least it seemed that Alexi also lived in the castle. Where in the old building she did not know, but somewhere. Stella sat up in the bed and sighed. There was so much she did not understand about the whole situation. She felt as if she was going crazy. She lit the lamp and searched for the photo. Now that she looked again, she saw that it was taken at the stone steps in front of the castle. So, they had been here when Aldis taken it. Why had she not told them anything about this place? It was not as if it was a place that was easily forgotten.
On Sunday morning, Stella found herself staring at the pillars that held up her canopy. They were bent over the bed as if they were stems ready to bloom. For a moment, she wondered where she was but then she remembered. A shiver of nervousness coursed through her body. She would finally meet her father. She pulled back the curtains and looked out into the misty autumn morning. The sun was up, giving everything a faint silver shimmer. The room had a view of the courtyard and a section of an inner garden that stretched away between the walls. It was probably green and lush in the summer, but now it was bare and gray with only a few red and yellow leaves left for the wind to play with.
Stella took her phone from the bedside table and held it against the window but there was still no reception at all. She pulled on her jeans and sweater and went to Jacob’s room to wake him up. It would be a day of waiting for Joso, and why not instead occupy themselves with exploring?
”Twice in a week I don’t have to go to school, still you come and destroy my opportunity to sleep in.” Jacob dragged the pillow over his head, but Stella just smiled and started poking at the old things in Jacob’s room. He was like that every morning, but his mood improved as soon as he got up.
Stella gave a start at the voice that quite sang out in the hallway. The door was open and Auntie Memma stopped outside Jacob’s room with a tray in her hands.
”Here comes breakfast!” she came into the room and put it down on the table. ”Did you sleep well?”
”The beds were very comfortable,” said Stella, and the woman rubbed her hands in her apron.
”I am glad to hear that. Well, I will be busy today, but I know that Mr. Breadless is down in the yard if there is anything you want to know. Freya is probably already teasing him, so he will be happy to receive a little visit. Lunch will be at one and dinner at six downstairs in the dining room. ”
”Thank you so much,” said Stella, ”Do you know when Joso will be back?”
Jacob turned his gaze intently at them, he put on his glasses under his un-brushed hair
”No, I do not know more than last night, but if you see Master Alexi or Mr. Breadless then maybe they will know.” Auntie Memma curtseyed and then went away.
Jacob sat on the edge of his bed in his blue pajamas with stars and planets and stared.
”Did you see that she curtseyed?”
Stella who had already hacked a hole in a boiled egg nodded.
”I mean… pho… pff…” Jacob could not say anything else, so he pulled on his slippers and came to the breakfast tray instead. ”We’ll not starve, anyway.” he said, and sat down.
”No,” she agreed, and they ate in silence.
When they had eaten Jacob unpacked his laptop and tried to plug it in.
”There is no plug!” he exclaimed after a while and she looked around with surprise.
”But we have lights,” she took up the lamp from the bedside table but found no cord, yet she could turn it on and off, ”they might have batteries?”
Jacob looked tiredly at her.
”I will not stay here if there is no power!” he said irritably, and shut the computer down. ”This is crazy!”
”Now of course I forgot to ask her if there’s a landline anywhere. My mobile doesn’t work anywhere.”
”Do you think Aldi is worried?”
Stella nodded but then shrugged her shoulders.
”Oh well, we will see Joso today anyways, and he will know…”
”I do not know who he is, and I have no desire to meet him!” Jacob exclaimed and pulled a hand through his hair, but his hand got stuck and, annoyed, he searched for his brush.
Stella pulled the ceiling lever and the vault above them slit across until the sun rays wandered down into the corners of the room.
”But we’e here now and I’m not leaving before I’ve met him.”
Jacob dressed while Stella studied the beautiful glass dome.
”I also want to have one of these,” she murmured.
”You may have some other cool stuff?”
”Mm, but I haven’t found any levers.” She looked at her brother. ”I vote for exploring, to see if we can find a phone or someone who can tell us how things work here.”
Jacob nodded and put on his shoes.
Many of the rooms in the castle, they soon noticed, were locked and those that were not appeared unused. Dust and cobwebs lay over hundred year old tables and chairs. The wardrobes were empty and the rugs were dull grey, as if their real colour was hidden under years of neglect. Sun-bleached music sheets lay on old pianos, and stuffed animals were hanging on the walls, staring. Someone must have loved these rooms once, but now they were broken drams shrouded in grey dust.
”Check this out.” Jacob opened the door and behind it a staircase wound up in a steep spiral.
They climbed up and came to a heavily moth-eaten curtain. Behind it was even more dust, but this time the dirt covered martial equipment. Row after row of arranged suits of armor. Along the walls hung spears and shields of varied hues, and through sun-bleached curtains the bright morning light shone reflected in the metal. The smell of trapped dust lay ponderously over the hall. The entire castle had the same smell of stone walls and decaying wood, but in this chamber it was even more pronounced.
”Uh, it’s filthy?” Jacob srubbed his nose.
”Look,” Stella touched one of suits. It had intricate patterns, ”It’s beautiful.”
A silver hauberk hung down to the mannequinn’s knees under the cuirass. Greaves, vambraces, steel-sabatons and gauntlets were attached, as well as pauldrons and helmet.
”I wonder where they come from?” Jacob poked a gauntlet and the hand fell from the rest of the armor.
The piecesy did not look like any armor Stella had ever seen, despite all the history books she had read at home, these were more elegant and lighter. They were so beautiful that Stella was amazed when she walked around amongst them. How very strange to have so many suits of armour in a room. Were they really Joso’s, and if so, why did he have them?
”They are not as uncomfortable as they look.” Jacob had put the gauntlet on and was flexing his hand. Then he tried to pull it off again. After a little while, Jacob began to look panic-stricken.
”It’s stuck!” he gasped, and Stella grabbed it and tried to pull it off.
She twisted his arm so firmly that Jacob stepped away and did not let her come close again.
”We have to look for Mr. Breadless,” said Stella, and they found another stairway that led down the other way.
They came to a door that led directly out onto the parapet and icy winds swept in. Down in the courtyard they could see Mr. Breadless repairing an old cab. Stella edged further out on the wall and the strong northerly wind plucked at her hair and clothes, driving cold straight into her skin. Around the castle stretched the withered remains of a large park and in the daylight she could see that the castle was built in a gloomy dark grey stone. She drew out her mobile from her pocket again, but as she expected there was no signal here either.
Jacob looked questioningly at her but she shook her head. Then he looked across the countryside and Stella followed his dreamy gaze. The sun was hidden behind greyish clouds and everything rested in a pale grey light, but the scenery was still overwhelming. Just a few black rocks separated the castle from the dark sea below. A few miles from the castle a town with pointed towers sprawled, its large harbor filled with sailing ships and boats in shimmering steel. She could see wisps of smoke from the chimneys, but no sound was heard. If she turned to look the other way she saw the vast forests and mountains nestling in feather beds of clouds.
Silent with wonder they left the view and went down the stairs. They had landed in a strange place.
The driver had unscrewed one of the wide wooden wheels of the cab. Freya sat on the cab’s footrest, watching. Her yellow eyes perceived them immediately but Mr. Breadless only saw them when they drew near. He winced and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his red handkerchief. Then he looked at them with surprised.
”So you have found us.” he said, putting down the screwdriver.
”Um … I have accidentally been caught in a knight’s glove.” Jacob said. The man looked at his hand and nodded.
”Yes, it looks that way,” he pushed his glasses back on his nose and looked closer, ”It’s nothing to be afraid of, young gentleman. Such things happen.”
Stella and Jacob looked at each other.
”Can it come off?”
”I don’t know. Where was the armour? ”
”It was one of them standing up there,” said Jacob, pointing to where the parapet merged with the castle.
”There was lot of armours and shields,” Stella added.
Mr. Breadless stood up looking thoughtful.
”Oh, that armour… it should not be moved,” he stroked his moustache and then shook his head.
”Can’t you help me?” Jacob asked.
”The gauntlet will come off by itself when its task has been completed on your hand,” said the driver and knocked his screwdriver on the gauntlet. ”It belongs to a silver suit worn by the Valkyries Legion seven hundred years ago. You can’t ask me to pry loose such a treasure. ”
”So it will come off by itself?” Jacob asked incredulously.
It was obvious that her brother expected a laugh from the old man, that he was joking with them, but it never came and he just stood there like a question mark. Jacob motioned to Stella that he thought Mr. Breadless had more screws loose than the cab. Stella grinned a bit to herself – it was still a fun story to make up, just like that. The little man had a good imagination.
Mr Breadless lifted the wheel and rolled it up to the cab.
”And how long will the glove remain?” Jacob asked.
The driver shrugged, lifted the wheel and replaced it.
”I do not know, it depends on how well it thrives on your hand, does it not?” He looked at him now with laughter in his eyes. ”You may feel flattered that it has stuck, those gauntlets might just want stay on the hands of those that are of knightly material.” He wiped the oil from his hands and picked up a wrench from the ground.
Jacob stood staring silently at the steel gauntlet. Stella could not hold back a smile. This was either the funniest or the most insane thing she had ever heard.
”Do you know when Joso is coming?” she asked.
The man spat out a wad of tobacco and ran his hand over his lip. ”I will go and get Master Zenithar and Master Alexi later, Miss. The Master will be here tonight. ”
Chapter 4: Master Zenithar
Sunday afternoon saw them playing cards in Stella’s room. Just like the day before they had had lunch together with Freya, though not with Alexi, and Auntie Memma had said that their father would come for dinner. Their nerves were returning as the sun sank. Stella wondered if she would recognise him: Was the photo still true?
”We never asked about the phone,” Jacob said, laying the Jack of Diamonds on the pile of cards.
Stella frowned at the cards and sat up.
”No, that’s right. We’ll have to ask Joso later. ”
”Mm…” Jacob took a new card from the pile and looked at her. ”It’s your turn.”
She put down three cards but felt her stomach flutter and threw them all aside.
”No, I can’t do more now.”
Jacob sighed and added his cards to the heap, sorting it into a tidy pile with his steel-gloved hand.
”What if he’s a psychopath?” he murmured, ”he might be planning to keep us here forever. I mean; we are in the middle of nowhere and no phones that work…”
Stella gave him a black look.
”So tell him.”
”I might.” Jacob flung himself down in one of the fireside armchairs. He twitched his metal-clad fingers so that they snapped against the armrest.
”What time is it?” Stella asked, and he pulled his shirt from his wrist.
”It’s time.” He’s eyes widened and he jumped to his feet.
Stella did the same. Her heart rate increased. She stroked her fingers through her hair smoothed the wrinkles from her clothes. Then they went.
Freya was waiting outside the dining room and they entered together. The cat sat at the table and, after seeing that the hall was empty, Stella and Jacob sat down as well. A few seconds later, Auntie Memma came in and served them steak with cranberries.
”Master Zenithar has not come yet,” she said, trying to stroke back a lock which was making its way down into her face. Mumbling, she tucked away the china that was laid in front of the high seat.
Stella nodded silently and slowly began to eat. What could she say? It felt as if her heart would sink down through her chest.
”You don’t know when he will come then?” Jacob asked.
”He should have been here by now, something must have happened, since he is late… But Master Alexi went to meet him.” It was as if Auntie Memma was answering her own thoughts as much as Jacob’s question. ”If something has happened, it may take a while, I don’t know,” she shook her head a little, and then poured cream for Freya. ”You should not worry, he’ll probably be back tonight. Later.” The woman went to the door again. ”Curiously, they said… ”She muttered and did not open the door but went mindlessly straight through it and disappeared.
Jacob became paler the longer he stared at the closed doors.
”She walked right through the door! I mean; straight through the closed door!” He exclaimed and Stella swallowed.
”We must have seen wrong.” She said, and turned her eyes to the steak, but the sight of the skinny lady half way through the doors would not go away. Not only was what they had seen impossible, but now they had been waiting to see their father for a whole day. They had ended up in a nightmare and nothing was true anymore.
”Do you know what I think?” Jacob looked around, ”I think he’s at home, and that he’s been here all the time. He’s has probably put up surveillance cameras and Memma is pretending to be a ghost to see how we will react. I told you he’s is a psychopath…”
”You and your imagination!” Stella bellowed and struck her fist on the table.
Her brother flinched and stared at her.
”There’s no electricity in the palace anyway,” she added. She sighed, feeling the energy draining from her, and slumped in her chair.
Stella went to bed full of disappointment. Hours had passed and still no Joso. The night had drawn in, replacing the light with pitch-black shadows. Thoughts swirled in her head. For a long time she tried to sleep but it was impossible. She took her book from the bedside table and lit the lamp to read a little. But her head span so that the pages blurred into a grey sludge. She dropped her book and stared up at the canopy.
The courtyard echoed with the clatter of hooves. Stella jumped out of bed and ran to the window. It was dark, but in the faint moonlight, she saw a black cab drawing up to the stairway. The familiar little figure of Mr. Breadless sprang down from the driver’s seat and opened the door. Alexi stepped out: she recognized the slim silhouette, and after him a man in a black cape. The black-clad man put a top hat on his head and then they went together up the stone stairs.
Stella put on her slippers and tiptoed through the castle. The passages were lit with candles that seemed new, though they’d been burning for hours. Cold shivers writhed down her spine, but she pressed on, not looking too closely into the black rooms that she passed.
When she reached the stairs leading to the main hallway, she paused in the shadows. The gates were opening and accompanied by icy winds the man in the black cloak entered the castle. He walked heavier than Alexi, supporting himself on a silver-chased walking stick as he moved through the room. His hat concealed his face, but she could see that his hair was long and dark. Alexi shut the gates and bolted them. Removing his hat, he glanced towards the stairs before he followed the other man. Stella jumped and shrank back: did he see her? She couldn’t be sure, but it made her feel uneasy. She crept back to her room and crawled into bed.
Falling asleep now was even more impossible than before and she glanced at the clock that had already struck one. Something had changed in the room, as if a soft glow was emanating from the walls. She sat up and put a hand to the stone. It actually felt different: warmer. The sconces flared to life and animals and diminutive angels began to move in the paintings on the ceiling. No longer immobile, they ate fruits and danced in the lovely woods. Stella came to her feet and looked around.
”What’s happening?” she asked, as if someone would answer her, then she rushed out of her room and into Jacob’s.
”What is it?” he asked, wide awake. Apparently he had not been able to fall asleep either.
Stella dragged him into her room and showed him the living roof.
”It’s incredible!” he exclaimed and Stella held out her hands.
”What do you think is happening?”
”Joso?” Jacob asked and she told him about the man who had arrived. ”Do you think that was him?”
A chubby little angel on ceiling pointed cheerfully at the bookcase by the fire. He fluttered merrily and was pleased when they saw him. A book inched out as Stella approached the bookcase. She pulled the book but it only twisted, and the bookcase swung, revealing a passage – illuminated by torches.
”What the …” Jacob began.
They looked at each other, took deep breaths, and entered the passage. It was a staircase twisting in the bowels of the castle. At the foot of the stairs hung a deep red curtain. They pulled it aside, and a dimly-lit room met their eyes. A large open fire flared at the far end, throwing its deep shadows over the furniture. A man stood gazing into the fire. He was tall, dressed in a black coat and with dark hair spreading over his shoulders. On the chair behind him were the black cloak and stick with a silver knob. Stella froze.
”Welcome.” The man at the fire turned to face them.
Stella remembered the only picture she had of him and this was the same man, but… his face was older, more commanding. This was certainly Joso Zenithar. They stared at each other for a long time. His complexion was light and his eyes deep and intense, were surrounded by awe-inspiring lines. He pointed with his hand towards the armchairs.
”Come in and sit down.”
They did as he said. Stella sat down stiffly and did not let go of her father with her eyes. He joined them and they sat silently in the blazing firelight. Joso’s gaze wandered between them and the fire as if he did not know what to say.
”The trip went well, then?” he finally asked, and they nodded. ”And your rooms, will they do for the time being?”
”They are beautiful rooms,” said Stella.
”I should have been here yesterday to greet you, but I hope Alexi was here and took care of it?”
”Tomorrow I want you to go to Hallstein, one of the schools here in Thorshome. I believe it will meet your needs. I have told the headmaster that you are coming.”
Stella sat mute. Perhaps it was obvious that they would have to start in a new school right away: she just had not thought about it. All that had whirled around in her head had been to visit Joso. Now he sat here and she did not dare say a word.
”Why …” Jacob swallowed his cracked voice and started again. ”Why did you want us to come now?”
Joso’s face gave nothing away.
”Now is a good time,” he said simply.
The door opened, Alexi came in and put a small stack of paper on Joso’s desk.
”Are they ready?” their father asked and Alexi nodded.
”I see that the children have found their way here,” he said, came up and maneuvered a cigarillo from his inside pocket. He lit it with an iron from the fire and leaned against the wall while he took a puff. The smoke curled out into the room.
”Do not let me interrupt,” he smiled.
”Will you take them to Hallstein tomorrow? I want them to be well received.”
”Since when am I the babysitter?”
”Save your comments, Alexi, you know the rules. It is not safe for them to be out there and they are totally unprepared. ”
”Of course I do,” he pointed to a bottle with a golden yellow content which stood on a tray on the table. ”You need a drink, Joso.” Then he grinned and took another puff.
Joso leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, looking from Stella to Jacob.
”This place may seem daunting, and you must understand that you are not safe on your own. There are those who want to hurt you, only because you are my children, and you must not take any risks. You must not leave school during the day and Mr. Breadless will take you there and back in my car. You must never leave the castle without either me or Alexi. And you must promise me that.”
”You mean we can’t go to town, or join new friends?” Stella asked, confused. He would isolate them? ”Not even a walk in the countryside outside the castle?”
”It’s for your own safety.”
Jacob sat frowning, but said nothing
Joso watched Alexi.
”What time is it?”
The younger man drew a pocket watch from his waistcoat.
”Half past one.”
”Alright, then we are finished. You must go to bed now, so that you have the energy to get up for school. We’ll talk more tomorrow when you come back. ”
He rose and walked over to the pile of papers on the desk where he began to browse.
Stella and Jacob stood up.
”It was nice to meet you,” Stella said and Joso nodded.
”Fine, fine. Good night.” He did not even glance up as Stella and Jacob went back to their rooms.
Jacob shut the door behind him and Stella sat on her bed. She had just met her father, she had met Joso, and now she did not know what to think anymore. Were they imprisoned now? Isolated in a place without phone or other contact with the outside world. Their father had them in an iron grip and Stella began to doubt that it had been the right decision to come: what had felt so right now seemed foolhardy. Whoever wanted to hurt her and Jacob she did not know, and an uneasy sense of panic began to grow in her. At the same time, she did not feel disappointed about the meeting with Joso: the man who had met them down there in the castle seemed anything but dull. But if he was dangerous, they would soon need to find out.
The next day was Monday, their first school day, and Stella was awakened by Auntie Memma. The woman had prepared a breakfast tray on the nightstand and poked about in the closet. There was nothing about the woman that testified to her intangibility: she seemed very solid and Stella’s recollection – if that’s what it was – seemed distant and downright ridiculous in the morning light.
”Here, yes”, Memma said, and displayed a grey-blue dress with white flowers on it. ”You can have this for school.” She laid it across a chair.
”I think I’ll take my jeans,” Stella reached for them, she was not one for dresses at school. Her jeans were not there on the floor and she saw that Memma had them in her arms.
”You have to be better dressed, Miss …”
”I will not wear a dress!” Stella exclaimed and jumped out of bed in her old worn-out pajamas.
”And I see she needs a night robe,” the woman raised her eyebrows, ”get dressed, eat your breakfast, then Mr. Breadless will take you to school.” She grapsed the door handle to go but Stella forcefully reclaimed her trousers.
”I’m sorry, but I need my jeans,” she said, and the maid sighed, but said nothing more and walked away.
Angrily, Stella pulled on her jeans and a knitted sweater. Then she tried to eat but barely tasted the food because she was so tired. She had been thinking for a while before she had fallen asleep. Joso had not exactly been what she expected a father to be. He had kept his distance, been matter-of-fact and frightening to say the least. Believing that she was to be received with a hug and an explanation of why he had left them alone all these years might have been a bit optimistic, but now she was left with more questions than answers.
After a while Jacob came in, white faced. He was wearing a blue suit and the gauntlet still clung to his hand.
”Why haven’t you been forced to wear weird clothes?” he exclaimed and Stella gave him an encouraging smile.
”But aren’t you smart, Jacob?” she said, grinning. He had beads of sweat on his forehead.
Stella reached for her warm autumn jacket and pulled on her shoes.
”Stella!” he snatched hold of her arm, ”I will not go like this, I refuse!”
”You’ll have to blame yourself, if you let yourself be persuaded.” She raised an eyebrow, ”Change and I’ll meet you downstairs quickly.”
Jacob turned abruptly and disappeared into his room.
In the courtyard the black car had arrived, and Mr. Breadless held the door for them when they came down. Alexi was already there, waiting. He was wearing a bright red coat today.
”Off we go!”
Forest and vast fields went by before they reached the city that they had seen from the above the battlements. Here, the dark grey stone houses stretched high up in the air and long narrow streets criss-crossed one another. At several of the crossings there were fountains of black stone, sculpted into one strange beast after another, the lamp-posts, windows and doors were carved into animals or flowers.
There was a lot of traffic, both cars and coaches went by and people bustled along the pavements. Stella leaned closer to the window and studied the pedestrians. Many of them wore a hat and a cloak, several also wore dresses or knee-high leather boots. Three men in full armour rode out from an alley: one of them was stopped by a townsman and the knight pointed along the street.
”Alexi?” she asked.
”What’s this place called?”
Jacob jumped: he too had been staring out of the window, but now he turned his gaze towards Alexi.
They turned onto a street of cobblestones. Stella looked out the window again and saw that they stopped at a building with huge ancient deciduous dominating the courtyard in front.
The house was enormous, but only the foundation was built of stone: the rest was wood studded with tall paned windows.
”Thorshome is portion of the realm of Aurgård, where your father is the Lord Protector, along with the Grandmaster of North Hall.”
The car stopped and Mr Breadless got out to open the door for them. Other young people were entering the great building and anxiety surged through Stella. Now that she was outside the new school and saw that it was real, she felt revulsion in all the cells of her body. Sweat broke out under her arms, and she took a deep breath, reaching for her shoulder bag. She had no choice but to swallow the bitter pill. Many of the girls who entered the school wore a dress, she did not. Two of them, however, wore black pants and knee-high boots, but no one that she could see wore jeans. A boy in a turquoise-blue coat walked past with his blond hair braided and further away she saw another boy in a black leather jacket.
”Well, come on then,” Alexi said, and they walked towards the entrance while Mr. Breadless waited in the car.
Stella and Jacob went in under the large archway, through an open door with riveted iron hinges and brass fittings. Inside the gate there was another courtyard, lined with benches and blackened iron boxes, like the doors, with yellow flowers. Three fountains stood along the aisle and Stella walked past them slowly, fascinated. They were young people – one could not say whether they were fair boys or tall girls, but they all had different features. One carried wore a knight’s armour and carried a sword, one carried books and scrolls and the last one had a plant in his hand and some winding vines at his feet.
Then she noticed that all the young people were staring at them as they arrived, or rather not at them, but at Alexi. Then the whispering started.
Stella went a little closer to Alexi.
”Why is everyone staring at you?”
”I guess they like my new coat.”
”What, isn’t it?”
She rolled her eyes.
”Everybody knows who I am,” he shrugged, ”but they don’t see me often at Hallstein.”
They stopped at a door.
”Go inside,” he said, and held it open for them.
They went in and found themselves standing in a hall decked with flowers and ornate brass lamps. Only adults were inside and Stella guessed that it was the teachers’ room.
”Master Alexi!” an older man with sideburns dropped the book he was holding and ran up to them. ”What can I do for you?”
The other teachers stopped what they were doing and watched them.
”I’m looking for Hedda Wig.”
”This way,” he pointed with his hand and Alexi went ahead of him. The old man looked curiously at Stella and Jacob, it was as if they were the most exciting thing he had experienced in a long time.
”Ah, Master Alexi!” a light but powerful voice said.
Stella looked around and saw a woman who really was not taller than necessary.
”Welcome, I hope you did not have to wait,” she said and Alexi assured her that was not the case. ”And this is Stella and Jacob Zenithar?” she asked and they nodded.
”I’m Hedda Wig, headmistress of Hallstein,” and she shook hands with them. She took off her glasses and left them hanging from the cord around her neck. ”I will personally go through with you what academic subjects there are, before we decide what you prefer to study. Master Zenithar was good enough to emphasise that you come from a completely different type of school, and it’s important that you get to know how we work here, before we put you into the schedules. History, he was very particular about, must remain, regardless of other preferences, which I can understand. You must have many gaps in the history of Thorshome if you grew up in another town.”
”So you mean that I do not have to do sports, if I don’t want to?” Jacob asked and watched her intently.
Hedda did not seem to hear, continuing into another room with a large desk in the middle. The walls were completely lined with bookshelves and a large window looking out onto a green field. Stella stood by the window and watched students riding and picking rings with a lance.
”We have many skilled knight pupils here,” Hedda said smiling at Stella. ”We always win the larger tournaments.” She picked up two schedules from the desk and gave Stella and Jacob one each.
”Will we have the honour of seeing you here during the day, Master Alexi?”
”No.” Alexi looked relieved when he said it, ”I have other things to deal with, but I’ll be in Thorshome if it you want me. I am leaving the young folks in your care now, Professor. ”
Chapter 5: Hallstein
A long-haired girl was standing just a few steps in front of Stella looking for something in her bag.
“Excuse me?” she asked, and the girl jumped, dropping the bag on the ground. ”I’m sorry if I frightened you…” Stella picked it up and handed it back.
The girl took the bag and moistened her lips nervously.
”I’m new here…” Stella began but the girl just stared. ”And the headmaster told me my first lesson would be here somewhere?”
”Er… aren’t you…” She wrapped her hair uncertainly around her fingers. ”The Wizard’s daughter?”
”Aren’t you Master Zenithar’s daughter?”
Stella thought about what Alexi had said. If everyone knew who he was, then they probably knew who her father was as well. She nodded and held out her hand.
”Alva.” The girl seemed to pull herself together and shook Stella’s hand. ”You’ll be in my class then.” But then she fell silent as three other students came up to them.
A tall blonde girl and two boys dressed in jackets adorned with crests.
”So you’re Stella Zenithar?” the girl asked. ”Welcome to Thorshome. I’m Gerdis and this is Botvid and Valdemar.”
Stella nodded and smiled.
”My father knows Master Zenithar, he sits on the Ting.” the girl paused to see if this meant anything to Stella. When she looked blank the girl threw a quick glance at the two boys before she continued: ”We might see you on Heden later, training for the tournaments has already begun. Are you going to compete?”
Stella did not know what she’d say. Training for what?
”It will be exciting to see you in the field,” said Gerdis and the three walked away.
Stella looked after them.
”Who were they?”
”Oh, don’t you know? Gerdis and Valdemar are the children of senators and Botvid is the son of the mayor.”
”So those are the gang everyone want to be with?”
They started walking down the hallway.
”Yes, and they also know all the other knight students.”
”Then I’ll have to keep away,” Stella joked.
”It’s probably not such a good idea if you want to have friends here.”
Stella gave Alva a glance.
”I don’t know. Do you want to be my friend?”
The girl stopped.
Stella also stopped and bulled her bag strap higher up the shaft. The girl’s lips slowly produced a little smile and she nodded.
”I would love to.”
”Then that’s that.” Stella smiled.
Alva’s cheeks tinged with pink as they walked on.
”I must warn you that I’m not very social,” Stella continued, ”and my father has forbidden me to do anything outside of school or the castle.”
”Oh, it’s not like I’m doing so much exciting stuff,” laughed Alva. Her frightened face had been transformed into a cheerful one. ”But of course, it would have been fun if we could… there’s this place I would like to show you. It’s a friend, or it’s a neighbour of mine who I played with when I was little but not anymore, he works at The Dragon’s Den. An absolutely amazing music club. And he’s always kind and lets me and my friends in even though we aren’t last year’s students. Or adults, they can obviously get in.”
”So he’s older?”
”He’s a last year student, so only one year.”
”What’s his name?”
”Villi, he’s called Villi Sasser, and he knows everyone!”
They came into the classroom and a slender man in a moss-green frock coat stood and wrote something on the blackboard with white chalk: it looked like a gathering of gibberish to Stella. The white hair stood like cotton wool over his ears.
”Hm,” he turned around, ”Is everyone here?”
Stella and Alva sat down at one of the tables and soon after came Gerdis and the two boys. They sat down in the back. Stella turned her eyes to the teacher and thought about the lesson she had ended up in: she had already forgotten what subject it was. The other students began to whisper to each other and it quickly grew into a murmur. She felt the questions in the air and stood up.
”Excuse me, but may I introduce myself? I am new in the class, ”she said, and the teacher nodded.
”Hedda said you’d show up today and it’s not hard to see whose daughter you are, I say,” He swept his hand toward her. ”Please.”
Stella looked at the faces turned toward her from all sides.
”Hi, I’m Stella Zenithar and it’s my first day here. It seems like I will have lot of lessons with you, and it will be exciting to get to know everyone.” Then she smiled and sat down again. Her hands shook, but she held them under the table so that no one could see.
”Welcome Stella.” the teacher said, trying to regain the attention of the class though many of the students let their eyes linger on Stella, as if their curiosity was far from extinguished. It felt redoubled.
”I am Gunnar Dimhed and I teach runes and folkloric storytelling tradition. It’s Thorshome’s history that we have this lesson, and I have asked you to read about Yngvar Wolfsbane today. Is there anyone who would like to start by saying which century he lived in?”
Jacob stayed away from the others in the class, just as he was used to. But already on the first break a black-haired boy sat down next to him on one of benches in the corridor. He had armour on, and gauntlets – yes, he actually looked like an idiot: who would walk around like that?
”I’m Edwin, but people call me Edda,” he said, pulled off his right gauntlet and extended his hand.
Jacob held up his own but raised apologetic shoulders.
”I’m afraid I can’t take it off…”
”Do not worry!” he put on his gauntlet again and extended his hand once again, ”Hello.”
They shook their steel hands.
”Yes, so I’ve heard. So, then, you’ve moved into the old castle now? ”
Jacob raised his eyebrows a little and studied the boy closely.
”Yes you could say that.”
”Are you going to train to be a knight?”
”What do you mean?”
”I just wondered, you have, after all, one knight’s glove…” Edwin looked at the students who streamed past them before he turned to him again. ”I train to be a knight, so I can ask Tryggvald if you will train with us.”
”I don’t know…” It sounded highly unlikely that they had such things on the schedule, even if the headmaster had mentioned something about it, and Jacob hoped that Edwin would get the hint. He intended to stay as far away from anything that even faintly resembled PE as possible.
But the boy did take the hint, and made Jacob come along to the stables where he showed him around. The horses had just received oats and did not seem to care if Jacob and Edwin looked at them. They went on to shield room where all the training weapons were.
”I’ll be as good as Haldur Brage,” Edwin took a sword and swung it in his hand.
”Who is that?”
”You will know as soon as you see him, no one has been as brilliant as he is in so many years, maybe like forever.”
”So he’s a student here?”
”In last year,” Edwin smiled, ”When I’m in last year, they will say the same thing about me.”
Jacob felt a smile spread across his own lips. It felt strange, he had not been even close to a laugh in school since primary school. He actually wanted to get to know Edwin: it did not seem like the boy had anything against Jacob, at all. But it could not be. He looked around to see if anyone was laughing at him, that Edwin being nice was somehow a trap. But they were alone.
Edwin put the sword back into place.
”What is it?” he asked and Jacob blinked.
”I don’t know… so much new stuff today.” He fumbled with the words, and wanted to give himself a slap. Why could he never act normally?
”Yes, of course it is!” Edwin laughed, ”But don’t worry, I’ll make sure you won’t get lost.”
The day continued in the same fashion. Edwin did not stop being attentive and happily showed him around and told him about all the people at the new school. They sat next to each other in the classrooms, and the other students came and talked with Jacob, as if he was a new friend. The eyes levelled towards him were open, kind, and curious.
Stella and Alva walked through a courtyard where a tree with thick and twisted trunk stood. Students went back and forth around it, heading to different classrooms. A cluster stopped and a girl pointed at Stella so that the other boys and the girls turned their attention towards her. She did not know where to look so she looked down at her books to pretend that she did not notice.
”Have they gone yet?” She asked, but Alva did not answer so she looked at her. Her face was flushed.
”Excuse me?” A boy had arrived and Stella looked up at him in surprise and was met by a pair of sky-blue eyes. His hair was blond and curly, he was tall and wore the knightly student’s crest. The same crest as she had seen on the others.
”Are you Stella Zenithar?”
She nodded and he held out a hand, which she took.
”I heard that you were going to start here at Hallstein and when I saw you, I wanted to say hi. My name is Haldur and my family is one of your closest neighbours. ”
Stella blinked and then smiled: he was so polite.
”Nice to meet you,” she said.
A slight blush appeared on his cheeks.
”We might see each other more, are you going to train with us knight apprentices?”
”Um… I do not really know yet,” she replied honestly.
”Maybe,” she added, not to sound too negative.
He smiled and a dimple appeared on his cheek.
”I’ll see you around, Stella,” he said and left them.
The cluster of the other knight apprentices rallied around him, and they left. Every one of them had the Hallstein coat of arms on their clothes, although the jackets were of different colours.
Alva took a breath.
”I did not dare look up as long as he was here.”
”It was Haldur Brage, Stella, he is the most promising knight’s apprentice who has gone on Hallstein of all time. He is a god here!” Then she added with wide eyes: ”And he came to greet you.”
”He probably just wanted to be nice, you’re funny Alva.”
”I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life!”
Stella smiled at her friend but could not help but threw a last glance after Haldur and his entourage.
”What lesson do we have now?”
”We’re going to Heden, it is the riding pit, but only those who study to become knights will ride. The rest of us get other tasks around the whole thing. ”
”So a few really do studying to become knights?” She asked and the girl nodded.
”Yes, if you study for it you can be admitted to the various apprenticeship programs, like The Riding City Guard or the White Guard. Some knights are accepted in the Berserk- or Valkyrie Guard in North Hall, and that’s really fancy.”
”So they are like cops? Or soldiers?”
”They’re what?” Alva had questioning eyes and Stella was puzzled.
When she got home, she would ask how things really worked in this place.
”Nothing, I just made a parable for myself.”
”So Haldur, and Gerdis and her friends are studying to be knights?”
”But not you?”
”I don’t think it would suit me,” she said, and Stella lifted her eyebrows.
”Who does it suit?”
Stella saw how Alva became smaller when she said it.
”Then I don’t think I’m the knight type either,” she said and laughed.
”Why do you say that?”
Stella jerked in surprise.
Alva frowned and looked as if she was trying to formulate something in her head.
”I thought you’d study to be a knight, everyone does it who is…” Alva could not find the words.
”From my kind of family?”
”It might be what Joso wants, but I’m not sure that I am an ordinary Zenithar.”
Stella ate together with Alva and the twins, Tilda and Tekla, who both had chestnut hair and blue dresses. Tekla had glasses and a little curlier hair, otherwise they were very similar and reminiscent of Alva in her way: They were not very loud, but more composed and low-key.
The dining room was long and narrow and cosy with low ceilings and twisted iron lamps dangling over the tables. The furnishings were of dark wood and upholstered chairs. Stella looked down on the chicken and spinach in front of her: it was excellent.
”Have you been to The Dragon’s Den lately?” Tekla asked.
Alva nodded and smiled.
”They’ve rigged the new stage now.”
”Do you usually go there together?” Stella asked.
Alva wrapped some hair around her finger.
”Yes, the three of us and Emund.”
Tekla poked the back of a boy at the table behind them and he stuck his tongue out at her.
”That’s Emund,” Tilda said.
”So that place is a rock bar?”
”Not just any rock bar, Sabbana owns it!”
”And who is she?”
There was silence around the table, as if they had never heard the question before.
”Nobody knows who he is,” Tekla said.
”But he exists, everybody knows that,” Tilda was convinced but Tekla frowned.
She pushed her glasses on her nose and looked at her sister.
”He does not, it’s just marketing,” she said and Alva looked at Stella and smiled.
”You will understand what we mean. But if there is one thing that is a hot topic right now, it’s him. There are tales saying that he hears and sees everything in the whole town. ”
”Are you talking Sabbana without me?” Emund turned around and leaned back in his chair so that he could grab hold of their table.
”Don’t sit at the wrong table then!” Tekla poked him again.
”I was here before you, you know,” he leaned even closer, ”and in addition: Haldur is sitting at this table.”
”Not anymore,” Alva nodded to the blond boy who got up and walked away with his tray.
He had been sitting at the other end of the long table, and those who sat closest to him followed him, as a royal entourage, from the dining room. Emund grimaced and moved his tray over to their table instead. He held out his hand to Stella.
”We haven’t met yet. Emund. ”
”There must be so many new names for you today.”
”Yes, and I’m afraid I have already forgotten all of them.”
”Have you applied for a job at The Dragon’s Den by the way?” Tilda looked at him.
”They don’t hire people my age.”
”But Rista got it.”
”It was because she was together with Villi Sasser or something.” He brushed away his bangs with slender hands, and then looked at Alva.
She shook her head and her cheeks got a pink colour again.
”You know him,” he sighed.
”Not that well, and I don’t want him to stop letting us in on music evenings.”
”But it’s perfect, Alva, if I get a job there then I can let you in every night!”
”Speaking of The Dragon’s Den, shall we go there tonight?” Tekla asked and the others nodded.
Stella was sitting smiling. She already liked Alva’s friends and it felt good. It was hard to follow the conversations but it did not matter much. Her gaze wandered over the dining room that was now mostly empty, only a few students still dawdled. One boy caught her eye as soon as he stepped into the hall and took a tray. He was dressed in black, his hair a large, black, curly mess, smoky eyes his leather jacket was embroidered on the back with a winding yellow dragon. He was like no other that she had seen at Hallstein.
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