This translation of the chapter has been made by myself with the help of my dear friend James Coghill, who is a British poet and a Cambridge man. Visit his blog The Solenette.
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 meadows. There was a commotion that night. A child was born at Zenithar’s castle, the wizard had received an heir. Far away in the northern woodlands, 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 yet another wizard to rise against them, and they 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 emerged amongst the remains. For how long it had been going on was hard to tell, but it was not new. The large labour camps resembled 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 away. The air was filled with heavy smells of smoke and stone.
“Master”, Alexi got off his horse, 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 is was something really bad.
A wind snatched at them and Joso buttoned up.
“More bad news?”
“Someone has been selling information”, Alexi’s eyes followed his movements carefully, he seemed nervous, “Your children are in danger.”
Ice went right through Joso’s veins. His worst fear had come true and no words were needed for his apprentice to understand. Both of them mounted their horses again, and Joso did not wait a second but urged Silverarrow down the mountain. Judging by the sound of the galloping hoofs Alexi was right behind him. And 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 got off and walked over the leaf covered asphalt, a 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 wrinkled forehead. Her aunt had a handwritten letter in her hand, and she raised her eyes as Stella walked in. A beep came from the coffee machine. She left the letter on the table and got up to pour herself a cup.
“Um…” She began, but fell silent and pulled away an untamed lock of hair from her face.
Stella sat down and took a biscuit from the open package, it was dry and tiny flakes got stuck on her tongue. Aldis put down the cup on the table and the nutty aroma 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 letter, the paper had a faint beige colour. At first she did not know what to say or do but sat paralysed, with her eyes fixed on what laid written in front of her. A sign of life from her own father. She reached for the letter and pulled it gently towards herself. As if her fingertips wanted to reassure themselves that is was really true, they caressed the letter back and forth and followed 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 decides another path than 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 askew 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 now? What did he look like?
“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 at least 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 slammed and Jacob looked into the kitchen.
She was about to tell him about the letter but then she reacted on the unusual sight: Her fifteen year old brother was covered in mud from his shoes to his hair.
“What has happened?” Aldis stared at him.
“Nothing”, he threw his coat and backpack on the floor.
“And why are your glasses broken?” Their aunt pushed back 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?” She 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 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 she kept her arms firmly against her body not to show it.
Jacob was standing on the floor, 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 does not 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?” Jacobs 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 and tilted his head to one side as he usually did, when he did not believe her.
“What did you say?” He fumbled with his glasses, which were bent and cracked, but he put them back on his nose 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. I’ll see if I can find your old ones meanwhile.” 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 framed spectacles.
“Here they are”, she said and Jacob received them.
“Will you come with us?” He asked.
Their aunt pursed her mouth.
“There is something you are not telling us, isn’t there?” Stella looked at her intently.
“Joso said that he would get in touch one day and would 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 was falling heavily and clattered loudly on the roof tiles, sounding like the clatter of hooves. She spilled out a drawer on the carpet and looked through another pile of junk, insignificant scraps and stuff that had ended up in the drawer, just because they at some point 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 light injury in one corner. Stella remembered it very well, every little detail was familiar. She had been rather frantic when she obtained the photograph, at age eleven, and brought 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 so deeply. She had thought these emotions had cooled to indifference, but as she looked at the picture she instantly felt them gnawing inside her.
In the photograph her parents sat on a stone staircase with a background of ivy. 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. But her mother was dead. Stella saw her own resemblance 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 as her mother and a straight definite nose like her father. It was almost eerie to see the photo again, now that she was becoming an adult, she really was 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. Then 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 cannot 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, this is not how I remember him. He was never the type you got along with easily, but I guess 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 stroke 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 a bit 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 really a good idea to resume contact now?
She lay thinking for quite a good while, 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. And then it was dark again. How could she ever fall asleep after what had happened? She felt completely awake.
There was a beep in her mobile and a message from Linn appeared on the screen: Party in the demolition house tonight, come here! Stella looked at the message for a moment and thought about what had come over her friend after she had got herself a boyfriend, she seemed to know about every party in the city.
“Better than lying here pondering”, murmured Stella and pulled on a pair of black jeans and a warm sweater.
She sneaked out and looked to see if Aldis had closed the door to her bedroom. When the coast was clear, she went to the fridge to look for Aldis’ beer, but could not find any and went 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. Street lamps reflected their light in the puddles on the asphalt. She could hear music as soon as she came down the road and see silhouettes of young people disappearing into a garden.
Linn was standing on the road in front of the house with her boyfriend and his friend and they were laughing.
“Stella!” Linn gave her a big hug, “You came! I said…” She started and put her arm around her shoulders, “That I was sure you would come, because you sounded all thoughtful and such and I know that you will want to do stuff, so that you don’t have to ponder upon whatever you are thinking about. And I was right, wasn’t I!”
“You know me”, Stella smiled.
“Mike knew about the party tonight, so when I started talking about a movie he thought this sounded better!” She laughed again and kissed Stella on the cheek, then she 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 in her boyfriend’s friend.
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 did not say anything else about it and followed the others into house. In the back garden lanterns were lit and many of the party people were outside, most of them drinking beer. Someone was playing electronic music in the house, but almost no one stayed inside.
“I really like this!” said Linn fondly and pulled Mike’s arms around her. Then she frowned at Stella, “You look sceptical.”
Stella looked at the garden with drunk teenagers and thought Linn probably had read her right, but she was not going to admit that.
“No, it’s cosy, but shouldn’t we go inside and dance?”
“But this is where it all happens”, muttered her friend and Stella shrugged. If Linn were going to make out with Mike all evening and she did not know anyone else at the party than Hannes, it could be more of a hassle than fun. She saw how the boy twitched nervously and then he opened another beer.
“Want one?” He asked.
Stella held up the beer she had already received 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 have never heard of anyone else named Zenithar”, Hannes said all the sudden, “Where does it come from?”
Stella thought about the letter again, and the father that had written it, and 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, instead he put his arm over her shoulders and leaned closer.
“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 ran off all suddenly.
“Thank you,” she said quietly and tried to gently push him away.
Drunk as he was he did not get the hint, but seemed to believe that she wanted to touch him and his fingers dug into the back of her hair. Stella panicked and without thought 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, paralyzed. Stella’s eyes were fixed on the flames and she threw away the beer and flung herself at the screaming girl. Her hands grabbed her burning arms and she pushed her down on the wet autumn grass.
“Stop!” Stella shouted and the fire was extinguished. “Call an ambulance!” She cried and Hannes fumbled with his mobile and pressed the three digits.
The girl screamed and wept but Stella could not see that she had been scorched, only her hair and clothes. She released her and the girl’s friends came and helped her to a sitting position. And there they sat 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 most remarkable thing was, that she had a definite feeling that the fire had done as she commanded. But obviously it could not have been so. The muddy ground had extinguished the fire, of course it had.
“I’ll go home now,” she said, and ran away.
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