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Chapter fifteen

(c) iStockphoto.com
in which Rose receives a message from Granny Angel.

Rose gazed into Nixie’s pale green eyes as she sat beside him in the dim forest. She could see rippling water in the depths of his eyes. She could tell by the look on his face that he was serious. It sounded unbelievable, but he seemed convinced that Rose was meant for him.
“Who told you this prophecy?” she asked him.
“Raven told me. He’s a messenger.”
“Who’s Raven?” Rose asked. She’d never heard of any Raven.
“Raven is the seer’s helper, his black bird. I’ve waited for you for 537 years, eight months and five days, and you’re finally here,” Nixie said with joy. “ I knew you would come.”
“But I didn’t come here for you,” Rose tried to explain. “I was sent here to pick up some medicine from Alfred. He’s a seer, too.”
“Nope. You’re mistaken.” Nixie jumped down off the stone. “You weren’t sent here to meet any Alfred; you were led here to the forest to meet me. This is where we’ll find our happiness. We’re made for each other.”

There had to be some misunderstanding, Rose thought. She tried frantically to think of how to make Nixie, who was incoherent with happiness, understand that she wasn’t his intended. She didn’t want to upset him, but it was plain as day that she couldn’t possibly live with a creature whose home was in the water, a creature with a body covered in fish scales and kelp for hair. She shut her eyes and concentrated on Granny Angel’s face. She was sure that Granny Angel would know how to get out of this awkward situation. Nixie stood quietly next to the rock and rubbed Rose’s chilly toes. She could hear him breathing. She could see the teeny tiny gills behind his ears moving with his breath. As she sat sunk in thought, Rose suddenly felt something sit down on her shoulder. Frightened, she started and opened her eyes. She turned her head and saw a silver-plumed dove perched on her shoulder. She recognized him. It was Battle, Granny Angel’s messenger.
“How did you get here?” Rose asked, lifting the bird onto her hand.
“What’s that?” Nixie asked, as if he’d never seen a dove before.
“It’s Granny Angel’s helper – her dove. Granny Angel’s a seer.”
“How did it get here?” Nixie demanded.
“Granny Angel must have sent him,” Rose murmured to herself, taking hold of a little roll of paper that was attached to Battle’s leg.
She unrolled the tight little scroll and read the message, written in Granny Angel’s hand, out loud:
Seer’s stone, moonstone.
Rub it and look into the pond.
“What does it mean?” she wondered.
“It’s obvious!” Nixie screamed, bounding around with excitement. “Granny Angel wants you to look into the pond to make sure that you’re the one promised to me. We water-dwellers have an old belief that if you look into the pond on a summer’s night under a full moon, you’ll see your life’s partner reflected in the water.”
“But it’s not a full moon today.”
“A minor detail,” Nixie panted. “Well just pretend that this stone is the moon. That’s what the message said – moonstone.”

Nixie’s chatter irritated Rose. Couldn’t he be quiet for just one moment and quit making such a fuss in the night forest, so she could hear her own thoughts? She put her hand in her dress pocket. Her fingers touched a dark, smooth surface – the master stone. Granny Angel had told her to give it to Alfred. Rose squeezed the stone in her fist and held it up in front of Nixie’s eyes. She rubbed it slowly and said:
“I’m ready. But promise me one thing.”
“What?” he said, stopping and staring intently into her eyes.
“If my face doesn’t appear in the water, you’ll admit that Raven was wrong, and you’ll let me go on my way, and you won’t hanker after me.”
Nixie thought quietly for a moment and then said:
“Agreed, on one condition: if your face does appear in the water, you promise to stay here with me for the rest of your life and to never hanker after Roseville.”


Chapter fourteen

in which Nixie tells Rose about her real parents.

(c) iStockphoto.com
Long ago, before Rose was born, a young man and woman came from Roseville and settled in the forest to live. These two, Lilja and Gabriel, were gifted musicians who could play all the old village tunes of Roseville. They had learned them from their parents, who had learned them from their parents, who had in their day learned them from their own parents. But when Roseville got a new mayor, the first thing he did was to ban the playing and singing of music. The only instrument allowed was the willow whistle, and only in emergencies. If a wolf was approaching Roseville, every villager was to have a whistle on hand and blow into it to warn the other villagers of the danger. Defying the ban on music was punishable by permanent exile from the village. Lilja and Gabriel, who had played music together since childhood, refused to obey the mayor, despite the punishment. Lilja’s parents cried and prayed that their daughter would forget about playing the kantele. Gabriel’s parents raged at him and demanded that he give up the violin. The mayor commanded them to stop and warned them that playing music would lure wolves into the village, but the pleas, threats, and persuasions fell on deaf ears. The two young people refused to give up their music.

After they were exiled, Lilja and Gabriel set up house in the woods, quite close to Dim Valley. The weren’t afraid of Howler because they knew that humans and other forest dwellers had lived in perfect harmony for centuries, each keeping to their place. As the months had passed, Lilja and Gabriel befriended the nixies, beavers, squirrels, gnomes, and other creatures of the forest. In the evenings they would sit on the steps of their little cabin and play the kantele and the violin, and the animals of the forest would listen. Lilja and Gabriel knew that Howler and her cubs were listening, too, at the edges of Dim Valley, and although they couldn’t see her, they knew that the wolf and her family were no danger to them.

One night, Lilja and Gabriel were awakened by a dreadful howling. They jumped out of bed, Lilja moving more heavily because the child in her womb had also been awakened by the howls and was kicking with gusto. They opened the cabin door to see what was happening, and a dreadful sight lay before them. The hunters of Roseville had shot Howler’s two cubs and were lugging them back to Roseville on their shoulders. Gabriel stopped them and demanded to know why they had killed the cubs. Lilja told them that they’d been living for months in mutual understanding with the creatures of the forest. The hunters laughed at the naive young couple and said that if you don’t kill wolves, the wolves will kill you. For three days and three nights Howler cried for her cubs, and then she was silent for good. At least that’s what Lilja and Gabriel thought.

One warm August evening, Lilja and Gabriel were blessed with a little baby girl. The child had bright blue eyes and black hair. Lilja tied a pale pink bow in the child’s hair and she and Gabriel decided that they would name her Rose. To celebrate their great good fortune, the proud parents decided to have a naming party and invite all the crea-tures of the forest. The day of the party, creatures assembled from all the dens and nests of the woods – the nixies came with their fiddles, the gnomes brought a great big pine cone cake, the beavers had built a little cradle, and the bees brought along a new harvest of honey. Everyone rejoiced over the new baby girl and her parents joined in happily with the music the nixies played. Together with the nixies and gnomes, the proud parents played a song for Rose unlike any other that had ever been heard in that forest. Lilja’s clear voice murmured like a mountain stream. The swaddled child was passed from one to another and every forest dweller had a chance to hold the little baby and wonder at her, touch her soft cheek and smell the delicate scent of her neck.

Just when the celebration was at its peak, there was a chilling growl from the forest. Howler came charging into the assembled guests with rage flashing in her eyes. Before anyone had a chance to do anything, the wolf set upon Lilja and ripped her neck open. Gabriel tried to protect his wife by furiously striking the animal over the head with his violin, but it broke in two and the wolf was unfazed. She turned and fell upon him, striking the life out of him with one blow of her paw. The party guests ran away in terror. Howler paced around the cabin for a moment, growling. Her voice was hoarse and a heart-rending howl was squeezed from her throat. She sniffed at the kantele and the violin and trod on grandpa gnome’s drum and broke it. She sniffed at Lilja and Gabriel, and then she disappeared into Dim Valley like a shadow.

The sun had gone behind a cloud. Two bodies lay in front of the cabin, their white linen party clothes covered in blood. The forest was silent; the only sound was the soughing of the wind in the trees.

“But what happened to the child, I mean to me?” Rose interrupted.
“One of the gnome women rescued the child and ran away to hide her in her cave,” Nixie answered.
“But how did I end up in Roseville?” Rose demanded.
“The gnomes wrapped you up and put you in a basket and left you at a place in the forest where they knew the hunters would pass by,” Nixie said. “They watched as your foster father came to where you lay and picked you up and took you away with him.”
“So the gnomes saved me,” Rose said in amazement. “I’ve always thought that gnomes were evil – and a figment of the imagination.”
“Gnomes aren’t evil. They understood that they couldn’t raise a human child among their own, so they surrendered you to Roseville.”
Rose thought for a moment.
“What about the prophecy you were talking about?”
“According to the prophecy, I will meet a maiden in the forest who has the name of a flower, and that maiden is meant for me,” Nixie said, looking into her eyes as only one who has longed for something for many years can do.


Chapter thirteen

(c) iStockphoto.com
Rose stared at him as he adjusted the violin on his shoulder.
“What do you know about my parents?” she said, and laughed coldly. “They’re dead, and they never played any music when they were alive. They were upstanding villagers.”
She was beginning to wonder if this marshy fellow wasn’t quite right in the head. She had heard of people who were possessed by demons and lost their sense. Maybe he was one of those. He might even be violent. It might best to leave the poor nutcase to his own devices and continue on her way.
“I’m not talking about your foster parents; I’m talking about your real mother and father, the ones who were slain in Dim Valley. Howler killed them. Didn’t you know?”
He looked at curiously, then put the violin under his chin and picked up the bow.

Rose sat on the rock speechless. Her throat tightened and she almost couldn’t breathe. The ground under the rock seemed to spin. She grabbed the rough surface of the stone, trying not to fall off, closed her eyes tight, and held onto the angel pendant with one hand. Very, very quietly, in the deepest hollows of her skull, she started to hear a song, and the song grew and soon filled her whole mind. The notes rose in the forest night up to the sky and she listened to the music, entranced. She knew that music had been forbidden in Roseville long before she was born, yet she couldn’t shake the thought that she had heard the song the nixie played before, a long, long time ago.

Nixie took the fiddle off his shoulder and stood still in front of her. The forest had drifted into sleep, and the wind whispered in the trees. Rose opened her eyes and looked deep into Nixie’s green eyes.
“What do you know about my real parents?” she asked him again.
“Didn’t anyone tell you?” he said.
“Tell me? I was content with my life and had no need for something I couldn’t have. But now that you bring it up, I want to know the whole story.”
Nixie sighted deeply and then climbed up to sit beside her on the stone.
“May I sit next to you?” he asked shyly. His former boldness seemed to have been wiped away.

Rose didn’t answer, but she moved closer to him and smiled encouragingly. And then he began his story.


Chapter twelve

(c) iStockphoto.com
in which Nixie believes he’s found happiness.

“How do you know my name?” Rose asked the silver-scaled young man.
“I’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” he answered. “537 years, eight months, and five days, to be exact.”
“But nobody can wait for someone that long.”
“We nixies can. We spend the greater part of our lives waiting.”
“I don’t believe in nixies,” Rose blurted. “I don’t believe in any fairytale creatures. Not gnomes or witches, and particularly not werewolves.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re not real. You’re a hallucination, brought on by fatigue.”
“You don’t have to believe in me. My existence doesn’t depend on belief. It’s enough if you just want to get to know me,” the nixie said. “Look, we both live in a story where anything is possible.”
“What kind of nonsense is that?” Rose snorted. “I don’t live in a story. I live in Roseville. And I’d best be on my way now, so I won’t be late.”
“But you’ve already arrived!” the nixie said. “You’ve finally come, after all these years, and we can finally move in together and live happily ever after.” He leaned toward Rose to embrace her.

Rose pulled away and scrambled to the farthest corner of the stone.
“Back off!” she hissed. “Can’t ordinary townsfolk walk through the woods in peace nowadays?”
The nixie was taken aback, not seeming to understand what she meant.
“Why are you hissing at me?” he said sadly. “I’ve waited for you for 537 years, eight months and five days, and when you finally arrive, like the prophecy said, you act dumb and play hard-to-get.”

Rose stared at him, stupefied, as he wrung his hands and looked like he might burst into tears. In the dimness, she could see the thin bits of skin that grew between his fingers, like a frog’s webbed feet. Greenish-brown kelp was tangled in his long blond hair and his eyes shone a faded green. His thighs were muscular, his shoulders broad. Rose cast her eyes toward the ground at his feet and noticed a stringed instrument lying there.
“What’s that?” she asked.
She had never seen a violin before. The only instrument that was allowed in Roseville was the willow whistle. The mayor had banned all other instruments, because they were, according to him, the devil’s inventions. Rose had never understood how playing an instrument could be a sin. She had asked Granny Angel about it once, but she just said that it was best not to worry your head over the foolishness of the gentry.
“Music is humanity’s gift from the angels,” she said. “But some people can’t ac-cept a gift, let alone give one to others.” And since Rose wasn’t terribly musical herself, she didn’t ask any more about it.

Nixie glanced at the instrument and gently picked it up.
“This is a violin,” he said. “This is how I comfort myself through all my lonely nights. I can comfort you, too, if you like. Every evening of your life, if you want me to.”
“You can’t play those in Roseville,” Rose said. “And I don’t particularly desire music in my life.”
“That’s remarkable,” he said, sincerely surprised. “Your parents were so musical.”


Chapter eleven

(c) iStockphoto.com
in which Rose plunges into the deep woods.

After making her way through the dark forest for a couple of hours, Rose felt hungry. The woods were fragrant with deep green pine trees and summer’s yearning. A damp mist was spread out over the carpet of moss and the sweetness of the summer flowers beckoned her onward into the deeper fragrance of the forest. Rose felt the dampness linger on her skin. There was a hint of apple and lingonberry in the air, a smell of autumn that made her miss the summer even before it was over. She filled her nostrils with summer’s aroma, wanting to save it somewhere in the corners of her mind – but you can’t save summer in a jar like raspberry preserves.

Rose came to a pond and put down her pack. She sat down on the edge of a large stone that stood on the shore and moved her shoulders in circles. The pack wasn’t heavy, but its thin leather straps made them sore. A full moon shone through the trees and now and then a fluffy cloud drifted past, looking dark blue in the night sky. From somewhere far off she heard a loon’s call. She took the loaf of rye bread wrapped in cloth and a bit of meat wrapped in paper from her pack, broke a piece of bread off and put some meat on top.

A branch rustled somewhere. Rose gave a start and looked around fearfully. It felt like someone was watching her. The tree trunks of the dark forest looked frightening and the hanging branches reminded her of a witch’s long arms, reaching out to touch young girls and tear their dresses to tatters. Rose retreated to the middle of the rock and sat with her back to the pond, holding her bread tight against her chest. If anyone came creeping out of the shadows of the forest toward her, she would be sure to see them coming. She could see the forest all around her from where she sat.

She chewed on her bread and tried to calm herself. “There’s no such things as witches and gnomes,” she thought. “Those are just old wives’ tales.” But it wasn’t very persuasive, even to herself. She remembered the stories her Mama had told her when she was little, about elves, gnomes, and demons. One story particularly stuck in her mind, about a neighbor woman whose child was stolen by a gnome and replaced with the gnome’s own child, a changeling. The woman didn’t notice that the children had been switched, but as the changeling grew, evil grew in its heart, and one day it picked up an axe, struck its foster mother a fatal blow, and left her lying there to bleed to death. The changeling was never found. It was said that it had escaped into the forest, gone back to its own family, and never appeared among people again.

Rose sat on the rock and trembled as she thought about that story. What if the changeling was lurking in the woods with an axe, ready to chop her to bits? She was struggling to keep her thoughts contained and stave off her fears. Without noticing it, she held tight to the angel pendant that Granny Angel had given her and said a prayer in her mind that she had learned as a little girl:
“Great Power bless us, send angels to us. Their wings to protect us, and never reject us.”

The pale pink rose quartz pendant felt warmer in Rose’s hand, and suddenly she heard a sound from the pond behind her. It sounded like someone swimming toward the stone where she sat. Seized with fear, she sat transfixed. She heard someone swim to the edge of the pond and climb up onto the shore. Soft footsteps crept slowly closer behind her. She thought she would scream, but her voice was frozen in her throat. She listen in terror to the approaching steps and squeezed the pendant tighter. Suddenly, as if out of the mist, she heard someone speak. Or rather, not a voice from the forest mist, but a voice from inside Rose herself. It was Granny Angel’s voice.
“Turn around and look the thing you fear right in the eye,” Granny Angel’s firm but gentle voice told her. Rose forced herself to open one eye. She raised herself from the stone on one trembling hand and turned toward the pond.

There before her, in the darkness of the summer night, stood a young man, covered in seaweed, with fish scales on his skin. Rose stared at the creature in shock, but calmed a little when she saw the warm sparkle in the fellow’s eyes and the playful smile on his lips.
“Wh-who are you?” Rose stammered.
“Nixie,” he said in a curiously bubbling voice. “That’s what they call me. And if I’m not mistaken, your name is Rose.”

Next chapter will be posted on Wednesday 31st of Nov.


Chapter ten

(c) iStockphoto.com
in which Smith has a nightmare.

When Rose had drifted out of sight, Smith put his spyglass back in its case and shambled into the house. The day had been warm, but he felt a chill. He put some more wood on the fire, sat down in the rocking chair by the hearth, and lit his pipe. He felt lonely. He was so used to hearing the even breathing of his dog beside him that the silence seemed to shout. He stared at the flames and listened to their crackle, lost in thought, then drifted into sleep.

In his dream, Smith is five years old. He’s running through a rippling field of golden wheat, on his way home. The white house shimmers on the other side of the field, its copper roof glinting in the sun. His father just finished putting it on a couple of days earlier. Smoke rises from the chimney, so the boy knows that it’s time to eat. He can’t be late for dinner. In his dream, he runs like he might beat his own feet to the house. He stumbles on a stone, gets up again and continues. His throat stings and he tastes iron in his mouth. He finally arrives at the door of the house, opens it warily, and peaks inside, his heart thumping. Before he can step inside, his father’s big hand lifts him by the collar into the air. The first blow strikes his ear. The next strikes his nose, which starts to bleed. He tries to cover his head, his feet kicking in the air, reaching for the ground so he can run away. His father’s strong fist holds him tight. The boy’s eyes dim. The blows rain steadily all over his body. He hears his mother’s voice beside him: “Don’t beat the boy, Iiro. Stop it!” His father’s grasp loosens and the boy slides to the floor and lies there. His mother hurries to him, crying, and wipes his bloody face with her apron. His sisters sit at the table, silent, staring at their plates. His father sits down at the table and begins to say grace: “Thanks be to God, who feeds our spirits, have mercy on us your children, we pray.” His mother’s tears are mixed with blood.

Smith’s own yells woke him up. He jumped up out of the rocking chair and stared around, wild-eyed, as if he were searching for a thief who had broken into the house uninvited in the dead of night. His heart was banging in his chest. His pipe had fallen on the floor and gone out. The cottage was empty; only the shadows cast by the fire moved in the corners. His breath leveled out and his clenched fists relaxed. His fingernails left red imprints in his palms. He stoked the embers of the fire, got undressed, and laid his clothes on a chair. He could hear Topi’s low bark outside the door. He opened it a crack and Topi scrambled inside, laid down in front of the fire, and closed his eyes. Smith dove between the sheets of the wrought iron bed and pressed his nose deep into his pillow. The image of Rose sitting across the table arose in his mind. Rose laughed with him and stretched her hand across the table toward him. He took her hand, and her eyes sparkled.

Next chapter will be posted on Tuesday 30th of Nov.