A Whateley Academy Adventure
Elle 1 - Dawn of the Aurora
hans rike for hånden (His kingdom for her hand)
kongen lengtet etter hennes bryst (The king longs for her breast)
Kongen sover (The king sleeps)
Heksene venter (The witches wait)
Sirkelen bundet av en ed av blod (The circle bound by an oath of blood)
Dvergene fest med øl og kjøtt (Dwarves feast on meat and ale)
På bryllupsfesten (At the wedding feast)
skjebne oppfylt (Destiny fulfilled)
Sirkelen ubundet fra sin gjeld (The circle freed from debt)
Fragments of an ancient, nearly-lost epic poem
Den Sovende Kongen - The Sleeping King
After Christmas, 2006
"Einar! What's up?" Regine called from her front door as Einar rode past on his bike. "Why do you look like someone shot your pet dog?"
Einar slowed, turning his bicycle, then rode across the packed snow onto the cleanly-shoveled driveway of Regine's house. "Hi," he said unenthusiastically.
"What's going on? Come in and we can make hot cocoa and you can tell me about it."
Einar dismounted from his bike and leaned it against the porch, then followed Regine into her house. Unlike everyone else outside at the moment, he was wearing a light jacket instead of a heavy winter coat, and he still looked comfortable, while everyone else appeared quite cold.
"So, what's up?" Regine repeated as she put the kettle on to boil.
Einar slumped into a chair at the table. "I just met with Mom and Dad and Ms. Næss," he said morosely.
"Oh? At school, or at your home?"
"At school, naturally," he replied. "We talked about me going back to school after the break is over."
"I bet you're looking forward to that!"
Einar snorted. "Not really. Mom doesn't want me using either the boys' or the girls' locker room for PE. Mrs. Næss said I had to, but Mom pointed out that girls might be scared ..."
"Because you still have ...."
Einar nodded. "And the boys would tease me or stuff because ..."
"Because you're developing breasts and look more female."
"And other ... things ... are changing. Mom makes a lot of sense, but Ms. Næss kept saying that rules are rules, and I have to choose which one I'm using. And I have to take PE classes. But I get to choose whether I take PE with the girls or the boys."
"And that'll determine which locker room you use?"
"That's what Ms. Næss said." Einar looked up from his cup of cocoa. "What do you think? Do you think the girls would be upset if I used the girls' locker room?"
Regine winced, then she slowly nodded. "Even for me, it'd be ... even with ...." She glanced away. "Even after ... yeah, it'd be kind of weird," she admitted. "And ... a lot of girls would think it was creepy."
"Even though I have to wear a bra and panties?"
The girl nodded. "Yeah. Some of the boys would tease you to no end, and a lot of girls - and probably their parents - would get upset."
"I can't use the boys' locker," Einar grumbled, "because the guys would be merciless." He took a sip of cocoa. "Do you think I should do boys' PE, or girls'?"
"What do you think?" Regine turned the question around on him.
"Coach was at the meeting, and he said I could do either, at least for now. He said that when ... things ... are gone, then I'll have to do PE with the girls. If I'm on the boys' team, he won't let me do biathlon, so ... I think I'd rather do girls'."
"Some of the girls will get jealous and think it's unfair."
"But Coach reminded me and my parents that since I'm a mutant, I can't compete in team sports, so ...."
"Yeah, that'd make some of the more competitive girls worry less. Did you talk about anything else?" She looked directly at him. "Are you going to dress as a girl or a boy?"
Einar started at the question, then looked down into his cup to avoid her gaze. "A girl."
Regine stared at him wordlessly for a while, eyes narrowed as she focused. "I ... I don't get it," she finally said. "Why aren't you freaking out?" He looked up at her, startled by her question. "If it was me, I'd be really freaked out."
Einar continued to stare silently at the half-consumed cup of hot cocoa, afraid to look up to see Regine's expression, which he feared. She was guessing a little too closely for his comfort.
Her jaw dropped open as she slowly processed all the facts she was aware of, and she tried to understand his reaction - or lack thereof. "You ... WANT TO BE A GIRL?!?" she exclaimed after thinking a bit.
The boy flinched, still looking down, but now he was blushing some. "I ... I don't think so. I ... I really don't know," he whispered. "I ... I just don't know."
"But you're comfortable with this? Changing into a girl?"
Einar took a couple of deep breaths, then looked up suddenly. "I'm not gay!"
"I didn't suggest you were," Regine replied gently, putting her hand atop his on the table. "Being comfortable ... or wanting ... with this - it's not gay."
"But ... it's not ... normal!"
"No, but neither is being a mutant," Regine reassured him. "If you're comfortable with it, that should be all that matters."
"But .. my friends. My family ...." Einar's eyes widened suddenly. "Family! Oh, crap! I'm supposed to be at home! My aunt came up from Oslo to see if she could help. Damn!" He stood abruptly. "I've gotta go!"
Regine followed his hasty march to the front door, but he suddenly halted and turned, and she ran into him. "Oops!"
"Sorry," Einar replied quickly. "I just ...." He turned his head away. "It's just ...." His voice cracked as he spoke. "I'm still kind of bummed that ... that we're not dating anymore," he said softly. "Silly isn't it?"
Regine nodded. "We probably would have broken up in a year or so anyway. But think of it this way," she reached up and turned Einar to face her. "You're my best friend now, and that'll last a lot longer than our relationship probably would have."
Einar nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. She was right, he realized, on both counts, and now, in the middle of a change, he needed a best friend. "Yeah," he finally squeaked. Then he smiled a bit. "Can I talk my best friend into coming home with me, so I don't get ambushed by my family? I just know they're going to talk about these changes."
"Let me get my coat."
"I have to say, Einar," Aunt Sophia Andersen said as she put down her teacup, "you're probably going to be a very attractive young lady, but I never quite expected my nephew to be the cutest of my nieces!"
"Well, I didn't want ...."
"And Einar Anders absolutely will not do!" she declared, cutting off Einar's words. There was no doubt that she was the dominant personality in the house. "Since you're turning into a girl, you need a girl's name!" She looked at her sister, Einar's mom. "I'm shocked, Anne-Marie, that you haven't taken care of that problem yet!"
Einar groaned. "She tried already, but ...."
"I think you should change your name, too!" Regine interjected. Instead of support, Regine had sided with the women and girls, leaving Einar totally outnumbered when his father wisely shut up and retreated to the living room with a book. "I think ... Eydis! That's a cool name - a goddess of something or other! Eydis Agnetha!"
"No!" Einar snapped harshly. "Hell no! Absolutely not!"
"Einar! Watch your tongue!" Aunt Sophia and Einar's mom snapped at the same time.
"Elle," Sophia said firmly. "That's what you told me you were going to name him if Einar had been a girl instead," she smiled at her sister.
"Elle? Elle - Agnetha?" Regine proposed.
"No! I will not let you name me Agnetha, even as a middle name!"
"Why not? She was one of the singers in ABBA," Aunt Sophia countered.
"Who?" Einar and Regine asked Sophia with feigned looks of confusion. Then they both glanced at each other and started snickering. "That's old fogey music!" Einar smirked.
"Astrid," Einar's mom said firmly. "Elle Astrid."
"Moooommmmmm!" Einar complained.
Einar's mom rose and went to the door to the living room. "Harald, we're going to change Einar's name to Elle Astrid since he's changing into a girl. Is that okay?"
"Yeah." Einar's dad didn't seem to be paying much attention.
"So, are you going to homeschool? Given what happened with Einar, you could probably get an exemption granted," Sophia said before sipping her tea again.
"No!" Regine protested. "Elle should go to school with the rest of us!"
"Einar?" Mom asked. "What do you want to do?"
"I ... I'd like to try ... going to school," he said hesitantly.
"So tomorrow, we'll go get your records changed to Elle Astrid," Mom replied with a pleasant smile, as if she was happy about his choice.
"It’s not like I have a choice about changing," Einar added unhappily; Regine caught his eye and winked at him, knowing they'd just had the conversation and that Einar was probably putting on a show for his family.
"We probably should go shopping for some school clothes for you then," Sophia declared. "Tomorrow we can go to Trondheim."
"Can ... may I come along?" Regine asked hopefully. "And maybe Silje, too?"
Aunt Sophia smiled. "The more, the merrier. Besides, you girls will do better with current teen styles than either of us 'old ladies'!" she added with air quotes and a grin.
"More shopping?" Einar complained.
"Get used to it, Elle," Regine chuckled in response. "Girls love to shop!"
Einar's mom walked back to the door. "We're going shopping with Einar ... Elle ... in Trondheim tomorrow, okay, dear?"
"Only after he helps out at the Alpinsenter!" Einar's dad didn't even try to rescue him from a shopping trip.
The school assembly hall was full, and as Einar - Elle - glanced from the doorway, she gulped nervously. Beside her, Regine held her hand and confidently reassured her, "You'll do fine. Everything will be okay. Ms. Næss is on your side, remember?"
"I know," Elle squeaked, fighting the butterflies in her stomach. "But ... this is harder than I thought it was going to be." She'd decided, after the evening with Aunt Sophia, that she should just jump into the change whole hog, not trying to make it a gradual transition. Hence, he was trying to think of himself as a 'her', and was trying to exclusively use the name Elle.
"Well, it's too late now, because Ms. Næss just gave your prompt."
Elle swallowed hard, then walked, visibly shaking, through the door. When the principal stopped talking, the usual school-kid chatter had resumed, but as soon as Elle appeared, it halted abruptly, leaving Elle terrified that all the kids would be able to hear her knees knocking together from nerves. She strode awkwardly to the podium where the principal waited.
"Hi," she said nervously, glancing to the side to see that Ms. Næss hadn't abandoned her, but was standing by her side. Her parents and Aunt Sophia stood to one side as well. "I'm ...." She gulped, trying to force down the butterflies. "I'm ...." She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Some of you know from last fall that I ... manifested as a mutant," she finally got out. "But ... you don't know what that did to me, because I've kept it hidden. In fact, it was probably a good thing that I tele-schooled at the end of the fall term. But ... I'm ... I was ... Einar."
"Einar?!?" Jonathan Losnedahl gasped aloud, audible in the utter silence of the assembly.
Elle glanced around and located Jonathan, then nodded. "I ... my mutation ... is turning me into ... a girl," she said, wincing uneasily. "I ... I'm ... Mom and Dad filed the paperwork, so my name is now ... Elle Astrid," she managed to get out. "I'm ... I'm coming back to school ... as a girl, which I've almost completely changed into, and I want you to call me Elle, since that's legally my name now."
Ms. Næss stepped to the microphone. "Until he ... she ... is done changing, Elle will use the faculty restroom, including for changing for PE. Since Elle is officially a girl in government records, she will be participating in girls' PE classes."
"That's not fair!" one of the older girls cried out. "Having to have a boy ...."
"A girl!" Ms. Næss corrected her sharply. "You'll have another girl in your PE class. And just to clarify a point, it's a national rule that mutants are not allowed to compete in athletics, so if, for example, Elle were to want to participate in girls' cross-country skiing, she would be allowed to train and practice, but not compete as part of the official team."
"That's just sick!" one of the boys in the crowd spat; Elle was sure that it was Per's voice. "Mutant freak!"
"That will be enough of that!" Ms. Næss thundered into the mic, her voice amplified to carry every little nuance of her anger to echo around the room, sinking into the very bodies of the assembled kids. Many of them were totally startled, since they'd never heard her so emphatically and angrily say anything. "Our government position is that mutants have the same civil rights as any baseline, and are entitled to the same education. Further, we are not like those barbaric, backwards, redneck cowboys across the Atlantic! It is not illegal to be gay or have other gender differences, and it will NOT be tolerated in my school or any other government-chartered school! Is that clear?!?" Far from the hesitant, almost anti-mutant principal of only weeks ago, now that she'd read the law and the Ministry of Education's rules and guidelines, Ms. Næss had become a bulldog in protecting Elle's rights.
The assembly was deathly silent for several moments. "Good," Ms. Næss said. "Now, does anyone have any questions - polite questions - for any of us?"
Per sat in his seat with several of his crowd, all glaring at Elle, but they now knew better than to say anything. But Halvard stood. "So ... what kind of mutant powers do you have?"
Several of the students groaned, as did Elle's parents, but she smiled as she took the mic from Ms. Næss. "I can ... make snow and ice out of water," Elle replied, and then she got a mischievous grin. "As some of you already know." She thought a moment, and then continued. "Like this."
Gasps of surprise filled the ranks of students as snow began to waft around the room, circulated by the air currents from the room's fans, falling gently among the students. Feeling a little cocky, Elle saw a bottle of water behind the podium, so she took it out and twisted off the cap, then upended it. But remarkably, no water hit the floor - as it left the bottle, it was immediately frozen into a giant icicle hanging from the plastic.
"Can you do anything else?" Silje asked excitedly. She already knew about the snow stuff.
"Maybe someday, but ... I have a lot to learn about how magic works," Elle admitted. And about being a girl, she thought to herself. She was sure she wasn't the only one.
"I love your hair!" Silje said admiringly to Elle as she and Regine walked Elle home.
Elle blushed. "It's ... it's okay I guess."
"It's gorgeous!" Silje countered. "I'd die to have hair like that! With the blue in it, it's like staring at a glacier or something! And it looks so silky!"
"It's kind of a pain," Elle said, blushing at the compliment.
"It's going to be even prettier when she grows it longer," Regine threw in.
"I never said ...." Elle started to protest, knowing that Regine had merely mentioned that she should grow her hair longer. But now that her friend had made up her mind, Elle knew that Regine was going to somehow cajole her into growing her hair longer.
"Oh, that'd be adorable!" Silje gushed. "Maybe we should go to one of those fashion websites, you know the ones where you can use your picture? And we can see how some different longer hairstyles would look on you?"
"And the way her ears sometimes poke out through her hair - she looks like an overgrown pixie, don't you think?" Regine asked, smiling admiringly.
"I don't know," Silje paused, looking at Elle critically as she though. "Maybe she's too cute! Maybe we shouldn't help her anymore, because she'll get all the attention!"
"Especially from the boys!" Regine teased.
"Not likely," Elle countered. "I'm not interested ...."
Elle spun toward the angry-sounding voice, startled. Beside her, Silje and Regine turned as well, and both of their mouths dropped open at the sight that greeted them.
"You sick fucking freak!" Per snarled as he and three of his buddies stomped toward the girls. They were off school grounds, so technically, the principal could do nothing, and Per knew it.
"Leave her alone!" Silje said defensively, interposing herself between the rapidly-approaching Per and Elle.
That didn't matter to Per - he brutally shoved Silje aside. "Decent people don't like you sick mutants around here!" he snarled. "Especially you gender-queer freaks!"
The rising panic Elle was feeling threatened to turn into terror, but then something strange happened - it turned into the familiar pressure, quickly building up inside her. With a snarl, she released that magic energy; the weekends working at the Alpinsenter and at home dissipating her excess essence had let her practice some degree of control. A miniature blizzard erupted, fueled by the girl's essence and the humidity in the air, slamming icy stings into the boys' exposed faces like a million tiny bees.
Seeing the boys were distracted, Elle abruptly let the snow abate, changing instead to precipitating the humidity into glare ice at the boys' feet. In the meantime, Regine had helped Silje back to her feet.
"Run!" Elle yelled. It didn't take a second prompt to get Regine and Silje darting away from the would-be bullies.
Per managed, somehow, to get enough forward momentum that, even though he slipped on the ice and was falling, he was able to get a handful of Elle's jacket, enough so that she fell down. The larger boy couldn't maintain his grip when he painfully hit the icy walk, but Elle was down, too, and he got ahold of her leg before she could get to her feet.
Regine and Silje turned when Elle screamed, but they were already a few steps away, and realized that they were not going to be able to help Elle before Per could hurt her, which he was winding up to do.
And then the world seemed to explode with lights, at least around Elle. Swirling, incredibly bright fibers of white, green, and blue filaments of light swirled and danced around the Sidhe girl, nearly blinding Silje and Regine, and more importantly, blinding Per and his thugs.
Momentarily shocked by what had happened, Elle scrambled back away from Per, then scrambled to her feet. Seeing how her friends were nearly mesmerized by the rapidly-fading light, she grabbed Silje's and Regine's hands and tugged them away, wanting to get as far from the bullies as quickly as she could.
"Don't look," Silje hissed to Regine and Elle as they started walking away from a bus stop, "but there are two old ladies over there staring at us."
She shouldn't have said anything, because naturally the other two girls, as well as Elle's sister Sara and her Mom, looked. The women looked somewhat grandmotherly, in woolen winter coats, with scarves, but at the moment, their heads were uncovered, and they were, indeed, staring at the small group from Meraker, their eyes narrowed in careful scrutiny.
The two women said something between them, still focused on the group, and Elle felt a chill run through her, and she shivered from head to toe. It was even stranger, because when people were caught staring at someone else, they normally looked away. Instead, the women seemed to intensify their gaze.
"Let's ... let's get out of here," Elle whispered to her mom.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"There's something ... about those two," Elle replied uneasily. "It's ... I think they did something and it felt like ... like when I was doing magic testing a few months ago. It was like ... they were using magic on me!"
"They're just a couple of old ladies," Sara snorted. "Like Grandma. I don't know why you're so afraid...."
"They did something, and I felt it!" Elle shot back. "Please! Let's get out of here!"
Mrs. Ruud read the panic in Elle's voice, and saw her expression; it only took milliseconds for her to decide. "Okay."
The group turned away from the two women and quickened their step, heading toward a well-known clothing store. Silje couldn't help looking over her shoulder toward the women, who were watching but hadn't left the spot where they stood. "They're not following us," she whispered insistently to Regine and Silje.
Seeing Elle's still-worried look, Regine took her elbow. "Just forget it, okay? They're not following us. Let's have fun shopping."
Silje shook her head. "They were strange old ladies. Forget about them, okay? They've probably never seen a girl with white hair and elf ears!"
"And you've grown a bit, so we have to find you a new bra!" Regine chuckled.
"Something lacy and sexy," Silje chimed in. "Maybe pink?"
Elle stared between the two girls who were on either side of her, then she groaned. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to regret this?"
"It has to be her!" Helka said to Alva, standing by her side on the sidewalk of Trondheim, still gazing after the girl.
"I felt her magic, too," Alva replied. "Her hair is the same color as the legend says."
"Did you see her ears?" Helka asked. "She has the ears of the queen, of the dwarves and the ancient races."
"I didn't see them."
"She lives somewhere near here."
"Do you think she noticed the tracer spell?" Alva asked. "She looked like something disturbed her. If she did ....?"
"If she had noticed," Helka countered, "do you think we'd be standing here?"
"I don't think the tracer spell took on her, though. So," Alva pondered aloud, "how are we going to find her? She could live anywhere in the county."
"Gunhild!" Helka exclaimed suddenly, eyes wide open. "She said she thought she felt something a few months ago - after we first saw the signs."
"Could it be ...?" Alva gawked at her, open-mouthed in shock. "But ... she said she saw a boy!"
Helka started to shrug, but then her eyes narrowed. "Stranger things have happened with the queen. It is entirely possible." She fumbled in her oversized purse, digging out a folded paper, which she unfolded and began to stare. "Two readings in Trondheim and Stjordalshalsen indicated east, but two readings seemed to indicate Trondheim. Is it possible - she lives east of Stjordalshalsen, and occasionally travels to Trondheim?"
"Martin!" Alva muttered, mouth hanging open in surprise.
"My grandson Martin!" Alva repeated. "Last time he visited, he said his friend manifested as a white-haired mutant, and now the school is all crazy because ... the boy is turning into a girl!"
"Call him!" Helka ordered.
Alva nodded and pulled out her cell phone. After a bit, she looked at Helka, her face pale. "He said his friend Einar is changing into a girl named Elle, and that she has shoulder-length white hair with some light blue ..."
"The same color as the legends."
"And ... she has ... elf ears!" Alva reported.
Helka's eyes narrowed. "Let's call the sisters. We have a binding to prepare." She paused a moment. "Where does he live?"
Elle paused as she, Silje, and Regine turned the corner toward her house; there was a car on the street that she didn't remember, sitting in front of the Ruud home. "I wonder who that is," she said as much to herself as to her best friends. The disturbances at school had mostly died down, although Per was as bigoted and hateful as he'd ever been, and several girls were, according to Regine, very jealous of Elle's looks. But Ms. Næss had watched things like a hawk for the first two weeks, severely disciplining anyone who stepped over the line, and with Elle being very unobtrusive and easy-going, most of the other kids moved on to other gossip and news, which was fine with Elle. Some, like Per, didn't, but he'd taken to just grumbling and name-calling after a couple of humiliations with her ice and 'aurora' powers.
"Do ... do those ladies look like the women from Trondheim?" Regine asked softly.
"I don't ...," Silje began, but then she halted. "Maybe the one on the left?"
"Excuse me," the woman who looked positively ancient, her face lined and weathered, her hair white as snow, said with a smile. "I'm looking for a friend of my grandson. Perhaps you know him?"
The woman smiled disarmingly. "His birthday is coming up, and I want to contact his friends to arrange a party."
"What's his name?" Elle's guard was up, but the 'friend of grandson' line had lessened her sense of danger.
"Martin," the woman replied easily. "Martin Solberg. Do you know him?"
Elle couldn't help but not know the boy, considering the size of the city and the school. "Yes, I go to school with him."
"Oh? Good. And you are ...?"
"Elle," she replied, reaching out to shake the woman's extended hand. "He didn't tell me ..."
A burning pain erupted on her wrist as an old-fashioned black-iron manacle was clamped around it, and before she could scream, her other wrist was bound as well, the shackles connected by a few inches of what looked to be wrought-iron chain.
Silje and Regine screamed at the sudden assault, and then Regine threw herself at the woman who'd clamped the bands on Elle's wrist. The woman was far stronger than she looked, and she had no problem painfully grasping Regine's arm. At the same time, the other woman grabbed Silje and after a very brief struggle, succeeded in handcuffing her as well.
After being momentarily stunned by the sudden attack, Elle reached inside her to release the magic, but her jaw dropped when nothing happened. There was no feeling of magic being released, or even being present. At the same time, her arms burned terribly, distracting her.
The second woman grabbed Elle around the neck. "Stop, or your friend gets hurt!" she hissed angrily at Regine, also looking at Silje.
As Regine slowly sank back off the first woman, horrified at the threat to Elle. The first woman, still holding one of Elle's wrists, painfully grasped Regine's arm. "We'll take them all. If she," she cocked her head toward Elle, "won't cooperate, maybe they can help persuade her."
Holding Silje's cuffed arm, the second woman opened the back door of the car and shoved the still-struggling girl in. Then she took charge of Regine, pausing to handcuff her while the first woman worked Elle in beside Silje. After Regine was placed in the car, the two women climbed in and started the car.
"People saw you!" Regine tried to be defiant and brave, even though she was trembling inside. This was a full-fledged kidnapping that she was caught in.
The first woman, in the passenger seat, smiled. "I don't think so, dearie," she said confidently.
"But ... it's broad daylight!" Silje cried out.
"Yes, young lady," the first woman replied with a smile. "But nobody pays attention if they think that something is none of their business." She looked directly at Elle. "Your friend knows a little about magic. She should know that it's possible to craft a spell that makes people simply not care. The spell doesn't hide us; the spell makes us look so ordinary and common that no-one pays attention, and if anyone does look, they get a very strong feeling that it's not their problem."
"This is kidnapping! You're going to get caught!" Silje tried a little bit of frantic reasoning. "It'd be better to give up now."
"We won't be caught," the second woman said.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Elle cried out.
"We're not doing anything to all of you," the first woman practically cackled. "Only you." She stared malevolently at Elle in a way that made the elf-girl cringe with fright.
"Now, Helka," the second woman said, "I get the feeling these three are going to be quite noisy and full of questions, so ...."
The first woman, the one apparently named Helka, nodded. "We have a long drive ahead of us," she explained, "to our ... well, I suppose you would call it a gathering place, a casting circle. So why don't you be dears and go to sleep, hmm?" With that, she muttered something that sounded quite strange, and as Elle felt the tingling of magic, she found she could no longer keep her eyes open.
Mrs. Ruud walked determinedly through the house, looking unsuccessfully for her daughter. "Sara," she called to her middle daughter, who was in her room, "have you seen Elle today?"
"Huh? Oh, Elle!" After ten years, Sara was having a bit of an adjustment to calling her older sibling 'Elle'. All of the family were, in fact. "I haven't seen her since this morning when we went to school."
"She was supposed to put the roast in the oven," Mom complained. "But she didn't!"
"I haven't seen .... Oh, wait!" Sara corrected herself. "She was talking to Regine and Silje after school. Maybe she went with them."
Mom shook her head. "I swear, that girl is getting more and more distracted the longer she's getting 'girl lessons' from those two!" She went back to the kitchen and sat at the table, taking out her cell phone. "Sigrid," she said when the other end picked up, "Anne-Marie. I wondered if you've seen Elle. She was supposed to make dinner tonight, but she's late, and Sara thought she saw her with Silje and Regine."
The woman on the other end, Mrs. Nilson, Silje's mom, shook her head. "No, I haven't seen them. I had a call that Silje might be late because she was with Regine and Elle, so they're probably at the Baardsson's."
"Thanks, Sigrid. If they do come, please tell Elle that she was supposed to make dinner, she's late, we're hungry, and she's in serious trouble."
Sigrid Nilson chuckled. "And if Silje shows up over there first, tell her that she's grounded for a week because it's dinnertime."
"Okay. Bye." Mrs. Ruud hung up, then dialed another number. "Brita? Anne-Marie. I'm looking for Elle, and the ...."
"Who?" Mrs. Baardsson asked, puzzled, and then her mind caught up. "Oh, Einar. I mean Elle." She chuckled. "That's hard to get used to."
"Tell me about it! Sara said she saw Elle with Silje and Regine, and you know how those three have been hanging out a lot lately."
"Yeah, I know. You know, you're spoiling Regine by taking her with you to Trondheim all the time!"
Anne-Marie chuckled. "She's been a huge help - and a dear friend - to Elle's adjusting, so I figured it would help if Elle had friends with her. You know - Regine and Silje are more help with teen fashion than I do!"
"Yeah. But no, I haven't seen the girls. If you see Regine, tell her to call."
"I will. Bye." Anne-Marie hung up, puzzled. The only other thing she could think was that the girls had gone out to the Alpinsenter; Harald's boss had been paying Elle to use her snow power to help fill in bare spots in the ski trails.
After thinking a second, she opened an app on her cell phone; Elle's phone should be automatically checking in with its position, so .... After a few moments, she frowned; the app showed that Elle's phone was off-line. Frowning, she had the phone dial Elle's number - and with the phone at her ear, she waited, getting more nervous by the millisecond. When the phone rolled over immediately to voice-mail, she knew Elle's phone was off-line.
The next call to her husband provided no answers; he hadn't called Elle to the center. Two phone calls confirmed the same for Silje and Regine - and added two mothers who went from concerned to frantically worried.
All the parents were gathered in the Ruud home in the living room, talking an officer from the Nord-Trondelag district police from the Meraker station, while two other officers interviewed neighbors to see if anyone had seen anything. They had no luck.
"At this point, we can list them as missing persons, because there's no evidence of a crime," the leading officer said reluctantly. "We have no reason for anyone ...."
"But, one of Elle's classmates, Per Lund - he hates Elle!" Sara interrupted. "Maybe he knows where she is!"
The officers exchanged glances, and then at the Ruuds, who nodded. "Yes, he really doesn't like Elle. He tried to bully and physically attack her a few times, but we were all certain he'd given up."
"We'll check it out," the officer noted.
"Maybe they went to visit the old ladies," Thea said from the doorway, where she was watching and listening with her child-like curiosity.
The officers perked up and looked at her. "What old ladies?" one of them asked.
Thea glanced nervously at her parents, then shrugged. "Two old ladies in a blue car. They stopped outside the house. It looked like they were waiting."
"What happened to them? Did you see the girls go with them?" Anne-Marie practically demanded from her daughter.
"I don't know," Thea said, afraid she'd done or said something wrong. "I ... I got bored and went to play."
"No-one else mentioned a car, or older women," one of the officers said to the officer-in-charge.
"Are you sure?" Anne-Marie asked her daughter cautiously.
"Uh huh," Thea nodded fearfully. "I saw the car come, then I got bored."
Anne-Marie exchanged a nervous glance with her husband. "Um, Elle is a ... mutant," she said.
The officer nodded. "Yes, we looked her up on the computer, so we know her status. Because of that, you might want to call this number." He took a card out of his pocket and wrote a name and number, then handed it to Anne- Marie.
"He's a registered hero in Oslo. Because she's an unusual mutant, he might be helpful. And there's a specialist doctor in Trondheim ...."
"Dr. Holgersen," Anne-Marie finished for him. "Yes, we know him. He's helped Elle with testing."
Near Støren, Norway
After they woke up from their magic-induced sleep, it took the girls about two seconds to figure out that they were being carried somewhere underground; the walls and ceiling were rough-hewn from solid rock, and the overhead timber beams and supports added to the somewhat claustrophobic feeling of being in a mine, though the lights were electric, and the tunnel was well lit. Doors were set in the wall periodically - heavy wooden affairs held together and to the hinges with heavy metal straps. It looked as rustic as it felt; Elle wondered what the side rooms were, while at the same time, she dreaded the thought that she and her friends might be held captive behind one of those doors.
"You're awake," one of the older women snapped as she realized that the girls were moving. "Good. Now you can walk." They were lowered to their feet; a large man had been carrying Silje and Regine over his shoulder, while one of the women was carrying Elle. Not knowing what else to do, especially since the man with the old women was huge and the women used magic, the girls followed as the old women set off again. After twisting and turning through the tunnel, the two women stopped and opened one of the heavy doors, which creaked almost stereotypically. With a prod, the girls walked in.
The room inside was more of a small cavern than a little room. The room was circular, about nine meters in diameter, and the ceiling domed into the solid rock, from two meters at the rim to around five meters in the center. The room featured a circle of plinths, massive upright stones capped by stone lintels, all of which encircled the room like an underground Stonehenge. Candles around the periphery provided the light, a flickering, yellow glow that did nothing to calm the girls' nerves. Lining the wall between the stones were several small tables and cabinets, all of weathered oak, and all holding leather-bound books or little vials and tins and jars of who-knew-what.
Elle shuddered when she saw a circle carved into the floor, its rim lined with runes and glyphs of some type; from her magic testing with Dr. Holgersen, she knew a spell circle when she saw it. There were eight or nine other women in the room, all engaged in some type of preparation.
"Why ... why are you doing this?" Elle pleaded, her eyes watering; seeing the women working with magic gave her a very bad feeling, a very frightened feeling.
One of the women who'd kidnapped them smiled. "It's a long and complicated story."
The other woman agreed. "There's an ancient epic that very, very few have heard of. It goes like this: All his gold for a kiss, his kingdom for her hand. The king longed for her bosom."
Another woman came over and continued. "The queen is gone. Her time was done. The evil one slew the sisters."
The second kidnapper nodded. "Heartbroken that she left him, the king sleeps until she is his."
Yet another of the women came to the circle that was forming around the girls. "The witches await, the circle forged by a blood oath, to bind the queen when she returns, or the circle will perish."
"Destiny fulfilled. A gift to the king, who awakens at the appointed hour."
"The dwarves feast with ale and meat at the wedding feast, as a new kingdom arises in the mountains." The way the women recited the stanzas, it was obvious that they knew it by heart, and with the feeling they were putting into the recitation, it was equally obvious that they believed it. They probably believed themselves to be the witches from the story.
"The king reigns again, as his sons and their sons, which the queen bears to him."
All of the women joined in. "The circle is unbound from debt."
Elle felt an icy shiver run up and down her spine multiple times, and frightened by the strange poem and this group's devotion to its curious prophecies, she glanced at Regine and Silje, who were looking at her with terrified expressions.
"Girls," the women who'd been called Helka said, "I'd like you to meet our very special guest."
"Who are the other two?" one of the younger women said, eyeing Regine and Silje critically as if sizing them up.
"They're insurance, Anika," Helka chuckled. "We need our special guest to cooperate, but if she won't, these two girls can help ... persuade her."
"Have you heard from Alva, Judit, or Ingeborg?" another woman asked.
"Alva and Ingeborg should be here later tonight. Judit won't be here until late tomorrow," the old woman answered.
"It'll take that long for preparations," Anika replied easily, still gazing hungrily at Elle's two friends. She turned to a girl of about twenty-three who seemed to be attending to Anika. "Helena, take our ... guests ... to a room, and see to their needs."
"Yes, ma'am," Helena answered dutifully. She strode confidently to the girls. "If you'll follow me ...." She turned, grinning wickedly. "And don't get any ideas about trying to run away," she added. Behind her, two large men appeared in the doorway.
The girls followed Helena through the tunnel, followed closely by the large, powerful men, and she let them into a small chamber which contained three beds. "Everything you need is here," she said easily. "I'll be back in a few minutes with some dinner, since you have been traveling a while."
"You don't have to help them!" Elle pleaded. "They're ...this is criminal! It's wrong!"
"Oh, but I do," Helena answered with a smile. "If I want to be part of the coven someday, I need to apprentice." She watched Elle fidgeting to get the iron away from her skin. "Oh, by the way - cold iron stops Sidhe magic completely. You won't be able to do any of your spells." She saw Elle's face fall, and chuckled. "And after the ceremony, you won't want to use your magic in any way that would harm any of us. Or him." She ducked out, cackling evilly, and the door slammed shut, the sound of a key clanking in the lock.
After her footsteps faded down the hall, Silje and Regine tried the door. "It's no use," Silje said after a little shoving and grunting. The girls sat down on one of the three rather primitive wooden beds in the room, one on either side of Elle. "We'll figure something out," Silje told her friend.
"If I could get these off," Elle grumbled, holding up her manacled wrists. "They burn - really bad!"
Regine thought a moment, then took off her shoes and slipped off her socks. With some work, she got them in between the iron and Elle's skin, much to the girl's relief. "I hope this doesn't irritate your skin too much," she added.
"Even if it does," Elle said, sighing with relief that the burning sensation was gone, "it's better than the burning. It was blistering!" She looked around the room. There was a small toilet behind a wooden partition, and a small sink and mirror on the wall. "At least we don't have to sleep on the floor."
Harald Ruud crowded up behind Dr. Holgersen. "Do you ....?" he started to ask.
"Shhh!" Dr. Holgersen insisted loudly. "You'll disturb my concentration!" He was alternating his gaze between the street and snow, and a very peculiar instrument held from a waist-belt and neck-strap.
The huge beefy hand clasping painfully on Mr. Ruud's shoulder made him wince; he didn't have to turn to know who the hand belonged to. He did, though, out of reflex, and he beheld a tall, broad, well-muscled, man glaring down at him, a man who was a stereotypical Viking if ever there was one - long, blonde, Viking-style forked beard, long hair hanging down to his shoulders from beneath the Vendel-era helmet on his head, perfect Nordic blue eyes, a double-bladed axe on his back, and leather armor on his chest. A nosepiece on the helmet helped hide his identity; as Viking warriors were not exactly commonly encountered, the obvious guess was that the man was a hero, which happened to be an accurate guess.
"Don't bother him," Magni-Fist's thunderous voice boomed down. "Devises can be quite ... finicky."
"I thought ... magic couldn't be detected except by other mages," Mr. Ruud whispered over his shoulder.
"Dr. Holgersen is a devisor. Things he makes ... they shouldn't work. They violate reason and physics, but they work, at least for the devisor," Magni-Fist explained. "Some speculate that they use some type of magic themselves, but that's just a theory."
"So he's trying to detect magic?"
"Hopefully, they used magic," the hero explained. "Since your daughter lost interest in them, and no-one else seemed to notice them, there's a good chance they did. So Sjorn's ... gizmo ... is trying to read any magic residue."
"This is all so ... so strange!" Harald sighed in frustration. They were no closer to ....
"I've got something!" Dr. Holgersen called out. "Faint, but it's there."
"How old?" Magni-Fist asked.
"What? Oh ...." The doctor looked at his wrist, then sighed and looked at the other wrist. "Um, it'd be ... about six hours old."
"So ... now we call the police?" Mr. Ruud asked, feeling hope for the first time.
"No," Magni-Fist replied, scowling. "They won't accept Sjorn's devise or its readings as evidence."
"So what do we do?"
"We follow the trail," Dr. Holgersen answered. Without waiting, he started walking down the street, his eyes focused on the meters and gauges on his box.
"Sjorn!" Magni-Fist called to him.
"Huh? What?" The doctor turned around, a little unhappy at the interruption.
"We better take a car," Magni-Fist
"Oh. Oh, yeah." He automatically started to walk toward Mr. Ruud's car.
"Um, why can't we take your car?" Mr. Ruud asked, baffled by the doctor's behavior.
Dr. Holgersen gawked at him like he was crazy. "Oh, that's right! I drove. And you didn't!" Magni-Fist had flown, since he had the PK Superman powers. He looked back at Harald. "I suppose you should drive, since you're more familiar with the area. Besides," he grinned at the hero, "I bet you haven't driven in years!"
"Hey!" Magni-Fist boomed defensively, "I know how to drive." Then he winced. "But yeah, it's been a long time." He looked at Dr. Holgersen's car, and his expression fell. "I don't suppose your car," he said to Harald, "is bigger?"
"Yeah, it is," Mr. Ruud replied.
"Okay, so point me to the output jack is from your diphasic, focused-beam directional esso-plasmic antenna," he said as he walked toward Mr. Ruud's car.
"Your ... essence residue detector antenna?" Seeing the blank stare he was getting. "Well never mind. I should be able to compensate if you can give me about 4 dB gain on the beta channel of your polyphaser power supply."
"You don't have ....?" Dr. Holgersen gaped at Mr. Ruud. Finally, he shook his head. "Never mind. We'll just have to take my car."
Magni-Fist groaned as he looked at the sub-compact. If Dr. Holgersen was in the front passenger seat running his detector, and Mr. Ruud was driving .... He looked at the extremely tiny back seat and wanted to cry.
Near Støren, Norway
"This is crazy!" Silje said aloud, lying on one of the beds and staring at the ceiling.
"Yeah, but what are we going to do?" Elle asked, her voice more than slightly tinged with desperation. "I mean, they think they're witches!"
"They are witches," Regine grumbled in reply. "Remember?"
"That's ... crazy!" Elle replied, fighting tears. This whole thing was more than slightly scary for her. "This makes no sense at all! I'm just ...."
"Just a mutant girl they think is a queen of something," Silje completed the sentence. "And you do magic yourself, remember?"
"But ... I'm supposed to be the queen? Of what? That's ... that thing they read - that's centuries old! It can't be true! It has to be about people who died a long, long time ago!"
"Well, let's think about it," Regine said. "There's something about a queen, and a king who sleeps."
"Which is you," Silje looked at Elle, "and the king - Dúrnir? Who is that? Some ... ancient king? And dwarves pigging out at a wedding feast?"
"Hold it," Regine frowned. For a bit, she was lost in thought. "I ... I remember something from ... some class - a few years ago? Or ... mythology. Something about a dwarf king who tricked a real king or prince or something. I think his name was something like Dormer or something like that. May be it was " Dúrnir.
"So ... I'm supposed to do what - marry a dwarf king?" Elle gawked at Regine. "Is that what they think? That wasn't real! That's just ... myths! I can't get married! I'm ... I'm just thirteen!" she cried.
"This is ... weird. A circle, bound by a blood oath? Watching? For what?"
"For me to return, apparently," Elle pouted angrily. "So they think that because I'm a mutant with elf ears and white hair that I'm some kind of ancient queen?"
"What if it's true?" Silje posed. "Remember what Mrs. Torgesen taught a few years ago - about our cultural mythology? That sometimes myths have a basis in truth?"
"That's ... impossible!"
"But ... what if it isn't? What if there is some truth behind the myths? Would they maybe be based on ... what did you say you were turning into?"
"Sidhe," Elle grumbled.
"What if they're based on Sidhe? You said the girl in your dreams said she was from ages past. What if it's true?"
"Whether it's true or not," Regine cautioned Elle, "they think it's true. So we have to get out of here somehow, before they do something to you based on what they think."
"Stop!" Dr. Holgersen cried out suddenly. "Stop! Stop! Stop!"
Mr. Ruud mashed the brakes, and the car screeched to a halt. "What?"
"We lost the signal!" Holgersen reported excitedly. "Back up!"
"But ... I'm in traffic!"
"Back up!" Holgersen repeated, more insistently. When Mr. Ruud didn't act quickly enough, he unplugged the six umbilical cords that tied his devise to the car and hopped out, right in traffic. Ignoring the honking horns and angry shouts from drivers, he ran back the direction they'd come.
"I'll keep an eye on him," Magni-Fist said as he unfolded himself out of the back seat. "You find a place to turn around."
It took Mr. Ruud almost five minutes to find a place to turn around and get back on the same street. When he got to a major intersection, he immediately spotted Magni-Fist restraining Dr. Holgersen in the middle of the intersection, ignoring the cars honking at them. Mr. Ruud pulled up beside them.
The hero practically pushed the devisor into the car, then folded himself back into the back seat. "Well?" Mr. Ruud asked hopefully.
"Turn right. Right!!!"
Mr. Ruud flinched at the mad devisor's frantic directions, slamming on the turn signal and trying to thread his way past uncooperative traffic. Finally, after several near-missed and a lot of angry and vocal drivers, they were on a main thoroughfare that turned into a highway heading south.
"Do you still have the signal?" Mr. Ruud asked as he tried to speed up. "We have to hurry - Elle's in danger!"
"Yes, I've got it. You focus on driving, I'll tell you where to go!"
Cramped in the back seat, Magni-Fist debated with himself whether a good shot of Akvavit - half a bottle would be a good shot - would help the trip go easier than this mad dash with an upset dad and a crazy devisor. He slowly convinced himself that it couldn't hurt.
"Aegloswen!" Elle called out across the barren glacier. There was no sign of her friend, and the wind howled a bit, driving snow before it, and for the first time on the glacier, Elle felt a little chilled. "Aegloswen!" she called out again. For what seemed like hours, Elle wandered about, calling out to the girl and searching for her.
Aegloswen was sitting between two rocks, her back against an ice-wall, and her arms around her knees in a near-fetal position.
"Aegloswen," Elle called, kneeling down in front of the distraught Sidhe girl that inhabited his dreams. "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry," she bawled to Elle. "I ... this is all my fault."
Elle felt sorry for the girl who looked small and frightened and pathetic, so she pulled the Sidhe girl onto her shoulder. "It's not your fault."
"If ... if my spirit ... hadn't come to you," Aegloswen sobbed, "this wouldn't be happening."
After comforting the girl long enough that she'd mostly stopped crying, Elle spoke again. "Who ... who is Dúrnir? Who's the dwarf king? What do they want with me? Why are they calling me the queen?"
"I ... I don't know," Aegloswen sobbed. "I ... can't remember!"
"I do remember that long ago, there were many Sidhe, of many races. The ice realm, the desert realm, the woods, the plains. Maybe the mountains, too?"
"In my mythology," Elle explained, trying to be patient but really upset because she needed answers that Aegloswen didn't have, "there are ... dwarves, who are like ... dark elves. They were supposed to live in the mountains, I think. Like dwarves in Lord of the Rings and movies and books like that."
"Maybe they were Sidhe?"
"But ... what would they want with me?" Elle practically begged for some kind of answer. "And why do they call me the queen? Is it because they think I'm supposed to be wed to the dwarf king, which would make me his queen?"
"I'm so sorry," Aegloswen repeated. "I just don't know!"
The sound of a key in the rustic lock awakened the girls, and they bolted upright in their beds. Down in the cave, there was no indication of time, so they had no idea if it was the middle of the night or the middle of the next day, only that they'd slept.
With two guards behind her, Helena carried a tray with three bowls and a big pot of something. "Breakfast time," she announced in a disgustingly cheery voice.
"Please," Elle begged, "you have to help us! They're ... they're just using you, and they're doing ... bad things!"
"We went through this last night," Helena said with a smirk. "I want to be a part of the coven, so I will do my part and help my mistress as her apprentice." Her expression hardened. "So quit whining. It's not doing any good." She put the tray down on the end of Silje's bed, the one nearest the door, and stormed haughtily out. The slam of the massive oaken door was followed by the metal-on-metal grating of the key in the lock.
"I say next time we jump her," Regine grumbled. "It can't make things any worse than they are now!"
Silje shook her head sadly. "I have the feeling that they're just using Helena," she observed. "It seems like she's just an errand girl for them. I doubt they've even taught her any spells!"
"I wish she thought the same thing," Elle mused. "Then we might be able to persuade her to help." She looked at her wrists, encircled by the iron. "Or if we could figure out how to get these off." She looked at Regine. "I'm allergic to your socks, so it itches."
Elle shook her head. "Don't be. It's a lot better than the burning from the iron. My skin was getting blistered!"
"Maybe ... since the swelling is down from the burning, maybe you can slip them off now?" Silje said hopefully. "Use the water to help lubricate your skin?"
"It's worth a try," Elle replied, "but ... it won't do a lot of good. I can't do much besides ice and that dazzle thing." She followed Silje to the sink.
For nearly twenty minutes, the girls tugged, pulled, wiggled, wet, and otherwise tried to get Elle's hands free of the cuffs, to no avail, and the iron had burned her skin anew - pretty badly.
"It's no use!" she wailed, crying from both pain of the burning iron and frustration. "Besides, even if we got them off, there's not much I can do. I'm not strong enough to break down the door, and I don't know any spells anyway."
The last woman came into their gathering room. "Sorry I took so long to get here," she apologized.
"Not to worry," Helka replied. "We've been busy making preparations, so we wouldn't have been ready to do anything even if you had been here."
"Get in your robes," Alva directed Judit, "and we can finalize our circle."
As Judit left, Helena, Anika's assistant, sidled up beside Gunhild. "What about the other two girls? They're ... just bystanders. Are ... are we going to do something to them?" She sounded, perhaps, a little bit nervous or worried.
"They're just insurance to make sure the queen cooperates with the binding ritual. Don't worry. We don't hurt people," Gunhild replied easily, smiling sweetly at Anika's apprentice.
"Unless they deserve it," Judit smirked.
"Of course," Gunhild agreed. "And that's completely understandable, isn't it, dear?"
Helena nodded, trying to force a smile. "Like ... cheating ex-boyfriends? And abusive parents?"
"Yes, dear," Sigrid, another one of the coven, chimed in. "And others - like bosses who try to pressure a sister into having sex. Someone who cheats you in a deal."
"But ... not for no reason, right?"
Gunhild nodded, as did the others. "Now, be a dear and tend to your tasks."
"Yes, ma'am." Helena scooted off toward one of the massive chamber's doors.
Sigrid watched her go. "She's a good apprentice," she observed before turning back to the complex working she and Gunhild were drawing.
"She's got to get rid of that pesky conscience if she wants to succeed," Gunhild said coldly. "She'll get too concerned about right and wrong, and then she'll mess up spells and workings, or not follow through."
Sigrid looked up at Gunhild. "Does she have any idea what we have planned?"
"No. Otherwise, do you think she'd help?"
"Are we going to give them to Anika?"
Gunhild shrugged. "Anika was the first to speak for them. They're young and pretty - Anika should be able to get enough life force from the two of them to last her quite a while." She smiled at her compatriot. "First, though, we'll have to tap into some of their tantric essence to have enough to complete the binding."
"The Voluptus spell?"
Gunhild grinned. "Of course. They'll give us a lot of tantric essence with that."
"Do you think they'll wear out our help?" Judit butted in, having listened in. "Or do you intend to use that on them, too?"
"You realize that if she knows what her friends are doing - or more accurately, what we're planning to do to them, she'll never cooperate, and we'll never get her bound."
They didn't see the figure detach itself from the shadows of one pillar and sneak out of the chamber.
Near Støren, Norway
"We have to hurry up!" Harald Ruud insisted needlessly. It was early in the morning; so far, they'd managed just over eight kilometers per hour because they had to keep stopping to double- check readings at every intersection and side-road, especially since, as time went on, the essence-residue was fading, so Dr. Holgersen had to turn up the gain on his devise, which made it less directional and more prone to false signals. All three men were getting frustrated.
"Stop!" the mad doctor said suddenly. "I've lost the signal again! Pull over so I can check it!"
Magni-Fist groaned, while Mr. Ruud nearly screamed in frustration. It took him a few minutes to find a place to stop, and practically before the car had halted, Dr. Holgersen was out the door, his devise unplugged from the car and scanning by itself.
"Nope," he said firmly after a few seconds. "No residue here."
"So what do we do?" Mr. Ruud asked, getting more concerned, as the doctor clambered back into the car and plugged his detector back into the car's gear.
"Turn around and go back." He cocked his head and thought. "Or else the residue has worn off so much that I can't pick it up any longer, in which case we should go on and hope the women had to use another spell."
"Sjorn!" Magni-Fist snarled, "pick one!"
The doctor sighed, thinking. "Turn around and go back," he said finally. "The signal - was still registering 0.2 micro-E per square meter, so it probably hasn't faded."
"A micro-WHAT?" Mr. Ruud asked as he worked on turning around on the highway. Fortunately, this early in the morning, there wasn't a lot of traffic.
"Micro-E. It's a unit I invented to measure magic energy density." He snorted in disgust. "No-one else recognizes it, though - because they're all too blind to see that it's a perfectly legitimate measure of magic essence flux density, and that it's still present long after magic has been used!"
"Okayyyyy," Mr. Ruud said cautiously. Dr. Holgersen sounded like he was more than a few pickles short of a barrel, but unfortunately, Elle's fate probably rested entirely with the crackpot devisor.
"Here!" Holgersen shouted in triumph. "I picked up the flux reading again! Stop! Turn around again, and drive very slowly! I have to find where it stops!"
According to Dr. Holgersen, the reading stopped just past an intersection where a small mountain road met the highway. After a couple of minutes on the small road, Dr. Holgersen practically chortled, "We've got the trail again!"
"One thing, Mr. Ruud," Magni-Fist spoke up from the back seat, "those ladies used magic, and they are dangerous. I know you want to rescue your daughter. But you're not trained for this. We are. Stay back so you don't get hurt. Don't try to be a hero."
Harald looked like he was biting a lemon. "Okay," he finally muttered.
"How about if ...," Elle was grasping at straws, "if ... maybe we can use a piece of metal - like a nail or something - to pick the lock?"
"Maybe," Regine sounded hopefully. The girls began to search the beds, but to no avail.
"All I found is some string," Silje was disappointed.
"If ... there might be something in the plumbing," Regine half-asked, half-stated.
"Do you suppose they were polite enough to leave some wrenches lying around?" Silje asked sarcastically.
"One of the forks!" Regine suddenly asked. "Damn! How could we have not thought of that?"
As Regine took one of the forks, Elle's eyes widened, and she began to rearrange the food bowls and trays and napkins into a disordered mess. Seeing Silje's questioning gaze, she spoke, "If everything is neat, they'll see that a fork is missing."
"Only a boy would think of that," Silje snorted.
Elle paused, giving Silje a 'look'. "Do I look like a boy?"
The sound of a key in the lock caused the girls to stop and stare at the door as it creaked open. Helena stepped smartly in, closing the door behind herself, carrying some bulky folded cloth in her arms.
"Put these on," she commanded Elle, unfolding a simple white gown.
"No," Elle said defiantly, holding her head proudly.
"Then I'll have these two bound, then the two guards will come in and help me make you put it on," the older apprentice mage smirked. She extended the dress toward Elle.
Frowning, her bluff called, Elle took the dress, but as she took it, she thought of something. Holding up her manacled hands, she smiled innocently. "I can't very well get my hands through the sleeves, now, can I?"
Helena had anticipated that eventuality. Smirking, she took one of Elle's hands, led the girl to the door, and rapped on it. A small portal, about eye-height, opened outward. ''Need to unlock one of the shackles."
As one of the large men pulled her hand to the portal and inserted a key, Elle's expression fell; if they only unlocked one of the cuffs, then her magic would still be locked, and since Helena didn't have the key, it was impossible for them to jump her. They'd thought of everything.
The older girl opened the manacle, and after taking off the iron and Regine's synthetic-laced sock, Elle rubbed her wrist in relief that the itching was gone. "Don't worry," the older girl said with a malicious grin, "in an hour or so, you won't need manacles."
Scowling, Elle turned away from the girl, and with Silje and Regine helping her, slipped off her blouse and started to pull on the dress.
"No, no, no," Helena corrected them. "Bra, too. Nothing at all except the dress."
As Elle removed her bra, Helena staggered and nearly collapsed, suddenly pale. If not for the bed, she would have face-planted on the stone floor. "Are ... are you okay?" Elle asked.
"I ... I suddenly feel really ... weak," Helena mumbled.
Silje and Regine knew an opportunity when they saw it; they tackled the older girl to the bed, and while Silje clamped her hand over the girl's mouth and held her neck with the other, Regine patted her down, doing a quick search in case there was something they could use. Alas, there was nothing; Helena and her mentors weren't stupid. The two girls let go of the girl, sighing in frustration that they hadn't been able to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity.
Helena sat back up, wobbling on the bed, while Silje returned to helping Elle put on the dress.
"She ... she wouldn't!" Helena suddenly muttered, her eyes wide. "Not ...." She stopped speaking abruptly, her jaw dropping open.
"Wouldn't what?" Elle demanded.
Helena's mouth hung agape, but the look in her eyes belied the fact that her mind was racing, thinking over something, and as she considered whatever it was, her expression clouded, looking angry, betrayed, sad, and a host of other emotions.
After Elle finished putting on the gown, Helena shakily stood again, holding a bedpost to steady herself. She opened her mouth to speak, then reached out to Elle. Understanding, the Sidhe girl resignedly extended her wrists, one still encircled by a cold iron handcuff, the other, open cuff dangling from a short length of chain. Helena put the open bracelet around Elle's other wrist and closed it.
"I'm sorry," she said to Elle, and there was something in her eyes and voice that told the Sidhe girl that she was being honest. "If I let you get away, they'll kill me. They ... they do things like that." She sighed heavily. "They ... she ... has the power to do that to find me now." She looked at Silje and Regine. "But ... I ... can't let them do that to you, too!"
"Do what?!?" the girls asked simultaneously, concerned by the older girl's sudden change of heart.
"I ... I can't say," Helena lowered her gaze out of guilt and shame. "But ... you can avoid ... what she's done to me." She looked earnestly at the two girls. "When I take your friend, I'll make sure the door is unlocked. You two have to get out of here as fast as you can."
"To go get help?" Regine asked hopefully.
"It'll be too late. She'll be bound to the king," Helena answered. "She won't be hurt, but ... in some matters, she won't be able to say no."
"We're not leaving without her," Silje declared, arms crossed defiantly across her chest, glaring at the older girl.
"You can't!" the girl pleaded.
"Why not? What aren't you telling us?" Regine demanded.
The girl lowered her gaze. "I ... I thought ... he loved me. But ... it was her spell. She cast a spell on us, just so she could use me - and my affair with her husband - as a ... a battery ... to give her tantric energy!"
"And ... she'll use you, too!" Helena sobbed. "She'll steal your ... your life force, your youth, your vitality - all for her vanity!"
The girls stared at her for several seconds, trying to comprehend what the older girl was telling them, not quite believing what they'd heard.
"The trail's very, very faint, but ... it goes into the house there," Dr. Holgersen declared.
"Do we knock?" Harald Ruud asked. His voice quavered from his nervousness.
"Of course we knock," Magni-Fist growled. "But you stay back - these are mages, and they can be very, very dangerous."
"Here," Dr. Holgersen held out a strange looking gun-like device - a mutant hybrid of a blunderbuss pistol and a science-fiction ray-gun with a scope atop the weird barrel. "This is a ... well, it's a ... an energy discharge sphere gun."
"It shoots special projectile that, when it hits something, discharges it's energy into the target like a ... a high-powered Taser. It also shorts out any attempt to project energy," Holgersen said, exasperated, although his explanation did nothing to clarify the devise's function.
"It won't stop magic, though," Magni-Fist cautioned, "so ... here." He handed both other men charms of some type. "This is no guarantee, but it should help. Just ... try to stay out of the line of fire, and try not to attract attention to yourselves." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and it just felt to Mr. Ruud that he was exuding energy. "Ready?"
When the other two nervously nodded, the hero banged on the door, ready for some unexpected surprise to greet him when it opened. For several seconds, the trio waited, but nothing happened. Again, he knocked. Again, there was no answer.
Another deep breath, and then Magni-Fist crashed his hand against the door, which splintered under whatever mutant energy the hero used.
But there was no response of any kind. The small two-room cabin had the usual miscellany of life - a bed that was neatly made, a dresser, a sink and cooktop on a small counter, an overstuffed chair, a bookcase, and a small television. In one corner was a small room - the toilet and bath, obviously.
"Over here," the mad doctor said eagerly, walking directly to a large stone fireplace in which a small fire smoldered, mostly embers that glowed red and orange. "There's more magic residue coming from here."
"No," Dr. Holgersen shook his head. "There's a lot of magic energy coming from this way. Strong, new spells."
"Here," he said, reaching up under the mantle. Fiddling a bit, he released some kind of catch, and the fireplace rotated ninety degrees, hearth, chimney, and all. "Sometimes, brute force is a little bit of overkill," he smirked.
"Smartass!" Magni-Fist grumbled as he entered the dark mouth of the tunnel.
"Into the circle," Helka said sternly to Elle as she and her friends were escorted by the beefy men into the circular chamber.
"No," Elle said defiantly. She was terrified of what these witches were going to do to her. Worse, the older apprentice Helena hadn't had time to arrange an escape for Silje and Regine, and their fates seemed as dire as her own.
"Gunter, Lars," Helka snapped without taking her steely gaze from Elle, "rape them."
The girls' eyes widened with fear. As two large men stalked toward Regine and Silje, who backed up until they were against the wall, terror in their eyes, Elle gulped nervously. "No!" she cried in anguish.
"Then into the circle," Helka snarled, "and lie down on the table.
The men had ahold of the two teenage girls, and Elle whimpered at their plight. "No!" she cried again, stepping hesitantly into the circle carved into the floor. She looked plaintively at the older apprentice, whose eyes were full of guilt at her unwitting role in whatever was about to happen.
With a heart racing with panic, Elle scooted onto the table, then leaned back, taking care to cross her ankles in a feeble attempt at modesty. Her arms were beneath her body, making her completely helpless.
With a grin of triumph, Helka pulled the hood of her robe over her head, which was a signal for the other twelve of the circle to do the same. They stepped solemnly to the circle, to spots which were marked with runes around its periphery, aligned with the stone plinths around the wall.
Tears streamed down the cheeks of Regine and Silje, unable to help their friend, while Elle cried with fear. Elle struggled a little on the table, which was not surprising, but she was bound with cold iron, and there was no way she could use even her limited magic to disrupt what the coven was doing to her. Still, she had to try.
A shot rang out as the trio stalked down the tunnels, and Magni-Fist flinched, frightening Holgersen and Harald. Magni-Fist just chuckled, though, and turned enough to shoot a grin at his compatriots. "It's clobberin' time!" he called out in a bad American-English accent, and he charged down the tunnel at whoever had shot.
With a glance at each other, Holgersen and Harald charged after him, weapons ready. "I always wondered what it'd be like to be a hero," Holgersen mused as they ran.
The shot echoed down the tunnels, and Helka looked up sharply. Frowning, she returned to the chant that had been interrupted, while the two bulky guards / servants hastily tied up Silje and Regine, then bolted toward the door, drawing weapons from their belts as they ran.
Beneath her, Elle struggled painfully, the cold iron burning into her bleeding blistered wrists, and suddenly, unexpectedly one of the cuffs released from her hand. Her jaw dropping in wonder, she painfully moved her free hand to the small of her back, where Silje had placed one of the forks while Helena had been staggered earlier in the cell.
As the chant continued, Elle struggled with the fork, trying to bend a tine into the primitive lock of the handcuffs, working to get the cuff to somehow release.
She felt a burning sensation, which took her breath away and staggered her, but when it passed, she renewed her efforts.
The shackle opened unexpectedly, and Elle felt a surge of magic come into her. She tried to make ice on the floor, but it didn't go beyond the circle; she didn't know enough about magic yet to understand she was in a fool's circle, which kept her magic fully contained within it, while the magic from outside flowed freely into the circle.
Helka and her coven felt something, and their chant halted abruptly as they gawked at the circle, at where they'd felt a surge of magic. The girl was somehow freed of her shackles, and thus a potential threat if she were able to somehow get out of the circle. With determination, they renewed their chant ....
Just as the door burst open and Magni-Fist stormed into the room. Seeing the girl in a circle, he understood the most immediate danger, and he charged toward the circle, his fist connecting with the skull of one of the coven members, killing her instantly where she stood. His charge was stopped at some kind of magical barrier, but he knew instinctively what it was, and he knelt down on the stone.
Dr. Holgersen came into the room like a bad imitation of a commando doing a room breach, and when he saw the coven, he blindly shot a very strange-looking automatic weapon, which spat forth half a dozen darts, low-velocity projectiles which circled the room before each dove off toward a separate target, homing in on their chosen destinations.
Harald Ruud saw one of the witches turn toward him, so he swung the barrel a little and pulled the trigger. Almost instantly, a glowing sphere of energy shot forth into the woman, discharging in a massive electrical arc that dropped the woman as if she'd been hit by a military-grade Taser.
Elle ran toward the circle, but rebounded from whatever shield contained her. She was about to scream in rage when she saw the large spandex-clad man slam his fist into the floor. The whole room shook, hard enough that two of the plinths collapsed noisily, smashing various books and magical ingredients that were on the crushed shelves. Cracks spread outward from the point of impact, and Elle staggered forward as the barrier of the magic circle broke.
One of the coven tried to grab Elle, and in her panic, the energy that had been building released spontaneously, creating a small herd of aurora-colored, glowing wolf-shaped hobgoblins that added to the chaos in the room.
Elle rushed to her friends, struggling to free them from their bonds, while behind her, Magni-Fist was a little too enthusiastic in hitting one of the henchmen who'd swung at him, dropping the man with a shattered ribcage, the splinters of which had shredded the poor man's lungs and heart.
Across the room, watching the chaos, Helena gawked in disbelief as her mistress, Anika, began a working, her eyes burning with rage and energy cracking around her fingertips. Something inside Helena snapped - rage at discovering she'd been used, a conscience which had reasserted itself, or one of a dozen other reasons, and she bent over one of the fallen coven members, grabbing the woman's athame. Scowling angrily, she stalked up behind her double-crossing mistress, and raising the black magic knife, she plunged it deliberately and viciously into Anika's back.
The energy which had been crackling around the witch's hands released into a cloud that engulfed both master and apprentice, a blinding, dancing sphere of magical lightning that caused both to convulse in spasms, and as the energy dissipated, both women collapsed to the floor.
"Look!" Regine called out as she, Elle, and Silje hastened toward the door. They stopped, eyes wide in shock and amazement as the two women collapsed. What happened next, though, is what riveted their attention. Anika, having spent so many years stealing vitality from all her apprentices while giving them nothing in return, suddenly gave up that energy, in seconds aging eighty or ninety years, until she was a wrinkled, aged corpse. Meanwhile, Helena convulsed as she absorbed the energy which had been stolen from her, and more. As the crackling energy subsided, the girl was a mere baby, crying in a sea of clothing that surrounded her.
Meanwhile, seeing more of the angry coven members shaking off their confusion or fighting against the rampaging hobgoblins, Dr. Holgersen loosed another round of his self-guided darts, and more of the witches - and two henchmen - went down when the tranquilizing darts struck home. One of the hobgoblins bit viciously into his ankle, and as he fell, he dropped his dart gun and pulled out a simple Sig-Sauer pistol. The weapon barked twice, and the hobgoblin dissolved as its energy lost its cohesiveness and dissipated.
"Come on!" Magni-Fist roared to his companions. Harald clutched Elle in one hand, and Silje's with his other; the latter girl had a firm grasp of the third girl, Regine. Dr. Holgersen got to his feet, limping badly, and hobbled to the door into the chamber.
"Hold on!" Elle called out, breaking away from her dad. She ran across the shattered circle, pausing to scoop up the baby from the pile of clothing, and then followed her friends out of the room.
Glancing to make sure all of the 'good guys' were out of the room, Magni-Fist stopped in the doorway, the thick wall of stone that separated the tunnel from the chamber, and smashed into the rock. Cracks appeared, and rocks and dust began to fall, so he darted back down the tunnel, herding his companions ahead of himself. Behind him, the shattered rock gave way, and the entrance collapsed in a mass of dust and boulders, at least temporarily locking the surviving members of the coven inside.
The group gathered around Dr. Holgersen's small car, everyone staring in dismay at the thought of cramming seven of them - even though three were teenage girls and one was but a baby, while on the other extreme, one was a hulking brute - into the sub-compact.
"I'll stay here to wait for the police," Magni-Fist magnanimously volunteered. "We'll need to make a report anyway, so ...."
"Or," Dr. Holgersen said with a grin as he walked toward the group, "we can take one of their cars!" He pointed back to a lightly wooded area that had a number of cars parked in it, which had been somewhat hidden from view when the heroes had first arrived. "I figured they couldn’t have gathered here without at last some of them driving, so ..."
"But ... the cars are locked, and we don't have the keys!" Harald protested. The thought of stealing a car, on top of the fight they'd been in, was unsettling to him.
"Were locked," Holgersen gloated, holding up a small device that looked like a key fob. "Take your pick; I checked - this little baby will run any one of them."
"It's better if I just wait," Magni-Fist volunteered again.
The remainder of the group crowded into Holgersen's little car - the girls in the back, holding the baby, and Mr. Ruud and Holgersen in the front. The drive would be much quicker without having to follow a faint trail of magic residue; it was only fifty or so kilometers to Trondheim, the others could take the train back to Meraker.
As they drove, the girls finally started smiling and joking, a good sign that they'd shaken off the trauma of the kidnapping and ordeal.
"So what are we going to do about Helena?" Elle finally asked as she cradled the baby. "She didn't deserve this happening to her."
"Maybe she did," Regine philosophized. "Who knows how much time she'd spent apprenticed to the coven? Maybe it's God's way of giving her a second chance."
"Well, it's not like we can take her back to her parents," Silje noted. "She said that she was an orphan, so she doesn't have anywhere to go."
"Maybe ...," Elle started thoughtfully, but then she halted.
"You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?" Mr. Ruud was suddenly concerned by Elle's train of thought.
"If she doesn't have anywhere to go," Elle replied. "And ... we kind of owe her."
"But ... she didn't do anything to help us!" Regine protested.
"She couldn't," Silje countered. "She warned us, and tried to help us get away."
"But not Elle!"
"She said she couldn't," Elle reminded them. "But she was going to help you two get away! And she warned us what they were planning to do." Then her face screwed up as she thought of something. "I don't understand, though, what happened to the one manacle! I felt you press the fork into my back under the rope tie, but ... the other first cuff opened before I could use it."
Silje grinned. "Remember when she collapsed on the bed, and she was pretty drained? In her confusion, I took the string from the bed and jammed it into the lock." She shrugged, a worry-wrinkle on her forehead. "It was the only thing I could think of."
Elle gave her a quick hug, careful not to disturb the baby who was at that moment calm. "It was pretty clever, and it worked."
Near Støren, Norway
Dusty, coughing, the women dragged themselves to their feet. Their working room was a shambles - three of the stone pillars had collapsed, with several of the lintels, and much of their supplies of magic ingredients and tomes had been ruined, obliterated beneath tons of rocks. The entranceway was likewise a shambles - collapsed rock and rubble blocking the entrance and trapping the coven in their chamber.
Already, the two men who'd been in the chamber were at work, moving the stone, while the same effort could be heard outside the chamber. Their imprisonment was only temporary.
Worse, though, were the losses to their coven. Helka, Anika, Judit, and Ulla were dead - two from massive magic backlash as their working collapsed, Helka from a crushed skull, and Anika from her vindictive apprentice. It would take the coven time to recruit four new members and to train them, before they'd have even close to the power they'd had only hours before.
As the scope of the disaster began to sink in, the chamber rumbled, and then, in the center of the shattered circle, mists and vapors began to appear, and then to congeal into a ghostly figure, an oversized bust of an old, balding man with pointed ears, a ragged beard, and a horrible scar across his nose and cheek. The specter looked around slowly, taking in the chaos, an expression of disappointment on his face.
"You have failed me," a sad voice echoed in the chamber as the lips of the ghostly man moved. "I trusted your circle."
"She ... she is more powerful than we anticipated," Gunhild said cautiously, knowing it was a feeble excuse for their failure.
"Your mothers' mothers' mothers made an oath," the head said, shaking his head. "You were to find my queen, to prepare her for me" He deliberately looked around again. "Yet I do not see her! All I see is the chaos of failure, of a broken oath."
"We ... we weren't quite ready, Dúrnir," Gunhild pleaded. "We ... need more time."
Dúrnir's ghost sneered at them. "Very well. I shall give you one more chance," he said softly, but his words were perhaps even more menacing because of their soft intensity, "but only because I need to find a suitable host for my spirit. Do not fail me again ...."
"We won't fail you, King Dúrnir!"
"I hope you don't!" He shook his head sadly before his visage faded slowly, staring at the frightened women to the very last.
"Mom!" Elle called out, a bit of distress in her voice. "Mooommm!"
Mrs. Ruud rushed to Elle's bedroom, pausing to knock. "Elle? Are you okay?"
"Come in," Elle whimpered.
Now nervous, Mrs. Ruud burst through the door, wondering what was going on. Her jaw dropped to see Elle sitting on her bed, naked from the waist down, her legs spread open and staring at her thighs. "What, honey?" she said, closing the door behind her.
"Mom," Elle sobbed, and Mom could see that the girl's cheeks were tear-stained. "Look!" She pointed at the inside of her left thigh.
Mrs. Ruud gawked at Elle, then knelt on the floor before the girl, looking where Elle had indicated. Her eyes widened in shock. "What ... what is it?" she managed to stammer.
"I don't know, Mom," Elle cried. "It ... it's where ... when the witches kidnapped me, they ... they were doing that ... that ritual," she sobbed, "and ... and then it kind of ... kind of burned ... for a second."
"What? Did you report that?"
"No," the girl cried. "Because after, there wasn't anything there, so I didn't ... didn't think about it."
"It looks ... kind of like a rune. Or a sigil," Mom reported. She bit her lip for a few seconds. "I think maybe we should show one of the heroes ...."
"MOOOMMMMM!!" Elle shrieked, shocked that her mother would suggest such a thing.
"I meant we can take a picture ...."
"MOM!" Elle cried again. "I ... I can't do that!"
Mom scooted onto the bed beside her daughter, wrapping an arm around Elle. "I meant that I could take a picture, then edit it and crop it so it only shows the mark," she tried to reassure the girl.
"They ... the coven ... was trying to bind me," Elle said, worry wrinkles lining her forehead, "to Dúrnir, the dwarf king. What if ... what if ... they succeeded? What if I am bound to him?"
"We'll figure out something, honey," Mom reassured the girl. "I'm sure you're worried about nothing." Privately, though, Mom was worried. Magic was something that wasn't logical or predictable, and thus it frightened her.
Elle sat on the glacier, as she now enjoyed doing when she dreamt. Overhead, the lights of the aurora shone brightly, wavering slowly with the ebb and flow of energy and the rare molecules of the most upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. It was strangely peaceful and quiet and extraordinarily beautiful. It was also a good place to contemplate things, and to talk with Aegloswen.
"Why are you so sad?" Aegloswen asked, startling Elle. She hadn't even noticed the approach of the Sidhe spirit-girl.
"I ... I'm scared," Elle admitted. "I had another dream - about the dwarf king, and being bound to him, being a servant, a concubine, a sex-slave. It ...," she didn't even try to suppress the shudder that shook her entire body, "it was awful!"
"Yes," Aegloswen agreed, "that would be very unpleasant."
"What if ... what if they succeeded? What if that's what the mark means?" Elle was nearly in tears again.
Aegloswen sat beside her and hugged her, pulling Elle's head onto the Sidhe girl's shoulder. "I've been thinking about that," she said to the distraught girl.
"Do you know ... what it means? Everyone who's seen the picture thinks it's some kind of sigil, or fancy rune, but nobody knows what it means."
"It's ...." Aegloswen paused, thinking a bit as she chose her words carefully. "It's a Sidhe symbol."
"Sidhe? A symbol for what?"
"It's ... it's a royal mark," Aegloswen replied hesitantly.
"Like ... like I am marked then! As ... as the king's property?"
"No, nothing like that. It's ...," Aegloswen paused again, "it's like ... a birthmark. A symbol of a royal household."
"The king's household? So I'm marked as his?"
"No. I ... I know I've seen it before, but I can't remember!" The Sidhe spirit clutched Elle tightly. "I had a vision," she said slowly. "A dream, I think."
"Oh? About what?"
"About a gathering place far away," Aegloswen said. "A sanctuary of safety and scholarship. And ... and the Sidhe queen we saw in my one vision. And ... my sister."
Aegloswen winced. "I think it was my sister. I'm not sure, because I don't really remember."
Elle did a double-take at the image on the screen of her computer. "Mom!" she called out.
"She's at her club meeting," Elle's dad called back. "Do you need something?"
Elle thought a moment. "Maybe," she said. She waited for her dad to come into her bedroom, then pointed to the display. "Look what I found!"
Dad, too, did a double-take. "She ... she looks like you!" he exclaimed softly.
Elle nodded. "Except she's a redhead." She stared at the incredibly beautiful girl in the image Elle had found while browsing.
"She's got the same ears," Mr. Ruud commented, "and the same shape to her face and eyes! If you had the same hair color, you two could practically be sisters."
Elle's jaw dropped. "Sisters?" she stammered in disbelief. "Aegloswen ...."
"I'll never get used to you having some kind of spirit living in your head," Dad chuckled.
"How do you think I feel?" Elle shot right back. "Anyway, she said she had a ... a vision, or dream, about a sanctuary, a place of learning, and a sister!"
"Do you think this could be her?"
"I don't know," Elle replied slowly. "But ... if there's a sanctuary, a place of safety, maybe ... maybe I should ...." She couldn't quite complete the thought.
"You're thinking that maybe it'd be a little safer for you if you went there?" Dad asked, already knowing the answer.
"They didn't catch all the coven," Elle said, cringing. "So, I'm a little worried ...."
Mr. Ruud took his daughter in his arms. "So am I, honey. Your mother and I are both worried that they'll try something again." He let her slip from his arms, turning her so he could look right at her. "I'll call Magni-Fist or Dr. Holgersen, and see if they know anything."
"Nervous?" Mom asked as they strode from the transit station toward an office building that they had been directed to. It was peculiar; this district was a business district, not the place that one would expect to find the place they were going to.
"Yeah, kind of," Elle answered, feeling a little dry-mouthed as she thought about what the meeting might mean. "Wouldn't you be?"
After Elle's dream and the strange mark, they'd asked a few questions of Magni-Fist and Dr. Holgersen, but they hadn't heard any response. And then came an invitation to Oslo, to meet with not only Magni-Fist and Dr. Holgersen, but also a few government ministers. And a superhero team from Germany.
The building seemed to be a conventional office building, which increased the mystery, and as the elevator rose to the twelfth floor, Elle's hands started sweating, and she had difficulty swallowing as nerves were getting the better of her. Only the fact that her mom and dad seemed so non-plussed by the entire invitation kept her from running away.
They walked to suite twelve-oh-two, which was one of only two business suites on the floor, and gingerly walked in. It looked like a normal business - a receptionist at a desk, a modern waiting area, and coffee for visitors. Even the professional logo - Thor's Guild, AS - was done in artwork that looked like any of hundreds of other businesses in Oslo, or indeed, anywhere else in Europe.
"Are you sure we have the right place?" Elle whispered to her mom after the receptionist directed them to the leather chairs. "And at least they're not plastic or vinyl seats!"
The girl's opinion of the place changed instantly when Magni-Fist came out of the back offices in his hero attire. "Elle!" he said warmly to the girl. "How are you doing?"
"It's been a lot less ... exciting," Elle answered, smiling. There had been a few meetings with Dr. Holgersen and Magni-Fist, as well as a couple of other heroes from Northern Europe.
"Well, you're still a bit of a sensation," Magni-Fist replied with a grin. "We even had heroes from France wanting to come to meet you."
Elle's eyes nearly bugged out. "What?" she managed to squeak.
The hero chuckled. "Don't worry," he replied. "We didn't let your growing fan-base come. Just a few key people who are important to our discussion."
"Okay," the girl and her parents breathed a sigh of relief.
"Shall we go in the back and meet everyone?" Magni-Fist led them to a conference room in the inner offices, where a number of people were already waiting.
Three of the people looked quite out of place, considering that they were the only ones in business attire, whereas everyone else was in some kind of hero attire and disguise. They were introduced as the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Education and Research, and the Minister of Paranormal Affairs. Three women looked like some kind of fantasy female warriors; from a previous meeting, Elle knew they were the Valkyrie triplets even without the introductions.. Magni-Fist's 'Viking Warrior' theme seemed almost perfectly suited. Other members of the team had a mixture of lore and legend, all with Norse theme. A couple of heroes had different costumes; when the introductions came to a petite woman, Elle was surprised to find she was a French woman called Mage Astre, - a magic specialist who'd been called in especially to help assess Elle's powers and progress.
"Well, let's get to it," Magni-Fist called the informal meeting to order.
"Thor's Guild and Dr. Holgersen consulted us after the events of the past few months," the Minister of Paranormal Affairs began, "we have been considering your case. Since the coven has been reconstituting itself ...."
"Why are you letting that happen?" Mrs. Ruud demanded angrily. "After what they tried ...."
The minister shook her head. "The only ones guilty of prosecutable crimes were killed in the ... unfortunate incident."
"But ... they all ..." Elle began angrily.
"They could not be prosecuted, as they were under Sorcerer's Contracts," the minister explained patiently, "and thus are not guilty of instigating the events. Only the leader, the one to whom they were bound by the contract, are legally culpable."
"But that's crazy!" Elle practically screamed. Elle's mother, too, wasn't happy with that news.
One of the Valkyries seated next to Elle put her hand on the girl's arm reassuringly. "Yes, it really sucks, Elle," she said sympathetically, "but you have to look at it this way. The law also protects mutants from unjust prosecution."
"With the coven legally reforming, we don't feel that we can give you the around-the-clock protection you probably need," Magni-Fist interrupted the minister's explanation.
"And you need a special type of education," the minister regained control, shooting a dirty glance at the hero for having stolen some of her thunder. "Your educational needs can't be met by any conventional school in Norway."
"So ... what are you saying? That you're just going to give up on my daughter's education?" Mr. Ruud asked bluntly, and a bit unhappily.
"No, not at all," Magni-Fist countered. "We are aware of some educational opportunities which would provide protection and the special tutoring Elle's magic potential requires."
"But ... are you talking about ... sending her somewhere?" Mom goggled at the hero.
Before Magni-Fist or the Minister of Education could speak, the French hero in a very stylish spandex outfit spoke up. "I believe I know what they are thinking, cherie," she practically purred in a very thick French accent. "And I agree. It would provide you with an education that cannot be beat for people with our special type of powers."
"The one thing, though," Magni-Fist said, cringing, "is that the school is quite expensive."
"Which is why we have the Minister of Education and the Ministry of Energy here," Magni-Fist continued. "The government has set aside a certain percentage of oil revenues for educational purposes, and we propose a special scholarship for you."
"How much of a 'special scholarship'?" the Minister of Energy asked very warily, his eyes narrowed as if they were talking about his own personal bank account.
Magni-Fist took a pad of paper and wrote a number on it, then shoved it across the table. The Energy Minister took it, then did a double take as his eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets. He stared at the paper for several agonizingly long seconds.
"It's a boarding school," Magni-Fist added, "and that figure includes all fees and living expenses."
The man's eyes narrowed, and he did some mental calculations. "Well, it's still a bit expensive, but for a four-year scholarship ...."
"That's per year," Magni-Fist corrected him.
"Per year?" The man looked like he was going to choke on the figures. "For that, I need to know a lot more about the school."
"I'm sorry, but you cannot know, Monsieur," Mage Astre said, shaking her head. "For reasons of security, for both Madmoiselle Ruud and for the security of the school and other students."
The group argued for nearly an hour about the pros and cons of sending Elle to a special school, with Elle and her parents feeling relegated to observer status, before finally, everyone was in agreement. The tuition and fees would be paid by the Energy Ministry through a special, untraceable account, just to provide adequate security all around. Thor's Guild would be responsible for reporting her progress to both ministries.
When it looked like everything was settled, except for a contract among the interested parties, the ministers left, but everyone else remained seated at the table, confusing the girl and her parents. They all looked questioningly at Magni-Fist, who looked at their French visitor.
"I would like to discuss another matter," Mage Astre said when all eyes were on her. "Your school term is over in just over three weeks, non?"
"Yes," Elle replied, looking questioningly at her parents, and around the rest of the table.
"I 'ave discussed your situation with the members of this team," she continued, "and we all agree that you need some special tutoring, as soon as possible, to 'elp you avoid certain ... mis'aps, and to learn some basic spells to 'elp you defend yourself."
"Okay," Mr. Ruud said slowly. "What ... are you proposing?"
"After several ... situations ...," the French woman began to explain, "our government 'as entered into pacts with other EU nations - mostly bilateral, because not all governments 'ave the same opinion of paranormals - in which we provide ... apprenticeships for mutants and empowered individuals that need extra tutoring to control."
"Wait," Mrs. Ruud began to catch on, and she sounded like she wasn't sure she liked where the conversation was going, "are you suggesting that you take Elle to tutor her now?!? For the whole summer?"
"Non, Madame," the French woman replied quickly. "I would like to spend a few days tutoring 'er, starting this weekend if possible," she explained to soothe the ruffled feathers of a mother who'd been confronted with having her daughter leave home a lot sooner than she expected. "It would be teaching 'er some basic exercises to 'elp her control 'er essence, so she 'as fewer ... mis'aps. Then after the school term is over, she can spend three or four weeks with my team in Bordeaux, where we will tutor 'er in magic and other topics which will 'elp 'er with the school next fall."
"So ... you're only talking a few weeks? Not the whole summer?" Mr. Ruud seemed a little mollified by her explanation.
"Oui, Monsieur," the French woman answered soothingly. "Think of it as ... a summer 'oliday for 'er."
Elle's eyes popped open at the sound of a few weeks in France on holiday before she had to go to the 'special school'. "Please, Mom," she begged, "it'll be good for me!"
"It won't be a carefree vacation," Magni-Fist cautioned her. "And I strongly suspect that you will be tutored in French as well as magic."
Elle gawked at the French woman, who just nodded and smiled.
"If she'll be safer, and if it's only for a few weeks," Mrs. Ruud said after exchanging glances with her husband, "then I suppose it's best for her."
"Good," Magni-Fist said. "Now, let's talk some about the school." Most of the remaining people left, leaving only the Ruud family, Magni-Fist, the French woman, and another member of Thor's Guild. It seemed almost conspiratorial.
"Okay, to begin with, the 'special' school is a boarding school in America, and every student there is a mutant," Magni-Fist began with a soothing smile. "It's the best school of its kind in the world."
"And two girls from near Bordeaux are students - one will be a new freshman like you - so you'll 'ave plenty of time to talk with them about the school. It should 'elp you to already know students there."
The boy rolled over and over as he slept fitfully, tossing and turning. By morning, he was exhausted, and he looked every bit that and more, like he was seriously ill. His mother, naturally, held him out of school, taking him to the doctor instead. The doctor, however, couldn't find anything wrong with him, so he was sent home, neither he nor his mother understanding why he felt so poorly.
By the nightfall, he looked and felt worse, running a small fever, and as he tossed and turned, he felt an odd presence with him, as if someone was watching over his shoulder. In his imagination, fueled by the burning fever, he imagined that someone was talking to him.
"You will be my vessel," a strange-looking man said to him. "And I will give you power and riches beyond your wildest dreams! And we will find a queen, one with beauty and station worthy of us!"
The boy awoke after a long night of such dreams and hallucinations. He went out to his parents, to tell them that he felt a lot better.
The boy's mother, though, took one look at him, and she managed to scream as she fainted. Alarmed, the boy's dad took him into the bathroom, to a mirror.
The boy's eyes were the color and texture of granite, but generously sprinkled with flecks of gold.
FIN (for now)
Den Sovende Kong The Sleeping King
alt sitt gull for et kyss All his gold for a kiss
hans rike for hånden His kingdom for her hand
kongen lengtet etter hennes bryst The King longs for her breast
dronningen er borte The queen is gone
Hennes tid ble gjort Her time is done
Den onde slo i hjel søstrene The evil one slew the sisters
Hjerte knust at hun har forlatt ham Heartbroken that she has left him
Kongen sover The king sleeps
Inntil hun er hans Until she is his
heksene avvente, The witches wait
sirkelen smidd av en blod ed A circle forged in a blood oath
å binde dronningen når hun kommer tilbake To bind the queen when she returns
eller sirkelen forgår Or the circle will perish
skjebne oppfylt Destiny fulfilled
en gave inn til kongen A gift to the king
som våkner til fastsatt tid Who awakes at the appointed hour
dvergene fest med øl og kjøtt The dwarves feast on ale and meat
på bryllupsfesten At the wedding feast
som et nytt rike oppstå i fjellet As a new kingdom arises in the mountains
kongen regjerer igjen The king reigns again
som hans sønner og deres sønner As his sons and their sons
hvilke dronningen bærer for ham Which the queen bears to him
sirkelen er ubundet fra gjeld The circle unbound from debt