Aafgorelse (The Decision)
Felson Manor, Hjem; 1877
There was a quiet click, then the lights turned on; the
monochrome moonlight that had leaked into the bedroom gave way to a tawny glow.
Astrid sat by the window in her older brother’s room, leaning her forehead on
the cold glass and pulling cords out of the curtain tassels one by one.
“Come on, Ase…you can’t just hide
in here all night.”
“They can’t send me away to that
stupid farm! I don’t want to spend the summer with Ronan! He’s mean and he only
ever wants to play Soldiers!” She exclaimed dramatically, tears forming at the
corners of her eyes.
“It’s only for a few months. Besides
Stalden is hardly a farm. The estate is gigantic. I bet you you’ll even learn
to ride a deer.”
“Why is Mama making me go, Aedan? It’s not fair!”
pulled off his boots and threw them at the foot of his bed, then, as he did
every night, headed straight for his bookshelf.
“It’s just what you do when you’re
“What’s betrod?” Astrid asked,
abandoning the broken tassel.
“Betrothed.” Aedan corrected. “If you must know, it’s what happens
to children who have been naughty. Parents send them away to a new family!”
“But I haven’t even been naughty!”
“You spilled the gravy all over
Admiral Caspersen’s lap at dinner!”
““That was an accident, mostly!”
“And you almost broke Ronan’s
arm. His parents won’t let you get away with that kind of behavior. That’s what
Mama and Papa are sending you to live with them. I heard that Ronan’s uncle cut off one of his older son’s fingers once, when he caught him stealing pocket
money from the other kids at the academy.”
“But…Aedan, you can’t let me send me away!”
“You also lied to Mama about
finishing your piano lessons…if you lie to your new mama, I bet she’ll cut out
Astrid shrieked and ran out of
the room and down the dimly lit hallway, running straight into Hana, the
“Careful, child!” She said in a
stern voice, steadying the precariously stacked laundry in her arms. “I’ve been
looking all over this house for you!”
“MS. HANA!” Astrid wailed, “DON’T
LET THEM CUT OUT MY TONGUE! I PROMISE I'LL BE GOOD! I WON'T…” The shouting faded to simply
crying and fast, shallow breaths.
“What are you talking about, Astrid?”
She asked, kneeling to calm the girl down.
It took nearly ten minutes to
get Astrid to stop crying enough to speak, but once tucked into her own bed she was finally quiet.
“Ms. Hana. I don’t want to live with the
Westergaards! I don’t want my tongue to be cut out! I don’t want to be betrod!”
“What nonsense are you talkinga bout? Did your brother get to you? Nobody’s going to cut out your tongue, child…but as for being betrothed, I’m afraid
you don’t have much choice. It’s already been decided by your mother and father before you were even born. Whether you like it or not, one day you will marry that boy.”
nurse dimmed the gas lamp.
Hana?” Astrid’s quiet voice reached her through the darkness. “I don’t know if
that’s better than losing my tongue.”
Hana chuckled, though Astrid didn't understand what was funny. "I'm afraid it only gets more confusing from here, Astrid.”
Und Veksligg (The Exchange), Part One
Skoghaus, Drefthorn; 1880
Astrid sat silently with Lady Westergaard and her own mother, both of whom were watching the doorway anxiously long after their guests had gone home. Astrid stared down at the wooden box in her lap. Astrid's mother looked tired, as she always did these days. Lady Westergaard had eyes as hot as coals. She looked like she was going to set fire to the next person to walk through the parlor doorway.
The aforementioned unfortunate soul that came through the doomed doorway only moments later: Lady Westergaard's footman. He was out of breathe and clearly aware of his mistress's foul mood.
"Did you find my son, Ulric?"
The footman nodded nervously and stepped aside and very slowly, her son appeared, covered in mud and brandishing a pretty bad gash on his left cheek, which was still bleeding. He tried to look guilty. Astrid did not buy it, and neither did Lady Westergaard. Everyone was expecting her to shout, but instead she pointed toward the door again.
"You will go to your rooms, Ronan." Her steady voice was the eye of the storm. Ronan flinched at the calmness of it. "You have needlessly ruined your und veksligg* and humiliated the girl your life and honor have been committed to. She should not have to tolerate your disgraceful presence a moment longer."
Ronan hears his mother apologize to Lady Felson and Astrid as he stood outside in the hallway.
Then the quick, sharp knock of her shoes closing the gap between herself and Ronan grew louder each moment, and he raced up the stairs.
He didn't go to his own room but instead rushed to Astrid's, rummaging through her desk and scribbling on the parchment there hoping the ink wouldn't bleed so much it would be unreadable. When he reached his own rooms, he was surprised it wasn't his mother waiting for him in his rooms when he returned, but Astrid herself. He did not expect the rock in his stomach when he saw the look on Astrid's face. She was not disappointed or sad, or humiliated as his mother would have him believe. She was angry, and Ronan couldn't decide if that was worse.
She slammed the wooden box she'd been holding down on the bed.
"Astrid, I'm sorry. You have to understand, Aedan and I were in the--"
"I only came here to give you your gift. I found these in our attic with my fathers stuff from his time at the Academy and University," she says gesturing to the box. "It's news articles, photographs, letters between my father and yours. I know you never really got to know him...but I thought maybe these would get you a little closer. I made the box myself. Well, with my uncle Graeme's help. I hope you like it."
She stormed out without another word, and Ronan sat on the bed holding the box in his lap, waiting for his mother to arrive and deliver his fate.
* the und veksligg is an informal ceremony that occurs as a formal part of the lengthy betrothal process. When the children are young, usually around 10 years of age, there is a ceremony in which they betrothed exchange gifts. This can be a favorite toy, an heirloom, something that was handmade, etc. For many, this is only the first or second time that the two involved shall have met one another. These trinkets serve as a reminder of their connection until they next meet. Sometimes this is not until their official public engagement years later. At the time of the und veksligg, the parents of the betrothed often draw up a formal contract which they sign and agree upon dowry and financial terms as well.
Und Veksligg (The Exchange), Part Two
Skoghaus, Drefthorn; 1880
Astrid was pretty sure the note read stables, but she had been through the stables and gardens several times, and the entire estate seemed to be empty. It was nearly sunset and she was supposed to be back inside for the Westergaard's farewell dinner, but as a last ditch effort, she decided to head in the opposite direction, to the opposite end of the property, where the old stables have stood unused for decades, as far as she knew.
As she approached, she noticed one of the rotting wooden doors was slightly ajar, and a strange growl drifted through the void. She froze in place.
“Shhh. C'mere,” A disembodied whisper drifted through the darkness. Then a warm hand greeted hers as she stepped slowly into the stable, which was completely dark, except a very small dying lamp in the farthest stall.
“What’s going on?” She asked the darkness, as Ronan disappeared into it.
As she stepped farther into the room, Astrid could see Ronan’s silhouette step into the weak lamplight, and he beckoned her over silently. There was another low growl, and Astrid took a few steps back, shaking her head.
“It's okay," Ronan whispers. "Trust me."
“Says the boy who ditched me at that stupid party.”
“I knew your gift was going to be so much better than the stupid bracelet my mom picked out,” there was a scratching, shuffling sound like claws against wood at Ronan's feet. He ignored it. “I convinced Aedan to help me find something better. We got kind of lost along the way..."
"What are you talking about?"
"Just come over here."
Astrid moved stiffly toward the stall as Ronan bent down toward the source of the growling. Astrid peered into the stall and her fear dissolved instantly. Ronan was kneeling, holding a brown mass of fur, which stirred in his arms. It wiggled and turned to face her: a moon-faced cave bear cub, just small enough that he could fit in Ronan’s arms like a puppy. The warm yellow lamplight reflected mischievously in his black eyes. The cub’s snout stretched out, sniffing toward Her. Ronan held the cub out, grinning wicketly. Astrid apprehensively took the cub into her arms.
"I know that you’re going to start apprenticing with your mother soon, training cavalry at the Academy, I figured you could use a friend your own size.”
“He’s so soft--- OW!” The cub sniffed her hand and bit it, hard. “I love him! Thank you.”
"I'm sorry about yesterday."
"It's fine, I'll ditch you at the next one, then we'll be even."
“Your father is going to kill me, isn't he?” Ronan said.
“Don’t worry," Astrid whispered, handing him the cub again, "we’ll protect you.”
Yndsindelse (The Agreement)
Stalden, Faestfjall; 1885
“No, Artie, put it in the bucket!”
All nine hundred pounds of the
moon-faced cave bear turned to face me. He stood up on his hind legs – a formative
nine feet tall – then sat, a cloud of dust billowing up from beneath him. He
looked at me with sad, black eyes, then at the large metal bucket I was
pointing to, then back to me. The boulder he was supposed to be carrying sat untouched
a few yards away.
“You’re absolutely useless, you
He ignores me and bellows, pawing
my arm to try to move it out of the way of the basket behind me, filled with
hand him an apple and sit on the ground beside him, defeated. When he’s done eating,
he lays down next to me, resting his head against me. I should have gone back
to the manor over an hour ago. I can already see her face when I walk in late,
covered in dirt and smelling like wet fur.
sent me out over an hour ago to find you,” a voice interrupts us and Arten is
up and on alert before I can even recognize who the voice belongs to.
tall, blonde boy that rounds the corner into the stable courtyard is immediately
almost knocked over by the bear. “Easy, Artie, it’s just me.” The boy says,
handing him a chunk of sweet bread. He hands the other half to me.
Ronan! You’re going to get yourself killed one of these days if you keep
sneaking up like that.”
“This lump of fur would never hurt me, would
you?” Ronan ruffled Arten’s fur like he was a puppy, and the bear pushed his
head into Ronan’s chest, loving the attention (and probably searching for more
bread). “Like I said, though, I’ve been circling the gardens for as long as I
can, stalling, but you can’t hide out here forever, and I can’t go back to that
woman empty handed.”
know I have to go back. It’s just…”
going to change, you know,” Ronan said. He was looking at me, but I was focusing
on Arten, who had wandered back to the boulder and was now carrying it to the
bucket. He placed it in, then glanced back at me for approval. “Astrid, look at
can you say that? Of course it’s going to be different. Everything will be so…permanent.”
reached out to grab my hand. “But I’ll still be me. You’ll still be you. We’ll
still live miles and miles apart so you only have to put up with me for a few
months out of the year.”
thank gods for that,” I say, even though I don’t mean it. “Tell Ms. Hana I’ll
be back in a moment, I just have to put Arten back in the stables.”
better be, my life is on the line.”
leaves, and I am left alone with my bear again. Arten is still standing next to
the bucket, waiting for me to properly acknowledge his achievement. I let him
have my bread.
watch the diminishing figure of my soon-to-be-fiancé as he rushes back to the
castle. Arten’s gaze follows mine and he groans at me, as he always does when
he needs to tell me something.
I say, weaving my hand through his thick, warm fur, “He’s not so bad.”
Saamnfojigg (The Engagement)
Felson Manor, Hjem; 1887
Where was Astrid? It was the question of the evening.
From the balcony of the Felson manor Ronan saw the massive shadowy silhouette of Arten at the edge of the estate, where the lawn met a rocky beach and the Fimbrian. He was supposed to have been down there with them nearly an hour ago.
Sighing, he turned back to the large doors spilling over with music and the yellow glow and heat of a ball at its apex. It took an intimate knowledge of the manor’s many rooms and hallways to escape the house without notice, but he managed with some difficulty to do so. He rushed down the vast stretch of lawn, pulling his coat up against the night’s encroaching chill and leaving the party void of both of its guests of honor.
“If one plans to skip out on their engagement party, it is courteous to not make your fiancée wait. Well… almost-fiancé.” Astrid shouted as he approached. She sat up from her position leaning against the large, sleeping cave bear and offered him a pitiful smile.
“Having second thoughts?” He asked.
“Of course not, I just couldn’t face my father tonight… I’m sorry,” she said, clutching the book in her hands tighter. That is when Ronan noticed the gold leaf lettering on the front of the book. Kyrkjedda Titania.* As had become habit during the last days of andrad the last seven years, the gravid absence of her brother fell between them, heavy and poisonous like mercury. He knew better, though, than to mention it.
“You are forgiven.” I sit down next to her, “As long as you promise never to leave me alone with Admiral Felson ever again. He insisted on introducing me to every old class mate he'd ever had. So, you have something to tell me?”
Arten stirs behind us, and opens an eye, peering at me with the utmost irritation. I rest my head against him out of spite, and we sit there in silence for a long time, watching the streaks of moonlight flicker with the oscillation of waves.
Finally, Astrid spoke.
“He’s not dead,” she states, matter-of-factly. “Aedan is alive out there…and I know how to find him.”
Of course, it was an absurd notion. I should have told her that. I should have told her that clutching to these kinds of thoughts was dangerous and selfish.
Instead I ask, “Do you think Arten counts as a passenger or as cargo?”
Within the hour, we are watching that yellow celebratory glow from the manor from far above the city. Astrid fought a losing battle against the wind to keep the hair from her eyes, which were brighter than I had seen them in years. The ship was almost prepared to leave Hjem, and with it we would leave behind all of those who had come to celebrate our Beginning.
But the engagement ball was not our beginning, hers and mine. For better of worse, it was here.
*a popular children’s book of fairy tales