“Most tales have obscure beginnings and this one is no exception, so I’ll begin with your parents.”
“Yes. What do you remember about your mother?”
“She sang me to sleep, told extraordinary stories and she smelled... Mmm, I don’t know but it was wonderful. I can’t remember anything else.”
“No wonder, you were very young when she passed away.” William placed his cup on the table. “Of course, you have no memories of your father; he died before you were born but you would have liked him. As you know, he was an archeologist.”
At Sarah’s nod, he continued. “He was digging in southern
Germany when he
wrote about a box he’d found with strange markings carved on its lid. Since I’m
an expert in ancient languages, he included a relief of the markings, lines of
signs, similar to runes but with patterns I’d never seen before, like hieroglyphs
or ideograms. I racked my brain, went up to the attic and dusted off books
forgotten since I attended university. I even posted a photograph of a few
symbols at a haunt frequented by buffs of obscure languages but with no results.
I was never able to decipher the symbols on that box. A few days later, I
received another letter; he was returning home for a brief sabbatical and
bringing his wife with him.”
“You never told me my mother was German,” Sarah interrupted.
“No, and I never will, because she wasn’t.”
Questions radiated from his granddaughter but she remained silent. He smiled, proud of her self-control.
“I picked them up at the airport. I’d never seen a woman as beautiful as your mother. Beautiful and frail. I didn’t know it then, but her fragility hid strength of character; a trait she passed to you.”
William glanced to the fire; Sarah moved to push a log on the dying flames.
“When they settled, Charles asked me about the lettering on the box. I told him I was stumped. I recall how he ran his fingers through his hair and then began pacing. He told me to sit down because he had one helluva tale to tell. He said he had unearthed the box in an unexplored part of the site, took it back to his tent, made the relief that he sent to me and then opened it. Inside he found a pendant on a long silver chain. When he took it out, the box crumbled into dust, but there wasn’t any sign of aging on the necklace. He said it appeared as though it had been created the day before. For reasons even your father didn’t know, he dropped it in his pocket and didn’t enter the find in any of the logbooks or tell anyone else about it. For the rest of the day he went about his duties but couldn’t focus on anything except the necklace in his pocket. That evening he took it out and placed it around his neck. Charles said he felt whole for the first time in his life.” William blinked to rein in a flood of almost tangible memories. The fire brightened and a faint blue flame tiptoed across the blaze like a butterfly over ripe wheat. He cleared his throat.
“‘I walked out of the tent and into the woods feeling I had a direction, a purpose, but it was soon clear I was lost. In the thick darkness you can only find in deep forest on a moonless night, I slipped down an embankment to the shores of a lake. The waters drew me and I accepted their call.’ Those were his exact words.”
“You mean he went for a swim at night? In an unknown lake?” Sarah asked.
“Yes. He did. He swam for a long time, unafraid, and when he pulled himself out it was daylight. He thought he was losing his mind.
“He wandered through countryside of tall lush trees and thick undergrowth, not knowing where he was or how to get back home. After a while, he came across a small cottage and knocked on the door. An old woman answered. He tried German then English, French and Spanish, but she didn’t understand and he couldn’t make heads nor tails of her language. She probably thought he was a beggar of some kind because the woman gave him bread and shooed him away.
“He crossed a field munching on the bread when he saw a beautiful woman picking flowers and fell in love with her. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but didn’t doubt him. You could see it in his eyes. How he wooed her, I don’t know; they couldn’t even communicate. But he did. Kari took him to an abandoned cabin. There she visited often to bring food and take long walks as they learned each other’s language. After several months, he felt homesick and asked Kari to go with him. She agreed. A few nights later, they returned to the lake and swam. Halfway across, he knew they’d returned to this world. They climbed out onto the shores of a lake in
“Later, when I learned her language, I asked her why she followed him to a strange land. She told me she’d suspected she was pregnant with you and that she’d found her home and her family in Charles. She would have followed him anywhere.”
William paused. Sarah’s brows drew together wrinkling her forehead.
“I know, it sounds like a fairytale. It isn’t.” William pulled the necklace from underneath his shirt. “This is the pendant your father gave me before returning to
I didn’t understand then why Kari was frightened of it. I do now.
“After your father died, I did my best to make Kari feel at home. We would spend long evenings practicing her beautiful language”
“Anatarian?” Sarah’s eyes grew large.
“Yes, love. I hated taking credit for such a magnificent tongue. I didn’t invent it. It exists... somewhere else.”
“You mean another country?”
William took a deep breath. “Over the years I’ve considered the issue, Sarah. You know I’m a practical man, more at ease with scientific laws than legend or fantasy. But even a practical man knows some things defy explanation. Perhaps another dimension is the best description. Your mother spoke often of her land, Anatar, of the people and their traditions. I asked her about the pendant. She called it Ilydearta.”
William nodded. “More literally, ‘Waymaker’. It’s one of three powerful stones created in ancient times. She didn’t know how much of the legend was true and how much fantasy.”
“It all sounds like fantasy to me.” She tilted her head, eyes narrowing. “Is this a practical joke?”
“No, Sarah. I am quite serious.” He smiled. “And in my right mind.”
“One of three powerful stones? How is a stone powerful?”
“I don’t know, but this one is. I believe it is as its name suggests: a facilitator between worlds. Though I’ve never tried it.”
Sarah’s swallow was audible. “Where are the other two?”
“I don’t know and neither did your mother.” William shrugged. “But for Anatar to be whole, this stone must be returned.”
Sarah’s face lost more color. “What do you mean?”
“Ilydearta must go back to Anatar.”
“And you’re going to take it?”
“No, child. You are. It’s what your mother asked of me before she died. It’s what you’ve been trained for.”
Sarah leaned back. Large eyes, full of shock and confusion regarded him. “That’s what the lessons were for? My whole life you’ve been training me for something as outlandish and ridiculous as taking a rock to another... dimension and you didn’t think I deserved a choice?” Her eyes blazed.
“You wouldn’t have unders——”
“I understand now,” her voice rose and leaned forward. “This is crazy. How could you do this to me? I mean, this is crazy.”
She was close to hysterics. William reached a hand toward her then let it drop. How to make her understand? He sighed, unbuttoned his shirt and removed the necklace from around his neck. “This is yours. Your heritage. I force you to do nothing. I’ve done what I had to do and so will you.”
Arm outstretched, the large blue stone caught the light of the fire. He watched Sarah hesitate, and then take the necklace from his hand as a spark flashed across her eyes, leaving a streak of wonder in her gray irises and something else, perhaps fear.
Sarah watched her grandfather exit the room, aghast at his sudden departure. In an instant he’d metamorphosed, his skin sagged, deep furrows rearranged his face. Gone were the genial expression and his boundless energy. When he stood from his chair, he was a frail old man burdened with unbearable tiredness. She listened to his faltering tread fade as he climbed the stairs; her chest constricted with a heavy sensation of guilt and shame at her outburst. As she stood to race after him, Sarah’s hand unconsciously offered the necklace up to the firelight. The stone radiated a field of blue across her arm and her skin rippled with a tingling sensation. Images flashed across her mind. She saw stone cottages nestled in fields dotted with poppies against a background of blurred mountains, scenes that reminded her of the old Irish postcards she once saw at the university. Sarah closed her eyes and gripped Ilydearta tighter.
Before her stood a door: dark, heavy and carved with strange markings. When unseen hands opened it, she stepped through to stop before a dais and a tall man. Dark hair highlighted by a silver circlet topped a pale face with the beauty of youth and the wisdom of age radiating from his eyes. He stood watching her, his bearing regal, but without display. Green as the forest after a rain, his eyes drew her in, beckoning, seeking beyond her appearance and into her heart. She felt naked, exposed. He spread his arms in a gesture of welcome and smiled.
Sarah blinked and, feeling a sudden weakness in her legs, sat down. She stared at the stone throbbing rhythmically in the crook of her hand. Swathed in silver filigree, the jewel was beautiful. Sapphire? No. Sarah moved it from one hand to the other, testing its weight, the vestiges of her vision slowly clearing like morning mist. She ran the tips of her fingers over the smooth stone. “What are you?” Sarah was startled by the sound of her voice. She turned the pendant over. Okay, there was something about the necklace, but a doorway between worlds? That was incredible. Wasn’t it? Her grandfather obviously believed it. And her grandfather.... She glanced up the darkened stairway.
“This can’t be real.” Sarah spoke to the empty room. Sarah studied the stone for any clue to its origin.
“Ilydearta.” The jewel seemed familiar as if this were a reunion instead of an introduction. She felt as though it were weighing her as much as she examined it.
Without conscious thought, she slipped the necklace over her head. The flames in the grate flickered. She blinked. With sudden unwavering certainty, she knew her grandfather’s outlandish tale had to be true. We belong together. The thought issued from her mind yet she looked at the stone in surprise. Was this what her father felt, her grandfather? “And I’m to take you to a world I’ve never seen? Don’t even believe in?”
Sarah’s heartbeat sounded in her ears. Slowly the lights dimmed and she straightened, suddenly alert. The furniture seemed blurred. She massaged her eyelids to clear her vision; the air had darkened, thickened like odorless smoke. As an overwhelming foreboding gripped her, Sarah glanced up toward the second floor
Papa! Did he call? She bounded up the backstairs pausing before her grandfather’s room.
William didn’t answer her knock. She opened the door a fraction. “Papa?”
He was sprawled on the other side of the bed. She charged through the door. “Papa!”