The Years of Living Dangerously

I don’t think about the past often, but every now and then something brings it back against my will and turns me inside out. This time it was an article, written by a friend of mine and once-time colleague, about the magazine I used to work for. You can see me on the photo below, sharing the chair with my friend Filip.

Her article was an overview of the magazine’s 30-year history through the five addresses it resided at. I was there when it was at its first, which corresponds with the time of war (1992-1996).

That war was an unimaginable horror and, like every other challenging times, brought out the best and the worst in people. In a way, however, it simplified things — life became black and white. You knew your friends from your enemies, you knew the right from the wrong, you knew who to trust. It didn’t let you compromise with your moral principles and conscience.

Our offices back then were situated in a 1930s building, on the top, seventh floor, which originally served who knows what purposes. It had low ceilings, small windows and squeaky parquet. In the hallway stood a row of seats salvaged from the old movie theater, “Odeon”. To paraphrase my friend,  in those tiny, overcrowded rooms, connected with a long, curved corridor, on those “Odeon” seats, the ethical concepts and professional standards of our magazine took shape. Between the sixth and seventh floors was a locked gate, a pitiful attempt to stop the anonymous telephone callers who threatened to come to kills us, or throw the bomb, or worse. Much better protection was Maria, the building manager then in her sixties, who would warn us if some suspicious characters were on their way up. Better than anything else, that gate and that no-nonsense woman symbolized the pressures we worked under.

These were the worst years of my life: I lost my home, my friends, all my material possessions,  part of my identity. My family was scattered all around the world and I became a refugee in my own country. Yet at the same time, they were among the best. I’d had some crucial things I never found here: the sense of belonging, the job that I was proud of, and (except for a very few), true friends.

The times were dangerous, but I resided at the right address.

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In the Spotlight: Jasmina Hanjalic – To the Mother of the Only Son

<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@radekjedynak?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Radek Jedynak</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/stream?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></span>

radek-jedynak-ipdCiQah83M-unsplash.jpg

 Jasmina Hanjalic is my high school friend, the author of several books of poetry and short stories, and an ER doctor.

This poem is based on a true event, and it’s Jasmina’s intimate reaction to its absurdity. I had the pleasure of translating it, and I just hope I’ve caught some of its power and essence. A big thank to Kristin Muraki for her valuable inputs.

 

TO THE MOTHER OF THE ONLY SON

 

A story has been broadcast

about a mother–and the wife of a prime minister at that–

who has, proudly and with joy, seen her only son

off to the war to give his life for the homeland.

If I could talk to her, just for a half an hour,

I would ask her: Mother of the only son,

do you know what the homeland is?

If you think it’s the country you were born in, think again:

the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire,

the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire…

they all perished.

Do you know, Mother of the only son,

that the country of my birth is no more,

wiped out at the whim of those in power?

I would tell her about another mother,

Nazija from Klisa, near Zvornik,

and her six dead sons,

six sunken graves in the homeland soil.

Do not offer to any army your son, to whom you gave life.

From time immemorial,

the homelands have been thirsting for the blood of our children.

Mother of the only son, I would say at the end,

my homeland is my two sons,

and all the sons of this accursed world.

 

October 2020

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Honouring Rememberance Day: Momčilo the Brave

Momčilo Gavrić, 1914, age 8. Photo by Nena Metikoš. The image is public domain.

There are very few things more depraved, more cruel, more immoral than child-soldiers. 

Yet, this post is a homage to a boy-warrior, the youngest soldier of the Great War. His story is unique, though–he wasn’t recruited; nobody used him for military propaganda; there was no “children brigade” in the army he joined. His name was Momčilo Gavrić, he was eight in 1914, and the war just happened to him and to a good part of humankind. (The war to “end end all wars”, as it was called; in truth it was just a prelude to even more horrible slaughter and destruction that will soon follow.)

At the very beginning of the war, in August 1914, Austro-Hungarians attacked his village, in central Serbia, then a small, independent kingdom. They annihilated his entire family, among many others — his mother, father, grandmother, three sisters and four brothers, all perished within minutes — and burned the village. Momčilo (the meaning of his name name is “bold guy”) survived by pure chance–earlier that day, he’d been sent away by his father to do some chores. Fleeing from his home after the massacre, Momčilo stumbled upon a Serbian artillery unit. Not knowing what to with the shell-shocked child, the commander, Major Stevan Tucaković, let him stay with them until they found him a new home.

Momčilo Gavrić and his caretaker (?) salute to the Major S. Tucović (1916). Photo by R. Šuković. The image is public domain.

It never happened. Behind them, in front of them, on the left and on the right was only destruction and devastation. The boy stayed. The commander had a uniform made for him and assigned a comrade-in-arms to be Momčilo’s caretaker.

With his “adopted family”, the 6th Artillery Division,  Momčilo went through all the major battles. He was demobilized in 1918, age eleven, in the rank of lance sergeant, the youngest one in all the armies of the Great War.

Later, he was sent to England, where he finished school at Henry Wreight School in Feversham.

Later still, he married, worked, got arrested twice by Germans during WWII, had some disagreements with the new government after the war and spent some time in jail.

Other than that, he had more or less ordinary life. He lived to be eighty-seven.

Imbedded is a  song, relatively recent, about a soldier returning home after the Great War.

I have two more stories from WWI for this Remembrance Day. One is about the most decorated woman of the Great War and the other one about a military trumpeter.

 

 

 

 

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Collected Works of J. F. Kaufmann

ALL MY BOOKS ARE FREE ON SMASHWORDS

Best Friends and Other Lovers

Two lonely souls trapped in a stormy night. A blind date gone awry. A quest to save the best friend from the worst mistake of his life, with a dash of Christmas magic…

Three couples, three adventures, three love stories.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1036178

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/x/id1526352713

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/Search?Query=9781005043803

The Two-Blood Legacy: The Red Cliffs Chronicles Book 1

An ancient alliance. An epic battle. An immortal love.
Meet Astrid Mohegan and Jack Canagan—a young wizardess unaware of her legacy, and a handsome wolf-man hesitant to take over his responsibility.
Until their paths cross.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1037738

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/x/id1527327091

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/Search?Query=9781005662127

Guardian of the Realm: The Red Cliffs Chronicles Book 2

Man by day, wolf by night, Brian Canagan lives a lonely life on his splendid mountain estate.
Until he meets his match—the brilliant and sassy Elizabeth Chatwin.
Risking unforeseeable consequences of exposing his world to Elizabeth, Brian will lure her into it, hoping that she has enough courage to love him—both the man and the beast.

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1038289

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/x/id1527853168

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/Search?Query=9781005398934

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Embracing Obscurity

Uploading all my three books on Smashwords marked the end of my formatting  adventure. I left Smashwords for the end because I believed its style guide was complicated. It isn’t; it’s only written in an unnecessarily complicated manner, but once you separate the unimportant from the important, it’s a piece of cake.

Khafre’s Pyramid

Smashwords distribution is another story. Days after my books were accepted for their Premium Catalogue, they still can’t be found on OverDrive. I asked my librarian colleague to purchase them from Draft2Digital.

D2D and Smashwords distribute to the same vendors, but I wanted my trio on Smashwords because it allowed me to offer two of them for free. It could be the way to reach potential readers and it might help the third book, which isn’t free, to gain momentum.

I’m not sure if this strategy is going to work or not, but this is the only one I’m going to employ.

Otherwise, I’m ready to embrace obscurity, as the owner of Smashwords suggests in his book, “Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.” For him it’s a cause for optimism. After all, he says, even if you sell 30,000 books and become the NY Times bestselling author, you’re still obscure for the rest of humankind and, besides, being obscure is a chance to become visible.

I can’t say I share his enthusiasm. For me obscurity is reality, a roadblock I’m not going to be able to walk around. After months and months of getting my books ready for publishing, after all the money spent on editing, proofreading and various courses on how to do this and that, I have no energy and no financial means for promotion. And I certainly don’t want to explore those free options such as pestering my friends and family to read my books and write me reviews.

Fortunately, I don’t need more than I already have: I created an entire world, populated it with people who breath, dream, love, cry. Who search for happiness, who try and fail, and try again. By publishing my books I made them alive. Everyone is welcome to enter it, but this world is now my happy place. It’s no less real than the bottom of the Khafre’s Pyramid, where I sat once, back pressed against the warm limestone, and starred into the Great Sphinx, experiencing almost an otherworldly connection to something or someone, and thinking, if I died now, I’d die a happy person.

I dedicated Guardian of the Realm to my two close friends, Zlatko D. and Nada S., with whom I traveled to Egypt a lifetime ago, and with that I closed the circle, connecting my then with now, and my here with there.

 

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DIY Formatting? Not so Sure.

It’s been said over and over again that you should never edit your own book. After three months of preparing my three manuscripts for publishing, I’m not sure that self-formatting is a good idea either.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Having said that, formatting isn’t difficult, just detailed and tedious, and takes a lot of time and patience. I formatted each book for three different platforms. No wonder it took me forever: the Legacy has 71 chapters and 467 pages, and the Guardian (now published!) 77 chapters and 524 pages. In comparison to these two, Best Friends and Other Lovers, my contemporary love story collection, was child’s play–it has a different structure (no formal chapters) and “only” 250 pages.

I first prepared my books for Amazon KDP e-book and paperback. KDP has excellent step-by-step instructions for both formats. They also have two types of templates for paperback, but they didn’t work for me so I took the safer yet longer route and followed the procedure for formatting MS Word files.

Cover design Meera Thakore

To get my books into libraries, I used to use Smashwords, which has quite a complicated style guide. My friend J. P. McLean told me to try Draft2Digital, the vendor that also distributes to all the major retailers online, including OverDrive, which is often the only pathway to public libraries.

D2D is easy to use, despite the occasional glitches. There are limits to what you can do in D2D, and you reach them fast. D2D offers several templates, three to four for each major genre and non-fiction. Comparing to the sleek, elegant look of KDP e-book/paperback, D2D is more basic, but overall, I was happy with the result, and would recommend it to anyone who wants her/his book to be added to the OverDrive collection without too much fuss.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

So why did I say I should’ve stayed away from formatting my own books? Because I couldn’t stop making changes, finding small imperfections, adding a space here, changing a word there. I couldn’t get myself to press the “Publish” button, leaving it for the next day, after just one more checkup, after another go through all 71 or 77 chapters again. And again. And again. (And I’m sure I missed something.)

I would format a book for someone else, but next time I might just pay a formatter to do it for me.

And then, finally, I did click on that button, and the last one in the row, the paperback format of Guardian of the Realm, is up. When it comes to my books on Amazon, I don’t hold my breath, however. I have neither time nor money for any kind of promotion. The paperbacks are for my pleasure only anyway — I like to be able to touch my books. But the D2D versions have already achieved their purpose. The Legacy and Guardian are on OverDrive now, and I expect the third one to join them soon. My library is going to buy them and the readers will find them. They always do.

Voila!

And, before I forget,

CHAPTER 4

A part of me was relieved when I dropped Astrid off at the hospital.

Before last night I hadn’t even been sure if I believed in werewolf bonding. I’d always thought that it was wrong to be left without a choice. There was nothing great about some random, unknown power ruling one of the most important aspects of your life.

Then Astrid’s fingers had touched my throat, and the shock of our irreversible, unchangeable, eternal connection shot from my neck down my spinal cord, spreading through my body, my soul, my mind.

I had never met Astrid before yesterday. I knew she existed—back home, her name was on everybody’s lips—I’d seen her pictures many times in the last six months. Nothing had foretold one of the greatest events of my life. Her lovely but serious face and smart, deep-blue eyes hadn’t evoked any specific emotion. The only detail that had stuck in my mind was her luxurious hair—a long, silky golden-copperish cascade that looked like a halo around her face.

She too had felt the bond, but didn’t seem to know what it was. I knew, which didn’t prevent me from feeling like I was struck by a thunderbolt when it happened.

I didn’t want to be bonded, not to her, not to anyone, yet I could do nothing about it. I found comfort in the fact that she would’ve attracted me anyway. Probably. Physically, she wasn’t my type, but she did have that something that I liked in women: confidence, a brilliant mind, wit and charm.

Later, watching her sitting across the table, her arms crossed over her chest, I tried to imagine her reaction when she learned we were bonded. I could see her cool wizard mind struggling to grasp the concept of the bond and many others she was about to discover. Oh, that was going to be interesting. She’d been ready to jeopardize her safety by refusing to come to Red Cliffs because her opinion hadn’t been considered. Wait until she learned she had no choice but to fall in love with me.

The other part of me, the one that wasn’t relieved, didn’t like being separate from her. The darned bond had already started working. That was a new feeling, both exciting and frustrating. Annoying because, again, it had been forced upon me. Exciting, well, because I could hardly wait to have that not-my-type-of woman beside me again.

I shook my head and smiled. Seven-of-Nine from Star Trek Voyager, exactly my type of woman, would say that resistance was futile.

***

I returned to Astrid’s house. Her scent was all over it, and I inhaled it thirstily. She smelled fresh, of rain and wind, of a clear spring morning, of the sea breeze. Deep, deep under all these elemental essences, there was a subtle touch of musk, earthy and tangy.

All insanely arousing.

I talked to James and my mother, without revealing too many details of my first encounter with my step-cousin, then spent several hours on my laptop trying to catch up with my work.

It was around eleven when I became restless, so going to see Tristan seemed like a good idea.

***

The hospital administration, including Tristan’s office, was on the fourth floor. I asked to see him and he instructed the receptionist to send me up.

A brass plate on the door read Dr. Tristan Blake, and under that CEO, Hospital Services, without the usual string of titles that people from the medical profession were sometimes so fond of. Tristan had several medical specialties, but he was one of the most laid-back people I’d ever known.

He was reading a medical journal when I opened the door, and rose to greet me.

“The first thing Astrid asked me this morning was if you were her blood relative, then if you were married,” he said, gesturing toward an empty chair across his desk. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

I felt a surge of primal male pride. “Did she now? What did you tell her?”

“That you are not married and, to the best of my knowledge, not her blood relative. She’ll kill me if she knows I told you, so don’t mention it to her. And no reason for that cocky grin; she asked that for practical reasons. You are about to camp at her place for several weeks, so she would prefer you were unmarried, cousin or not. Espresso?”

I couldn’t hide my smile. No, she hadn’t asked just for the practical reasons. “Sure,” I said. “She made something undrinkable this morning. So, what did she say?”

“Nothing. Hard to tell if she was relieved or disappointed. Wizards are not easy to read.” Tristan walked to the small table beside the window that held a coffee machine. He took two cups from the top of it, set them on the drip tray and filled the filter with ground coffee. The fresh aroma of Arabica beans filled the air.

Tristan pressed the power button and leaned against the windowsill. The machine made a soft hiss and started dripping coffee into the cups.

“She was relieved, take my word for it,” I said, and took a deep breath. “She’s my bond mate, Tristan.”

For an instant, he didn’t get it.

“You’re kidding!” he said when the meaning reached his mind. “Wow. What now? How did Astrid take it? How come she hadn’t mentioned it this morning?”

“She doesn’t know. I’m afraid to break the news to her.”

“She’ll freak out. And if you tell her you snooped around her house yesterday, she’ll kick you out. And what then?”

“You have an excellent nose,” I said. “At this point, she doesn’t need to know about the bond. Or that I was in her house. After she spends some time in Red Cliffs, she’ll understand us better. She’ll learn such things are necessary.”

Tristan smirked. “Good luck with that. So, what about you? How do you feel about the bond?”

“I’ve already freaked out. It’ll take a while to accept it, mentally and emotionally.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Proceed with the plan. Take her home. I don’t know more than that.”

“Do you like her?”

I raked my hand through my hair. “As if I have a freaking choice. Man, I met her yesterday. People think that bonding is romantic. It’s damn scary. Your finger touches a stranger and the next thing you know you’re tied to her for the rest of your life.” Which could be (and most of the time was), very, very long.

The dripping stopped. The coffee machine pipped a signal that the espressos were ready. Tristan grabbed them, placed them on the desk and pushed one in my direction. “Sugar?”

“Thanks,” I said, taking a spoon and a small crystal bowl with white cubes. With something that looked more like an old-fashioned surgical instrument than sugar cube tongs, I picked one piece and dropped it in my coffee.

“All species have bonding of one kind or another,” Tristan said, taking back his seat. I passed him the bowl and the tongs.

“Yes, but ours is a more complex process. We bond on two different levels: our human and wolf spirits. Everybody must be in sync with everybody else. It usually happens easily and instantly, but it can also be a lengthy process.”

“It’s not always simple for us, either. Outside of our own kind, we most often bond with humans. No matter how civilized we are, on the subconscious level, we still consider them a source of ‘food’. An inferior species, on the bottom of the evolutionary scale, although, in terms of survival, it’s just the opposite—they’re above us since they don’t need us, we need them. Still, we are predators, they are prey. And then, poof—you found yourself bonded to a human. No, my friend, bonding often doesn’t go smoothly.”

“To be honest, it never made much sense to me. Relationships are messy enough without it. It only complicates things even more.”

Tristan shook his head. “Here you’re wrong. We might not understand many aspects of it, but bonding doesn’t happen haphazardly. That wouldn’t make any sense. Regarding Astrid, you should cheer up. It’ll be easy to love her. You’ll see when you know her better.”

“We’ll see,” I said, stirring my coffee. “There’s nothing I can do about it now anyway. Bonded or not, Astrid still needs my help to learn how to control her changes.”

“It’s more than that. Her transformations are not only uncontrollable but difficult and painful as well.”

“Painful? She said she blacked out, but she didn’t mention it was painful,” I said, feeling a strange tightening in my chest. I wanted to find her, hold her tight so that nothing could hurt her anymore.

Where was she now, I wondered, trying to pick up her scent.

The bond seemed to be interfering with my common sense. I made an effort to refocus on the conversation.

“It’s always been painful for her, and it’s becoming worse. She does it quickly, faster than you. Maybe that’s the reason. She’s an enormous wolf, way bigger than her human size would suggest. But then, when she turns, she’s nothing like you guys. There isn’t that burst of energy and life that always impresses me when I see you changing. She’s exhausted.”

Her words came back to me. “When you see my change, you’ll understand my lack of enthusiasm.” And I had all but accused her last night of being prejudicial. “Why are they painful? Why is she weak afterward? Do you have any explanation?”

Tristan scratched his head. “I believe it’s because she’s an ellida. Alas, that’s all I can say. As you know, very little is known about them.”

He was right. Ellidas were rare and mysterious female offspring of rare unions between werewolves and wizards. There had been only a handful of ellidas in our history.

“Every ellida is different, but there are still some things they all share,” I said. “Their first change happens in late puberty. After that, they quickly establish control over the process. It didn’t happen with Astrid.”

“Well, she’s just different. Despite all her difficulties, she comes out of her shifting just fine. I always check her after the transformation. There is no damage, nothing unusual. She needs a day or two to become herself again.”

Two days! Of course she hated it, I thought, trying hard not to imagine her curled up in pain, exhausted, unable to move. “I’ll find out why she suffers through the change,” I said. “What can you tell about her genetic makeup? That’s your field.”

One of Tristan’s specialties was in medical genetics.

“She combines the best of both kinds, of course. She’s an ellida.”

“I know that. But emotionally, socially? Privately?”

“Astrid’s much more emotional than wizards in general. You know them; they’re like a crossover between Tolkien’s Elves and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Their rational side is prominent. Not that they do not feel, they do, as intensely as we do, they just don’t show it. She does.”

Tristan smiled at some private thought, then took a sip of his espresso and continued, “She’s fiercely independent. Don’t expect her to be submissive to you or anybody else. Or dominant, for that matter, at least not in her human form. Those concepts are still alien to her. She’s a private person. A loyal friend. Smart, well-educated and sophisticated. She’s very serious but can be funny to the bone.”

“As a doctor?”

Tristan’s face lit up. “Born to be one. She is both an orthopedic and trauma surgeon, and brilliant in both fields. Wizards are doctors par excellence, but she’s exceptional even by their standards. I’ve haven’t seen anything like that in a long time.”

“She doesn’t resemble Rowena.”

“No, she took after Hal. From inside? We’re all a combination of inherited and acquired characteristics. She has the best of both in her.”

“She seems more levelheaded than her mother was,” I said before I could think twice.

Tristan gave a sharp look. “Oh, for Chrissake, Jack! Rowena was eighteen, a teenager caught in serious grownup circumstances. Passionate, impatient. Too young to be married, too young to have a child. Hal was a great man, but he could be reckless and irresponsible. Like it or not, Astrid has her mother’s passion, her feistiness.” He pointed his finger at me. “And I’ll tell you something else. No matter what Red Cliffs thinks, Rowena had nothing to do with Hal’s and your father’s deaths. No one can convince me otherwise. No one!”

“She set things into motion, but it was Seth who killed them, not Rowena. I’m aware of that.”

“Jack, Astrid’s a mature and responsible young woman,” Tristan said, his voice softening with true affection for his young friend. “An old soul. I tease her sometimes that she was born as a twenty-five-year-old woman. She had a few stormy teenage years, but even that was just a typical hormonal rebellion, although Gottfried and Ella probably wouldn’t agree.”

Tristan’s phone buzzed. He took it out from his pocket and read the message “Astrid’s done for today. By the way, Liv expects you two at our place tonight. I mentioned it to Astrid. She said she’d talk to you.” He gave me a devilish smile. “Oh, Liv will be ecstatic when she hears about the bond.”

I bet she would be. “Don’t mention it in front of Astrid. I’ll tell her.”

“No, I’ll only tell Liv,” he said with a wicked grin.

I ignored it and checked my phone for messages. “I told Astrid to text me when she was done so that I could pick her up.”

“Next time ask her, don’t tell her. Then she might do it. Why don’t you surprise her? She’ll be down in five minutes.”

I rubbed my chin. “Damn. I’m bonded to her, she’s not even my type,” I said and stood. “She’s too serious. And too slim.” I meekly tried my futile resistance one more time. And no boobs. I added another irrelevant complaint to the whole list of other ridiculous ones, but at least I knew better than to say it aloud. Tristan was a first-rate old-school gentleman, and Astrid was his protégé.

He looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a second head. “She’s beautiful. You should think beyond bonding. Believe me, you’ll be eating out of her hand before you know it, and you’ll love it.”

I heard my friend’s hearty laugh as I closed the door behind me.

***

Handbag over her shoulder, her light coat draped over her arm, Astrid stepped out of the elevator. She tilted her head and looked at me with an arched eyebrow.

I walked to her, I took the coat from her hands and helped her to put it on. I rested my hands on her shoulders and let the warm current run between us for a moment.

“I came to see Tristan,” I said before she could ask me what I was doing in the hospital.

She turned to me. “Ah. To talk about me.” The little smile that lurked in her blue eyes reached her lips. In a split second, I realized what Tristan had tried to tell me just a few minutes ago. You are beautiful! I almost said aloud, looking at her as if I hadn’t seen her last night at all.

She opened her coat to smooth the blue dress under it. Last night she was in an oversized shirt. This morning she’d been fully dressed when she left her bedroom, her coat included. Now I realized I was mistaken about at least one more thing. Or rather two. The boobs.

I laughed aloud and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. She glanced at me from under her lashes, but stayed close, the smile still lingered on her face.

I had a secret, and for the time being, I wasn’t going to share it with her. For a while, I’d decided, I would enjoy the fact that she didn’t have a clue that I was about to happen to her.

 

 

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The Best Spaghetti Carbonara, Served with Chapter 3

One thing that you can learn about me through my stories is that I love food. There are quite a few dishes mentioned in my books (my supernatural creatures eat human food. Mostly); some of them come with the cooking instructions, simplified so that they don’t sound like recipes.

Photo by Pinar Kucuk on Unsplash

My first encounter with the ‘edible reads’ happened many years ago when I stumbled upon It can’t Always be Caviar: the Fabulously Daring Adventures and Exquisite Cooking Recipes of the Involuntary Secret Agent Thomas Levin by a German author, Johannes Mario Simmel.

The self-explanatory subtitle suggests a fun combo of culinary adventures and spying escapades, and rightly so, but It Can’t Always be Caviar is more than that – it’s a literary gem. It was an international bestseller in the late 1960s (when I still didn’t know how read), and the Continental Europe answer to the British spy-fiction invasion embodied in John Le Carre and Ian Fleming.

Books like Simmel’s novel were welcome literary breaks from marvelous but often heavy, heavy classic reads from our high school and university programs. Soon I discovered Ephraim Kishon, Peter Ustinov, Jerome K. Jerome, as so on.

(One of my favourite “novels that cook” is One Woman’s Island by Susan M. Toy. A great mystery with tested recipes.)

Back to the recipe. I love pasta, so The Chronicles are seasoned with some well-known starchy wonders of Italian cuisine. I make a killer Tagliatelle Bolognese — I might share the recipe in one of my future posts — but my hero, not very skilled in the kitchen, needed something simple.  I picked Spaghetti Carbonara for him.

The key for great Carbonara is in using only egg yolks for the sauce, not whole eggs (because you don’t want pasta with scrambled eggs). Jamie Oliver will back me up – check out his own approach to Spaghetti Carbonara. It is very similar to mine.

It goes like this:

Start by cooking a package of dry spaghetti (Italian, if possible, although the No Name Superstore kind works just fine) in plenty of salted water.

You’ll need about 100-150 g of pancetta, cut into small cubes (if you use bacon instead, it won’t be the end of the world). Place a large frying pan over the medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and cook the pancetta until crisp (don’t blacken it!). Add finely chopped garlic (2 cloves), making sure that the temperature is low enough that the garlic doesn’t burn.

You might need some of the cooking water, so save about 1/4 of cup.

In a bowl, combine 3-4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano, or Pecorino Romano (saltier and sharper), or Grana Padano (sweeter and milder), then grate some more to sprinkle the pasta before serving. Add freshly grated black pepper to taste.

Chop a handful of Italian (flat) parsley and set aside. Do not subsidize it with curly-leaf variety. (This would be the end of the world -:)

Drain the pasta (don’t forget to save some water). It’s needless to say that it should be cooked al dente. Toss the hot pasta over the pancetta and garlic; if it’s too dry, add a splash of cooking water). Pour over the egg yolk and Parmesan sauce and gently coat the pasta.

Sprinkle each serving with extra cheese and parsley and serve immediately. I guess that some fruity Chardonnay would go well with Pasta Carbonara, but I’m no expert for wines.

I’ll serve it with:

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Chapter 3

WHEN JACK INSISTED ON DRIVING me to the hospital the next morning, leaving no room for negotiation, I reconsidered my still unannounced decision to go with him after my next change. I had less than two weeks before the next full moon, but that would give me enough time, I’d calculated, to do the surgeries that had already been scheduled. Now I realized that I was stuck with him in my house for the time being.

I felt ambivalent about his visit. On the one hand, it was a relief. I did need help. My uncle knew that, and I’d been expecting him to step in. On the other hand, my life here in Rosenthal, a small town in the Pacific Northwest, had been safe and pleasant, and I was reluctant to change it. I’d come to like its unhurried, familiar routine, and the way I blended in among its inhabitants.

I couldn’t imagine more capable safeguards than the Blakes—Tristan and, especially, Livia possessed immense strength and powers.

I’d moved from Seattle to Rosenthal about a year ago, accepting the position of trauma surgeon that had to be reposted three times before I applied for it. I bought the smallest house I could find in this town of wealthy retirees, artists and amateur golfers, and a nondescript car—a five-year-old cobalt blue Honda Accord—which I almost never used. The hospital and pretty much everything else in Rosenthal was within ten to twenty minutes’ walking distance from my tiny house on Bergamot Drive, depending on whether you were in a hurry or not.

I missed my grandparents, of course. My job at the ER, my new condo, which I hadn’t had time to turn into a home, my best friend, Ingmar. And the rain. Not that it didn’t rain in Rosenthal. But even when it rained in earnest, it still wasn’t that magnificent curtain of water that was possible only in Seattle.

My seemingly ordinary life in this small town was a temporary solution, I was aware of that. Or, better, a temporary illusion. I wasn’t an average young woman and my life had never been conventional.

Although I was of two bloods, I had been brought up as an asanni, a wizardess. I’d been put through rigorous training not only to master my abilities but also to bring them under perfect command. It’d been a crucial part of my upbringing—we had to learn from an early age to never draw attention to ourselves.

I’d been raised by my wizard grandparents, Ella and Gottfried. My grandfather was a brilliant lawyer, who currently worked for the UN as a human rights advisor. Grandmother was a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle. They both enjoyed equal respect among Langaer, what we called the three non-human races. Werewolves, Tel-Urughs and wizards also needed legal minds and, occasionally, doctors.

Unlike the gwerin y blaidd—I really needed to start using the proper terminology—the asyngaer—the wizardkind, that is—didn’t have their own physical territory. We lived in the human world. Or rather, we shared the same world with them, for it was ours as much as it was theirs. We tried to blend in among humans, adopting many of their customs and habits. It was easy to forget sometimes that we were different.

To hide in plain sight, we had to resort to our significant powers creating tallins and Talsyns. The first ones were small, short-lived conjures like the one that I had tricked Jack with, “leaving” my aura in the kitchen. Talsyns were more powerful, long-lasting or sometimes permanent manipulations of space, time and, occasionally, human consciousness to create the appearance of a different reality in the eyes and minds of humans. Talsyn meant “great shield” and, in many ways, it was. It was real magic. In comparison, tallins, “little shields”, were harmless magic tricks.

All Langaer used tallins and Talsyns because we all needed to hide from, mingle with or sometimes protect ourselves from humans. They vary from race to race, of course, but we all share these two words that were the legacy of High Akkadian. Another curiosity—we all wrote tallin with a small “t” and Talsyn with a capital “T”.

***

I OFTEN THOUGHT THAT MY life would’ve been way less eventful if I hadn’t been of two bloods.

My asanni mother, Rowena was her name, was eighteen when she’d married my father, Hal, a blaidd from Red Cliffs. I was born a few months later. When I was less than a year old, my mother left my father for Seth Withali, the leader of the neighboring clan of Copper Ridge. She’d taken me with her, but it hadn’t been long before she’d sent me to Ella and Gottfried. She had remained in Copper Ridge.

Her decision to leave Red Cliffs and my father had triggered a series of tragic events. In an attempt to bring her back, my father was soon killed, along with Brian Canagan, Jack’s father, the clan’s then leader. Red Cliffs and Copper Ridge stood on the verge of war.

At the beginning too young to understand and later unaware of this turmoil, I’d lived my seemingly ordinary life, unaware of what my father was and that I had relatives from his side.

For years and years, my father had been a mysterious figure to me. An unknown man who’d died in an accident when I was a baby. I’d believed he’d been a wizard too. My mother had been equally unreachable to me even though she was alive. I knew she existed, but I’d never seen her and she’d never asked about me. It hurt me even more than the death of my father.

As I grew, my demands to know more about them became louder. My grandparents provided me with some explanations. I learned my father had been a werewolf. My mother had run away with Seth, my father had died trying to take her back. Too young to care for me, she stayed in Copper Ridge and I was raised by her parents.

These “answers” only intensified my curiosity, but my grandparents refused to tell me more.

I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together when I accidentally learned that Seth Withali was mentally ill.

I still remember my relief when my grandfather told me my mother had left him.

Even better I remembered how heartbroken I was when he added that she’d decided to stay in Copper Ridge nonetheless.

Why didn’t they divorce? I’d asked, demanding the truth. They didn’t have children.

It was complicated, my grandparents would say.

In the absence of concrete explanations, I drew my own conclusions. My mother either stayed because she had to, or because she didn’t want me, which was more likely. Some parents were like that, I told myself. After all, didn’t my grandparents seem to give up on her? If she’d been in danger, would they just sit and do nothing? No, knowing them, they’d move heaven and earth to save her. They loved her, she was their only child.

Yet they hadn’t done anything. As far as I knew, there had been no contact between my mother and her parents. Why?

Why had my mother run away with that man? Who was responsible for my father’s and Brian Canagan’s deaths? Why had they been killed? Had my mother somehow been involved? Why had she never contacted me? Why did nobody want to talk about it?

Questions, questions, questions.

***

WHEN I WAS SIXTEEN, GOTTFRIED and Ella explained to me that I might expect to go through the initial shapeshifting. Some children of parentage like mine became shapeshifters, some didn’t. Nothing to worry about, they said. It wouldn’t hurt. The first few transformations would be spontaneous, but soon I’d be able to change by will.

Year after year had passed and nothing happened. I started to believe—and hope—that I hadn’t picked up that particular trait from my father.

In fact, I was a late bloomer: my metamorphosis was just a few years overdue. And then, one morning, when I was just two months shy of twenty-three, I suddenly felt horrible pain all over my body, as if something or somebody was trying to turn me inside out. I didn’t remember much more than the pain, that ripping, dislocating horror inside me.

Darkness took me.

The next shapeshifting was even worse.

***

PRIOR TO MY FIRST TRANSITION, I hadn’t been in touch with my Red Cliffs family. I was convinced they didn’t want me because of my mother.

I was wrong. My grandparents, I soon learned, had been in contact with them all the time, keeping them up to date, even sending them my pictures. Concerned about my violent, irregular and out of control transformations, Gottfried had turned to my uncle for help. The two of them agreed I should go to Red Cliffs and stay with my father’s relatives until I learned how to tame my wolf spirit.

Angry at my grandparents for keeping me in the dark, feeling betrayed by my father’s family who’d waited—or so I thought—to see if I would become one of them before accepting me, I’d refused to go. When Gottfried, Ella and Uncle James, Red Cliffs’ chieftain, or alpha—I was never sure about his official title, but he was a big gun there—combined their methods of persuasion in an attempt to reason with me, I put up such a fierce resistance that Red Cliffs was quickly taken off the agenda.

Following advice from my werewolf family, my grandparents helped me to cope with my transition.

Two years of random shifting had taught me how to recognize the symptoms. It helped me disappear in time, hide, go through the change and come back.

By then, the changes had become more and more regular until they came into perfect alignment with the lunar phases. The approach of the full moon—no surprise here—meant I’d soon shapeshift.

I hated it. I hated being weak and unable to control my body and mind. Having black holes in my memory. Waking up naked, on the cold, wet earth in the small cave on our secluded estate outside Seattle, where I would hide to shift. Feeling different, even smelling different as the change approached. Although, I could live with that part. The scent, no matter how hard I tried to dislike it, wasn’t unpleasant.

The werewolf scent. Unknown yet familiar, like Jack’s. His was similar to mine, only stronger, masculine and arousing. A perfect match to mine—more subtle, sweeter, feminine.

***

SOMEONE ELSE HAD BEEN WAITING to see if I was a shapeshifter or not—my stepfather, Seth Withali.

Last March he’d tried to kidnap me.

After my first, unexpected change, I had refused to shift in the house. Moreover, I’d taken a further step—I’d insisted on going to the little cave alone. Before that, Ella had always accompanied me.

The process was an ordeal. I’d be sick for a day or two before the change, exhausted, miserable, feverish. When the pain became unbearable, I’d shift, but that part was always lost to me. Then after about twenty-four hours, I’d return to my human body and my human mind.

That time, when I’d shifted back, two unknown men were in the cave with me. My hands and feet were neatly tied with a thin, silky rope, the kind that tightens more and more as you try to loosen it up. My vision was still hazy and all my senses dulled. The cave smelled of male sweat.

One of the men jerked me to my feet, brushing his big, dirty hand over my breast.

That sharpened my senses. I used all my energy to translocate far enough to get away from them. Still dizzy and weak from the change, the tranquilizer they’d used on me, as well as from translocation, I climbed up a tree and I watched them searching for me. They were mad with rage for losing me.

They mentioned Seth several times. What would they tell him about why they’d failed? Would he believe them?

Why had Seth wanted me? For blackmail? For revenge? Because he was crazy? Did my mother know what was going on?

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t seem to know either. Or if they knew, they didn’t want to share. They were super worried, though. Once more, backed up by Uncle James, they tried to persuade me to go to Red Cliffs.

Once more I refused. I changed my name and moved to Rosenthal instead. Livia and Tristan, Gottfried and Ella’s acquaintances, whom I’d known from before, came with me on Gottfried’s request. We quickly became friends.

***

NOW MY UNCLE HAD DECIDED enough was enough and sent Jack Canagan to bring me home.

Jack was my step-cousin, not a blood relation, as far as I knew (for a reason I didn’t want to dwell upon right now, this fact made me giddy with relief). We were family through marriage. A few years after Jack’s father had died, his mother—Eve was her name I believed—had married my uncle. Their daughter and son were Jack’s siblings and my first cousins.

Still, we could share the same ancestor. Werewolves were a small population, and if you go back far enough, we’re all related. That much even I knew.

We were somehow connected, however. When I’d touched him, first his neck and then his fingers later, I’d felt some sort of strange warmth rippling through my body. I’d never felt anything like it before. It was not only delightful but it also smothered the edginess caused by Jack’s sudden arrival. And like his scent, it had the same disturbing sensual component.

What was it? I didn’t know. I knew very little about the werewolf side of me.

It was time to learn more. Going to Red Cliffs with Jack might indeed be the best solution.

“Your family didn’t betray you, Astrid,” my grandfather often said. “Once you get to know your family, you’ll like them a lot.”

Soon we’d see.

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Live Now: The Two-blood Legacy

The first book of the Red Cliffs Chronicles is now available on Amazon and Draft2Digital. If you want to read it, please contact me and I’ll send you a free copy.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

 

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A-R International: J. F. Kaufmann

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

J. F. Kaufmann
Authors-Readers Internaional

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I’m an employee in a public library, mother of two teenage boys, a friend, a colleague, and the Queen of my kitchen. When the moon arises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, reign in the magical world of Langaer.

As long as I can remember, my life has been centered around books, reading and writing. I studied linguistics and literature; I worked as a magazine and newspaper editor, literary fiction editor and teacher. For the last eighteen years I’ve been working for Calgary Public Library, in different capacities, surrounded by books and people who love to read.

Currently, J. F. Kaufmann works for the Calgary Public Library as a reference assistant and cataloguer, helping readers discover great books and creating book lists of recommended reads.

She is the author of two novels of…

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When Books Talk Among Themselves (and Chapter 2)

Chapter Two

In which our heroine learns some new words from an old language and contemplates toothbrushes, pajamas, and an 18th century opera singer, whose name was Rosalie. Then she makes a terrible coffee.

This chapter subtitle is not part of my book; it’s a sort of homage to one of my most beloved novels, The Name of the Rose. Eco’s work is divided into seven days and each day into periods corresponding to liturgical hours. Each hour/chapter begins with a subtitle that highlights some interesting moments, and it’s added in third person even though the novel is told in first.

The Name of the Rose is mentioned in both of the Red Cliffs novels. In The Legacy, it’s Astrid’s current read, even though, judging by the condition of her copy, she read it quite a few times already. (We have that in common–I’ve been reading it annually since 1985.)

joshua-rawson-harris-LX0pplSjE2g-unsplash

Books, as Umberto Eco says, “always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told”. Moreover, in the beautiful world of literature, it’s possible to have an unknown fantasy book to talk to a masterpiece.

The notion of intertextuality is postmodern; in other words, it’s been formulated relatively recently. But intertextuality, that chit-chatting among books, is nothing new, of course. It’s as old as literature–oral and written–itself.

There is another kind of dialogue in books. All stories are reflections of their authors inner selves. Consciously and subconsciously, we give bits and pieces of us to our characters. Through them, we leave clues about our personalities, our views, our likes and dislikes. My best-loved composer is Mozart; my favourite opera is his Magic Flute. I’m a great admirer of the Holy Roman Emperor Josef II, so I found the way to sneak him into my stories.  I let Jack, at one point, quote Mahatma Gandhi. I love Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Tina Turner; I like medieval history, the Age of Enlightenment, the Baroque and Art Deco styles, horses, dogs and cats.

And yes, I’ve always dreamed of driving the red Ferrari.

As of the Legacy, I’m still formatting it, while combing through it to find hidden typos.  Here is the second chapter.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Astrid

I WAVED TOWARD THE SOFA. Tristan and Jack sat on opposite ends, while I took a seat across from them, in the armchair.

“It looked like you left your aura at the kitchen table,” my visitor said. “A nice little trick.”

“I knew you were close, watching me. I didn’t see you, but your scent was all over my backyard.”

He shifted in his seat and smiled. “Good to know you detected it.”

“Would’ve been hard not to.” His scent was strong. And pleasant.

“And an unfamiliar scent didn’t scare you?”

“No,” I said. “My instinct told me there was nothing to be afraid of.”

Jack laughed at that. “Yet you perform your Vulcan nerve pinch on me, huh? Just in case?”

“Right. Instincts are great, but they can be wrong.”

“Clever thinking,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He moved his head from left to right to stretch his neck muscles. “You caught me by surprise, I have to admit. Where did you learn that little maneuver?”

“A friend of mine taught me.”

“You have a strong grip.”

“Strong? I was careful not to hurt you.”

“Better to remember not to upset you then,” Jack said with a lopsided smile.

After our little verbal tennis match, which Tristan watched with an amused expression, we fell into silence.

Jack looked around the room, his gaze shifting from my bookshelves to me, from me to the sumi-e paintings on the wall, and from the paintings back to me.

I watched him from under my lashes. He was a man who felt comfortable in his own skin. Confident, strong. Funny, but it seemed he belonged here, in my small living room, sitting on my sofa with his long legs outstretched and his arm relaxed over the back of the sofa.

I couldn’t help but also notice his clean, proportional facial features, beautiful amber eyes, light brown hair and powerful physique. And, oh, his scent. Soap, clean clothes, musk, a hint of sweat. He smelled good.

Just before the quietness had become too long, Tristan broke it. “Astrid, Liv and I have known Jack for years. You’re safe with him. And you know why he’s here. I think you should consider what he has to say.”

“So, you and Liv knew about this?” I said. It was more a statement than a question. Of course, they’d known.

“I asked them not to tell you,” Jack said in Tristan’s defense, before Tristan could say anything. “I didn’t want you to take a hike.”

“Jack phoned two days ago,” Tristan said. “I’m sorry, Astrid.”

I waved him off. “It’s okay, Tristan. I understand.”

I did, really. When it came to me, nothing was simple. Liv and Tristan were my friends, but also my protectors. My safety took priority over friendship and loyalty. I wouldn’t have run away even if I’d known Jack Canagan was coming, but he couldn’t know that and had all the reasons to be wary. I had a reputation of being uncooperative. In the past, I had refused to have anything to do with my Red Cliffs’ family and my clan.

“Take a day off tomorrow,” Tristan said. “You’ve been working for ten days in a row.”

I shook my head. “I can’t. Mrs. Fontaine is getting a new kneecap. I have her scheduled for 8 a.m.”

“I can operate on her,” Tristan said.

He could, of course. In addition to being the Rosenthal Hospital CEO, Tristan was an exceptional surgeon. But Charlotte Fontaine was my patient and she expected me to fix her knee. “I’m not tired. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, then.” Tristan slapped his palms to his knees and stood up. “Keep your mind open, Astrid. That’s all I ask. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I will. I promise. Say hello to Liv,” I said to Tristan as I walked him to the door.

***

“I’VE BEEN EXPECTING SOMEONE FROM Red Cliffs to show up sooner or later, but now that you’re here I don’t know how to feel about it,” I said when I returned. “You want me to go with you.”

“That’s right,” he said simply.

I shook my head. “I can’t just pack and leave. People know me here. I have a house. I have a job. I have several surgeries scheduled for the next couple of weeks, and I plan to do them all.”

“Then we’ll leave when you wrap things up.”

“We? You plan to stay here until I’m ready to go?”

The corners of his lips tugged into a smug smile. “I’m not leaving without you.”

Yeah. I guess he wasn’t. “It could be a long wait.”

“I’m not in a hurry.”

I sighed. “I need coffee. Do you want a cup?”

“Please. Half teaspoon of sugar.”

I almost reached the kitchen when he added, “Is it okay if I stay here with you? At your house? I think that’s easier for both of us.”

At my house? Did I hear that correctly?

I glanced at my guest. He didn’t look as if he’d been joking.

His request, natural and crazy all at once, brought up all sorts of conflicting emotions. Why would I allow a man I’d met less than an hour ago to stay at my house? Because Tristan and Liv knew him? Because he was my kinsman? Because he looked and smelled sinfully masculine? Or because of that wonderful warm current that had splashed over my body when I had touched his throat?

I could still feel the traces of it. I wanted to feel it again.

“Er, sure,” I heard myself saying. My blood hummed with excitement I didn’t dare to explore further. “You’re welcome to stay.”

***

“YOU’VE LIVED AMONG WIZARDS AND humans, but how much do you know about us?” Jack asked when I returned from the kitchen with two mugs in my hands.

I passed him one and took my place on the armchair. “A little. I wasn’t aware of my connections to Red Cliffs until my teenage years.”

“It wasn’t your fault, I know. But you were born in Red Cliffs and your father was a werewolf. You’ve known that since you were a teenager. This is your world, too.”

I moved my finger around the rim of my cup several times before I set it down on the table. “Yes. Of course,” I said, glancing at him from under my lashes. “Did my uncle send you?”

He confirmed with a nod. “Very few things in Red Cliffs happen without your uncle’s knowledge. He and your grandparents agree that the safest place for you is Red Cliffs.”

“I’m aware of that,” I said. “I’m not sure if you know, but last year Seth’s people tried to kidnap me. My grandfather and my uncle decided I had to go to Red Cliffs. I was supposed to drop everything and go. I couldn’t do that.”

“So, you chose to drop everything and come to Rosenthal instead. Why? It wasn’t an idle threat.”

I took a sip of my coffee and grimaced. It was too strong and too hot. “Because at least it was my decision; that’s why. Uncle and Grandpa treated me like a child. Like someone who wasn’t capable of making her own decisions. Besides, Tristan and Liv offered to come here with me to protect me. It was enough.”

“Well, your uncle thought that might not be enough. Six months ago, he sent two of our people to watch over you.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Why wasn’t I surprised? Because one way or another, somebody had been watching over me my entire life, that’s why. “How come I haven’t noticed anything?” I asked.

“They masked their scent and they didn’t come close enough for you to sense them.”

But I’d sensed him. “You wanted me to find your scent, didn’t you? Why? To test my sense of smell?”

“Yes,” he said with no hesitation. “We don’t know much about your werewolf side.”

I don’t know much about my werewolf side either,” I said. “Nor have I a clue how to deal with the little I know about it.”

He gulped his coffee. I couldn’t help but smile at his expression. He didn’t enjoy it any more than I did. “It’s, er, strong. Anyway, we can help you to understand it. I can help. You are our kin, you are not alone.”

I rubbed my forehead. “I want an ordinary life. Here I can have it.”

“You can only pretend to have it, and you know that. You’re a half wizard, half werewolf. Not an orthodox heritage. As a werewolf, you don’t belong to the human world.”

“Which world do I belong to? I’m a wizardess who can’t use her powers and a werewolf who can’t control her wolf. Do you know how much trouble I have with my transformation?”

“I’ve heard. We’ll see why. Your werewolf is not a wild, crazy ‘someone’ living inside you. It’s a part of you, a mirror image of your wizard side, only more intense. Your asanni and your blaidd benywaidd are in harmony.”

He knew our word for a wizardess—asanni—but I had never heard the word blaidd benywaidd before. The meaning wasn’t difficult to guess, though. “Blaidd benywaidd? Is this what you call a werewolf?” I asked.

“Werewoman; she-wolf. You’re a blaidd benywaidd. Well, a half, to be precise. I’m a blaidd.”

“And my other half? What do you call it?”

“It’s called dynes,” he said and explained that dynes—and its masculine equivalent, dyn had a dual meaning. Depending on context, they referred to both our human spirit and our human physical form. Our people were called gwerin y blaidd and the humans that lived among us and knew about our existence—gwerin. “All these words are from Hen Iaith,” Jack summarized his concise werewolf vocabulary lesson, “our old language, related to Archaic Welsh.”

“Dynes. Blaidd benywaidd”, I repeated softly. I liked the sound of those words. So soft. They carried more meaning than “human” or “she-wolf.”

For a while, we talked about our old languages, of which we—werewolves, wizards and Tel-Urughs, the ancient race Tristan and Livia belonged to—had only limited use. We lived among humans, we needed to blend with them, so adopting their languages as our lingua franca had been a practical solution.

Still, we kept our old languages alive. We learned them as children, we spoke them among ourselves, we read and wrote in them. Wizards perhaps had the most concrete benefits of their ancestral language, Mál, similar to Proto-Norse. Our spells would work only if cast in Mál, otherwise they didn’t work at all.

Werewolves, as I learned from Jack, used their old language not only for ceremonies but to communicate with their kind, who were dispersed all over the planet as well. For werewolves, Hen Iaith functioned as their common language. Jack mentioned what I’d learned from Livia before—that Tel-Urughs had also preserved their old tongue, High Akkadian, the predecessor and the only surviving relative of the long-ago lost tongues of Summer.

Jack’s smooth baritone put me at ease, made me lower my guard. He was a friend, not a foe, I thought. Someone I could trust. My kin.

Bizarre as it was, I had a feeling that this man sitting across from me wasn’t a stranger, but someone who’d been part of my life forever.

He told me of the clans that lived on the American continent, their origins, history, traditions.

“I’ll need to learn a lot,” I said. “I know very little about this part of my heritage.”

“You’ll learn, don’t worry,” Jack said gallantly. Then he looked at me for a long moment. “Is it just your difficult transformation or is there something else?”

Did I imagine a touch annoyance in his voice? “I’m sorry?”

“Why can’t you accept your blaidd benywaidd?”

No, I hadn’t. The feeling of closeness vanished. “When you see my change, you’ll understand my lack of enthusiasm,” I said sharper than I’d intended.

“I’m sometimes too frank. I’m sorry.”

I took a deep breath. “Don’t make assumptions, you don’t know me. I don’t have a problem with what I am. Or, I wouldn’t if I could control my, er, blaidd benywaidd. But I can’t. It scares me that I don’t know what happens to me during transformation. I black out. I can’t initiate the change, I can’t turn back by will. It makes me weak and vulnerable. You can’t call this ‘harmony’ of my two parts.”

Jack leaned forward. “I can help you go through it the next time and every time after that. As long as you need me. You’ll have memories, you’ll be able to connect time. You have to learn how to control the change. It’s easy and natural.”

“For you. You are not a half wizard.”

Jack ignored my remark. “Do you change every month? No exceptions?”

“It was irregular at the beginning, every three to four months, but I always knew when it was coming.” I rubbed my forehead. “Look, can we stop here now? I have to be at the hospital at six o’clock in the morning.”

He rose. “You know, you can be a doctor in Red Cliffs. We need occasional medical attention. Not too much, but still.”

I glanced up at him from under my lashes. “I’m an MD, Mr. Canagan, not a veterinarian.”

It flashed through my mind that he might feel offended, but he just laughed. “I’m sure we wouldn’t mind. By the way, where am I going to sleep?”

“In the spare room down the hall. The bedsheets, pillows and blanket are in the closet. I believe you have your pajamas and a toothbrush with you.”

We stood across from each other, with the coffee table between us.

“I have a toothbrush,” he said with an innocent grin.

Right. He didn’t look like someone who wore pajamas. “I have just one bathroom, and I’ll need it between five and five-thirty. After that, it’s all yours.”

“Yes, ma’am. My car is parked a block from here. It’s going to take a minute to get there and back. Don’t get into trouble in my absence.”

“I’ll do my best, I promise,” I said and walked toward the kitchen.

“Astrid?”

“Yes?” I stopped and turned to him, surprised to find him right behind me. I took a small step back. Jack reached for the cups I was holding, both still almost full. “Let me help you with that.” His fingers lightly brushed mine. The same warm sensation I’d felt when I’d touched his throat earlier that evening ran from my fingers through my entire body.

“Out of curiosity, why Rosalie Duplant?” he asked.

I smiled. “She was an opera singer from eighteenth-century England, the most famous Queen of the Night of her time. You know, from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Good night, Jack.”

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