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.”

About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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