Undraland, page 10
Well, it was sort of a bunny. It had a squirrel’s tail, brown bunny face and ears, and its body was striped brown and black, like a raccoon’s tail. For the sake of argument, we’ll call it a bunny.
Uncle Rick smacked it on the floor in the center of the room. “This is what she’s done. This kanin had a soul in it. The treaty stated she could have dominion over the bears, and she promised to give the peaceful souls free reign inside the bears. A second glimpse of life for the worthy. The Other Side now has all manner of Were animal, inhabited by souls that are anything but peaceful.” Then he turned to me. “Jens, can you attest to there being Weredogs on your side?”
Jens nodded, his arms crossed over his chest to fend off any disbelief that might come from the others. “Three Weredogs were tracking us on the Other Side. Pesta’s gone way past her boundaries. The souls she put inside them weren’t the peaceful kind, either. Hunt to kill.”
Uncle Rick continued, motioning to Peter Rabbit on the floor. “This is a Werekanin. Jens found it in Undraland and brought it to my attention.”
Questions and comments broke out once again, shattering the hold Uncle Rick had on the conversation. The bunny carcass was poked and prodded until each member confirmed it was a Were animal. I was grateful no one passed the poor thing to me.
“It’s impossible, Alrik!” Foss protested. His voice was deep and made me want to look away, lest he get angry with me. I kept my body tight to the corner of the cabin atop Jens’s bed with my knees hugged to my chest.
Uncle Rick slid open the bunny’s furry eyelids, revealing pale yellow irises like the Werebear and the Weredogs that attacked Jens and me.
Foss’s voice was stern, his face etched in a scowl that appeared permanent. “This thing you’re telling us, it’s not an option. She’s tried making a portal from human bones before, but they never worked.”
“Ah, but these bones came from two Undrans who married and reproduced. A Huldra woman and a half-human, half-elfin man.” Uncle Rick turned to me. “The half-breed was a friend of mine who grew up near me in Elvage.”
Jamie spoke up, his finger in the air as if raising his hand in class. “I know elves are progressive as far as their stance on intermingling with other species, but a half-human? I’m certain I would’ve heard of it.”
Uncle Rick nodded. “Which is why this forward thinker left Undraland for the Other Side over two decades ago when the Huldras were forced out. He went over with his newly married Huldra wife when she was banished.” Uncle Rick turned to me. “Part of Pesta’s treaty with the rulers of Undraland was that she would only leave for Be if the Huldras were banished. She reasoned that if sirens were dangerous, Huldras were just as much.” Then to me, he explained, “Huldras control people with their whistle, and sirens use their voice.” He scratched his beard as he spoke to the group. “We agreed, to our great shame, and Huldra refugees were set loose on the Other Side, which is your world, Lucy. A peaceful race turned bitter overnight.”
Britta was playing with her knife as if it was a pencil, twiddling it on her opposite hand mindlessly. “So the half-human half-elfin man married a Huldra, and then they were sent to the Other Side?”
“Britta, you’re right on the nose, dear.” Uncle Rick smiled. “The half-breed man’s mother was an elfish nursemaid before she got pregnant. She confided in me she had crossed over to the Other Side so she could find a man to impregnate her, since it appeared her husband was sterile. Not even her husband knew he was not the father. They raised their son, the man who grew up to marry the Huldra woman, and retired to Be. No one knew, save for me. I was quite close with the half-breed’s mother.” He stroked his beard, his eyes far off as if a memory of warmth rose up in him, but he had to put the fantasy away. “Thus, the man in question Pesta found for her human portal is half-elfish, half-human.”
“The one that’s married to the Huldra,” Nik clarified.
Uncle Rick nodded. “Exactly.”
Tor’s astonishment matched the others’, except for Jens, who moved over and sat atop the foot of the bed I was huddled on. Tor threw his hands up, flummoxed. “I didn’t know that was an option. Humans inter-doing with Undrans. What’s next? A bird with a fish? Pesta must’ve been looking long and hard ta find that sorry lad.”
Jamie shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he leaned against the wall. “But the bones of one man. That’s not enough. She’ll need more.”
Uncle Rick nodded. “And so she hunts for more.”
Nik spoke up, his arms crossed over his chest as he leaned on the door. “With all due respect to you, Rick, I don’t see what we can do to stop Pesta from creating a new portal for humans. The most we can do is tell our kings and let them deal with it.”
“Oh, I plan on doing exactly that,” Uncle Rick assured the group. “But I cannot imagine anyone closing their portals voluntarily.”
Tor shouted above the arguing this brought about. “But if ya close the portals, the souls’re stuck in the Land of Be forever! No one can get in or out, Alrik. That’s no solution. Ya close off people’s retirement plan, ya’ll find yerself dead by morning.”
“It’s true.” Uncle Rick’s tone was even. He was always unshakable. I loved him for that. “People go to the Land of Be for many reasons. Some work their whole lives so they can one day leave this world of toil and go there to be free from it all. Others are in such pain, their only way out is either death or Pesta’s land of perpetual relief. No one wants to believe she’s capable of taking down humans now. No one will admit that she’s grown too power-hungry and is zealous for more souls. We were promised the Werebears would never harm a living person, but we all know she never intended to keep that promise. When that was violated, the agreement should have ended. Step by step, she’s taking more ground from us because she knows we will do nothing to stop her. We covet the potential for eternal escape far too much. No one sees what she’s really after.”
“And ya think ya know?” Tor questioned, his wide gait and too many clanging items hanging off his belt shifted as he spoke.
“Shut up, dwarf,” Foss snapped.
“Do ya want ta throw down here? It’s been too long since I’ve strangled a Fossegrimen. Useless fiddlers.”
The angry The Rock scoffed. “At your height, you’d be strangling my waist.”
Uncle Rick held up his hands, but silence fell only at Jens’s commanding bark, which made me jump. “Shut it, or get out. None of you has to be here for this. Alrik and I’ll do what we have to, with or without your help.”
Nik postured. “The day I leave fate in the hands of a lowly Tomten farmer will be a cold day in the Darklands.”
Britta’s knife went from toy to weapon in a flash. She postured and darted to where her brother sat on the bed, standing before him with a vicious sneer that belied her genteel language and Amish bonnet. Jamie moved in front of Jens, chest puffed out and a deadly expression directed at Nik, who held up his hands to show he didn’t mean to physically attack Jens.
Jamie snarled, “Do you know who he is? Jens the Brave slayed a tribe of trolls to protect the ‘lowly Tomten farmers’. You’ll show proper respect to a hero in any country.”
Nik shook his head. “An aged elf and a garden gnome? You have to know your mission is doomed.”
I wanted to slap his arrogant face, but part of me knew Nik was fronting.
Britta drew her knife back, as if one more wrong word would send it plunging into Nik’s belly. “My brother is one of the last guardian gnomes. And you’d do well to respect the rest of us.”
I always thought of myself as someone who went for blood if you messed with my brother, but Britta took that to the literal interpretation.
Jens stood and crossed his arms over his wide chest. “That sounds like you’re volunteering to help, Nik. Good. That’s three of us, then.”
Foss had enough of a woman posing any kind of threat, so he threw his two cents into the mix, towering over her with his handful of superior inches and
Britta lowered her head in show of respect to the great Fossegrimen chief, but I could tell she was still seething. I tucked myself further into the corner. “I don’t need friends. I have enough money to live. No one will fight me for that job, so my livelihood’s secure.”
Foss spoke slowly, gearing up for the punch. “You’ve never been a proper garden gnome. Known for your knives and your ill-chosen career, but you’re certainly not known for your tomatoes.” Foss looked down at her chest pointedly.
Jamie and Jens were on Foss in a second. They shouted and punched as the three wrestled on the floor in the small cabin. I could tell neither of them meant to do permanent damage, but it was clear dominance had to be established. Britta couldn’t be talked to like that, and Foss would respect it. I stood next to Britta for solidarity.
Uncle Rick rolled his eyes and clicked his fingers. Water shot out of his palms like a fire hose, dowsing the men until they broke up their pit bull fight. This was the thing I shrieked at. Real magic was such a new concept to me. Uncle Rick cast me an apologetic look at introducing me to his quirks in such a manner. I nodded once with wide eyes, letting him know I was only medium freaking out.
Uncle Rick continued on as the sopping boys returned to their corners. “Back to business, children. I propose we close the portals if the nations of Undraland will not do it themselves. Souls are in more animals now. It was one thing when it was only bears. We knew not to eat them. But with this, we could eat anyone’s soul without knowing. Then their trip to Be was for naught. Their soul will die inside us, and when that happens, their body will die in Be. Pesta needs fresh souls for the uprising she’s planning, and I, for one, will not stand idly by so others can buy into her line of folly.”
“This is all well and good,” Jamie said, his regal status making the others quiet marginally, “but how do you propose we destroy the portals? That’s never been done before.”
Uncle Rick nodded to a dripping Jens, who yanked open his red drawstring pack and reached his arm all the way in up to his shoulder. He fished around and pulled out… my dad’s old rake?
“Holy Mary Poppins, Batman!” I exclaimed without thinking.
Jens tossed me a cocky smirk at being referred to as a superhero. “I’ll answer to Batman.”
I knew from experience that the handle was not collapsible, but the entire thing emerged from the average-sized pack. No one said anything to this bit of magic, but it was new to me.
Sure, my parents were sentimentally attached to the rake. They’d jumped over it at their wedding, so it hung over the entrance at every house we’d lived in. It was a nice constant in our world of change, so I respected the tradition.
However, nothing like the reverence these men stared at the rake with had ever crossed my face when I looked at the old, wood-handled garden tool. I sat back on the bed as I observed the awestruck reactions around the room.
“Is that… It can’t be!” Nik exclaimed, his hand cupping his mouth.
Jamie placed two fingers on it with great deference. “This is Pesta’s rake. I recognize it from the paintings. Her lost rake that keeps the souls in Be.”
Um, okay. Better use than I have for a rake. I was just, you know, raking leaves with it or letting it collect dust in the closet. I hadn’t even noticed when Jens ganked it from the apartment.
Foss and Nik stepped back, not ready to touch it. Uncle Rick stood straighter, now that he had their attention. “She uses her broom to build the portals, but the rake destroys them, among its other uses. This is how we’ll save future souls from Pesta’s use.” He motioned to the dead bunny creature on the floor. “Then we’ll have to simply face our lives and accept them for what they are – the good and the bad.”
“Where did you get this?” Jamie asked with wide eyes. “It’s rumored to’ve been stolen from Pesta, but no one’s seen it in years! Do you know it’s treason to have this in your possession? It belongs to the last siren, evil though she may be.”
Uncle Rick’s voice turned sharp, and I instantly shrunk. “I’m aware of the grand tradition of people stupidly turning on their own to protect a false promise of happiness. That’s why you are the only ones who know about the mission. About the rake.”
“Where did you find it?” Jamie asked, mesmerized by the important piece of history. He didn’t look greedy, just flabbergasted at the awesomeness that was my family’s old rake.
Uncle Rick stroked his beard, purposefully avoiding my eyes. “When Pesta demanded the Huldras either be banished to Be or to the Other Side, the young Huldra girl married to the half-breed was enraged. She signed up for Be, pretending to submit to an eternity separated from her soul. She marched through the portal and attacked Pesta, hoping to kill the last siren who would scatter her people so.” A fond look of fatherly pride sparkled in his gray eyes. “Though every Huldra was incensed, she was the only one with the courage to do something about it.”
Foss clenched his fists. Then he grabbed the only chair that was not being used and smashed it against the wall. “I’ve never heard tell of this!”
I covered my squeak of fear with my hand, but suddenly really wished I wasn’t in the furthest corner from the door. I wasn’t used to such violent mood swings.
Instead of fighting back, Jens rolled his eyes. “Really? Do you have to keep the Fossegrimen stereotype alive? You have to Hulk out and smash my furniture? Be cool, Foss.”
Foss fumed as if he wanted to obliterate Jens’s face next, but Jens did not dial back his cocky stance.
Uncle Rick kept speaking as if there had been no interruption. “It was foolish. The girl had no help, only a strong will and a plan.” Another small smile touched his face. “But she was never afraid of anything. She knew what needed to be done and never backed down from a fight. She didn’t know she could trust me with her intent back then. I would have helped her finish the last siren.”
This brought about more shouts of confusion and strong opinions.
Uncle Rick continued. “The young woman did not succeed in killing Pesta, but she did wound the siren, stole her rake and escaped with her soul intact. One can only come out of the portal with Pesta’s rake in hand. This young woman is the only soul to have gone into Be and come out still in her body, unharmed.”
Jamie whimpered slightly at the thought of the precious weapon falling into the hands of a manipulative Huldra.
Our rake. A fearless woman. Please don’t be my mom. Please don’t be my mom. My mom’s a human. I’m a human.
Tor’s fist in the air demanded answers. “Who? Who’s this Huldra, and why haven’t I heard of her before? Ya’ve got her rake, but not her?”
Please don’t say my mom.
Uncle Rick turned to me with the same determined face he’d come to me with when he had to explain that Linus’s chemo stopped working. “Upon her recent death, it was given to her daughter, born of the half-elf, half-human man. He served as Hilda the Powerful’s guard when she fled to the Other Side after her assassination attempt failed.”
“Hilda the Powerful?” Foss questioned. “I remember stories about her. She was the strongest Huldra of her generation.”
“Indeed,” Nik agreed. “I believe there’s a song about her from my childhood.”
My heart began to pound and my arm hair stood as Uncle Rick’s hand swept toward me as if in slow motion. No. Please don’t say my mom. My dad was a normal dad! Please don’t say my parents.
“Gentlemen, may I introduce to you Lucy Kincaid, human daughter of Hilda the Powerful and Rolf. Sister of Linus. Rolf had enough magic in his bones to be of use to Pesta, but also enough humanity in them to open up the doors to add humans to her catalog of souls. The portal is incomplete, but Pesta’s searching for any trace of Hilda’s human fam
My mouth tasted like cotton. I had no idea how long it had been hanging open.
There was more information to grasp, but I was overflowing with confusion and white noise.
I was cold on the inside and felt freezing on the outside, despite the Florida-like temperature in the air.
My mom had this whole other life before me. My mom lied to me.
My eyes slid out of focus, and then my mind went blank.
Something to Fight For
I suppose they were talking to me, but I heard none of it. It’s possible I was asked important things, but nothing after that blow mattered.
I mean, come on. If what they were saying was true, the magical world of Narnia had been around me my entire life without my knowledge. It was… everything was…
I guess there’s just no finishing that sentence.
Uncle Rick was saying something probably important, judging by the look on his face. Someone was patting my back.
Okay. I don’t mind Jamie being nice to me. His harem might stone me for being in arm’s length of him, but whatever. At this rate, I doubt I’d feel anything short of a bullet through the gut.
My mom and dad had lied to us. Our whole lives, there was a world we drew blood from that we knew nothing about. There was no Witness Protection Program or whatever that kept us moving. It was my parents running from Pesta, hiding the rake.
Did we have relatives here? Would their bone marrow have worked when mine wasn’t enough?
Nope. Not going there. That memory gets tucked away for a time when I can afford a proper mental breakdown. I don’t have time for that right now.
I stuffed all sorts of things away so I didn’t vomit all over Jens, who was in my face saying… something. Not that Jens didn’t deserve a faceful of chunks, but being that I was the first human most of these guys had met, I guessed some measure of decorum was a good idea.