Tuesday, 18 August 2009

PROLOGUE: A Bit of the End at the Beginning...

It will snow soon. I can feel it deep inside.
They say that every snow flake is unique. Each one minutely different from the others. But there is one thing they have in common - they conspire to cover, to hide, to make a mystery of the world we know.
It will snow soon and magical things will be possible.

There is a delicious scrunch in the chill night air as the gate scrapes across the icy gravel and I walk up the path to the cottage.
All around, the other houses in the street twinkle festively with their fairy lights and their dangling Santas. But not here. The cottage windows are dark, empty holes and I know immediately that they will not be there.
I slip the key into the lock and the door swings open. There is no Christmas tree here. No mistletoe or wreath. Nor the usual shouts of greeting or smells of home cooking (nearly always something with dumplings and thick gravy). Here there is only the sad chill of abandonment.
I ignore the nearest doors and my feet are drawn to the end of the hall out into the empty kitchen. The light flickers on, harsh in the darkness and somehow the lit room feels lonelier than the room in darkness.
There is a package sitting on the wooden kitchen table. It has been wrapped with great care in silver and red and green. A large plain envelope sits beside it, waiting for me. A final message.
I sit at the table and listen for a second to the silence around me half expecting to suddenly hear her sing one of those songs that she would sing to me as I grew up. But there is nothing.
I have known that this day would come since I was nine years old. And for the most part, I was happy for them; but selfishly I had always hoped that it would be later rather than sooner and suddenly I miss them both deeply.
I open the envelope and slip out the papers from within. They are typed, legal documents. It has all been planned for; the cottage is now mine. There is nothing else inside so I begin to unwrap the package. Half way through, I see what it is and feel the hard lump in my throat as the last piece of paper falls to the side.
It is a carving of a small boy standing opposite a horse. One that has stood on their mantelpiece since forever. The horse leans forward and the boy has his arms wrapped around its large neck. Their foreheads touch in mutual affection.
The boy and the horse.
Any last doubt slips away with the tears which run down my cheeks. They have finally gone back and I will not see them again. Not in this world. It is the end of the story.

Outside the snow begins to fall. I sit and stare out the window and in my memories see that afternoon so long ago when my grandfather first told me the beginning of the story which was to change my life.
A tale of a ship, shadowy, dark and terrible and her cold-hearted captain with the one blazing, red eye; of the Last Ones – the strangest army in the world, who, lost in the dark, found more than they had ever bargained for; of a giant queen, a poet bear, a secret agent and a young girl who became a pirate.
A tale of hunters and hunted; of bravery, sacrifice and ingenious escapes; of mountains, frozen rivers and the light which shone between worlds. A story of a boy and a horse.
And all of it painted against a backdrop of white.
I remember the words which started the story and before I can help myself they carry me away, just like the light that carried two children to another world so long ago. The story itself started simply:

Once, not too long ago but still on the edges of memory, a house stood by a pond…

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