Story: Five Stars
Early morning light filled Arimund’s room with a soft glow. The sun was hidden behind the hills, painting the horizon golden. It was still some hours until the rest of the family would wake, but Arimund couldn’t possibly go back to sleep. It was his birthday, his twelfth birthday. In a way this morning felt like the first birthday gift, meant just for him.
On top of his clothes chest laid a new tunic in rusty red silk that his mother had bought last summer in Adalborg. Arimund put it on, shivering in pleasure at the unfamiliar, rich feel of the fabric. Compared to his usual woolen garments, this was as thin and light as cobwebs, something more suited for a fairytale than for Fallsjö Castle. He run his fingers through his hair, tried to smooth it down. There was a mirror upstairs, in his parent’s room, but the door would be closed and he’d probably wake them if he tried to open it. All the doors in Fallsjö Castle squeaked and screeched when you opened them. He slipped out his own half-closed door and down the tower stairs instead. There was a small pool just outside the castle walls – he would be able to see his reflection there.
The western terrace, when Arimund stepped out on it, was dark. On this side of the Castle, the sky was deep blue and still dotted with stars. A breeze, so light that Arimund usually wouldn’t even notice it, found its way through the thin silk of the new tunic. He should have brought a cloak, but he didn’t want to go back now. There was a narrow stair at one corner of the terrace that would take him down to the pool, and then he could run back to his warm room and thick blankets again.
Even on a summer morning, the cold from the flagstones crept up through the leather soles of Arimund’s shoes. He hurried across the terrace and down, through the opening in the wall and out in the knee-high, dew-wet grass. His linen breeches and the hem of his tunic were drenched by the time he reached the pool. Arimund looked into the still water and saw his reflection, rippling slightly but clear enough. He bent down, trying to get a better look at the embroideries around the neck of the tunic. Golden knotwork with small pearls and gems around his family’s double-horned ram, and beneath the reflection he could see the stones on the bottom of the pool. A few stars shone like the gems, and it almost looked like he could reach out and touch them.
Arimund’s hand was halfway to the surface when he saw something shift in the reflection. Something moving behind him. Not something – someone. Someone he didn’t recognize, someone tall and pale. He started turning his head, but the figure held up a hand.
“Take them.” It was a high, clear voice speaking, and now Arimund was absolutely sure this was nobody he knew.
“Take what?” he asked.
“The stars. They are meant for you.”
Arimund bent forward again. The water was cold around his fingers and the bottom was farther away than he had realized. He felt hands gripping his shoulder tightly, holding him up as he leaned out and finally reached one of the stars. It felt like a pebble in his hands, small and rough and slightly warmer than the water. There was another one just beside it, and then three more before he at last sat back with the glowing stones in his hands.
“They might fade a bit once they’ve dried”, the voice behind him said. “Things found in the water so often do. But keep them. You will have use of them one day.”
“What are they? Who are you?” Arimund tried to turn around but was held still.
“You saw it yourself. Stars. And I – I will tell you my name, but not today.”
The hands on Arimund’s shoulders loosened their grip. He stood up, slowly, suddenly feeling how cold he was. When he turned to go back to the castle, the stranger was gone. He ran back through the wet grass, clutching five gray pebbles in his hand.
Early morning light filled Arimund’s room with a soft glow, even though he could have sworn he’d drawn the blinds the night before. The window was even slightly open, letting the cold air in to dance with the dust in the corners. Arimund was shivering with cold. His covers were lying on the floor, he must have kicked them off at some point during his dream – and all at once, the dream was rushing back to him, clear in every detail.
He had been to Fallsjö Castle, of course he had. It was just up the hill, after all. Most parts were closed off nowadays, too dangerous to be in, but he was sure that if he got up in the tower, he would find the room he’d woken in. If he went to the western terrace, there would be a narrow stair, a door deep in the wall, high grass and a clear pool. He could find it with his eyes closed – after all, that was what he had been doing the last six nights.
Tomorrow was his twelfth birthday. He had no doubts of what he would dream of that night. He had no doubts about where he would go that morning.