BY: PETER ROSSFOUR
On a wild, unusually tempestuous night, three young adults, Leitha Windsor (19), her sister Hailjan Windsor (17), and their live-in cousin, Ethan St Clair (17), through a series of weird incidents trace their family origins and find a hidden room containing an ancient mirror in their ancestral family home, Amharoch Manor. Attached to the mirror is a letter from Garthaume, Grand Wizard of the Land, informing them their father is a King, and they are of Royal descent, and how to translate to Amharoch, their ancestral Land, a country under the spell of an evil queen, fighting for the soul of its people and the good of the Land. Taking up the challenge the three use the mirror, but things go badly wrong. Instead of being translated to Garthaume’s Keep, they are split and deposited in opposite sides of the vast country. Stranded in a strange land with bizarre dangers, their survival becomes an epic battle of high adventure, familial love and the quintessential fight between good and evil.
Brilliant sunshine cascaded from a crystal-blue sky and bathed the soaring stone structure of the centuries-old Great Cathedral in gold. The air seemed to be holding its breath, only the slightest of breezes stirring the Royal and National flags, as guide ropes were tinkling softly against the row of flagpoles at the entrance.
Peeking inside, the sun, ever inquisitive, entered softly through the huge stained glass windows lining two sides of the cathedral, and cast kaleidoscope patterns of muted colors on the assembly of Royalty, Presidents, Heads of State, dignitaries from various walks of life, top military brass, and nobles from around the country, enhancing the aura of hushed expectation.
Frivolous flecks of sunlight coruscated off brass buttons, medals, and gold braid on an array of military uniforms and many a diamond necklace and tiara adorning sophisticated, elegant ladies.
At the front, in the Apse, the massive organ and mass choir a fitting backdrop, First Bishop Thorston Nosthral, Archbishop of the Church of Amharoch, official selector and chief coronation officer of the Royal House of Amharoch, stood silently waiting in all his official churchly splendor.
In front of him, to his left, flanked by six senior officers from the various arms of the kingdom’s military forces, impressive in their dress uniforms, waited Prince James Edward Arthur George, Prince of Bruckmoral and Earl of Chastre, Crown Prince of the Royal House of Windsoarelgae, heir apparent to the throne of Amharoch.
A murmur of eager anticipation rippled through the assembly, the arrival of his betrothed bride, Princess Tyra of Lomond, daughter and only child of King Gratz and Queen Syrena of the royal house of Brunwaldemach of the Kingdom of Latinara, was imminent at any moment.
The princess, a beauty of renown, had fallen hopelessly, irredeemably, in love with the unbelievably handsome, six foot five, James Edward when she had just turned fourteen and he twenty, at a Royal Ball held at the palace in Latinara to celebrate Queen Syrena, Tyra’s mother’s, sixtieth birthday.
That was eight years ago. Now, as per the centuries old tradition and official policy between the Royal houses of Latinara and Amharoch, where the eldest Windsoarelgae son by arrangement married the eldest, in this case the only, daughter of the Brunwaldemach’s, she’s about to be wed to the man of her dreams.
Minutes ago the great bells of the cathedral, booming from the massive bell-tower, had in melodious clarion calls announced that a royal wedding was in progress. Inside the great hall silence prevailed for a few seconds before the massed choir, supported by the organ, took up the centuries old “Wedding Song,” a stirring march composed by one of the nation’s greatest composers ever, Djorken Bachovendorff. The assembly rose as one, heads turned expectantly to the rear to see the entrance of the bride.
Seconds, seeming like minutes, passed before, at the crescendo of the march, the voices of the choir rising like a wave about to break to shore, soaring into the high-vaulted and beauty-fully decorated ceiling of the impressive building, an involuntary gasp from the assembly sighed into the air as Tyra, on the arm of her father, his military uniform glittering with gold braid, official regalia, and medals, appeared in the high doors leading to the entrance of the cathedral.
Her close-fitting white dress, exquisitely patterned with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and pearls, shimmered as she walked, shoulders bare, her incredibly beautiful face hidden by the traditional Bride’s Veil, the thirty-foot long train carried by four flower-girls resembling little angels.
Slowly, as the music rose and fell in rich harmony, the elegant procession moved down the richly carpeted aisle, followed by six Maids of Honor wearing off-the-shoulder, soft-flowing cream outfits exquisitely jewel embroidered. Nods of approval, murmurs of awe, followed the procession like a whisper.
Edward, waiting at the altar, for the first time since he’s known Tyra, noticed her extraordinary sensuous beauty. My God, he thought, she’s become a woman. And what an exceptionally beautiful woman! Through all the years of their friendship, although legally betrothed to her, he’d seen her more as a younger sister than a life’s companion.
Could it work? Neither of them had had any say in the matter, their fates decided by the two Kings, as it has been for centuries. He was vaguely aware that Tyra adored him, loved him he supposed, but they were not in a situation where personal choices or preferences could be exercised. They were the property of the two kingdoms, subject to the wishes of the two monarchs and the people. The fact that it had worked for many generations before them, did not guarantee it would be the same for them.
As Tyra’s father removed her veil and embraced and kissed her, and all the members of the bridal entourage were in place, Edward bowed to King Gratz, who stepped over and hugged him. He was very fond of the fine young man about to become his daughter’s husband.
Standing next to Edward, facing the Bishop, Tyra’s heart sang, her dream about to become a reality.
First Bishop Thorston Nosthral, smiling at the two beautiful young people facing him, thought this was going to be a fine day for both kingdoms, a more striking couple was hard to imagine, they would make both countries proud. Stretching out his arms he said, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, instituted of God himself, signifying to us the mystical union between Him and His Church, commended in Holy Writ to be honorable among all men, and therefore is not by any to be entered into, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained.
“First, it was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy name.”
“Secondly, it was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright, that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.
“Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore, if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”
Bishop Thorston looked at the assembly for a moment before continuing, “I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s word doth allow are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful.”
About to continue he was interrupted by a clear, strong woman’s voice. “I shall speak. I cannot allow Edward to continue with this arranged marriage. I claim his love for myself. We shall be married.”
Surprised, both Edward and Tyra turned around to see who spoke. Bishop Thorston, caught totally unawares, was speechless for a moment. Then he asked of the woman standing in the second row of pews from the front, “May I ask your name and your reasons for this bold statement?”
“I am the Lady Hailjan of Cahrworgan, second-eldest daughter of the Duke of Cahrworgan, betrothed to be married to Ferdinand the Fifth, heir to the county of Wichlenemar, eldest son of the Duke of Wichlenemar. But like this one, it is a marriage by arrangement. I love Edward, and I shall be his wife.”
The complete silence in the assembly roared its incongruity. Edward stared in astonishment. He had known about her, but he had never actually made the Lady Hailjan’s acquaintance. Today being the first time he’d laid eyes on her. As Ferdinand and she were honored guests, they were sitting close to the front.
But as he looked into her eyes, something happened to Edward, feelings and emotions he’d never had or felt before, or understood, assaulted him. Incredibly, he could see and sense she was experiencing similar sentiments.
A sudden realization, as sharp and as keen as a surgeon’s scalpel, sliced through him. As appalling as it may be and sound in his present situation, he knew he could never wed any other than the woman boldly claiming his love.
She was not by far as keenly fair as Princess Tyra, but nevertheless beautiful, and obviously a person of stern character and exceptional intellect. Her marriage to Ferdinand was to be about six weeks after that of Princess Tyra and his. As a matter of fact, invitations had already been sent out.
Tyra, a cruel hand cold as ice crushing her chest, stood dumbfounded. Looking up at Edward she noticed with chilling alarm he was mesmerized.
No! This could not be happening.
Surely he couldn’t, wouldn’t choose this presumptuous woman over her? They were legally betrothed by order of the two Kings. He would never abandon his sworn, and by birth, duty to the King, the Land, and the people of Amharoch. Most importantly his solemn pledge to her!
“My Lady” Thorston addressed the still standing woman, “you do realize your claim is not only out of place, highly irregular, and against the wishes of two monarchs, but also impossible to even entertain. May I respectfully request that you withdraw your objection and allow us to continue uninterrupted with this ceremony.”
“No, my Lord, I shall do no such thing.”
Making her way to the front she came to stand in front of Edward. Holding out her hand she said, “Come, Edward. Let us depart.”
Turning first to Tyra, Edward, with sorrow in his eyes, simply said, “I’m so sorry, Tyra. It would never have worked.” Then turning to First Bishop Thorston Nosthral, he apologized for his decision and without a further word, or a sidelong glance, held his arm for the Lady Hailjan. Together they walked down the aisle, out of the cathedral, leaving behind a jilted Princess crumbling to the floor, fainting, and an assembly too stunned to react.
The night felt strange, unusual, the air alive, ethereal, electrifying.
Outside the Manor the elements raged, the great old trees near the cliffdge shuddering in the gale-force wind. Far out on the horizon huge banks of black clouduffocated the sea, locking in the restless, heaving expanse of water.
A brilliant flash of lightning sizzling outside the tall graceful windows changed the warm light inside the room to ghostly silver. With a cannon-shot-clap, one of the trees exploded in a ball of flame, immediately doused by the torrential rain following it.
Ethan St. Clair, standing at the huge library window, sighed deeply. “If this keeps up we won’t be riding tomorrow.”
“Darn! I really looked forward to it,” his cousin, Hailjan Windsor, said.
“Me too,” her older sister, Leitha, agreed. “Not that we don’t have enough to keep us busy in here,” she added, looking at the rows of books and tomes from all over the world, the two-story high bookshelves of polished mahogany covering three of the walls in the massive room.
“This is scary,” Hailjan winced.
“With apologies to Pooh, it is a rather blustery night,” Ethan agreed.
“Well, fortunately, we’re quite snug and safe in here,” Hailjan said, snuggling deeper into the plush armchair. “By the way, Pooh had a blustery day, not night.”
“Thank you, Professor, for that brilliant piece of information. I shall store it in my memory banks,” Ethan said smiling as he got up to stoke the fire in the huge fireplace.
“Yes, I must admit I like living here,” Leitha said, referring to Amharoch Manor, the Windsor family’s historic country estate. Built by the first ever James Edward Windsor to set foot on British soil, the enormous majestic main house, impressive and stately, stood three stories high amongst giant old trees on a plateau ending in a sheer cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. One of Britain’s most prestigious examples of early Edwardian architecture, surrounded by plush forest, the estate covered more than a thousand acres of land.
“It’s a good thing Uncle George never married. If he’d had children, Dad would not have inherited what is rightfully his.”
Traditionally passed from eldest son, always named James Edward Arthur George, to eldest son, the only exception occurred in 1965 when the third generations eldest son, Sir James Edward, preferred to take up a teaching post at Yale University in the United States, and the house went to the second brother, George Charles.
This fine gentleman never married, devoting his time and effort to building an immense global financial empire instead. On his demise in 2012, he bequeathed his entire estate to his nephew, Professor James Edward Windsor, dean of the Physics faculty at Oxford University. And thusthe house reverted back to whom it rightfully belonged, the fourth generations eldest son.
The Windsor “family”–Professor Windsor, his two daughters Leitha, 19, and Hailjan, 17, together with his nephew Ethan, 17, plus their housekeeper Mildred–moved in two months ago.
Ethan grew up with the Windsor’s. His mother, James’s sister, and his father, Sir Charles St. Clair, politician and business tycoon, were divorced early in Ethan’s life. When his mother and that of the girls were killed in an automobile accident when he turned five, he moved in with his uncle who treated and loved him as his own, resulting in the boy growing up into a fine young man with strong values and convictions.
He had the same amazing steel-grey eyes as his late mother–and her temperament. Level-headed, calm, seldom fazed, he excelled both academically and in sports. A first-class cricketer and rugby player, he also held, like Hailjan, an international title in Kendo, The Way of the Sword. Although a cousin to the girls, having grown up with them, they treated him more like a brother than a mere relative.
Leitha, the eldest of the three, a statuesque six-foot-plus blonde with the same piercing ice-blue eyes as her Dad’s, cut an imposing, regal figure. Academically brilliant, an accomplished equestrian, violinist and cellist, she suffered fools badly and made no secret of it. Often at loggerheads with the other two, she had a no-nonsense attitude to life. Her grandfather, till recently the Dean of Yale Law, dearly wanted her to come and stay with them and study at Yale. But Leitha preferred Oxford and said so.
James often wondered if his eldest child’s forceful personality and often aloof attitude would stand her in good stead in her future. Probably go on to become the Prime Minister of England, he surmised more than once.
Hailjan, on the other hand, was the exact opposite, five feet five, bordering on the chubby side, with a good figure nonetheless, had a joyous outlook on life. Sparkling emerald-green eyes, deep dimples when she smiled or laughed, with a thick mane of chestnut hair, made her –not a film star beauty–but someone once met, you could never forget. Compassionate, considerate, and kind, she had her heart set on becoming a doctor, whilst Ethan wanted to become a physicist, like his uncle.
Three ordinary teenagers, they found suddenly living with a horde of servants–a butler, Jenkins, included–seriously strange, but nonetheless exciting. Nearly like starring in their own soap opera.
Seeing as Uncle George’s housekeeper retired when he died, Mildred immediately took over, administering a staff of twelve with practiced ease. Hailjan did not miss the furtive looks exchanged between her and Jenkins. Inwardly it pleased her. Mildred deserved a chance at happiness, her first and only husband having died of cancer ten months into their marriage more than thirty years ago.
Outside, the inclement weather worsened by the second. High seas assaulted the rocky shore, giant waves annihilating themselves in a futile charge against the unyielding rock-face. Gale force winds battered the stately old trees at the cliff top. The moon, daring to take a peep, scurried for shelter as dark thunderclouds chased it across the frightened sky.
“This is definitely not a night to be out and about,” Ethan said, looking at the rain lashing the windows. “I think the Storm God must be very angry.”
“What utter nonsense,” Leitha said. “Storm God my eye. Where do you get such dribble from?”
“Goodness, but you’re nasty!” Hailjan said. “What’s eating you? It’s an expression, dear Sister, simply an expression.”
“No. it’s more than that, Hails,” Ethan answered. “In Syria, in the old quarter of Aleppo, the sanctuary of Adda, they uncovered the Storm God not too long ago. He has also been known at various times as Tarhunta, Teshup, and Hadad. So yes, there is a Storm God.”
“You don’t really believe that, Ethan, do you?” Leitha asked. “All that superstitious, mythical stuff used in the past to cajole people to toe the line. People are so, lord it slays me, so gullible. Stupid really.”
“That may be so,” Ethan replied grinning, “But nobody’s going to tell me Father Christmas isn’t real.”
“I need something to read,” Leitha said, choosing to ignore Ethan. “Something to stimulate the mind. Some of us do have one.” Getting up she walked over to the nearest bookshelf. Looking around she walked down the long row to the far end of the room. Taking the beautifully-made mahogany spiral staircase, she ascended to the top level of the library.
“This truly is a magnificent room,” Ethan said with feeling. “I could spend a lifetime in here.”
“That it is, that it is indeed,” Hailjan agreed. “I still think Gramps crazy to walk away from it all. I mean, just look what he gave to Uncle George.”
“Yes. I must admit–I don’t think I could have done it. This place is really very special. To think our ancestors lived here, sitting as we are, in this very room. It’s steeped in history. I wonder what they spoke about. If they were happy, content, disgruntled? Did they ever think that we would be sitting here one day?”
“I suppose so. Don’t you wonder sometimes where we will all be in, let’s say, twenty years’ time?”
“Good thing we don’t know the future. Can you imagine knowing everything that’s going to happen to you in your lifetime?”
“It could be very frightening.”
Outside the warm cozy room, the elements were assaulting the countryside, beating it into submission.
“Weather like this frightens me,” Hailjan said, snuggling deeper into the comfort of the huge armchair.
“Yes. I must admit, it is rather severe. Wonder how long it’s going to last.”
“Hey, Guys!” Leitha called from the upper level of the room. Seeing that James grew up in America, the term “guys” had become common practice in the Windsor household. “Come see what I found.”
“Bring it down here,” Hailjan shouted back. “I’m way too comfortable to move.”
“I can’t. It’s attached to one of the bookcases. Come up here, don’t be so darn lazy.”
“Oh okay! If you insist.” Getting up she cocked her head at Ethan. “Coming?”
“Might as well,” Ethan said, following. Together they trooped upstairs.
Leitha, standing about halfway down the tiers of shelves, looking at a polished, glass-fronted wooden frame attached to the side of one of the bookcases, smiled as they approached.
“What is it?” Hailjan asked.
“You dragged me all the way up here to look at a poem?”
“It’s not an ordinary poem. Come see.”
Ethan and Hailjan went to stand next to Leitha. Under the glass the beautifully illuminated poem of four verses had a strange look to it. It appeared slightly luminous:
From Amharoch for love they fled
To sanctuary of distant shores
Abandoning a distraught heart that bled
Revenge for bitter unsettled scores.
Of Amharoch’s fate he did not heed
Or what became of all he left
Of suffering, struggle, desperate need
Of Time asunder cleft.
But when the moon has passed the sun
A son and daughter will return to wrest
The Land from the evil hand that spun
Suffering, misery, and hatred at her behest
With Logick once more in the hand
Of the rightful heirs of Amharoch
Prosperity, peace will reign the Land,
Livendakrad will change to Amharoch!
“I don’t understand it,” Hailjan said. “What’s this about Amharoch? What is Amharoch? And Livendakrad? What a strange name. I know this is called Amharoch Manor, but how does it fit into all of this? It’s not even a good poem.”
“There I agree,” Ethan said. “It’s a shockingly bad poem. Beats me how it relates to the house. Unless there’s hidden treasure somewhere around here,” he added with a grin.
“Granted,” Leitha agreed. “It’s a bad poem, but I don’t think it’s about the poem at all. Or the property. I suspect it has something to do with our forefathers and where they came from.”
“And where did they come from?” Hailjan asked.
“That’s a good question,” Ethan agreed. “We don’t know much about our heritage, do we?”
“Sadly, no,” Leitha agreed. “But we can find out. There must be a book here somewhere outlining the family history. We can look in the register downstairs. I saw a few leather-bound tomes in Mr. Ramsbottom’s office.”
“Why don’t we just ask him?” Hailjan suggested. “It would be a lot easier.”
“And quicker,” Ethan agreed.
Mr. Ramsbottom, a kindly old gentleman of close to seventy had been Uncle George’s secretary, cum Librarian, cum Estate Manager, for close to thirty years. James, realizing his immense worth to the estate, gave him shares in several of the companies Uncle George had left him and a lump sum in cash as a gift, assuring Mr. Ramsbottom that he wanted him to continue doing what he had been doing for the last thirty years.
Mr. Ramsbottom and his wife, Aunt Judy to the kids whouickly warmed to her generous personality, stayed in a cottage on the estate. The cottage, connected with the main house via an enclosed walkway, enabled the Ramsbottom’s to access the main house without having to brave the often severe elements.
The old couple, delighted when the Windsor’s moved in, took an immediately liking to the three youngsters. Their eldest son lived in Australia, and their middle daughter in Canada. The youngest daughter lived in Texas, in the United States. Having the youths around buoyed their spirits.
“Okay, good idea,” Leitha agreed. “Let’s get him on the phone. I’m convinced this poem is here for a reason. It’s probably as old as the house.”
“Isn’t it too late?” Hailjan asked. “I’d hate to disturb them when they’re having supper.”
“They’ve had supper,” Ethan said. “They eat supper at six in the evening.”
“Let’s go down and phone him,” Leitha said, leading the way.
When they got to Mr. Ramsbottom’s office they saw there an intercom which linked the office to his home. Dialing, Leitha got Mrs. Ramsbottom on the line.
“Hi, Aunt Judy. Sorry to disturb you. Would it be asking too much to speak to Mr. Ramsbottom.”
“No, of course not child. He’s just about to settle down with his after-supper whiskey, but he hasn’t poured it yet. Hold on, Love, I’ll call him for you.”
Putting down the handset Mrs. Ramsbottom called for her husband. “Wilbur darling, I have Leitha on the line for you!”
Picking up the intercom handset Mr. Ramsbottom said, “Good evening, young Lady. Is the weather bad enough for you?”
“Good evening, Mr. Ramsbottom. Sorry to disturb you at home. I find the weather quite frightening I must tell you.”
“It’s not a problem, Child. I must admit, this is strange weather. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a violent storm. Most unusual. But that’s nature for you. What can I do for you?”
“We found a poem attached to one of the bookcases on the second level in the library.”
“I wondered when you would get around to it.”
“You know about it?”
“Of course. Apparently it’s been there ever since the house was built.”
“Do you know what it means?”
“Not the faintest. Your late uncle couldn’t shed light on it either.”
“I think it must have something to with our ancestors, and where they came from. Do you have any family records?”
“Yes, we do. Mr. Windsor insisted they be kept meticulously up to date. He felt strongly that when the house goes back to where it belongs, your father of course, the family must know their heritage.”
“Could you please tell me where to find it?”
“No, Dear, I’ll come right over and show you.”
“Will you really? Are you sure? We don’t want to intrude on your time.”
“It’s not an intrusion. It will be a pleasure. I’ll be right over.”
As he put down the handset his wife said, “Bet you they found that infuriating poem.”
“That they did. Leitha seems to think it has something to with where the Windsor family originated.”
“There you have it. She’s got her head screwed on right, that one. Don’t be too late, darling. I’ll wait up for you.”
When Mr. Ramsbottom arrived in the library the youngsters crowded around his magnificent roll-top desk as he opened a beautifully crafted leather-bound tome he removed from one of the shelves.
They were amazed to see their own dates of birth, place of birth, and other relevant information duly entered. Remarking on it, Ethan showed surprise that the book should be so complete. Mr. Ramsbottom assured him that their Uncle George followed their lives meticulously.
“But we ever hardly saw him,” Ethan objected.
“He was very fond of all of you,” Mr. Ramsbottom assured them. “He knew of all your sporting events, academic achievements, just about everything you did. Very proud of the three of you.”
“But we never saw him,” Hailjan repeated.
“I know, my dear,” Mr. Ramsbottom replied. “Even though an extremely busy man, he nonetheless had me follow your careers, irrespective of expense. He even popped in that evening in Hong Kong when you and Ethan won your international titles in Kendo. So did I. He couldn’t stay though. Several big meetings lined up.”
“Do you mean to tell me you were actually there?” Hailjan asked amazed. “I don’t believe it!”
“Your uncle, my dear, was very family orientated. He never had time to do anything about it other than he did, but let me assure you, the three of you were uppermost in his mind. It is sad really. He so desperately wanted a family, but his obsession with building an empire consumed him.”
“Something like my Dad,” Ethan said, a tone of bitterness in his voice unusual for one so young.
“Yes, my boy, I know about your father,” Mr. Ramsbottom said, placing a kindly hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “You mustn’t let it upset you too much. Some men are like that. They can’t help it. That’s why your uncle never married. He knew it wouldn’t work.”
“A more clever man than my Dad.”
“We’re not all wise all the time, my lad. You’ll find out as you grow older. We all have regrets of some kind or another. It’s life. It can’t be avoided. The secret is not to dwell on the past, but to live every day to the best of your ability. Take it from an old man, I know. But let me show you the family tree, where it all started.”
Turning to the middle of the book Mr. Ramsbottom showed them a diagram outlining the progress of the Windsor family through the centuries.
Every single aspect, every minute detail meticulously researched and documented, until they got to the first James Edward Windsor to have set foot on British soil. There the thread ended.
“So he landed in Liverpool on the 10th of March, 1880?” Ethan asked.
“That’s correct,” Mr. Ramsbottom replied.
“But where did he come from?” Leitha wanted to know.
“Apparently New Jersey, in America.”
“You say apparently with a tone in your voice that does not sound encouraging, Mr. Ramsbottom,” Hailjan remarked.
“Your late uncle sent me to America. I spent three months there. I could not trace that particular gentleman any farther. The address given to the British authorities in 1880 proved to be false. I’m afraid the line starts with him, but also ends with him in trying to trace your roots. I’m sorry.”
“Do you think he might have been a criminal?” Hailjan asked.
“No, Love, hardly. James Edward the First as we shall call him, arrived in England with tremendous wealth. A very rich man.”
“On his own?” Ethan asked.
“No,” Mr. Ramsbottom answered. “Look at the entry here. His wife, the Lady Hailjan Spencer, accompanied him. By all accounts a very unusual woman of great talent and beauty.”
“So that’s where my name comes from,” Hailjan said pensively.
“It’s a family name,” Mr. Ramsbottom said. “Look here at the records, the eldest daughter right throughout is always named Leitha, and the second eldest always Hailjan. I must admit they are unusual names.”
“My Mom was named Leitha,” Ethan said wistfully, a strange longing in his voice.
“What I want to know,” Leitha intruded on the moment, “is where they came from. If not from America, then where? They couldn’t just have fallen out of the sky.”
“Well, I assure you, my dear, the trail ends in America. I spent hours in the libraries, immigration offices, old records, you name it. There is no trace of either him or her.”
“That is beyond strange.” Leitha said, furrowing her brow.
“Well, there is one possibility,” Ethan ventured.
“And that would be?” Leitha cocked her fair head.
“They came from somewhere else.”
“Jeez! Now why didn’t I think of that?” Leitha snapped, her voice virtually dripping acid. “That is such a brilliant deduction, Einstein, it slays me.”
“No. I really mean it. Think of your Dad’s Parallel Reality theories. It’s quite possible that it’s applicable in this instance.”
“If you believe that, you’re as cuckoo as he is when it comes to those crazy theories of his.”
“They’re not crazy theories. Ask any physicist worth his salt, they’ll tell you there are eleven parallels.”
“And I suppose we live in all eleven of them!” Now Leitha’s sarcasm flowed freely.
“No, only in some.”
“Now I’ve heard everything. Our ancestors come from a far and distant land in another parallel. Is that what you’re saying?”
“More or less.”
“Wow! Einstein. I bow to your superior knowledge.”
“Do you have a better explanation, Sis?” Hailjan asked sweetly, her eyes full of merriment.
“No. Not at the moment. But when I do have, it won’t be as crazy as this.”
“I must admit,” Mr. Ramsbottom chipped in to relieve the tension, “I have entertained Ethan’s idea myself.”
“You too?” Leitha asked surprised.
“It’s not as far-fetched as you might believe, Leitha,” Mr. Ramsbottom said kindly. “Especially if you take into account the riddle fixed to one of the shelves down here.”
“What riddle?” All three youngsters asked in unison.
“Come, I’ll show you,” Mr. Ramsbottom chuckled. Getting up he led the way down the bottom tier of bookcases. Halfway down, he stopped. “You will notice that we are directly underneath the spot where the poem is attached. Look.”
There, against the side of the bookcase, housed in an identical frame to the one on the second tier, even more skillfully illuminated than the poem, a riddle teasingly presented itself:
Ye who see these words
If thou art who thy should be
Thou shalt know
As above–so below
Time is ne’er what it seems
The earth and moon are twins
Behold the thunder
That split the two asunder
Do not believe what ye can see
If ye are who ye shalt be
Look deep into yer mind
The answer there ye’ll find
To solve this riddle
Play the fiddle
When tune meets tome
What’s solid turns to hollow
Open thy the book
A key ye’ll find if ye dare look
But do not rush or hasten
First ye have to listen
To the music in your mind
Play the fiddle and ye will find
Yet another secret tome
Hidden safely in yer home
From this tome’s sacred pages
Will sprout the secrets of the ages
If thou art who thou should be
Ye will know where to use the key
But only if thou art stout of heart
Wilt thy find the fortitude to start
The quest that thou were born to follow
Though be warned, ye may find much sorrow
Only time alone will tell
If thou art brave, thou wilt fell
The evil spreading though the Land
For Amharoch to make thy stand!
“Well, it’s Greek to me,” Hailjan said after she had read it. “A load of…no, I won’t say it.”
“Yep. I must admit. It’s as bad as the poem.” Ethan agreed. “No, it’s much worse!”
“Granted,” Mr. Ramsbottom said. “It has puzzled me for the last thirty years. It really does seem like a load of poppycock, doesn’t it?” He smiled, eyes twinkling. “Or does it?”
Only Leitha stood transfixed, a strange light in her eyes, a deep frown on her forehead. “I’ve read it before,” she said.
“In your dreams, Child,” Hailjan said astonished. “It’s impossible. You’ve never been in this library till we moved here. You could not have seen it. No way!”
“I think I know what it means.” Leitha said distractedly, unconnected to those around her. “Split the two, hear the thunder……on a night like tonight. Yes, on a night like tonight.”
“Sis, are you feeling okay?” Hailjan asked.
“I apologize, Ethan, you were right. I never thought it possible.”
“Apologize for what, Leitha?” Ethan looked at his cousin, open astonishment on his face.
“It must happen tonight,” Leitha mused, unaware of those around her. “The unusual weather, the poem and then the riddle. It’s all pre-ordained. I know what happened. Dear Lord, how could he have? It affected all of us. It’s so unfair!”
“When what seems solid turns to hollow…yes, it has to be here, that’s why this is called Amharoch. This is the starting point. I’m the one who it shalt be. It’s up to me.”
“Leitha, you’re starting to scare me,” Hailjan said alarmed. “Talk to us, tell us what’s going on.”
Deafening thunder and lightning rattled the windows, shaking the earth around the mansion, incandescent light flashing into the library.
“Thunder and lightning,” Leitha started walking back towards Mr. Ramsbottom’s office, the others following, intrigued. “As above, so below.” she muttered. “Of course, it’s so simple really. I must just find the key. The rest will be there waiting. As he set it up.”
“As who set what up?” Hailjan asked, concern written all over her face. “Leitha, what’s going on? You’re scaring me.”
“I think I’m beginning to understand,” Mr. Ramsbottom said, holding Hailjan by the arm. “I have always wondered when it would happen. Don’t be alarmed, child, we are about to learn the truth about your family.”