When his uncle returns after a long separation, Hans must protect him from his mother’s anger
I was five years old when it happened, but I remember it well. I wish I could forget it, but that is not to be. The story begins before I was born, when my ma was a girl. My ma had a brother, Ferdinand, who one day disappeared. Then my ma’s parents died and my ma married my da and had me, Hans. I was like any boy, except that I had magic.
One day when I was playing, a clear image of a man flashed through my head, hovered a moment, and flew away, leaving me wobbly and light-headed. I ran inside the cottage, calling.
My ma looked up from her knitting. Her dark eyes softened.
“My uncle’s at the gate. He’s wondering if his sister Thea is alive!” As always with the magic, the words tumbled out without me knowing what they meant.
My ma blanched. “Find your uncle, and bring him here.”
“Yes, Ma,” I said, turning, and dashed to the gate where our land ended, my sandals sinking into the sand, my tunic swishing around my legs. There I saw a man, cheeks hollow. I trotted up and said, “You’re Uncle Ferdinand—Ma’s brother?”
He reeled back. “You are Thea’s son?” he whispered.
“Yes.” I said. “I’m Hans.”
But then a vision came sweeping into my mind. I saw my ma, still knitting, but her face turned to the sky. And her face was terribly changed, her eyes were harsh and cold. She turned to my da and said, “I must kill my brother. He will pay for running when I needed him. He will feel my pain.”
I fell, shaking hard. My mind whirled so I felt sick, and I stared at the ground without seeing. My ma wanted to kill Uncle Ferdinand.
“Hans,” said my uncle urgently.
I looked up in terror. “Uncle,” I said, “You mustn’t come home. Ma is set on killing you, and she will not stop at anything.”
My uncle stared. “How do you know this?”
“I am magic. I saw a vision. Ma aims to kill you!” I began to cry.
My uncle covered his face for a while. “I must see if this is true,” he said finally.
“Don’t! Ma aims to kill you!”
“I must see my Thea,” my uncle said firmly, though his shoulders shook.
I followed him. Soon the hut was in sight. Gabriel the dog began to bark, and my da smiled weakly.
“Where is my Thea?” asked my uncle.
“Inside,” said my da nervously. “I’m Esteban. Ferdinand?”
“He.” My uncle shook my da’s hand and walked inside the hut. “Thea,” he said when he saw my ma in her chair. “My Thea.”
“I’m g-glad you’re back,” said Ma.
“And I’m glad you’re safe,” said my uncle.
I stared at them. Both were distant, but where Ma had fury in her eyes, Uncle Ferdinand had hurt.
“Come for supper. Esteban made soup,” said Ma. I caught a glint in her eyes.
“Uncle isn’t hungry,” I said quickly.
My uncle looked at me in surprise, but he interpreted my look and said shakily, “I’m sorry, my Thea.”
That supper was dismal. Uncle Ferdinand ate nothing and the rest of us next to nothing. Finally we were left alone.
“I can stay here no longer,” said my uncle quietly. “I’ll head for the city of Izak tonight.”
“I will too,” I said. As the words came out I knew I couldn’t stay with a ma so full of bitterness, even though it broke my heart.
My uncle’s eyes widened. “Your ma willn’t let you go. We’ll have to leave secretly.”
I knew I couldn’t stay with a ma so full of bitterness, even though it broke my heart.
“Tonight,” he replied.
Then I dashed for my bed and cried until I had no tears left.
Then I walked outside. I had to clear my head. I sat down on a sand dune. The brilliant colors of the setting sun filled my heart with warmth. For the first time since I saw the vision, I wasn’t thinking of my ma’s vengeance. But not for long.
I felt my ma’s hand on my shoulder and I stiffened.
My ma had eyes like mine, dark and solemn. But for the first time I saw bitterness in them. When I stilled at her touch, that bitterness flared up. Then just as quickly died away.
“Hans, you’re ill at ease.” Her eyes searched me, and though she had no magic I felt she might read my mind. For the first time, I was afraid of my ma. I leapt up. “It’s dark, Ma,” I lied. “I’m going inside.”
“It’s not dark,” said Ma. She sat down and stroked me, sorrow in her eyes. “Stay out with me. What’s wrong?”
“It is dark,” I insisted. “I’m scared!”
“No, you’re not. Have you had any vision?”
“The dark’s scary!”
“Why are you trembling?”
“Because I’m afraid of the dark!”
“Tell me if you have seen a vision!”
I couldn’t lie, not to my ma. “Yes.”
“I’m scared of the dark!”
I sat back down. “I’m sorry, Ma. What were you saying again?” I said, feigning confusion.
“TELL ME IF YOU’VE SEEN A VISION!”
“I—it is too dark!” I sobbed. Then I ran inside.
* * *
I’d just drifted to sleep when my uncle woke me. He had a sack of provisions slung over his shoulder.
“Hans. We must run,” he whispered.
I sat up, shivering. “Yes, Uncle.” I followed him outside. The night was dark. My uncle broke into a sprint, and I ran as fast as I could after him. Soon my chest ached, my legs screamed in protest. But I kept running. I had to. I had to keep running away from the only home I’d ever know.
Soon my uncle was ahead, and I couldn’t go further. My uncle slowed and said, “You know the area. Where’s Izak?”
He didn’t trust me? “Yes!” I said, incensed. “You say I know the area—I do!”
“Alright,” said my uncle. “But today you said last time you went to Izak it was morning, and you walked towards the sun. That’d be east. You know east and west, Hans?”
His gentle tone enraged me. Without me he’d be dead! And he treated me like a child? “Yes!” I screamed.
“Shush! Well, you know the area better.” He began to run, and I followed suit.
Hours later, dawn was hurling brilliant colors across the horizon and the land was unfamiliar. I was hungry, thirsty, and scared. Uncle Ferdinand had filled me with recklessness. Had I made a rash mistake? Was Izak really to the northeast? Were we lost?
“Well, Hans,” said my uncle. “We’re lost. We’d be in Izak if not for you.”
His words hurt. “I’d be safe at home if you hadn’t run from Ma years ago.”
“You’ve been fed lies.” My uncle sounded tired and cold. “I was lost. I was lost in the woods and couldn’t find my way back. Your mother was alone in the world? She found a husband and a home, even a son. I? I scraped a living for myself laboring day and night for a lord in the city of New Woodrow. No one loved me. No one loves me now. I thought escaping might bring me peace—maybe even happiness! I was wrong.”
My anger melted away. “You’re wrong! I love you. Let’s find Izak!”
His eyes softened in a smile, and then hardened again. “Hans!” he shouted.
He pushed me away. A yard away I saw a wolf, his eyes bloodthirsty, his lips drawn back. A growl rumbled deep in his throat.
My uncle grabbed a stick and struck at the wolf. But the wolf sprang forth.
“Uncle!” I screamed.
Uncle Ferdinand was knocked to the ground. A blur of blood, a sickening yell, and I crumpled.
* * *
It was a voice I had heard many times. My eyes fluttered.
“Ma,” I whispered.
“It’s me.” Her voice was choked with tears.
“Where’s Uncle Ferdinand?” I murmured. “He was brave. He saved me from the wolf. Is he hurt?”
“He’s hurt. We don’t know if he’ll live. But you aren’t hurt, dear. He saved you, didn’t he?”
“Yes. Without him—I’d be dead. Ma. You aren’t mad at him?”
“I’m not. He’s told me what happened. Oh, Hans, I’ve been so cruel!” Her voice cracked, and tears cascaded down her face. “Can you forgive me?”
For a moment I stared. She tried to kill my uncle. She poisoned his food and forced him to flee. But she was my ma. My ma I loved more than anyone or anything.
“Of course, Ma.”