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The Tourmaline

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The Tourmaline

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Author: Paul Park
Publisher: Tor, 2006
Series: A Princess of Roumania: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Teenager Miranda Popescu is at the fulcrum of a deadly political and diplomatic battle between conjurers in an alternate fantasy world where "Roumania" is a leading European power. Miranda was hidden by her aunt in our world. An American couple adopted and raised her in their quiet Massachusetts college town, but she had been translated by magic back to her own world, and is at large, five years in the future.

The mad Baroness Ceaucescu in Bucharest, and the sinister alchemist, the Elector of Ratisbon, who holds her true mother prisoner in Germany, are her enemies. This is the story of how Miranda -- separated from her two best friends, Peter and Andromeda, who have been left behind in the forests of an alternate America -- begins to grow into her own personality. And how Peter and Andromeda are shockingly changed in the process of making their way to Roumania to find Miranda again.


Chapter One

The Hoosick River

All afternoon they searched the riverbank. Peter went a mile in both directions, tramping through the high reeds next to the water. At intervals he called Miranda's name.

It was a bright, clear day. The reeds were golden in the winter sunlight, which dazzled him and blinded him when he stopped to catch his breath. But the light had no warmth in it. Past three, the shallow water in the hummocks and the roots were covered with a veiny skin of ice. Peter's feet were numb inside his running shoes. Hoarse and discouraged, he went back to the boat to search for woolen gloves.

Andromeda was no help. Since her transformation, she'd never been a barking kind of dog. She'd scarcely made a sound except for a breathless wheezing almost like speech. But now she ran in circles on the higher ground, yelping and howling. Sometimes she had her nose down, but there was nothing methodical in the way she sniffed and searched. She might just as well have chased her tail.

How much was left of her? Peter asked himself. Packed in her dog's narrow skull, how much was left of the girl he'd known? Raevsky—the old man—was better, more effective. He kept to the place in the high pines where they'd last seen Miranda, before she'd faded and vanished into the air. He went outward from the clearing in a spiral, his pistol in his hand.

In the morning he'd been stiff and lame, and in the afternoon he still moved slowly. He limped down the steep bank to meet Peter at the boat.

Six hours ago they'd pulled out of the current and stopped at this curved, sandy shore. Lured by—what? Peter had seen someone he thought he recognized, a woman in a long skirt. She'd called to them from the high ground. Then she'd come to greet them as they brought the boat to shore.

At that moment all of them had been waylaid by something separate, some illusion from the past. Miranda didn't even glance at the woman, the Condesa de Rougemont in her embroidered vest. She didn't wait for the boat to come to land. She'd thrown down her paddle and stepped out into the shallow water. She'd scrambled up the slope and disappeared into the woods and that was that.

What was she looking for in this empty forest, on this empty river? Now she was gone, and Peter stood with his hands in his pockets where Raevsky had drawn the boat onto the pebbles. Above him somewhere, Andromeda yipped and wailed.

"No reason to seek more," said Captain Raevsky with his sibilant Roumanian accent. His gun was in his pocket and he blew on his hands. He moved his weight from one boot to the other, because of the cold or because his feet were sore. "Now we make camping."

Peter was relieved to hear him say so. Stamping though the frozen reeds, Peter had already half-convinced himself it made more sense to leave. They must be close to where the Hoosick River joined the Hudson near Mechanicville. He remembered the distances from home. He and his parents had driven up to Saratoga more than once. But in this world there was no town before Albany, and even Albany was a tiny place with just a few thousand souls, as Raevsky called them. But there'd be food in Albany. Food was what they didn't have, except for some stale biscuits.

They could put in a couple of more hours on the river. Miranda had left them. There was no reason to stay. Yet when he saw Raevsky reach into the flat-bottomed boat and pull out one of the big canvas bags, Peter felt a shudder in his body that was like hope. With another part of his mind he told himself he never wanted to leave this Godforsaken shore. So he dragged the tent from the pirogue and then carried it up the slope to a flat place in the golden grass, while Raevsky pulled dead branches from the trees. Andromeda was nowhere to be seen.

In the morning on this trampled rise above the river, he had seen a woman or woman's ghost, dressed in a long skirt and embroidered vest. Even a name had come to him—Inez de Rougemont. Now all that seemed dreamlike and unreal, except for the scratches on his forearms, the bites on his shoulders where the woman had attacked him, diverted him, prevented him from following Miranda. Then she'd dissolved and disappeared just as Miranda had—Peter laid out the stiff canvas and slid the stakes into the sandy ground. Because the wind was stronger now, he found some rocks for the corners. It was a military pup tent. When it was up, he brought the blankets and sleeping bags from the boat. Of them, at least, there was no lack.

These were all supplies from Raevsky's journey up the river. He'd come from Roumania to kidnap Miranda for some woman named Ceausescu—Peter was unsure of the details. But in a series of catastrophes his men had all been lost, leaving blankets enough for six or seven, but food for none.

Raevsky made a fire-ring of river stones and dragged some logs to sit on. He built up a big fire and was heating water in a tin pot. Now he sat pulling off his boots, crooning over his damaged feet, which Peter could see were mottled and discolored in some places. With his clasp knife, Raevsky scraped away some skin.

He ripped a shirt to make clean bandages, which he smeared with ointment from a jar. Grimacing, he slid his feet into his woolen socks again. Squatting among the rocks, he pounded up some biscuits in a pot, then softened them with boiling water.

He was in his fifties. Under his knit cap his hair was gray. And his beard was rough and grizzled over his blotched, uneven cheeks. When he smiled, as now, holding out a bowl of sludge and a tin cup of ouzo, Peter could see his upper teeth were missing on one side.

"So. Eat. In the morning, then we see."

"I'll stay here," Peter said impulsively, idiotically.

Raevsky shrugged. "Is nothing. Why? She is not here."

Peter sat with his warm biscuits in his wooden bowl. Off in the woods, Andromeda yowled and was silent.

Raevsky stared at him. His eyebrows were coarse, his eyes sunken and bright. "What you saw?" he asked, finally.

Peter shrugged. It sounded stupid to say. "There was a woman. She called out to me. Rougemont or something—she was dressed, I don't know, like a Gypsy. Now I can't even remember. Look," he said. He put down his cup and bowl, then held up his hands. They were scabbed and torn.

"And so? I did not see this Gypsy."

Now it was getting dark. The sun was down behind the trees on the far bank.

"So?" Peter said.

Raevsky blew his nose on his fingers. Then he wiped them on his trousers. "When you saw Miss Popescu . . ."

He spat into the fire. In a moment he went on. "You smell burning smell? Fire burning and black powder? Then something, some ordure, and so? Murdarie—garbage?"

He sniffed to clear his nose again. "Is telling you, this murdarie of conjuring. Is like a conjure trick—no woman there. Me, I saw blackness, blindness, then you and the dog, fighting with nothing, only a spirit or shadow. Then Miss Popescu, all alone. Then nothing. She is gone."

"Yes," Peter muttered.

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Park


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