So, you see, Angie, it all turns out wonderfully well. Hera discovers the silver stones at that fork in the stream—exactly the spot she had envisioned in her dream—and, well, she knows those enchanted stones can make her invisible.
Aha . . . so now she can sneak unnoticed into Fylon’s castle and free her sister, Daddy?
Exactly. So, good night, darling. Early wake-up tomorrow. It’s a Doctor Chowdhury day.
Oh no, not so fast, Daddy. We’re not finished.
But that’s the end of the adventure, Angie. Hera frees Sarga and together they defeat Fylon, recover the rainbow sepulcher, and return to Antheria safe and sound. Now sleep tight.
But, Daddy, we don’t know all that for sure. Something could go wrong. You’ll have to tell me exactly how this all happens.
Sweetheart, you’re half asleep already. I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Daddy, please. Even if I do fall asleep—which I won’t—I still need to know that Hera and Sarga get back to Antheria safely. So you have to tell it all. You must promise to tell me everything that happens to them, even if you think I’m sleeping and can’t hear you . . . because I can.
* * *
I thought you would never come out of there. Talk about spoiling a child. You never doted over Thad and Trinda like that.
She makes me promise to finish.
So, you sit there for fifteen minutes making up fairy tales for her even though she’s sound asleep? Boy, does she have you wrapped around her finger. When this is all over, we’re gonna have one hell of a spoiled brat on our hands.
But, Mandy, you’ve got to admire her persistence.
Kyle, you’re such a pushover.
That’s why you married me.
It’s your turn to take her tomorrow, you know.
Yeah, I know.
You’ll miss Thad’s game.
I’ll make it up to him.
* * *
When we first met, you told us that Angelica had a ninety-five percent chance of total recovery—that she was going to be a healthy child, that she would grow up, lead a normal life, and have kids of her own.
Kyle, what I told you was that Wilms’ is normally a curable disease and that children respond well to chemotherapy—better than adults as a matter of fact, but I also explained that there are variations of Wilms’. And since we’ve found anaplasia . . . well, in Angelica’s case, the presence of anaplasia affects our prognosis.
That goddamn anaplasia.
Our team wants you to consider an NCI trial being carried out with Anaplastic Wilms’ children at Johns Hopkins.
That’s in Baltimore.
You’re talking about a hospital three-hundred miles from here in a trial where half of the patients are being treated with a placebo?
We don’t do that with children, Kyle. Every patient gets treated, but the treatment is experimental, and there are obviously no guarantees. Particularly at this stage.
What stage is that?
The stage where a clinical trial is highly advisable.
* * *
So one day Hera and Sarga decide they want to climb to the top of Mount Bray and pay a visit to their good friend Queen Ru. This means a trek through the Ranthian forest and as everyone knows there is plenty of danger lurking in that forest.
Daddy, Hera is awfully clever and Sarga is very strong. I’m sure they will be just fine. And, besides, no one would dare harm them once they’ve entered the land of Queen Ru.
That’s true, Angie, but they still need to avoid the evil beings that inhabit the Ranthian forest. According to legend some of those creatures like nothing better than to eat children.
Are you trying to scare me, Daddy?
No, Angie, I just want you to know that the girls are taking a risk. They won’t be entirely safe.
Well, we’ll just have to see about that.
* * *
What did Chowdhury say?
He said some lab numbers have actually improved, but he always starts out with some mumble-jumble about improvement before getting to the bottom line. And the bottom line is things are not looking good at all.
As if we didn’t know that, Kyle. What’s going to happen now?
Chowdhury suggests we enroll Angie in a clinical trial that they’re starting up at Johns Hopkins.
What? Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore. Isn’t Chowdhury supposed to be one of the leading pediatric oncologists in the country?
Yeah, Mandy. And he thinks we should do this.
Oh my God. When?
Soon . . . now, I guess. There’s a lot of stuff to go through—counseling, tests, release forms, insurance issues.
Baltimore? She can’t be there alone. How are we—
Apparently they help you find an apartment close to the hospital, and all that. We will, of course, have to take turns staying with her.
What are the alternatives?
Nobody talked about alternatives.
* * *
Angie, can we take a break? Okay? I’ll tell you two stories tomorrow.
But why not tell me two stories now, Daddy?
Because, my dearest darling, longing for things makes them more worthwhile when they eventually happen—learning that is an important part of growing up.
Daddy, did you know that Marcia’s mother told her she could choose between getting a Barbie on her birthday or skip presents and wait until she’s seven, and then they’d give her a ViroPal?
No, I didn’t know that, but Marcia’s a clever girl. So I bet she chose to wait for that ViroPal that is worth so much more than a Barbie doll.
She’s clever all right. That’s why she took the Barbie, because she says when she turns seven they’re going to give her a ViroPal anyway. Learning how to outsmart parents must be an important part of growing up too.
Hmm, me thinks Marcia might be a bad influence on you.
C’mon, Daddy, just tell the adventure to the end.
* * *
Are we all moving to Baltimore?
No, Thad. Your mom and I will take turns keeping Angie company at the hospital.
What about Trinda and me?
Well, yeah, you’ll be visiting as well. On some weekends and holidays I guess. You’ve got school to go to.
How long is it going to take for her to get well?
We don’t know, son. But Johns Hopkins has the best care she could possibly get.
* * *
So Hera and Sarga start out from Antheria very early in the morning. There’s a lot of ground to cover. It’s a gorgeous day and they see no need to bring warm clothing. Sarga, of course, takes her sword.
They’ll need food for the trip, Daddy.
Right, but the first part of their journey takes them through Emeltania where all the fruits and vegetables of the earth grow abundantly and everyone’s welcome to help themselves.
And Emeltania offers take-out as well?
Ha ha. I guess, but onthis particular day the Emeltanians are having a festival with singing and dancing and the girls are invited to stay and join in.
What kind of singing and dancing?
Emeltania’s entertainment is hard to describe, honey. But by taking part in the festival the girls are delayed in reaching the edge of the Ranthian forest.
Oh-oh. Not good.
Exactly. Not good. By the time they get to the forest it’s late in the day. The shadows are as long as the trees are tall, and those trees grow so close together it’s almost impossible to find a path between them.
Do they stop, make camp, and wait until the following morning?
No, honey, they march right in.
* * *
Welcome to Baltimore. Have you been here before?
No, first time, but we’ve watched every single episode of The Wire. Like, twice.
Really? Anyway, you’ll find everything you’ll need here in the apartment. If not just call me. The Children’s Center is within walking distance. There is a nice coffee shop around the corner and I recommend the Save-a-Lot market on Caroline Street for food shopping. How old is your daughter?
She’s a beautiful girl.
Yes. Thank you. We know.
* * *
By now the sun has sunk into the sea of Ousterax and the moon sifting through the branches above them provides the only light to navigate by. Some friendly ravens lead them onto a path which, they said, will take them in the direction of Mount Bray. The path is strewn with rocks and is crooked—and apparently, a favorite resting place for large, slimey, olive-speckled toads. “Pas op je stap, alsjeblieft,” croak the toads whenever the girls come close to trampling on them.
Halfway into the forest depths, where the stench of rotting wood and putrid cilantro vines make it hard to breathe, they come upon an open glen. In the middle of this glen there is a single giant azalea tree. They decide this is a good place to take a rest.
Is the ground soft there, Daddy?
Yes, it’s mossy. But no sooner do they lay down than Hera feels a pinecone fall on her head.
But Daddy, do azalea trees have cones?
I’m getting to that, Angie. When Hera reaches for a cone to examine it, she discovers it’s an ugly creature with spiked teeth, purple eyes, curlicue antennas, and centipede legs.
Oh my god, Anaplacks!
Yes, and the Anaplack she’s holding, without further ado, takes a bite of Hera’s thumb.
* * *
Everyone here at the Center just loves Angelica. What an imagination she has. So bright and so good with the other children. You should hear the amazing stories she makes up for them. You must be the proudest of parents. Remember, if there is anything you need we’re here for you.
* * *
Yes, Angie, Anaplacks—the same tribe of Anaplacks that Queen Ru had banished from her queendom after they had joined forces with Wilhelmina the Wicked in the battle of Moreantania. This horde of Anaplacks has been hiding in ambush in the azalea tree and now they drop down from the tree’s branches and bite them with their vicious fangs. And though Hera and Sarga pull them off one by one, there are so many. . . it’s a losing battle.
But, Sarga’s sword, Daddy?
Useless in this situation, Angie. Soon the girls are completely covered in Anaplacks.
* * *
Dad, how sick is Angie?
Like maybe she won’t make it? Is that why we are all in Baltimore now?
We don’t think like that, Thad. Our Angie is a real fighter.
So how long are we going to be here?
She needs us a lot right now, Thad. I know you and Trinda are missing a bunch of stuff at home. You just have to stick this out. Okay?
Why did you think you had to say that?
I don’t know. Because—
Don’t ever do that again.
Okay. I’m sorry.
We love our sister, Dad.
* * *
This is really bad.
It’s okay, Angie. Kurmibear is going to come and rescue them.
Don’t you remember the sorcerer Kurmi?
Yeah, but Kurmi is a leprechaun—not a bear, Daddy.
Well, he has been turned into a bear by Wilhelmina the Wicked and now he goes by the name Kurmibear.
He’s retained much of his magic, though not enough to turn himself back into a leprechaun. And actually he is learning to enjoy the advantages of beardom. When he first hears the girls’ screams he is busy treating himself to a late-night snack of delicious bumble bee honey in a nearby thicket.
* * *
You’re late, Kyle.
Sorry. Any developments?
No, but I was just in there with her and she was wide awake and alert as could be. I can’t believe . . .
Okay, it’s my turn. Go to the apartment and get some rest.
* * *
When Kurmibear hears Hera and Sarga screaming, he runs to the glen to find both of them writhing on the ground, covered in Anaplacks, with Sarga’s sword laying useless by her side.
In a frenzy, Kurmibear begins pulling Anaplacks off their bodies, but as fast as he can pull off one of those little monsters and hurl it into the woods, two more dive from the tree’s branches to take its place. And now they are attacking Kurmibear as well.
Daddy, I’m so tired.
We can take a break. I’ll just sit here quietly.
No, Daddy. Keep going.
* * *
Mrs. Francis, there have been some new developments. We’ve been trying to call you. Can you come to the hospital right away?
I need to pick up the kids. They’re downstairs in a coffee shop. Is this an emergency?
Yes, Mrs. Francis. I’m afraid it is.
* * *
Kurmibear realizes the situation is hopeless. By becoming a bear he has lost much of the quick thinking that comes naturally to a leprechaun, yet something tells him that deep down in his bear brain there is a magic formula—a formula that when spoken can turn the cruel and ugly Anaplacks into harmless flowers. If only he could remember that formula.
Mr. Francis, your daughter can’t hear you.
That’s all right, nurse. Angie and I have a pact. I always finish a story even if she’s fallen asleep.
She’s not sleeping, Mr. Francis.
What do you mean?
What’s over? Where’s my family?
We called. They’re on their way.
Why aren’t they here now? Why didn’t you call them earlier?
Angelica’s decline accelerated. We are so very sorry.
Nurse, would you mind leaving the room?
It’s okay. Please.
* * *
Guluabī kārano . . . no . . . Gulābī kārasano . . . not that either . . . wait – Gulābī kāranēśana baṇō!
Yes! That’s it. Kurmibear has finally got the formula right and instantly every single Anaplack becomes a beautiful carnation. Even the Anaplacks still in the tree float peacefully down to earth in the form of luscious pink flowers.
Hera and Sarga look up in surprise, not believing what has just happened. They wonder who this strange bear is who has come to their rescue with magical powers. But they are badly wounded and there is no time for explanations. Kurmibear has to work fast.
Fortunately there is a Rosewood bush at the edge of the glen. Kurmibear tears up its roots and, using only his bear-bare teeth, extracts the sap and applies it to the girls’ wounds . . . chanting the correct magical words of course.
And, my dear, sweet, beloved daughter, before you know it, Hera and Sarga’s wounds begin to heal. Kurmibear tells them who he really is and how he was turned into a bear. After hearing his story, the girls are sure that if he joins them on their visit to Queen Ru, she will break Wilhelmina the Wicked’s terrible spell, and transform him back into a leprechaun.
Kurmibear agrees gladly, but he says it is best they rest where they are until daylight, for who knows what other critters and beasts might be afoot.
And so, my darling, the girls curl up together in the soft furry arms of Kurmibear and sleep more soundly than they ever have before. Safe and secure under his watchful gaze they sleep until the first rays of sunlight break through the forest trees and warm their sweet, beautiful faces.
After a delicious breakfast of blueberries and figs, Hera, Sarga and Kurmibear resolutely march off toward Mount Bray and the Queendom of Ru.
Sleep tight, Angie.