My mother's very superstitious, everyone knows it. She believes that the direction of child's birth can influence the child's character and fate. The direction she loves most is East – she's East-born herself. My poor little sister Elise, who died long ago, was her favorite child and she was East-born.
I'm South-born, that's why my name starts with S. I'm a little stubborn and I can appear to be hot-tempered sometimes. But nevertheless South is a nice direction, as Mom says. Mom has been telling me about her superstitions since my birth.
Our large family has always lived under the laws of different ridiculous superstitions. I tried to follow these laws, but it was terrible. Mom was always instructing me:
"Don't sing while cooking…"
"Try not to encounter North-born people…"
"Don't give your newborn brother Neddy fur boots as the first gift. I don't want him to be away from home when he grows up…"
I tried to prove that these superstitions were stupid. Mom wouldn't listen. I had to live, pretending to believe in that stuff, and dreaming about escaping it.
Meanwhile, I grew up, and our family was getting desperately poor. Dad's mapmaking business brought no money. We had enormous debts, we barely had anything to eat. Mom, my sisters and I were working hard to feed the others and to fix our old clothes. I was hoping that the times would somehow change. For example, Dad's family would help us.
I didn't lose hope even when our farmland was sold. The new owner would probably send us away, we thought.
"But maybe he'd allow us to live here," I said to my youngest sister Rose.
"I hope so," she sighed.
And then, when I was twenty-two, I fell sick with influenza. How I hated it! My whole family couldn't move to another house just because I was sick! The money, the last few coins we still had, was being spent on medicines – while it could be used to buy some farmland...
I was dying, and I didn't want to live. I was a useless burden to Mom and Dad, I wasn't even helping them with all those troubles! The influenza got worse, I had a terrible fever and sometimes I was even raving. I can't remember all this horror, thank goodness.
When that mysterious White Bear appeared and promised us happiness and my health in exchange for Rose going with him, I wanted to stop my sister. "Poor girl!" I thought. "She's going to die for nothing. I don't want to believe some wild animals. If the Bear wants a human's life, he can take mine – I'm dying anyway."
Rose went with the White Bear. She had always been the most stubborn one in the family. Looking back, I see that it was the right choice. She didn't die, moreover, she found happiness for herself and for us.
The day after Rose left us, the owner of our farmland came to visit us. Harald Soren. The man our family learned to hate because he was probably going to throw us out of our home. When I heard his kind voice greeting my father and Neddy, I felt that everything would finally be all right.
Soren didn't take our only house away. Quite the contrary, he offered to help my father restoring his mapmaking business. He gave us money and called a good doctor for me. I couldn't believe! It was a miracle! I still had a bad fever, so I can't remember the doctor's visit and what the doctor said. The only thing I remember is Soren's warm, soft voice:
"Don't worry, Miss. You'll get better very soon. This world isn't so bad, and it can bring pleasant surprises. Your sickness isn't lethal."
I recovered in less than two weeks. Our life was getting better and better every day. Dad's mapmaking brought us lots of money. Dad and Soren were traveling a lot (Dad hoped to find our poor Rose). I missed them both. Soren quickly became a good friend to our family. He often came for visits to see if I was getting better, and he befriended everyone in our household.
In fact, I began to think that my friendship with Harald Soren was slowly growing into a much stronger feeling… He was kind, he cared about us like if we were his own relatives, he was clever and enthusiastic, and I soon found out that his interests were the same as mine – he liked books, traveling and science. When he and Dad traveled, I missed him terribly. I confessed it to my younger sister Sonja. She was surprised:
"Sara, I can't believe it! Do you really love Mr. Soren? He's twenty years older and…"
"I don't care," I said. "After everything he did for our family, after all his kindness and generosity – Harald is the man of my dreams."
"But who am I?" I thought later. "I'm his colleague's daughter, nothing more." I was sure Harald didn't love me back. I tried to forget my feeling, but it wasn't so easy!
When Harald and Dad were traveling, Rose once came for visit – alive and well! She told us about her life in an enchanted castle, about the White Bear who didn't harm her at all, about some servants of hers that didn't look like humans. She didn't return to us forever, as she said. It was a short visit – but I was so happy! My brave little sister was alive; she didn't give her live in exchange for my health!..
Soon after Rose left us, Harald and Dad returned. Dad was furious that we let Rose go:
"How could you let her return to the White Bear?" he asked bitterly. We assured him that she was safe and that it had been her own choice.
Even with all the knowledge about Rose being alive and safe, I was immensely worried about her. In two months or so we received a letter from her. She did some foolish thing and she had to go to a land "that lies east of the sun, west of the moon".
Neddy read the letter aloud, and I felt panic rising in my heart. I ran outside, sobbing. How I wished I could find my sister and help her! I knew. Something terrible had happened. Rose was alone in some evil world – magic world, I believed! A land east of the sun, west of the moon is surely a land of magic. She's alone there, and we can't even help her because we don't know where exactly she is!
I cried and cried for a long time. Maybe Mom or Neddy or Dad tried to comfort me – I don't know. My sister was lost. Maybe forever. Nothing else mattered.
Suddenly, I heard the familiar soft voice from behind me:
"Oh Sara, what happened?"
Harald. I turned to him. He didn't know about Rose and the White Bear – he thought Rose was living with our relatives. It was time for Harald to know the truth. I told him everything, from the White Bear to the letter we had just received.
"It appears that your sister is very strong and determined," Harald said after I finished. "If she managed to get through all your troubles in the past, she'll find the land she's searching for. I've met a few such people in my life. They can survive everything, problems and enemies can't defeat their spirit. According to your story, Rose is one of these people. Don't worry, Sara. She's going to return alive and well again, I believe in it."
I faintly smiled through tears. Harald was right. Rose could never be defeated.
"Sara," Harald said after a long silence. "Rose must be very happy to have such a caring sister."
"From the first time I saw you, Sara - you were badly sick back then - I was impressed by your character. When you were raving in your fever, you were willing to give your life away for the family's sake. When you recovered, you thanked me for all I did to your family, not just for you. You have a soft, loving heart. Also you're clever and quick-minded, you're the most wonderful person I've ever met in my life. Sara, I... I love you. Will you marry me?"
Harald Soren loves me... It was too good to be real. I wished to speak to him about my love to him, but my voice seemed to disappear. I manage to breath out a "yes", blushing and smiling widely. Harald came closer and kissed my cheek.
"Everything will turn out all right," he whispered. "Don't worry, love." On that moment, my worries faded away. Harald and I loved each other, Rose was going to return as soon as possible, and I saw the future full of happiness and light.
A week after my engagement, Harald, Dad and Neddy sailed north, in the direction of Greenland, searching for Rose. Mom was awfully worried about Harald being possibly North-born, so she feared he'd perish in the sea.
Not at all. In the spring, the ship returned. Harald was back, with Dad, Neddy - and Rose! Rose suffered lots of weird adventures. She went to the land where trolls lived, she defeated the Troll Queen and rescued the trolls' slaves. The White Bear turned out to be a young French prince, named Charles, he was put under a spell. He was a very nice man, and it was clear that he loved Rose. It was just like in fairy tales: Rose saved him from the Troll Queen, and now they were going to marry! My little sister was as happy as myself, and she was finally back from the magic lands.
Soon I married Harald. Now we live together in Oslo, and have a daughter called Nyamh - Nyamh is Rose's first name. I've found my happiness. It doesn't matter that my husband is North-born and I'm South-born. Directions mean nothing if you love each other, even Mom admits it now.