by Andrea Marinucci Foa and Manuela Leoni
Translation by Morgana Marinucci
The young woman slide slowly, sitting down on the ground. Long, black, messy hair fell across her pale and tense face.
«Estela!» called the bald old man. He wielded a rifle and wore a green scarf around the neck.
She didn’t answer, but looked exhausted at him.
«It’s closed?» pressed the man, in french.
Estela nodded briefly. Then he reached out for help.
The frenchman held her hand. It was small and warm. Her eyes were dark as the night and shined of determination. With a jerk he yanked the spanish woman to her feet.
«Everything is alright» the girl assured.
«I covered you with the others but this has to be the last group!» The man’s voice was hard as steel «Understood?»
The other guides, two gloomy maquisards, were leading the fugitives towards the old path that ventured deep into the woods. Autumn had painted the beeches in yellow and red, creating an explosion of colours and shades.
«This road should have been closed in ’38» added the old man.
«It’s my responsibility, Troadec», she said briefly. She raised her eyes to the sky, looking thoughtfully at the grey clouds. She cursed in spanish and walked fast towards the group, not caring if the old man was following.
She walked ahead of the refugees and stopped them. Thirty two people, as many as she could put together for that trip across the Pyrenees, eight families and some unarmed fugitives. And a child, alone. She crouched down and gestured for him to come closer. «What’s your name?»
«Pierre, madam», the child said, slightly bowing his head. He wore a wool hat and was looking at her with big brown eyes.
«And how old are you, Pierre?»
«Five, six in June, madam.»
Estela sighed. «Where do you come from?»
She turned around until her eyes met Troadec who was leaning against a tree, a cigarette between his fingers.
«You brought him here?»
«Those of Paimpont left him in my care», the old man answered shrugging. «But I’m not a damn nanny!»
She let her eyes roam through the families and suddenly came to a decision: a couple still young with a little girl not older than two or three, fair golden braids. She took Pierre’s hand and led him to the woman.
«Can you keep him safe?»
She nodded. Her fair hair were cut at shoulder length, her face tired from the long escape. She passed the child to her husband and took the boy’s hand.
Estela smiled softly, a silent thanks. Then she looked at the girl with golden hair.
«I’m sorry, honey», she said sadly, taking off the golden necklace she had around her neck. She looked for a second at the six pointed star. «It’s safer to leave it behind.»
She made a little hole with her boot and trusted the necklace into it, covering the bolthole with a large flat rock.
«We’re not safe yet», she said aloud to the refugees. «And this is a dangerous place: stick together and never wander away alone!»
«You better move», said one of the maquisard, a men in his fifties with a basque and a german gun.
«Let’s wait until the sky is clear, Marc», said Estela.
«No, you move now», Troadec ordered, gesturing at the two maquisard. «The three of us will stay in rearguard.»
«There’s nothing behind us», the woman complained, looking slightly perplexed. «They can’t follow us here.»
Estela looked at him concerned. «What have you done?»
Troadec took a long puff of smoke and looked at her with half-lidded eyes. «They will follow», he said again. «And we will set an old score.»
«You’ve re-opened the passage, you old fool?»
Troadec shook his head. «Estela, cut it short and lead this people away.»
«Without knowing who’ll come after us and how? You better be joking.», she complained.
«We’ve been betrayed», the old man admitted, a couple of seconds later. «Some of us passed on the nazi’s side. Between them some must know how to pass through the Veil».
«What? But that’s crazy! It shouldn’t have happened, for gods’ sake!»
«It shouldn’t but it has. We’re already fighting in Paimpont and Carnac, what’s one place more?»
Estela grimaced. «It’s a trap! A bloody trap! You used me, you used us all to bring out the traitor!»
«We had no choice», Troadec admitted. «He doesn’t have to leave this place alive, he must be stopped before he causes even worse damage.»
The woman’s hand hovered on the gun strapped to her belt. «If they’re following us, they’ll wait on the other side! You condemned us to death, you bastard!»
«All that matters is to stop him, right here and now. What do you want to do, shoot me? This is a war and we need to fight, kill and be ready to die, if that’s the price. Take this people away, little girl, take them to the center of the wood were the power of the Sidhe is stronger.»
Estela cursed. «This is not the end, Troadec!»
The woman looked at the fugitives who were sitting on the ground, trying to take a breath and to regain their strength. Some of them were old, hungry, tired, scared and stunned. They wore maquis clothes and had strong shoes, at least. Some of them looked around, trying to cope with the situation, dazzled. Jews, family of maquisard, a lot of children.
Troadec’s trap bait.
«Come on, we need to go deeper into the forest!» she said, helping the old to their feet and trying to shake those who surrendered to confusion.
She led them in to the woods, on the old path, keeping the group tight and making sure no one was left behind. She took the pendant out of the coat, putting it right on sight, the silver of the deer man shining dim in the shadows.
The afternoon before Samhain: the best time to bring the survivors behind the Veil and back. If she could have run the operation without butting in they would have probably made it.
She stopped only when she heard shooting far away, the wind roaring through the trees. She cursed under her breath. They were too close to the treeline: they would never make it! She led the group to the foot of an hill and found a little clearing to hide the fugitives.
«Stay here, stay safe.» she commanded.
«Were are you going, maquisard?» asked the blonde woman who looked after Pierre. She kept his hand while hugging tight her daughter. Her husband kept close to her, protective.
Estela shrugged. «I’m going to make sure they can’t reach us. I’ll come back soon and then we will go.»
She passed her gun to the man. «Take it. Not that you can do a lot with a single weapon if they find you, but you know how things end up with nazis, don’t you?»
«Yes. Surrender is as good as a death sentence.» he answered, taking the gun. «If they’ll find us, I’ll do my best.»
Estela ran away, the Faery wind howling through the forest. She closed her eyes, neglecting the gunshots and looking for the other half of her spirit, the one she could free only beyond the Veil. The spirit of the wolf living in her answered the call.
The big black wolf who once was Estela ran through the woods, fast and silent as a shadow in the half-light. Free, jubilant and longing for blood and death.
She passed through the grey soldiers that were shooting at the illusions the Sidhe made to distract them, yelling words she no longer understood. She found her enemy and barely kept herself from growling.
He was a man past his fifties, she had never seen him before but he certainly was one of them. Had been one of them. Hidden in the Faery wind Estela didn’t give him a chance to react.
The wolf jumped and her jaws clenched the man’s throat. Her weight throw him on the ground. His hand tried to break him free from Estela’s hold, but with no avail. Estela ripped his throat open, stripping him of life in a couple of fierce, cruel heartbeats.
His identity would have remained a mystery, but at least he would have never ever again brought assassins in to the Faery’s land.
Troadec’s scent called her. Following it Estela reached the maquisard: he was sitting against the trunk of a beech, in a pool of blood.
After a second of hesitation she let the wolf spirit depart. The old man was still breathing, even if he was severely wounded. Too severely.
When he saw her he tried to get up.
«Stay put, I want to look at those wounds.»
«It’s not a nice sight», he stopped her. «Henri and Marc are dead.»
They were the only ones left to protect the fugitives. «I thought so. The Faery are distracting the nazis, but we don’t have much time.»
«And the traitor?»
«Dead», she assured. «Now get up, I’m gonna stop the bleeding.»
«I can recognize a deadly wound, girl! When I leave I don’t even have to pass through the Veil. Not bad, eh?»
He coughed twice. Blood dripped from his lips, ticking on the jacket. «The others… take them to safety», he whispered.
«There is no safety at the end of the road, old man», answered Estela with a sigh.
«Open another one.» Troadec hardly breathed.
«Do I look like Merlin to you?»
«There is no other way», he explained softly. «Now go: they’re coming.»
«You’re coming with me.» She hesitated.
Troadec smiled. He raised an hand: he kept a german grenade. «Go away. I still have a gift for those bastards.»
Estela nodded sadly.
«Go away.» he said again.
She stood up and ran through the woods, as fast as she could, toward the fugitives. A loud explosion told her that Troadec had put his plan to effect. She had no time to feel sad, and in those years she already shred all her tears. Two fast flashes lighted the forest, the thunders strong and deafening. The Sidhe. She had to move before the Faery’s wrath became so strong that every intruder would be wiped out without distinction.
Pierre was waiting under a larch, but when the woman came closer the child took a step back. Estela saw doubt shining in his eyes and understood, Pierre knew.
«Don’t be afraid, it’s still me.»
«Are you a lady or a wolf?» he asked. His voice was soft: he had decided to keep that among them. He looked at her, thinking. Somewhere he had lost his wool hat.
She smiled, gently. «Can’t I be both?»
«Then you’re a ladywolf», he concluded with philosophy.
Estela ruffled his hair. «Good boy. Now I have to take you to the center of the woods. You go with the lady with the blonde child and stay with them.»
She turned to the group of fugitives. The wind scared them, but for the time being the fury of the Sidhe spared them hallucinations.
«Ladywolf?» Pierre pulled her jacket.
Estela looked down at him. «What it is, now?»
The brown eyes of the child were now lighter, a soft amber colour. «The lady of the wood has told me that everything will be alright.»
«The lady….» Estela’s eyes went wide with surprise, looking around the beeches and larches. «When did she spoke to you?»
«A little while ago. But she told me everything will be alright», Pierre said again, nervous from the tension he was sensing.
«Did she said anything else?»
«Not to be afraid, and to think of the sea, like I was on a cliff with a castle.»
Estela looked at him with narrowed eyes. «It’s impossible! We’re not on the other side yet!»
«The bad men can’t go there.» Pierre said.
«They shouldn’t be here either», the woman whispered quietly. «We’re taking our war into the Faery’s lands!»
The image came unexpected. The Lady, spirit of earth and Queen of the Sidhe, didn’t have a face as we intend, she was one with the woods.
We are not afraid of war, seanchaidhe. Help the child: go through the Veil now, before the wrath of the Everlasting Lands will fall upon your pursuers.
Estela shook her head.
We can’t go through, we can’t open a path that is not already here.
The Lady laughed. Or that was the feeling she had.
He can take you to safety, but he is so young! You have to help him.
Estela looked at Pierre as she had never saw him. «Who are you?»
The child met her eyes. «It’s always me, Pierre.»
The woman put the silver pendant with the deer man around the child’s neck. «Focus, now. This pendant is magic and it’ll help you to do what the lady of the woods expects, Pierre.»
Pierre’s eyes went wide. «It’s magic?»
«Very magic», she answered, serious. «Listen, Pierre. We are the Seanchaidhthe, we are the only one who can save this people. Give me your hand and breath deeply: we’ll look together at the Lady’s vision and take them to safety.»
Pierre nodded confused, but he gripped hard her hand.
Sweetsalt air. A seagull flying high in the dark sky, crying out loud. The ocean was calm and shone in the sunlight, now turning red, low over the horizon. The cliff and the castle’s walls.
Estela clenched her teeth and struggled to get up. She didn’t ever remembered falling to her knees. Pierre looked at her with a pale face, but strong on his feet. Right ahead Tintagel’s cliff, one thousand miles away and as close as a blink.
The fugitives went through the woods to the cliff, gathering under a crumbling wall. Estela lead Pierre to the others, the child’s hand still in her grip. She stayed with them, as confusion slowly gave way to the awareness of being finally safe.
«What you saw today is difficult to explain. Would someone ask, you’ve come here through a smuggler’s vessel, in the dark. You were too tired and confused to understand the course you took.»
Pierre looked at her sadly with his hazel eyes. «You’re not staying with us, ladywolf.» It wasn’t a question.
Estela smiled. «I have to go back to my little child, she’s waiting at home. But when the war will be over I’ll see you again. I promise.»
Pierre took the pendant to slip it off.
She smiled again. «Keep it, so that you’ll remember what you did today.»
«But don’t you need its magic?»
The woman ruffled his hair. «I told you a small lie, Pierre. Magic is never in places or things. Magic only lives in people.»
©2014 by Andrea Marinucci Foa e Manuela Leoni. All rights reserved.
«The Threshold of Hope» is a self-standing short story from the cycle of Jacques Korrigan. Seanchaidhthe (from 1948 on is spelled seanchaithe, but the tale is set during WW2) are, in real life, historians and taletellers. The word could be translated as «keepers of traditions», and in the milieu of the tale, these traditions are not those of Ireland, but something of a very peculiar nature. Sidhe are the Faery Folk. The gaelic word is used for fairies, gnomes, goblins and various spirits. According to tradition, the worlds of men and spirits get closer to the point of touching during Samhain, an ancient celtic holiday changed into Halloween/All Saints Eve by Christianity.
This is a tale of pure fiction, but during the Nazi occupation of France, Pyrenees were actually crossed by fugitives, many of them Jews, heading for Spain and Portugal and for the other side of Atlantic. They were often guided by anti-fascists spanish fighters that had sought shelter in France some year earlier. In History, their bravery and their humanity was the only magic that came to save so many innocent lives. An outstanding magic. To those brave women and men this tale is gratefully dedicated.