Balkan Anti-Hogwarts: Prologue

Georgetta looked at her sleeping granddaughter and sighed. Raluca was still small, but she was a healthy baby, cheerful and alert. She took after Georgetta’s late husband, she thought, all dark skin and dimples. It was late and the child was still awake, looking up at her with her mother’s bright blue eyes. Normally she would pick her up and rock her, but that night was not a normal night. It was the third night of the little girl’s life and the Ursitoare, the Fates, were to stop by and determine the course of her life. It was bad luck for someone so near death as she was to touch the baby before the Fates made the judging. She regarded the baby in silence.

The baby turned her head away from her grandmother, to the door of the house. Georgetta followed her look, but she could see nothing but the shadows the candles made in the dark. She looked at the cakes she and her son-in-law had spent the morning baking, offerings to ensure the goodwill of the Ursitoare. That was supposed to be her sole contribution to the custom but when the godmother, a modern woman, of modern parents called the whole thing a mere superstition and refused to participate Georgetta took up the part gladly. She had been a godmother herself when she was younger, and had stayed up over cradles and heard the whispers that the night brought. And if she was good enough to do it for strangers, she’d be good enough for her own little Raluca, their winter child.

The night grew darker and Raluca wouldn’t sleep, or cry, or even move. She looked at the door, and the table with its candles and offerings and was quiet. Time seemed to pass slowly, seconds dragging out into minutes. Georgetta didn’t know if an hour or three minutes had passed when she heard the first voice speak, softly, like the wind rustling through the curtains.

“Her kisses will taste of nothing but iron and blood,” said the first of the Ursitoare. “I have no time for her.”

Georgetta heard nothing else for a while, and grew scared, but as the clock chimed the hour another voice spoke, steady and monotonous like the ticks of seconds passing by.

“Her hands will build nothing; I have no love for her.”

Again, the room fell quiet. Now was the part Georgetta dreaded, the voice of the Death Lady, the news that nobody ever wanted to hear. She stood still, and quiet, as the cold wind rattled through the windows. In the cries of a frozen world she heard the third voice.

“Her eyes will be sharp, and her shadow light,” rattled the voice and the room seemed to grow even colder in the sound of it. Raluca let a small cry from her cradle but was otherwise tired and Georgetta fought the urge to reach out and cover her granddaughter, shield her from the cold. “By her lips of blood and her hands of stone, I will stay close to her.”

The silence that followed was broken almost at once by Raluca’s cries, and Georgetta opened her eyes and picked her up quickly, rocking her softly back and forth. Under the care of her grandma Raluca closed her eyes, and feel asleep. Georgetta looked at the table with the offerings, as she walked back inside with the baby in her arms. Two of the cakes were untouched, but the third one was missing, and the candle next to it had gone out with the wind.

She tried not to think about what any of that meant. She was an old lady, after all, and her ears were failing her.

In the morning, at the breakfast table, she would talk about Raluca’s good fortune, and long years. She would watch her daughter smile and hold her baby close, and she would make herself believe every lie that she told.

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