The Ice People 26 - The Secret - Margit Sandemo - E-Book

The Ice People 26 - The Secret E-Book

Margit Sandemo

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Beschreibung

As a child, Eskil Lind had heard about the house in Eldafjord and the incredible treasure that was said to be hidden there. He had dreamed of that treasure ever since, and when he grew up he journeyed to find it. When he came to Eldafjord, he met greed, evil and a very unhappy woman with a critically ill son. He also heard that everyone who had searched for the treasure had suffered a sudden and cruel death … The Legend of the Ice People series has already captivated over 45 million readers across the world. The story of the Ice People is a moving legend of love and supernatural powers 'Margit Sandemo is, simply, quite wonderful.' - The Guardian 'Full of convincing characters, well estabished in time and place, and enlightening ... will get your eyes popping, and quite possibly groins twitching ... these are graphic novels without pictures ... I want to know what happens next.' - The Times 'A mixure of myth and legend interwoven with historical events, this is imaginative creation that involves the reader from the first page to the last.' - Historical Novels Review 'Loved by the masses, the prolific Margit Sandemo has written over 172 novels to date and is Scandinavia s most widely read author...' - Scanorama magazine

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The Secret

The Legend of the Ice People 26 - The Secret

© Margit Sandemo 1984

© eBook in English: Jentas A/S, 2018

Series: The Legend of The Ice People

Title: The Secret

Title number: 26

Original title: Huset i Eldafjord

Translator: Anna Halager

© Translation: Jentas A/S

ISBN: 978-87-7107-638-7

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchase.

All contracts and agreements regarding the work, translation, editing, and layout are owned by Jentas A/S.

Acknowledgement

The legend of the Ice People is dedicated with love and gratitude to the memory of my dear late husband Asbjorn Sandemo, who made my life a fairy tale.

Margit Sandemo

The Ice People - Reviews

‘Margit Sandemo is, simply, quite wonderful.’

- The Guardian

‘Full of convincing characters, well established in time and place, and enlightening ... will get your eyes popping, and quite possibly groins twitching ... these are graphic novels without pictures ... I want to know what happens next.’

- The Times

‘A mixure of myth and legend interwoven with historical events, this is imaginative creation that involves the reader from the first page to the last.’

- Historical Novels Review

‘Loved by the masses, the prolific Margit Sandemo has written over 172 novels to date and is Scandinavia's most widely read author...’

- Scanorama magazine

The Legend of the Ice People

The legend of the Ice People begins many centuries ago with Tengel the Evil. He was ruthless and greedy, and there was only one way to get everything that he wanted: he had to make a pact with the devil. He travelled far into the wilderness and summoned the devil with a magic potion that he had brewed in a pot. Tengel the Evil gained unlimited wealth and power but in exchange, he cursed his own family. One of his descendants in every generation would serve the Devil with evil deeds. When it was done, Tengel buried the pot. If anyone found it, the curse would be broken.

So the curse was passed down through Tengel’s descendants, the Ice People. One person in every generation was born with yellow cat’s eyes, a sign of the curse, and magical powers which they used to serve the Devil. One day the most powerful of all the cursed Ice People would be born.

This is what the legend says. Nobody knows whether it is true, but in the 16th century, a cursed child of the Ice People was born. He tried to turn evil into good, which is why they called him Tengel the Good. This legend is about his family. Actually, it is mostly about the women in his family – the women who held the fate of the Ice People in their hands.

Chapter 1

He sat high on a ridge, crouched like a predatory beast, looking down on the village tucked under the high mountains at the farthest end of the fjord. He was a frightening figure: dark, twisted and bent. Perhaps he looked most like a wisp of hair that blended with the natural world. If it hadn’t been for his eyes, which glowed treacherously with hatred and the anticipation of revenge, no one would have believed that he was a human being. Occasionally those eyes could glint almost red, as if an inner dark fire of hatred, and nothing else, kept him going.

He waited.

He looked down on the tiny creatures down there. From his vantage point, they looked like ants.

“They’re moving in,” he whispered. “They’re moving into my house! A man and a woman. How dare they! What are they doing now?”

He got to his feet. His pent-up anger abated slightly as he observed what they were doing down there.

What was happening now? Weren’t they going to move in after all? Strangely, he felt immense disappointment. Didn’t anybody want to move in? Weren’t there any presumptuous invaders of his house that he could take revenge on?

Once again, he crouched down on his heels with his long arms around his knees, a brooding colossus, like a mountain troll that had sat there for a thousand years.

Down by the fjord, the middle-aged couple were speaking to the man who lived in the valley. What an exceptionally handsome man, the wife thought. He’s so good-looking that he frightens me. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. Dark, curly hair, light blue-grey eyes, and a mouth that you couldn’t take your eyes off: perfect, arrogant and alluring.

A male animal! Handsome – but dangerous.

He handed a bunch of keys to her husband. “I’d like to welcome you to Jolinsborg,” he said, with a bright smile that made her go weak at the knees. “I hope you’ll feel at home here!”

“I’m sure we will,” she replied. “My husband’s doctor prescribed fresh country air so this will be perfect!”

Her husband, who, judging by his appearance, was a businessman not quite out of the top drawer, said with a creaky voice: “I see this place is called Jólinsborg? I thought it was Jólin?”

The young man replied with a smile: “No, it’s nothing to do with the surname. Jolin is an old Norwegian boy’s name. All the owners of this farm have been given the name, from the first Jolin, who built the place in the seventeenth century, right up until the present.”

“And now there’s nobody left?” the woman asked.

The peasant looked down. “Er ... yes, there is but ... he had to be taken care of. He was declared unable to manage his own affairs.”

“Oh?”

“He wasn’t quite ... normal. After the house was taken from him, he would peer through the windows and frighten the tenants. So now he’s ... well, he’s securely locked up.”

The wife said: “That’s sad. When did it happen?”

“Two or three years ago.”

The husband was rather sharp. “Tenants, did you say? Have there been several tenants then? One after the other?”

The handsome peasant muttered: “Well, ... er ... a couple. People have found it difficult to settle in this isolated fjord.”

The man said nothing, merely tightened his lips. The assumption that he wasn’t a very particular businessman was correct. It wasn’t for reasons of health that they had come to godforsaken Eldafjord. Unless health grounds included fear of being attacked by embittered customers whom he had swindled. The couple had thought it best to make themselves scarce for a while, and Eldafjord was the best place for that because nobody had ever heard of it. A tiny hamlet at the farthest end of an inlet that couldn’t be seen from the boats sailing past out on the big fjord. The hamlet had existed for centuries, but it was impossible to build any new houses on the steep slopes above the narrow beach.

A perfect hiding place!

The wife said: “The house is beautiful, even though it’s not exactly a castle.”

They were standing on a hilly plateau a bit above Jolinsborg. The wind was playing in the delicate birches below them, the grass was bright green and everything breathed wonderful spring calm. Here there was nothing to be afraid of – on the contrary! Terje Jolinssøn, the farmer, couldn’t have chosen a better day to get rid of that horrible old house.

Somebody was shouting. They looked down to the barely visible road through the meadow, where a young woman came running. The peasant muttered something short and sharp and hurried down to meet her.

The couple followed slowly.

“I think we’ll be able to settle down here,” said the woman. “Just look at this house! Yes, there have been later additions, but the entire ground floor dates back to the seventeenth century. The house is spacious, and just look at the well-preserved windows! And I think the first-floor extension blends in well.”

Her husband merely nodded. His mind was mainly focused on the extremely favourable terms of the lease they had signed. The farmer had hinted that it might be possible to buy the house. It was incredibly cheap. He could rent it out to rich people as a summer retreat. Or divide it up into small apartments and earn an income from several tenants at the same time ...

His thoughts always ran on how much he could make.

The young woman came running down the road. She closely resembled her brother-in-law, Terje, just like all the other villagers. Her hair was dark and fell over her forehead in soft curls, framing her pale grey eyes and making them look even lighter than they were. Her mouth was shaped to be smiling and generous, but now it expressed nothing but anxiety. No one who met her could help feeling great warmth and compassion.

“Surely you haven’t thought of renting it out again, have you, Terje?”

He grabbed her arm brutally and said: “I’ve already done so. He was even interested in buying it. The last idiot hasn’t been born yet. Now off you go home! Straight away!”

“But you can’t do that!”

“Shut up, they’ll hear you. It was just random accidents, nothing but accidents that happened out of the blue: can’t you get that into your stupid head? Now off you go!”

The young woman resisted: “I won’t allow anyone to move into that terrible house.”

“Go!”

With a firm grip on her arm, he marched her down the road until they reached a farm. He hustled her indoors and into one of the rooms, then slammed the door.

“Now hold your tongue or I’ll throw you out – you and your damned brat. You only get to live here on my terms.”

“That’s not right!” she shouted from the other side of the door. “You three brothers inherited this farm and Jolinsborg, and you were to share it equally. And now my boy has the first claim on it, and you know that, Terje! You’re the youngest of the brothers. So the boy and I have just as much right, if not more, to live here!”

“You could just have stayed in Jolinsborg. For heaven’s sake shut up, Solveig!”

He walked off and she knelt down by the child’s bed. She whispered quietly but with moving intensity: “Dear God, merciful God, help us! Help my little boy so that he doesn’t have to suffer any more. Make him well, Lord! I beseech you as I’ve beseeched you for a thousand days and nights! If his suffering can’t be lessened, then take him to you, I beseech you, even if he’s the most precious child on earth and the only thing I live for.”

The child was as pale as a ghost, though his features had relaxed a little now that sleep had somehow alleviated his pain. His eyelids were almost transparent and his skin was taut around his beautifully shaped face. It was his position, the way he was lying, that revealed where the pain was. He had tossed his head back so that his throat was stretched and his neck bent back as far as it would go.

This was how the eleven-year old boy had been lying for several months, in an attempt to alleviate his unbearable headache.

Solveig, his mother, whispered: “My dear little Jolin. Why wasn’t I made to suffer instead of you, you who are the most innocent of all? If only there was somewhere else we could go. But we’re trapped. That devil out there has taken all our money and how are we to move without a penny? How would we get away from here without some means of transporting you? Who would take us?”

She leaned her head against his bed in utter despondency.

Terje Jolinssøn had caught up with his new tenants again. Undeterred, he explained: “My sister-in-law is a widow with a sick son and she can get slightly hysterical at times. But otherwise she’s all right. Anyway, I hope you’ll be happy here ...”

Three weeks later a coffin was carried out of Jolinsborg. The tenant’s wife didn’t walk behind the coffin. She was never found.

Young Eskil Lind of the Ice People spent many months reaching the promising Eldafjord.

At the age of twelve, he had heard about the house in Eldafjord from an itinerant farmhand. At the time, Eskil had been sitting outside the farmhands’ lodgings at Graastensholm, listening with ears that seemed to grow bigger and bigger with excitement. He remembered that it was an autumn evening and the farmhands had lit a fire of straw and dried leaves and other things left over from the harvest. In the end there were only three of them left sitting by the bonfire. One of them was sleeping it off, so Eskil was the only one who heard the fantastic story about the house in Eldafjord. The old farmhand cheered up when he noticed Eskil’s rapturous interest. After all, the boy sitting at his feet was the future heir to Graastensholm.

The farmhand spoke slowly and thoughtfully. “It’s a gloomy valley. It’s as if paganism still exists in every single lump of peat. A man by the name of Jolin built the house. Yes, that was his first name. Jolin ... And this Jolin was extremely rich. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t think he earned all his money honourably. They said that there were chalices and other pieces of church silver on the farm, and what were they doing there? They should have been in a church, shouldn’t they?”

The farmhand threw some more wood on the fire and put a new piece of tobacco in his mouth. “As you know, young Eskil, nobody lives forever and money is of no use then. Sooner or later, we’re all going to die, and that was something that annoyed Mr Jolin. No one was going to have all that he owned, so he buried it ...”

“He buried the estate?”

“Well, I don’t mean the house, although Mr Jolin couldn’t bear the thought that anyone else would live in his house rent-free. It annoyed him so much that he probably died of sheer anger.”

“Did he bury a lot of stuff?”

“You bet! If you found it, you would be the richest person in the whole world. Well, almost ...”

Eskil’s eyes shone. “So nobody has found the treasure then?”

“No, it’s impossible to find. The old miser keeps watch over it day and night.”

“What? Does he haunt the place?”

“Nobody can live in the house. It’s quite impossible. Many people have searched for the treasure, of course, but they’ve all died. Died or vanished.”

Eskil’s wanderlust caught fire. He sat deep in thought. Then he said: “But I’m one of the Ice People.”

The farmland said: “Yes, I know that. You’re Eskil Lind of the Ice People.”

That was when Eskil realized that he ought not to say too much. The Ice People were immune to ghosts and that sort of thing. It said so in all the books about them. They could control all kinds of devilry. Of course, that was something only the stricken among them could do, but who was to say that Eskil wasn’t a chosen one? There was no one else of his generation who was either damned or chosen. Tula and Anna Maria were both extremely ordinary.

Eskil felt that he was very strong. He had received a double calling: first, to fight the ghosts in the house in Eldafjord, and second, to find the magnificent treasure. He asked as cautiously as he could where Eldafjord was, and the farmhand explained it to him. But he wasn’t particularly good at geography because he was the type who just wandered about without asking where he was. It didn’t make matters easier that he had visited several countries and worked in both Sweden and Iceland, so he mixed the countries up. His brain must have suffered from far too many drinking sprees.

But at last Eskil managed to get a few firm facts about where Eldafjord might be on the map.

He had made up his mind: as soon as possible he would be on his way to Eldafjord and find the treasure, not only for his own adventurous sake but also because he knew just how hard his mother and father had to struggle to keep Graastensholm going, what with taxes and famine and everything. They would be over the moon if he came home with the means of saving it – Eldafjord’s enormous treasure! He hoped that nobody would steal a march on him!

It was 1817 when Eskil, now aged twenty, left Tula on her own in Christiania instead of accompanying her to Sweden. He said goodbye to her with the aim of finding his Eldafjord. It was now or never! He had brought plenty of money with him. He intended to be away from home long enough for his parents not to become suspicious. However, he was to be away for much, much longer than he had thought ...

He got off to a good start. He rode to Western Norway, where he reckoned that Eldafjord must be. However, the western region turned out to be far bigger and more complex than he had expected. Another thing that complicated matters was the fact that young Eskil Lind of the Ice People was quite a talkative chap. He found it easy to get to know people and he loved to chat. It didn’t matter what the topic was, so long as the conversation moved at full speed.

But he should never have discussed politics, because it was far too sensitive a topic at the time. People were beginning to be vigilant and suspicious. Just like Eskil, King Karl Johan's spies expressed strong opinions. They would put on an act in order to discover who the public really sympathised with.

Eskil knew nothing about this. His heart was white as snow as far as politics was concerned. He only wanted to talk because he thought it was fun to express his opinions intelligently and show off his oratory.

For the most part, things went well. The men in inns and on the road took him for what he was – a young greenhorn who knew nothing about the country’s situation.

Then everything went wrong.

He had come to a large town, almost a city, in Western Norway. The inhabitants were already pretty annoyed with King Karl Johan’s spies because there had been many of them. And this was clearly another one: Eskil. Surely people ought to be able to hold their own opinions without the king interfering in everything? But naturally he wanted to know who did, or did not, support him. Now he had sent a bleary-eyed young lad, still wet behind the ears!

The message was passed from mouth to mouth, and in the end, a totally baffled Eskil was sent to prison for vagrancy – because this was the only thing they could come up with.

There he sat, shaking the bars of the cell, shouting out his innocence to all and sundry, but nobody listened to him. He didn’t even know why he had been arrested, because nobody had the courage to admit openly that they suspected him of being a spy. What would the king have to say about that?

Eskil wrote letters asking for help, which were never sent because the gaolers tore them up as soon as they left his cell. In the end, he began to lose heart. He thought he would have to stay there forever, languishing in that miserable prison. Forgotten by the world, his only company was fleas, lice and rats, plus the occasional boozer turning up for a day or two. He would catch glimpses of thieves and other scoundrels as they were moved from one cell to another. The food was miserable and Eskil grew skinny. His clothes were in tatters and he was often ill. But worst of all was the sorrow that was eating away at him. Why? What had he done? Why didn’t anybody come to his assistance?

One day when he had lost track of the days and months, a random prisoner was put in his cell. Eskil never heard what he had done because he wouldn’t talk about it. Eskil, who had become taciturn and bitter about his lot in life, began to loosen up a bit in the company of his new cellmate. Within a few hours he had told him that he had been on his way to Eldafjord but had been arrested for some unknown reason. “I no longer believe that Eldafjord exists,” he went on. “Before I was locked up in here I’d travelled all over Western Norway, but nobody had heard of the place.”

“Why do you want to go to Eldafjord?”

Eskil jumped up. “What? Do you know Eldafjord?”

“Yes, of course. It’s not far from here. But there’s nobody there. The only way to get to Eldafjord is by boat and I don’t think anybody in this town would want to get into a boat. They only know places that they can reach on foot. So forget Eldafjord – it’s not a place you’d want to settle in.”

But Eskil made careful enquiries about how to reach it. To be honest, he was no longer drawn to the house and the treasure in Eldafjord. All he wanted was to get out of this prison.

He just couldn’t understand why his parents didn’t come to his rescue. It wasn’t at all like them.

A month later, when the icicles were dripping outside his tiny window, Eskil received unexpected assistance. One of King Karl Johan’s men came to the town. This man, who was a kindly soul, heard from an open-mouthed civil servant that people were unhappy with all the spies infesting the valley and about the one they had been forced to arrest for “vagrancy”.

The king’s man wrinkled his brow. No young man had been sent out, certainly not to this district. It had been investigated a long time ago and found to be of no interest.

It was an embarrassing conversation.

No, it was true: the boy had never admitted anything. He had just been so curious! He wanted to discuss everything.

This made the king’s man really cross. The local authorities couldn’t just arrest his majesty’s spies, no matter how talkative they were. He insisted on meeting this Eskil. The open-mouthed civil servant got nervous and promised to arrange it straight away. This was how Eskil came to be released. The showdown between the town council and the king’s loyal man was another, very unfortunate, story, which won’t be retold here.

Eskil was free! The bigwig saw to it that he got his horse, his money and his clothes back.

Then he left the town.

What was he to do now? His first impulse was, of course, to return to Graastensholm and his parents, worn out and exhausted as he was from his long and tough isolation. But after an excellent man-sized lunch with wine at the inn, Eskil began to have second thoughts.

He hadn’t heard a word from his parents during all these months. He felt hurt, even if he suspected that there must be something else behind it, other than just anger or indifference.

He was twenty-one now.

And he was very close to Eldafjord ...

Should he?

It wouldn’t have to take very long ...

Now that he had emptied the decanter, he felt strong and confident once more.

He wrote another letter, just to be on the safe side.

Dear Mother and Father,

If it’s of any interest to you, this is to tell you that I’ve been released from hell. Why did you never drop me a line or answer my letters? Wouldn’t you accept my plea for forgiveness?

I’ll be back sooner or later. But now I’m close to the objective of my journey, so I’m going there first.

In spite of everything,

Your affectionate son, Eskil

He spent several days at the inn to rest and recuperate. Then he rode towards the coast, because he wanted to find a boat that could take him to Eldafjord.

All through the winter, Eskil’s parents, Heike and Vinga back home in Graastensholm, had been trying to track down their vanished son. They hadn’t heard a word from him. They had written many letters, and Tula had been unable to help them. She was distressed, blaming herself for not trying to make Eskil tell her more about his clandestine journey. But he had been so secretive about Eldafjord. She had gathered that there was some sort of a house there, with some kind of promise or legend attached to it. When she and Eskil parted company in Christiania, he had been going northwest, heading towards something really exciting. He had hinted that he would be testing his talents as a sorcerer, which he believed he had inherited from the Ice People. He had told her that he might be one of the chosen or stricken ones of the clan. Tula regretted bitterly that she hadn’t relieved him of this delusion. She was the one who was stricken, but she had been too scared to tell him so. Much might have gone very differently if she had revealed herself.

Heike wrote back to her, in his bad handwriting, telling her that she was not to blame herself. He knew about her serious problems.

But Heike was sad. A strange house in Eldafjord, which was somewhere in the northwest.

That wasn’t much to go on.

Several times, he had been on the verge of getting on his horse and searching anywhere and everywhere, but Vinga had forbidden him to do so. That winter was extremely harsh, and things could turn out badly for the horse, and for Heike as well. So he gave in to common sense.

But he was itching to be on his way!

He had spoken to experts on the geography of Norway, and to all the itinerant labourers he met, to try to find out where Eldafjord was, but nobody knew. Depressingly enough, several people suggested Iceland. But if that were the case its name would have been Eldafjørdur. Perhaps it was in Sweden instead? No, Vinga didn’t think so. Eldafjord was a very old Norwegian name. Maybe it was farther north. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. But now Heike couldn’t wait any longer: anxiety for their son was eating away at him and Vinga.

It is a fact that spring comes to Western Norway before it reaches Eastern Norway. Eskil’s letter had been in transit for a long time when it reached Graastensholm, just before Heike was due to set off on his journey.

“Thank goodness,” exclaimed Vinga, and burst into tears. Heike looked at the date on the letter. “It’s a long time since he sent it,” he established. “This letter has taken a fortnight to get here.”

Vinga asked: “Well, what does it say? Let me see!”

They read the letter together.

“What does he mean when he says he’s been to hell?” she asked, confused.

“So he did write to us earlier but his other letters didn’t reach us.”

“What is it that he has really been through?” she wailed. “Oh, poor boy, and he thought we had let him down. Where is he?”

Heike turned the letter over and back again. “It doesn’t say. The postmark is blurred. Oh, bother. He could have said, couldn’t he?”

“Perhaps he didn’t know.”

Heike sighed. “Then I’ll just have to search at random ...”

The following day another letter arrived. It was a grubby letter that had been written in haste, but it did have a stamp!

Heike said: “Good.” He was dressed and already on his way out of the door. “So now we know, and that makes everything so much easier.”

“I’ll join you now you know where you’ll be going,” Vinga said determinedly. “Well, open the letter then!”

Heike was focused on the date. “This one has reached us much faster,” he said, pleased. “It was sent this week.”

Vinga grabbed the letter out of Heike’s hand and opened it impatiently.

They read it together, with mounting anxiety:

For God’s sake, help me! Help me, Father, quickly! I’ve landed in the middle of the most appalling horror. This place is awful and I don’t understand any of it. Help me, I think I’m about to die. Help us all, we’re lost! I’ve accidentally stirred up something that was supposed to remain hidden forever!

Chapter 2

Eskil was concerned from the moment he saw Eldafjord. This wasn’t at all how he had imagined the place. A fisherman had lent him his boat – Eskil had paid him a tidy sum, which would enable him to use it for a week or so. He reckoned that was about as long as he would need it for. He had left his horse with the fisherman as security.

He hadn’t said where he was going because this was his own adventure. He also had precise directions to get there. However, it had taken longer than he expected! And weren’t those steep mountains high! The snow shone brightly on their lofty pinnacles. He hadn’t taken into account that he would be so unfit after his long imprisonment. He got big blisters on his hands from the rough handles of the oars and he rowed more and more slowly. He had been out on the open sea for a while and the boat had rocked alarmingly. Then he entered the fjord and everything was calm again.

This was just the main fjord. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the shadows fell on the water, he reached the entrance to Eldafjord, the small side-fjord between the soaring cliffs.

If he hadn’t known it was there, he would never have guessed that there was a narrow, deep fjord right there.

He swung the rowing boat around the cliff and turned around in the boat. He wanted to see where he was going. His face flushed in shock and surprise. The mountains were tall with shiny flanks: it looked as if numerous rock falls had been wearing the stone smooth for thousands of years. At the far end of the narrow inlet lay a cluster of houses, helplessly crouched under the enormous weight of the mountain walls. There were a few farms and modest houses and a small fish farm. That was all there was room for.

Wait ... wasn’t that the roof of another house sticking up through the trees to the right? With slopes above it rising up to the mountain wall?

It was hard to tell.

Eskil realized that this place must be very beautiful in daylight, but he had been unfortunate to arrive at the gloomiest time of the day, when dusk had its most oppressive grip on human hearts.

What could this place be like in winter, when storms whipped up the waves and the snow swept around the corners of the houses in the silent darkness?

He shuddered.

There was something else about this fjord that frightened him. What could it be? Something lurking somewhere. Now he was allowing himself to be carried away by the shadowy blue atmosphere of twilight. He was weak and exhausted, partly because of his many months in prison eating miserable food, and partly because of the unfamiliar exertion of rowing. Now he registered that he was hungry as well. And rather seasick.

And then there was this fog rolling down the mountains. He was freezing cold. Losing heart in such conditions was easy. What on earth was he doing here? Why hadn’t he ridden straight back to nice, warm, lovely Graastensholm? But Mother and Father hadn’t written; they hadn’t even tried to get him out of prison. Perhaps something had happened to them?

He had been absolutely stupid to insist on searching for the treasure first. He ought to have ridden home straight away!

But now he was here. He had reached his destination.

Oh, what a destination! Was there a gloomier place in the whole of Norway than this? Without turning round to look any more, he fought his way onwards, clutching the oars with his blistered hands. The hair at the back of his neck tickled as if somebody was watching him with dangerous, evil eyes from Eldafjord’s little harbour.

He was too scared to turn around again.

Instead, he stared at the main fjord. It would soon disappear and all he would have to look at would be the naked mountain walls.

That wasn’t an uplifting thought.

The water around the rowing boat seemed bluish-black and cold, as it reflected the slopes of the massifs. Who could know what lay hidden in the depths here? Perhaps a lurking monster would suddenly tip up the boat?

Eskil started and nearly screamed when the boat hit something and stopped with an eerie, scraping sound. For a moment, he thought that his heart would stop from sheer fright, but then he saw what had happened. He had reached land. He had hit a stone under the water, some distance out in the fjord.

A little group of people stood on a small bridge, watching him. There were a couple of children, some elderly men leaning against the parapet, a stout, grumpy woman, and two young girls who put their heads together and giggled. They weren’t looking at Eskil in an unfriendly way – on the contrary! One of the girls was actually quite a beauty.

That was all that Eskil had time to see. He hurriedly moved to the back of the boat so that it lifted off the rock. With a very stiff and shy smile, he nodded to the group on the bridge and began to pole the boat. The small boys immediately ran out into the water and grabbed the bow of the boat, almost making Eskil lose his balance. The girls laughed again.

Shortly afterwards, he was standing among those people, asking and explaining. Of course, they wondered what this completely unknown stranger was doing in Eldafjord but they didn’t say so. Eskil sensed that they were puzzled.

He told them that a man he had met many years ago had advised him to see this fantastic place, which was no lie. He had become so curious that, since he was in the area, he had decided to take the opportunity to stay here for a few days.

They looked at one another. They didn’t say a word.

One of the small boys said: “Terje sometimes rents rooms,” and the grown-ups shushed him.

“Terje?” asked Eskil.

“Yes,” said one of the men, very slowly and reluctantly. “It’s true that Terje Jolinssøn tends to rent to visitors. But don’t settle for anything! Ask to rent a room in his house. Not in any other place! Not everything he has to offer is ... good!”

His voice died away. Eskil wanted to hear more but he got no answer. He had pricked up his ears when he heard the name Jolinssøn, because that was the name of the man who had built the fabled house.

That was where Eskil wanted to go! But he had better not ask too many questions. For the time being.

He asked: “Will somebody show me the way to Terje Jolinssøn’s house?”

The two young girls reacted quickly: “We can do that!”

“Splendid.”

The elderly men were mildly amused at Eskil’s attempts to moor his boat.