One of the Huldu
That small music box had triggered my first confused wishes and even now it is difficult to render how a little girl can have the feeling of a vague remembrance which seemed to come from somewhere else than her own childhood. If it hadn't been for it, I wouldn't sit here, waiting for my flight.
Cooking and sweeping were not her favorite pastime and all hard work, she let it slip through her fingers. She spent her days reading old tales or singing, though nothing of all this could compare to her grandfather's enchanting stories. He, in exchange, was very upset that she seemed to disregard her homely duties and used to scold her many times:
"You are lazy and clumsy and you expect to live only with singing and combing your hair. You do it on purpose, don't you?"
"No, grandpa, you see, something weighs on my heart, something I can't tell you about…"
"Because I can't find a name for it. It's more like a sort of grief… each time the music box plays…it sounds so far away…"
"Sometimes I think you were not made for this world. You are visible, you eat, you breathe, yet you don't belong here, Unna Ishildur. A child would bound you more to this life."
I took a break to fetch myself a coffee but then my flight was announced. I shut it down quickly and five minutes later my passionate thoughts met the cloudy window which had probably kept company to many others like me. To be a lady teacher was the foremost feature of my life, but to be a lady teacher in Iceland sounded quite exotic to me, almost like raspberries with a touch of ice on a usual breakfast plate. My dreams about the unknown mingled with the embroidery of my story.
Their village belonged to an unknown lord, whom people referred to as "the hidden one" because nobody had seen him nor knew where he lived. This may be why they feared him so much. One day Unna and her grandfather Hildimar and many other people saw a caravan of nomad wagons camping close to their house. A woman with milk – white skin came to Unna, carrying her two children.
"I am ready to serve you with anything, miss, I want a bath for me and my children".
"Who's next?"Unna asked. "The whole caravan? Take your children and go away!"
"No, miss, it's just us. I'll do anything you ask me to".
"Anything? Very well", Unna said,"then give me one of your children for good. Grandpa said only a child can keep me in this world."
"You can have my child and I can cook and sweep", the white nomad said.
"That's good because grandpa isn't satisfied with the work I do. You can stay".
Hildimar asked what her name was and the nomad woman said they called her Nuri Peperuga. They found out that she was believed to be a night murderer and that the nomads had banished her. Unna saw the hidden notches on her body while she was taking the bath. She swore that nothing of this was true and begged them to let her stay. Hildimar was pleased with her work and considered her arrival a fortunate event, since Unna had adopted the nomad woman's child and he had a new grandson.
Nuri Peperuga loved the old man's stories, since she had never heard of elves or hidden people before. One afternoon Nuri was cooking and Unna was combing her hair and singing. She ignored her grandfather and the children, as she often did.
"Who is the lord of this village?" Nuri asked suddenly. Hildimar startled with a shiver.
"Nobody knows", he said. "People fear to mention him even without a name. So it is better not to talk about him".
"I am not coward like you all! Why do you have to be afraid of him?"
"You and your nomads should be even more scared, since you are intruders", the old man said.
"He'd better fear us, me and my people! Nay, he'd better fear me alone! My knives can cut anyone!"
"You, foolish woman! If he heard you, you are lost".
The following day, Unna was home alone. Nuri had gone out to buy some food and the children were playing with their neighbours. Hildimar was out telling stories to the people. Unna heard someone knock at the door and opened. She saw a tall man, his face half covered by the hood.
"Are you Nuri Peperuga?"he asked.
"The woman who said she is not afraid of our lord?"
"Yes, I am".
He stepped inside but his face was still under the hood. Unna offered him cookies made by Nuri. He ate and asked: "Who made the cookies?"
"I made them", she said. Then the man stood up and uncovered his face. Unna instantly dropped the tray, such a beautiful youth he was. She closed her eyes and kissed him on the lips, as if struck with fever. Then one sound slap on her cheek woke her up.
"You, shameless woman!" he said. "Come! Our lord sent me to bring you to him. You will receive your punishment directly from him". He took Unna with him in his car and she leaned her head against his back as they drove off.
"Take me wherever you want! I don't care if you are with me".
"Nuri Peperuga", he said and Unna startled at this, "why do you startle? We are together on this journey but you can't be mine. I only take you to our lord."
They drove like this for a long time, the car ran and its wheels didn't touch down. Then Unna's music box, which she had tied to her dress with a belt, fell and split in two pieces and the air was filled with an enchanted melody. The car stopped.
"Why are you crying, Nuri Peperuga?" asked the youth and lifted her chin. "We are done. Look around you!"
"This is the place I dreamed so many times when I was little" Unna whispered and wiped her tears off. The soft melody still filled the air, making them silent. "Who are you? And where is this?"
I used to attend his classes in the Alfaskolinn regularly. Sipping a creamy latte next to him was the best way to end a day which had drained my teaching abilities in the morning and my attention as a student in the evening.
"There is no threshold in between, dear Odile", he said.
"But if there were one, Magnus, would there be even the slightest possibility for me to trespass?"
"And remain trapped in a world where few gestures are permitted, with no right to choose or to try out?"
I stretched my hand for the teaspoon and barely touched his fingers. The delicate feeling stirred up the fresh memory of Sverrir's touch two days before, at his family's farm. That soft and purple afternoon Sverrir introduced me as his English teacher to his parents. It seemed to me that he was slightly wrapped in the same purple aura and that he bore it throughout the whole day. And whenever he seized my hand, it felt like so many dormant grass tips, ready to spring from under my skin.
"You might just be one of them", I told him.
"One of whom?" Sverrir asked.
"One of the Huldu". He smiled. We went on walking and at one moment he began to pick something. "What are you doing?"
"I'm making a small bunch for you", he said.
"What? Do you have flowers here? I didn't even notice them".
"Probably because you were busy with noticing other things". He came close and put the frail flowers in my hands.
"Will you sing with your band at the prom?"
"If you promise to dance with me just one time".
"I do, I promise", I said. A shadow passed on Sverrir's face all of a sudden and I thought I might try to cheer him up. "Guess what? I invited Magnus as well!"
"You obviously like him a lot, don't you?"
"He is our funny controversial friend after all, isn't he? We both attended his classes, Sverrir".
"Has he ever held your hand?"
"I won't answer to this! This is my first and last visit!"
I held the cup with both hands but the latte had already got cold.
"When must you go back?" Magnus asked.
"Yes, I must", I murmured.
"Yes, but I asked you when!"
"My name is Alfarr", the young man answered. "When I was a child I used to see a woman in my dreams. She was naked and covered with her long hair. And when she combed it I could see her skin, which smelled and shone like rose petals. Only I couldn't touch her. Each time I had this dream I would tell my mother: <You were the fairest lady of all to me. Who is she, mother?> And she would tell me: <She is your bride>. That woman is standing in front of me now. It is you, Nuri Peperuga!"
Unna looked at him and felt the cold tears down her cheeks. "But… what about the lord of the village?"she asked. "Where is he? You said…"
"I am the lord of the village, the one whom everybody fears and nobody dares to speak about. Except you! Now you are the only one who knows my name".
"Yes", she whispered, "Alfarr".
"Do you know what I am?"
"Yes", she said, "I know".
"Are you afraid of me?"
"You should say yes, Unna Ishildur!" They both turned and saw the old story teller, Unna's grandfather. "Nobody knows about this place, except me!"
"And no ordinary man knows how to arrive here", Alfarr said.
"My grand daughter Unna has got a child to look after. He has been roaming the fields and the villages, asking about her."
"Unna Ishildur", Alfarr said, "you tell me what is the right thing I should do. Wouldn't it be right if I punished you?"
"Do as you please with me, my lord".
"If sharing my fate is a curse, then you will share this with me: hidden from everyone's eyes". Hildimar looked at Unna and saw that she was changed. And when she looked back at him he felt that she was cold inside. Then Alfarr said: "Let the people see us just one time. I will wrap you in one hundred veils and they won't see your face until we are married".
So they returned with the story teller into the village and Alfarr let himself be seen for the first time by the people. He passed among them, holding the veiled Unna by his side and his beauty cut everyone's breath. The words "our lord", "the master of the village" were on everyone's lips.
"Who is the lady? Is she our Unna?" they asked but couldn't see her face. He passed by the nomads' camp and Nuri Peperuga sprang right in front of him with both children, Unna's child and hers.
"I am the woman who threatened you!" she said. "I am Nuri Peperuga!" Alfarr raised his arm to her but the children yelled and begged him to spare her.
"My new mother, Unna, she was a bad mother and left me!" one of the children said. He wanted to run to her but all of a sudden a shiver of fear froze him on the spot, as he looked at her covered face.
The priest of the village told the story teller to let Alfarr stay with Unna in their house until the following day, when they were to be married in church.
"You must not allow them enter the church, they are two of the hidden!" Hildimar said.
"We must put an end to this insane fear! They will marry in church!"
So Unna and Alfarr remained that day with the grandfather. At dinner they were all gathered at table but Nuri and the children couldn't see Alfarr because he had made himself invisible to them. They were afraid to pass behind Unna when she was turned with her back to them.
"He will change", Hildimar said to his granddaughter, "they all change after marriage. You'll end up breeding and cooking and washing".
The next day at dawn the couple woke up and began to get ready for the wedding. Unna wasn't in a good mood at all and couldn't find her slippers, so she began to curse and to swear at the old man. Hildimar heard her and knocked at their door.
"Is it me that your bride is swearing at?" Alfarr didn't answer, so he went straight to Unna and slapped her. She gave him an icy glance.
"I spare you only because you were my grandfather. You won't see me again after this day", she said.
The whole village gathered inside and outside the church to attend the wedding and there were even a lot more people from the neighbouring villages. When the ceremony was over and the newly married couple went out of the church, Alfarr lifted the veils from Unna's face and said:
"This is Unna Ishildur, your fairy lady!"
Everyone murmured as they passed by: "Our Unna is the village fairy, she is our fairy!"
They were so young and fair that the people begged them to stay with them, though they were afraid at the same time. The story teller told the people that Alfarr and Unna had to leave because they didn't belong to this world. On their leave, Unna wanted to take away the nomad child but Hildimar saved him from her arms.
Sverrir finished the rock ballad and his colleagues were in frenzy. He came to me and said: "You promised one dance". He took my hand and brought it to his lips.
"Sverrir, they are watching us!" I said.
"I don't care about that! Do you?"
"Of course I do. It is the right thing".
"Will you come back one day? Answer me, will you come back?"
"I am here now, aren't I?" I said.
I leaned my head on Sverrir's chest and he passed his hand in my hair.
"The flowers in your hair are withered", he remarked. "Why are you wearing them?"
"They were fresh when you gave them to me", I answered.