A little boy called Doup once came to live in Crow Cove, a little community nestled by the sea. Now he's ready to go by his birth name, Alek, and discover his own place in the world. Alek's journey takes him to the fishing village of Last Harbor, where he lives with his bitter older brother, works at an inn—and rescues a beautiful girl from ship wreckers who have killed her family. Murder, romance, and the eternal cycle of life and death all play a role in the exciting conclusion to the acclaimed Children of Crow Cove series.
About the Author
Bodil Bredsdorff is the author of many books for children, including the Children of Crow Cove Series: The Crow-Girl, a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and an ALA Notable; Eidi, a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book; and Tink. Bodil Bredsdorff lives in Hundested, Denmark.
Bodil Bredsdorff is a popular Danish children’s book author. She is the author of many books for children, including the Children of Crow Cove Series: The Crow-Girl, a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and an ALA Notable; Eidi, a Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book; Tink; and Alek. Bodil Bredsdorff lives in Hundested, Denmark.
Read an Excerpt
The Children Of Crow Cove Series
By Bodil Bredsdorff, Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1995 Bodil Bredsdorff
All rights reserved.
A mass of driftwood floated down the desolate shore. The waves pushed and shoved the ribs and staves and threw the wood toward land only to pull it out again.
The wood floated by a small cove with a few whitewashed houses and then farther along the stony beach. A split oar was thrown off course and all the way in to the water's edge, where it was seized and flung to higher ground beyond the reach of the waves.
* * *
The boy who had taken the oar from the sea dried his hand on his pants leg before he stuck it into his pocket again. The oar could lie there until a day when they collected driftwood. And they weren't doing that today.
They were searching, he and the young woman who walked next to him and the black dog that ran ahead of them.
They were searching for his little horse, which he had had as long as he could remember. Forever. It had eyes that looked black but were also clear as glass, brown like seaweed, and deep blue when you looked into them. And it had thick brown fur through which his hands had raked thousands of tracks, from the time they were small and hesitant to now when they were used to work and confident.
His little horse for which he had long been way too big.
He couldn't remember a day when he hadn't spoken to it, touched it, fed it, and groomed it—until it disappeared.
They had searched inland and up by the sheep, along the stream, behind bushes and rocks. Soon there would be no place left to search.
"We need to go home," said the woman, "before it gets dark."
He knew it.
"Glennie!" she shouted, but the dog didn't come back.
They could hear her barking farther down the coast where she had hunted out a flock of gulls. The birds fled inland with hoarse screams, leaving behind a carcass between the rocks.
* * *
The gulls had pecked out the horse's eyes before they began picking the meat from the bones. The empty eye sockets saw nothing under the dark forelock, which the wind ruffled thoughtlessly.
The boy stomped his foot.
"Oh, Myna, why didn't it stay in its stall?" he exclaimed.
She walked over and stood next to him.
"Maybe it preferred to die out here by the sea."
"It doesn't feel anything, and gulls are always hungry. To them it is not your horse but just some meat, lying here rotting."
Glennie had walked around the dead animal and carefully sniffed it. Now the dog sat down next to Myna and began to whimper.
"Come on! There's nothing we can do," said Myna, and patted Glennie on the head.
But the boy continued to stand and stare. The dog grew quiet and lay down, resting her head on her front paws. The gulls had sent out a lone scout, who circled high above them. Glennie lay stock-still, following it with her eyes.
"In a couple of days, I'll go and collect the skull," said Myna, "when it has been picked clean. Then we can use it for Dark Night."
They usually had a candle stuck in a ram's skull as the light that would burn all of Dark Night while the year died, until Light Morning when the New Year was born.
He nodded and turned away from the horse and started the walk back to the small cove. Myna and Glennie followed.
* * *
The wind had subsided, and the sky was gray and heavy and pulled the light out of the world and made the rocks slippery. He had to take his hands out of his pockets to keep his balance.
In between the rocks were small, stony beaches where they could walk side by side.
"I remember the first time I saw you," said Myna. Her hoarse voice was low and mild. "I asked you what your name was and you said Doup."
Doup smiled. "And that was just because I wanted soup." He had been very small. Myna had come to their house when his father was out of his mind with grief after his mother died, and taken Doup away with her to Crow Cove. He had lived with her ever since, even after his father, Frid, and his brother, Ravnar, had come after him and made their home in Crow Cove, too.
"Look," said Myna, and pointed out to sea.
A school of porpoises came tumbling close to the shore. Their dark backs with low dorsal fins drew arcs in the water. Myna and Doup watched them until they disappeared.
* * *
It was almost dark when they got home. There was no light in the first house they came to, so they continued across the bridge and steered toward the faint glow from the house on the opposite bank of the stream.
When they stepped into Frid and Foula's parlor, the air was warm and close with food smells. Five people sat around the table. Frid got up and came to meet them. He nodded at Myna and looked at Doup. The boy dried a drop of water off his nose with the back of his hand.
"We found the little horse," said Myna. "It's dead."
"It was old," said Frid. "It was older than you," he said to Doup, and carefully placed a hand on his son's shoulder.
"Come and have something to eat before the food gets cold," said Foula.
Doup shook his head, pulled away and sat down on the settle. Myna sat down at the table.
"Why is it dead?" asked a chubby little boy with his mouth full of food.
"Go ahead and eat, Cam!" said Foula, his mother.
"I am," said the boy, and went on. "How could you tell that it was dead? Had it closed its eyes?"
"It didn't have eyes at all anymore," said Doup. "The gulls had pecked them out."
"When there aren't any eyes," asked Cam, "what is there then? What's behind them?"
"Now be quiet and eat!" said Foula.
"Bones," answered Doup. "That's what's left."
But that night when he lay in his bed, it wasn't a skull with empty eye sockets he saw.
It was a head in flesh and blood with a pair of blue, blue eyes and a dark forelock, which fell down constantly, every time it was pushed back.CHAPTER 2
The horse skull sat at the end of the table and grinned at them with its old, yellow teeth. A hole had been drilled in its forehead, and there stood a straight, pale candle that waited to be lit as soon as darkness came.
It was the last day of the year. The table had been scoured white and set for everyone who lived in Crow Cove. Doup was chopping cabbage when Rossan came in.
He had brought a bowl of apples, which he placed on the table. Rossan was the oldest person in Crow Cove but had come to live there the most recently. He had a small orchard near his house up the stream. He sat down in a chair and polished every apple with his woolen shirtsleeve until they all lay shining red in the bowl. Afterward he pulled a comb out of his pocket and carefully combed his gray hair and his little, pointy beard. The door opened and a young man came in.
"So, Tink, what are you bringing?" asked Rossan, and stuck his comb in his pocket.
"Chewfish," Tink answered. He was the fisherman in Crow Cove.
He put down the dried lumpfish, pulled out a large knife, and began to cut the fish into paper-thin strips. Foula came over and set down a platter. She dried her hands on her apron and surveyed the table with satisfaction while she pushed a gray curl back into the knot on top of her head. A moment later it had fallen down again.
Frid and Cam came up from the stream with full water buckets, clean, red faces, and water-combed hair.
Finally Myna and her sweetheart, Kotka, arrived, sweaty and laughing, with a platter covered with a dish towel. Kotka pulled the cloth aside, revealing a steaming, cooked brined goose surrounded by thin curls of horseradish.
Foula hung the teakettle on the hook in the fireplace and went to get a jug of brandy from the bedroom. Then the table was ready.
"I'll light the candle in a moment," said Frid. "So if anyone has an errand outside, now is the time."
Foula sat down and put her arm around Cam.
"Do you have to pee?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"We can't let the Dark Night in once we've lit the candle," she explained. "So I've put a pot over in the corner."
"Stop it, Ma."
He wriggled away from her.
"Maybe it's the draft that we need to keep out most of all," said Frid. "The light must not go out."
Foula got up and blew out all the other candles, so only the glow from the hearth flickered in the room, and Frid lit the candle in the skull.
They all held their breath while the little flame hesitantly grew bigger. Its glow danced across the broad brow and left the eye sockets in the dark. Cam gasped.
"It's as if it's looking at us."
"Come on," said Foula. "Now we're going to celebrate!"
* * *
It was a long night. They ate and played games. Cam was the first to give up and fall asleep on the settle when the candle had burned a third of the way down.
Doup had decided to stay awake until Light Morning, but he was freezing and his eyes stung and it didn't help to rub them anymore.
"Come on!" invited Frid, and patted the settle next to him.
Doup lay down, but decided to keep his eyes open. If he closed them, then he wouldn't be able to open them again. He pulled his blanket up and lay gazing at his father.
Frid's light hair had turned mostly gray, but his eyes were still just as blue as Ravnar's. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and stared into the glowing fire on the hearth. His face took on a warm, red glow.
"What was I called before I was called Doup? What's my real name?"
"Alek," Frid answered without taking his eyes from the fire. "We named you Alek—your mother and I, a long time ago—before she died."
He leaned forward and took a piece of driftwood from the basket and placed it on the embers.
"I think it was Ravnar's idea," he said.
The flames caught and lit up the little flock sitting in a semicircle and warming themselves while they waited for the night to be over—for the old year to die—for a lighter time to come.
Over on the table, the candle had burned halfway down.
He was called Alek, the night was long, and his eyes slid shut.
* * *
He still had the name inside when he woke up. This foreign, sharp, angled name, totally different from Doup, which was childishly small and round—like a marble on the tongue.
It was Light Morning and outside the sun was shining. The parlor was empty, the candle had long since burned down, and the table had been cleared. He put on his boots to go home.
The wind was coming from the land, so the cove was sheltered by the hillcrest. The sun was high in the sky and had long been warming the stones and making the air mild. Not a person could be seen, but Glennie spotted him from the other side of the stream and ran to meet him, tail wagging.
He squatted and let the dog lick his ear, while he ran his fingers through the black, bristling coat and forward to her chest with its little white fan.
"Alek, can you say Alek?"
The dog answered with a jump and a deep yap, and he laughed.
"Yes, that's right," he said, and scratched her behind the ear.
When he got up, the dog ran ahead, once in a while stopping to turn and check that he was following. He stopped by the stream and hollowed his hands and lifted cold water up to his face. Glennie ran across the bridge and over to the front of the house where Alek lived with Myna and Kotka. She remained lying there when he stepped inside.
He carefully opened the door to the parlor. The sunshine made the yellow, varnished furniture shine like honey; the rifle hung in its place over the hearth, and Myna and Kotka lay sleeping in the wide bed in the corner.
They lay in each other's arms under the soft brown blanket made of skins. Kotka's hair stood out in all directions and looked completely white next to Myna's dark mane. He had bowed his head toward hers, his forehead resting on her temple, as if he was breathing her in while sleeping.
Alek stood looking at them for a little while. He knew exactly how she smelled—of thyme, seaweed, and wood smoke. He had slept there next to her both when he was little and also when he had grown bigger. She opened her eyes and looked at him; then she smiled and fell back to sleep again smiling.
He tiptoed out of the parlor and opened the door to his own room under the stairs. The bed was made up and covered by a woolen blanket. In front of it on the floor lay an old brown goatskin, its hairs worn away in the middle. His clothes hung on a rack on the wall, and on the window ledge stood a little spotted wooden cow with only one ear.
He shut the door and went to the room at the other side of the house. It was cool in there with a smoky smell from legs of lamb and bunches of dried flatfish hanging from the ceiling.
He found some cold potatoes that had been baked in the embers on the hearth. He split several open with his knife and forced the yellow masses out of the burned jackets and gnawed them clean.
The peels he brought along to the hens, who were scratching in the top of the manure pile. They pecked at the potato scraps and then followed him into the stable, which he mucked out, first the empty stall and then under the two big horses and the cow. He gave the animals water and forked fresh hay down from the loft for them.
A shadow fell across the door. Frid came in. He went over to the cow and began to scratch its forehead.
"It was sad about your little horse. Do you miss him?"
"I miss Ravnar more." Ravnar had gone to live in Last Harbor after Myna chose Kotka instead of him.
"Yes ... Ravnar," said Frid, and let his hand drop. "I wonder how he's doing."
The cow pushed him, and he lifted his hand and continued to rub its forehead.
"Maybe I should go up to visit him."
"I want to come," said Alek, and stood up straight.
"We could go with Eidi back to Last Harbor, when she comes to trade. There should be room for two more in that big boat."
* * *
The light was white when they stepped out of the dark stable with the hens underfoot. Frid went back to the house, and Alek drifted along the stream down to the beach where the wind reached him with the smell of fresh water and earth.
A gull walked along pecking at the seaweed, and Alek picked up a stone and hit it. Dazed, it flapped its wings upward, dropped a couple of feathers, and disappeared in the bright light.CHAPTER 3
The hail chased the hens back into the stable. Small marbles of ice hit the ground and shot up again as Alek moved along the dancing white carpet. He was on his way down to the beach because the boat from Last Harbor had appeared.
Six big men each sat at an oar and struggled to get the boat into the cove. Eidi could be seen at the stern with the first mate. It looked as if the boat was landing over and over in the same trough between the waves, but its growing size showed that it was getting closer. The sun broke through a sliver in the cloud cover, and the golden light chased the blue-black hailstorm out to sea, where the wind rippled the surface before it quickly disappeared.
Now Tink and Frid were also on their way to the beach. Foula appeared in the doorway with her shawl up around her ears. Cam ran after Frid while trying to button his coat as Foula was shouting for him to do. He gave up and stood still, stamping his feet impatiently while the buttons teased his small, fat fingers. Foula caught up with him and helped.
The boat scraped the beach. The two boatmen in front jumped out and grabbed hold of the railing. They pulled the boat forward toward land across planks placed to prevent the keel from digging too deeply into the layer of small dark pebbles.
In no time the boat stood high up on land. Eidi, who now managed the store in Last Harbor, jumped into her mother Foula's arms, and Cam clung to her legs. She bent down and kissed his round cheeks.
Then it was Tink's turn. Eidi pulled off his knit cap and ruffled his light brown hair and then she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
"Oh, Tinkerlink, how you're growing," she said, laughing. He was half a head taller than her.
She said hello to the others, and finally she took hold of a strapping blond youth and pulled him over to Frid and Foula.
"This is Sigge," she said, and the giant took off his knit cap and stuck out his hand and smiled with his whole ruddy face.
Excerpted from Alek by Bodil Bredsdorff, Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard. Copyright © 1995 Bodil Bredsdorff. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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