Lidskialfa [the terror of nations]. The throne of Alfader,
whence he can view the whole universe.
She wasnít laid up very long. The wounds had not been as severe as she first thought them. Once the doctors had looked her over, bound up the minor break in her leg and handed over the morphine to her mother, to be used only when the pain was too great to allow her some sleep, she could relax a little, think about Mikhael and about Max, too. Freddy had always been a healer, a quick one. The cut on her upper lip when the carving knife had slipped on an onion skin and flipped backward onto her face had healed in only two weeks. It left a tiny scar, a pencil-thin mark from the top of her lip to the side of her nose, but with a touch of powder it disappeared almost completely now. The break in her bone was minor, the sort of scattering that healed most easily. Luckily, they told her, she was young and with the young the time it took was minimal. She was up and about in just over a week.
During that time in bed, alone most of the time, she thought a great deal about Mikhael and his father and the chair. He had never answered her about the chair. Instead he had distracted her with other things, with the stilts, with games. Now, with so much time on her hands, instead of on her feet, that chair and its secrets occupied her mind. What had he told her? What did she remember about it? What were the words?
"It is a chair that contains us and brings no joy at all." Those had been his words. "It is a seat of long tradition and my father has taken it from his country without the permission of the state."
She remembered their conversation vividly. She remembered how she had asked him about his fatherís rights and Mikhaelís darkened expression when he told her "That is our trouble." He had never explained this to her, but he had called her a Queen, called her Queen Fredericka and she recalled liking her name for the first time in her life. She missed that feeling of sudden and inexplicable pride in her name. It had been too new, too short-lived. She missed Mikhael and she wondered why he had disappeared in the park that day, left her alone to suffer in pain. She wanted to hate him, but she liked him too much to do that, ever.
When her mother told her that Mikhael Staffiev was at the door to see her, and started to ask Freddy if she wanted to see him, she nearly leaped out of the chaise that held her. It was almost as though her thoughts of him had somehow summoned him.
"Bring him in," she shouted. "I want to see him now."
She was so demonstrative that her mother backed out of the doorway and a moment later reopened the door to admit Mikhael. He came in quickly, nodding to Mrs. Wales as he passed her. Freddyís mother closed the door, but left it unlatched...just as a precaution. Then, discreetly, she went into the kitchen and shut that door tight.
Mikhael threw himself down onto the carpet and bowed his head low in front the reclining Freddy.
"You must forgive this boy," he said, almost too quietly to be heard, but Freddy heard him.
"I should be very mad at you," she said.
"I was the coward," he responded, looking up at her. "You fell and I did not know it instantly, but as I turned to look at you and found you not there, I wondered what I had done. Then I heard the crowd gather on the other side of the hill, heard the man who yelled that a girl was hurt, and I was frightened. I leaped from my stilts and dragged them with me as I ran from the park."
"That was wrong of you," Freddy said. "You should have come back for me."
"I could not. The chair."
"Oh, damn the chair. I hate that chair."
"But my father...."
"Who is your father," she cried, "that his chair means more to you than your only friend when sheís hurt?"
"He is my father. Surely you understand what that means."
"I donít." Freddy didnít want to sound the way she knew she sounded, but she couldnít help it, couldnít stop her voice from whining. "You have to help me, Mikhael. You have to tell me things and make me understand you."
"You know I must keep the secrets of my father."
"I know." She was calmer suddenly. Familiarity with this situation kicked in and she heard her voice grow softer.
"I would tell you much if the time was better." He was smiling up at her from his position on the floor. He reached up and took her hand. "I would tell you everything, Fredericka, if it was possible."
"Yes, I know you would."
"I love you, my sister."
For some reason this simple statement made her blush, gave her chills and sent a shiver down her spine. The doorbell rang and she heard her mother move from the kitchen table, shoving back her chair and then heard her footsteps. Mikhael sat silent and Freddy held her breath. Visitors were rare at their apartment. This was strange.
A moment later her mother opened the door to her room and looked in, reacting oddly to the sight of Mikhael on the floor, then smiled, then spoke.
"You have another one, another boy."
"Max? I think he said Max."
"Can he come in, too, please?" Her mother withdrew, then reopened the door one more time and let Max enter her room. He also reacted sharply to the sight of Mikhael on the floor.
"Iíve never seen so many boys in your room, before," Mrs. Wales muttered.
"Weíll be fine. Just close the door, please." Her mother did as she was asked and Freddy introduced the two boys.
"Youíre the kid on stilts, then?" Max asked.
"He was," Freddy told him.
"Youíre a bigger kid than I supposed," Max continued. "I thought bigger kids were more responsible."
"I am responsible when it is convenient," Mikhael answered, "and in this instance it was not so. Too many people converged on our Fredericka too quickly."
"Thatís nuts," Max responded.
"My hero! My champion!"
"To whom do you refer with these accolades, Fredericka?"
"To Max, of course. Not to you, Mikhael."
"And Max, you would wish some sort of heroís wreath, I suppose? To be crowned with the laurels?"
"Not me, bub," Max said, as manly a man as he could muster under these odd circumstances.
Freddy giggled. She liked the differences between the boys almost more than the boys themselves.
"He talks funny. Really foreign," Max said to Freddy.
"I am from another world," Mikhael told him.
"Yeah, like Jupiter or Saturn."
"Or Uranus," Freddy said and the words made her laugh, a laughter echoed by Max and finally, realizing the silliness of it, by Mikhael himself.
"Where are you from?"
"Iíve been trying to get him to tell me for weeks, Max."
"Are you ashamed of your place?"
"I am not. I may not speak of it easily, however."
"He has a chair his father stole from there, wherever there is."
"Freddy! You must not speak of the chair."
"Itís a throne, Max. A real throne."
"I never heard of a throne being stolen," Max said.
"It is not stolen, it is appropriated by its rightful occupant."
"Occupant? Does your father sit in it all the time?" There was no reply.
"Iíve sat in it, Max, and not on his fatherís lap, either. His father wasnít there."
"You are irreverent, Fredericka," Mikhael said, standing up finally and brushing off his pants with his open hands.
"Mikhael, I am happy you came to see me but Iím still mad at you for leaving me like that."
"Yeah, why would you do that to her?"
"My reasons are based on sound judgement."
"I still want to know why," Freddy demanded. "I know you have lots of secrets, but I want to know."
"Not in front of him," Mikhael said.
"So you will tell me, if Max goes away?"
"I will. I promise."
"But Max wonít go away. I want him to stay."
"These are secrets!"
"Max, will you promise, will you swear, to keep whatever you hear in this room to yourself, always and forever?"
"Yeah, I will!"
"Does that satisfy you, Mikhael?" He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. He was tapping his right foot in a strong and steady rhythm. Freddy watched him in silence and Max did likewise. "Does it?" She finally said.
"I accept this pledge."
"Good! Now, give!"
The three of them, seated, moved close together and Mikhael proceeded to confess his secret, things he had told no one else ever since arriving in America. When he was done, he admitted to them both, he felt better, freer than he had felt in a long time.
"The chair is the Lidskialfa, the throne of Alfader. This is the ancestral throne of our people. My country no longer is there, Freddy, a tiny place between Lapland and Poland with Russia just behind it. Alfader, the ruler of my place, is the ancestral name for what you would call the King. In that world he is not just a ruler, but the father of his people, the all-seeing father, the God or demi-God. My father was the last of these men, the last in our country which has disappeared, perhaps for always now. When this European war which devastated the world ended, the Russians claimed our land for their own and my family fled to Denmark, then to Holland, then France and then to America. In my lifetime I have dwelt in five countries. My father has dwelt in six. My mother in nine and my sister in ten of them. I am the guardian of the Lidskialfa, the only one who knows its importance. One day, when my country is ours again, we will return the chair to the room where the Alfader sits and watches over the entire universe that is his legacy. I will be the Alfader."
"Golly," said Max, "can I see this likkykalpher some time?"
"Lidskialfa. And one day, perhaps."
"Iíve sat in it, Max."
"And do you mean to tell us that you live alone?" Max asked. "Youíre just a kid."
"No. I have two servants who look after my needs."
"But no father at home? No mother or sister?"
"Max has a sister, too, an older sister."
"Mine is also older, but she may not inherit. She is a girl."
"My sister, Brianna, already owns the world," Max said, but when pressed for more information by Freddy, he wouldnít say another word about her.
"When can I see this chair?" Max asked.
"There is no good time."
"You could take him home with you, Mikhael. You could show it to him now."
"I think it is not a good time, Fredericka."
"I have to take some medicine and that always makes me sleepy. You should both go and Mikhael, you should show Max the Lids...ski...al...fa. Is that it?"
"That is it."
"Iíll come back soon," Max said. "Iíll go and leave you two alone."
"No! Youíll go home with the demi-God boy and see the chair. I donít want you think weíve been kidding you."
"Some other time."
"No. For Frederickaís sake, I will take you there now."
That settled among them, the two boys embraced Freddy and departed for Mikhaelís 154th Street apartment. She watched them go, saw Mikhael slip an arm around Maxís waist as though to escort him swiftly from the room. She heard them say goodbye to her mother and she heard the door close behind them. Somehow, she knew, that arm would remain around that waist for a longer time than necessary. Something about the way Mikhael had called her his sister.
"I need the morphine, now," she called to her mother. "I need it bad."