Place: The border between Italy and France
Object: Hand mirror
At a table outside a cafe in the little French town of Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee, just across the border from Italy, Miranda sighed and slammed the journal shut with a vengeance. "There was nothing to do but wait. The monster came"
Was that any way to end a journal? Was that any way to end a life?
She looked back at her notes again. Monsters did not exist—so what had Great-Granny Iona and her "wild, desperate" captor really encountered that day? She had survived, that much was certain. Miranda carried distinct memories of the elderly presence at her sixth birthday party, the crotchety old biddy with a scratchy brogue that the older generation called "Granny Yoyo," for whatever reason.
But if there was no monster... What had threatened them? Granny Yoyo had large red birthmarks on both arms, which she claimed once were burn marks from dragon scales, but Mum had assure the young, impressionable Miranda that it was nothing more than subcutaneous blisters from a hot-water burn; that should have been the end of it.
Then, abruptly, as heirlooms were being shuffled from place to place or sold altogether as the Second War dragged on, Miranda had discovered Granny Yoyo's journal, and read the fantastic tale it contained: about her dear brother Fagin, and this mysterious Ring of Brodgar, the massively strong warrior Callum McGowan... And the Monster of the Moor. Miranda had visited the Old Country before the war started. Castle Brodgar was charred ruins by then, and the moors nearly dry—there had been a large clearing at the center of the moors, but this was undoubtedly a natural occurrence of some ancient volcanic shift.
Miranda checked her watch. It was nearly 12:00; Jeremy would be knocking on her front door in about four hours, and there was still so much she had to get ready. She slipped the irksome journal back into her satchel and started the long walk back to the cab stop.
On the way, her feet—drawn by the idyllic nature of "rue bon marche" and heedless to her practical mind—led her down an alley fairly crawling with hawkers and vendors offering their wares. Her eyes feasted and drank all the vivid colors and pleasing sights... Then her eye caught an otherwise nondescript storefront sandwiched tightly between two gaudier tourist shops. The small hanging sign merely read "Objets Antiques," as if there was nothing more to be said.
Miranda opened the narrow little door and peeked inside. It was a dim little shop, but packed full of interesting things from all over the continent.
A gravelly voice greeted her with a stream of French that sounded very pleasant. Miranda's practical side nearly won out, and she would have ducked back out the way she came with a foreigner's stock phrase "Non, merci!"
But quite suddenly, there he was, standing in front of her, the wizened little man with the round face, offering her something that looked like a tea tray in his pudgy little hands. It was an ornate silver hand mirror.
"Un cadeau pour vous, mademoiselle! Il est très spécial!" The shopkeeper held out the mirror to her. "Très spécial!" He repeated.
Miranda backed away. "No," she stammered, "no money; I cannot pay."
The little man (he could not have been more than four feet high!) puffed out his chest and looked extremely offended. "Pierre dit que c'est un cadeau!" He remonstrated her, "Il ne prendra pas l'argent pour cela!" He fairly slipped the mirror into Miranda's satchel. "Il est à vous!" he insisted.
Miranda just wanted to get out of there. She swept out the door and fairly dashed down the lane, jostling against passersby as she did so.
One such pedestrian wore curious garb for a light spring day: a long black trench coat with a high collar, a wide-brimmed grey fedora, and black leather gloves. He entered the shop as Miranda left. He seemed to know the owner, who regarded him as one would a snake that had formerly bitten him.
The man did not waste a moment.
"What did you find, Pierre?"
The dwarf said nothing.
"Come now, you gave her something; what was it?"
Still the antiques dealer did not answer.
"So that's how you're going to play it, eh? You really think she's the Ecrivaine?"
The dwarf still stared at him, blinking very slowly.
"Come on, Pierre; I know you know where the Ring is. Tell me: is she the one?"
Pierre folded his arms over his barrel of a chest and stared back in defiance.
"Dwarves," the man spat, and stalked out of the shop.
Out on the street, Miranda's path lost aim when she pulled out the mirror. Why had the shopkeeper given it to her? What was so "tres special" about it?
Miranda finally noticed that she had taken a wrong turn down a deserted street and was now hopelessly lost. She stopped and tried cutting down a side street to try and return to the cab stop—if she could ever find the center of town again.
Five more minutes presented a new problem: now that she was alone and disoriented, the second set of footsteps behind her grew impossibly loud. Miranda glanced over her shoulder. The man was dressed in all black and grey, making the round, silver ring on his gloved hand stand out with even more contrast. Miranda wondered briefly how the ring seemed very familiar for some reason, but mostly she just wanted to get away from this situation. She picked up her pace and headed back into town. Once there were more people about, she could lose herself more easily.
After many turns and feints among the visitors and citizens of the little town, Miranda dared to check if he was still behind her. She pulled out the hand mirror and, under the pretense of inspecting her appearance, she surreptitiously snuck a glance over her shoulder.
Blast! The man was only a few yards away. Miranda saw him reach up to adjust the angle of his hat. She almost got a complete look at his ring. She squinted closely at it—
Then she nearly dropped the mirror in fright.
The man behind her was not a man at all.
The face in the reflection was dark, scaly, and menacing. She wanted to run, but her feet stayed rooted to the spot as the ominous footsteps drew closer.
A large, rough hand clamped her shoulder. Miranda whirled around, shielding her face with the mirror.
"What do you want with me?" She shrieked.
Gloved hands closed around her fingers and twisted the mirror out of them. She squeezed her eyes shut as her body trembled.
"You are Miranda Clarion? Daughter of Suzanne Clarion.... the granddaughter of Iona Bhean An Brodgar?"
The use of her great-grandmother's full name came as a shock to Miranda. The family matriarch had been Iona Brodie since Mum was a little girl. Nobody but those of her own generation knew the whole title. She finally raised her gaze.
Keen blue eyes met hers. The man standing before her looked perfectly normal. The monster from the mirror had vanished. This face was soft and kind. Worn, yes—excessively so—but very harmless, and (more importantly) human.
Miranda blinked. "Who are you?" She gasped.
The man's icy blue eyes darted around the street where they stood. He handed the mirror back to Miranda, taking care to cover its surface so that he would not glimpse his reflection.
"There is a cafe just over there," he nodded, "let us go over there to talk."
Miranda tensed as she looked at the mirror again and the fearsome image returned to her mind. "Why did that—"
"Please, Miss Clarion!" His accent was thick, but untraceable. "You will want to be seated when you hear what I have to say!"