The grandfather clocks struck the half hour, one by
one and out of rhythm. The third-floor bedroom
one first, the upstairs bathroom one second, and
the hallway one last as always, after a grudging effort of
whispers and clicks.
Lin's hands trembled as she held the parcel under the brown silk lampshade. She had thought the letters would shift in the light, that her eyes would adjust and the mistake would be corrected. Yet no matter how hard she stared at the scratched word, it did not change.
The parcel felt heavier than it looked. When she shook it, something jangly slid from side to side within. She paused to listen. In the kitchen, the violins had resumed their yammering, and from the second floor came the faint din of a TV audience that meant her father had stopped writing to call out the answers to a quiz show.
She ripped the paper and emptied the parcel into her hand.
Out tumbled two keys. One was grimy and had an orange plastic tag that said cellar. The other was large, as large as the length of her hand, and blackened, as if it had grown from ashes and dirt. Its head was fashioned as a petal, and the stem was that of a rose, with three curved, sharp thorns. Engraved across the petal, there it was again: twistrose.
In the troll hunt, they always used code names. For years Niklas had been Summerknight and Lin had been Nettle, because of her special nettle brew. But for the Oldtown hunt, she had taken a new one, inspired by the rosebush over Rufus's grave.
One day, she had noticed how it hooked its thorns into the paint of the facade, stretching its branches toward the sky. It reminded her of the junipers that clung to the Trollheim Mountains with their twisted roots; they never let go no matter how cruel the wind blew. And that's when she had thought of itthe perfect code name for a troll hunter who was exiled for the moment, but not forever: Twistrose.
Lin had wanted to wait till their next game to share it with Niklas, so she hadn't said a thing about it. Not to Niklas, not to anyone.
"So, Miss Rosenquist, what have you got there?"
Lin whipped around, shoving both the folded paper and the keys in her pockets. How very like her father to know about the squeaky steps. He had his quizzy face on, the lifted-chin one he wore when his curiosity had set in, and she knew she wouldn't get away with lying. "A parcel," she said. "But it's for me."
He tilted his head. "From a friend?"
Which was of course an excellent question. With the troll-hunter signal, whoever had delivered the parcel had made sure Lin would be the one to find it. And the name Twistrose could only mean that it was for her, and her alone. But for what purpose? Shrugging as casually as she could, Lin said, "I don't know yet."
The quizzy face softened. "A little mystery. I see. Miss Rosenquist, you may carry on." He patted the arm of her still-dripping coat before he started back up the stairs. "But if your mystery takes you out into the storm, I know I can trust you to dress for the part."
Only when she heard him shout "What is the Arctic Circle!" from the living room, dared Lin bring the keys out from hiding. Moving deeper into the hallway, she ignored her coat, because she had no intention of going outside of the house. She was going under it.
The cellar door at the end of the hallway had remained locked since they moved in, despite her father's attempts at wringing the key out of Mrs. Ichalar. All sorts of trouble could be brewing down there, he had argued, fires and floods and rodent invasions. Mrs. Ichalar had claimed that she couldn't find the key, and that she needed the storage space for her little hobby, now that she lived in a retirement home. "What sort of hobby?" her father had asked, but for once, his questions got him nowhere. Lin smiled. If Harald Rosenquist knew that his daughter's "little mystery" involved the cellar key, there would be no stopping him. But he didn't know.
Excerpted from The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell. Copyright © 2013 by Tone Almhjell. Excerpted by permission of Dial Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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