"Just look in," he demanded.
The girls walked to his side and stared at the mirror. Junipa noticed it first. "There's something in the glass."
It looked like shreds of mist that moved fleetingly over the mirror surface, amorphous, like ghosts. And there was no doubt that the pale outline was under the glass, inside the mirror.
"Mirror phantoms," said Arcimboldo matter-of-factly. "Annoying parasites who settle into my mirrors from time to time. It's the apprentices' job to catch them."
"And how are we supposed to do that?" Merle wanted to know.
"You'll enter the mirrors and drive out the phantoms with a little aid that I shall give you to take with you." He laughed aloud. "My goodness, don't look so flabbergasted! Dario and the others have done it countless times. It may seem a little unusual to you, but basically it's not very difficult. Just tiresome. Therefore, you apprentices are allowed to experience it, while your old master puts his feet on the desk, smokes a good pipe, and doesn't worry about a thing."
Merle and Junipa exchanged looks. They both felt apprehensive, but they were also determined to get through this business with dignity. After all, if Dario had already done it, they probably would be able to as well.
Arcimboldo pulled something out of a pocket of his smock. Between thumb and forefinger he held it in front of the girls' noses: a transparent glass ball, no bigger than Merle's fist.
"Quite ordinary, eh?" Arcimboldo grinned, and for the first time, Merle noticed that he was missing a tooth. "But in fact, it's the best weapon against mirror phantoms. Unfortunately, it's also the only one."
He said nothing for a moment, but neither girl asked any questions. Merle was certain that Arcimboldo would carry on with his explanation.
After a short pause, while he gave them a chance to look at the glass ball more closely, he said, "A glassblower on Murano produced this captivating little thing according to my specifications."
Specifications? Merle asked herself. For a simple ball of glass?
"When you put it next to a mirror phantom, you must just speak a certain word, and he'll immediately be trapped inside the ball," Arcimboldo explained. "The word is intorabiliuspeteris. You must imprint it in your minds as if it were your own name. Intorabiliuspeteris."
The girls repeated the strange word, becoming tongue-tangled a few times, until they were sure they could keep it in their heads.
The master pulled out a second ball, handed one to each girl, and had them step up to the mirror. "Several mirrors are infested, but for today we'll let it go with one." He made a sort of bow in the direction of the mirror and spoke a word in a strange language.
"Enter," he said then.
"Just like that?" Merle asked.
Arcimboldo laughed. "Of course. Or would you rather ride in on a horse?"
Merle ran her eye over the mirror surface. It looked smooth and solid, not yielding like her hand mirror. The memory made her briefly look over at Junipa. Whatever she'd seen this morning, it had made a deep impression on her. Now she seemed to be afraid to follow Arcimboldo's instructions. For a moment Merle was tempted to tell the master everything and ask for understanding for Junipa to remain here and Merle to go alone.
But then Junipa took the first step and stretched out her hand. Her fingers broke through the mirror surface like the skin on a pan of boiled milk. She quickly looked over her shoulder at Merle; then, with a strained smile, she stepped inside the mirror. Her figure was still recognizable, but now it looked flat and somehow unreal, like a figure in a painting. She waved to Merle.
Copyright 2001 by Kai Meyer. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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