To my father, Archie Duke,
my mother, Kathleen Duke,
and all those who lived through those times.
The author would like to thank the following for providing translations, historical information, insights, personal experiences, and medical expertise: Ruth Sinkevicius; Valentina Rist; Professor David Dendy, M.A., Department of History, Okanagan College; Angela Gerstner of the Deutsches Museum’s Visitor Services; and Kathy Jones, retired nurse.
Family support throughout the creative process was very much appreciated, too, as was input from my editor, Nancy Bell, and my beta readers M.D., Linda Rogers, and Ruth Sinkevicius.
Special thanks to Werner Fischer, co-owner of Gasthaus On The Lake in Peachland, B.C., who graciously allowed us to shoot the cover at this enchanting pub-restaurant. Thanks, also, to my cover artist, Michelle Lee, my photographer and touch-up artist, Summer Bates, and my cover models, Antonella Feeney, Teryl Bates, Gabriel L’Heureux, Joshua Lundquist, Holly Womacks, and Isabella Harmel.
Rhyme on the box containing
the Time Rose medallion
’Tis for youth to call its own,
By speaking words in proper tone.
And up to five times be guided,
To those whose fate be not decided.
For divers lives must come to blend,
Ere the roses’ peregrinations end.’
“Fröhliche Weihnachten. Fröhliche Weihnachten. Fröhliche Weihnachten.”
“How many more times are you going to practice saying that?” Paige Marchand asked her brother Dane.
“I think I’ve got it now.” He tucked the airline holiday brochure containing the phrase back into the pocket of the seat in front of him.
“They do all speak English, you know. If you just say, ‘Merry Christmas’, they’ll get it.”
“Our relatives speak English. Other people we meet might not. I want to be able to do a proper Christmas greeting. It’s polite to talk to people in their own language. Especially in their own country.”
Thirteen-year-old Paige, and eleven-year-old Dane, were due to land in Munich, Germany in less than half an hour. Their father, Canadian filmmaker Alan Marchand, was already there, working on a docudrama. Their English-born mother, Britannia Hollingsworth Marchand, had taken them out of school a few days before the start of the Christmas break so they could appear in some of its background scenes. They often acted in their father’s films, and would this time be portraying ‘young foreigners’ visiting Pre-World War Two Germany. Having married an historical romance writer whose family was mostly comprised of historians, many of Mr. Marchand’s own projects dealt with historical subjects. Upon completion of this one, he had promised Paige and Dane a day of skiing in nearby Austria before they all headed to England to spend a traditional British Christmas with their English relatives.
Some of those relatives were travelling with them now. The Marchands had briefly broken their Vancouver-Munich flight with a stop-over in London, and resumed it in the company of Mrs. Marchand’s sister, Augusta Hollingsworth Taisley, Augusta’s husband, Gareth Taisley, and the couple’s nine-year-old son, Jack. Jack was going to be in the docudrama as well, along with two young German relatives, Zacharias and Alina Bauer. Zach and Alina’s English grandmother, Regina Ziegler, was some sort of cousin to Mrs. Marchand and Aunt Augusta. Having moved to Germany shortly after her marriage to German historian, Ludwig Ziegler, she had raised her family in a small town near Frankfurt.
“Is ‘Merry Christmas’ all you can say in German?” asked Jack, who was sitting with Paige and Dane about three rows behind their respective parents.
“Nein,” Dane replied with a grin. “In addition to the German word for ‘no’, I can say ‘Ja’, ‘yes’, ‘Guten Morgen’, ‘good morning’, ‘Bitte’, ‘please’, and ‘Danke’, ‘thank you’. I also know that ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ means ‘good-bye’, ‘Liebchen’ means something like ‘dear’ or darling’, ‘Achtung!’ means ‘Pay attention!’, ‘Hände hoch!’ means ‘Hands up!’ and ‘Das ist verboten’ means ‘That is forbidden’. I got the last three from old war movies.”
Jack rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, well, you only speak German because your parents had an au pair who taught it to you when you were little,” Dane said defensively. “But thanks to Dad and our French Canadian grandparents, we are fluent in French.”
“So am I. Priska taught me French as well. And Italian. Being from Switzerland, she knew all three. How are your Latin lessons coming along?”
“Well…facile non est—it’s not easy,” said Paige. “I think we’re starting to get the hang of it, though. Dad found us a really good tutor. He works with us three times a week. We expect to be as good at it as you before too long.”
“I’m not as good as Mummy. Or Granny and Granddad. But they specialize in the study of Ancient Rome and have to do a lot of translating.”
“What are you going to specialize in when you become a historian?” Dane inquired.
Jack’s scholarly abilities went far beyond a flair for languages, and his cousins knew he planned to follow family tradition and pursue a career involving history.
“I’m not sure yet. I’ve come to like several eras.”
“Yeah, us, too,” said Paige.
The young Marchands’ interest in Latin was more recent than Jack’s. The three children were in possession of an ancient medallion that could transport them through Time, and believed it would one day take them back to the time of the Roman Empire, when Latin was still in common use.
They had already been to fifteenth-century England, where they helped two medieval princes elude royal assassins, and also to Victorian England, where they helped a pair of street waifs escape from Jack the Ripper. They had even been to a primitive period in the far distant past of Canada’s Okanagan Valley, where a mysterious, almost ethereal, syilx girl named Skookaweethp had helped them. Thanks to her, and a long-secreted object, they had been able to get the better of a sinister Armenian sorcerer who feared they would one day travel to his time and free a young Armenian girl enslaved by the Romans. A girl he did not want them to free.
Her name was Varteni, which meant ‘rose tree’. A few months earlier, they had come across a book entitled The Little Rose Tree. It had been written by Rosalina Wolverton, a Victorian-era relative and fellow time-traveller who claimed the Wolvertons and their offshoots belonged to what she called the Line of the Restorer. Young members of this line were supposed to move through Time and seek out children in possession of Keeper Pieces, which were items of jewellery made from the same gold statue as the medallion. They’d been doing so for centuries, with each set of seekers working to pave the way for the final seekers. And, according to a rhyme another former time-traveller had penned, Paige, Dane, and Jack were the final seekers.
The rhyme stated:
When generations five remain alive,
Deliverance is near.
And the rose tree will its role fulfil,
If all can persevere.
As yet, however, the final seekers were still seeking. While in the Okanagan Valley, in what Skookaweethp had called the mid-time—with some trials past, and some still to come—they’d been told there were other ‘lost ones’ they had to connect to first.
“Do you think we’re likely to be going anywhere ‘interesting’ while we’re in Germany?” Jack asked, changing to this very subject. He spoke quietly, so as not to draw the attention of the people around them. Had his parents and Mrs. Marchand been sitting closer, he would not have wanted them to overhear either. Time travel with the medallion was only supposed to be discussed with those who had achieved it. And his mother and aunt had not.
“We can try,” Paige said, equally carefully. “The setting for Dad’s docudrama is one that might well put us in line with a place we can gain access to.”
“A place Granddad isn’t likely to approve of,” Dane cautioned. “Or Uncle Edmond, either.”
“Grantie Etta will talk them round,” said Paige.
Their maternal grandfather, Avery Hollingsworth, and his older brother Edmond were both former medallion users. As was the children’s great-great-great aunt, Rosetta Wolverton, a still remarkably capable old lady of one hundred and five.
Their time trips, though eventful, had not been quite as perilous as those taken by Paige and the boys, whose safety Grandad had questioned even before he’d known there was a sorcerer involved. Learning there was a sorcerer involved had increased his fears, and even unnerved the hitherto blasé Uncle Edmond. Grantie Etta was concerned, too, but seemed to have more confidence in the children’s ability to carry out what she considered their family duty. She was sure to support their desire to make another time trip, even if that trip took them into Nazi Germany.
In modern Germany, they landed in mid-afternoon on a clear, but chilly, day and were met at the airport by the Taisley’s former au pair, Priska. Now married to Cousin Regina’s son Klaus, she and her husband lived in a small Munich apartment with their sixteen-month old daughter Tatjana.
“Tata is with my mother- and father-in-law,” Priska said when Aunt Augusta asked after the child. “They arrived this morning and will be staying with us during your visit. I wish we had room for all of you as well, but…” She shrugged apologetically.
“The guesthouse you’ve booked us into will be just fine,” Mrs. Marchand assured her. “Alan’s already been there for several days. He told me it was very nice. It’s run by friends of yours, isn’t it?”
“By the parents of friends. It is nice. A very clean guesthouse, with good food. It is called Gasthaus Volkmar. That is the owner’s name, Volkmar. Come.”
Priska led them to the airport’s S-Bahn station.
“My car is too small for so many, so we must take the train into München. We go first to the Hauptbahnhof, or, main terminus, and then, because of the luggage, will take taxis to Gasthaus Volkmar. It is in a good location, close to a U-Bahn station. Our rapid transit system goes most everywhere. It will take you to Marienplatz and other places of interest.”
“Ah, yes, Marienplatz,” said Aunt Augusta. “Munich’s famous Mary’s Square. That’s the place of most interest to me this trip. I’ve been to a lot of your city’s attractions, but never to the Christmas market. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.”
“So am I,” said Mrs. Marchand.
“The Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz is perhaps the best known,” said Priska, “but there are smaller markets, also. Emma and I will take you to all of them.”
Emma was her sister-in-law, mother of Zach and Alina.
“Are Zach and Alina here already?” Dane asked.
“No. She and Horst will bring them tomorrow. As with you, their school is not yet on holiday, but they are good students and have been allowed to leave early to be in your father’s film.”
“Jack’s school was, thankfully, equally accommodating,” said Aunt Augusta. Unlike Canada, both England and Germany fined parents who took children out of school without what school authorities considered ‘good reason’. “What time do you expect them?”
“If they catch the earliest train out of Frankfurt they should arrive mid-morning.”
“Sweet,” said Dane. He’d met twelve-year-old Zach and ten-year-old Alina at Grantie Etta’s birthday party back in the summer and liked them both.
“Bitte?” said Priska, slipping into German in her puzzlement.
“‘Sweet’, used in that context, is a slang expression conveying high-level approval of something,” Mrs. Marchand informed her as their train pulled in.
Less than an hour later, they were standing on a cobbled street in front of Gasthaus Volkmar. The high wooden gates were open and, beyond them, three low steps went up into a cobbled, two-level courtyard that, in better weather, contained tables and chairs. There was also a small wishing well and a variety of shrubs covered with Christmas lights. The guesthouse itself stood in a ways, an attractive old three-storey building with balconies and shuttered windows. A huge Christmas tree stood to the side of it, reaching almost to the roof.
“A most impressive Tannenbaum, is it not?” Priska inquired. “At Easter there will be a different type of tree. An Osterbaum, an Easter Egg tree. Another German custom, but not one that has been adopted by other countries to the same extent as Christmas trees.”
Inside, two medium-sized Christmas trees flanked the beautiful, almost life-size nativity scene in the entrance area. As they stopped to admire it, a short, stout, middle-aged man with glasses came out from behind a desk to greet them.
Priska made the introductions.
“Herr Volkmar, this is Herr Taisley, Frau Taisley, and their son, Jack. My little Jonty of long ago. I have told you of him, I think. And this is Frau Taisley’s sister, Frau Marchand, and her Kinder, Paige and Dane.”
Herr Volkmar made a little bow. “Welcome. Excuse please my English. My wife, her English is more good. But I do my best, ja?”
“Your best is quite good, Herr Volkmar,” Aunt Augusta assured him. “Much better than my German.”
“Or mine,” said Mrs. Marchand. “Or my husband’s. I imagine he went off early this morning. Did he leave a message?”
“Ja. Very early they go, but a message he leaves.”
He went back to the desk and returned with a note.
“Danke,” said Mrs. Marchand, taking it and scanning the contents. “They expect to be filming all day and won’t get back here until supper time,” she informed the others.
“They?” Uncle Gareth queried. “Who are the others?”
“Jeff Brockton and Tarkan Demir, Alan’s AD—assistant director—and DoP—director of photography. You probably saw them flitting about at Rosebank when Alan was doing his documentary on those medieval letters you found. ”
“I thought the people in that film crew were all local hires.”
“Most were. Most of the ones here are. The only other Canadian is the PA—production assistant—who accepted a last-minute invitation to stay with relatives while here. A PA’s basically just a slave, who does anything and everything, but this one speaks fluent German, which Alan considers an added bonus for this trip. Jeff and Tarkan have worked on several of Alan’s projects. Jeff is very good at taking care of all the day-to-day business, and Tarkan is very good at pulling everything together and creating the look and feel Alan’s after.”
“Paige has a crush on him,” said Dane.
“I don’t!” Paige snapped.
“You don’t?” Mrs. Marchand sounded surprised. “I’m sure I would have at your age. He’s devilishly handsome.”
Aunt Augusta came to niece’s rescue. “My goodness,” she said, “what with film people, and us, and, tomorrow, Emma and her family, our party seems to be taking over your little guesthouse, Herr Volkmar.”
“Nein, nein. You do not take over. Six rooms you have, but we have, still, six more. All full. It is a busy time of year.”
“Yes, I imagine it is.”
“I will let you get settled,” said Priska. “I do not, for long, like to leave Tata with my parents-in-law. They are not so young, and now that she walks, she is into everything. They do not say, but I know, for them, this is tiring. We will, all of us, come tomorrow, after the others get here, and take you to the markets. If you do not have too much of the jet lag,” she added, looking at the Marchands.
With only an hour’s time difference between England and Germany, she knew the Taisleys would not have that problem.
The next day, Mrs. Marchand was feeling the effects of jet lag, but Paige and Dane were not.
“Must have built up a tolerance to it, like your old man,” Mr. Marchand told them at breakfast. “You’ve been travelling the world with us since you were toddlers. After all the time zones we’ve dragged you through, you’ve finally learned to automatically adjust your body clocks.”
“Dad might be right,” Paige said later, when she and the boys were sitting under one of the indoor Christmas trees awaiting the arrival of Zach and Alina, “but I think the absence of jet lag comes from all the time eras we’ve been dragged through.”
“Unless it has something to do with the Arcanus Piece,” said Dane. “Ever since we brought it back from Skookaweethp’s time, other things have been better, too.” He turned to Jack. “According to the latest tests, neither of us has life-threatening allergies anymore. Or even minor ones.”
“And I don’t get travel sick anymore,” Jack revealed. “Speaking of Skookaweethp, did either of you dream of her last night?”
“Yeah, I did,” said Dane.
“Me too,” said Paige. “She was standing on that ridge where we met her. She didn’t say much. Just sort of re-said what she said then—that we still have some ‘lost ones’ to save. Was that how she was in your dreams?”
“Pretty much,” Dane confirmed. “She seemed to think we’d be going to them soon. But she wanted us to be careful, because the sorcerer still wants to stop us.” He frowned. “I thought, after what happened in the mid-time, he wasn’t supposed to be able to get at us in our own time. Or show up in other ones.”
“I don’t think he can,” said Jack. “Not like before. What I got from last night’s dream was that, since we now have the Arcanus Piece, he can’t harm us himself, but he can harm us through other people. People he can somehow influence or control.” He paused. “I say, you did bring the Arcanus Piece, didn’t you? And the other Keeper Pieces we’ve collected?”
“Of course,” said Paige. “They’re in that jewellery box I thought the Customs guy was going to make me open at the airport. Fortunately, he didn’t. Since the other medallion users are the only ones who know we’ve got them, Mum might have asked awkward questions.” She smiled. “I did have a story ready for her, though. Inspired by exposure to the silver tongues of Grandad and yourself, lying doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to.”
“It shouldn’t bother you at all if it’s connected to our use of the medallion,” Jack avowed. “Think of it as being a creative re-arrangement of facts designed to assist us in our quest to find Varteni. What was the story?”
“That Grantie had secretly started a Keeper Piece collection and had let me take her acquisitions back to Canada with me so I could show them to my friends. Mum would have been horrified. Our parents—and yours—already think it’s reckless of her to let us wear the medallion so much.”
When Grantie Etta first presented them with the solid gold, extremely valuable, Keeper medallion, they had taken turns wearing it, but for the past few months, it had been in Canada, hidden away in its specially carved box. Now that the cousins were together again, they had resumed the practice of wearing it on a daily basis. The day before, Dane had had it on. Today, Paige did.
“I was ready for awkward questions, too,” said Dane, “but not with a story. I was just going to pull out my harmonica and use it as a distraction.”
“Yeah. Mémé and Pépé are spending Christmas in Quebec this year, with Pépé’s sister. They headed out over a week ago and gave us our presents early. One of mine was a harmonica. A really nice one. Mum and Dad hate it, but since it came from loving grandparents, they can’t very well take it away from me. I actually quite enjoy making music with it.”
“Making irritating, high-pitched, unmelodic noises, you mean,” Paige amended.
“I’ll get better at it. Pépé said it takes practice. He plays really well.”
“He’s got an ear for music. You haven’t.”
“I do, too.”
“How would your having a harmonica have distracted Auntie Tania?” Jack wanted to know.
“She thinks it got left behind. I’m sure seeing it would have taken her attention away from Paige and the Customs officer.” He grinned. “After I packed it, she unpacked it, but I slipped it into the side pouch just as we were leaving the house.”
Paige groaned. “If I’d known, I’d have slipped it out.”
“Well, despite negative family feeling regarding harmonicas, I doubt it would have been much of a distraction,” said Jack. “Oh, look. Zach and Alina are here.”
His cousins looked across the courtyard and saw Zach and Alina coming through the gates with their parents, grandparents, and Priska, who had baby Tatjana bundled up in a push-chair.
They entered the guesthouse just as Mrs. Marchand, Aunt Augusta, and Uncle Gareth came downstairs to join Paige and the boys.
“No Klaus?” Mrs. Marchand asked.
“He must work,” Priska replied. “A new collection has arrived and must be catalogued.”
Klaus was the assistant curator at a small museum. Though the children usually preceded the names of adult cousins with ‘Cousin’ or the courtesy titles of ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’, they did not do so for Klaus and Priska because Klaus and Priska had only been in their late teens when they first knew them; Priska as the Taisleys’ au pair, and Klaus as a student studying at Oxford. Since they had called them by their first names then, they still did so. For Klaus’s parents, older sister, and brother-in-law, they employed the courtesy titles.
Aunt Emma countered Mrs. Marchand’s inquiry with, “No Alan?”
“He has to work, too. But as a concession to our arrival, and yours, he isn’t actually filming. Just out and about on various film-related business. He said he’d try to meet us by the Neues Rathaus in time for the second Glockenspiel performance.”
“That’s at noon,” said Aunt Regina. “We should be able to get there by then. I take it you’re up to doing the markets, Tania?”
“I think so. What’s a little jet lag when there are sights to see and shopping to do? I could do without the snow, however. It’s been coming down for almost an hour.”
As soon as the Bauers had checked into the guesthouse and deposited their luggage, the group travelled to the Marienplatz via the U-Bahn. Doing their best to ignore the enticing sights, sounds, and smells of the busy Christmas Market, they moved toward their immediate goal—the impressive Neo-Gothic structure known as the Neues Rathaus, the New Town Hall. Now well over a hundred years old, its clock tower housed a musical clock with large mechanical figures that went into action at set times each day to re-create two important scenes from Munich’s past: a medieval tournament held to celebrate a royal wedding, and a barrel dance celebrating the end of a plague. The Glockenspiel performance was a popular tourist attraction, and with the clock showing ten minutes to twelve, the area was jam-packed with people.
“Look for your father,” Mrs. Marchand told Paige and Dane. “There’s such a crowd, I don’t know we’ll be able to find him, but…oh, there he is.”
She pointed to where Mr. Marchand and two young men stood, waving and beckoning.
“We staked out a good place for you,” Mr. Marchand said as they joined them.
A few minutes later, the Glockenspiel music started, and all heads turned upward.
“Aren’t you going to film it?” Dane asked Jeff Brockton, who was holding a small digital movie camera but had not switched it on.
“No. There are lots of videos of this on the Net. Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy things in the moment.”
Enjoy it they did, but even though the snow had stopped, the day was a cold one. By the time the show was over, several people were stamping their feet in an attempt to warm up. Mrs. Marchand and Aunt Augusta were among them. Seeing this, Aunt Regina suggested they temporarily by-pass the market’s craft stalls and patronize the ones offering hot soup, noodles, sausages, roast chestnuts, potato pancakes, and other heat generating foodstuffs. Everyone was agreeable, although the sweet-toothed Jack was more interested in hot chocolate and the vast array of cakes, chocolate-coated fruit, spiced cookies, and gingerbread.
Once they had eaten, the two young men went off to deal with some film business and the others turned their attention to the stalls displaying such Christmassy commodities as toys, nutcrackers, ornaments, and nativity scenes.
“I’m really enjoying this,” said Mrs. Marchand, after making several purchases.
“So am I,” said Aunt Augusta. “I can’t believe we’ve never come here before. This is delightful. Other than it being so cold, of course.”
“Of course,” her sister agreed.
“Oh, come on, ladies,” Mr. Marchand retorted. “It doesn’t get really cold here until January. And even then it isn’t like being in Siberia. Or even most of Canada.”
“It’s still colder than I like it,” said Mrs. Marchand.
“Ten degrees above freezing is colder than you like it. And once there’s snow…” He looked around the group and shook his head sadly. “At home, she won’t even go up Big White with me and the kids. Even though she could stay indoors the whole time if she wanted. Which is what I expect she’ll do when we hit the slopes in Austria. Stay in the chalet and read. Or add a chapter or two to her work-in-progress.”
“Best possible use for a chalet, as far as I’m concerned. If I go out at all, it will be to wander around the village. It looked quite picturesque in the brochure. Albeit, cold.”
“After eighteen years in Canada, I’m surprised you haven’t acclimatized,” said Aunt Regina. “But then, you live in the tropical part, don’t you? British Columbia’s not as cold as some areas.”
“It is during a cold snap,” Mrs. Marchand replied. “Fortunately, those don’t last long.”
“But while they’re on, she hibernates,” said Mr. Marchand. “Doesn’t even poke her nose out the door.”
“Untrue. I stand on the steps and take twelve deep breaths. I consider that sufficient fresh air in winter.”
Before Mr. Marchand could reply, a sudden, “Yoo-hoo, Alan!” drew his attention to a thin, straggly-haired, middle-aged woman who was making her way across to them.
“No-o-o,” he moaned. “No, it can’t be.”
“What can’t be?” asked Mrs. Marchand. Turning to follow his gaze, she beheld his cousin, Beverly Marchand, also known as Ophelia Path-Holder, the most recent name she had chosen for herself. “Oh.”
Some people regarded Cousin Ophelia as an eccentric ‘free spirit’. Others—like Mr. Marchand—regarded her as a nutcase and public nuisance.
“I thought that was you,” Cousin Ophelia said upon reaching them. “I knew you were here, of course. In Munich, I mean. Aunt Marie and Uncle Gaston told me. They arrived at Aunt Heloise’s just as I was leaving. I’m spending Christmas in the Czech Republic, and popped in for a visit prior to flying out of Montreal. I’d been there a few days and she wanted me to stay and join them for Christmas, but friends had already invited me to Prague. I haven’t been in Europe during the holiday season for a couple of years now. I find it so uplifting to immerse myself in all its wonderful old traditions.”
She closed her eyes for a moment a blissful expression on her face. Opening them again she said, “I wasn’t expecting to run into you so soon. When I checked into Gasthaus Volkmar about an hour ago, Herr Volkmar said you’d just gone out. Since I thought I’d have to wait until tonight to meet up, I came over here to get some Dampfnudeln. Have you ever tried Dampfnudeln? Those hot dumplings covered with vanilla sauce? I just love them. I think they’re—”
Wondering what sadistic motives his parents might have had for revealing his location, Mr. Marchand interrupted her. “Gasthaus Volkmar? You’re staying at Gasthaus Volkmar?”
“Yes. When I phoned up from the airport, Herr Volkmar told me he’d just had a cancellation. Wasn’t that lucky? The Threads of Destiny working for me again! They almost always do. I mean, it’s hard to find accommodation anywhere at this time of year, and I hadn’t booked anything in advance because I only decided to come to Germany a couple of days ago. I was in Budapest and getting ready to go on to Prague when, all of a sudden, I felt Munich calling to me. I tried Gasthaus Volkmar first because of what Priska had told me about it when we met at Grantie’s party. It sounded so nice and homey, I got a warm feeling all over just listening to her talk about the place.”
“Did you, now?” Mr. Marchand turned to Priska. “I thought the Volkmars were friends of yours.”
“They are,” she replied, looking bewildered.
“And yet, you unleashed this upon them.”
He waved toward Cousin Ophelia, who laughed, but not, Paige thought, before she saw a tiny flicker of hurt in her eyes. “Don’t pay any attention to him, Priska. He’s just teasing. Like cousins do. I know he finds my approach to life a bit disconcerting at times. It’s probably because he’s so much younger. I’m sure if we were closer in age, we’d have bonded better in childhood.”
“Maybe,” said Mr. Marchand, unconvinced.
“Oh, I’m quite certain. I—” Cousin Ophelia broke off to peer closely at Dane. “Why, Dane, it might just be the winter boots but…no…you have. You’ve grown. You’re taller than Paige now.”
Dane beamed. “I sure am. By a whole inch.”
“More like half,” said Paige, with whom this rankled. “And I’ve grown, too. A bit.”
“Just not as much as me,” Dane crowed.
Cousin Ophelia agreed. “Your height gain is more obvious. And big sisters do have to resign themselves to the fact that their little brothers will eventually shoot past them, Paige.”
“I know. I just wasn’t looking for him to do it so soon.”
Jack sighed. “At least you’ve grown as well. I haven’t.”
“Yes you have, dear,” his mother contradicted him. “A smidge, anyway. You’ve just temporarily tapered off. You’re sure to start sprouting up again in a little while. Probably quite dramatically once you hit puberty.”
“Suppose I have delayed puberty? I’ve read about that.”
“It’s highly unlikely. Your birth parents gave us all their medical information and nothing of that nature is on record. And puberty’s a ways off yet. You won’t even be ten until the end of the month.”
“Still think you should have held out a day,” said Uncle Gareth. “You could have been England’s New Year’s baby if you’d arrived just after midnight instead of just before.”
Jack sighed again. “It would have been nice to be special.”
“You’re special to us, dear,” Aunt Augusta assured him.
“A New Year’s Eve birthday makes you a bit special,” said Mr. Marchand. “I got two June bugs, both of them born on dates noteworthy only to us. But the whole western world is out celebrating on your birthday.”
“I’ll still be in Prague on New Year’s Eve,” said Cousin Ophelia. “My Czech friends are taking me to a gala dinner featuring Mozart music and a performance by an illusionist.”
“Sounds nice,” said Mr. Marchand. “What do you plan to do while you’re in Munich? Besides wolf down Dampfnudeln, that is.”
“Oh, shop for presents, attend some craft workshops, go to a concert at the Frauenkirche, and, of course, take a day trip out to Neuschwanstein Castle to see it draped with snow. Such a beautiful sight.”
“Uh, when are you thinking of going to Neuschwanstein?”
“I’m not sure.”
“We go the day after tomorrow, I think,” Alina piped up. “Uncle Alan is filming us there.”
Mr. Marchand fought the urge to glare at a little child not his own.
“I am,” he grudgingly confirmed. “But we’ll be starting out really early to avoid the tourist crowd.”
“Very sensible. And I wouldn’t have minded. I often get up to bask in a sunrise. Unfortunately, that’s the one day I already have something arranged. After I called Herr Volkmar, I called some friends I have here and they invited me to go skating at the big open-air rink. Still, not to worry. I’m sure we’ll find something to do together while we’re all here. I guess you’re filming at Neuschwanstein in connection to that new project Uncle Gaston told me about. A docudrama on the Nazification of Germany?” She shuddered. “Not a nice subject. And one I would have thought had already been covered a number of times.”
“It has. But my angle is to explain Hitler’s rise to power through the eyes of kids visiting from a foreign country—England in this case. I’m using their take on what’s going on to show how totally the Nazis took over every aspect of life, and how powerless the average German was to stop them.”
“We learn something of that time from Opa,” said Zach, indicating Uncle Ludi. “And will learn more in school when we are older. Opa says we must know how it happened so it does not again happen in Germany.”
Mr. Marchand shook his head. “Not just Germany, kiddo. That kind of viciousness can take hold anywhere, with anyone, once fanatics gain control.”
“Which even today, they try to do,” said Uncle Ludi.
“They certainly do,” said Cousin Ophelia. “The news can be very depressing at times. I try not to watch it.”
“Can’t pretend nasty people aren’t out there, Bev,” said Mr. Marchand.
“Ophelia, Alan. I do wish you’d call me Ophelia. Beverly is the name of someone I was long ago. I’m different now. And I know nasty people are out there. I ran into one at the airport. Well, two, really. Penelope isn’t very nice either. But she’s still a child, so it’s possible she might change.”
Paige was instantly alert. As were Dane and Jack. “Penelope? As in, Penelope Wolverton-Herne?”
“Yes. She and her father had just got off a plane. We literally bumped into each other at the baggage carousel. Bentley immediately started to rant, but stopped upon recognizing me. He then became more cordial and told me he was in Munich on business and had brought Penelope along as a pre-Christmas treat. We didn’t talk long, but that was okay with me. I’m not favourably disposed towards that branch of the family.”
Uncle Edmond’s son Trevor had recently discovered that the Marchands were distantly related to the Wolvertons, and therefore to the Wolverton-Hernes. People the entire party there present would have preferred not to be related to.
“I really, truly, don’t like to pass judgement on my fellow beings,” Cousin Ophelia went on, “but, with the Wolverton-Hernes, I can’t seem to help it.”
Aunt Regina snorted derisively. “If your judgement is that they are all, without exception, cold-hearted, mercenary, social-climbing, snobs, I’d say you were spot on.”
While everyone else nodded in agreement, Paige, Dane, and Jack exchanged worried looks. To them, and the other medallion users, the Wolverton-Hernes were far more than that. They had been displaying a keen interest in the medallion for several generations, an interest that had, on occasion, turned violent. Penelope’s great-grandfather, Percival Wolverton-Herne, was now in his nineties, but in his youth he had viciously interrogated the children’s great grandmother after she’d made her one and only time trip. And at Grantie Etta’s party back in the summer, Penelope had cornered Jack, hit him hard, and actually run off with the medallion. Fortunately, Paige and Dane had arrived on the scene, and, with the help of two young Americans, retrieved it. But if Penelope and her father were now in Munich, there was a good chance it was so she could try for it again, should an opportunity come her way.
“Did Bentley happen to say where they’re staying?” asked Mr. Marchand. “Just so we can all, like, avoid the general area.”
“I’m afraid it’s the same general area we’re in. He told me he’d tried to get rooms at Gasthaus Volkmar, but I guess they hadn’t had that cancellation when he phoned from England a couple of days ago.” Cousin Ophelia grimaced. “His grandparents stayed there on their honeymoon, so he thought he’d like to as well. I doubt it would have been to his taste, though. When he couldn’t get in there, he booked into a much fancier place a few streets away. I didn’t—I really didn’t—say anything about where you were staying but he already seemed to know. He said they’d try to drop by for a visit.”
“Oh?” said Mr. Marchand. “Well, we’re really busy so, with luck, we’ll be out.”
Cousin Ophelia stayed with the others for a while, but did not accompany them to the smaller markets Priska had told Mrs. Marchand and Aunt Augusta about. The children liked the medieval market best. So did Uncle Gareth, which wasn’t surprising, since that was his area of expertise. By the time they finished making the rounds it was getting dark and the elder Zieglers were tiring.
“We are ready to call it a day,” Aunt Regina admitted, when Priska suggested they go home. “Unlike little Tata, we couldn’t take a nap in a push-chair. But the rest of you should go back to the Marienplatz to see the Christkindlmarkt by night.”
“We’re planning to,” said Mrs. Marchand. “We’re only going back to the guesthouse to unload our packages and warm up a bit.”
When they got back to the guesthouse, Herr Volkmar told Mr. Marchand some boxes had arrived for him.
“Those will be the kids’ outfits for tomorrow. I’ll check them over and bring them up to their rooms. Feel free to come help carry stuff, Horst. You, too, Gareth.”
The children had side-by-side rooms near the stairs. The one Paige and Alina shared was quite small, so the children and their mothers waited in the larger room assigned to the three boys.
Zach immediately went to his suitcase and pulled out an Advent calendar.
“We leave Frankfurt so early, I forget to do this,” he said, punching through one of the windows and extracting a train-shaped chocolate.
“I didn’t forget to do mine,” said Jack, pointing to the dresser, where his Advent calendar was propped up beside Dane’s.
“You wouldn’t,” Paige retorted.
“You did yours, too,” Jack reminded her.
“You bet I did. I’m not going to miss out on having a chocolate a day just because we’re not at home.”
Mrs. Marchand frowned. “Is that all Advent means to you? A chocolate a day?”
“No, but opening up numbered windows to obtain treats is a nice Christmas tradition. A tradition you started years ago by giving us Playmobil® Advent calendars with little toys inside.”
“We had those, also,” said Zach. “You have the Playmobil® in Canada, then?”
“Yeah,” said Dane. “Loadza Toyz® has a big selection. Lots of other neat stuff, too.”
“It is something you like? The Playmobil®?”
Dane nodded. “We’ve got quite a few sets. Paige doesn’t really play with hers now that she’s a sophisticated teenager, but I still do. And with Lego®. They’ve always been my favourite toys.”
“And mine,” said Jack. “Although, when I was little, I was also quite taken with the handmade toys Priska used to bring me back from her visits home. Ones like we saw in the Christmas market today.”
“Germany is famous for its toys,” said Aunt Emma. “Some places are especially known for them. Like Seiffen. The toy museum there is most excellent.”
“It certainly is,” said Mrs. Marchand. “Unfortunately, it’s too far away for us to pay it a visit this trip. It was one of the highlights of the last one, as was the Playmobil® Fun Park near Nuremberg. The latter provided everyone but me with the enjoyable memory of Mummy getting stuck in the pirate ship rigging pursuing Dane. This time our primary goal is to re-visit the Deutsches Museum here in Munich. They’re old enough to really appreciate it now. We’re also going to try for the Berta Hummel Museum in Massing. I’ve never been there, even though Gus and I both collected Hummel figurines as children.”
“As did I.