"Ragnar was only joking, mum," said Runa and turning to her brother, "weren't you?"
"Right," he said.
The barman shot a glance at us as if saying yeah, right.
"No, not about that. Well, that too, but there is something much more important to you turning eighteen, than reaching the drinking age. Will you please come?"
The twins got up from their seats quietly and followed their mother. She didn't lead them home and they both wondered where they were going. The town they lived in wasn't one of the biggest in Stella Jord and they reached the forest soon. No one had been there so the snow was completely untouched. It glimmered in the sun and Runa felt sorry for ruining it with her footsteps. Ragnar didn't care if it was beautiful or not, he just marched right through it.
Finally, their mother stopped and turned around. She was standing under a tall tree. They were two trees actually, but they had entwined with each other in such a way it looked like one tree. The trees formed a beautiful shape that looked like an arch made of two spiralling trees.
"What is this place?" asked Runa, admiring the trees.
"This," said their mother, "is the place your father used to come when he wanted to be away and alone."
Runa stepped closer to the trees and ran her hand over the tree trunks. The moment she first touched it, she felt a shiver go down her back. Her eyes met Ragnar's and he, also, put his hand where hers was. Now Runa was forced to take her hand away, because what she felt was like electricity going through her fingers. It wasn't painful, but it made her feel strange. She couldn't explain the feeling exactly.
"This is the Arch of Magic."
Both Ragnar and Runa turned their eyes to their mother.
"You mean, what we just felt, that was magic?" Ragnar asked.
"Yes. And because you are twins and you touched it at the same time, you felt it more strongly than someone else would. People rarely touch the Arch, but when they do, it leaves its trace on them. In the old legends it is said that the Arch can give special powers and heal injuries, but most people think that's not true."
"So what happens now that we have touched it?" asked Runa
"Everyone touches it on their 18th birthday. It's a secret tradition no one talks about, because otherwise children would come and play here and its peace would be disturbed."
"What about our dad?" asked Ragnar.
"Why haven't you told us anything about him, like, ever?" added Runa.
"All in good time. I couldn't bring myself to tell you, but now you have a right to know."
"To know what exactly?" asked Runa.
"Your father was a powerful magician. He was one of the best in this town."
"Is he dead? You said 'was'…" asked Ragnar.
"I don't know actually. I haven't been in contact with him since he left here, which was exactly eighteen years ago, on the day you two were born."
"Do you know why he left?" Runa asked, hoping it was for something important and not just because she and Ragnar were born.
"I'm not sure, but one thing I can tell you: he never said anything or acted in any way that would have indicated that he didn't want you two. He was always the one who wanted a child. Not that I didn't, of course."
Ragnar and Runa exchanged a look. This is all very interesting, but is there really a point, thought Ragnar. Out loud he said: "Is there anything else?"
"Yes. As you know, children with both parents of magic-folk, start learning the ways of magic when they turn eighteen. Since you only have one parent of magic, I don't know if you have inherited the gift, but during the next few days I would like you to attend the College to do some simple tests. If you want to. It is not mandatory and nothing will happen if you won't."
Runa was completely speechless. Only twelve hours ago she hadn't even considered the possibility that she might have magical blood in her. She knew magic existed, of course.
Ragnar had never thought about his father, but now it made all sense – why he liked all these books about fantasy and magic and why his mother never talked about their father. He managed to remain relatively calm, but he sensed Runa was almost freaking out. Finding out our father was a great magician probably is a big deal for her, he thought. All those dreams of him being a soldier or a nomad from south...
"Can we go, please? I'm cold," said Runa.
"Of course, darling," replied her mother and they all started heading back for the town.
What if some children find our footsteps in the snow and are led to the tree, wondered Runa.
Back at home, their mother lit a fire in the fireplace and started picking up the pillows left there by Ragnar.
"Reading here again last night?" she asked her son.
"Sorry," was his short reply.
"I'll make you some lunch and then we can discuss if you want to go to the College or not," said their mother and headed for the kitchen as soon as the living room looked clean enough.
Runa almost snorted at her mother exclaiming she would make some dinner, but she managed to cover it up with a random cough. She and Ragnar went upstairs and in Ragnar's room.
"Yuck, you should really clean this mess up, little brother," she said when she had entered the room, "this is disgusting!"
She held up a dirty sock and threw it at Ragnar's face. He let it fall to the floor and didn't bother to pick it up. Runa made some room on his bed, throwing some of his clothes and books on the pillow, and sat down.
"Now I know why you like sleeping in the living room. You just don't fit in your own bed because all of the stuff you have in here."
"Oh, shut up."
I never would have thought our father was a great magician, thought Runa while watching as her brother made some room for himself to sit on the chair.
"Neither would I," said Ragnar.
"Didn't you just say you would never have thought our father was a great magician?"
"Did I say that out loud?"
"I heard it."
"I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything..."