“Come on, Vlad, get your backpack to go, it will rain in about an hour and it’s not it’s not good to catch us here.
“I’m not going until I find the locket, I told you! Go away, I will come as soon as I find it, it must be here. See you in Sinaia.“
“Okay, man, we‘ll order a warm tea for you, take care to not get cold.“
The two friends started to descend slightly.
Their trip had to be much longer, but once they reached Babele Peak, when they counted the money, they found out that each of them had only about $50, not enough to finish the trip as they planned. It was barely enough for the way back. So, they slept one night right there on the top, at Babele, in the tent. Anyway, Bucegi mountains, with the peak of Babele, are considered the most energetic area on the planet, so there will be a good rest for them. Only in the morning, when they woke up, Vlad found that he did not have the locket on his neck.
That locket was Vlad’s most precious object. He would have given his life, without hesitation, for it. Together with the pink quartz and a photo, it was all he had left from his mother, Maria, whom he had never known.
Maria had died shortly after he was born. It was a very difficult birth, and the doctors had to choose between Vlad and his mother. But she did not even want to hear. She chose Vlad’s life.
She started to put at his neck, in a leather pouch, an old locket and a piece of pink quartz. Vlad got the photo later, when he grew up, it was the only picture within the house where his mother grew up.
The grandmothers from his mother had died long ago, and he knew nothing of his father. From what he later learned, no one in the village knew who had been, nor they had ever seen him. His mother had gone to college, and had come back before graduating, pregnant and with a sad, wretched figure. She had told no one what had happened. In fact, most people in the village shunned her, considering her a sort of witch. While she had been pregnant, before the birth of Vlad, one of her neighbors, a man at the age of 40, had had an accident. He had been trampled by the wagon and had broken his ribs. He barely breathes. His family had begun already to prepare for the funeral. They watched him for two days, by turn, to be there with the candle when he will die. His mother stayed on his watch overnight the third day. When his wife woke up in the morning and went to see what he was doing, she found Maria faint beside the wounded bed, and this one with a clear eye, fixed in the ceiling, and breathing almost normally. Neither of them had ever said what had happened that night, but from then on, the wounded, after he had recovered, he looked at her with an undisclosed fear every time she saw her, and was shunning her.
After his mother died, Vlad had been raised by an aunt, a distant relative. The woman was unmarried, but she grew up Vlad with the love she would have shown to her own son if she had one.
All his life, Vlad did not separate from the three objects, he had upon him even as he was asleep: the locket, the pink quartz, and his mother’s picture: a beautiful woman with fine but in the same time loudness features, and a sad, extremely sad look. And just today, just when he turned 15, Vlad had lost the locket.
He sighed, picked up his backpack and prepared to put it on the back, but he changed his mind. Better leave it there as he searches for the locket. He put the pink quartz into his hand and began to rummage through the grass with a stick. He had bought a silver chain long ago and hanged the locket. He did not take him down either when he was bathing. He did not understand how he could lose it. He looked up, and saw that he arrived without realizing at top stones feet. He began to walk around these big stones when he saw that a ray of sunlight reflected on something undefined in the area between the stones. When he got there, he gave a shout. He almost suffocated with joy: his locket, with the silver chain, was stretched in an almost perfect circle.
After the moment of effusion, Vlad was thinking, a little confused. ‘That’s weird, I know it for sure I did not get there. We were too tired, we wanted to look closer to Babele today.”
He made a few jumps up to his backpack, put it back and rushed to Piatra Arsa, and from there to Sinaia on the same road they had come to.
A quarter of an hour later, it seemed to him that something was not quite right. Normally the road had to go down, but he was climbing. Even if he did not feel fatigue. He looked around carefully, and realized that he had made it in the wrong direction: instead of turning to the Piatra Arsa cottage, he had reached a bifurcation, to the Omu Peak and to the cross on the Caraiman Peak.
‘It’s too late for me to come back. I will go to Omu and down there on the other side.‘
He took on the left, but after a while he saw the cross on Caraiman in front of him. ‘Extraordinary, I think I’ve been foolish badly!‘ He was already close, so he went further to the cross. The wind was blowing violently, but he managed to climb a little on the cross and take a lot of pictures of his camera, Leica, which he had received as a prize at the Physics Olympics last year. Black clouds were gathering in the sky of Caraiman peak. He rushed down and headed for Omu. It happened much faster than expected. The clouds persisted in the gray sky, but so far it had failed to rain. He was overwhelmed by the view that opened from there. Also looking in the direction that he knew the mount Piatra Craiului was, he stared at the clouds below him: it was not possible, but it seemed as real as possible. Far from the clouds, he glimpsed the silhouette of a tower’s castle. ‘Impossible! I think I’m tired even though I do not feel fatigue!‘ Vlad said.
He took some more pictures and hurried down to the Paraul Rece cottage before it gets dark. He reached the cottage in the evening. There were no more room, but outside it was beautiful, the clouds were scattered, and for its luck he had a thick, warm blanket on top of its backpack, with which it had been covered in the tent for as long as it had been with his friends. He was alone now and had to deal with it. He found a retired place near the cottage, stretched the blanket folded in two, one below it, and with the other he folded and put the backpack under his head. He fell asleep immediately.
He woke up after a few hours, at midnight, trembling with cold. Lucky for him that he saw a car coming up on the nearby road. He came along waving his hands. Its route passed to the Trei Brazi cottage, known as the holiday cottage of the students. He asked the driver to let him there, maybe he find a room to sleep.
When they reached the cottage, the driver stopped for Vlad to get out of the car. He looked for his wallet in the backpack to thank the driver, but he couldn’t find it. After a few minutes of feverish quests, he begs the driver to apologize by telling him that he has lost his wallet with money and papers. The driver slammed the door of the car and started it swearing through his teeth.
Dan stayed on the road, searching for his wallet in his backpack. And suddenly, a cold thaw passed over his spine: the locket had disappeared again! If it were only his wallet, he could think of a thief who had stolen him while sleeping by the cottage. But the neck chain could not have been taken from him without feeling it. It means he lost both where he slept.
Vlad decided to return immediately to the place where he had slept, hoping to find the locket at least. He gave up on the sinuous road on which the car went up, and took it down straightforward, steeply, through the trees, the bushes that scratched it, and trampling in the puddles made by the water springs in the area. He still had a flashlight battery, but this light seemed increasingly weaker.
When he had arrived at the Paraul Rece cottage it had begun to shine on the day. He despaired desperately through the place where he slept, and the whole area around, but found neither the wallet nor the locket.
After about two hours of feverish searches, hungry, tired, wet and scratched all over the body, he gave up and down on the road. He arrived at Rasnov city with the help of a wagon who had pity on him and had picked him out of the way. He left him near the railway station. He boarded the train without a ticket, no money, no papers. It was the first time that happened to him. The train heat gave him up. He slept. He woke up exactly a few minutes before descending. His neighbor in the train told him that the controller had gone over, and then had passed another controller, but none of them had awakened him to ask for his ticket.
* * *
“Get up, sleepyhead, we’ll lose the concert!“
Vlad mumbled something inconsolable, pulled his blanket over his head, and turned to the other side. Ileana, his wife, pulled the blanket, when suddenly he heard from the other side of the bed:
“Take care, the bear!“ and a blond peeshwank was thrown over him into bed. She was Maria, his five-year-old daughter. She was named after his mother’s name.
“Oh, so, hold on, I will catch the bear now!“ Vlad woke up, and started to play with Maria.
* * *
He had received an invitation be email to a concert in the open-air, in park, of some young artists. Normally he would not have gone, he had an urgent project to finish, but he saw that there was also played the Ballad of Ciprian Porumbescu, which he seldom listened to, but it grabs him a lot every time.
There was enough time for the concert. They left all three by car without hurrying, enjoying the beautiful weather outside. Maria, on the back seat of car, squirmed increasingly. Ileana, from the passenger seat, beckoned her several times to stay quietly, but after a few moments of silence, she dragged her dress mate as if she wanted to say something, then resumed the fidgeting. At one point she couldn’t resist and shouted:
“Daddy, Mommy and I got you a birthday present! Mom, can I give him the gift?“
Ileana smiled and nodded her head. Mary offered triumphantly to her father an envelope.
“What is there? I cannot look right now when I drive.“
“We go to Busteni for three days, only three of us!“ cried Maria, gladly in the back seat.
Vlad suddenly put the brake, and pulled the car to the right, stopping it. Maria was silent, scared. There were small drops of cold sweat on Vlad’s forehead. He had not been in the Bucegi mount area since he had lost the locket 15 years ago. His mother’s picture had clutched her and kept her on his desk, but he kept carrying the pink quartz with him, no matter where he was going. And every time, when he held it tightly in his hand, he seemed to have a special, warm irradiation, and through his mind were going through all kinds of strange things, some of which he had never heard before. A friend, expert, told him that these stones store the spirit of those who wear them, they are like a kind of “hard disk” of the spirit. And he was convinced that in those moments was practically in contact with his mother’s spirit through the pink quartz.
Now he would be 30 years old. And he was happy, he had a beautiful wife who understood him, and a cheerful and clever daughter.
* * *
It was their second day at Busteni, the day when Vlad turned 30 years. He was a little confused. On the first day, as they strolled along the street, admiring the view, he seemed to see his mother’s face in the crowd. She knew him only from the picture on the desk, but she could swear that the woman he had seen was his mother. She had suddenly appeared, about 200 yards away from him, looked at him long with the sad look from the picture, and vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.
This morning they had already visited Cantacuzino Castle, and now they were walking without a specific purpose through the city. In the evening a festive meal was reserved at the hotel’s restaurant.
The fluffy chocolate donuts glanced at them. They were hot. Vlad remained at the tail that had formed, and Ileana and Maria went to visit a nearby jewelry store. There were only a few people in front of him in the queue, when was seeing his mother’s face in the crowd walking down the street. After a few moments in which she stared sadly at him, she walked slightly, as though floating. Vlad was perplexed, but he returned quickly and left the queue trying to track that appearance. This time his mother was not in a hurry to disappear, and she seemed to be guiding him towards a certain direction. He followed her with hurried steps, but without running. So they left the city, starting to climb the mountain to Jepii Mici area.
After a while his mother was getting weaker until she disappeared completely. He continued to climb, looking out of his eyes in all directions. He began to tire, stopped to rest, and he wished to return to the city when he saw, on the mountain in the distance, a shepherd looking at him. He screamed, asking if he had not seen a woman passing by. The shepherd, without speaking a word, turned his face to the mountain, to the right in the direction Vlad was going, and he stared straight ahead in that direction without answering any questions. Vlad shrugged, suspecting that the shepherd wanted to point that direction, and left the trail he had gone up to now.
Although it was afternoon, as he went in that direction it seemed to be getting darker and darker. After an hour of walking among the jeeps, he saw through the darkness that surrounded him a light, and headed there. He discovered, with amazement, the entrance to a kind of cave, although no tourist map indicates any cave or grot in this area. He did not have a flashlight or other light source on it, so he stepped inside carefully, staring at the light that was visible in the back. He was wrong. What seemed to be a solid ground was a black hole in which he slid before he realized it. It seemed to him that the fall lasts forever. When he stopped falling, he did not feel any shock; he had landed rather than fallen. He stood up and looked around. A pink translucent light seemed to come from nowhere. Or rather, from the walls of the cave where it fell, cover it completely with pink quartz crystals like the one he held tight in his hand now. He was stunned, and awfully glad when, in a corner, on a pedestal, he saw his locket, with the silver chain shaping a perfect circle. He hurried to get to it to recover it, but he finds himself puzzled when, after a few steps, he was still in the place where he had fallen. He did not understand what was happening to him.
A cavernous, impersonal and firm voice, coming from nowhere.
“The Dragon’s Son!“
“I do not know what are you talking about!“
“You are one of the Dragon’s sons. You have a duty to fulfill. Pay for it, and the locket will be yours again, or it will not be of anybody else’s.“
“What duty are you talking about? The locket is mine, from my mother. I want him back, right away.“
“It will be yours again, in five years. It’s the time for you to start to serve.“
“Do you believe that I will stay away from my family for five years?! I’m not interested in initiation, and I do not want to serve anyone.“
“Your family will not realize you’ve been missing all this time. And you will not serve someone, you will serve SOMETHING. You will soon find out what.“
* * *
“Get up, sleepy, come on, we’re late for the celebration!“
Vlad mumbled something inconsolable, pulled his blanket over his head, and turned to the other side. But after a moment, he suddenly gave the blank aside, and rose to the bottom. He moved his instinctive hand to his throat and breathed lightly. He had touched the metal of the locket.
“Come on, Daddy, you promised me you’re coming to the school parade!“
Maria entered the door.
“Okay, you both get out of here, I wash and get dress fast.“
An hour later all three of them came out on the door. Vlad was closing the door, and Ileana and Maria competed who will reach first the car. Vlad smiled.
As he headed on the court yard toward the garage, he saw, through the trees of the orchard, the familiar face of his mother. Smiling. He signaled her with his hand and reached the car. He put the pink quartz into his pocket, and took out the car keys.
“Let’s see what you did at school all this time!“
“Yeah, but I and Mommy have a birthday present, 35 years old!“ Maria grinned cheerfully. And she pulled the gift out of the school bag, jumping up to the pleasure of the surprise.