The Servant of Dusk
Hämärän renki, Tammi, 2009
The Servant of Dusk takes place in a world familiar from Sari Peltoniemi’s earlier fantasy novel, The Scale. Kaarina’s and Valeri’s ballad-like love story is intertwined with a fascinating alternative history and the timeless charm of fantasy – and with Jesse, whose game has turned into reality.
It is batrag to the Ugov line. It is their servant, has always been. For this was it made and conjured into being.
However, it is no machine nor a body without a spirit wandering mindlessly, fulfilling his master’s wishes. It was created by the hand of Ugov, and that hand has such power that humans can never understand. A creation of that hand is subject only to his creator, because all others are weaker than him.
To it a human being is like a fly to the human himself. A droning and bustling about of the human are meaningless to it, and just as easily as a human swats a fly, it can swat a human. Only Ugovs have meaning for it. It does what they command, and that is the only thing that satisfies it. It exists for that alone
Kaarina and Valéry had stopped the car at the side of a field, under the protection of some big spruce trees. They had driven all night and the next day. Valéry had stopped now and then to buy gas for the car’s tank and for the spare can. Valéry had said that the farther they went, the less gasoline would be available, and eventually they might not be able to get any at all. Of course, it was not sold all over the place anywhere in the country, except perhaps in Helsinki, but car men like Valéry knew the places and knew how to stock up. This was the first night that Kaarina and Valéry had spent together.
It was not like she had dreamed of.
She had thought that nothing could be more beautiful that to be able to nestle into Valéry’s side. They would just be two together, with no one to reproach or warn. So Kaarina would be able to forget the nasty talk about Valéry for a moment and believe only what she herself knew to be true. But everything else was forcing its way into her mind.
“What were Mother and Father thinking? How could they be so worried?” Father would raise a terrible ruckus in the village and take the Ugov estate to task. Mother would cry and mourn, praying and sitting at the window, waiting for Kaarina’s form to appear in the yard.
And what about the Ugovs? What would they do when they noticed that their golden boy had left? The Ugovs could set off after him. Valéry had said that they would not, but Kaarina had noticed his hesitation. The hesitation was so small that no one else could have noticed it but Kaarina, who had watched Valéry for so long and learned his expressions— Kaarina, who had always stored Valéry’s face in her mind when the opportunity arose and studied its every feature. In the monotonous routine of the shoe factory, Kaarina had been able to concentrate completely on her thoughts.
And of course Kaarina noticed how Valéry turned away a little too quickly. “They’re not interested enough in me,” Valéry had claimed. Kaarina had wanted to believe it, but why were they fleeing then?
For there they were, on the way to somewhere. The two of them alone in the world.
Luckily, it was not freezing, so they stopped to spend the night in the car. It would, of course, have been terribly embarrassing to go ask for a place to spend the night with Valéry. What would people have thought of Kaarina? Kaarina felt her cheeks flush, even though it was cool in the car. She was awfully tired, but sleep was still a long way off.
Valéry turned the car on from time to time and let it run for a moment, so the motor would not get too cold. He went outside occasionally, and Kaarina was not able to make out where he went. Valéry was restless too, but didn’t seem at all tired.
“Just sleep in peace, buttercup,” Valéry had said. Kaarina wasn’t even sure whether she wanted Valéry by her side. What if Valéry was rough and hateful? What if Kaarina started to have regrets?
When Kaarina finally fell asleep, she started to have a nightmare.
The landscape of her dream is harsher than Kaarina has ever seen. The sky is very high, pearl gray, and it allows the wind to whip the barren land. The leaves of the tiny trees resemble birch leaves; otherwise, the trees seem tormented and downtrodden. Nothing is able to rise up from the ground; it feels like a large palm is pressing Kaarina down as well.
Her burden already weighs so much. When she looks at it, she realizes that it is Valéry. He is unable to walk, but rather he lets Kaarina haul him around. Even though Kaarina is so weak and fragile and sensitive, she has to carry Valéry!
Kaarina knows that Valéry is in danger of dying, and that she should help him urgently. But what can she do in this place, where rocks determine the direction of her travel and no other people are visible anywhere?
Valéry looks at Kaarina like the old dog that Kaarina long ago led to her father to be shot. In the same way, he trusts in Kaarina and does not understand that there is no help to be had. The framework of rocks coils like a snake.
Kaarina would cry, but the wind does not allow that. It sucks the tears away and slaps her cheeks with its rough fingers.
Kaarina woke up. She knew that a noise had disturbed her.
“Valéry!” she cried out, wiping her face. The wind had not made it this far to spoil Kaarina’s weeping, but otherwise the dream was still present.
Someone was knocking on the window of the car, and Valéry was nowhere to be seen.
Translated by Owen F. Witesman and John C. Alleman