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This is one of my personal favourite scenes from Columbine’s Tale; a story within the story. Mina pleads Luka to tell her the tale of Allegra as she clings to life. Feel the grip and emotion… Storytelling at its best.

Book Excerpt pp262-264

Long ago, when the stars still sang and Tarya was but a breath away, there was a girl who loved to dance. Her name was Allegra, and she lived in a cottage in the woods. She cared for all the animals of the woods, big and small, and they loved her in return. Once she had completed all her tasks, she would go to a glade in the forest and the animals would come to her there. She would feed them and tend their injuries, then she would dance.

All the creatures of the woods made music for her. The birds sang, the bears hummed, the wolves pranced to make a beat. And Allegra danced to the melody they created, spinning and leaping around the glade. Her dancing was so beautiful the Creator himself would sometimes watch, taking pleasure in the joy of the dance. Now, there was one animal that never came to Allegra for help or food, and that was Cat. He had run away from a farm, and now made the woods his own, killing birds and the young of small animals for his food. He had grown big on his feasting. When he pricked his paw with a thorn, he would not go to Allegra for help, because he knew she would make him stop his eating habits, and he did not want to stop.

No one knew how long Cat had been in the forest, but it was longer than any of the animals could remember. He was a sly trickster who sometimes lured the tiny animals to come to him rather than chasing them, because it was more fun. He was nimble and very quick …

Luka stumbled to a stop. Mina’s breathing was so shallow he had to look closely to see any rise of her chest at all. He reached for the damp cloth and gently wiped her burning face again. Mina whispered something. He leaned close to hear her words.

‘Keep going.’

‘I … I can’t.’ Tears pricked the back of his eyes. He blinked them away and held the cloth to Mina’s cheek. She seized his wrist, her grip sure.

‘You must,’ she said. Luka took a deep breath to calm himself, then continued.

One day, Allegra was dancing in her glade, taking great pleasure in the chorus of the birds, when something fell to the ground in front of her. It was a tiny robin, and it was dead, its neck torn open. She looked up and saw Cat perched on a branch above, watching her. Blood stained his claws.

‘You must stop what you’re doing, Cat. You cannot destroy others just for the fun of it,’ she told him.

Cat just hissed at her, bounding off over the branches into the woods. Allegra ran after him, determined to stop him once and for all.

Cat led her on a long chase through the trees, for he knew the woods better than anyone, so long had he lived there. He ran here and there, tiring her out. Though she called out to him to stop, he ignored her. Finally, seeing how tired she was, he led her to a pit left by hunters.

Waiting on the other side of the pit, he watched her run toward it. He expected her to fall into its depths and die on the sharpened spikes there. But as Allegra reached the edge, she leaped into the air, one of her dancing leaps, soaring over the pit to land beside Cat. She reached for his neck, for she knew if you take a cat by its neck it will fall limp. But Cat was wily and ancient. He swept his tail at her, knocking her into the pit, and thought that would be the end.

But the Creator could not bear to see such a gifted dancer destroyed. Before she could fall onto the sharpened spikes, He lifted his hand, raising her into the air, and drew her upward into Tarya.

Luka looked at Mina and his heart stopped.

  • Columbine’s Tale, Rachel Nightingale, Odyssey Books, September 2018.

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