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Dusk in Kalevia: Chapter 1

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Dearest friend and much-loved brother,

Best beloved of all companions,

Come and let us sing together,

Come and chant with me the legends,

Since at length we meet together,

From two widely sundered regions.

Seldom can we meet together,

Seldom one can meet the other,

O’er this cold and cruel country,

O’er the poor soil of the Northland.

-Prelude, The Kalevala

 

It was barely four o’clock, and already the sun was sinking low in the sky, throwing its last long rays across the tarmac of Kalevia airfield. From above, the shadow of the control tower stretched out like an arrow, pointing east to pine forests and the distant gray shadow of the city of Vainola. As the twin-engine craft dipped its wing, flying a last sweeping circle over the runways to prepare for landing, the lakes and marshes dotting the landscape suddenly caught the sunset’s fire. Red flashed across still water, and then was gone, replaced by the rapidly falling darkness.

Toivo leaned his cheek against the chilled double-pane of the airplane window and felt the roar of the engines in his teeth. He watched the lights of the airstrip approach from below, uncomfortably aware of the pressure in his ears and the falling sensation in the pit of his stomach. It was times like these that he felt the most ill at ease in his body–dogged by the senses of the flesh. He wasn’t used to flying like this.

The landing gear met asphalt with a jolt, startling the sole other passenger awake. The pale, middle-aged Swede jerked upright, glanced at his watch, and ran his fingers through his thinning hair.

He’s anxious about a meeting, thought Toivo. He just started a new assignment…big responsibilities. A cultural attaché, perhaps?

As the plane taxied to a stop, Toivo tried to catch his fellow traveler’s eyes in some small gesture of reassurance; the man was too busy rooting around in his traveling wallet to notice.

After some moments, the door hatch opened and Toivo emerged into the northern twilight. He paused at the top of the stairs and filled his lungs with a deep breath of freezing air, sharp and deliciously clear, almost to the point of pain. He was, at last, in Kalevia.

With almost surreal swiftness, a crew of uniformed ground crew surrounded him. He was hurried off, along with his suitcase, in the direction of customs.

His luggage and the diplomat were spirited away to other rooms, and Toivo found himself alone, his visa and papers in hand, facing the dour young woman at the intake desk. She regarded his Finnish passport with arched eyebrows, glaring through her horn-rimmed glasses at the lion rampant on the cover.

“Not many flights coming over the western border these days,” she said in the local dialect, flicking her gaze up to his face before returning to his paperwork. “Toivo Valonen. It says here you’re a journalist.”

Toivo nodded, trying not to shiver. It was barely warmer in the airport than it had been outside. He noticed that the border officer was wearing thin leather gloves that reflected the wan industrial lighting, and that she rubbed her fingers one by one, her breath making clouds in the air of the frigid terminal.

“I’m writing a feature on life in the People’s Republic of Kalevia. A profile of a hard-working people.” Toivo smiled mildly, nodding his ash-blond head. He had heard that these sessions could take hours, especially for people in his line of work.

She looked up at him again. Although the documents indicated his age to be 29, Toivo was aware that he wore the face of a wide-eyed youth, improbably smooth-skinned and innocent. He saw her pallid cheeks flush with color as she reevaluated his appearance, and he sensed a faint flicker of warmth flare within her.

Toivo could work with that. He conjured images of fire in his mind–of the heat of a porcelain stove in winter, of summer bonfires–and sent them through the space between him and the woman. Small miracles, just enough to guide the memories she needed most.

The clerk stopped working her numb fingers. Somehow, for the first time in weeks, she didn’t feel cold. No, more than that. It was like a weight had disappeared, dissolved away like an ice cube in a cup of tea. The chill monotony of stamping papers, the facelessness of her life as a civil servant–none of that worried her for the moment. Nothing seemed as important and vivid as the scene that swept into her memory.

She was once again a small child lying on her grandmother’s hearthrug on Christmas Eve, playing with a small wooden horse. She galloped it back and forth across the stones, the heat from the fire prickling her back. Her tummy was pleasantly full of rice pudding. Lulled by the soft murmur of the adults around the table, she drifted off to sleep on the floor and dreamt of reindeer. How strange that she should think of that now.

Toivo saw the change sweep over her, her eyes suddenly bright and wet. He felt the memory resonate, and rejoiced at the beauty of the one she had chosen. She turned to him, beaming.

“Welcome to Kalevia, Mr. Valonen.”

What followed was a pleasant conversation, and probably the most painless border interview ever experienced in the Soviet state. Toivo wished good luck upon the woman, who waved goodbye with a smile on her face, and willed that the blessing stay with her until dawn.

Upon his exit from customs, Toivo was reunited with his luggage, adorned with a tag that proclaimed it “cleared for entry” in blocky Cyrillic letters. He glanced around the arrivals wing, searching for the government escort that was supposed to be waiting for him. The airport was almost empty save a few silent travelers; the echoes of their solitary footsteps bounced off the glass walls and resonated among the beams of the high ceiling.

A short, square figure in uniform stood alone in the middle of the vast floor. The man cupped a hand over his eyes and squinted in Toivo’s direction. Toivo waved tentatively, and the officer puffed over, brandishing a paper sign with Toivo’s surname in black ink. He looked as though he was about to be swallowed up by his service cap and overcoat–two surly eyes and an impressive brush of a mustache completely surrounded by wool.

“Welcome. Saw your flight come in.” The man extended his gloved hand in a brusque greeting. “Name’s Sergeant Aarne Isokoski; I’ll be looking after you.”

Toivo accepted the handshake, and winced as the man’s anger rushed through him like a jolt of electric current.

What had he done to disappoint his superiors? Now he was stuck playing chauffeur for this journalist, this busybody. What kind of work was that–muckraking about in other people’s countries instead of doing good, solid work for one’s own? It was damn shameful.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Toivo Valonen, Angel of the Light.

Proceed to Chapter 1, page 2–>