Annemarie smiled and wrapped her arms around her little sister in the dark. All Danish children grew up familiar with fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen, the most famous of the tale tellers, had been Danish himself.
"Do you want the one about the little mermaid?" That one had always been Annemarie's own favorite.
But Kirsti said no. "Tell one that starts with a king and a queen. And they have a beautiful daughter."
"All right. Once upon a time there was a king," Annemarie began.
"And a queen," whispered Kirsti. "Don't forget the queen."
"And a queen. They lived together in a wonderful palace, and—"
"Was the palace named Amalienborg?" Kirsti asked sleepily.
"Shhh. Don't keep interrupting or I'll never finish the story. No, it wasn't Amalienborg. It was a pretend palace."
Annemarie talked on, making up a story of a king and queen and their beautiful daughter, Princess Kirsten; she sprinkled her tale with formal balls, fabulous gold-trimmed gowns, and feasts of pink-frosted cupcakes, until Kirsti's deep, even breathing told her that her sister was sound asleep.
She stopped, waited for a moment, half expecting Kirsti to murmur "Then what happened?" But Kirsti was still. Annemarie's thoughts turned to the real king, Christian X, and the real palace, Amalienborg, where he lived, in the center of Copenhagen.
How the people of Denmark loved King Christian! He was not like fairy tale kings, who seemed to stand on balconies giving orders to subjects, or who sat on golden thrones demanding to be entertained and looking for suitable husbands for their daughters. King Christian was a real human being, a man with a serious, kind face. She had seen him often, when she was younger. Each morning, he had come from the palace on his horse, Jubilee, and ridden alone through the streets of Copenhagen, greeting his people. Sometimes, when Annemarie was a little girl, her older sister, Lise, had taken her to stand on the sidewalk so that she could wave to King Christian. Sometimes he had waved back to the two of them, and smiled. "Now you are special forever," Lise had told her once, "because you have been greeted by a king."
Annemarie turned her head on the pillow and stared through the partly opened curtains of the window into the dim September night. Thinking of Lise, her solemn, lovely sister, always made her sad.
So she turned her thoughts again to the king, who was still alive, as Lise was not. She remembered a story that Papa had told her, shortly after the war began, shortly after Denmark had surrendered and the soldiers had moved in overnight to take their places on the corners.
One evening, Papa had told her that earlier he was on an errand near his office, standing on the corner waiting to cross the street, when King Christian came by on his morning ride. One of the German soldiers had turned, suddenly, and asked a question of a teenage boy nearby.
"Who is that man who rides past here every morning on his horse?" the German soldier had asked.
Papa said he had smiled to himself, amused that the German soldier did not know. He listened while the boy answered.
"He is our king," the boy told the soldier. "He is the King of Denmark."
"Where is his bodyguard?" the soldier had asked.
"And do you know what the boy said?" Papa had asked Annemarie. She was sitting on his lap. She was little, then, only seven years old. She shook her head, waiting to hear the answer.
"The boy looked right at the soldier, and he said, 'All of Denmark is his bodyguard.'"
Annemarie had shivered. It sounded like a very brave answer. "Is it true, Papa?" she asked. "What the boy said?"
Papa thought for a moment. He always considered questions very carefully before he answered them. "Yes," he said at last. "It is true. Any Danish citizen would die for King Christian, to protect him."
"You too, Papa?"
Annemarie shivered again. "Then I would too, Papa. If I had to."
They sat silently for a moment. From across the room, Mama watched them, Annemarie and Papa, and she smiled. Mama had been crocheting that evening three years ago: the lacy edging of a pillowcase, part of Lise's trousseau. Her fingers moved rapidly, turning the thin white thread into an intricate narrow border. Lise was a grownup girl of eighteen, then, about to be married to Peter Neilsen. When Lise and Peter married, Mama said, Annemarie and Kirsti would have a brother for the very first time.
"Papa," Annemarie had said, finally, into the silence, "sometimes I wonder why the king wasn't able to protect us. Why didn't he fight the Nazis so that they wouldn't come into Denmark with their guns?"
Papa sighed. "We are such a tiny country," he said. "And they are such an enormous enemy. Our king was wise. He knew how few soldiers Denmark had. He knew that many, many Danish people would die if we fought."
"In Norway they fought," Annemarie pointed out.
Papa nodded. "They fought very fiercely in Norway. They had those huge mountains for the Norwegian soldiers to hide in. Even so, Norway was crushed."
In her mind, Annemarie had pictured Norway as she remembered it from the map at school, up above Denmark. Norway was pink on the school map. She imagined the pink strip of Norway crushed by a fist.
"Are there German soldiers in Norway now, the same as here?"
"Yes," Papa said.
"In Holland, too," Mama added from across the room, "and Belgium and France."
"But not in Sweden!" Annemarie announced, proud that she knew so much about the world. Sweden was blue on the map, and she had seen Sweden, even though she had never been there. Standing behind Uncle Henrik's house, north of Copenhagen, she had looked across the water—the part of the North Sea that was called the Kattegat—to the land on the other side. "That is Sweden you are seeing," Uncle Henrik had told her. "You are looking across to another country."
"That's true," Papa had said. "Sweden is still free."
And now, three years later, it was still true. But much else had changed. King Christian was getting old, and he had been badly injured last year in a fall from his horse, faithful old Jubilee, who had carried him around Copenhagen so many mornings. For days they thought he would die, and all of Denmark had mourned.
But he hadn't. King Christian X was still alive.
It was Lise who was not. It was her tall, beautiful sister who had died in an accident two weeks before her wedding. In the blue carved trunk in the corner of this bedroom—Annemarie could see its shape even in the dark—were folded Lise's pillowcases with their crocheted edges, her wedding dress with its hand-embroidered neckline, unworn, and the yellow dress that she had worn and danced in, with its full skirt flying, at the party celebrating her engagement to Peter.
Mama and Papa never spoke of Lise. They never opened the trunk. But Annemarie did, from time to time, when she was alone in the apartment; alone, she touched Lise's things gently, remembering her quiet, soft-spoken sister who had looked forward so to marriage and children of her own.
Redheaded Peter, her sister's fiance, had not married anyone in the years since Lise's death. He had changed a great deal. Once he had been like a fun-loving older brother to Annemarie and Kirsti, teasing and tickling, always a source of foolishness and pranks. Now he still stopped by the apartment often, and his greetings to the girls were warm and smiling, but he was usually in a hurry, talking quickly to Mama and Papa about things Annemarie didn't understand. He no longer sang the nonsense songs that had once made Annemarie and Kirsti shriek with laughter. And he never lingered anymore.
Papa had changed, too. He seemed much older and very tired, defeated.
The whole world had changed. Only the fairy tales remained the same.
"And they lived happily ever after," Annemarie recited, whispering into the dark, completing the tale for her sister, who slept beside her, one thumb in her mouth.
3. Where Is Mrs. Hirsch?
The days of September passed, one after the other, much the same. Annemarie and Ellen walked to school together, and home again, always now taking the longer way, avoiding the tall soldier and his partner. Kirsti dawdled just behind them or scampered ahead, never out of their sight.
The two mothers still had their "coffee" together in the afternoons. They began to knit mittens as the days grew slightly shorter and the first leaves began to fall from the trees, because another winter was coming. Everyone remembered the last one. There was no fuel now for the homes and apartments in Copenhagen, and the winter nights were terribly cold.
Like the other families in their building, the Johansens had opened the old chimney and installed a little stove to use for heat when they could find coal to burn. Mama used it too, sometimes, for cooking, because electricity was rationed now. At night they used candles for light. Sometimes Ellen's father, a teacher, complained in frustration because he couldn't see in the dim light to correct his students' papers.
"Soon we will have to add another blanket to your bed," Mama said one morning as she and Annemarie tidied the bedroom.
"Kirsti and I are lucky to have each other for warmth in the winter," Annemarie said. "Poor Ellen, to have no sisters."
"She will have to snuggle in with her mama and papa when it gets cold," Mama said, smiling.
"I remember when Kirsti slept between you and Papa. She was supposed to stay in her crib, but in the middle of the night she would climb out and get in with you," Annemarie said, smoothing the pillows on the bed. Then she hesitated and glanced at her mother, fearful that she had said the wrong thing, the thing that would bring the pained look to her mother's face. The days when little Kirsti slept in Mama and Papa's room were the days when Lise and Annemarie shared this bed.
But Mama was laughing quietly. "I remember, too," she said. "Sometimes she wet the bed in the middle of the night!"
"I did not!" Kirsti said haughtily from the bedroom doorway. "I never, ever did that!"
Mama, still laughing, knelt and kissed Kirsti on the cheek. "Time to leave for school, girls," she said. She began to button Kirsti's jacket. "Oh, dear," she said, suddenly. "Look. This button has broken right in half. Annemarie, take Kirsti with you, after school, to the little shop where Mrs. Hirsch sells thread and buttons. See if you can buy just one, to match the others on her jacket. I'll give you some kroner—it shouldn't cost very much."
But after school, when the girls stopped at the shop, which had been there as long as Annemarie could remember, they found it closed. There was a new padlock on the door, and a sign. But the sign was in German. They couldn't read the words.
"I wonder if Mrs. Hirsch is sick," Annemarie said as they walked away.
"I saw her Saturday," Ellen said. "She was with her husband and their son. They all looked just fine. Or at least the parents looked just fine—the son always looks like a horror." She giggled.
Annemarie made a face. The Hirsch family lived in the neighborhood, so they had seen the boy, Samuel, often. He was a tall teenager with thick glasses, stooped shoulders, and unruly hair. He rode a bicycle to school, leaning forward and squinting, wrinkling his nose to nudge his glasses into place. His bicycle had wooden wheels, now that rubber tires weren't available, and it creaked and clattered on the street.
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