Authors: Jean-Claude Mourlevat
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2006 by Gallimard Jeunesse
English translation copyright © 2008 by Anthea Bell
Cover photographs: copyright © 2009 by Tracey Fahy/Millennium Images, UK (bridge); copyright © 2009 by Glasshouse Images/ic/Wildcard Images, UK (silhouette)
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.
First U.S. electronic edition 2010
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
[Combat d’hiver. English]
Winter’s end / by Jean-Claude Mourlevat ;
translated by Anthea Bell. — 1st ed.
Summary: Fleeing across icy mountains from a pack of terrifying dog-men sent to hunt them down, four teenagers escape from their prison-like boarding schools to take up the fight against the tyrannical government that murdered their parents fifteen years earlier.
ISBN 978-0-7636-4450-5 (hardcover)
[1. Fantasy. 2. Despotism — Fiction. 3. Adventure and adventurers — Fiction. 4. Orphans — Fiction.]
I. Bell, Anthea. II. Title.
[Fic] — dc22 2009008456
ISBN 978-0-7636-5174-9 (electronic)
99 Dover Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
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t a sign from the supervisor, a girl in the front row rose to her feet and went over to press the metal switch. Three unshaded electric bulbs flooded the study room with white light. It was so dark that reading had been almost impossible for some time, but the rules were strict: in October the lights came on at six o’clock in the evening and not a moment sooner. Helen waited ten more minutes before making up her mind. She’d been counting on the light to dissolve the pain she’d been feeling in her chest since the morning, but now it was rising like an oppressive lump in her throat. She recognized it for exactly what it was: sadness. She’d felt it before. She knew that she couldn’t fight it off and that waiting would only make it worse.
So yes, she’d go and see her consoler. Too bad if it was only October, very early in the school year. She tore half a page out of her notebook and wrote
I want to go and see my consoler. Will you come with me?
There didn’t seem any point in signing it. The girl who read it would know her handwriting anywhere. She folded the piece of paper into eight and wrote the recipient’s name:
Milena. Third table by the windows.
She slipped the paper in front of her neighbor Vera Plasil, who was dozing, open-eyed, over her biology textbook. The little note passed discreetly from hand to hand down the line of tables next to the aisle where Helen sat, reached the fourth table, then sped on invisibly down the middle line, moved to the line beside the windows, and so on to the far end of the classroom and Milena in the row second from the front. The whole thing took only a minute.
It was an accepted rule among the girls: messages must circulate fast and freely and must always reach their destination. You passed them on as a matter of course, even if you hated the girl sending the message or the girl she was writing to. The boarding school demanded absolute silence, so these little forbidden notes were the only way of communicating during study periods and classes. In over three years at the school, Helen had never seen a message go astray or come back, let alone be read by someone it wasn’t meant for. Any girl who did that would have paid heavily for it.
Milena skimmed the message. Her masses of blond hair cascaded down her back like a lion’s mane. Helen would have given a lot for hair like
that, but her own was short and straight like a boy’s and she couldn’t do a thing with it. Milena turned and frowned, as if in disapproval. Helen knew exactly what that meant.
You’re crazy! This is only October! Last year you held out until February!
Helen gave an angry little shake of her head and narrowed her eyes.
Maybe, but I want to go now. So are you coming or not?
Milena sighed. So that was all right, then.
Helen carefully tidied her things, rose to her feet, and crossed the room under the curious gaze of a dozen girls. When she reached the supervisor’s desk, she noticed that Miss Zesch, in charge during the study period, had a sour smell of sweat about her. In spite of the cold, her forearms and upper lip shone with unhealthy-looking perspiration.
“I want to go and see my consoler,” Helen whispered.
The supervisor showed no surprise, just opened the large black register in front of her.
“Dormann. Helen Dormann,” said Helen. She was sure the woman knew her name perfectly well and just didn’t want to show it.
The supervisor ran a greasy finger down the list of names and stopped on the letter
She checked that Helen Dormann hadn’t used up all her outings yet.
“Very well. Companion?”
“Bach,” said Helen. “Milena Bach.”
The supervisor ran her finger up the list again to
Milena Bach hadn’t gone out as another girl’s companion more than three times since term began in September. Miss Zesch raised her head and shouted in such a loud voice that half the girls jumped, “BACH, MILENA!”