Chapter 1: Stargazing
"Dad, this is so boring!"
Changel squirmed restlessly in her lawn chair and looked at her father. (Her name is pronounced like angel with a ch in front.) Some of her friends thought her name a little unusual, but her mother and father had chosen it because, they said, "it suited her to a tee."
Changel's chair had been placed in the middle of her family's large backyard, which was on the edge of the little town of Pine Valley on Prince Edward Island. Her father sat nearby in another chair. It was late in the evening - past bedtime.
"Only a few minutes longer, Angel," said her father, peering at the book he was studying by flashlight. The flashlight had a red plastic cover over the bulb to help him read in the dark without interfering with his night vision.
"Wasn't it you," he continued, "who thought it would be fun to learn more about some of the stars? Aren't you the one who was excited when you came home from school yesterday?"
The previous day, Dr. Sage, an astronomer, someone who studies the stars, had visited Mrs. Henderson's Grade 5 science class at Pine Valley Elementary School. Changel had been fascinated by her talk, and had told her parents all about it. She had coaxed her father into helping her find a good star book at the library so that they could do some serious star gazing. Now she was beginning to wonder if her idea had been such a good one after all. The night had grown very dark, it was getting cool and she was feeling very sleepy.
"Dad, maybe we could do this another night. There are millions and millions of stars up there. How can we ever learn about them all?"
Her father turned his head toward her and peered over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. He smiled at her and she smiled back, although they could hardly see each other in the dark.
"We had better do it tonight, I think," he replied, "while it's still fresh in your mind. It's supposed to cloud over tomorrow for a day or two, and after that there will be a full moon. That means there will be too much light in the sky to see the stars clearly. Besides, I think I have figured it out now. OK?"
"OK, Dad, but can you hurry up, please?" asked Changel, and she leaned back in her chair with a patient sigh. She smothered a big yawn with her hand and looked around the yard.
It was a little spooky this late in the evening. It was after ten 0' clock and by this time she was usually snuggled safely in bed under the warm comforter. The house was well behind them; they had seated themselves in the center of the backyard so that the light from the windows wouldn't bother them. Farther down the meadow, where the yard ended, Changel could see the dark branches of the poplar, birch, and maple trees against the sky. The spruce grove that touched the back corner of their lot was black and still. A dark shape flew over it, and the "Whoo-whoo" of the owl, which nested in the wood, echoed through the quiet night.
Changel's eyes grew heavy.
Changel jumped up from her chair and gave a little squeak.
"Hey! Falling asleep on me?" asked her father, grinning.
"Well, maybe," she admitted, trying to sound as though she wasn't.
"No matter," said her father. "Come over here and sit beside me for just a minute or two. I think I've got some of these stars figured out. Maybe you can tell me if I'm right."
"OK, Dad," laughed Changel, and she pulled her chair closer to his. Her father put his arm around her, and she wriggled a little until she rested comfortably against his shoulder.
"Is this what Dr. Sage does when she is not teaching?" she asked. "Does she look at the stars every night?" Her father raised his head from the star book and thought for a moment. "I suppose so, Angel," he answered, "but I think she probably has a more comfortable chair in a big room with a telescope poking through a hole in the roof. That way she can see the stars more clearly."
"Why a telescope?" asked Changel, "Isn't there enough to see up there without a telescope?"
"There certainly is for me!" replied her father.
"Look - there's the constellation called the Big Dipper."
"Excuse me," interrupted Changel, "the what called the big whatever?"
"Oh," answered her father, "It's a constellation - a group of stars that appear close to each other in the sky. If you look at them the right way they seem to have a certain shape - of a person or a creature or an object. If you think of them that way, it makes it easier to remember them."
"Right," said Changel. "I know what you mean by the Big Dipper constellation now. Thanks. Dr. Sage did mention it, but I forgot. She also called it by another name, Great Bear, I think."
"Right," said her father. "It seems that astrologers in different places or at different times called the same constellations by different names. Look, the constellation called the Big Dipper, or the Great Bear, is right over there." He pointed toward the north, which was to their left.
"The book says that there are seven stars, four in the shape of a water dipper and three more that make up the handle. That looks like it over there, don't you think?"
Changel looked in the direction of his pointing finger and studied the stars for a moment.
"Yes, I think I see it," she said, concentrating. She pointed with her own finger and counted off the stars in the Big Dipper. "One star in the top corner, then follow an imaginary line down to the second star at the other corner, across to the third star, then back up the opposite way to the fourth - and three more stars for the handle that is bent in the middle."
"Wow, that's great!" she added, her eyes shining in the starlight. "The Big Dipper! It really does look like a water dipper. Mrs. Henderson will be pleased that I found it, or rather we found it," she corrected herself quickly.
"Now, look," exclaimed her father, getting almost as excited as Changel, "if we draw an imaginary line through the two stars at the end of the Dipper, straight up - yes - there it is - Polaris. It's that bright star above the Dipper, also called the North Star. Do you see it?"
Changel followed the line he described with her eyes, then nodded. "Polaris," she repeated, "the North Star."
"It says in the book," her father continued, "that Polaris is always in the north, so you can always tell in which direction you are looking. That's how sailors can find their way. That is the first step in navigating by the stars. Well," he finished, "I guess astronomy's not so hard after all."
" Astronomy - one of the oldest sciences," he mused, with a gleam in his eye. Changel had seen that gleam before; it meant that he was getting interested, and that could mean this would turn into an even longer evening. She yawned, and snuggled deeper into her chair.
"Oh, yes," she said, trying not to give into her drowsiness, "Mrs. Henderson explained that when she introduced us to Dr. Sage. But isn't it almost time to go in? I'm starting to get sleepy."
Her father pulled the collar of jacket up under her chin, and kissed the top of her head. "You bet, Sweetheart," he said, "but just one more minute. I want to see if I can find one other major constellation. It's called Orion. It's in the shape of a man; you can recognize it by the stars in his belt. There is also a bright star so close to Orion it's called the dog star." He began to look from the book to the sky, then shone the red light on the book and muttered to himself. He looked at the sky, then back to the book. Changel began to think it was all rather funny. The red light went on ... then off ... then on ... then off ... on ... off ...
Suddenly the light disappeared. She looked around and noticed a ground fog beginning to creep up through the spruce grove and the trees at the end of the yard. The astronomy book lay closed on her father's lap, and the hand holding the flashlight hung loosely over the side of his lawn chair. His glasses were crooked and his eyes were closed. He breathed deeply, snorted, and then sighed.
"Why, he's falling asleep," thought Changel. She looked at him fondly for a moment, then began to shake him gently.
"Dad, Dad! It's time to go in," she said.
There was no response. She shook him a little harder, and tugged on his shirt sleeve. She was still shaking him when she realized that the night was growing brighter around her. Then she heard a strange noise behind her and she turned toward it ...
"Oh, Dad," she whispered, her eyes growing very wide.
Beside the spruce grove, striding with great, giant steps through the mist was the biggest man imaginable. He must have been at least six metres tall! He looked like the picture of the old Viking that she remembered seeing in one of her school books. He had rippling muscles, long hair and a beard, and the most unusual clothes: an animal skin that stretched over one shoulder and wrapped around his waist, and a skirt that hung down to his knees. He carried a big club in one hand, and a long sword hung from a loop in a wide black belt which circled his waist. He wore sandals on his feet, with laces that criss-crossed up over his calves, almost to his knees. At his side trotted an enormous black dog, its long tongue bouncing wetly from the side of its mouth.
But even stranger than the appearance of this huge pair, was the fact that they were both transparent - she could see right through them! Their shapes against the dark night sky were like white lines moving on a black background. As they loomed ever larger in front of her, Changel could see stars shining through them.
The mist now covered the ground all around her, from the trees at the far end of the yard to the house. Changel sat frozen in her seat, as the giant and the dog strode toward her. Then the great dog spotted her and their eyes met. It paused for a moment, gave a great roaring bark - and charged! Its huge black eyes flashed like fire, and saliva dripped from its fierce jaws as it bounded toward her. She could hear it panting, and the sound of its wet feet splashing through the mist. She put her hands over her face, too startled and frightened to scream.
The sound of the dog's breathing became louder and louder until she could hear nothing else. Then she felt the heat of his breath on her hands, and heard a terrible growl. She uncovered her face, ready to scream - and again looked straight into the glowing eyes of the monstrous animal. It had reared up on its hind legs, and was about to pounce on her, when a loud, gruff voice commanded, "Sirius! Hold!"
Changel closed her eyes.
And then! - Changel travels with her new friends Orion and Sirius through the night sky, where Orion needs to find the Dawn before the Moon Goddess and her fiery arrows find him!
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