An Unwelcome Visitor
"Ignore it," she whispered, "maybe they'll go away."
Brokk was only too happy to comply and kissed her again, reveling in the feel of her nails tracing down his spine.
"Chloe!" The voice called through the door and Chloe groaned. "Merde! That's Mum's boyfriend, he's forgotten his key again."
Brokk tilted her head back to kiss her neck. "Then he'll go away soon," he murmured against her skin.
She shook her head. "He only lives up the road he'll be back soon enough, we have to get out of here."
Brokk scowled. "I could change the locks so he can't get it."
She pushed him away with a sigh. "Oui, and how do I explain that later? Come on, you wanted to see our world, didn't you? I'll take you to Brantôme." She walked away from him and pulled on her T-shirt. As much as she regretted the interruption, something told her she'd had a lucky escape. Maybe it was the wine that was making her so... so bold, though she no longer felt drunk, just... She watched him pulling on his shirt, the muscles in his arms flexing and showing off the kind of body she'd only seen in the movies, and felt her skin ache. She grabbed her car keys and flew to the front door. Tante Marie had warned her that this was what they were like and she'd thought the poor woman was mental, though to be fair so did everyone else. Well not any more, in fact, she thought it was about time she paid the old lady a visit.
It took far longer to leave than Chloe would have hoped as she was obliged to give an explanation as to the inner workings of a car. As her knowledge didn't extend too much further than the appropriate places to add water, oil or petrol and how to get the thing moving it didn't take as long as it could have but Brokk listened with rapt attention and was fascinated with the whole thing.
She spent most of the twenty minute drive to Brantôme feeling like an alien tour guide. Explanations about telephone wires, electricity and roundabouts were given and she almost had to pull over when he watched an enormous log lorry pass by as though it was carrying the bodies of a mass murder. She took a detour after that to avoid the huge saw mill she normally drove past in case it gave him a heart attack. She felt increasingly guilty; looking at the world through his eyes, knowing so much of what she took for granted was having an impact on the earth. He said that not only was her world tainted but it had begun to poison their land too, the fae were falling sick; things were changing.
She felt quite depressed by the time they drove into Brantôme, feeling as though the fate of the fae nation was suddenly on her shoulders, her responsibility. Her spirits were soon lifted though, by his reaction to Brantôme itself. It was a beautiful place; surrounded on all sides by a river, it was accessed by five bridges and was an ancient place. The monastery that glowered over the pretty shops and houses boasted the oldest bell tower in France and today was market day and the place was a hive of activity.
There were colourful awnings over the market stalls, fluttering in a breeze that did little to relieve the heat of the day, while they were invited to taste cheese and wine and tiny wild strawberries that perfumed the air. Brokk dragged her from stall to stall, her hand clasped tightly as he tasted and investigated every part of the market, exclaiming over the differences and similarities to be found between the worlds.
Olives were a new and delicious discovery and Chloe ended up buying a large bag which Brokk dipped into on his way around the village, as delighted as a child with a bag of sweets. They watched the tourists paddling around the river in their yellow canoes, laughing when they got stuck on the weir and cheering and clapping when they eventually made their way over, with ungainly maneuvers and red faces.
She caught his eye when they were standing on the bridge and he smiled at her and gave her a kiss that made her catch her breath. When he let her go she glanced up to find him looking at her intently and she found she couldn't hold his gaze, and looked away.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Nothing." She smiled at him and began to walk away but he was holding her hand and pulled her back to him, his hand on her waist, drawing her close.
"What is it?" He repeated, his voice low, cajoling.
She sighed and leaned her head against his chest. "I wish you hadn't come." She looked up to see surprise and hurt in his eyes.
"Why, why would you wish that?"
She laughed at his wounded expression and reached up, kissing his cheek. "Because you'll leave tonight and I don't suppose I shall see you again. I don't want you to go."
His expression cleared, though he didn't laugh. "You don't?"
She shook her head, smiling sadly and they walked together through the narrow cobbled street, past windows boxes lush with red geraniums and the tiny boulangerie where they bought walnut bread, still warm from the oven. She broke pieces off, feeding them to him, her fingers brushing his lips as their eyes met and said more than either of them intended to out loud.
They turned the corner towards another bridge, the old stone once more edged with geraniums but this time with another, more unusual sight, that was none the less eye catching.
The Prince Corin was leaning against the wall, head tilted back, eyes closed, enjoying the sunshine and surrounded by girls. He was now dressed for the human world, with blue jeans and a fitted black T-shirt that clung lovingly to a body that had the girls jostling to get closer to him. One of them whispered in his ear and he smiled, opening his eyes and kissing her, slow and lingering. He let her go; leaving her with an expression Chloe felt she was now very familiar with herself. The Prince’s head came up, somehow knowing he was being watched, and gave Chloe a look that made her blush to her toes. She felt Brokk hold her hand tighter and smiled inwardly.
"Alors, so he comes here to have fun?" she said, raising her eyebrows at Brokk who shrugged.
"That's what I said." They approached him and Brokk opened his mouth to say, "Your High..."
Corin scowled at him and Brokk cleared his throat, blushing slightly. "Corin, I did not expect to see you here."
Corin's eyes drifted from him to Chloe with a smile. "I'm rather surprised to see you too."
Chloe's eyes narrowed. "I thought Brokk might like to see the market."
"Of course, my dear, it is quite charming." He turned back to the girls, one of whom was clinging to his arm like a limpet. "I'm going to say goodbye now, I shall see you again soon I'm sure."
There was a lot of pouting and whining which Chloe watched with a disgusted expression until Corin had taken the time to kiss his entourage goodbye. He gave Chloe an amused look; the golden eyes making her feel uneasy somehow. "Do you disapprove of me or them?"
"Both," she muttered. Corin laughed and she found she had to bite her lip to stop herself joining in. "Where are you going now?" he asked.
"I'm taking Brokk to see Tante Marie." Brokk looked at her in surprise as she hadn't actually told him of her plans.
"Ah yes," Corin said, “the one who..." He made the circling motion by his temple as Chloe had done and she nodded.
"I'm feeling guilty that none of us believed her," she admitted. "I thought it might make her feel better."
Corin frowned. "Are you sure about that my dear? It rather depends on what her experience with us was; we are not always kind I'm afraid."
"Does that include you?" she demanded, her tone harsh. She was looking at Corin though Brokk felt sure she wasn’t only expecting an answer from him.
Corin shrugged. "I am not cruel I hope but I make no promises."
"How very reassuring."
He walked beside her, smiling at the women who walked past and sent covetous glances in his direction, apparently unperturbed by her sarcastic tone. “Your Tante Marie warned you, my dear, and I would do the same... have a care when you deal with the fae. Never accept gifts and don’t fall in love.”
She flushed and Corin stopped in his tracks, his eyes on hers as her flush deepened and she drew the tiny acorn from her pocket, holding it out to him. He frowned, before giving Brokk a hard look. “I told you my feelings about this kind of thing, I believe.”
“It was just a gift; I had no intention of holding her... I... I just wanted to make her smile.”
Corin shook his head. “Is that all?”
Brokk shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “A flower... but I meant what I said!”
The Prince stared at him and Brokk held his gaze until he turned to Chloe. “I believe Brokk is speaking the truth, but you must have a care. If you accept one more gift from him, no matter how trivial, he will own you, body and soul. You would be his to do with as he pleased, he could command you if he wished, remember that.”
Chloe’s eyes grew wide and she looked at Brokk in horror. He held out his hands, his eyes gentle, pleading. “I could but I wouldn’t, Chloe, you can trust me, I swear it. I would never hurt you.”
She looked from him to the Prince who smiled at her. “I believe him to be an honourable man, my dear, but we are a tricky race, you would be as well to be on your guard.”
“Please, Sire!” Brokk exclaimed.
Corin took his arm and walked him away from Chloe. “She is a sweet girl, and already half in love with you, have a care.”
“How is this any different from what you do?” Brokk demanded and Corin scowled, angry.
“I have never bound someone to me and I do not make promises.”
“I have promised nothing either!” Brokk hissed, his own temper flaring now and making him forget just who he spoke to.
“Perhaps not in so many words but how hard will it be to say goodbye to her tonight?”
Brokk opened his mouth and then closed it again, looking away.
“Fool,” Corin muttered, though not unkindly. “Exactly how hard is it going to be?”
Brokk met his eyes and shook his head. “I... I cannot bear to think of it.” He laughed suddenly. “You warned me of many things, Your Highness, you warned me not to cause them pain... but not how quickly they can steal your heart.”
Corin shrugged, and Brokk thought perhaps he saw regret in his eyes. “It is not something I have ever found a problem.” The Prince turned to see Chloe watching them anxiously. “Come, let us meet Tante Marie and see what she thinks of us, though I have a fair idea what we’ll find.”
They returned to Chloe and they walked beside the river until they reached the nursing home where the old lady had been for the past few years. Brokk took her hand as they walked through the entrance hall and Chloe let him but sent him a nervous glance with wide blue eyes that made his chest hurt. A nurse directed them down the hall and out onto the balcony where they found a frail, birdlike woman sitting in a large wicker chair. She had a blanket over her knees despite the heat of the day and her thin fingers worried at a golden band around her wrist as she sang softly to herself, her voice little more than a whisper.
“Bonjour,” Chloe crouched down and took the soft old hands in hers.
“Chloe? Chloe!” The old lady beamed, squeezing her hands and sitting forwards, delighted to have a visitor.
“Tante Marie, I have some people I would like you to meet.” She gestured for the two men to come out onto the balcony and as they did the old ladies eyes grew wide. With strength Chloe would never have thought possible from her tiny frame she grasped Chloe’s arm and tugged her to stand beside her chair.
“No! Jamais! You’ll not have her, I won’t let you.”
Corin smiled at her and drew up a chair to sit beside her. “Marie? May I call you that?”
The old lady nodded stiffly, never taking her grasp from Chloe’s arm.
“Marie, allow me to introduce myself. I am Corin, crown Prince of Alfheim. We mean Chloe no harm; you have my word of honour.”
The old lady seemed to relax somewhat and Corin leaned a little closer. “You have heard of me?”
“You know that I will keep my word?”
“Oui,” she said softly. “I know you will.” She gave Brokk a hard look and he flushed.
Corin spoke again, drawing her attention back to him. “Would you mind showing me that bracelet you are wearing?”
Marie’s chin came up and she gave Corin a fierce look but he held his hand out, smiling gently. “Please.”
She released her grip on Chloe and hesitantly did as he asked. Corin took her hand in his and Chloe saw anger flair in the golden eyes but when he looked up at Marie he just smiled again. “This is very beautiful, how long have you had it?”
“It feels like forever but... almost sixty years.” Her expression grew wistful. “He was here such a short time, he promised to come back again; he said he would come for me but...” The faded blue eyes filled and she looked away from them.
Corin clasped her hand. “Who gave it to you?”
She shook her head and Corin leaned forward, placing his hand softly against her cheek. “Won’t you tell me?”
“Rhin.” She whispered. “His name was Rhin.”
Chloe watched a look pass between the two men that she couldn’t decipher and Corin was silent for a moment. When he looked up his gaze travelled from Chloe and then to Marie and he sighed heavily. “I am so sorry my dear but Rhin died, many, many years ago. I am afraid that is why he never came for you.”
Chloe saw a look of surprise cross Brokk’s face but her attention was soon taken by Marie.
“Oh, my poor boy, my lovely boy, oh!” Fat tears rolled down her face and Chloe knelt beside her, holding her hand and Corin kept hold of the other. “I have been so angry with him for so long but he would have come.” She turned, beaming at Corin. “He would have come if he could?”
The Prince nodded and patted her hand gently. “Yes, he would have come.”
The old lady sighed, contented and then her gaze fell upon Brokk who was watching Chloe with such longing that her breath caught. She looked up at her niece to see an identical expression on her face and squeezed her hand. “Don’t let him go, Chloe, go with him. If you want him... go with him!”
Chloe gasped. “But... but...”
“But nothing!” the old lady shouted. “You!” She crooked a bony finger a Brokk and beckoned him closer. “Do you love her?”
“Marie!” Chloe gasped, horrified that she should ask him outright but Brokk just took a step closer and held his hand out to her.
“Yes,” he said simply. “I love her.”
The old lady beamed at him and then turned to Chloe and her face fell. “Chloe?”
“I... I don’t know! It’s all too sudden, we met this morning! How can I make a decision that will change everything in a few hours? I can’t, I... just can’t.” Chloe stood, wringing her hands together and looking anguished. She could see how disappointed Brokk was but what choice did she have? “Couldn’t you stay?” she asked. “We could get to know each other, like normal people and then, maybe in a few months...”
She knew from the look on his face that it was impossible and swallowed down a lump in her throat. She didn.t want him to leave, she couldn’t bear the idea she would never see him again and yet... she couldn’t give up her life here, her education, her future for some unknown world.
Corin cleared his throat and they turned to look at him as the silence was broken. “Brokk is in no position to offer you a place in our world, my dear, not yet. I’m afraid there are rules among out kind, conventions by which we all have to abide.” He glanced at Brokk who flushed angrily. “However, I am prepared to help him make something of himself so that he may return, if he is willing to pledge himself to you? When the time comes I will see to it that you are accepted, if it is still what you both want by then.” He turned to Brokk. “You understand what I am suggesting? You will be tied to her, bound as Marie was bound to Rhin. Think carefully, Brokk, you are young yet and we know not how long you will both wait. Time will pass for her, far faster than it will for you, she may forget you or you may come to realise you were mistaken... it is a huge risk.”
Brokk stepped forward and took Chloe’s hand and she looked up into those wide brown eyes. “I won’t forget,” she promised. “I know that much. I could never forget you.”
“Then it is enough.” He smiled at her. “Do it,” he told Corin.
Corin got to his feet. “You understand, both of you... it may be many years before he returns?”
Chloe frowned. “But what if... what if I’m an old lady?” She looked down at Marie fearfully and Brokk squeezed her hands. “I will come back as fast as I can, I won’t make you wait any longer than I have to.”
“But, Brokk, you might not want me... if...” He put his finger to her lips.
“Believe in me,” he whispered.
She nodded and the Prince took hold of each of their wrists and Chloe gasped as she felt his magic twine around her arm, a pale golden light flickering against her skin, weaving patterns as it bound Brokk to her. “My promise to you,” he said softly.
They looked down as the Prince stepped away to see each of them bore a gold bracelet.
“Pretty,” Chloe said with a smile as Brokk looked as his and swallowed, feeling the weight of it already tugging at his heart.
Corin returned to sit with Marie who had watched the proceedings with misty eyes. “Would you like me to take it off?” he asked, gesturing at the bracelet on her wrist and she shook her head fiercely.
“Non! I will wear it until the end of my days. “
Corin smiled sadly and gestured to Brokk. “We should leave.”
The two men left, giving Chloe a moment to say goodbye to Marie, and Brokk turned to Corin once they were outside again. “Rhin isn’t dead,” he said with a frown.
The Prince’s face hardened, the golden eyes cold. “No... not yet.”
Once Chloe had returned to them, Corin made his excuses, telling Brokk he would meet him in the garden at midnight and they were alone together once more.
Brokk, smiled at her and she took his hand. He knew she didn’t really understand the enormity of what he had done but he would try to explain. He didn’t want her to live as Marie had done, believing she had been forgotten, though sadly, in her case it was true. He was glad the Prince had lied to her.
The walked back to the car in silence, there was too much to say and far too little time to fill it with words. Instead Chloe drove them back to the house, relieved to find it empty, and took his hand, leading him up the stairs to her room.
The moment she touched him Brokk knew that he hadn’t needed the bracelet, that was for her, to reassure her; he needed nothing to bind him tighter than he already was. He wondered at the touch of her skin under his hands, extraordinary to believe she had done this to him without a trace of magic, with no tricks or pretty lies. He had been caught with little more than a pair of blue eyes, and the way she made him see the world through them.
His blood seared his veins, burning under his skin as she finally shed the shorts and T-shirt, giving herself to him without restraint, without regret... at least, not yet.
He traced the curves of her body like a map, every contour to be engraved on his mind, to be relived in the dreams that he knew would be all he would have for the coming years. He would memorise every detail, the feel of her soft body beneath him, the taste of her and the sound of her breath coming fast in his ear as she clung to him.
They shared each other as they tried to stop time in its tracks, wanting the moment never to end though inevitably it did, and it was time to say goodbye.