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.