The Dark Promise
Gifts are binding, don’t take what’s offered.
They are too beautiful to deny, don’t fall for pretty lies.
Promises can be broken... Never, ever, trust the fae.
Chloe lay back in the grass, the heat burnishing her skin even in the dark shadow of the gnarled, old apple tree. August in the Dordogne, south west France was a lazy month. The world shut down, businesses closed, too hot; too foolish to move. Shutters on the old stone cottages closed against the fierce glare, the inhabitants moving slowly, like moles in their underground tunnels.
She sighed, her heart as restless as the swallows dipping in the brilliant blue above her. The old longing had struck her again, as it always did at this time of year. Almost twenty five years and she still couldn’t forget. She had done many things since then, seen much of the world, made a career for herself but nothing could ease the restlessness in her heart. Nothing could erase the sense that she was marking time; waiting for her life to begin for real.
Nothing could make her forget; no matter how she tried.
The cicadae sang in the grass; she wondered that they had the energy for such a cacophony when the sun seemed to melt her from the inside out. She wanted to scream with frustration, rage and throw things because he still hadn’t come but her energy was stolen from her, her bones as liquid as mercury, and so she lay there; still, fretful. She opened her eyes a little, squinting through her fingers and seeing the red glow of her own blood in her veins. Time was passing for her but was it for him?
She sometimes wondered if she had dreamt the whole thing as even the bracelet at her wrist seemed to be a trick of her mind. She would often glance at it and it would glow, magic curling over her skin as delicate as lace, and then she would really look and it was gone; if it had ever been there at all.
She remembered his eyes, a deep hazel brown, wide and expressive, long hair, woven with coloured thread in intricate plaits. His clothes were fine, of a quality she had only seen in museums; looking at costumes of Kings long since dead.
She remembered it all so clearly...
She had been sunbathing, on a day just like this one, all those years ago, too hot to move even though she was thirsty. She had considered the big jug of ice tea sitting in the fridge with longing but the effort of going and getting it... so she sighed and stretched, feeling the grass tickling her bare legs. Closing her eyes she had been about to fall back into a daydream when she had felt her skin prickle all over and a strange sweet smell on the air. She sat up, curious, as the view in front of her shimmered and rippled, like the surface of a pond struck with a stone. The world... her world, seemed to part like a curtain and two men stepped though. One had looked around her age, maybe a little older, no more than twenty, his companion was perhaps twenty five and she found it hard to look at him. There was a light around him that dazzled her, power that made her want to run to him, and far away from him, both at the same time.
They were laughing, a sound so carefree that she laughed too, despite the fact her heart was thundering.
They stopped and turned at the sound, seeing her sitting under the apple tree. The younger of the two men looked anxious and turned to his companion. “I thought you said they could only see us if we wished them to?”
The man nodded and she saw his eyes, golden and slanted, like a big, predatory cat, regarding her curiously. “Yes but she has the sight... don’t you my dear?”
She hesitated, not sure what to say. “Oui, well at least, Tante Marie, she says I have the gift but everyone thinks she’s... you know.” She made a circling motion by her temple and he laughed, the sound thrilling the blood in her veins.
“I’m afraid such gifts are often a burden to those that carry them,” he observed, those golden eyes looking at her and, she felt; seeing far too much.
She got to her knees on the blanket, moving slowly, afraid they might disappear if she made any sudden moves; like seeing a fox or a deer at close quarters. “So she was right then... you are the fae?” They didn’t answer but she felt the younger man’s eyes on her. “Who are you?” she pressed. “What are your names?”
The shining one smiled at her kindly. “I’m afraid we must go, my dear, it has been very nice meeting you.”
“Oh, non, please, can’t you stay a moment, I have so many questions.” She looked at them, pleading in her eyes.
“I could stay... if you want me to?” The young man was watching her, seeming equally fascinated, and his friend turned and looked at him, sighing heavily.
“Brokk, I believe I spoke to you before we left.”
The young man shrugged helplessly, casting a longing look at the pretty blond kneeling in the grass. “Yes... but...”
“Oh, do as you will, you won’t listen to me now, I shall see you here at midnight. Do not keep me waiting or I will leave you here.”
The young man bowed, formal suddenly. “Yes, Your Highness, thank you.”
They watched as he walked away, shimmering like a heat haze as the sun made him burn brighter.
She turned back to the young man and he smiled at her, his eyes warm and friendly. “Your Highness?” she queried.
“Yes, he is the Prince of Alfheim.”
She watched, awe struck as he walked a little closer and sat down, crossed legged in the grass.
“Is that why he shines, because he’s a Prince?”
He shrugged. “Yes and no, he shines with power but then, the Royals are the most powerful amongst us.”
She inched a little closer to him, he was so very beautiful, his skin a pale gold, flawless. “Powerful how?”
His eyes sparkled, full of mischief suddenly. “Magic,” he said with a sly smile which broadened as her eyes grew big.
“Can you do magic?” she demanded.
He threw back his head and laughed, of course he had known she would ask, and she watched him, transfixed, fighting back the almost irresistible need to touch the little hollow at the base of his throat.
A cabbage white butterfly flitted past them and he spoke a word she didn’t recognise. The butterfly turned and flew to his fingers where it alighted and he blew upon it gently. Before her eyes its wings changed, suddenly iridescent, blue and green and pink, the colours changing in the light like shot silk. It sat on his fingers for a moment, as if bemused by its new beauty, before flitting away again.
“Oh!” she breathed. “Show me more.”
He chuckled and shook his head, the plaits falling forwards around his face. “I’m not supposed to; Corin will be cross with me.”
She pouted and moved a little closer, noticing the way his eyes lingered on her skin. She was dressed in a pair of old denim shorts and a bikini top and he seemed transfixed, she could already see the desire in his eyes. She wondered how the women dressed in his world and had a feeling it wasn’t like this. “I won’t tell if you don’t,” she said softly.
“What should I do?”
She widened her eyes at him. “What can you do?”
He looked down, pulling at the grass with a shrug. “Oh, nothing very terrible, not like him, Prince Corin I mean.” He looked at her, frowning. “What is it like, to live without magic?”
She laughed, incredulous. “How would I know?” His frown deepened and she shook her head. “I would only know what it is like without it, if I had lived with it. As it is... well, it’s just how things are; normal.”
“The Prince has told me stories of this world, of cars and televisions, electricity and telephones,” he paused, trying to remember the foreign words for things he had never seen. “Airplanes!” he said suddenly. “I would like to see an airplane.”
Chloe stared at him in wonder, stunned that a place still existed without such things. She held out her hand, pointing up at the sky and the tiny flash of white metal shimmering against the cobalt, its vapour trail scaring the perfect blue. “There.”
Brokk got to his feet, looking up at the sky. “How high is it?”
“I’ve no idea, very, very high.”
“There are people inside?” He sounded a little awestruck and she smothered a grin, pleased that her world held surprises for him just as he did for her.
“Yes, hundreds probably.”
He sat back down again, dragging his eyes from the sky, a little unwillingly, until they fell upon her once more and his attention was focused again. For the next few hours he asked her endless questions about all the things that Corin had described to him. He had clearly been skeptical, believing the Prince was teasing him, and was at turns delighted and shocked by her answers.
“You really don’t have anything like it in your world?” she asked him in amazement, and he shook his head, in turn astonished that she should find it so hard to believe.
“Our lives are entwined with that of the land. If it sickens, so do we, we would bring nothing to our world that would harm it. The things you speak of are poisoning the world around you. I can feel it; a taint in the soil.” He touched his fingers to the ground feeling the earth, dry and dusty beneath them before looking up at her through his lashes, a mischievous look in his eyes. He placed his hand flat on the ground and dozens of daisies sprang up from the grass, Chloe laughed, delighted. He picked one and tucked behind her ear. “A gift.” There was something in his eyes that made her smile falter but then he grinned and waved his hand over the blanket and before her there were plates of food, strange delicacies that she could not have named, and a big jug of wine, chilled so that the glass ran with condensation.
He lifted the jug and poured some of the golden liquid into a pretty goblet, gratified by the expression of wonder on her face. “Thirsty?” He handed it to her, the glass terribly fine and fragile and engraved with bindweed climbing around the stem. She hesitated for a moment before taking it in her hand, afraid she might break it with a clumsy movement. She was well used to drinking wine, her grandparents had a small chateau further south and she knew a good wine when she tasted it. This though... she lifted it to her nose, breathing in the extraordinary perfume of sunshine and heat and something she had never encountered before... magic. One taste was enough to tell her this was no ordinary wine and before she knew what had happened she had drained the glass.
“Oh, it’s gone.” She held the empty glass in her hand. Surprised and disappointed, she looked up at him. He smiled a slow, lazy smile.
“I should probably have warned you to sip slowly, I believe our wine is rather stronger than what you are used to.”
She sighed and nodded as her blood simmered gently in her veins. “Oui, vraiment, I should say it is, so why didn’t you?” She put the glass down, getting to her feet a trifle unsteadily, and clinging to a branch of the apple tree until the world stopped shifting.
“I didn’t want to, if I had warned you, you would have been cautious and I don’t want you to be cautious.” He stood up, his movements as fluid and graceful as a dancer and she watched him step closer as the wine threaded through her blood. “Your Tante Marie,” he asked, looking at her sideways and ducking beneath the branch. “Did she warn you about us?”
She nodded, though the warnings seemed dim now... a long way away. He stepped a little closer and one phrase circled in her head as she saw those pretty, brown eyes watching her. “Never trust the fae.” There were other rules but she couldn’t remember them.
She felt a jolt of panic and turned to run but his hand reached out and circled her wrist, pulling her back under the dark canopy of the apple tree. “It’s hot out there; stay here with me, in the shade.”
She looked at his long, elegant fingers, wrapped around her slim wrist. His skin was paler than hers which was tanned a deep gold from lying in the sun. He was looking too, at his hand touching her skin and his thumb moved lightly on the underside of her wrist. His hold on her was gentle, she could have pulled away if she tried and she wondered if she should... she should but then his thumb moved over her skin again and she shivered despite the heat. She looked up to see that slow smile curve over his mouth once more.
“You still haven’t told me your name?”
“Chloe,” she said, “my name is Chloe.” Though somehow her own name sounded odd to her now, like it didn’t belong.
“I am Brokk.” She nodded; she had heard the Prince use his name. The grip on her wrist tightened, just a little, as he moved closer, so that his shirt brushed against her bare skin. “Shall I kiss you now, Chloe?”
Her eyes fell to his mouth and stayed there, kissing him seemed like the most wonderful and the most terrible thing she would ever do.
“Answer me.” His voice was warm, inviting, the hand at her wrist moving now, trailing his fingers over the skin of her bare arm to her shoulder. She tore her gaze from his mouth to his eyes and wished she hadn’t as they were even harder to resist.
Choose Chloe's answer...