Life has been a struggle lately, but the very bright side of the coin is that my long, long writing draught seems to be over and I'm writing again, albeit more slowly than usual. Hopefully, this will continue to grow and expand and I can finally get back to working on all the WIP's that are hanging around waiting for attention. In the meantime, enjoy the next instalment of "Beacon Lake"
“You are the human who presumes to claim my son.” The king’s voice was like waves crashing against rocks in a storm. Although white-haired, he didn’t look old, neither did the queen, certainly not old enough to have a son Bran’s age. A brief flutter of unease had him wondering how old Bran was. They fey lived long lives.
“I… um….” He stuttered when he realized he was expected to speak.
“Speak up, boy.” The king turned to Bran. “Are you sure? This one seems defective.”
“Hush dear.” The queen’s voice was more like a bubbling spring brook and she smiled gently at Owen. “You’re frightening him. I told you all this” – she waved her hand to encompass the warriors and maidens – “was too much.”
“Nonsense. I will not give my son to a wishy washy human boy. I will have a warrior. I will have a leader among men.”
“You will have no one, dear. This is about Bran, not you.”
“But I am his father and I have the right—”
“You have the right to many things, but as we agreed, you do not have the right to your son’s happiness. Bran has chosen, not you.”
The king growled and glared at Owen who had the impression this wasn’t the first time the conversation had taken place in much the same form. It was, however, the first time the king had Owen to pass the buck to.
“How do I know you will care for my son? How do I know you have honour?”
Owen opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He swallowed.
“You see?” the king thundered. “He has no answer. He—”
“He’s still a frightened child, and you’re not helping.” She turned to Owen. “How did you know about the bread, dear? Do have a connection with the fey? A forest spirit, perhaps? You have the feel of the deep woods about you.”
“I…no. It was my grandmother who told me about the bread. I think…I think she knew because of…of stories.” He finished lamely because, to be honest, he had no idea where his grandmother got her information.
“Ah, stories. Stories are powerful things. Not many humans are still aware of this. Your grandmother is wise.”
Turning to Bran, the queen held out her hand. Bran stared at it for a moment, an expression of shock on his face, then took it and stepped forward. A shudder ran through him when he set foot on the shore, and his outline seemed to ripple for a moment as if he’d walked through a heat haze.
“Do you wish to give yourself to this human?”
“I do, Mother.”
“Do you understand that for as long as the bargain holds you must remain on land and the moment the bargain is broken you must return to the water and never set foot on land again?”
“I do, Mother.”
With two fingers under his chin, she tilted his face upward. “Do you love him?” she murmured.
“I do, Mother.”
“But….” Owen paused. It somehow felt wrong to interrupt what seemed like a very private moment, but he seemed to be heading very quickly into something he wasn’t sure he wanted and had no idea how to get out of. “What bargain?” He hated how pathetic he sounded, but he was lost and out of control.
“I’m coming to that, dear.”
“I do not think this human boy is worthy. He has no courage, and no commitment. He seeks to wriggle out of the bargain before it is made.”
“I know what you, think, my love. You have told me many times. The bargain.” Her voice changed on the last two words as she drew herself up and snapped her fingers. One of the handmaidens, while careful to keep her toes in the water, handed the queen a scroll, bound with a silver thread. The queen carefully unrolled it and raised her eyes to Owen.
“Human boy, do you promise to care for our son, Bran, Prince of the Mountain Lakes and Guardian of the Gateway? Do you promise to honour him and never to raise a hand against him in violence?”
“See? He cannot even promise this.”
“Be quiet, dear. Give the boy some time. Our ways are not his ways.”
“The thing is…. The thing is, I didn’t expect…. I didn’t expect to marry him.”
The queen’s smile didn’t slip an iota. “I understand that things are different in your world, but you must understand what you are asking of our son? If he comes to you he will be alone in a world that is not kind to us. For as long as the bargain holds he will never be able to return home and the only person he will have is you. I cannot allow my son to take such an enormous step unless I am sure you will take care of him and treat him well.”
“Of course I would. I’d never hurt him.”
The queen smiled sadly. “Such things always begin with good intentions. The bargain is clear. The choice is yours. Seek within your heart. Will you take my son’s life into your keeping, or will you hand it back to me and never see him again?”
Owen’s heart stuttered. He was torn. Part of him was angry that he was being forced into making a life changing decision when he wasn’t ready. Then he glanced at Bran.
Bran was standing quietly, with his hands at his sides and an impassive expression on his face. His head was slightly bowed, but his eyes never left Owen and when Owen caught his gaze he gave a faint, hesitant smile. That’s what undid him. If Bran had been his usual brash self he might have thought longer, might even have walked away. But that smile was so small and hopeful, and Bran’s eyes so bright Owen could no more imagine walking away from him than tearing his heart from his chest and throwing it at his feet. Although, perhaps that’s exactly what he was about to do.
And now go check out the rest of the flashers this week. There are some amazing stories going on