“Damn, you’re freezing. You’ll be ill. Here.”
He shucked out of his coat and wrapped it around Bran’s shoulders. Bran snuggled into its warmth with a little sigh and Owen couldn’t mourn its warmth even though the cold cut into him like knives slicing his skin.
“I don’t like being cold,” Bran announced as they picked their way along the sheep track. It was slow going as Bran had no shoes and kept complaining that his feet hurt.
“Isn’t it cold in the water? You didn’t seem cold when you were sitting naked on a rock.”
“It’s never cold in the water, hot either. It’s always the same. And when I was on the rock, I was wrapped in a spell. Until today, I have never set foot outside the barrier as a human. I have never been cold before.”
“Then lets hurry. The sooner we get home, the sooner you can sit by the fire and have some hot chocolate to warm up.”
“What is hot chocolate?”
“Have you never had it?”
Bran shook his head.
“It’s the best, and my grandmother makes the best of the best. You’ll see.”
“Is it far? My feet hurt.”
“Almost as far as the last time you asked about five minutes ago. I’m hurrying as much as I can, but it’s still a way off.”
“I can’t walk much further.” As if to prove a point, he stumbled over the tussock and had to cling to Owen for support.
“You should have worn shoes.”
“I cannot. I can bring nothing with me from the other shore.”
“Oh damn. Well, hurry up then.”
Owen practically dragged Bran along the path, his mind whirling. More and more consequences forced themselves into his racing mind. What the hell was he going to tell people? How would he explain Bran? Where would Bran live? What would he do? It wasn’t as if Owen was in any position to take care of him. He was barely able to take care of himself.
Owen stopped at the plaintive cry. He realized he’d been so caught up in his head he’d fallen into his usual pattern and pace and had left Bran behind. Frustrated, he hurried back to the struggling faery.
“I thought the fey were supposed to be at home out of doors, flitting around the mountains and luring unwary travellers into fairy rings.”
“I-I’ve never been out of the water, not on land. I don’t know what other fey do.” He ducked his head and bit his lip. “I’m not going to deny the luring part though. The water needs life force sometimes.”
Owen froze and stared at Bran, who squirmed under the scrutiny. “What do you mean?”
Bran shrugged, glancing at him nervously. He looked away and shuffled his feet, wincing as sharp stones and grass stems dug into the tender flesh of his feet.
Owen’s voice came out harsher than he’d intended, and Bran took a step back. He looked frightened.
“Tell me.” Owen repeated, advancing.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“You’ve lured people into the water, haven’t you? To their deaths. You’ve drowned people.”
Bran licked his lips and flicked his eyes up. “Not me.”
“But your people, your family?”
Bran nodded, his eyes wide and filled with uncertainty.
“The water requires life force sometimes; sacrifice.” Bran swallowed and rallied drawing himself straighter. “It didn’t used to – until humans came and stole its purity.”
“Stole its purity?” Owen sneered. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, human, that you make the water dirty, you poison everything in it. You even poison yourselves. The water is as much alive as the land, and you poison that too. There has to be balance. You take the life force from the water and the water has to take it back or we all die.”
“You stand there talking to me about murder as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.”
“It is not murder. Murder is wasteful. It’s sacrifice.”
“Semantics. You and your family are murderers. Shit. I should have listened to Aggie.”
Owen ignored Bran and turned for home. Squaring his shoulders against the cold wind and the pleading cries from behind, he walked as fast as he could and didn’t stop until he’d slammed the cottage door behind him.
Aggie looked up from her seat by the fireside.
“Didn’t go well then. Well, I tried to warn you but you didn't listen. How did you get out of it?”
Aggie raised an eyebrow.
“He’s a monster,” Owen burst out. “He admitted to murdering people. Well…not him, but his family. Sacrifice, he calls it but the end result is the same. He’s been watching me since I was a child - every time I went to the lake. I suppose I’m lucky he didn’t see me as a sacrifice. He tricked me. It was all a trap. Probably so he could leave the water and spy on us on land. They don’t like humans, at least his father doesn’t. None of them trust us.”
“Do you blame them?”
Owen glared at Aggie, but couldn’t keep still long enough to keep the focus. He started to pace.
“What am I going to do? What have I done?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you start by telling me what you’ve done?”
Owen quickly recounted what had happened at the lake, with Aggie growing more and more alarmed.
“Where is he?” she interrupted while Owen was in full flow complaining about Bran’s constant whining.
Owen blinked, annoyed. “I don’t know. Still fumbling about on the mountain I guess. He’s the bloody faery, he can find his own way.”
“Are you insane?” Aggie surged from her seat and loomed over him. “I have often thought you to be a foolish boy, but I have never imagined you could be such a cruel one. Go to your room and wait for me there.”
“What? Am I five?”
“Go to your room.”
Owen opened his mouth, but no words came. Aggie was furious. Owen had never seen her quite so angry, at least not when the anger was directed at him. The old woman seemed to increase in size, looming over him. He swallowed hard and backed away.
“O-okay.” He turned and fled.
The other flashers who are going all out to entertain you today, are