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February 26, 2024

Tam Lin 04

By Alexandra Queen

Once chance meeting is unremarkable. Two makes for an odd coincidence. Three such meetings no longer seems like chance. Michelle is missing time and seeing things that can't be real. She is determined to speak with the solemn stranger who seems to be at the heart of the mystery, but he has ordered her to go away -- before it is too late.

"Nope. Not without some answers." Michelle slung her shredded towel over her shoulder and wandered along the fence line toward the back of the house. An egret's slender white form took off with gentle flapping from a fencepost where it had apparently been enjoying the irrigation.

"I will not jeopardize your soul," her solemn stranger called after her.

"Oh, I see. My sanity and possibly my virtue are fair game, but the soul is off limits."

There was a long silence, and then the sounds of foot- and hoof-steps. Michelle paused in her studies of the wooden buildings behind the little house long enough for him to catch up. "You are not easily swayed once you have decided on a course of action, are you?" He didn't necessarily make it sound like a compliment.

"Nope. So explain to me why your 'here' does not seem to connect logically with my 'there' and why it is that after every time I've seen you, I have found myself missing large blocks of time." She followed him around the side of one of the wooden buildings where he looped the reins over a hitching post, then through a small door.

"Can't you guess?"

"I've had lots of guesses. Drugs. Brain tumor. I'd like to hear your version." She blinked in the dimness of the building and saw that there were rows of cages with perches inside. Some were empty, but others contained an assortment of birds of prey of all shapes and sizes. "Wow, is this like, um, a bird barn or something?"

"A mews." He gave her a bit of an arch look as he slipped a hood over the falcon's head and put her in a cage. "Your grandmother never told you stories of the fair folk, then?"

Michelle felt a wave of sickness hit her gut. It was one thing to not quite dare to suspect something like that, but it was entirely another to hear it. She realized that although part of her might have wished for some fantastic and magical answer to what was going on, what she had really wanted deep in her heart of hearts was a rational answer. Why, yes, I've used rohypnol on you every time we've met. Would you like another dose before I sell you to white slavers? At least that would have explained everything. Maybe he was making a comparison to something. "Yes, I've read fairy tales. What about it?"

"It's the realm of Fae." He fixed her with a stern look as he finished his task and exited through the same door. She trailed after him, wondering how he could sound so matter of fact about it. "You have your answers, girl, now go home."

"So are you..." Michelle looked at his tall, handsome form as he began uncinching the saddle. He could certainly enchant a soul, if he might put his mind to it. "...one of the fair folk?"

Again with the dark look.

"Oh." She bit her lip, but could not resist the barbed comment. "You fell victim to sidhe charms long ago and became trapped here, right?"

From the look on his face, it wasn't anywhere near as funny to him as it seemed to her. "Obviously," he spoke through clenched teeth, "it is with the voice of experience that I tell you to leave while you still can."

Michelle felt a pang of remorse. Setting aside the fact that she was obviously insane and this was all a delusion, if he really had been trying to keep her from being trapped here in the realm of the Fae, then he had been rude to her for good reason. She shouldn't have taken the shot at him like that. "So what do you have to do to break the spell and escape?" She tried to remember the fairy tales she had read. "The embrace of true love at midnight on All Hallows Eve?"

The man set the saddle back down onto the horse's back and leaned against the mount for a moment. Michelle peered at him with a bit of concern and then frowned when she realized that though the merriment didn't quite reach his eyes, he was trying not to snicker. "A kind thought, young mistress," he said politely, resuming the process of untacking the horse.

"I wasn't offering," Michelle said stiffly, feeling embarrassed. She really needed to hallucinate some nicer people.

The man bit his lip to keep another wry chuckle from escaping. "I didn't think you were." His face grew sad for a moment, then solemn again. "At any rate, there is nothing left for me to go back to. I've been here much, much longer than seven days. The chance for true love's embrace passed me by many years ago."

The sorrow in his eyes sparked a wave of sympathy for this man who seemed to have lost so much and to have been looking out for her interests so stubbornly. Maybe they had just gotten off on the wrong foot. "I'm Michelle."

He gave her a slightly irritated sidelong look. "Edward DeSorcy. Have you enough answers yet, lady, or does the folly to lose your soul still grip you?"

"Pleased to meet you, Edward." His mouth twitched in aggravation as she said it. She felt her own lips purse with annoyance. Stick up the ass, was the phrase that came to mind. It was an attitude that brought out the worst in her, as evidenced by another sharp comment slipping out. "So you've lost your soul, have you?"

"I don't really know," he said coldly. "But I assume that should I remain here, it is as good as, if not very actually, lost."

Michelle never really put much thought into her soul before, let alone what it might be like to lose it, but it seemed to mean rather a lot to him, judging by how stiff he had become again. "So leave. You might not know anyone in the mortal world now, but..." What the hell, this seemed to be her day for being stupid, and he did seem upset about the soul thing. "...well, you would know me."

DeSorcy gave her one of those dry, icy blue stares and a formal, "Thank you, Lady 'Michelle', however it isn't a matter of choice. Unlike you, I can't leave. Hence my suggestion that you should while you still can."

She felt her cheeks burning under that stare. Why did he always seem like he was politely trying to rebuff untoward romantic advances? Did he think was that good looking? "I am not hitting on you," she stated for the record. "And it's Licciardi."

"Of course not, Lady Licciardi."

Now she was irritated enough to stay and ask questions just to vex him. Michelle glowered along after him as he turned the horse out into a paddock by the mews. "So how did it happen?"

"You should leave."

"At least tell me more about this place."

"It's a soulless land," was his summary. "You should leave."

She was starting to lose her patience with the whole situation. "Well, then maybe you can tell me why I'm here in the first place. Aren't I supposed to have to go widdershins around a Church three times and then drink a bottle of scotch or something?"

DeSorcy looked out over the paddock for a few seconds with a faintly disgusted look on his face, blinking as if he were torn between actually cracking a smile or ending the conversation completely. He did neither. "Sometimes people find their way here by accident."

She wasn't buying that. "The falcon came to me twice. This last time to my front yard. That doesn't seem like an accident to me."

He walked back to the house, Michelle trailing in his wake. "I cannot say, lady. Obviously it is by no design of mine." In the kitchen, he pumped some water into a basin and offered it to her to wash, then washed his own hands and face. Toweling off his face, he looked at her and then sighed. "I can't offer you refreshments, you realize." For someone who didn't feel compelled to be friendly, not observing some rather archaic courtesies really seemed to trouble him.

"If I eat here I get stuck?"

"So my nurse told me when I was a child. I don't know if it's because of the food, if it's some magical pact, or if everything here is so good it beguiles one into staying until it's too late to return. Whyever, I won't risk it."

"You're a true gentleman," she murmured absently, wandering into the simple dining room in the front. From here, three doorways led respectively into the kitchen, onto the front porch and to the side where a simple cot and a chest were the sole objects inhabiting a slightly sunnier room. That room, however, had a large arched doorway leading into a set of shadowy, lavishly furnished rooms. "Those can't possibly fit into this house," she murmured. The whole house had a feeling of having been abandoned, these two or three rooms in front so dusty and sparse that she might almost suspect DeSorcy of being a squatter if he didn't seem like such an austere, law-abiding man. Those larger back rooms, however, looked like they hadn't been touched in a hundred years. She cocked her head slightly. There were faint sounds coming from them, like someone had left a television on with the volume down low.

"Have customs changed so much and become so informal that it's polite to intrude into a host's bedchamber and other private areas of the house?" DeSorcy's voice at her ear caused her to jump slightly. He sounded less annoyed than exasperated.

"You have been willing to breach etiquette in your concern for my safety. I consider acquiring answers to be important to my safety and well-being and am willing to do no less," she returned patly. He had what appeared to be a chunk of cheese, a bottle of wine and a single glass. Giving her a dark look that said he at least recognized humor when he saw it, even if he didn't approve of it, he walked out front and sat down on one of the sunny porch steps. Michelle came out to sit beside him. "Going to let me sample the bouquet at least?"

"No. I won't risk it. I can tell you that it tastes like nothing you've ever drunk before. For a while. Then it looses its flavor. All of it does." He poured himself a glass of wine and took a swallow glumly.

"So what's in the back of the house? You don't seem to go there."

"My lady's chambers."

"You're married?" That garnered a distant, brooding look from him and no further comment. She guessed that would be a no. "What was the sound?"

"The city."

She stared at him. With a sigh, he took another swallow of wine and explained. "The capital city, where the Queen of the Sidhe holds court. No one dies here, so over the years the city has grown with the population of fae folk and mortals brought here as playthings."

"I want to see it."

DeSorcy gave her a dark look over the rim of his wine glass. "While your father was encouraging you to be brave, did he also tell you that being smart was a valuable complement to it?"

"You're not going to dissuade me by being rude, so you might as well show me. Or at least stand aside so I can look on my own. Obviously I've been summoned here for a reason, and I'm determined to find what that is so I can put this all behind me once and for all. Don't want to keep finding the falcon in my front yard. It already killed the neighbor's cat."

He gave her a sideways look and then set down the glass. "You're serious."

"Yes, I'm serious. How many more cats have to die before you help me?"

He pursed his lips as he decided she was teasing him. "You should be serious. This really is no matter for flippancy."

Michelle stood up. "I'm serious," she insisted. "I need to see this city."

"No you don't. The deeper into the Fae you go, the faster time passes you by on the outside."

"I'll try not to get stuck in traffic." She walked back into the set of rooms, faintly gratified to hear him scrambling to his feet behind her. This area of the house had multiple levels. One step led down into a large parlor area. Off the front, several steps led down to a wide doorway that opened into a master bedroom with a large four-poster bed draped in rich crimson bed curtains. Seemed like her handsome, puritanical stranger had been a kept man at one point in time. She wondered what it would be like to have enough wealth and power to keep a man like DeSorcy in a nice little out-of-the-way place like this and got a mental picture involving the four poster bed that made her blush and direct her gaze elsewhere. Just her luck, DeSorcy had chosen that moment to join her, following her glance to the bed and then giving her a slightly pained look. Dammit, he probably thought she was hitting on him again. Looking for something to shift the focus of attention to, she noted that he seemed to be strapping a sword to his hip and snapped irritably, "Going to skewer me if I don't leave?"

"Just preparing to deal with your natural instinct to imperil yourself."

"Why don't you take the blade out so I can throw myself on it?"

Again with the dry look. "I'd rather make you work for it."

Across the parlor from the master bedroom -- the mistress bedroom? -- the floor dropped again, leading down a short flight of steps into a dark hallway with stone walls. This was where the faint sounds were coming from. She walked down the steps into the passage. She could feel the coolness of the earth radiating off the slightly moist stones, a sharp contrast to the dry heat outside the little house. DeSorcy's footsteps behind her in the passageway were comforting. There was a heavy wooden door at the far end with brass hinges. "Allow me," DeSorcy murmured behind her and stepped around to unbar and heave the door open.
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-06-09
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