The sun had just begun to rise over the town of Strasbourg; however, most of its inhabitants were already awake and beginning their preparations for the day’s work ahead. It has been said that the name of Strasbourg means “the town on the crossroads”, a definition that has come to perfectly detail the dynamics of this city. Being located on the French and German border, with the Rhine River moving steadily through year round, a constant flow of people from innumerable places always came and went. In that, it is so much like the river, always changing but still remaining ever so much the same.
It was here that I was born, at the tail end of a modernizing world.
We lived on a small bit property just outside Strasbourg proper. It wasn’t a large place, but was just enough that we were able to have two cows, some chickens, a reasonable garden, and an old three room cottage with a barn. The barn served not only to shelter the animals, but also as my father’s woodshop. A majority of the property was heavily wooded, and in the middle of those trees ran a stream that meandered its way leisurely toward the Rhine.
By all accounts it wasn’t a lot, but my parents were intensely proud of it.
They’d settled here just after they were married. For a time they were genuinely happy, blossoming as much as individuals as they were a married couple. But their contentment was not to last. My mother was unable to bear live children.
One mild mid-November morning, my mother ventured out into their property in hopes that the sun might lessen her sadness. Thinking herself alone, it took her quite by surprise when an old and silvered man stepped out of the very trees she was about to walk into, and began to hobble his way toward her.
He seemed familiar, but the fact that she couldn’t place him made her uneasy. However, he could not sense her apprehension, and upon seeing her look toward him, gave her a fully toothed smile and a low bow of his head.
His entire being beamed with vitality, something completely at odds with his aged physique. His white beard hung to the middle of his chest, though it was well trimmed and neat. His hair too was white, but only a few straggling pieces strayed from a thickly knitted green woolen cap he wore on top of his head. Although his skin was pale, it was not a shade that conflicted with his frosted hair to give him an appearance of being sickly. Instead, his cheeks glowed healthy and rosy, adding all the more to his air of vigor.
As he drew closer, she could see that his hands were knobbed and wrinkled; but Carine was sure they’d be as dexterous as any young man she’d ever met if put to work. He was thin, but maintained robustness. He was not bent over, but carried himself upright with great self-possession and awareness. His mouth was ever smiling, and a surprisingly delicate nose came to a sharp point on his weathered face. And his eyes—his sparkling green eyes gleamed with clarity, wisdom, and knowledge.
On top of it all, he was impeccably dressed. Carine liked him immediately.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle,” he spoke. “An absolutely wonderful day we are having, is it not? I just could not resist the opportunity of an unexpected sun-warmed winter stroll . . . the sun,” he voiced on an exhale while opening his arms wide and lifting his face up toward it, “is good for the bones and the soul, you know.” Remarking thus, he lowered his face from the sky, and seemed to radiate its warmth and kindness back to her.
Taken aback by this stranger’s echoing of her own sentiments, she quickly, but warmly replied, “Yes, it most definitely is, Monsieur. I myself couldn’t resist the opportunity to bask in its warmth and break up the winter’s gloom either. Though, I must confess, I don’t think I have ever before appreciated it as much as I have today. Although winter has barely even begun, it seems as though it has already been here for quite some time.” With that, she finally offered the still sunny old man a small smile in return.
“Ah, yes, the winter has a way of making us quickly remember how much we love the warmth—though, we are quick to forget it when the summer’s heat is about to smother us, and we wholeheartedly believe the winter’s cold cannot return soon enough. Vicious cycle, if you ask me,” and he waggled his bushy white eyebrows at her while saying this in a voice of mock authority.
Carine couldn’t help herself; she allowed a small chuckle to escape her lips.
Encouraged, the man preceded, “Bram Macardle, Mademoiselle,” he said removing his knitted cap, revealing a bountiful crop of shock white hair and giving Carine a slight bow, “at your service. I apologize for not having come to introduce myself earlier, but I’ve been out of country for quite some time. I am your neighbor, just there,” he turned briefly and gestured behind him, “beyond those trees.”
Carine dipped low in a curtsy, “Monsieur Macardle, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Carine Dalton.” She extended her hand to him, and Macardle placed a formal kiss on the back of it before he released her. “I had wondered if there was anyone else who lived in any of the adjacent properties,” Carine explained, “and it makes me very happy to know that someone indeed does. Come, let me introduce you to my husband.”
“Yes, it is always reassuring to know that one is not entirely alone in this vast world of ours. For the foreseeable future, it is here that I shall remain. There are others who live within a reasonable proximity, though,” he paused and stroked absently at his white beard, “though, I think that I may be the nearest one. Should you or your husband need anything, consider me at your services. Here, let me help you with your things.”
Bending, he picked up the rug that Carine had been sitting on, folded it ably and tucked it under his arm. He offered her his other.
Taking it, they began walking in the direction of the Daltons’ house and barn.
“I must confess I am sorry to hear that you are married. I was just about to begin wooing you before I learned that you belonged to another.”
Carine looked over his wrinkled face, his long white beard, his kind eyes, and again rewarded them both with a rare laugh.
“Yes, I am sure I would have undoubtedly and completely succumbed to your irresistible charms. I consider myself to be very fortunate for having mentioned my espousal before you began to entice me beyond resistance.” She smiled fully, chuckling, and giving him a humor-filled quirked eyebrow. Her long, auburn hair blew lightly in the warm breeze behind her.
All the while Macardle gently patted her hand that was tucked under his arm and chortled to himself. “My dear, had I been even a year younger, I do not think I’d have had the ability to abstain from pursuing you, married or not. As it is, I am utterly satisfied at the opportunity of passing a portion of this blissfully warm afternoon with such a vivacious and beautiful young woman such as yourself on my arm.”
She humored him, delighting in his candor. Their conversation flowed smoothly as if they had long been friends.
“You said that you had been out of country, where did you happen to go?” Carine asked.
“In other words, you can hear by my most atrocious accent that I am not from here. For that, I am sorry. It is always extremely thick when I get back among my own, and for a time, it makes my French almost impossible to speak—let alone understand. I’ve been in Ireland, Dublin specifically. I’ve some family, and occasionally some business matters to attend to there,” Macardle told her.
“Oh, your accent isn’t that bad . . . As long as I try not to focus on anything else but your voice,” Carine jibed, “I am able to understand almost every other word that I think you might be saying.”
“Och, lass, ye’ll be woundin’ my pride if yer not careful. I happen to take a great sense of accomplishment in my grasp of your blasted language. It only took me twenty-five years to be able to speak it! And even then, it was all thanks to an ornery, hard-headed, and persistent teacher that I ever learned. It was my wife who taught me. She was stubborn, fiery, devilish, and held my soul in her very hands.” His mouth was left with a bit of a smirk, and though they continued to walk, Carine knew that Macardle’s mind was happily adrift in frequently repeated memories.
She allowed him to amble there, focusing instead on her own thoughts of her husband. They were once again strangers, sharing a room but neither of them knowing the other well enough to know what exactly the other wanted or needed.
“Anne had my heart that very first moment that I saw her.” Bram resumed. “She had loved her family, and had wanted nothing more than to remain in Strasbourg. And so, I did my best to expand what business I could to here. However, for all my efforts, it was necessary to occasionally return to Ireland and maintain my partnership in the family enterprise.”
Bram turned to look into Carine’s considerate face. “Despite the fact that my wife has been dead for these many and long years, I cannot bear to leave this place. For every time that I do, I feel as though I am leaving her as well.”
Carine understood his pain all too well, and allowed him to see as much.
He paused, seemingly grateful for the small courtesy. Looking forward, his old hand gestured toward the barn, “Ah, this must be where your husband is. The smell of freshly cut wood is a scent I have always found intoxicating. Had I not had a family venture to continue, I suspect I would have gone into carpentry myself.”
With that, Carine nodded appreciatively as Macardle opened the door to Robert’s woodshop.
Bram continued to visit the couple every day thereafter. Carine’s guess that Bram had dexterous and capable hands had been entirely right. It wasn’t but a few moments after meeting Robert that Bram was working beside him, even lending a master’s touch in ways that left Robert astonished at the old man’s ingenuity and artistry.
Weeks later, after enjoying the constant companionship of one another’s company, Robert slipped off after dinner to find a book he was sure Bram would enjoy. It was here that Bram pulled Carine hastily to his side.
Making one quick glance toward the door that Robert had just disappeared into, Bram just as quickly turned his face toward hers. His green eyes sparked wildly with flecks of gold that caught in the firelight. Using a tone she’d not yet heard him speak, he told her, “I’ve something for you to take to ensure a strong pregnancy. I’ll bring it to you on the morrow.”
And just like that, the old man was instantly to be found once again sitting in the chair that Robert had left him in. His attention was completely focused on the approaching Robert who was in the midst of presenting his latest loved book to his friend.
Carine disappeared into the couple’s bedroom shortly after the curious confrontation with Bram, leaving the men deeply in discussion and warmed through with brandy. She rubbed her arm softly. It was bruised where he’d brought her to attention. She’d known that Bram was stronger than he appeared, but he was even more so than she’d anticipated.
That night she dreamed of walking through a meadow on an uncharacteristically warm winter’s day. Tightly, she clasped the hand of her child in her own, as they enjoyed the warmth together.
She awoke late the next morning. The lowing of a cow had woken her. Robert lay beside her, still sleeping off his evening nightcap. Quietly she stirred from bed, shutting their bedroom door behind her. Still in her nightclothes, she crouched before the fire and lightly blew on the ashes, hoping that some were still warm enough to catch. They began to glow red with her breath, and kindling soon coaxed them into a flame that turned to a steady fire.
She dusted off her hands and turned to her pile of clothes which she had placed on the table, having every intention of then dressing herself completely. However, the presence of a small melon sized leather pouch on the table diverted her attention entirely. She picked it up, noting its lightweight but nonetheless dense packing.
A note had been folded and placed under the bundle. She held it to the growing firelight to read it. A strange feeling balled in the pit of her stomach as she read the brief message.
Use these leaves to brew a strong tea.
Drink in the morning, and again in the afternoon.
Do so daily for one month.
Should you need more, ask.
When had Bram left this? He’d mentioned bringing something by the following day, but she had not expected it to be waiting on her table when she woke. She took a quick look around the room, and felt relieved to find that Bram was not in the room with her.
She placed the pouch and note back on the table, and while hurriedly dressing, wondered over when they had been left for her.
Robert awoke soon after, a lazy smile gracing his face.
“Good morning, ma belle. Did you sleep well?”
Carine smiled warmly and nodded, accepting his kiss upon her cheek.
“I haven’t felt the desire to not get out of bed so strongly since I was a rangy youth,” he said, turning Carine away from the stove and kissing her again. “I’ll be out at the shop, I’ve got some great ideas for a few armoires that I need to commit to paper before I forget. Would you mind bringing breakfast out to the barn for me?”
“Of course,” Carine managed to babble.
“Thank you, mignon. And, if it’s not too much trouble, would you bring an extra plate for Bram? I never know just when he’ll show up in the morning, I only know that he will.”
“Yes, that is no trouble at all. I’ll bring out the plates and some coffee. As for now, go, you’re distracting me from cooking these eggs.”
Robert smiled back. He feigned a swagger as he crossed the room to the door. He stood in the doorway, looking back to give Carine an appreciative nod before he closed the door behind him and walked out to his barn.
Carine gave an amused snort. He hadn’t been this way in months. Instantly, she thought of Bram’s pouch, and wondered if perchance the old man had given Robert something as well. She wouldn’t be at all surprised if he had.
After taking both plates to the barn and feeling a huge sense of relief that Bram was not yet there for her to face, she stopped at the well before returning to the house. She was entirely settled on her decision. She put the kettle on to boil, and filled the tea steeper carefully with the dried leaves from Bram’s pouch. They looked like any other tea leaves and had no unique aroma. But regardless of the tea’s lack of uniqueness, she was willing to try anything that might help them. Anxiously, she watched her teacup as the first cup of Bram’s mysterious tea brew.
It was surprisingly pleasant.
She enjoyed her second cup that afternoon just as much she had the first.
That night had been filled with the lovemaking of two people who’d been desperate for the touch of the other. Their routine continued this way for a month.
The day after she ran out of tea leaves, she noted that she was a week late on her courses. There was no doubt that she was once again pregnant.
Nine months later, and two weeks earlier than was expected, I, Daine Caradoc Dalton, was born.
YOU CANNOT CHANGE THE LIFE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN.
All that you can do is make the most of what you’ve been dealt—fight a good fight, resist being beaten by circumstance, and hope that somehow, despite it all, you’re able to accomplish the impossible.
But even then you cannot change the fact that you were born cursed.
I am one of those unlucky few upon whom the Curse of the Four Fathers has fallen.
It is I who must bear the burden of having a life that is unchangeably intertwined with the Fae. A sorrow made all the more great by knowing that where they are tragedy, loss, misery, and despair most assuredly follow.
As a Druid it is my responsibility to uphold the boundaries that keep the worlds of the Tylwyth Teg, and our own, separate. As a man it is my only ambition to protect the family and woman I so desperately love.
The only problem: I'm not sure this curse will allow for me to do both.
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Genre - Paranormal Fantasy, Horror
Rating – PG-13
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