from the BVC anthology, Beyond Grimm
edited by Deborah J. Ross and Phyllis Irene Radford
One who plays with time barely notices its passing. The green of the forest trembled on the verge of autumn when Malla’s husband Oulen told me there were strangers in the village.
I knew. Why else did my heart beat with such heavy strokes, my hands tremble as I put my work aside? By the time I had taken off my apron, unpinned the sleeves of my tunic to hang properly from my elbows and smoothed my hair from my forehead, and had instructed Landra to have wine and honey ready to refresh the visitors, they were in my courtyard.
Pelles looked well, but older; brash enthusiasm was given way to a sterner carriage. His attention was all for his companion; he had dismounted and was at her side before I stepped from my door. She smiled at him, then turned and let her eyes meet mine, as if it had been moments, an hour, a day since she sent me forth from the Lake House.
“Nimuë, how brown you’ve become,” the Lady said.
All my learning deserted me. I was the girl I had been when last I had seen her face.
One last time, the old man’s hands stole up to tweak my breast (and him thinking I would not notice it). Once more, apology in his wet-mouthed smile (as if a smile could atone for a twelvemonth of listening to his ancient rambling boasts while I tried to remember to simper up at him). One more time, I leaned away from the old enchanter’s narrow shadow, all the while trying to make myself lean toward him, seeking to intoxicate him with my scent and nearness.
I was a very bad seductress. I did not mean to destroy him.
He had backed me toward a wall to explain some trifling relic, one more of his interminable lessons. As he talked, I watched from the corner of my eye: his hand moved stealthily up to toy with the fiery plait of hair that lay across my breast. The thousandth gesture, the sum of a thousand gestures. It made my stomach turn. With no idea what I was doing, no more hope than to get away from him, I reached into myself and out, pulled down and away and I knew not how, stretching and pulling, venting my rage and disgust: that he should want me. That he should dare want anything young and fresh and beautiful.
The glittering cave began to tremble. Pyrite-streaked stone crashed down around us, and I pulled away from him and ran with all my strength through the chambers, up the rough-hewn stone steps, tracing the branching path back to sunlight and clean spring air.
For long minutes I stood in the adit and waited until my pulse slowed and the world lost its film of red panic. The rumble and crash of stone had ceased and there was silence behind me in the cave. When I could think enough to realize that I must do something, there was only one thing to do, natural as breathing. Our horses were tethered to a gnarled apple tree near the cave mouth. In a trembling dream, I loosed old Merlin’s mare and set her running. Then I mounted my own and turned her toward home: not Camelot, whence the enchanter and I had ridden out that morning. I turned east, toward the House of the Lake and my lady.
Madeleine Robins has been a nanny, an administrator, an actor, a swordswoman, trafficked book production, edited comics, and repaired hurt books. She’s also the author of five Regency romances, the dark urban fantasy The Stone War (a New York Times Notable Book), Daredevil: The Cutting Edge, Sold for Endless Rue, and three Regency-noir mysteries: Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner, featuring the redoubtable Sarah Tolerance, Agent of Inquiry. An unregenerate New Yorker, she now lives in San Francisco.