"Hush, you'll wake her," a tender voice whispered.
"Not many would make such demands to the All Father," chuckled another softly.
Two companions stood on the bank of a clear spring deep in the forest. The first, a tall, strikingly beautiful woman with golden hair riddled with wildflowers held a small bundle close to her breast. The second was an imposing figure, clad in the dress of a war hero. Heavy lines of age and weariness covered his face, but seemed to soften as he gazed upon the mess of wrappings in the woman's arms.
"Isn't she beautiful?" the woman cooed, readjusting the blanket she held to reveal a small baby. She lovingly stroked the child's rosy cheek and smiled.
"Yes… But surely, Freya, you know you cannot bring such a creature into Asgard," said the other gently but firmly. "A child of the fairy folk has no place in our world."
Freya turned to face Odin, the man who had accompanied her to Midgard. On most days, she glowed with the radiant elegance of a summer morning. But the light that usually embraced her faded at his words. She briefly met his gaze, then turned back to the sleeping baby in her arms. Its chest rose and fell with the steady rhythm of a deep sleep. "I have been so lonely in my husband's absence," she began softly, not taking her eyes off of the baby. "I have seen him scarcely since the great battle with Jotunheim." Odin looked just past her at the spring. He stared into its waters and thought deeply about the consequences of allowing a being of another realm into the great halls of the gods. Before he could speak, Freya continued. "I know what she is. I know a huldra of elvish blood is not one of our people." She looked at him with bright eyes so piercing he could not help but meet them. "But I know you have taken in others out of the kindness of your heart." Of course, she referred to Odin's youngest son, Loki, who he had taken from the aftermath of war. Her words struck him to his core.
"Freya, my dear friend, the circumstances-"
"Make no difference. I have known you for many ages, and I know that he is more to you than a peace treaty. You love him as dearly as you love Thor. Why will you not allow me the chance to give this innocent child my love?"
Odin thought of Loki... of his son. But he knew what the baby that Freya held so dearly was. "She is of huldra birth! You know how dangerous those sirens can be! They shamelessly ensnare innocent forest wanderers and lead them to their deaths! And the elvish half? What are they but tree walking jesters?"
"You know of Loki's birth. You more than any know of the cruelty of the frost giants!" she growled with the fierceness of a mother bear. She was a patron of these 'sirens and jesters' and did not take kindly to his words. She pointedly looked at the golden patch covering what used to be an eye. "And now look at him! He has grown into a sweet, albeit mischievous, young boy. Truly a prince among men. How can you not allow her that same chance at greatness?" Her words shot out like venom. Odin was shocked. The whole time he had known her, her demeanor had been nothing but warm and motherly. He looked into her eyes. With her husband gone and her children grown, he could see the cold flickering of deep loneliness in her gaze.
Whether it was the thought of his youngest boy, or the humbling marvel of the forest meadow they stood in, he did not know what softened his war torn old heart. "I must be growing soft with old age," he sighed. "Take her to your home, before I change my mind." Freya's face lit up with such glorious beauty that in that moment, the sun would have grown dim and cold with envy. The flowers at their feet burst with life and the sagging branches of the ancient trees around them suddenly lifted with new life. Birds sang more loudly as the faint blue of morning sky crept overhead. Her joyful radiance made the whole forest feel new.
"I cannot express to you in words what you have done for me," she beamed. The baby girl in her arms began to stir. A small hand reached up to rub her eyes. They opened to reveal blue orbs with centers reminiscent of new winter frost, fading into a blue deeper than the ocean at her iris's outskirts. They were brilliantly bright with a strange light behind them. Odin could see the kind hearted mischief of elven laughter resonating in her eyes. They were unlike anything he had ever seen.
"She really is beautiful," he said in a soft voice. She reached out for him. He let her grab one of his fingers, and a smile played on her small lips. Her other hand reached for Freya's long, gleaming hair. A ghost of a smile came across Odin's face. He could already feel himself developing a grandfatherly fondness for the child. "What will you call her?"
Freya closed her eyes and listened. Although the birds sang loudly, and the wind blew with great power, the sound of the spring behind them babbled unmistakably. She glanced at its waters' ethereal beauty. It seemed so out of place in this common forest, too spectacular for such ordinary surroundings. She immediately looked at the child she held, knowing the two had much in common. "Kelda," she cooed, saying 'spring' in the tongue of old. "Her name is Kelda." She bowed to Odin, king of the gods, and disappeared in a swirl of golden dust.
Odin sat wearily on a near by rock and took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the morning. After hours of time in the mortal realm, mere moments for the All Father, he too vanished in a cyclone of wind.
Charlotte awoke violently, shooting straight up in bed. She clung desperately to her deep blue sheets. Her knuckles had gone white. Her heart was pounding, feeling like a bird desperate to be free of her chest. The dreams were still happening. For the last two weeks of her life, Charlotte Ericson had been haunted by her subconscious. Every night she would find herself waking up with a cool, icy chill in the pit of her stomach because of these dreams. She dreamt of vivid golden halls that stretched for miles, a sky of stars so bright you could see all of the cosmos for miles around, a bridge of light that refracted beautiful colors in its depths. And with every dream, she would wake with a horrible feeling that her life was not real. That this dream land was reality. Then, the cold claw of reality would dig itself into her very core.
Sleepily, she walked into her bathroom and splashed her face with water. Her long, impossibly thick and shining dark hair was loosely pulled off of her face in a braid. She stared at her reflection. She was incredibly fair skinned with ever so slightly pink cheeks. She had delicate, bow shaped lips and a thin slip of a nose. She had altogether subtle features, except for her eyes. They shone with an almost inhuman brilliance. They were large and framed with dark lashes that only accentuated the way light played off of them. Their edges made the even the most shockingly blue summer sky look gray, but the centers faded into a blue so pale they were almost white. She was undeniably beautiful, but there was something about her that was not quite right.
She did not belong. More so than someone who was just eccentric or shied away from others. There was something about her that no one could place. Her whole life she had kept a few friends, but no one very close to her. She learned to accept, even welcome, that she was better off by herself.
She walked back into her bedroom. She had a large bed covered blue sheets and a thick down comforter. Jewel toned throw pillows littered her bed. Her walls were painted a deep red and large star shaped lights of all different colors were hung all around. Christmas lights were strung every which way across her ceiling. For reasons unknown, she felt much more comfortable under the subtle glow of her artificial stars. She flopped onto the bed and started picking at a loose string on her pajama shorts. She looked at her alarm clock. 5:30. It was late January, and the sun would be coming up in about an hour. Deciding that going back to sleep would be pointless considering she had to go to work in a couple hours, Charlotte began getting ready for her day.
She stepped into the shower and let the steam and the smell of her lavender shampoo fill the air.
I don't know how many more of these dreams I can take... she thought, letting the water plink softly off of the glass shower doors. She still couldn't shake the feeling that she was in a dream now and this fantasy place she had concocted was where she should be. Sighing deeply, she finished cleaning herself and got out, wrapping herself in a fluffy purple towel. She dried off and slipped into a pair of black skinny jeans, a white v-neck, and a pink and gray striped cardigan. After stuffing her feet into a pair of thick, wool socks, she shuffled over to a small desk with a mirror on top. She sat in the chair in front of it, and began brushing out her hair. It was beginning to dry, and fell in large waves around her shoulders and her back. The sun was beginning to rise. She put on a quick coat of mascara and, realizing that going out into a New York winter with wet hair was a great way to catch a terrible cold, blow dried her hair the rest of the way. She slipped into a big, red pea-coat and shoved on a pair of calf height black boots. She wrapped a gray scarf around her neck a headed out.
The skies were clear and gray. A thick layer of snow covered her yard and driveway. She lived a few hours away from New York City on the outskirts of a small city called Angelica. It was mostly a collection of antique stores with a small park in the center. It was quiet and out of the way. Everyone knew everyone and change was rare. Even the buildings had been kept the same for as long as anyone could recall. Her home was small and settled on a big chunk of land surrounded by forest. Very slowly and tiredly, she walked down her house's front steps, started her green station wagon, and turned on the defrosters. A thick layer of snow and ice clouded her wind shield.
Great. Window scraping. Best part of my day, she thought as she half-heartedly dragged her plastic window scrapper across the car. After a solid 20 minutes, her car was safe to drive. She sat in her now fairly warm car and started the bumpy descent down her driveway. The combination of gravel, snow, ice, and the thick chains on her tires made the whole experience rather unpleasant. It took about 25 minutes to reach the heart of the small city, 10 minutes longer than it would have if not for the road conditions. There was one snow plow for the entirety of the town, meaning anyone outside of the immediate heart of the city was left to find their own way through the snow. Parking in front of the one coffee shop, The Dancing Java, she hurried into the pale colored colonial style building.
"Good morning, sweet heart," came the sing songy voice of the owner, Mrs. Grahm. She was a stout, gray haired, chubby faced older woman who looked like the world's most stereotypical vision of a grandmother. Each morning without fail, she filled the shop's small display case with her own freshly baked muffins, cookies, and pastries. Her nephew, Carl, was the barista and cashier. He too was short, but incredibly thin and not a day over 20. He had a mop of curly blond hair and a mess of freckles covered up by glasses about two sizes too big for his head.
"Morning, Char," he chimed in with the awkward cadence of someone just on the tail end of puberty.
Charlotte flashed a genuine smile at the two of them. She liked them both very much for their sunny dispositions and always kind hearted morning welcomes (it also didn't hurt that she always got her morning cinnamon roll for free). "Good morning!" Her mood was beginning to take a turn for the better.
"The usual?" Carl inquired, shyly returning her smile.
"Sure... but could you add an extra shot?" Nearly every morning for the almost year she had lived here, she had come to this shop and ordered a coffee with two creams, two sugars, and one shot of espresso.
"Another rough night?" Mrs. Grahm asked as she began putting a cinnamon roll into a paper bag for her.
"Yeah, another bad dream."
"That's got to be the 10th time in the last two weeks at least!" Carl added while he stirred sugar into her coffee, popping on the lid and slipping it into a heat protection sleeve.
"I know, it's driving me crazy." Charlotte took her coffee in hand and put the pastry in her purse. She began to take out her wallet when Mrs. Grahm stopped her.
"Oh, not today, honey bee," she happily. "I can tell it's been a hard few days. This one is on me."
"Oh no, you don't have to-"
"I insist." Charlotte smiled gratefully. "Now hurry on over to work or Russell will bite your head off!"
She laughed and called "Thank you!" as she hopped back into her car and drove to the tiny bookstore she worked at. She walked in right as the clock hit 7:45. Right on time. She began peeling off her wintery layers and hanging them on an old, wooden coat rack.
"Morning, Russell," she called, directing her greeting to a tall man sitting in an office at the back of the store. He grunted in acknowledgement and continued clacking away on his keyboard. She smiled to herself. He was her manager and was not a man of many words. Most people thought he was rude and, quite frankly, an unpleasant person to be around. But she had a strange affection for the gruff man. He had given her a job when she was brand new to this city and had, in his own way, done his best to be welcoming. She was also thankful that while she was at work, so wasn't forced to make small talk with him for the almost 9 hours of her work day. The store had two tiny floors stacked on top of each other. The ground floor was painted white and had shoulder height white book cases full of the stores newest releases and some of the text books needed at the closest college. A couple magazine racks stood next to the counter. A small selection of bookmarks, candy, and stuffed animals littered a long table beside the door to give the kids that came in something to beg their parents for. A few posters hung on the wall with pictures of Harry Potter characters to entice younger customers to pick through the shelf of children's books. In a small room with a glass window facing the shop sat Russell, tucked neatly under the stairs so that he could keep an eye on his store. The second floor was where Charlotte spent most of her time after the store's second and only other employee showed up to work the counter. The second floor was darker, its walls were not as freshly painted, and bookshelves that almost reached the ceiling crowded the room. This is where the older or less popular books were kept. There were two leather armchairs by the upper floor's only window. Charlotte sat behind the downstairs counter, and watched the clock. Jacob, the other employee, was schedules to come in at 10:00. And once he did, she could slip upstairs and keep to herself. She loved being immersed in the sea of old books. She spent a lot of her time reading in the arm chairs and enjoying the smell of age the books gave off.
The store was deserted all morning. To entertain herself, Charlotte flipped through a month old Cosmopolitan while she sipper her coffee and ate her cinnamon roll. Because their business was never exactly booming, they were generally a month or so behind when it came to getting their new material. To be honest, she could have cared less about the 50 Ways to Up the Ante on Your Sex Life! article she was reading lazily. In fact, it disgusted her that this magazine made out the life of a woman to be nothing but new makeup trends and sleazy sex moves. But she had a strange fascination with it. She never did quite understand things that were trendy. It never made sense to her why buying $50 blush that would just be out of style next month would appeal to anyone. Reading this December issue of Cosmo was almost like a study in human behavior for her.
By the time 9:30 rolled around, she had read most of Cosmopolitan, Us Weekly, and about half of Elle when the little bell above the door tinkled. She looked up to see a tall, thin, striking man standing in the doorway. He was dressed in a charcoal suit and a warm black jacket. A dark green scarf was wrapped around his neck and he wore a pair of black leather gloves. His face was ghostly pale which was only exaggerated by his jet black hair. He had a sharply angular face that looked to be designed by a master marble sculptor from another time. Two bright green eyes peeked out from deeply set sockets. Upon seeing him, Charlotte lost all interest in her magazine. She closed at on stuck it back in the magazine rack. His eyes darted over to her and widened like he was seeing a ghost.
"Good morning," she squeaked, momentarily overpowered by his stare. He didn't respond, he just continued to give her the wide eyed look. "How can I help you?" she said, this time in an even tone.
After a moment, he took a step toward her. He must have been well over 6 feet tall. He towered over her. "Kelda?" he breathed in a shocked voice.
Charlotte couldn't tell if it was a question or a statement. Either way she had no idea what he was talking about. "I'm sorry?"
"Is it really you?" He took another step.
"Oh... Um... You must have me mistaken for someone else."
The man furrowed his brow. He bore straight into her big blue eyes as if he were searching for something lost in them. After what felt like hours, he shook his head ever so slightly and glanced away. "My apologies, I thought you were... an old friend."
"No problem," she said dreamily. His stare, to an outsider, would have felt awkward. But she was strangely drawn to the man so it didn't bother her in the slightest. There was something about his demeanor that seemed familiar. She continued to look at him starry eyed for quite some time before she remembered she was at work. You're not getting paid to make eyes at attractive men, she thought. She collected herself and again asked, "What can I do for you?"
Looking back at her, he kept perfect eye contact as he responded. "Would you be so kind as to direct me to your less... recent publications."
She wasn't at all used to hearing people speak with such smooth eloquence. "Yeah, sure, right up those stairs." She felt like a babbling child. His voice was so silky. He spoke so clearly without sounding rehearsed. The way he formed every syllable was a small work of art. He subtly bowed his head, taking long, easy strides toward the stairs. Feeling rather flustered by the interaction, Charlotte leaned her back against the wall behind the counter.
What the hell was that? she asked herself. Since when do you turn into a deer caught in the head lights when a handsome man walks by? He was handsome. Inhumanly so. But she had seen plenty of cute boys from the near by college wander in to get books. Why was he so different. Maybe because he isn't an inarticulate frat boy who just stands there and uses horrendous pick up lines on you. She pushed her hair out of her face and sat back down on the wooden stool behind the cash register. She readjusted her cardigan and decided that when he came back down, she wouldn't act like a babbling schoolgirl. For god's sake you're almost 26. Compose yourself. Right as she resolved to not stare at him with overly widened eyes, she heard him coming back down the stairs. Her stomach fluttered. What the hell is wrong with you! Calm yourself! You don't even know him. She closed her eyes and inhaled. When she reopened them, he was standing patiently in front of a huge, dusty old book that he had placed on the counter. Refusing to make eye contact, she picked up the book.
Just don't look at him. "The Lost Tales of the Norse," she read aloud from the book's cover. It was written in delicate, golden scripture. The book was bound in aged, brown leather. What looked like Celtic knots decorated the edges. Its pages were yellowing and crinkled. The book had been there much much longer than she had. She'd seen it on the one small shelf in the back of the upstairs devoted to antique books. "An interesting choice." She still refused to look at him. He chuckled. She turned the book over, looking for a price sticker that was generally on the lower left corner of the back cover. There was none. "Excuse me a moment."
She knocked on the door frame of Russell's office. "What," he grunted, not looking up.
"This book doesn't have a price tag. How much for it?"
He glanced up, obviously not really paying attention. Taking only a few seconds to consider her question, he said "I thought that old thing would never sell. $30."
"Thanks, Russ," she said in purposefully too cheery voice. She knew it bothered him. He shot her an exasperated glare. She did her best to conceal a smirk.
She returned to the counter, still not looking at the man's face. He stood with impeccable posture, his gloved hands folded behind his back. "That'll be $30, please," she said, sitting back on the stool.
He pulled out what looked like a coin purse. Who carries one of those anymore? He leafed through a stack of bills, concentrating, clearly not used to using American money. Guess he isn't from around here, she mused as he finally pulled out the correct amount of money. She stuck it in the cash register and began writing a receipt. Yes, the town of Angelica is so out of the way that the entirety of the city hand wrote their receipts. Ripping it off of the pad, she handed it to him. Forgetting her decision to not look directly at him for fear of coming off as star struck and silly, she locked onto his emerald eyes.
"Thank you," he said, his gaze lingering on her as he started to pick up his book.
"H-have a nice day," she finally spit out as he began to leave. She watched him walk away through the store's front window. She continued to stare as the bell rang again, not caring to see who it was. All she cared about was hoping the man would come back so she could watch him. Wow that is excessively creepy. Even for you, Charlotte.
"Good morning!" The overly excited greeting snapped her back to real life and made her jump. It was Jacob.
"Hi," she responded, still sort of dazed.
"Oh yes. Just fine and dandy."