art by Seth Alan Bareiss
Never Leave Me
by Michelle Ann King
Katrine grew up with the stories, she knew them as well as her own name. First there was true love's kiss, then the fair maiden became the radiant bride, and she lived happily ever after.
But the stories all stopped there, and Katrine hadn't realized just how much ever after there would be.
She loved her cottage, and her garden, and she deeply loved her husband. But he went hunting in the forest, where there were dryads, and fishing in the sea, where there were selkies. And then he sold the meat and skins in the village market, where there were many more fair maidens.
Aron laughed at her fears, and kissed her forehead. "My foolish love," he said, and while his tone was as sweet as ever, the words themselves scratched her like claws. What man truly loved a fool? Her heart would not be at rest, for all his kisses.
"Promise you will never leave me," she said. "Swear it."
"I swear to you that we will not be parted," he said, and gave her his oath with his words and his touch.
But among the village gossips Katrine had learned new stories, not for children, and they taught her that words were as easily forgotten as spoken, and a man's body was loyal only to its own desires.
Her fears twisted in her stomach and were not soothed, for all his caresses.
When Aron next left for the hunt she tried reading the bones, but the only answer they gave her was that all things must die.
"My love will not," she said, and scattered them to the winds in anger.
She went to the old woman on the hill, the one the villagers called witch, the one they said consorted with ghosts. The one they shunned, until their animals got sick or their harvests failed.
"Greetings, Old Mother," Katrine said, and placed her gifts of tobacco and honey wine on the small wooden table by the door.
The witch put down her pipe and leaned back in her chair. "I will give you what you need," she said, "but not what you want."
"I have no time for riddles, Mother," Katrine said, thinking of Aron and the smooth, supple limbs of nymphs. He had been gone for three nights. "Will you help me?"