Threads of Fate

 

 

Prologue

 

~~~

 

Gone away, peerie faeries,

Down come the bonnie angels,

Sleep safe, my baby.

Away be to Bugaboos,

Smoke shrouds the inner room,

Sleep safe, my baby.

Smoor the peat fire,

Gone away, peerie faeries,

Gone away, night stealers,

Sleep safe, my baby.

 

~ Baloo Baleerie (fire smooring song to protect one's children from faeries)

 

~~~

 

Alexander was really too old to be climbing trees.

 

He knew that perfectly well, but there he was, up on one of the highest branches, in one of the old pines that surrounded his family's isolated little house. Hopefully the branch didn't break. He was getting too big for this sort of game.

 

"I see you up there! Not a very good hiding place, is it?"

 

And all for nothing. Alex made a face down at his companion. "Who thought you'd look up? It was good enough." Taking hold of the branch, he swung down - with a minimum of wobbling and not quite losing his balance.

 

"Careful, Alex! You'll break your neck doing that!" The blond waiting at the bottom started forward, as if he planned to catch his brother if his grip failed him. "Can't you bother to be cautious for just a moment?"

 

"Of course, but why?" Alex swung down the last branch one-handed in a show of defiance, using the other to brush dark strands of hair from his face. He was due for a hair cut.

 

Marcus frowned at him - not seriously, but with the sort of 'I know better than you' look in his eyes that Alex could never match, for all they looked alike. "So that you don't have your brother dying of strain on his sixteenth birthday, that's why."

 

Alex grinned in response, and tugged at his brother's shirt to pull him along. "You're getting old, that's all. Soon you'll be complaining about your hearing."

 

"You're just as old as I am!" Marc protested, allowing himself to be dragged off further from their parents' house. "Don't pretend you're not."

 

"But I'm not - I'm twenty minutes younger, remember?" Alex kept pulling. "Come on, now that you've won, I'll share what I've found with you, like I promised."

 

"You're a cheat - twenty minutes is hardly an age difference." But Marc didn't fight; he was the one who'd wanted to be shown in the first place, so it'd hardly make sense for him to protest now.

 

Serious protests were not in Marc's nature, anyhow.

 

Unconsciously, Alex's pace quickened.

 

It was a bright day already - not a cloud in the sky, though it was just past the lunchtime hour. The woods seemed well lit and not so full of shadows as usually, soft and light as if things sparkled in the air. A magical day.

 

One that Alex didn't want.

 

"Here," he said at last, unconsciously relieved as they reached the spot he'd come across the previous day. "Here's what I found. It's lucky, isn't it? See?"

 

Marc turned his head this way and that, blinking a little as he took in the sight of the small glaze. There were shamrocks growing wild throughout the small, enclosed space, encased between the protective roots of two old trees. "What is this, Alex?"

 

"Protections, of course." The dark-haired twin bent and tugged one of the plants free, holding it up for his brother's perusal, with a broad grin. "Isn't it said that they can't touch you while you hold one? Take it."

 

"I suppose." Marc's voice was soft, dubious. The look in his eyes as he met his brother's gaze was gently resigned. Always so passive.

 

Alex hated it. Everyone around him was passive. His parents, his brother - it was ridiculous. "We should make a chain. As many as we can find. You think there may be enough to wear around our wrists?" He set his lips and met his brother's gaze stubbornly. "Around yours first, of course, but if there's left over, we'll do mine as well."

 

"We should have thread, then," Marc mused out loud, dropping his eyes to the shamrock held between his thumb and forefinger. "I'll ask Mother for some. Wait here."

 

Alex scowled after him as he walked off back through the foliage, somehow feeling that he was being mocked. Twenty minutes apart, and Marc was the elder beyond anyone's doubt. There was no reasonable way he should be able to make his brother feel as though there were years between them.

 

And if mute acceptance was the sign of being mature, he wanted none of it.

 

"We don't need thread," he muttered, bending down again to find more shamrocks with four leaves. Most of them held three, but he was sure there were more than the one he'd given Marc. They only had to find some by the evening - night was when they came, most often. By darkness, like thieves.

 

Well, they were thieves.

 

Soft, light whispers of wind blew past his face, like a light brush of laughter carried on an errant breeze. Alex brushed his hair aside again, irritated. There was another of the right kind - he pulled the little plant out, holding it up with satisfaction.

 

Wind-laughter pushed his hair into his eyes again, this time sounding musical, as if whoever had let loose the giggle were singing it out.

 

Alex sat up straighter, looking behind him. "Marc?"

 

Ridiculous - of course his brother couldn't be back yet - but there was a feeling in the air, like heaviness. His surroundings were too thick, saturated by some enchantment.

 

A warning.

 

Pushing himself to his feet, Alex started down the way they'd come. "Marc? Marc!"

 

No answer.

 

He surely couldn't be so far away that he wouldn't hear. Voices carried well enough around that area - they'd shouted to each other more than once when they were younger and playing childish games. Alex sped up to a light run. "Marc!"

 

The wind was laughing. Unreasoning panic seized Alex and would not let go. "Marky!" he cried out - the childish nickname he never used any more. "Marc! Marky! Where are you? Say something!"

 

No answer. Alex was running at full speed, not entirely sure where he was going, only certain that he needed to get there quickly. "Answer me! Say something! Marky!"

 

A tree root caught on his foot and down he went, palms skimming on the ground as he instinctively caught himself. Alex rolled and stared around him, eyes suddenly wild, and spotted by chance the first of the two four-leaved shamrocks he'd found, stem twisted from being held, lying on the ground abandoned.

 

The younger twin let out a wordless cry, and threw himself to his feet, stumbling forward a few paces and clutching at the tree branches in his path as if he could wring what he wanted from them. Around him, the faint sound of musical laughter carried over the wind, but he barely heard it.

 

"Don't leave me behind!"

 

~~~~~

 

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