“We need to talk.”
The nixie did not reply at first. She leaned her elbows on the embankment and laid her head to the side. “It’s warm,” she said. “For the time of year.”
“Yes, it is.” Harold shifted his weight and glanced at the trees surrounding the nixie’s pool, their yellow foliage beginning to brown. A squirrel chattered in a tall oak and hefted an acorn at him.
“They don’t like you,” said the nixie. “Well, they don’t like me, but they know better than to give me trouble.” She lay back in the water, examining the fingernails on her long, sleek hands. “When you have married me, they won’t trouble you either. I’ll see to it.”
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Go on.” Though her tone remained casual, she froze absolutely still. He thought he could see the water at her sides starting to ice over.
“Well, it’s just…I mean, I don’t even know your name.”
She rose up slowly, water streaming from her black hair. “But you know hers, don’t you?” Her voice was low and dangerous.
He rubbed his hands together. The day wasn’t quite as warm as he’d like, whatever she said. “No. It’s nothing like that. Listen, it’s not that I don’t like you—”
“What. Is. Her. Name?”
It seemed as if every other creature in the forest had stilled. Harold was beginning to be sorry he’d raised the subject. “Has it gotten colder, do you think?” he said. “These autumn days are so changeable.”
“Aren’t they?” Quick as a rushing stream, her hand shot out to grab his hair. She pulled him in, closer, and he teetered on the edge of the shore. “Don’t play with me.” Black eyes glared into his. She put a hand on the side of his face and ran her thumb across his lips. “You sang a different tune when last we met, my changeable autumn darling.”
He tried not to cringe from her cold, wet touch. How could he have thought she was sexy? Gorgeous, yes. Hot? Never. “Please don’t drown me.”
“Drown you? Oh, Harold. No. I’m going to drown her.” She tossed him backward. He sat down hard on the forest floor, while she rose up laughing. “Wherever you roam and however you hide her, remember, my true love: all water’s connected. I’ll find the home wrecking siren. And then—!” She dived, disappearing into the pool’s murky depths.
Harold stumbled to his feet and backed out of her glade. He made off down the road as quickly as he could, trying to feel relieved. There wasn’t any other woman. Not for him. Not yet. So, no harm in her threats. Surely, he told himself, by the unlikely time he found a human sweetheart, one he wanted to keep—why, by then his nixie would have forgotten him.
“It’s nothing like that,” Harold moaned, his grip tightening on his tankard of ale. He couldn’t quite bring himself to look at the woman beside him. “I can’t marry you. I was once in love with a nixie, and she’s sworn to drown the next woman who wins my heart.”
Leneé chuckled. “How many women has that brush-off worked on, Harold?”
“Ten.” He felt himself blush. “But it’s true!” He had enjoyed using the excuse until now. With Leneé it was different, or it could have been different. If only he hadn’t been such a fool.
“And if I survive the nixie?” She leaned forward, the red curls of her hair brushing against his arm. “Will you marry me?”
“I can’t ask you to risk your life for me.”
“Don’t ask, then.” She winked. “Just tell me where this nixie lives.”
“She lives in the woods outside town.”
“Oh, real specific.” Leneé sighed, rolling her eyes. “You know, you could have just told me you didn’t like me. I’m not a child.”
“I’m not making this up! She’s a mile north of here, just off the road. You know the pond there? Ask anybody about it. Is that specific enough? I’d show you, but we can’t. She’s got it out for me, Leneé. Please, you have to promise me you won’t go—”
“Harold.” She put a warm finger to his lips. “Trust me.”
He was ready to grab her arm if she tried to leave then. But she didn’t. The rest of the evening was pleasant, and they talked of simpler things. At the end of the night he couldn’t keep her from going home, though he watched her go with a sinking feeling.
Pebbles dropping into her pool woke the nixie from her mid-morning nap. She floated to the surface, and broke the water to face the impertinent caller, a young woman, sunburnt and freckled, with her red hair frizzing wildly like flames.
“My,” said the girl. “You are pretty. I can see why my Harold once loved you.”
The nixie drifted closer. She didn’t recognize this one, though she’d caught glimpses of many a fling in her beloved’s washbasin, or from the horse-troughs that he passed with whatever romance of the moment on his arm.
“I’m Leneé,” said the girl. She grinned. Stupidly, the nixie thought. They all looked like that, the clumsy land-bound halfwits. How could Harold prefer such creatures to herself? “I’m here to talk about my fiancé.”
The nixie felt her anger spark. “Actually,” she said, “my fiancé.”
And she yanked her rival, unstruggling, into the water.
She pulled the woman down, down to the depths and felt her fingers suddenly scorched. She let go, and Leneé twisted once and became a lithe orange salamander. The salamander darted at the nixie and blew hot water at her face.
The salamander kicked off, upward, as the nixie dove for mud to comfort her burnt hands and cheek. When she resurfaced, holding the compress against her face, Leneé stood on the shore, completely dry, adjusting the wrinkles of her dress. Her hair frizzed in all directions. “About my fiancé,” she said. “You’re to leave him alone.” She smiled. Viciously, the nixie thought. “Or I’ll boil your pool. Understood?”
Leneé was nowhere to be found and Harold headed to the bar early, determined to drink himself from depression to stupor. How could he have bungled things so badly? Either he’d run her off with his lame line or…he shivered, and hunched his shoulders. She couldn’t have really gone out to confront the nixie, could she? Broken hearts were one thing, but to have a death on his conscience…
He rounded the corner of the tavern and spotted Leneé, striding toward the door. She checked, turning to him, and her face lit in a wide smile. “I spoke to your nixie,” she said. “It’s all settled.”
His jaw dropped.
“She’s given up claim. Sees how silly it is to cling to the past.”
“Uh,” said Harold hoarsely. “Uh.”
“Shut your mouth, Harold. You look like a fish-which, thanks to me, you will never be.”
He shut his mouth obediently, and then he pulled Leneé into his arms and kissed her. “Marry me,” he said, finding his voice.
He laughed. “This is so great! You have no idea how good it feels to just be with a regular, human woman again.”
Leneé smiled, trailing a warm finger along the line of his jaw. “Sweetheart,” she said. “We need to talk.”
© 2015 by Brynn MacNab
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