Torben Eardwulfson had always been stubborn. His mother swore the boy was a week overdue because he’d heard his projected birthday and decided to be contrarian and make everybody wait. But his strong willed streak had never really asserted itself until he met Christine Rimmer.
Chistine was part of the illustrious Rimmer Witch-Hunter family, one of the few “civilians” who were not involved in the witch hunting trade. She and Torben met the night of the May-Day Ball at Evermore. The Meridian family, plus Rosera, (who had been promoted to official liaison between Evermore and the Royal House of Otherworld) were in attendance, and so was Stella Leroux, though she knew she would probably have to leave early.
Torben watched Lord Fingal and Rosera on the dance floor. A part of him longed for what they had; the softness and sweetness of a lady, the desire to love and protect. He had Stella, his strange “little sister” who hates loud noises and loves poetry, but it was hardly the same. Fingal held Rosera close, speaking or singing in her ear, Torben couldn’t tell which. When the song ended the Herald announced some late arriving guests.
“Hans Rimmer Der Hexenjäger and Christine Rimmer.”
Torben raised his head to look at the doors to the great hall to see a well dressed, bald, older man, and a girl about his age. They were dressed to match, she in a lavender dress, he in a matching waistcoat. Torben had no doubt that Hans Rimmer had some sort of weapon on his person; it was said that he rarely went anywhere without one; but nobody knew he had a daughter. Torben studied the pair from across the room.
“Huh.” Torben said, loud enough so only Stella could hear. “I thought he’d be taller.”
Stella nearly spit her drink at her friend's honesty.
“What? He’s s’posed to be some kind of legendary hero, it’s a little disappointing.”
Hans and Christine bowed and curtseyed to Lord and Lady Meridian. Hans was in earnest conversation with Lady Meridian, who gave him a bottle of a yellowish liquid. He bowed and examined it closely. He nodded once, then released Christine, who departed with a curtsy.
The musicians struck up a song and everyone converged onto the floor, even Stella, who latched onto Torben’s hand as he reluctantly joined. Stella had surprisingly good rhythm, and was actually able to keep up with the fast paced dance. This dance required precision and grace, and Torben had neither. This nearly ended in disaster when he stepped into the wrong spot and nearly danced off with Lord Uinseann instead of his daughter.
In the next step, he missed stepping on Stella’s foot and managed to shake the graceful Lord Fingal on his way by.
“I’m hopeless, I’m sorry!”
“No harm, no foul!” called Rosera as they danced away.
The music slowed down some at this point. Torben reached out for his next partner, Christine Rimmer took his hand.
They stood there for a moment, staring at each other. Christine’s updo framed her soft features and the light made her eyes sparkle. She blinked, her lips parting slightly as she drank in her partner. Torben was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, I-”
“No, It’s just-”
They stopped to applaud the musicians. Torben felt the urge to leave, but found he couldn’t; there was something irresistible about Christine. She blushed and looked confused. Torben turned his eyes down.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I’ll go.”
“Wait,” Christine grabbed Torben’s big hand with both her own. “What’s your name?”
“Christine Rimmer, but you probably heard the herald.”
Torben stopped trying to run. She wasn’t afraid of him. In fact she acted like she wanted to talk to him. He offered her an elbow and took her to where he and Stella were sitting. Stella was already there, talking animatedly about something with Rosera.
Torben offered Christine his seat and sat on the floor at her feet. She gazed across the floor and searched for her escort. She spotted him across the dance floor talking to Lord Uinseann.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No, not at all, Uncle Hans said we could only stay for a little while.”
“Oh, he’s your Uncle! I thought he was your father.”
“No. Uncle Hans never married. He’s my legal guardian.”
Torben understood. Christine was an orphan. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Uncle Hans has taken good care of me.” She looked around more. “He’s talked about your father and mother before, all good things, mind you. He never told me they had any children though. How old are you?”
“I’ll be twenty two this year.”
“Me too! Tell me what Evermore is like. I’ve never been down here before, I think Uncle Hans is worried I’d want to stay, or something.”
“It’s a temptation to a lot of people. I don’t blame him for worrying.”
“Well, you can want something and not get it and be alright with it.”
“It is possible.”
An hour sped by, with Torben and Christine talking. They had much in common, a shared curiosity about the world especially, they had each been sheltered, but for different reasons. Christine because Hans seemed fearful of evil things in the world, Torben because he was Faerie blood. He told her stories about Evermore and battles he had taken part in, (only minor skirmishes) and she told him about the sunlit world above. Torben lost himself in her stories, small domestic dramas as they were.
“So, then Witherspoon turned to the guy and said, “You may find my employer intimidating, but I assure you my wife is ten times worse!””
Torben laughed. “I wanna meet this guy, he’s my hero!”
“Christine.” said a deep voice. They both turned to face the voice, which turned out to be Hans Rimmer.
“Oh, hi, Uncle Hans! This is Torben, Eardwulf and Katrina’s son.”
Hans nodded, “Yes, I’m aware. It’s time to go, Christine.”
“Oh, Okay.” Christine stood up, Torben right behind her. “Maybe I’ll see you around, Torben.”
“I hope so.”
Christine walked off on Hans’s arm. She turned back and gave Torben a smile and wave. Torben gave a soft sigh. He sincerely hoped she would come back soon.
Katrina, Eardwulf, Stella, and Jane noticed the change in Torben’s demeanor almost immediately. He was moody, quiet, and seemed lost in his own head. He spent a lot of his free time under the Elysium tree, just thinking. Eardwulf recognised the signs before any of the ladies, his son could very well be falling in love!
“Well, who could it be? He’s never paid any mind to any of Rosera’s sisters, or Morning Star, or any of the other girls here. And it’s certainly not Stella!” questioned Katrina.
“I agree, and besides, Morning Star only has eyes for Takeshi, Torben knows that. He spent a lot of time at the May Day ball with Christine Rimmer…”
“Wulf, he barely knows the girl.”
“I barely knew you.”
Katrina grinned. “That’s true.”
Torben came into his family home and set down his war axe.
“Any sign of intruders?”
“Nope, I don’t even think Takeshi’s been out!”
“That is unusual, but then you haven’t been out much either.”
“Yeah, I’ve been… thinking.”
Torben wandered out of the room. Katrina looked at her husband, who shrugged. “That’s all we’ll get out of him for now, I’m afraid.”
All this thinking had led Torben to a resolution; he would see Christine come what may. He studied maps of the tunnels that ran to all points of the city from Evermore, deciding the most direct route from Evermore to the Rimmer mansion. Conceivably, it could be done in under an hour, however Torben figured it would take a bit longer the first few times since he didn’t know the route. He quickly copied the map and set out with a coil of rope with grapple, a few throwing hatchets, a compass, and a few granola bars. Nobody really questioned it, not even his parents. Torben liked exploring and could be away for hours before anyone worried.
It was no hop, skip, and jump from Evermore to the Rimmer house. Torben traversed several city blocks on his quest, finally rising from a disused manhole across from the mansion. It was an immense Victorian in the heart of the city’s swankiest district. Torben gave a low whistle, then quickly crossed the street. Once he got to the gates, he realized he had a problem: How to get inside! The young halfling didn’t let that stop him. He scaled over the wall and examined the house in the dying light. There didn’t seem to be an opening anywhere that wasn’t lit or sure to be locked. He could just go up and knock on the door.
Torben buzzed the gate.
“Please identify yourself.” said a voice with a British accent and a lisp.
“Um, hi, Torben Eardwulfson.”
“Ah, I’ve been told to expect you. Come in.”
The gate opened, giving Torben a feeling of dread, and closed behind him. Torben came up to the veranda, knocked, and found himself facing an older man with dark-but-greying hair and dressed in a fine suit.
“Please come in, Mr. Eardwulfson. Let me take your hatchets. Master Hans is waiting for you in his study.”
Torben surrendered his weapons and rope to the old gent and followed him through to house to Hans’s study. There were books on the shelves and weapons on the walls, and in the center of it all sat Hans Rimmer at his desk. His elbows rested on the desktop, his fingers steepled before him.
“Come have a seat, Mr. Eardwulfson. We have important matters to discuss.”
Torben sat down facing Hans.
“Let me come to the point, you came here to see Christine. I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”
Torben flushed. “Sir, I just want to talk to her. I’m not a monster.”
“I never said you were. I am a Gate Warden between the Otherworld and the World of Men. As you know, my job is risky, not to mention my ancestral duties as a witch hunter.”
“Sir, what’s this got to do with Christine, if you’ll pardon my asking?”
“Simply this: You are what you are, and you would attract attention that I don’t want to be attracted to my niece.”
“Mr. Rimmer, bringing danger is the furthest thing from my mind-”
“Then this is easy!” said Hans, brightly. “If you don’t come here, there is no danger to your friend.”
Torben nodded reluctantly. “Understood.”
“Good. Witherspoon, will you show this gentleman out?”
“Very good, sir.”
Torben followed Witherspoon out of the house. The butler gave his hoodie a tug.
“There are camera blind spots in the northeast and northwest corners and between those cameras all the way to Christine’s room,” he whispered. “Just throw your grappler up to the balcony.”
Witherspoon gave a wink, Torben nodded with a smile. He’d be back tomorrow.
The only person Torben told of his plans was Stella as they sat watching the stars come out. She chewed on the silicon jewel-shape she carried around her neck, it was better than wrecking her hoodie strings or hair.
“Tor, it’s too risky, Hans will catch you. Wouldn’t it be better to ask Hans to bring her back to Evermore?”
“He won’t listen to me. He thinks I’m a danger to her.”
“Is it because your dad’s an ogre?” questioned Stella, angrily.
“He says no, but I can never be sure. He says I might draw the wrong element.”
“What element!? Nobody down in Evermore means anybody any harm.”
Torben shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m going to go see her tonight.”
Stella hugged him tight. “Just be careful. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“I won’t, trust me. I got high marks in stealth!”
Torben entered the yard at the point Witherspoon described. He took his rope off his shoulder, put on a set of gloves, and carefully aimed for the balcony. He whirled his grappler, and threw; his aim was true, catching a grip on the rail. Torben tested the stability, then began his climb. He took his time, climbing slowly, keeping to the dead center of the wall. Soon he was at the top and knocking at the French doors of Christine’s room. He quietly tapped at the glass to alert the girl to his presence. He came so far, he wasn’t going to turn back without seeing her, if only for a few minutes. The door of a suite beyond opened, revealing Christine, a stick in her hand coming toward the doors. Torben yanked off his hood and called as quietly as he could,
“Christine, it’s me, Torben!”
She looked shocked, put down her stick, and opened the doors.
“What are you doing here, sneaking up by the balcony? You’re asking for a beat down!”
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” he asked.
“Oh, of course I am, it’s just- Uncle Hans doesn’t really trust anyone from Evermore. He barely trusts his closest elvish allies, or your dad.”
“I don’t know whether to be impressed or offended.”
Christine smothered mad giggles in her hands. “Shhh, he can hear everything!”
There came a knock at the door. The two looked at each other, then Christine pointed at her closet. “Quick in there, it’s a walk in!”
Torben found himself in the confines of the closet a second later. He was careful not to look around too much, even though it was dark. There was still such a thing as modesty. Outside he could hear Christine and another woman talking.
“Hi, Mrs. Witherspoon!”
“Hello, dear, my husband told me you might like some company.”
There was a pause, then Christine said “OH! Oh, yes, please come in!”
Torben heard the clink and rattle of china as the pair came closer. Christine opened the door and popped her head in.
“It’s just the cook, Mrs. Witherspoon, she brought up some tea for the three of us. That is if you drink tea.”
Mrs. Witherspoon was a little woman with white hair who reminded Torben of pictures of Princess Irene the Elder from The Princess and the Goblin. She poured the tea for him and offered him a sandwich.
“You’re still a growing boy!” she smiled at him. “You took a risk coming here.”
“Is Hans that serious about people getting a hold on Christine?”
“I honestly don’t know. She doesn’t go that many places, the May Day Ball was the first time she’s gone out in a while.”
“I don’t know why Uncle Hans is like this. Yes, my parents are dead, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay around up here. He’s never seen fit to explain it.”
“I’d say you should ask him.” Torben stood up. “I have to go, I’ll come back as often as I can though.”
“Of course I will!”
Christine bounced up on her toes and hugged him, burying her face in his shoulder. “Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me.”
Torben grabbed the rope on the balcony and swung himself over. “Keep the rope, you can let it down when I come to visit.”
“As if I wasn’t enough like Rapunzel.”
Torben smiled, putting his fangs on display. “Your uncle underestimates you.” The young halfling rappelled down the rope and disappeared into the night. He made his way back through the tunnels toward Evermore considering his plans. He couldn’t go back every day, there was no way. Maybe this weekend…
People began to notice Torben’s regular disappearances after about a week. Of course they knew he went to visit Stella, but he was never gone long, and usually brought Stella with him. One day, Stella came looking for him. She came knocking at the door nervously alternating between rubbing her knuckles and chewing on her silicone necklace. Katrina opened the door.
“Stella, sweetie, what is it?”
“Torben never came to our spot today, I think Hans has caught him-”
“Hans? What business does Master Der Hexenjaeger have with my son?”
“You don’t know? He’s been going to visit Miss Christine, but he never misses coming to visit me, not even for her.”
“Eardwulf!” called Katrina.
“Is Torben in trouble?” asked Stella.
“Either he is in trouble, or he will be.” Eardwulf came into the entrance room drying his hands on a dishtowel.
“What is it, Love?”
“Your son’s gone and gotten himself into a bit of trouble with Hans Rimmer.”
Torben meanwhile was having the time of his life with Christine, they had sneaked down and over the wall, making for a building Torben knew of with a view of the city. He carried her on his back up the fire escape and to the roof, as he’d done with Stella a dozen times and showed her his world.
“It’s so pretty!” gasped Christine.
“Isn’t it? I’ve never seen it in the daytime. This is where I go if I want to be alone, like really alone, and think.”
“What do you think about?”
“Everything and nothing. Wondering if anyone in Otherworld would even give me a chance at errantry. Wondering if I should ask Stella and Jane to move to Evermore. Just thinking about life, y’know. It’s more complicated for people like us.”
“Yeah,” Christine looped her arms around Torben’s right arm. “It is.”
Torben pulled Christine up to her balcony by the rope and set her inside.
“I don’t like to sneak around… though it is fun.” she said.
“Yeah, I know. I hope we don’t have to keep doing this though. Your uncle will have to put up with me!”
Christine laughed, then smiled at Torben. “Good night Tor.”
“Good night, Christie.”
Torben returned to Evermore whistling a jaunty tune. As he entered his home he called out "Mom, Dad, I'm home!"
He turned around and saw his parents waiting for him, along with Mr. Rimmer. Eardwulf had a twinkle in his eye, but said
"Son, we have to talk."
"Wa-oh." Torben muttered. "Busted."