There’s a Tavern in the Town

It is nice to be able to breathe outdoor air again, even if it is air produced by carnivorous vampire roses. On reflection, I think it is probably best that I keep that particular piece of information to myself, as I am fairly sure most people would rather not know that. I am also fairly sure that very few diarists have ever written such words, at least, in that order. Would that this were the strangest thing in my diary. Somehow, I doubt that will remain true for very long.

The village is reconstructed as best we could manage, and the villagers are returning to their homes. Orie and his islanders have set up camp by the cottage I assigned to them, and seem reasonably content, for now. To celebrate our return, I declared it open house in the tavern, so that everybody could come and have a drink. Actually, the tavern was one of the first buildings finished. We have our priorities right here. It’s a little different from before, and I am not entirely convinced by the new door. It may have been a little draughty having the open entrance, on the other hand, it made it quite clear that this was an area people could come to. I shall have to see if we can’t prop it open, or fit one of those stable-style doors, so people can see in. The important thing is we have a tavern in the town. Maybe we can get a brighter sign outside.

Aoibheann turned up in a very pretty dress and asked how she looked. Of course I told her she looked beautiful, qualifying that with the addition that she always looked beautiful, just even more so tonight. Predictably, she got a bit embarrassed and blushed, even though she had been the one to ask. She asked me if I could let her back into the vaults again, because she wanted to write a letter to Maric before… She stopped and said she had something to tell me.

I never found out what she had to tell me, or what she wanted to write to Maric about. Gwyn turned up wearing, and I use the term very loosely, a gown that seemed to consist of a dozen or so roses and very little else. She was in full faerie queen mode, glorious and beautiful, and flustering the heck out of poor Hal, who should be used to such things by now. Aoibheann was even more flustered, apparently forgetting how to breathe or indeed talk. I am not quite sure why; she managed perfectly well in Faermorn’s presence at our last meeting. Admittedly, Faermorn was not at her peak at the time, but still. I am better used to such things than most, but even so, when I got up to welcome her with a kiss, the Wyld energy rose up between us and it was very hard to break off that kiss. I got somewhat carried away before remembering where we were. My ears also got carried away, growing the points again, and I have no idea if that was fae glamour or vampire shape-shifting. Given who I was kissing, possibly the former.

While Aoibheann tried to recover her composure, we talked about the business of becoming consort, whether or not we should dress up and have a ceremony for it and so forth. I asked if there was any sort of handbook in the sithen library about how to be a consort, but apparently such a thing does not exist. Maybe it doesn’t happen often enough for it to be worth writing one. Great, I said, another job that doesn’t come with instructions. Just like every minute of my life since I walked into Katharina’s apartment in Grazerstrasse. And, come to that, just like Gwyn’s life since she went off the road in that carriage thing back in London.

Aoibheann recovered herself as far as breathing and saying the occasional word. We tried to suggest ways to help her get a grip – suggesting she visualise Gwyn as she was when she first arrived in the Lucky Leaf, her scrubbing floors etc. I also suggested a technique I used sometimes to deal with things – to disengage myself from them, as though I were an actor, or somebody reading a book – putting myself at one remove from the actions and emotions that were bothering me. We were almost starting to make progress when our efforts were suddenly rendered useless by a visitor to the tavern, whose presence rendered Aoibheann even more speechless than before.

Our visitor was most evidently fae royalty. I barely recognised him at first, and then only in the same way that I recognise the Gwyn I know now as the same Gwyn that I met in the beginning. This was clearly Janus – vital, alert, compelling, and, yes, beautiful. Of course, he was Unseelie, and that part of me, that which I got from Faermorn, recognised that, and I felt the Wyld stir in me again. I took a breath and allowed it to do its thing, riding it as one might a wave, the way I was used to standing on deck in a storm. I stood and made formal welcome, offering him a drink.

Gwyn confirmed my guess by making appropriate and formal introductions, introducing Aoibheann as the carer for Ardan and me as her love and her consort. He greeted us likewise, but then insisted that as he was a guest, there was no need for formalities, and as Consort to his Queen, I could address him by name. His voice was deep and slow, sounding much like the forest itself. He approached and cupped Gwyn’s chin affectionately, and then stood before me and did the same with my chin, lifting it until he could look into my eyes. His gaze was compelling and strangely stirring, calling my Wyld again, a strange temptation. He told me that I felt like his lost lady. I let the Wyld run through me, riding it again, resisting the temptation that was in those eyes. Behind me, I could hear Aoibheann saying something about wanting to touch his wings, but I concentrated on maintaining my composure, thankful for my will and my closer experience. I told him that he did my much honour and congratulated him on his elevation, even if, as I said, it had to be tempered by commiserations for the circumstances of it. I touched myself above the heart and said that She, Faermorn, was here in me and always would be. That was a great honour and privilege for me and while she was there, she would not be lost. Her light would live on in those of us privileged to know her.

Gwyn echoed my sentiments and busied herself getting Hal to pour drinks. Janus, meanwhile, kissed me on the forehead. He likewise echoed my sentiments about Faermorn living on. He went on to say that he didn’t know what Gwyn had told me and explained how times were changing and how he intended to unite the courts. He was of both, he said, and both would be one. With a natural grace, he let me go and went to his knees before Aoibheann, offering the wings for her touch. She reached out, nervously, and brushed them, letting out a slight sigh before finally managing a squeaky good evening.

I welcomed Janus’ comment and explained how I felt very much the same, which is why I had striven to be a friend to both courts, to both queens, and a bridge between them. I explained how my mother’s heritage was mostly likely Seelie, as was my love, but my gift had come from Faermorn, from the Unseelie, so I too felt myself part of both and offered to do whatever I could to help. Gwyn ran her fingers through my hair saying that she was sure I could do anything in the world if I wanted to. Her presence was intoxicating, and spreading out through the tavern, giving everybody pause and stirring more than one to kiss or otherwise express themselves to the ones they were with. Even Hal was taken up with kissing his lady, while one of the smaller daughters ran out to give the wine to Janus.

Janus chuckled at Aoibheann’s reaction, getting up and kissing her on the forehead. He then brushed his fingers over her eyes, muttering something. I felt the brush of fae magic, and it seemed to me he was doing something to help her see properly, so she would not be so glamoured by him or by Gwyn. It seemed to work, even if all she could say then was that there was something wrong with her before introducing herself. He gave the little girl a hug and sent her back to her father before addressing me again. He told me there was much work to be done, much rebuilding, much that he and my consort would need to do. But, he added, she would return to me.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. I told him that sounded like a long-term loan and hoped that we could come to a more equitable arrangement. I was still coming to terms with this additional element in my relationship with Gwyn, and did not much like the idea that she would be gone for an extended period. I told him, as if it were not obvious, that I was rather partial to her company. Even so, I had to add, I recognised that there were duties to be done, and I would not stand in the way of that. Gwyn went on to explain how important we were to her, how she had met us and what we had done for her, Aoibheann and I. We were her family and hoped that we would be their, her and Janus’ family too. Janus said that we seemed good friends to have, saying that the trees spoke well of Aoibheann and that the Cait Queen, a hard person to impress, spoke highly of me.

Aoibheann blushed at his comments and then excused herself, saying there were things to attend to in the castle. She would have Kustav let her in, so I didn’t need to go with her.

I told her that she was fine and if she needed help with her letter, I would be glad to do so. I looked back at Janus and told him that the Cait Queen and I went back a long time, from before she was queen. The thought occurred to me that so did Gwyn and I. I suggested that it was becoming a habit, my female friends becoming queens. Perhaps that should be my new name – Nathaniel the Queen-Maker. I joked to Aoibheann as she departed that she would be next, which earned me a dirty look as she left. Well, I might not be far out. When Maric returns, he might make her Lady of Mysthaven, which is about as near to being queen as damn it.

Gwyn was amused by that idea, repeating what she had said earlier about me being able to do anything. She looked at Janus and asked if they had work to do tonight, or could she take her leave of him. He bowed gently and bade us enjoy our leisure for tonight, before fading into the shadows, or possibly the trees, it was hard to tell. I bade him farewell and then took my leave of the tavern, reminding Hal to provide drinks for all who came. If this was to be our night of leisure, I was not going to spend it in the bar, when I could be spending it with my Lady. Besides, I wanted to show her my new quarters in the castle. And other things too, but those are not for these pages.

I am now even more confused, for I had expected to dislike, or at least be wary of Janus, and yet I did not. His views accorded well with mine regarding the uniting of the courts. There was something else too, something I did not acknowledge to myself until Gwyn was long asleep in my arms. There had been that temptation in his eyes. Was it just the glamour and the Wyld, or was there something more there? Something I had not felt since I last saw Greyson? I do not know what to make of that. My life is complicated enough as it is.

 There’s a Tavern in the Town

Hell and Back

We are more than just ourselves. So I wrote in my last entry. That certainly seems to be the case for me today. My stewarding hat is almost worn out. And, it also seems to be so for Galyanna, who has a perilous trip ahead of her. But, she, like me, is more than just herself. She has her duties, as do I.

The day did not start well, with a handwritten note popped under the door. It was from Dori.

Dear Nathaniel,

In the moments that I have known you, I have grown to trust you greatly. Though we joke about how we might be a distant cousin, part of me wishes I had a sibling like you. I have come to look to you almost as an older brother. Because of this, I fear I must ask for your help. The beast we spoke of has broken free, and has done something horrible. I realize I can no longer try to suppress her and I have come to make a decision. I need to speak with you privately at your earliest convenience. Currently I am in hiding to protect others from the beast. When you are available to speak in private, please tell Hal you, “would like to eat corn beef and cabbage.” state that your mother hasn’t made it for you in years.

I am sorry to cause you so much stress. I wish I was writing to you with better news…

Please be safe.

Sincerely,

Miss Quinn…

I cursed volubly, remembering I had not managed to consult with Maric about teaching control to a dhampyr. I had to hope she had not killed anyone. I took myself down to the eating area. Luckily, it was empty at the time, save for Hal, who looked a little puzzled when I asked for the corn beef. He’s smart enough though, and when a hooded figure appeared from the shadows, it only took a brief not from me for him to realise this was official business and make himself scarce for the moment. The figure sat down and lowered the hood. It was Dori, looking worried and tearful. I asked her what had happened.

He beast had come through. She had thought it under control, but then she had woken up with blood on her, scars, and a dagger in her hand. She described how she had attacked and stabbed a woman with golden wings in the shoulder and in the gut. She did not know what happened to her after that, or if she was still alive. That was not news I wanted to hear, but, even in that, there was a glimmer of hope. I had not heard any reports of dead bodies, and Lucis, of all people, would understand about inner beasts, so perhaps, the situation could be salvaged, assuming she could be healed. I told Dori that I knew who she meant and tried to reassure her that she did not die easily. I tried to think what I could do to help, but could not remember what she had told me her father had done. I asked her about it and she told me it was like a mental shield, a wall to keep the beast contained. I had to think about that. I knew shielding techniques well enough, but those were mostly for attacks from without, rather than from within. I told her I would have to think on it and see what I could do. The thought occurred that being fed might help, so I asked if it was easier to keep control if she had fed on the blood. She started to tell me that she was not aware of feeding on blood while she was in human form. She perhaps would have said more, but something spooked her and she fled, murmuring that she would be back.

I turned and saw that Galyanna was emerging from the shadows. I bade her join me and asked her to tell me her news if there was any. She chuckled, watching Dori vanish, saying that she seemed to have that effect on people, but whether it was the warrior or the mask, she did not say. She had received no news of Vedis, and, lacking any other options; she knew she had to return to Hell to seek her. I explained that Dori was a troubled soul at the moment, who would probably flee from anybody other than myself. I assured her that I was always pleased to see her, masked or not, adding that I considered it a privilege to see her face. I expressed my regret at the lack of news, telling her that I had not been able to sense anything of her. I asked if it was safe for her to visit Hell, knowing full well it was a foolish question, as she would go anyway.

The showing of her face, and the true form I had seen before that, she told me, was a matter of trust between us, which pleased me greatly. Then she gave me a warning. Orie was not satisfied with the way things where going, with Galyanna’s decisions, thinking that she was abandoning the humans by refusing to take them to hell. She sighed and asked why we dealt with humans.

I had to laugh at her question, answering flippantly that they tasted delicious. More soberly, I said that I had to because I had been one, and many of them were my friends, quite apart from it being my duty to care for them, even Orie. I told her that I feared he was fomenting trouble, mentioning my conversation with Helene, and asked if she had any advice. She did not have any, saying that if she did, she would be using it on Aoibheann too, because she seemed determined to make the demons sound monstrous. I had to defend Aoibheann somewhat, especially as Vedis had tormented her somewhat when we first came to this land. We spoke of loyalties and decided that the villagers of Mysthaven would remain loyal to Maric or his representative, and those of the former castle Griffin would be loyal to Vedis for offering them shelter. I suggested that perhaps when things were less fraught, we could have some sort of social gathering get the two sets of villagers together.

She agreed that this was a good idea, but feared that she would be too busy preparing for her trip. I told her that I would go with her, had I not my duties here. She thanked me for that, agreeing that I would be a suitable fellow traveller, but I was right, I had my duties here. She would go alone, and that was the price we paid. I reminded her that it was the price we all chose to pay, by our service. I wished her luck in her quest and told her, as I had Faermorn, that it should be au revoir.

Orie turned up just as we were finishing. While not appearing overly aggressive, his stance was bordering on confrontational. He had grievances, he said. First was that he and the people of the island were never meant to have been stranded here, but he understood there was nothing that could be done about that. They had been locked up here with no plan of action, they couldn’t go anywhere in case that destroyed the universe, so all they had left to do was to sit here to be food for blood-suckers.

I curbed my irritation, and I could tell, from her stance, that Galyanna was doing the same. She rolled her eyes and repeated her question about why we deal with humans. She made a parting comment about how the islanders had no reason to not trust Vedis and herself until a soldier came forward with a list of grievances. She left then in the direction of the vaults, a lone warrior bound for hell, and, I had to hope, back. I watched her sadly and then turned my attention back to Orie, keeping my tone and expression mild. Diplomacy was called for here, much as I wanted to bit him for upsetting Helene, and things were tense enough in the vaults without an angry scene inflaming matters.

I told him that there were plans that were ongoing, and apologised for not having had time to brief him. I did have some good news for him, having been briefed by Kustav the previous day – the village was now habitable again. The roses had done their job and provided breathable air, and Kustav’s men had managed to repair and reconstruct much of the damage done to the village by the sluagh. I had rather hoped I could make a general announcement, but since he was here, I told him about this. I reminded him that there were plenty of supplies and that the next stage was waiting for conditions to be stable enough to emerge from the Shadow Roads. As for returning to the demon island, that would have to wait on the results of Galyanna’s expedition. Lastly, I told him that feeding arrangements regarding blood were entirely by voluntary arrangement.

There was a slight sound somewhere in the shadows. I guessed it to be Dori, still trying to hide and so ignored it. Orie also seemed to notice, but his grievance was still with me, so he also ignored it. He was convinced that the ‘different nature’ of some of the inhabitants meant that he could not trust them to act on the best behalf of the villagers. I guessed that he had heard, or discerned my nature, but again, refused to react. I told him that ALL were welcome in the village, whatever their nature, provided they abided by the rules of the land.

Orie seemed to be determined to have it out, determined to name me for what I was. Me, my ‘dandy lord’, his guards and friends, seemed to be of a certain persuasion, and he did not believe that their interests, meaning the normal people and the fae, were being kept safe by our kind. I could lock myself away with my princess and the woman we had driven mad, but the rest of them were out here together and didn’t have much faith in the ability of a steward appointed by an absent lord to make good on his promises. He started squaring up to me as he spoke.

I resisted the temptation to laugh. He was threatening me? Threatening a rebellion? I wasn’t quite sure if I should admire his optimism or laugh at his stupidity. Quite apart from the fact that most of the village were loyal to Maric, and thus me, and the fact that I had the entire castle guard to call upon, I was fairly sure I could pull his head off with both hands. Not that I would, of course, no matter how tempting it might be. That is not my way. Outwardly, I stayed just as calm as before. I explained that the majority of the villagers were Maric’s people long before he arrived in this land, that most of them were people he had given sanctuary to, no matter what their race. They were thus rather loyal. Whether he liked it or not, this was Maric’s land and I was his appointed deputy and had full authority here. So, while he stayed here in this land, he would abide by the laws and by my decisions. If he didn’t like it, he was welcome to try his luck in the Shadow Roads, or ask Galyanna if he could go to Hell with her. I then softened my tone, telling him I didn’t want to argue or fight with him. By this time tomorrow, we would be free to go back to the village. If he had any specific complaints, I told him, he should bring them to me and I would try to sort it out. Otherwise, I asked him to please desist from trying to make trouble. Things were hard enough for everybody without that.

Orie gave me a half-hearted salute, saying he didn’t make trouble, but neither did he walk away from it. He would set up camp in with the islanders as soon as we were able to access the village and wait until he heard from Vedis. He also wanted to speak to the Cait about accessing the Shadow Roads. He then turned on his heels and disappeared back to the sleeping area in the vaults. I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that it had not come to blows or sanctions. I hope that this will continue to be the case, for I dislike using any of the powers granted me, or the ones I have innately. I made a note to set a couple of the guards to assist the islanders with their camp set up and to reserve one of the cottages for them until they were able to return to their homes.

As soon as he had departed, Dori emerged from the shadows, asking how I managed to not rip his throat out. I told her I was blessed with strong will, which was fortunate because, much as I might have wanted to rip his head off, my position demanded that I use diplomacy. She told me that that she wanted to try to find a way to merge with her beast in a controlled way. She also thought that she ought to go to hell with Galyanna, as part of her punishment. I had to raise an eyebrow at that, thinking that maybe she had a different perspective on hell, or in this case, Hell. I told her that the Hell we were dealing with was somewhat more real a place than the one that the priests used to go on about on Sundays. Besides, Galyanna was on a covert mission, and did not need the distraction of somebody else. As for punishment, I would have to think on that, and speak with Lucis. I did not mention that I thought Lucis would understand about the actions of the beast. I thought, however, that accepting her beast might be a good approach, and I began to think of ideas of how I could help that. I told her that we would speak again soon, if she thought she could keep herself in control. She assured me that she could and disappeared once more into the shadows.

I sent for Kustav and my deputies while I waited for Hal to come back. We had a couple of drinks together and I thanked them for their hard work. Since the news was already out to Orie, I scribbled a quick notice and sent them to spread the word to all our guests. Then I buried myself in working out the logistics of getting everybody back above ground. A steward’s work is never done. And there was I thinking it was going to just be doing the accounting.

 Hell and Back

People Change

I’m not usually given to moody introspection, but events of late have given me pause for thought. First of all, there was Helene believing that I had changed, though I wonder how much of that was her and how much she has been influenced by others. Of course I have changed, over the years. I am no longer that shy, book-loving boy who was bullied at school. I am no longer the young sailor drinking and whoring my way around European ports. I am no longer the innocent and ignorant young vampire that fetched up in London, nor am I the slightly less inexperienced vampire who took that boat ride to Jasper Cove, or crossed the bridge to Ashmourne Wylds. And now, without even being entirely sure how, I find myself being a warrior and a leader, a person of power. I have never sought such things, but here I am. I hope it hasn’t changed me. They say that power corrupts, but I hope I have managed to avoid that. On the other hand, if Helene, who has always been so close a friend, thinks so, perhaps others do. I do not know. I shall have to be sure to watch myself carefully, but on the other hand, I must not let that stop me doing the right thing. I am charged with the protection of this village, and I cannot allow self-doubt stand in the way of that.

Another cause for introspection was the conversation I had with Gwyn. I have always thought myself open-minded, and not prone to possessiveness or jealousy, and yet, I have to confess that I allowed that green-eyed monster a place in my thoughts. And, reflecting on it, I must confess to being guilty of a certain amount of hypocrisy, in a way I had not really thought of before. I charge myself and I convict myself, and I have to live with that. And that is something I will have to change.

I was taking a break from my stewarding duties in Maric’s chambers, they being one of the few places I can get away from the noise and crowding of the vaults. I do not like to do so often, when the rest of the villagers don’t have that option, but I have found it is the only place where I can attend to the administrative side of things without interruption. Gwyn came looking for me, and, to be honest, I welcomed the interruption, and the opportunity for some non-judgemental company. I had not seen her in a few days, what with my duties and hers as leader of the Seelie.

After our usual greetings, I towed her over to the couch, poured some wine and asked her if she thought I had changed. After what Helene had said, I needed another opinion. She told me that I was older, not in age, but experience and wisdom, and asked how things had been. I told her about the conversation with Helene, and what she had said about me and the ‘maiden in Maric’s bed’. I gave her a little background on my relationship with Helene for context.

She took my hand, squeezing it, and I got a sense of how she was changing, something I had noticed since she told me of her anointing. She had a sense of confidence and authority that reminded me of Faermorn and Saone. She told me I had grown, both of us had. She agreed that she hadn’t trusted Maric much, but that she trusted my judgement. Perhaps, she suggested, it was that Helene had known the younger me, and was not used to who I was now. Sometimes, change can be hard on those around us. She leaned closer, shedding petals into my lap. She said that maybe it was like growing up as a child. You don’t notice it, but aunts and grandmothers, who only see you occasionally, do notice that you are getting taller.

I retrieved one of the petals, tucking it into my shirt as a souvenir. I don’t really know why. It wasn’t as if there ever seemed to be a shortage of them. I told her that I didn’t really have much in the way of aunts, only Father’s sister, who we didn’t see often. I told her that Father’s mother, Granny Evadne, had died when I was young, so that only left Nanny Siobhan, my maternal grandmother. She, of course, would always remark on my growth when we saw her. I told Gwyn a little more about Helen’s background and mentioned Raziel, so that she would know that he was not welcome here. She made a note of that and then asked how we could grow if we did not change. I had to laugh at that, telling her of all the things I never imagined would happen to me, including being in love with a faerie queen, or, at least, nearly a faerie queen. That gave me the opportunity to ask how things were on that front.

Then came the revelations. Things were not as they had been since we had last lain here together on this couch. She asked if I wanted to do this here, or would I rather go where we were not so connected to the land. I told her that I was chock full of Wyld and who knows what else, and I seemed to be ok, so I would chance it and jokingly asked if she was pregnant by the forest god to repopulate the sithen.

She was not, but she had other things to tell me. She had been summoned to the Summerlands, by the one anointed as the Unseelie King. He had called for his Queen, and she was the one Summoned. She blushed as she told me this – she was now the Queen and she now had a King. She seemed worried about my reaction, twining her fingers in mine. I was not sure what to make of this and asked for clarification. So far as I knew, the Summerlands was the fae equivalent of heaven, and I didn’t know how an Unseelie and Seelie could be King and Queen. I then asked who this King was.

The King is Janus, formerly Faermorn’s chief Raven, who I only knew vaguely from my negotiations regarding the foraging. I was rather surprised, but on reflection, unlike the Seelie Court, I had not seen any Princes or Princesses in the Unseelie Court, so maybe he was the most senior Unseelie left. She told me that there were too few of the blood left in the land, and so they had decided to unite the two Courts, Seelie and Unseelie. They would be King and Queen together, though they would not marry formally, and both would be free to choose their own consorts. I felt a little cold in me, for she then said that she hoped her relationship with him would not dim my love for her. Relationships among those of the blood were complicated and she would need to be with him, because of him being the King, and together, making the land. But, she said, I was still her heart. I was not sure I wanted to know the answer to my next question, but I had to ask – did they have to do more than call each other King and Queen?

Yes, was her answer. Together they make the land, and the magic that makes that was physical. I could not help but stiffen for a moment, a cold sensation clutching at my insides. Could his be jealousy I was feeling? I had to confront that, face that part of me, because while one part of me was hurting, another part of me was telling me I was not being fair. And, I had to admit my feelings, and the conflict I felt. I had to reason with myself, doing so aloud. I confessed that I had thought nothing of such things when we had taken Valene to our bed, had not even considered the possibility of jealousy when I was making love to her. Admittedly, that was slightly different in that it had been a mutual decision and we had all three been together. I also had to admit how close I had come to making love with Faermorn, when that offer was open to me at my Quickening. Again, I had to confront myself, though this I did not speak of at the time. I had to confront myself with how easily I could have resumed my relationship with Giada, or made up for lost time with Helene. Even though I had not done so, I had wanted to. Did I have any right to claim exclusivity? Was I just being a fool? I knew the magical lore and the mythology about kings and queens and their relationship to the land, and I knew full well from history that relationships between kings and queens rarely had anything to do with love. I chastised myself mentally. I did not like it, but I had no right to complain. I took another drink and told her that I would probably take a while to adjust. But, this was faerie, and they do things differently there. But, I still had to know, was I still her number one?

Always, she said, nuzzling against me. My body reacted, the Wyld in me stirring as it recognised hers. Even without that, I knew that I still loved her, still wanted her, and still needed her. But, we were more than mere lovers now, more than just two people. She was Queen of her people, and I had the charge of an entire town in my care. We were more than just ourselves. We kissed, and desire stirred deeper. But, she had one more thing to ask. She asked me, rather elaborately, if I would consent to being the Queen’s Consort. I did not know how to answer that – was she proposing, or was this some sort of job offer? Her answer was not entirely clear. It was not a job, I suppose she meant in the sense of being work, but it was an official place in her Court, and it also meant never having to doubt that I was number one. I asked if there was some sort of ceremony, joking about having nothing to wear. We could have one, if I wished, but all that was needed was that she, the Queen, name me as Consort. I accepted, and we kissed again. What passed thereafter is not for these pages, for some things should remain private.

So; I am to be Consort to the Faerie Queen, yet not her King. And, I had come so close to being an unofficial consort to another Queen, now gone from us. And, my Queen and I share our bed with another fae Queen. Nothing is ever simple any more. There are questions I cannot ask, some I dare not ask, and part of me feels lost, confused, and hankering for the simpler life that I had before I stepped into that apartment on GrazerStrasse, before the world I thought I knew became something totally other. But, I am not that man any more. I am part of something much bigger now. People change. The question is; have I changed enough? Can I change enough? Can I change into what I must become, and still be me? I don’t even know where to start.

 People Change – Nick Lowe

 

Wait For Me

These coming days are going to be hard for all. The villagers, save those who normally work in the castle are deprived of their normal activities, which is especially hard on those who are used to being outdoors and able to roam free. I am doing my best to keep people occupied and to deal with problems, but it can be hard. The longer we are confined, the harder it is going to be. Of course there is going to be some discontent, and I lack Maric’s long history with them. Still the stewards and the guards have come to trust me, and know that Maric would not have invested me as his deputy and heir without good reason. I can rely on them to help me keep things in order. So far, things are going well, but I fear that young Orie has been making grumbling noises, and perhaps influencing people who should know better. I am going to have to deal with him at some point. I only hope I can do so peacefully.

The waiting is hardest of all on Aoibheann, who is like a soul lost without Maric. I see her doing her best to be the charming hostess, as she might think Maric would want her to be, but it is hard on her, and I do not know what I can do for her other than what I have always done, been her friend.

While doing my rounds, I came across Lucis. I was glad to do so, since I had seen her name on the lists that my fellow stewards had checked off as the evacuation was in progress, but had not seen her myself. She seemed to be well, but kept asking about the Shadow Roads. She was remarkably keen to go visiting in the Roads, but would not explain why. I tried my best to explain the dangers involved in exploring the roads, and the conditions under which we were guests there, but she kept asking. I told her that if she came to me with a proposal, where she wanted to go and why, I would speak with Valene and/or Nemaine to see if it could be arranged. The best I could get from her was that she would think about it.

Aoibheann turned up, looking somewhat out of sorts and carrying some wine. She did not look as though she had slept much of late, and, as ever when she is stressed, also looked as though she had not eaten. She clearly wanted to discuss something, so we retired to Maric’s chambers for privacy. From the look of things, she had been spending most of her time here, waiting on Maric.

And it was Maric of whom she wished to speak. I had been expecting this, and already had some idea of what I was going to say. I explained about what being in torpor meant and reminded her of the time that Gwyn had been in a coma after her first encounter with the Huntsman. It was like that, I told her, and it was the state we went into when we needed to heal. I did not know how long it would take, but he would heal. I mentioned that I was looking through his library for any information on how we could help, e.g. by feeding him to help him heal, but I had not found anything yet. That was the main thing she wanted to hear – that he would wake up.

She then asked about the obligation we had to wage war on behalf of the Seids and wanted to know what we were going to do. She said that she knew I had history with the Seids, and was friends with their queen, but she still felt that they would serve their own interests first whereas we had to serve our own. Without Maric, it was up to us to protect Mysthaven. This, or course, I knew, for this was the duty that Maric had charged me with, and she should know that well enough.

I told her that I would be doing whatever I could to help bring Maric back, for I would far rather have his hand on the tiller than mine, since I was not the warrior he was. So far as the war with the Seids was concerned, I had rather thought that was over. She and I were excluded from that obligation anyway, and I was waiting news from Galyanna on how the demons fared. I reminded her that Maric had entrusted the village to me, and she should know me well enough to know that I would do that to the very limits of my ability, even unto my death. Nothing, not even my friendship with the Seids, was going to get in the way of that duty.

She agreed with my hope that the war was over, but then burst into tears, saying that Maric had always been so strong, and so good at convincing you that things would be fine, but she couldn’t do that and she couldn’t stop crying. She only left his room because she figured that he would be attending to the guests. I hugged her and agreed with her regarding his optimism. I reminded her how much he cared for her and how he loved her. It was my job to take care of the village, there was no need to treat it as a social gathering. I concentrated for a moment on the mental link with Maric, knowing only that he was not gone. I told Aoibheann this and told her to hang on to that. We vampires were hard to kill, especially one as old and strong as Maric. Keep that in mind, I said, and be strong, because that would be what he wanted, for us to be strong, so that we could be ready to greet him with a smile when he returned. She pulled herself together, saying that it was always a social occasion in the castle. We should have a ball, she said, when he wakes.

I hugged her again and told her that was the spirit. That was the spirit of the Tenacious Trinity, and no bugger was going to defeat us. I had told Gwythyr that, I said. I had told the Huntsman that, I would tell Vedis that, I had even told Alec that when he dragged me off to some place called Cranberry Cove without asking. Nobody was going to defeat us if I had to shove my sword up the arse of every single demon they had in hell. I raised the glass of wine and toasted the Tenacious Trinity, Maric and all of Mysthaven. That managed to get a smile out of her, albeit a slightly surprised one. I guess she isn’t used to my saltier language. She acknowledged the toast and then asked why I hadn’t brought back any cranberries. I had to tell her I didn’t even know what a cranberry was, and I was fairly sure I hadn’t seen one, just Alec, who had been too busy telling me things were made of wavy lines.

I hesitated a moment and then broached another subject, that of her protection, which Maric had also charged me with. I told her that he had taught me how to make that bond, the same one she had made with Maric, so that he could know how she was and where she was. I could make that same bond, if she wanted, but only if she wanted, and I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t. The offer was there, if she wanted. She went quiet for a moment, and then said that the last thing Maric had said to her was to stay safe. She thought about it some more and said that she would do it, but for the moment, she was in no danger in the Vaults, and anyway, Maric might wakeup soon. I hugged her again and told her I understood. The offer was still there, if and when she wanted to take it. We parted then, with her promising to eat something, and I went on my rounds, to make sure everything was running as it should be.

 

Later, in the storage area of the vaults, I heard movement, and Helene emerged from the shadows. I was mightily pleased to see her. Although she had been on the list, I hadn’t seen her for myself, and so I had been worried. I told her this, but she seemed distant, grumpy even, wondering where else she could have been. Then she said she had not seen me in many days and asked if everything was all right.

I opined that we seemed to have come through the various battles; that most of the villagers were safe, and we were well provisioned for the foreseeable future. I apologised for being relatively absent, but I had been busy, being in charge of everything. I asked what was bothering her.

She did not understand what was happening here. She feared that I had changed, that something in Maric’s influence had made me somebody she did not recognise. I was perturbed, for, so far as I knew, I was the same person I had always been. I said that I had been training with him, gaining better use of my powers, but I was otherwise unchanged, I hoped. However, since she was expressing the fear, there must be something. I told her briefly why we were here, and why we had taken the options we had to save the village. I asked her to explain. What was it she feared?

She could not understand how I could have faith in this man; how I could know that he had the best interests of everybody here, when he acted as though everything was secondary to the maiden in his bed? Perhaps she was the cause of all this and we should offer her to the devils and be done with it.

I was genuinely surprised and not a little disturbed. I guessed she meant Aoibheann, but something was not right, and I wondered if Orie had been stirring the pot. I asked what gave her these ideas. So far as I knew, Aoibheann was still a maiden and Maric had not bedded her. I knew Aoibheann well enough to know she would not go easily to any man’s bed. I told Helene that it was true that Maric loved her, but that he was even more old-fashioned than me in such matters. I explained that I too had distrusted him at first, but had since seen him put his life on the line for everybody, not just Aoibheann. That he had given up everything to protect his people. I then told her that he had taught me to communicate telepathically, so I had seen inside his head. I told her how it was very difficult to keep such communications down to single thoughts, and so had learned a lot more about him, how he was even more obsessively honourable than me, even more willing to sacrifice himself for those he cared for. Yes, he could seem a bit creepy, but that was just the way he was.

Look, I said, you know me, you know I do not trust easily, and you know I would not lie to you. I explained that Maric had agreed to go to battle, against Lucifer himself, to protect his own, leaving behind even Aoibheann. I asked her then, what made her thing otherwise, what questions did she have?

She started to speak, but began to cry. She told me she was too tired, too tired to leave a place that had become home to this black void. And she was worried about Raziel. I moved closer and drew her to me. I reminded her that I had already promised that Raziel would receive no welcome here. I reminded her again that I had never lied to her. I did not know what was going to be happening over the next few days, but whatever it was, I would be working for everybody’s benefit. She had my promise on that. I held her close while she sobbed some more, barely able to stand, crying that she couldn’t do this any more, in French. I continued to hug her, reassuring her in the same language that she could, that she was strong, and that I would always be there for her. I called up the blood energy, mixing in a little of the fae joy in life and project some strength and happiness to her.

Perhaps she took some comfort from it, because she stopped crying, apologising for acting like this. She did not like it here, and she did not trust the Roads. I told her she was right to not do so. They were not nice, but better than the alternative. Yes, it wasn’t nice here, but we just had to make the best of things. In the meanwhile, I was there for her and would never harm her or anybody I cared about. And I would smack anybody who said otherwise. That got a giggle out of her, saying she would never expect anything less from me. She asked what she would have done had we never met, kissing me on the cheek. I returned the kiss, on her lips. I did not know that. I also did not know what might have happened had I been less old-fashioned with her when there were things she wanted to know. But, there was no point in speculating. We had to get on with what we had. She didn’t have to like or trust Maric, I told her, but for now, I was in charge, and she had better damn well trust me, or I would apply my hands to her backside. I told her to go and get some food and then some sleep, in a proper bunk. She accepted the kiss without protest, smiling again finally, and blushing a little at my threat. She agreed that she needed some sleep and departed for the sleeping areas.

I felt a little heavy in the heart, that one of my oldest friends should doubt me, even if it seemed I had talked her around. Perhaps, from what she said, somebody had been stirring things against Maric, and the only person I could think of who might do that was Orie. I am going to have to have words with him.

Wait For Me 

Wavy Lines

The world is made up of wavy lines. Everything is made up of wavy lines. I have often thought this, especially when I have over-indulged in the special rum, or been hanging around opium bars too long. But now it is official, apparently. Alec said so, so it must be true. On the other hand, when did I start believing everything Alec says?

The man really needs to learn some manners, and maybe a little tact. I was minding my own business in Maric’s chambers, going through some paperwork in the hope of keeping at least a weather eye on the state of things in the castle, when I felt something, something that made the hairs on my neck stand up. I turned and saw a disturbance in the air, a rippling, a shimmering, a heat haze that tugged at the edges of vision. I knew it to be a portal of some sort and readied my sword, in case something unwanted were to come through. Nothing did, so I poked it with the tip of the sword.

Which was, perhaps silly of me, as the portal opened and swallowed me up, depositing me on a green and pleasant bank, by a glittering body of water. And there before me was the instigator of the portal, Alec, looking much less than his glamorous self, being clad like some country gamekeeper. I complained at him about not knocking or sending a note, saying I had been all ready to behead the nearest demon or whatever had come through the portal. And, since I was still a bit irritated, I asked him why he was dressed like a gamekeeper. Since he did not appear to be an immediate threat, I sheathed the sword.

He just gave me that maddening half-smile and asked why he had not crossed my mind more often. He had grown tired of waiting to teach me how to use my new powers. He then looked at my clothing – I had my grey, working clothes on – and snapped his fingers. In a moment, my clothing was gone, and instead I was wearing a shirt of some soft, tartan patterned material, strange in fit and design, but not so dissimilar from clothing I knew as to be unrecognisable. The trousers too, we were a soft, sturdy cotton material, a fabric not unlike the jeans I had seen Gwyn wearing, only in a light tan colour. They were quite unremarkable, really, but I guessed they would pass muster in wherever this place was without arousing undue comment.

I told him that he had crossed my mind often, but what with trying to master blood magic, reuniting a Cait Queen with the Unseelie Queen, being Quickened by said Unseelie Queen, oh, and trying to save an entire village while the angels and demons were battling it out, I had been a little on the busy side of late. However, I had been planning to come and see him soon, to continue my education. I then asked where, and when, I was. Here, he said, was Cranberry Cove, Maine, and it was the year 2014. Gwyn had mentioned the cove, and had mentioned it was her present, so that made sense. He frowned at my mention of angels and demons and asked what was going on that they should be running amok in Ashmourne Wylds as well as how Aoibheann and Gwyn were.

I explained briefly, saying that Vedis had a lot of chickens coming home to roost, which was why the village was hiding in the Shadow Roads, why Gwyn had been anointed as leader of the Seelie and why Aoibheann was in love with Maric and currently cuddled around his coffin, where he was in torpor. He did not seem overly pleased with the latter news, expressing his distrust of Maric, though, perhaps uncharitably, I wondered if he resented Maric’s growing influence over Aoibheann while his own influence was diminishing. That, perhaps, could apply to myself and Gwyn too. He made a comment about needing to visit with Vedis soon and then moved on to the subject of teaching me about my powers. Had I found myself anywhere unusual lately, he asked, other than being in a faerie realm besieged by angels and demons?

I had to laugh at that, mentioning the Huntsman’s forest and Faermorn’s bedchamber as possibly unusual places, though I was fairly sure that I had gotten to the latter by conventional means. I felt I should speak up for Maric, saying that I had been distrustful myself, but now knew him to be a good man, very much like to myself. He was not pleased that I had shared blood, warning me of the consequences, as if I didn’t know those only too well. He cautioned me to be wary of Maric, and watch over Aoibheann – an unnecessary injunction – since he feared that the business with Llwyd and the Huntsman was not over. Again, he returned to the matter of the powers he had given me. He was pleased that I seemed to have more control than he might have expected.

Hah! Control! He might well be pleasantly surprised by that, but then, he doesn’t know about the years of not reacting to bullies at school. He doesn’t know about overcoming my addiction to whoring and drinking in my early days at sea, nor the several years I spent not being found out as a vampire in the closed environment of a merchant ship. I did tell him about having to cope with the infusion of blood magic from Maric, Wyld from Faermorn, and resisting her charms during the Quickening. So, yes, I thought I knew something of control.

He continued his explanation. The magic we were using was fuelled by energy, as with most magic. Energy was the basis of all things and everything was made from it. My soul, my body, the ground we were sitting on, were all forms of energy. I wasn’t entirely sure I bought that, but then, I thought, a piece of wood can turn into energy – heat – if you burn it. Space and time are just a physical concept. This much I remembered from the Dee journal. All matter was made up of tiny molecules, he told me, which were, in turn, made up of smaller atoms, which themselves were made of smaller particles that ultimately break down into an infinite number of wavy lines. The only difference between things was in the way those wavy lines arranged themselves.

So far, so good. I told him that I was aware of atomic theory, and was prepared to accept that future, from my point of view, developments might discover that atoms themselves could be broken into smaller particles. I wasn’t entirely sure about everything being a bunch if squiggly lines, but based on the ideas I had read in Dee’s journal, I was prepared to go along with everything being able to be described in terms of mathematical principles, with the squiggles being a convenient model to work from.

He went on to explain how we could move our bodies by our will, by thinking of a place or person we knew, visualising them, and we would be able to go there. Fair enough, I thought. I had vague memories of learning about translations in maths, so it made sense that I could translate this bunch of wavy lines to somewhere else by changing the values of the origin, or something. And since he had mentioned being able to go back or forward in time, I had to assume that time was just another axis on which we could do these translations. Gods, did I take maths too seriously at school and university? He mentioned being able to visit his own parents, although there were problems associated with that. The other thing was that he needed to keep control, by absorbing where and when he was, so that he could keep himself in any one place or time. I could appreciate that. Given how much my own mind wanders, it would be terribly inconvenient if my body wandered as much.

I told him about the rules that Gwyn and I had been speculating about and the potential problems with travelling elsewhen, especially into my past. I had been formulating my own rules, which I planned on sticking to until I had a better idea of what I was doing. For now, I would confine myself to things like visiting him, Isabella, the kids etc. If I used my powers sparingly, I had less chance of fucking up. He was pleased with that, and also that I was making my own anchors, in the people I liked and places I liked. Those could be the difference between reality and nowhere. He did warn me that I was being mistaken in thinking of time as linear – the now could affect the then, past and future were one and the same.

I told him that I had long given up on time being linear, given that my lover will not be born for another 100 years from my perspective. However, I did try to keep my personal experience as linear as possible. My diary records that. This day, although it takes place in 2014, will be a period I remember, between the day before and the day after, during which I aged 24 hours, even if, in absolute terms, that day is a long time in my future. I told him then that I had to return to the castle, where a bunch of wavy lines were very scared and concerned about their futures, which, despite what he said, were very much futures to them. I think he misunderstood me, since he claimed he would not belittle anybody’s experience, so I had to explain that all I meant was that, from their perspective, the future was tomorrow, so I had to go and help them deal with that. We parted then, with a promise I would come and see them and the kids soon. To my surprise, the return journey was easy. I visualised the room in Maric’s chambers and I was there, blessedly without the dizziness and disorientation that I usually get from portal travel. But, that was magic. This was maths.

 Wavy Lines

 

What Comes After

The journal has a number of pages that are scribbled on, crossed out, torn, and what remains is badly stained with soot, blood and who knows what. Here and here, a few phrases and words are visible..

…sounded the alarm at four rings… sluagh at the gate… evacuate the villagers … Faermorn! … call to arms … Shadowroads… Maric! … tally of villagers… Sophia… Galyanna and the mirror… where is Aoibheann… get everybody safe… so many dead… the cait! … Gwyneth… Where are the guards?…

 

As a recorder of the minutiae of an ordinary life, I think I do an adequate job, although I am aware that I am somewhat stretching the concept of ordinary in my case. As a recorder of tumultuous events, I find myself lacking. Of course, there was no time or leisure to record things during the events of the last few nights, and for all my tired and scribbled notes afterwards, I cannot get my brain to resolve them into a sensible narrative. As if any narrative with demons, vampires, sluagh, fae and a carrion crow can make any sense anyway. Perhaps, in time, I shall return to these notes and at least try to attempt to record these events in more detail.

For now, it will have to suffice that the people of Mysthaven plus assorted guests are ensconced in the bowels of the castle. Most are scared and tired, a few are injured, but most were accounted for, even if I had not yet seen them myself. Helene, for example, is listed as accounted for, but I have not found her yet. Sophia, I have seen, but a few others, Dori, for example, I haven’t. Of the castle guard, I do not yet have a final tally. Maric, I know, through our mental link, was badly injured and is in torpor. That is better than dead, I guess, and some comfort for Aoibheann.

There was too much to do, just looking after people and making sure everybody was safe. Even with all this going on, there were still things I had to do as steward. I also had to take Galyanna to the laboratory so that she could await Vedis at the mirror. Gwyn and I stayed a while with her, to offer comfort and support. In a remarkable show of trust, or perhaps just being too tired to care, Galyanna removed her mask, and we saw, for the first time, the woman underneath. I consider this an honour and privilege, while being slightly bemused that, for all the times we have fought alongside each other, this is the first time I have seen her face.

Gwyn and I retired to Maric’s chambers to talk. We had not had any time together since we returned from the Huntsman’s forest, and I did not know quite what had passed with her in that time. I told her about the Quickening and the visitation from Gwythyr. I even confessed how much I had wanted Faermorn, how she had said that I could partake of her any way I wanted, and how I chose the blood. I told how Gwythyr had tried to bully me and had eventually forced me to feed from him, and begged her to stop me if I ever started behaving like him.

Her tale was grimmer than mine. She too had been visited by Gwythyr. She too had resisted him; she too had tried to give, so that he could not take. But he took her anyway. He took her blood and called her a royal bastard, saying she tasted of Saone. And then he took her. And for all that she tried to think of me, he forced her to see him, after taking on the shapes of her former lovers as well as me, but he couldn’t get them quite right. And so she could still think of the real me. She was my princess still, but a broken one.

No, I told her. Not to me. All the things that had passed, the taking of the castle, the fight with the Unseelie Raven Captain, the business with Rachel, her encounters with the Huntsman… those did not break her and neither would this. “No, you are not broken, not in my eyes, not in my head, not in my heart, and you never will be.” I held her close, knowing only that I loved her more. I then looked at her, noting the change in appearance yet again and asked if she had been promoted.

She told me then of being taken to the sithen, how she had been anointed as the leader of the Seelie, and would one day be Queen. Then, Faermorn called Saone forth from the Mallorn tree, and for a while, they were all bound together until it was time for the Queens to set forth for the Summerlands. I had known this. I had known, even in the chaos that had been the night of the battles, that Faermorn was gone. I had felt it and known it, had already known from the first time I visited with her after the rescue. Even so, the words brought forth a tear. Gwyn continued, saying that she had been broken, in a way that remade her. Gwythyr was gone from this world, she hoped, and she was different now.

I nodded, saying that it was good that he was gone, and perhaps we could take comfort that he had learned nothing, achieved nothing, gained nothing. I would not weep for him. For Llwyd, yes, though I had met him but once. For Saone, yes, for she had been gracious to me, and for Faermorn most of all, because we had been able to be friends, unbound by oaths, as well as for the reconnection to my heritage she had given me. Her I would miss most of all. I agreed that we were all different, I told her. Yes, I was different, Aoibheann was different, and she was different, and this was not a bad thing. Trying to lighten the mood, talking of differences, I asked if she had liked the pointy ears.

Those she had liked very much, and she would have jumped on me, had we not had other business to attend to. We spoke a while of personal things before turning our thoughts to Aoibheann, and wondering how she was. I communed with the castle for a moment, and could tell she was nearby. We got up from the sofa and looked around the rest of the chamber. There was ash on the floor, leading to the bed area, and here and there, blood, that I knew to be Maric’s. We followed the trail past the bed, on which there lay an unstrung bow, possibly the one Aoibheann had been cuddling the previous evening. This seemed likely, as we then found Aoibheann in the chamber behind the bed, curled up on the floor next to the casket that I knew then to be Maric’s resting place. We made her comfortable with a few extra blankets and a pillow before leaving her.

We returned to the sitting room and took a seat. We were both very aware of our own desires, our need for each other, and I could feel the Wyld in me, responding even more to hers. However, we did not feel able to slake our thirsts here, not with Aoibheann sleeping so close by, and our options were limited elsewhere in the castle. I asked if she knew anywhere we could go.

She did suggest that we could go realm-hopping, maybe go see Alec, or a place she had been visiting in Maine in the year 2014. Of course, that would require both of us changing, both in clothing and appearance. Appealing though the idea was, I decided I could not leave the castle, not the way things were. Perhaps nobody would mind if we took a nap here on the sofa. And that is what ended up happening. It had been a long day; surely nobody could fault us for that.

 What Comes After

 

 

 

 

Forest Dreams

Dreams and visions are very strange things. They don’t always make a lot of sense, and are very open to interpretation. And sometimes, they are very, very real…

After leaving the far too appealing warmth and softness of the Queen’s presence, I was too drunk with the new powers, the new energy, to consider sleeping any more. I went by the tavern for a restorative drink. Royce wandered in, giving me a look, and I wondered if he was privy to what had passed the previous evening. He told me it was no business of his, what I got up to with his queen, provided it pleased her. I asked if he knew where Nualla was, and if Gwyn was with her. He told me they were somewhere about the castle, talking to it. It sounded pretty implausible, but since I had come to learn how to listen to the castle, I wasn’t about to argue. Since I was feeling rather like I had drunk too much coffee, I decided to finish the rum and go and see what Gwyn was up to.

As I came out of the tavern, I saw Gwyn and Aoibheann over by the castle. I trotted over, but tripped and ended up flying, actual flying, that is, which wasn’t exactly dignified, but better than just landing in a heap, I suppose. As I landed, Aoibheann was saying something about being able to take Gwyn as a guest, because the laws of hospitality would apply, especially as she was fae. She then put a damper on it by saying that we were going to die. Gwyn shrugged and decided that she would be a doomed houseguest then, before turning me and asking for a kiss for the doomed.

I had no idea what they were talking about, but wasn’t going to refuse a kiss, though I wasn’t sure if I dared, given what had and had not happened the night before. Even as I kissed her, I felt the energies rise, somewhat wilder, more reckless than I was used to, exhilarating, but also a little frightening. I put her down again, apologising and saying how I may have gotten a little too much fae energy in me. I then responded to Aoibheann’s comment about having to be fae, telling her I had a lot of fae in me. It occurred to met that all this Wyld energy could be put to some use, and without really knowing how, managed to glamour some pointy ears. At least, I think it was glamour. It could have been the shape-shifting that Maric had said I could probably do. I then realised I had no idea what they were on about and asked.

Aoibheann looked a little shocked by the display of affection, but collected herself and said she was going to the Huntsman’s forest. Why, she didn’t say. There was a certain amount of discussion about HOW we were supposed to get there. Aoibheann didn’t know, because the Huntsman usually took her there. We weren’t entirely sure either, but reckoned that Nualla and Royce could get us there through the roads. We held hands and stepped forth, without even knowing why, other than Aoibheann needed to go there and we were going there with her.

This turned out to be a bad idea. There are few things that would be worse than the Huntsman, and this was definitely one of them. The Huntsman was not there, instead, we found His Unseelie Majesty!

First, we were attacked by a large were-beast of sorts. It looked not unlike the larger cŵn that we had encountered at the start of the battle with the sluagh, only more silver. It lunged at us, causing Aoibheann to fall over and Gwyn to throw up her protective shield around us. Then Gwythyr stepped out of the shadows, calling the cŵn to heel. He just glared at us in that terrifying manner he has, commenting on having visitors and wondering why and how we had gotten there. Then he looked, chillingly at me and said that he scented his Queen on me, which he described as unfortunate.

I reached behind me, trying to help Aoibheann up, but she was not yet ready to stand. Gwyn answered him first. She explained that Aoibheann had brought us here, as a place she called ‘home’. I assumed she meant that in the sense it did to the Huntsman, since that is where I had thought we were going. She told him that we were as surprised as he was and that if we were trespassing, we would leave and we intended no harm.

I tried my best not to give him the satisfaction of scaring me. I bowed and told him it was an honour to meet him, as always, echoing Gwyn’s assertion that we were harmless visitors. I could not let the comment about his Queen go unremarked. I told him that there was nothing unfortunate about the scent of a queen, since I bore her scent, as well as those of Vedis and Valene, who I knew held him in high regard. It was my lot to attend upon the queen, as it was my lot to be among those who rescued her. It was my honour to serve, I told him. He looked at me, his eyes narrowed, almost looking through me. “Hence you live,” he said, but added that I might lose myself in the service if I was not careful. He turned his attention to Gwyn, addressing her by the full name that she had once revealed, presumably not knowing it was no longer her true name. She had almost bloomed to her full potential, he said. Time would tell, unless she wished to know now. He looked at Aoibheann, his mouth opening, as though he could taste her fear. He said that He, presumably the Huntsman had marked her is his. He then looked at all of us, spreading the fear around like an icy blanket and asked why he should not take all of us in the time remaining to him.

Gwyn answered first. Much as she would like to know, now was not the time. There would be other seasons, other cycles, so why take her now, when he could be patient, and wait, for she would be much sweeter when she did reach her full potential. We were no sport now, as we were but children. Aoibheann finally managed to get up, shivering and trembling, almost paralysed with fear, yet she managed to answer him. “Because you cannot take what is mine,” she said, quietly. For myself, I told him that if I did lose myself, it would be because of my choice. I told him that would be because I chose, not through fear or power. Likewise we had come here by choice and we would leave by choice. I remembered previous conversations with him and tried a similar approach. Any one of us, I said, might come to him by choice. If he took us, he would never know that. I took Gwyn’s hand and Aoibheann’s hand. We three were companions by choice, not through fear or love of power, and nothing could take that away from us. He had his companions, he had his queen back and he should be content with that.

I do not think he was overly impressed. The air just got colder and colder, the shadows darker, until he was almost obscured by them. His last words, so very chilling, were that he would visit our dreams, and tell us if we had given the right answer. And then he was gone.

 

The next night, he was true to his word. I do not know if he had visited Gwyn and Aoibheann yet, or had come to me first. All I knew was that I felt his ice-cold power reaching out to me. I threw everything I had into the shields I had once learned back in London, and the ones I had been learning with Maric, but it was in vain. I rolled out of bed, or so it seemed to me, and then he was there, all thorns and antlers and ice-cold shadows. “Choice? Content? You know nothing,” he snarled at me, before threatening to take back everything the queen had given me, because it wasn’t mine to keep. I was to stop him if I could, he said, calling me a servant of many.

His comments, and his manner annoyed me, but I tried to not show it. I could hear Mother’s voice so clearly, so many years ago, advising me how to deal with the bullies at school, how I should not give them what they wanted, not let them see me scared or upset. I bowed and smiled, event told him how nice it was to see him and expressed the hope that the time remaining to him would be long. I suggested that he had mistaken me for somebody else. I was no servant, I said, but I chose to serve those that I loved and admired. The other, I said, was not his to take. I reminded him of the importance of gifts among the fae, and what I had was gifted by the Queen, and only she could chose to take it away. What was it Aoibheann had said? You cannot take what is mine.

My answer did not please him. Neither was it sufficient to save me, he said. He could take whatever he wanted and tonight, he would take me. With that, he flew at me, grabbing me around the throat. Choice would mean nothing, if I could not save myself from him. Again, I did not give him what he wanted. I did not flinch, nor did I move to deflect him, save that I used the blood to harden my skin so that he would not damage me as he gripped. “Take me? What was there to take? And would that help save his people?”

He gripped me harder, claws just beginning to bite, and the vines that surrounded him extended themselves around me, the thorns just piercing the skin. His touch was like ice, burning at my skin, his breath was worse than ice, colder than any place I had ever imagined. His touch was painful, but not yet fatal, as though he was not done with me yet. He demanded that I show him my powers, the powers I had gained from my service; else all I had done would have been in vain.

Mother’s voice was so clear in my head – don’t give them what they want. I smiled as best I could. I told him that I had never sought power, for I saw no sense in power for its own sake. What powers did he want to see anyway? I could probably talk to the roses, or maybe do a bit of shape-shifting, neither of which was particularly spectacular. I could probably run quite fast, if he were to let me go, or throw a decent punch, but what would be the point. He would only be faster than me or stronger. The only things I was good at really were accountancy and trading. Oh, and being a friend. I asked if he would like to see the latter.

Clearly I was not endearing myself with my attitude. He laughed cruelly at me, while trying to squeeze the thorns and claws into me. He asked if he should break me in two and feed on my essence, or hang me form hooks and make sport with me until I could scream no longer. Maybe then I would learn why power was necessary to survive. Again he commanded me to fight him; else he would find out if my blood was as red as my hair. And with that, he struck at my neck, fangs extended. Once again, I called on the blood to harden the skin further, evidently succeeding as I could feel the thorns being forced out and his fangs did no more than slide off the skin. Bless you, Maric, I thought for a moment. I told Gwythyr that I did not have any other attitude, a fact that my teachers at school had often bemoaned. Sure, he could do those things to me, but he could whether or not I fought him, so what was the point?

The fact that I resisted his fangs actually got a reaction. “Well, you do have a trick or two, maybe there is potential. If only I had time to test you more,” he said, giving me a curious look. “But this would have to do for now.” He released his grip with one claw and slashed himself across the chest, bringing forth his evil-looking, black, almost metallic-looking blood. With his other claw, he forced my face towards the wound, demanding that I partake of it. There was little I could do to resist, much as I hated to even taste him. Even so, I refused to be cowed, commenting on the bouquet as though I was just tasting some wine. His blood was cold and hot at the same time; so much like Faermorn’s, yet so different, dark to her light, ice to her fire, and yet, it was the same Wyld that powered both. I took as little as I could manage, fearing the corruption it might cause, until he released me with a smile that was entirely disturbing. This was not over, he told me, and that I had much to learn, and then he was gone.

I woke curled up in a ball on the floor of the hut. I do not know how much later it was, but I knew I was frozen to the core. I could not even say if it had been a dream, or if it had been real. Perhaps here, and in his world, there is no difference. Certainly the black stain on my lips was real. I washed my face and rinsed my mouth as much as I could, but still the foul taste of him lingered. Eventually, after a few glasses of rum, I recovered myself enough to sleep, and it was not a restful sleep.

When I partook of the queen, it was one of the most joyous things I knew, and for all that the king was of the same breed, what I partook from him was not something I wanted. The queen gave me the Wyld, connected me to what my mother had been. I do not yet know what he has given me, what corruption he has wrought in me. I can only hope that whatever it is, I will be able to see it and control it, for I would hope that I will never be any of the things that he was.
Forest Dreams