Wake me Up

Reviving Maric from torpor is beginning to become a habit. Well, If twice can be regarded as a habit anyway. I must be learning, since this time, it was achieved without anybody getting their limbs ripped off.

I went to the Vaults, and ordered then closed to all and any visitors. Nobody was to come in without permission. I had already dressed in my best mail armour, just in case, and for additional safety, gathered the chains we had used last time.

Down in the vaults, I cleared a space, and working very carefully, bound the monstrous form that was Maric as best I could, enough, I hoped to hobble his limbs and maybe secure him to the fabric of the castle.

As I was preparing a flask of my blood to feed him, using a pipette, an idea occurred to me. I had other options, another shape I could use. The bat might be more manoeuvrable and better able to evade Maric’s grasp, should he frenzy. I shifted shape and experimented with my hind limbs to see if I could operate the pipette with reasonably good aim. That seemed to work, so I filled it and flew up, positioning myself above Maric’s jaw as best I could and squeezing the bulb of the pipette. The first drops landed on his face, sitting there, beading on his stone-like skin for a few moments before soaking in and disappearing.

He came to with a roar and scream that rattled the very walls of the castle, sending me skittering upwards out of reach, the sound nearly rupturing my ears. Below me, I could see his body wrenching and writhing in pain and anger. His eyes were as red as I had ever seen them and again and again, he roared his anger. His claws dug into the very stonework and all my efforts with the chain seemed in vain as they snapped like twigs under the strain of his monstrous limbs. I flew higher, relying on distance to keep me out of reach of those enormous claws. I directed more blood onto his face, again, watching it soak in as soon as it touched. I did not have much left and did not dare risk flying lower to refill it. I should have put the flask up high on one of the beams, but it was too late now.

Another idea occurred to me – perhaps I could steer him towards the flask. I stayed up high, but directed my aim to one side, trying to lead him towards where the flask was. To my relief, and considerable surprise, it worked. He followed the trail of blood droplets, grabbed the flask and gulped it down in one go. I felt the power run through him and the mental link flared to life, but it was a white-hot ball of pain at Vedis’ destruction that almost stunned me and I fell, desperately clinging on to one of the wooden beams until the pain passed. I tried to project peace at him, to no avail. He roared again, fighting for control and he looked up, his eyes locking onto mind. I felt his pain flaring out, shaking the castle, and that gave me an idea. I projected the idea of the castle as shelter against the weather, his pain beating at it like rain in a storm, running down the roof, the guttering and safely into the ground.

Between that and his own efforts, somehow he regained control. He fell to the ground, shifting into his more human form as he did so, but as he fell, his gaze fell on the space where the mirror portal had been, and I felt his shock, the realisation of what had happened to Vedis. “What have I done?” he asked before collapsing to the floor.

I judged it safe to return to my human form, remembering to land on the ground first. I told him that he had done what he needed to do to protect the castle and his people. I said the Dyisi had given her essence to complete what needed to be done to drive away the corruption. There was nothing else we could have done.

He sat up; gathering himself together and I felt the shields go up as if trying to protect me and the rest of the castle inhabitants from his emotional turmoil. “Was there?” he asked. “Was there no other way?” He was clearly trying to rebuild himself into the person we knew. He thanked me for reviving him yet again, being thankful that this time, I was in one piece and his men were not half-dead. It was not normal for him, he said, to be in such situations this many occasions in such a short time, but we did live in interesting times. What must I think of him, he asked.

I answered his question about the alternatives first, being a little surprised at his reaction. I may have been a little harsh on him, telling him that he, of all people, who had been a warrior for many more years than I had even existed, should know that there are not always any easy choices. Somebody who had warred as much as he had should know that sometimes, there were going to be casualties. Much as I regretted the loss of Vedis – I had known her a long time and considered her a friend – we had to concentrate on the here and now. I couldn’t quite believe I was the one giving the war is hell pep talk, but fortunately, I was interrupted. I sensed a disturbance at the vaults entrance, possibly Aoibheann. Just as I was saying that, a guard called down from the laboratory door, asking if it was ok for Aoibheann to go to her chambers. She was apparently somewhat agitated and, I found out later, concerned that the whole village might be destroyed if they didn’t let her in.

For myself, I felt the immediate danger was past, but checked with Maric, since he was now awake, and therefore in command. He looked at me a little uncertainly at first, and then seemed to regain himself. Yes, he said, Vedis and I had been good friends. He had picked up her memories and emotions and she had considered me a dear friend. He considered me a dear friend too, and was forever grateful for my loyalty, even having seen him at his worst. He stood up and finally seemed to notice that he was naked, grabbing the blanket I had thrown over him on the night of the ritual. He said that Aoibheann could go to the chambers, escorted, but he was in no fit state to see her. I realised that I had worn my cloak over my armour when I came down here, so I passed that over to him as extra covering and said I would send some of his clothes down. He bade me leave him then, so he could rest. I needed to go anyway, to stand down the alert on the vaults and to deal with any aftermath from his emotional outbursts. Fortunately, at least, there was little of this. Either they did not reach the upper levels, or the castle staff are used to such things.

Wake me Up

Without Wings

I am getting better used to the castle senses, learning how to ignore it most of the time, and yet notice when something unusual happens. On a less happy note, what it told me about was the arrival of Lucis.

I was in my chambers, when I heard, faintly, the sound of something scrabbling on the roof and falling. At least, I think I heard it, or maybe it could have been the castle senses, or a combination of both. Certainly, it was the castle sense that directed me to the balcony outside my room. There, I found Lucis in a crumpled heap on the mat, apparently having fallen from the roof.

I asked her what she was doing here, and, after the previous evening’s activities, what she had been doing with Dorina. She gave me a guilty look and said that she had just been watching, but it wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I said that I had heard she had lost her wings and asked again what had happened with Dorina, suggesting we go inside to talk.

She got very defensive. If I was going to take the side of that vile creature, she said, she would rather stay outside. She may not be able to fly, but she could still run. I reminded her that I was steward of the village and that it wasn’t about taking sides, it was about resolving disputes, especially any that escalated to violence. That was my business. I asked her to sit and tell me her side. She said that she had been in the vaults and Dorina had attacked her there. For some reason, she had been unable to draw on any life force down there, so had had to absorb her wings to survive. It was later that she had gotten into an argument with Dorina, and she had to do something, for appearance’s sake, because of the wings.

I explained about Dorina’s darker side, something that Lucis should know only too well, having had that problem herself. I was not sure what to believe about their dispute, and decided that I wanted no more of it. I told her that I wanted it ended, now – no more arguments, to let it drop, and that I would say the same to Dorina. She argued somewhat, claiming she was an elf, far older than me and wasn’t to be ordered around by the likes of me. I told her that her race, and her age, were irrelevant. While she was here in the village, Maric’s word, or mine in his absence, was the law and if either of them started fighting again, I would lock them in a cell together until they resolved things peacefully.

Eventually, she reluctantly agreed to regard the dispute as over. She declined my offer of breakfast, having already had some apples from the orchard and said she was back off to the fae realms. With that, she jumped over the balcony and disappeared off towards faerie.

I am not sure how much I trust her, so I will have to keep an eye on things. I should probably alert the faerie authorities just in case. If she does not respect my authority, she might at least accept theirs. If not, then we have a problem.

Without Wings

Darker Half

The winter season approaches, and with it, all the influences of that darker half of the year, of the darker courts. I have had bad dreams of late. Some, driven by the memories of Vedis that flooded out when she was taken, but others are from the season, and perhaps from that taint that the old Unseelie King left in me. My darker needs, my darker desires are becoming harder to control and I do not like it. I almost lost control of it last evening, and that I like even less.

I had gone to do my rounds of the village, when I found Wren talking to the Al-miraj, the unicorn-horned rabbit. I had not seen, nor heard anything of this creature since Radek told me how it had been used to skewer a lobster-like demon on one of the missions to recover one of the mirror shards from hell. It was, as ever, hungry. It was digging holes in the green and eating roots, twigs and such like. I remembered that there were some vegetables that had gotten bruised during all the recent moves, which I had earmarked for compost. From memory, the Al-miraj did not have a fussy appetite, so I sent Wren to ask Mirko to bring up a sack of turnips and a crate of cabbages from the cellars.

While we were waiting, I was delighted to see that Dyisi was back. From what she had said beforehand, and from what Wren told me she had said, I sort of knew that she would be, but there was always that lingering doubt. I greeted her with delight and welcomed her back to the Wylds. I thanked her for her sacrifice on behalf of the village and updated her on the current situation – Maric being out cold and Vedis being gone.

She said she could not stay long, because she had only recently returned to whatever thread she was on, and was taking a moment to come and visit while Horace was sleeping. She was sorry to hear about Vedis although she had not known her and said that we did not need to thank her. Maric had done a lot of the work.

I assured her that thanks were due. For Maric, saving the village was an obligation, a duty, but that was not so for her. To this she replied that she had a general obligation to correct imbalances, which this one was. I asked about Horace and told her of the situation he had caused, saying that there might be a problem with him returning because of him discharging weapons in Faerie. While I understood his desire to help Faermorn, I had to put the interests of the village first. She said that he was recovering in her sanctum. He felt remorse for killing the cŵn, but would want to apologise in person. I told her that the cŵn was recovered if that would help, but there would still likely be consequences from his actions. I would do my best to minimise those, but if the rulers of faerie took exception, then my hands might be tied.

Wren and Mirko brought the vegetables back, which were enthusiastically received by the al-miraj. I think Mirko may have made a friend there. I gave him a couple of coins and told him to get himself a drink or two on me, once his shift was over. He did not seem over-enthused about having a new friend, possibly because he was afraid it might eat him, especially when it looked as if the al-miraj was intent on joining him for a drink.

While we were talking, Helene appeared, apparently wishing to speak with me. She did not look at all happy and did not look as though she had slept much. I wondered if she had been experiencing the same sort of dreams as I had. Before I could talk to her, though, Hadley came rushing up, screaming for me that there was something wrong with her mama, with Dorina. She was obviously very worried. I made my apologies to Helene and asked Wren to attend to Hadley while I went to see what was wrong.

I had a very good idea of what it might be wrong, and I was right. When I found her between the tavern and the cottages, her hair was white and she was speaking in Gaelic. Her other half had gained dominance. She was also partly pinned to a tree by an arrow, and it was not one I recognised from our practice range. I asked her what was wrong and then remembered that she did not speak English in this form. I struggled to remember the Irish that had gotten impressed on me from the mind-link with Maric when he had spoken to her. I asked, as best I could, for her to look at me and asked if she was unwell. She seemed to understand me, at least in part, but all she would reply was that she would not do something, and asking why somebody would not leave her alone. Possibly somebody called Cabhan. I asked what she meant and if she needed to feed. I was not so sure if she understood me. She said something about having an agreement, something about having to be good, and, expressed fear for her daughter. That at least gave me hope that there was some rationality there. There was something different, something less wild and something more childlike about her. I bit at my wrist to draw blood and offered it to her.

She fed, and as she did so, I felt the mental link come alive. She felt it too, as I could feel her reacting to it, seeking something from me. When I withdrew my arm, she started to speak, but this time in broken English. Could she have learned that from me through the link? It was possible, I had to suppose. I had picked up some of the Irish from Maric, but then, he had been consciously translating for me. Anyway, she asked if she could show me her dreams. I said that we had all been having bad dreams, possibly because of Vedis, and asked her to tell me hers.

She said she wanted to show me, not tell me, and offered her wrist, which was already wounded. That saved me the bother of trying to persuade her to let me feed, which would help cement the mental link. I drank, and as she did so, she shared her dreams with me.

She had dreamed of the past, a younger self at a grand ball, her father, Lorcan, him leaving her for some reason, her meeting a beautiful young man, a vampire by the name of Sébastien and dancing with him all night, her father explaining who the young man was, something high up in the French vampire court, about him not being trustworthy… Another dream – her father wanting her to go on some mission with this Sébastien and her being reluctant… her naked, kissing with the boy… a dream within a dream – her stabbing the boy, blood pouring over her and then somebody waking her… Another dream, seen from outside – the French boy, being stabbed and tortured, the boy calling his assailant Cabhan and calling him a bastard, this Cabhan then calling out that he would be coming for Dorina…

That much I got before my own dream flared up, of that night with Astrid and Ilyana in Fiendish Pleasures. The erotic part of her dream triggered my own desires, fed by my dreams of that lust-filled night and for a moment, I lost control, leaning forward and kissing her hard before coming to me senses. I stuttered an apology and flew, it being the quickest way to get away from there before I did something I might regret. I flew for a long time, and then went down to the river to swim, until the cool water dampened my ardour. I stayed there a long time, cursing that darker taint, that residue of Gwythyr and then, not wanting to face anybody, took bat form to fly back to the castle, to my chambers, there to skulk, ashamed, until morning.

I worry now. Self-control has always been so important to me, even more so now, as my strength and powers grow. I thought I was over that time, in my younger days, whoring my way around Europe. While it is true that I have not had much chance to spend intimate time with Gwyn or Valene of late, I should not be feeling like this. And while it is possible that Dorina might not have minded – she has seemed fairly amenable to me – I should not have succumbed, and certainly not while she was not quite herself. I shall have to be wary, and maybe avoid potentially risky situations until I get a handle on what is happening to me.

Darker Half

Dark Side of my Dreams

Nathaniel tosses and turns, legs and arms tangled with the blankets, a film of slightly pink sweat on his brow. Fractured images dance and swirl across his mind’s eye –a seemingly endless stream of ladies of the night in cramped rooms in seedy taverns and bawdy houses… a hotel room in London with a strawberry blonde… Helene in a bathtub, Brigitte in a gown soaked to the skin crying in his arms, a chase through the streets of London holding bunches of flowers… an almost pretty young man, all soft curls and an academic appearance, gazing at him…

… a large room, maybe a tavern or a club… it is the main bar of Fiendish Pleasures… Vedis is greeting people at the door and Galyanna stands guard… music swells and dances in the background… the room is filled with the sounds of drinking and laughter and dancing… he finds himself on a luxurious couch, his head buzzing with desire and alcohol, the taste of rum on his lips… he is between two women, with an arm round each, idly brushing a breast with each hand.. Friends of his – Astrid and Ilyana… they are dressed as pirates, as is he… a silver-skinned female kneels between his legs – Ket’Lyn, he recalls… she leans forward, undoing his trouser buttons and taking him into her mouth, pleasuring him with consummate and professional skill… her hands are busy too, between the thighs of his companions, pleasuring them also… the atmosphere is heady with laughter and lust as the images spin around….

… and the scene changes, a small cave, that had once been Val’s den, lying with Gwyn in his arms, slowly peeling a leaf-like dress from her still short body… lying with her in her faerie boudoir, now tall and majestic and naked in his arms… his old cottage in the village, arms, legs and lips, tangled with Gwyn and Valene… a pool in the old Unseelie Underhill with Gwyn… Faermorn’s retreat, his mouth at her neck, magic and lust mixed in as he feeds, with Valene and Vedis there, stroking and encouraging him… Helene in the tub here in the castle… Maric, half-naked in his chambers… Dorina feeding from his wrist… Gywn and Janus bringing the land into being… Faermorn again, naked in a fountain, calling to her warrior poet… the shell that Maric had constructed for Vedis’ memories…

He jerks awake, his breath coming in short gasps… He lies for a while, staring at the canopy of the bed, slowing his breathing, occasionally shaking his head to clear it of the images. He tries to disentangle himself from the bedding, a process not helped by the swelling in his groin. He stares down at his member. “Don’t you start,” he grumbles. “I know we haven’t seen Gwyn in ages, but really…” He sighs heavily and gets out of bed, heading for the wash-stand, where he splashes cold water on his face… and other places. He dries himself off and lights a few candles. Sleep clearly isn’t an option for the moment, so he pours himself a large glass of rum and sits down with the accounts. Surely that would be enough to dampen his ardour. Even for a trained accountant, there was nothing stimulating in there, surely.

 

Dark Side of my Dreams

Mother and Child

Dorina seems to be bonding with Hadley well. We have had a couple of conversations since the other night. She tells me that she lost her mother when she was Hadley’s age, so she understands the pain. Hadley started calling her Mama, so she started calling her daughter. And now she was happy to take that role. Especially now that Hadley had also lost her auntie Vedis. I gave her some of the background, and how they had known Vedis before they came to this place, back in Jasper Cove.

I said that she seemed to be doing a fine job, and was glad that Helene was able to help with the healing. I did not mention that the previous day, I had gone to see Helene, and had been able to use my fae powers to sense Hadley’s arm, after much persuasion, just to reassure myself that it was a purely physical injury with no supernatural component. I did tell her to be on the lookout for any manifestations of magic, explaining that Hadley had magic, but had not yet learned to control it properly. I also thought of what had happened in Hadley’s immediate past and suggested that Dorina should be as honest as possible with Hadley, since her parents had lied to her so much.

She appreciated that, especially as Lorcan, her father, if I recall correctly, had lied to her a lot. She understood that pain too. I think she will be a good mother to Hadley.

She had other more disturbing news. She had an encounter with Lucis. They had some sort of disagreement, possibly while her other half was in control. On some previous encounter, Lucis had lost her wings as a result of something Dorina did and was after payback. Dorina offered blood, but Lucis wanted more, she wanted Dorina to serve her. That, she could not do, she said, because she had already sworn to protect the village and to protect Hadley, taking another oath was not something she could risk, especially with the Huntsman around. I asked if she was sure it was Lucis, thinking of that darker nature that she had – Umbra – but she was fairly sure that it was Lucis herself, albeit a little crazy. I commended her for not taking any further oath and asked that she keep me advised if there were further developments.

She told me a little more about how she was working with her darker half. She had stopped calling it the beast, and was allowing it partial control, going hunting for animals etc. This had been working, but the other half was growing tired of animal blood. She wanted to speak to Maric about it. I had to explain about the torpor and suggested that if he didn’t recover soon, I would try to help. She offered blood, if that would help, which was nice of her, but I do not know how dhampyr blood would work. I had been planning on using my own, but even that had risks, because of his weakness for the fae. I thanked her anyway and said I would get back to her if it was needed.

So, we have a Lucis in town again. I shall have to keep an eye out. She was always a bit of a wild-card and if she is less sane than normal, it could present a problem. I shall have to keep an eye out.

Mother and Child

To Find the King

The walking hat-rack is back. The new one that is. And he is on the hunt. What is more worrying is that he is hunting one that I had thought dead – the old Seelie King and part-time Huntsman, Llwyd.

I was busy getting the supplies brought back from various places and put back where they belonged in the vaults when I saw Wren by the tree. I took a break from the supply logistics to go say hello and ask after her sister. She had left Hadley in Dorina’s care in the hope that she would talk to her more if she wasn’t there, but as far as she knew, Dorina was taking good care of her and Helene had helped to fix her arm.

That reminded me that I needed to talk to Helene and apologise on Davor’s behalf. I mentioned to Wren that Helene had been giving the poor guy a hard time over the supplies being stored in her cottage. She laughed and agreed it wasn’t Davor’s fault. We started to walk to Helene’s cottage to see if she was there, but ran into Hadley on the way. She said that she had seen Helene at her cottage, cleaning. As I looked up, I saw Helene leaving the cottage and heading down out of the village.

I left Wren to look after Hadley and followed Helene, catching up with her in a small clearing where she was gathering mushrooms. I reminded her about wanting to know when people were going outside the village but softened it because she was an approved forager still. She apologised and said she had been meaning to collect the mushrooms earlier but had been distracted by all the business with Davor dumping stuff in her cottage. She needed to get them by the full moon. I apologised in behalf of Davor and pointed out that he was doing so on my orders and asked if she could cut him a little slack. She said that she would and then mentioned that he was being a little slow in the romancing, and was still bringing her flowers. I told her that he was out of practice, reminding her of how oblivious I had been when we first knew each other. Perhaps she should take the initiative and thank him with a kiss when he next brought flowers. I would have said more, but I saw some figures moving in the undergrowth nearby – cŵn!

I gently moved Helene behind me and stood between her and the cŵn, fearing that their master might be somewhere around. Until Helene had mentioned her picking habits, I had forgotten it was full moon. Sure enough, the antlered figure appeared out of the gloom. It was, so far as I could tell, the new one. He appeared to be mildly amused, saying “What have we here.”

I greeted him politely and respectfully. I had no reason not to. Thus far, in my limited experience, he had behaved properly, and so far as I knew, neither Helene, nor I, were on his hit list. I explained that we were merely gathering herbs, nothing more and, remembering our previous encounter, asked if my queen had been able to give him the answers he sought.

He chuckled, remarking on the politeness when there had been fire before. Valene had no answers, he said, because he had no questions, which left me no wiser as to the business he had wished. What he had here, he said, was game, presumably us, before a hunter.

I was not going to be cowed. This was, after all a fae creature, and there were always rules, and games to be played. Behind me, I could tell that Helene was intensely fascinated, so I told her, in French, to be wary and to let me do the speaking. Politeness was always merited, I told him, as was fire, at times. But there was no game here, I said, surely we did not merit his attention when there were doubtless more worthy quarry.

That earned me a loud laugh from him. Indeed there were more worthy quarry; else he would have had the pack take us. He sought the one who was the shadow of what he had once been, the one who had wounded the stray puppy. Behind me, I heard Helene asking how I could be so calm and then saying she wished to go back to her cottage. I let her leave, trusting the Huntsman’s word that she was not his prey. I asked if he meant Horace and explained about the Accords, saying that I was intending to take Horace into custody for discharging a weapon in faerie and that we had means in place to determine his fate.

That was not what he meant. It was Llwyd that he sought. He had been the cause of the events in which Gwrgi had been wounded. It may have been Horace who fired the weapon, but it had been Llwyd who escalated things. That struck a cold chill in me. I had been getting the feeling for some time that something was amiss, but this was the first real evidence that the old kings were on the prowl. While I would rather Llwyd than Gwythyr, I had no idea how much if Llwyd’s sanity remained. The Huntsman continued, saying that Horace meant as little to him as I did. He advised me, very pointedly, to return to my castle before his generosity ran out; for tonight, he intended to hunt.

I had a number of questions, but I felt it wise to retreat while I could. I said that I had thought Llwyd long gone. As for Horace, he would be dealt with in our way. What issue there was between the Huntsman and Llwyd was not my concern, I said, save it threatened the village. I told him I would leave him to his hunt and would advise my people to stay indoors this night. I bade him goodnight and good hunting and left, making my way quickly to the main village entrance. There I told the guard to quickly spread the word that the Huntsman was on the prowl and that everybody should stay within the village, and preferably indoors for tonight and the next couple of nights.

Dorina was there, by the gate, with Hadley in her arms, trying to get her to sleep, singing a song that appeared to be French for whatever will be will be. We spoke a little about Hadley and what we could do for her – perhaps some herbal drinks to help her sleep. We concluded that there was little we could do about the memories, save be there for her as she processed them.

Dorina had another matter to raise with me. She wanted to make a more positive contribution to the village. She could help with healing and treatment, by making her various remedies and such like. She also said she was not unskilled with weapons and wondered if there was a way she could contribute to the defence of the village. I suggested that perhaps she and Helene could be appointed as official healers and maybe we could set up some space as an infirmary of sorts, rather than having them operate out of their cottages. I also told her about the reserve force and said that I would speak to Kustav about getting her involved.

She had one last matter for me – she needed to speak to Maric about controlling her other half. I had to tell her that he was not going to be available for a few days, but if she came to see me soon, there might be something I could do. I suggested she take Hadley back to the cottage and try to get her some sleep. In the meanwhile, I would get on with making sure the villagers were alert to the dangers of the Huntsman.

Even after making the rounds, and being absolutely sure that everybody was accounted for and understood the situation; I still felt a sense of disquiet. The Huntsman, for all that he is a danger, at least follows the rules. I wish I could say the same about Llwyd. He might be Seelie, but that does not mean he is good, or sane. That worries me more than anything.

To Find the King

Mother’s Arms

As I feared, Hadley was traumatised by the events in the vaults. How could she not be, seeing the one she had come to regard as Auntie demolished before her very eyes? I am relieved, at least, that she has family to help her through it. She has Wren, and apparently, she has Dorina, who seems to have adopted her, albeit informally. Meanwhile I have begun to make inroads in getting Wren to talk to me about what is going on in her head. It’s a small step, but it’s a good step.

I found Wren by the tavern, so we sat down for a chat. I asked her about Hadley and she told me that she had been crying a lot and not eating. I sighed inwardly, but this was to be expected. I explained what had happened and what bits Hadley had witnessed. I told her about the taint, Maric’s efforts to contain it, and Dyisi’s sacrifice. I explained that because Vedis was also tainted, that was why she had been affected by the ritual. I offered my opinion that it was unlikely we had seen the last of either of them.

She agreed with my hope for Vedis’ return. Apparently, Dyisi had spoken to her beforehand and told her that she did not die. Rather, she returned to where she came from, in another strand, so would likely find her way back. She had also apparently spoken with Galyanna, who had told her that things had not gone well. She was alarmed at what Hadley had seen, saying she was too young to experience things like that. She thought that Hadley needed Dorina, because she had started to call her mom, and that’s what moms did, make you feel better.

I had to agree with her on that, saying that my mother always had done so. I tried to assure her that Hadley had not seen the worst bits, or much of the blood. I would need to speak with Galyanna as soon as I could, to see what best we could do for Vedis. In the meanwhile, we should concentrate on helping Hadley as soon as Dorina got here. I interrupted myself with a massive yawn and explained that I had been up all night helping Valene and Gwrgi. While we waited, I asked if she had recovered from her fairy-licking episode.

She assured me that she had, having slept for almost a day afterwards. She now knew, she said, why people who took drugs were so weird. I told her she should chalk it up as a learning experience and explained what had happened with Gwrgi, before suggesting we go inside for something to eat.

Inside the tavern, we ordered a simple supper of bread and cheese, since I wasn’t really sure I fancied anything meat-like at the moment. I asked Wren if she had any questions, about the Shadow Roads, vampires, magic, the meaning of life etc. I was joking about the last, but, of course, that was the one she latched onto before asking a more pertinent question, was Maric a vampire?

I said I had been joking about the meaning of life. If I knew that, I told her, I would either be extremely rich, or in an insane asylum. She said that she was glad I wasn’t in the latter, as she had heard they were not nice places. I wondered if she had read anything of how such places were in my time, which I assumed were much worse than they were in her time. I could not lie to her about Maric. She had correctly deduced the answer, from other things I had said about blood magic and such like. I said that she was right, but that she should keep that information to herself. Those who needed to know were already aware, and that was the way he wished things to be. She promised that she would keep it to herself.

She told me that she had done some scrying and now knew that Ember was alive. She did not yet know where she was, but at least she was alive. I thought this was a good thing and said that we would have to then work out what, if anything, we should do about this and if Ember wished to join us, then, we would see what we could do about that too.

She told me also of her dream, which was much the same as the one I had experienced, of the white hand and the black hand on Ardan. She was worried by it, but did not know what it meant. I told her that I had also dreamed the same dream. I told her what I had surmised, that the black was something to do with either Alec and Isabella, or something to do with the old kings, possibly the Unseelie king, but I wasn’t sure. She wanted to know why she was having this dream, since she was not fae.

I offered several explanations. It could be simply because she was here, on the borders of faerie, and faerie having influence, even here. It could be because she was fae-affected because of Isabella, or it could just be because of her magic. The latter, I took as a chance to gently remind her of the lessons we still needed to have, jokingly suggesting that maybe we could trade maths lessons for magic lessons.

She pulled a face at that idea, probably finding either choice unappetizing. She said she did not want to be fae; she’d rather be demon, except she didn’t want to be that either.

I sensed some deeper concerns, about her nature, about her magic. I told her that it did not matter to me if she was human, demon, fae or whatever, she was still herself, and it was her I cared about, as much as if she were my own child. I knew it was no fun being her age, I said, because I remembered being her age too, and I hadn’t had to deal with things like magic and all the other weird shit that she had had to deal with. Whatever was going on in her head, whatever was bugging her, whatever weird shit she was dealing with, it didn’t matter, I cared for her, no exceptions, and no conditions. I asked her to trust me and to talk to me.

She looked at me for a moment, clearly struggling. “I don’t know what to say,” she said. She gave a whole litany of how growing up sucked, with the body changing, whether or not she wanted it to; about the strange moods and feelings and not knowing why you were feeling them; about feeling suddenly mad or tired and not knowing why. There were so many stupid thoughts and feelings and most of the time she didn’t really know what they were. She didn’t know why she felt these things, and why she thought weird things. Why couldn’t she be normal? I felt for her, remembering how I had felt at her age, as my body changed, and realising it would be so much worse for a girl, even more for one who so wanted to be a boy. She paused a moment, and started to explain about the magic. It was life magic, she said, or so she had been told. She could talk to animals and trees, she could make things live… and then there was the other side, the opposite side of life. She wound down a bit then, possibly because Dorina and Helene came in. I thanked her for confiding in me and trusting me, giving her a hug. I understood better now, I told her, adding that we would talk later.

Dorina was looking for Hadley, which was good because she was exactly what Hadley needed. I explained briefly what had happened, about how Hadley was unfortunate enough to have witnessed the disincorporation of Vedis and that she had not been sleeping well or eating well. She was not best pleased with this, but went straight to her, taking Helene along to deal with the injured arm.

I gave Wren another hug and reminded her that I was there for her, no matter what. She thanked me quietly and gave me a grateful smile. I sent her off to look after her sister, something I knew she could do and would be good for her. Poor kid, all mixed up and that without all the supernatural crap. I’ll do what I can, but I think she needs a woman’s touch too. But who? Aoibheann’s childhood wasn’t exactly a good example and besides, she thinks she is middle-aged in her early 20s. Helene? Maybe, but she was very innocent when I first knew her, so I don’t know what her life was like at that age? Maybe Gwn – in a way, she’s been through it twice. I will have to see if she can spare her any time.

Mother’s Arms