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.