Sail Away

I cannot begin to imagine the magical forces that were occasioned by the passing of Lord Maric. The cycle of the year turned through the vernal equinox and light gained the upper hand over darkness. Gwyneth, my beloved wife and Seelie Queen returned from her seasonal seclusion, bringing the promise of spring and love renewed. And, as we have done before, we enacted the rite. Maric, in his guise of the Winter King, passed the baton to her, in her guise as Summer Queen. The wheel turned, and life was renewed.

But not all life. For this was to be the last time for Maric. For over a thousand years, he had held off the spectre of death, sustained by the power of the blood that flowed in his veins, but this was to be his last battle. Strange that our victory over Gwythyr, the late Unseelie King, was to prove his undoing.  He knew it, of course, as did I when he chose to hand on the Lordship of Mysthaven and mastery of his castle to me, and I suspect he knew that the equinox rite would be his final act.

And so, with the kiss that sealed the rite, that passed power to my Queen, he was gone. My master, my mentor, my lord, sometimes my lover, and most of all, my friend, became one with the earth. Thus passed that most ancient vampire, the Winter King, and with him, the Huntsman – that noble spirit brought low by the corruption and madness of the Seelie King. And in that passing, in that change of the seasons, great changes were wrought on the land – reshaping and renewing the places we knew, both human and faerie.

Now, the village of Mysthaven stands high in the branches of the Mallorn tree, floating islands of rock held fast in the tree’s branches by forces I do not know or understand. And below us, human land, and faerie, girt once again by shining sea. A new land for old.

Whatever the forces that shaped it, there was, I suspect had some sense of humour, or perhaps, one last act of will from Lord Maric for me, his friend.  There are little details for which I can find no other explanation. Down below the castle rock, on a little promontory, there is a small cottage. I believe this is the cottage by the sea that I had long promised Gwyneth as a haven from our respective lives and positions. Not quite, perhaps, the design I had envisaged when first we conceived the idea, but on reflection, it is something I might have conceived of in my wistful longing for my nautical past, resembling as it does a truncated lighthouse. It is octagonal in plan, with a balcony around the upper storey and a central lantern for light. How this came to be, I do not know. Perhaps the forces that shaped the land on Maric’s death passed through my mind and in turn were shaped by it. However it came to be; I shall take it for a gift and strive to make it the place where Gwyn and I can cast off our positions, our ranks, her crown and my coronet (not that I would wear such a thing, even if I knew which style was appropriate to my rank) and just be ourselves – friends, lovers, husband and wife.

There is yet more strange humour to be found in the things that those magical forces have wrought. From my little pier here at the cottage, I look across a small bay enclosed by the promontory, and there, moored serenely at a pier, there is a ship. A ship of sail, rather than the ships of steam I served upon, but nevertheless, not beyond my capability, for I did some of my basic training on such. Unlike the Bold Admiral, this one I could not sail alone. I would have to train a crew. But, to where would I sail it? Perhaps I have it in me to do as Alec did and sail by the dark of moon, to other realms, there to trade gold for food and supplies. In that, I would be on familiar ground, for that is what I used to do aboard the Odiham Castle and the ships that I served on before her. On such a vessel, I could carry far more supplies than I could ever manage pushing a small wagon through the Shadow Roads. Perhaps, again, those magical forces read my mind and fashioned this vessel for that very purpose. I do not know, but I cannot think of any other reason for it to be here, or what other purpose it might have.

The sight of it, however, also casts me in a melancholy mood, recalling the days immediately before I left that Isle of Legacies that was London. Then, as now, the world was changing, except that one was being sucked further into the unreachable depths of the Nexus. Then, as now, many of the friends I knew and loved, were gone, my dearest Valene then, and again now. And then, I found myself on the deck of the ship that was my home – the Bold Admiral – looking out to sea and finding it calling to me, calling me to sail away. To where, I do not know. To find Valene? Well, I don’t doubt I could find her if I walked the Roads long enough, and I would rather that she found me, when she is ready. To find Wren? That, I am sure I could do, but I suspect this vessel would cause considerable comment wherever she has gone, as I am sure she has returned to the time she knew well, with its nets for catching inters, and its TV and moving pictures. No, for her, I would step across the realms as Alec taught me. Giada, perhaps? Except she knows her way here to the Wylds, and would return here if she so desired. Or just to explore? Perhaps, but I know not what I might find, or where or when I might find myself? Even if I did, would it satisfy that vague longing? I do not know. And for all that the sea calls to me, so does this place. This is my home now. I have a wife here, to love, and the last of my children, Bronwyn, to take care of. And I have duty too. I swore an oath. I swore that I would uphold the legacy that Maric left me and defend my people and the town of Mysthaven. And while it stands, I must stand with it. And should I ever be in the position to hand on that duty, well, the sea will still be there. One day, perhaps, I will sail away, but that day is not today.

Sail Away

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Child is Gone

When I was younger, Mother would sometimes talk of the things she wanted to do in the future, when Gilbert and I were finally out of her hair. All the things she could do with the time currently occupied by her maternal obligations. Personally, I found it difficult to imagine what more she could do, given her music, her gardening, her reading, not to mention her political and charitable and social activities outside the home. Such talks were doubly tinged with unexpressed sadness. There was always the spectre of her illness hovering over any thoughts of the future – wondering how much time she would have then. Also, even at that age, I sensed that for all that she wanted her boys to have their own lives; she dreaded the thought of the empty nest.

And now, I think I have some inkling of how she felt. My own son, Arthur, regards Gilbert and Sarah as his parents, and I am just his Uncle Nate (Nathaniel being too much of a mouthful for him). The truth, we decided, was something we would save until he attained his majority. When, or indeed, if, that will ever pass, I can not know. Some four years of my experience have passed since I was able to write to them, which would mean he would be about ten years old now, assuming that where he is, time passes in the normal fashion, no matter what my personal experience of it might be. I wonder if they grow concerned, thinking me lost at sea, or disappeared in America somehow. Either way, I never had much time to grow attached to Arthur, and, my own circumstances notwithstanding, I must assume that he thrives.

Here, in this strange place that has become my home, I have new children. Three were born of my flesh, at least in part. Mine and Janus’ and Gwyneth’s. Such are the vagaries of things here that they were born seemingly young adults, in body, if not in wisdom. Thus, I did not share their childhood, for they had none, and already, they make their own way in the world. Eilian, impetuous youth that he seemed, is gone away to be tutored by Blaise, who stands in stead of his grandfather. Drysi with all the attitude of a rebellious teenager lives her own life now, and rarely visits with us. And Bronwyn flits hither and thither like a butterfly, but harder to catch than a shaft of moonlight. Now that Gwythyr is gone, perhaps it is safe for her to be around me and I can spend more time getting to know her.

Lastly, but by no means least, is Wren. She I did at least get to see grow, if only for a short period of her life. She was Alec’s and Isabel’s daughter, but not, as I learned, by blood, and Dauphine to his kingdom. But she cared not for that, and cared less for the fripperies of being a princess. She much preferred marching around the town square, patrolling as though she were the palace guard. As one who had often fantasised about being an Arthurian knight, I acknowledged that and went along with it, addressing her as Patrolman Wren, saluting her as I night any other soldier and such like. I think that was where we started to bond, as I was the only one who took her seriously. I missed her when Jasper Cove burned and the bridge took her elsewhere, and so I was delighted when circumstances, unfortunate though I later learned they were, brought her to Ashmourne Wylds.

Here we really became closer, whether it was talking about books and music, or teasing her about maths lessons. I persuaded the castle guard to allow her to train with them, and they accepted her as one of their own. I gave her the rank of adjutant at my side. Over time, we grew closer, until she trusted me enough to tell of the circumstances that caused her to flee here. Similarly, I was able to be there for her as she dealt with the realisation that she too was fae-blooded, and through the traumas of dealing with the magic that she knew not how to control. I came to love her as the daughter I had never had, and was delighted beyond measure when she allowed me to adopt her as my own.

And now, she is gone from here and from me. Of late, I had not had much time to see her, with all the problems in the castle and elsewhere, and had assumed that she had made herself comfortable in that little book-lined cottage that she had adopted in the faerie bower. But, it was not so. Today, I came home to a letter from her, explaining that she had gone away and why.

She has not been feeling herself, she said. Even when working with the animals, which I know she so loved to do, she did not feel right. She spoke with Dyisi, who took her somewhere else, to somewhere with no wars, somewhere that was not scary for a barely teenage girl, somewhere she might make friends of her own age, somewhere she didn’t have to be in court, or be anything other than herself. It was just meant to be a holiday until she felt better, but now, she wanted to stay, she did not know for how long.

She apologised for not talking to me first. She knew she had to go, and she knew that I was perhaps the only person who might have been able to persuade her to stay. She said that she missed me, and asked me to not be mad with her. Perhaps, she said, we could write, or maybe I could even come to visit.

I am not so proud that I cannot admit that I shed a tear when I read her words, which, at first, felt like a blow to the stomach. I had failed my beloved daughter. However, on reflection, I see that she is right. I cannot blame her, and I should not blame myself. This is no place for a teenager. We’ve had to deal with plague-bearing witches, fae wars, the predations of Gwythyr and far too much death. Those particular battles may be over, but I cannot promise that there will not be more.  I cannot protect her from all that might occur here.

Also, aside from me, she has no family any more.  Alex and Isabella betrayed and abandoned her. She and Ember were separated long before she arrived here. Hadley chose her own means of escape, becoming in short order, a demon, and now an adult and a mother. And others even remotely her age – Riley from Jasper Cove, Jada and Kale… all are gone or never even arrived here. And of those she was close to, other than family, only a few are around. I have not seen Galyanna, who had her own reasons for caring for Wren, in months. Even Aoibheann has become strange to us, in the sense of absent, rather than her innate strangeness, and even that has become more marked of late, such that it seems I scarcely know her.

No, I cannot blame her. And, much as I might wish to, I cannot blame Dyisi for taking her away. Better she went in the company of somebody experienced in stepping across realms than strike out on her own, with her imperfect mastery of such things. And, much as I am upset that Dyisi did not consult with me, I understand that she did so for Wren, lest I would, as she put it in her letter, “be the only one who would have made her not want to go.” Dyisi is far older and wiser than I ever will be, and I am sure that she would not take her any place that she would be at risk of harm.

That said; there is a hole in my life, and in my heart, that is unlikely to be filled. If my memories, and my diary, serve me accurately, it is some three and a half years since I first addressed Wren as patrolman. Since when, she has become as dear to me as anyone. She could not be dearer to me if she was my own flesh and blood, and I am going to miss her terribly. Even being saluted by Milos and Vasily as I left the castle to come here to my cottage by the sea brought a tear to my eye, thinking of the customary greeting between Wren and me. For now, I shall content myself with the trust that, wherever she is, she is well and happy. And, that wherever she is, she well knows how much I loved her and will continue to love her. There will be letters, I am sure, and visits, but for now, I shall take solace in the familiar sounds of the sea. And I shall raise a glass – “Be well, my darling daughter. Be safe, be happy, and be everything you can possibly want to be.”

The Child is Gone

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Si monumentum requiris, circumspice

There is a corner of St Mary’s Church in Chatham that has my name on it. Well, the Ballard family name anyway. Grandfather reserved the plot many years ago. He and my grandmother are there, as are my parents. It is a modest family tomb in pinkish grey granite with a little ornamental iron railing around the edge, in a pleasant spot on the sunny side of the churchyard, with some shade from the old yew trees. I know it well. As a family, we always visited and maintained the graves of my grandparents and after Mother died, I was a frequent visitor. Part of me always wondered if she would preferred to have been cremated and have her ashes scattered in the woods that she so loved, but I forbore to suggest it when she passed, knowing may father’s wishes on the matter. Perhaps the yew trees sufficed to connect her with those woods.

There are two panels on the tomb as yet untouched by the mason’s chisel, someday to receive the names of Gilbert Edwin Ballard, my brother, and me. Of course, under present circumstances, I cannot imagine when the latter might happen. I know that it is possible for me to die, but that may be a long time hence. Nathaniel William Ballard – 1855 to well, anything more than 1955 is going to look extremely suspicious. This is assuming, of course, that there is anything left of me to inter. From what I know of our lore, there will be little more than dust left when I go, if that. Certainly there was nothing left of Maric, not even his clothes, when the privations of the years finally took him.

There is a graveyard by the castle, for those residents of the town that declined Maric’s gift and who had remains to inter. I have ordered that stones be made for those who passed as a result of Gwythyr’s actions, even if there is precious little left to inter. For Maric, there is nothing to inter. I resolved, however, that there should be something. If not for his remains, then for the people of the town. A memorial or monument to remember him by.

For this, I wanted something more than the plain limestone slabs that mark the other graves, and while our craftsmen are skilled, I did not know if they had the wherewithal to construct what I envisaged. My thoughts initially were to go back to London, exchange more gold for cash with my tame jeweller and have the stonemasons of London construct something. But there were logistical problems there – getting heavy stones back, assembling them etc. Gwyneth reminded me that there are skilled craftsmen among the fae, which I had not considered. I supposed I had always imagined them working with delicate things – jewellery and such like.  But, I was wrong.

Bran introduced me to one such person, skilled in stonework, by the name of Hornblende. I showed him some sketches I had done, of what I envisaged as a suitable memorial. A rectangular base, akin to a large chest, and a stele thereupon, and on either side, two urns for flowers. Red and black, I said. Hornblende showed me some samples and I chose those that seemed most suitable. We refined the sketches and I set him to work and left him to it. While I am not unskilled in the craft of the builder, I am more used to brick and wood, than working with stone.

For myself, I took to the workshop to start to craft a casket, of the best woods I could find, and lined with lead. Therein, I thought, I would place a bottle of Maric’s favourite wine, and a few personal items left of his. Said casket could then to be placed in the base of the memorial, in lieu of his bones. Perhaps there could be more, I thought. This memorial was for all the townsfolk. Perhaps, I thought, each who wished to do so could give some small item in remembrance, or even just a note, expressing their thoughts and memories, to be placed in the casket too. This idea pleased me greatly, and so I made a proclamation to the townsfolk, suggesting they might like to do so. And I sent similar missives to the fae courts, in case they wished to honour him too. Yes, this will be a fitting memorial.

Of course, Maric was so much more than could be contained in a casket of missives and small, personal items. Much more than a few slabs of marble and granite could convey. There is always going to be a much larger monument – in his legacy – the town of Mysthaven and its inhabitants. The home that he made it, the people he shaped, including me, and what it can be in the future. That is the lasting legacy, a lasting monument to the man I knew. I am reminded of the words that Sir Christopher Wren’s son had inscribed on his tomb – “Lector, si monumentum requires, circumspice” – Reader, if you require a monument, look around you. Perhaps I could borrow those words for this memorial. I am sure Sir Christopher would not mind.

Monument

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Lord of All He Surveys

I AM monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place.

So wrote William Cowper in The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, in reference to that privateer’s years as a castaway. Of course, we have no idea if Selkirk actually said anything of the sort, but one imagines that he might have had such thoughts; maybe standing on the highest point of his island and looking to the shores. The poem came to mind as I stood outside the castle, looking down at the town of Mysthaven and beyond to the sea. Of course, our situations are not the same. He chose solitude, rather than risk going to sea in an unsafe vessel, whereas I was shipwrecked and cast ashore at what I came to know as Jasper Cove. He proclaims himself monarch, whereas I claim no crown. The opening line is oft misquoted as lord of all he surveys, which title I do hold, twice now, and ‘all he surveys’ is only true from certain viewpoints. From some places, all I can survey is indeed the entirety of Mysthaven, and none disputes my rule there. From other viewpoints, I can see beyond – to the Seelie Lands, where I am merely Husband and Consort to the Queen; to the Unseelie Lands, where I hold no rank or title, save that which is recognised by virtue of my other titles.  But here, here on this improbably floating rock, here at least, I am lord of all I survey.

How I shall do this is another matter. I have little experience on which I can draw, and nobody left I can ask. All my life, I have had somebody to look to for guidance. In my youth, there were my parents and teachers. In later working life, my assorted supervisors and the Masters of the various  vessels I served upon and, at the last, Gerald Bryson, Master of the Odiham Castle.

Then came the transition to this other life. At the start, there was Katarina, who made me, but I only had her guidance for a few days. Then, for six years, I had nobody, just random strangers during my wandering, until I fetched up in London and met Brigitte, the Prince who became my friend. She taught me the ways of our kind and how to navigate the murky waters of kindred politics. She even gave me my first taste of leadership, during her occasional absences from London.

But, London fell, lost into the mysterious Nexus that had separated that London from the city I had known as a young man. I was cast upon the shore of Jasper Cove. I found Brigitte there, but she had taken almost 200 years to arrive there and the closeness we had known was gone. Neither did I look to her for leadership, for in  Jasper Cove, Alec ruled. Alec Damondred, self-styled King of Jasper Cove.

I did not particularly care for his style of leadership, but I grew to respect him and regard him as a friend. Of course, then, I did not who who he really was, or who he had been, much less the monster he would become. I did not know he had been John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s enigmatic advisor, nor that he had been Grayson Devonshire, that charming young man who almost became my lover. I certainly did not know that he would become the demonic enemy of Mysthaven.

And in the last. Lord Maric, that ancient vampire who had known the intrigues of Rome and more, who had seen more battles, more war, and as I learned in those last few days, more suffering than I could possibly imagine. He gave me a place beside him, entrusted first, his treasury and then the day to day management of the town and command of the guard. From him, I learned more that I could ever have imagined. To lead in his absence, to be at the forefront of battle and to win the trust of the guard and the people. But through all that, I knew he would still be there, to guide, to advise, to teach.

And now, he is gone. The man who had been my master, my friend, even my lover, is no more. I no longer have the option of asking his counsel. That wiser, more experienced head is no longer available. Moreover, there are no others from whom I can seek guidance. I never knew Sa’one, once Queen of the Seelie, though I knew her to be wise, but she is long gone, and I never knew Llwyd. Gwythyr was never going to be my choice for a mentor and now at last, he has gone. And Faermorn, my friend, my mentor, my lover, who called me her warrior poet, is gone. Her very image is reborn as my daughter, or so I theorise, but of wisdom, thus far, there is no sign. And it is her wisdom I miss most of all. Now, they are all gone. Even  my dearest Valene, who so often was my comfort and reassurance when I felt lost, spends most of her time in mourning, hidden away from those who loved her.

All are gone, save for Dyisi, who counselled even Maric at times. No doubt she shall return when her mourning has passed. For now, I have only my  beloved Gwyneth, wife and Queen,  and she is in much the same boat as me. She too finds herself the leader, and she is even younger than me, in human terms, let alone fae terms. She too, like me, has grown. She is no longer the pint-size potty-mouth polymath I once knew, any more than I am the mild mannered “posh fuck” accountant. We have grown, and we will grow, together, to make the world anew. The future is uncertain. We stand on the brink of a new adventure, on the shore of unknown and uncharted seas. But we, a Queen and a Lord, will sail them and conquer them,  hand in hand, together.

 

O Captain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

There is a scar around my wrist; a thin line, almost like a seam, as if my hand had once been severed from my wrist, and this is indeed what happened. It was done my by friend, Catt, who I loved dearly, so many years ago in London. She, like me, had been kindred, but became fae – in her case by means of a great rite performed by Artur and Katia, who held the Unseelie Throne there. She became Captain of the Ravens for Katia and wished to recruit me to the ranks of the Ravens, to help protect her queen. A blood vow was required, but when Catt went to cut my palm, she slipped and almost completely severed my hand. Fortunately, Katia was able to heal me, save for that small thin scar.

I think of Catt often when I look at the scar. Even all these years later, I still miss her. And when I think of her, I think of Whitman’s poem – O Captain, my Captain – because that was how I would jokingly address her.  It had no more significance than that. I was not mourning her death, though I do mourn her absence. So far as I know, she lives still, in some far, unknown place. I am sure I would know if something had happened, as my scar tingles occasionally, as it did not long before I left London, when I was briefly able to meet and embrace her through a short-lived portal. Ice-cold she was, like my beloved Valene, but still alive. Perhaps, some day, I shall see her again.

Now, this poem comes to mind again, in fuller meaning. For, like Whitman, I mourn for a leader I have lost.

Equinox came, in a quiet fanfare of blossom, warmer winds and birdsong. We gathered, as ever, at the base of Ardan, there to enact and witness the turning of the seasons and the handing of the throne from the Winter King to the Summer Queen. Both courts were there, along with Helene, Dyisi and Aoibheann. I was among the last to arrive. As I had hoped and expected, this was the occasion for the return of my life and my love, Gwyneth. I gave her formal greeting, both as Steward of Mysthaven and her Consort, with the deference due a Queen, and then a more personal greeting as a husband would to a wife he had not seen in many months. She returned that kiss equally, whispering that there were many tales she had to tell. As I had for her, I replied, unable to suppress a brief flicker of pain at the memory of some of those tales.

Further greetings were made. Aoibheann somewhat bizarrely suggested that Maric should dance with Dyisi, since the Queen was pre-occupied. I said we had a right to be, having been separated for so long, but, yes, there were duties to be done. Personal matters could wait. I unwrapped Gwyn from my arms and offered her hand to the Winter King. “Majesties, please, let the wheel turn.”

He bestowed a fond kiss on Aoibheann, suggesting she should dance for the trees, for Ardan and Awnye, and a bestowed another on Dyisi before stepping forward to take Gwyneth’s hand.

“All I have ever done, all I have ever risked, was for love,” he said. “And for duty. I have defied the very Gods, of the natural order itself, to become what I am. Something never meant to be. All so that I could follow my heart where it led… and to atone for my failings. To protect enough lives that perhaps it would balance out the ones I have taken so copiously, so recklessly. And the ones I failed to protect. All to love and to be loved once more…Though in truth I deserve neither. It was all a gamble, a wayward dream, a grasp for redemption. A new life to erase the old, striving to the light that I can never truly hold.” He drew Gwyn towards him before continuing. “But I realize now, I will not succeed. The heart knows the irony…that your kiss at the Equinox brought my doom. The Land, the Gods, call to me too strongly for me to escape their pull for much longer. Once my power is given, I will fall.” He paused, looking deep into her eyes. “I know this will take the burden of my presence from you. But I must lay another upon you in its place. You are so young yet to be Queen. But your time to truly shine has come, perhaps too soon. I wish for you to be the most powerful dazzling Queen you can be when Spring awakens. I wish for you to rule all of Summerlands, completely and fearlessly. I wish you to compel even those who hate you to kneel to you in the name of peace for all time to come. These things I wish for you, my Summer Queen, once my power is yours….Welcome Spring, and Winter be no more, for this season, with this kiss.”

Dyisi stood back, wrapping her arms around herself, and I could tell she was holding herself in check, knowing this change was inevitable, and yet, for all her control, she pulsed with contained emotions. Aoibheann was less contained, crying out in anger and pain, asking what she should wish for, that the gods would deny her. Her voice cracked and she just about managed to say “so be it,” before falling silent.

Gwyneth took his hands, and told him that he had fully deserved all the love and power he had been given, and all the power he had taken, for duty’s sake. I stepped back, for this final act was between them, saying only that I did not regard this as adieu, so much as au revoir, assuring him that we would stand and protect this realm.

They drew together, embraced and made the kiss that would seal the compact, mark the changing of the season, and so much, much more. The power of the Wyld broke upon us like a sudden flood, flowing into the Summer Queen and the land, shaking it and changing it, surrounding it, and us. Through that power, and the closeness of the bonds that we all had, we all felt the momentous nature of what was becoming, what this change meant to Maric, the Winter King.

To join the Gods was to Love them.

To know Love like this was to let go of the hearth warm comfort of normal love. This was an emotion that destroyed all barriers, shattered all safety, swept away all thoughts of basic existence entirely.

To know such Love was to know utter terror, seamless bliss, mindless fear, blinding joy, all facets of the same irresistible convergence beyond the bounds of mere corporeal forms.

To be broken open upon the anvil of Creation, to gladly scream one’s life away in a raging explosion of stardust, reseeding the universe with new life.

 To embrace the Gods was to face annihilation.

 And to enjoy every exhilarating terrifying agonizing orgasmic second of it.

 Before being remade into the purest expression of one’s dying irrational passionate heart….

His form shredded and blew away, becoming one with the wind and the leaves, as insubstantial as the mist dispersed by the morning sun, until there was nothing left but the wind and the rain.

Lord Maric of Mysthaven, Huntsman and Winter King, my mentor and friend, was no more.

Around me, I could feel the others responding. Dyisi throbbed and glowed with her barely contained emotions, speaking some farewell or bless in her native tongue that I had not the wits to translate. Helene collapsed to her knees with a heartfelt sigh. Aoibheann cried out in a voice heavy with tear that she would “fucking dance” and vanished, gone no doubt to a place where she could mourn. Only Gwyneth stood proud and alone. Whatever her feelings, she had to complete the rite. She spoke the words to welcome the Spring, as bluebells sprouted where she stood, and the very air wept a fine mist of rain.

“Farewell, my friend,” I said, and bowing my head, recited the words that I had spoken at my mother’s funeral, and over the graves of the Cait, so long ago when Valene first took me there. The words of Christina Rosetti:

“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”

There seemed little left to say or do. Each of us, I thought, would need to celebrate or mourn in our own way. I took Gwyneth’s hand and said as such, and she agreed. Together, we took our own way to her bower, there to renew our love and mark the changes of the season on our own way.

Around us, the power of that passing echoed throughout the very fabric of the land, changing and shaping it in ways we could not begin to imagine. Maric, my master, my mentor, my friend, was gone and a new era was begun.

 

 

Laying Down the Burden

The days after the defeat of Gwythyr were taken up with the aftermath. The castle foundations and vaults suffered greatly, with the ice and cold created by Gwythyr. Dyisi was able to access the vaults and capture the Wyrmthorn, that remnant of what had been Gwythyr’s sword, which escaped from Galyanna so many moons ago and wreaked such havoc. She fashioned a bag of some sort that would hold it safe, and then, by her own means, stepped into some other realm, where she was able to direct it into the heart of a sun, that most destructive of fires.  Whether it was our own sun, or some distant star, I do not know. All I know that it is gone. And now, we could begin the process of recovery.

Much of the vaults, I fear, we may not be able to recover. Ice and water and Gwythyr’s foul influence has caused much damage. It took some time to clean out the water, as the ice he left began to melt, and that was noxious with the grisly remains of those he killed. My stewards and I had to survey the damage and plan for the eventual return of the castle residents and the villagers, once we were sure that all was safe for them to do so.

Dyisi used her abilities to bring Maric out of his torpor much sooner than I expected, and with minimal loss of limbs. Would that it had been so easy on previous occasions. However, he seemed changed by the experience. Change was inevitable, for as well as the man I knew, there was that darker influence, the spirit of the Huntsman still within him, and with that, the influence of the Unseelie Throne. For some time, it has been clear that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to reconcile his duties to the fae with his duties to the people of Mysthaven, and he has hinted to me before that a time for change was due.

He came to me, shortly before the equinox. While he was, for the most part, the man I knew, it was clear that something was tugging at him.  He caressed the books and spoke of them being his most prized possessions. At the same time, that other side of him thought it worthless drivel and would tear it all down, to the last stone. That other side of him showed for a moment, in the claws that almost tore the binding of one of the books, but Maric dominated again. He would not let that happen. He entrusted the castle, the village, everything in it to me, to protect it and them for him and from him, from all, even the Summerlands. But, before I swore it, I had to know all the secrets.

I had been expecting this, and so I was not surprised. I was standing by one of the library cases, idly browsing. In my hands was a volume of Plato, Timaeus, to be precise. I opened it at random and read “τὸν μὲν οὖν ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὑρεῖν τε ἔργον καὶ εὑρόντα εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον λέγειν.” I thought back to my Greek lessons in school and translated as best I could, conscious as I did that Dyisi had joined us. “It would be a hard task to discover the maker and father of this universe of ours, and even if we did find him, it would be impossible to speak of him to everyone.” It seemed appropriate, since I knew not what hand had framed the universe I now inhabited. I put the book back and spoke of my family’s library, the thing that my mother loved above all else, save for her family and how she would have let the rest of the house burn, if she could have saved the library. The castle, the village and its people were already in my keeping, I told him. I was already pledged to the land, like the kings of old. The burden was already mine. The damage done by Gwythyr, the deaths and suffering he caused, happened on my watch, they were my burden to bear. Against that, there was the joy of the land and its inhabitants, the greatest joy I knew save that of my beloved wife, so long absent in the throes of winter. Speak your secrets, I bade him.

He took my hand, and Dyisi’s and showed me, through the mental link. The tale he told was a horrendous one. Perhaps some day I shall write it down in more detail. He told of years of torture and torment at the hands of the one who had made him, a chase into the mountains, and one final torment, finding the tomb of the one who had been Maric’s wife and Queen. His sire had lied to him that the Queen had too been embraced and kept apart as part of his punishment. Maric finally gained his revenge, turning his anger upon his sire and defeating him. Furthermore, he used his skills to change the remains of his sire, the stones of the tomb, and even the bones of his queen, fashioning from them, a castle of stone, this very castle in which I now stood. The enormity of that revelation staggered me, not only in the scope of this ancient vampire’s powers, but also the realisation of what the castle was. I only had limited experience of linking to the castle sense, and so I had little idea of what made it so. Now I did.

He asked if, knowing now what the castle was, if I still wanted to take on the responsibility of ruling over the realm. I understood better now, I told him, what the castle was, but added that I also understood what it was now, for to my mind, it had been shaped by the many years since its formation, the many lives that had passed through it, all those that had come before, including me. My word still stood, I said. I had not qualified my pledge. I had not, I said, resorting to humour, pledged myself to the castle, except for the yucky bits. There was one condition, though, I added. I would accept that responsibility for the people IF they would have me. I did not say, nor did I need to, that he had been their lord for many hundreds of years, and I had been here but a few. I think he understood.

My comment about the yucky bits almost brought a smile to his face. His tone was formal though, and spoke the words “So be it” to seal that pact. That I felt, that slight tremor of the Wyld when any oath is made.  I was a noble soul, he told me, and the people would accept me gladly. And, he added, I need not fear that the influence of Gwythyr would taint me through the castle again. He had the power to prevent that. We needed now to drink of each other, as we had done before, and then to spill our blood for the castle. He would enact the rite that would make me master of it, just as he was and had been.  Again, there was the question, if I was willing. I answered in deed, by baring my wrist and offering it to him, even as I took his and raised it to my mouth.

We fed from each other with an intensity we had not known before, and I felt the essence of the Wyld, both from his position as Unseelie King, and from that other side of his, as well as the truly ancient vampire that he was, as if he was trying to pour his essence into me. Then, as we fed, he led me to the walls and there, we allowed our blood to pour out onto the hungry stones. As our blood poured out, he spoke in a tongue I did not know, nor could even guess, save that it seemed ancient. Its intention, however, was very clear. A rite of some sort, as I could feel the power, a magical energy quite unlike any of my own. It spoke to the stones and bones, to that ancient husk and then, it spoke to me, connecting me to that castle sense and the whole of the domain and all that was within. Much like the first time I fed from Maric, or the Quickening I received from Faermorn, it was overwhelming, and, like those times, I had to ride it like a surfer. This was the real connection to the castle. By comparison, my previous experience of the castle sense was like hearing a cheerful workman whistling a Mozart tune instead of hearing a full orchestra playing the same.

I stood, leaning my head against the wall as I tried to integrate this new sense, vaguely aware of a change in Maric, as if he had not so much shared that link to the castle, as transferred it, a strange sense that another burden had been relieved. “Good luck,” he told me, “and rule well.” I told him that I would do so, as I had always tried to do. I giggled then, perhaps a little intoxicated by the transfer of power and asked if I still needed to call him my lord, or was that me now. I sobered again and told him that, no matter what, he always had my friendship. He accepted that with good grace and said it was a rare and wondrous thing. And yes, he was no longer lord, and that we were equal in the eyes of his people. He wished me good fortune and the best of the vine. I sensed that here, was a beginning of a parting.

His attention turned to Dyisi and the sword that she had been carrying. Strange it was, seeming fashioned from crystal rather than bronze or steel, and more besides. In the mix of feelings and emotions that flowed, from him, from Dyisi, I sensed it was more than a sword, as if it held something more. She handed it to him and spoke as if it were a person, as did he. Could a soul be trapped somehow in a sword of crystal? Dyisi spoke of him seeking forgiveness and atonement. He spoke of setting somebody, Aelia perhaps, free. I sensed that his was another lost love. Trapped somehow in this sword? I could not tell, only surmise from what was said and what was felt. He needed to release her, and this was something he needed to do alone, for he knew not how dangerous she would be. He promised he would come back and share with Dyisi whatever could be shared, and then he was gone, disappearing into the shadows. Dyisi left too, radiating strange emotions, compassion for Maric, love for him, and sadness, as if she too sensed an ending, and a sense of other feelings held in check.

And so, I stood, alone in my office, master now of this castle and all the domain. Maric has laid his burden down, and I must, perforce, take it up, not knowing when, if ever, I may lay my burden down. That, I do not have time to consider. I have my people to take care of.

Lay my Burden Down – Alison Krauss and Union Station

 

 

 

Things I Remember

Much has occurred since I last laid pen to paper in my journal. Perhaps some day, I can write of those things in more detail, from memory and hastily scribbled notes. Such as I write here, are just the highlights, if such a word is applicable to some less than pleasant turns of events. No doubt I shall remember others once I have finished this entry. Others, I will perhaps leave to others to remember.

Another realm collided with ours, leading to battles with witches and others. This in turn stirred up the goblins and demi-fae, leading to a battle in which I had to take up my sword, and my magical abilities to defeat the foes. Blood magic is surprisingly effective against a cloud of demi-fae, as, it seems, was a threat to make kebabs out of any of them I caught trespassing in the future against those I consider mine. The queen of the demi-fae, responsible for so much of the tragedy was spared, only for the sake of the child she carried. At least, until the child she carried was born.

Maric, by virtue of his merging with the Huntsman seized the Unseelie Throne. This was not well received in the Unseelie Court, but none could make a better claim, and none dared stand against him. It fell to me to write the proclamation, which was duly signed by the senior members of the court. Having established his position, Maric made his relationship with Aoibheann official, and again, it fell to me to write the official proclamation.

This, in turn, led me to examine my relationship with Gwyn. While I had thought that we were happy in our relationship, an “open relationship” as I understand the modern terminology, it became clear that Gwyn wanted more, and, upon reflection, so did I.  At first I was reluctant, given that my official status of Consort was contentious enough among the Seelie Court, and I did not want to fan the political fires more by formalising that further with marriage.  For all that I still regard myself as a humble accountant, I am more than that, a representative of a sovereign power, and she is Queen of the Seelie. Among such people, marriage is much more than a declaration of love. After some debate, we decided to go ahead anyway. Selfish of us, perhaps, but something we both desired and longed for, and that, to us was worth more than the complaints that might come from the courts. The courts all attended, and the service was conducted by Valene, who returned briefly from her exile to bless us and join us. Our respective positions mean that we still have to maintain separate households, but, we spend as much time together as we can, and her chambers in the Seelie bower are as much home to me now as my chambers in the castle.

The long gestation of our children, in the care of Ardan, finally came to an end, and our children were born. Such is the strangeness of things in faerie; that they were born adult, at least, physically. In appearance, they could pass for 20 or so. Mentally, they could pass for young adults, but they have a lot to learn. In no particular order, they are – Eilian, an impetuous young man, Drysi, very much the rebellious teenager and then, Bronwyn.  The latter is the most enigmatic of all – as ethereal as moonlight on sparkling stream and the very image, in appearance and even in scent, of my beloved Faermorn. Perhaps, this is what Faermorn strived for at last. When last I joined with her in the Beyond of the Summerlands, that was what she desired most, to be once again, the woman she had been. That was what Horace had been striving to achieve for her, with his hunting for artefacts, and what I had sought to help with, in a much more personal way. And now, perhaps this is the result – reborn in the form of my own daughter. How strange life is – the woman who was one my mentor, and my lover, is now my daughter, and I must needs put aside what we were, and be the mentor and protector to her.

The infection of the castle continued until it was necessary to evacuate the staff and most of the villagers to a camp in the Seelie lands. That fragment of Gwythyr’s sword spread its influence until it was able to summon forth Gwythyr himself. At first, he was trapped in the castle vaults, but his influence spread, sending out his thorned creepers. He captured and tortured and killed several of our villagers and we were powerless to stop him. We contrived a plan, thinking that the scent of Bronwyn, so alike to his beloved late queen, could lure him out, away from the source of his power, and into the Shadow Roads, where we reasoned he would be at his weakest. Said plan was thrown into some disarray, when Aoibheann, impetuous girl that she is, confronted him herself. Foolish though this was, it achieved our desired aim, allowing Maric and I to follow him to the Shadow Roads. Maric engaged him while the Cait and I managed to drag Mika, who had gone with Aoibheann,  to safety through a portal I opened. Aoibheann was too tangled up in his thorns to get her clear. Then he noticed me and tried to attack through the blood bond he had created. He failed. But, that was enough. I gave vent to the anger that had been building up and attacked. I don’t know what quite I did, only that I combined my mastery of fire and the blood magic that Maric had taught me with the intention of boiling the blood in his brain. It is not my nature to strike in anger, much less to use magic when angry, but perhaps this time, it helped.  All I know is that I felt the power burning out of me and he fell, motionless, to the ground. And like a sticking plaster ripped off, the hold he had on me was gone. That cold spot inside was no more, like an ache or bruise that has been there so long, it has been forgotten. I took no chances. I opened a portal and called the demi-fae to take Aoibheann back to the Seelie bower and attend to her. Once she was safely away, I did the same to get Maric safely away into Kustav’s custody. Then, I took my sword and removed Gwythyr’s head and, with the aid of the Cait, opened a portal to that fiery place I had once known in the tunnels of London, and booted the head through. The rest, I left for Nemaine, though I somehow doubt even her depraved tastes could stomach that vile creature. Then I retired to Valene’s chambers, to comfort myself with at least her scent, if not her presence and wept for all those that Gwythyr had harmed.

Other things passed, and perhaps some day I shall write of them more. More recent things, I shall address in other entries. But for now, these are the things I remember.

The Collectors – Things I Remember