Wayward Child

I would say that I was not one who was given much to introspection, but then, the very existence of this journal would contradict that. Of late, I seem to have been doing too much of it of late. There is not much to divert me from such, other than work and research. My wife is off on her travels, so much so that it might as well be winter; for all that I have seen her. Wren is off somewhere safe from wars and such like, and who knows where the others are. Eilian and Drysi can fend for themselves, but I worry for Bronwyn. I need to spend time with her, but finding her is like trying to catch the wind.

So, lacking other diversions, I have been busying myself with research. Some has been specific, such as how to deal with the warrior queen guarding the spirit trapped in the castle so we can hand it over to Vedis. I’ve also been trying to find some clues in Alec’s John Dee journal as to the business of anchors. If I can fathom that out, then maybe I can help Bronwyn to find her way home.

There can be such a thing as too much research. When I found myself dreaming in Illyrian, I figured it was time I took a break. Up until recently, all I knew about Illyria was a brief reference in Twelfth Night and reading in one of my school text books that it was pretty much a dead language. Now I seem to be accidentally speaking it. I guess I’ve spent too much time in Maric’s journals.

Yes, even I recognise that you can spend too much time buried in books. Although, as I write, I can see Mother’s face, her eyebrows raised in disbelief, saying “really?” So, I forced myself to put the books away and head down to the tavern. For once, I fancied a beer rather than a rum, which mildly surprised Hal. I bought a round of drinks for those villagers that were taking their ease. Hal may be from a land and time far away, but some things are constant for all landlords, and one of those is listening to a customer’s woes. So I briefly shared my frustration with the paperwork, the research and the fact that I had read so many of Maric’s papers that I was starting to dream in Illyrian, a language I barely spoke. I then realised, from Hal’s expression, that I had actually ordered my beer in said language.

Dyisi appeared, as she is wont to do, while I was speaking, and I rather absentmindedly greeted her in Greek. Badly pronounced, I would judge from her reaction, suggesting that I stick to my own language, while appreciating the attempt. I laughed and said that at least speaking Greek made more sense as I had studied it at school whereas I could only have learned Illyrian by osmosis or possibly Maric gave it to me via the blood bond. It wasn’t as if much of the language survived in my era. I joked that it would be fun to go back to my own time and find a linguistics scholar to freak out with my knowledge of the language. Except, of course, that isn’t my time any more. I’d be as much an alien in that time as I had been when I first arrived here.

I shook myself out of that line of thought and ordered a bacon sandwich. Nothing is realer than one of Hal’s bacon sandwiches. I asked Dyisi what was happening out there and if any sword-wielding warrior queens were investing the castle.

She passed on that question, choosing instead to tell me about her attempts to restore Gwrgi to his elven self rather than that of the were-cwn. Unfortunately, Aoibheann had interfered, claiming Gwrgi as her own, as if he were some puppy, and claiming the Weald as her own. She radiated displeasure and I could not say that I blamed her. I said that I had heard the howling and suggested that I might too howl if I were stuck in the Weald with Aoibheann. I got the impression that Dyisi was out of patience with Aoibheann, which I can totally understand. The girl rushes into trouble like a moth to a flame. As Dyisi put it, there is no maw she won’t rush headlong into. She would rather not have any dealings with her at all. I understood where she was coming from, but I am still bound, by honour and duty, to protect Aoibheann if I can. She may not be the Aoibheann I knew when I first came to Jasper Cove, but I still had to help her if I could, even if the Tenacious Trinity was no more. Dyisi was of the opinion that perhaps, sometimes, Aoibheann needs to learn that her actions have consequences. Privately, I doubted it; for all the traumas she has experienced over the years, she shows no sign of learning to be cautious. Outwardly, though, I agreed with Dyisi, but even so, if she were going to try something monumentally stupid that might cause the universe to implode; I would be bound to try to prevent her.

The discussion was clearly frustrating Dyisi. We agreed that we would maybe try to do something about Gwrgi while Aoibheann wasn’t around and moved on to the subject of my offspring. Dyisi said that she may be able to find a way to locate my wayward daughter, Bronwyn.  She, of my children causes the most concern. Drysi and Eilian are better able to look after themselves and Wren is somewhere safe. I told Dyisi that I had been researching in Dee’s journal to see what I could learn of this matter of being anchored. While Alec had granted me the power to be my own anchor, I still put down my own anchors in this reality. I thought perhaps that I could somehow give Bronwyn an anchor of her own, to tie her to this place, or perhaps, better, to me, given the mutable nature of our reality. Given how many different places the castle had been of late, I did not think it a suitable anchor point. If she were anchored to me, and later, to Gwyn, that would be better, for both her mother and I are well able to find our way around the various realms, and, wherever we were, would always be a home for Bronwyn.

Dyisi agreed that would be beneficial. She was fairly sure that Bronwyn was in a place and time that Wren would think of as modern. That would be the future, from my point of view, but, according to Dyisi, it was as safe a place as she could be. Once she had dealt with other things she needed to do, we would work on locating Bronwyn and seeing what we could do for her. The mention of Wren made me sad for a moment, and I asked Dyisi to pass on my love and perhaps see if there was some way I could visit soon. She assured me that we could do this.

I left her then, as I still had duties to attend to and I had spent more time over a drink and sandwich than I had intended. On the way back to the castle, I looked down at the cottage, and the ship, still yet to be re-christened the Bold Admiral, in memory of my home in London. I must train some of the guards and reserves to be a crew, for I cannot handle her myself, unlike the original Bold Admiral. Perhaps then, I could sail her elsewhere, as Alec did with his ship in Jasper Cove, to obtain supplies. Anchors aweigh, I thought, chuckling to myself. A different sort of anchor, in this case. Which brought my mind back to Bronwyn and what best to do for her. Should I bring her home? Maybe she is happy where she is. Maybe she is safer there from the residues of G…  Maybe I could travel there and teach her how to make an anchor for herself, if she considers that place her home, and teach her how to anchor to me, so that she will always have her family to go to. I returned to my study, but I could not concentrate. Perhaps sleep will bring me better answers.

Wayward Child

Howl at the Sun

The clouds roiled and boiled, scudding around in a deathly spiral that came of no natural wind. The sky, already leaden, took on an uglier hue; dull reds and burnt orange, contrasting with the actinic shards of lightning that struck almost continuously. Nathaniel clung desperately to the wheel of the Bold Admiral, hauling with all his might, trying to get the rudder to turn, to give him some purchase against the current that bore him inexorably towards the maelstrom, a great turning current that matched the clouds. If this was not Charybdis, it was very much like it. The top-sails billowed, trying to carry the weight of the ship. Lightning struck, taking with it the top of one of the masts. Charred timbers fell to the deck, others tangled in the rigging.  The ship lurched as Nathaniel leant into the wind, struggling to turn the wheel, but in vain. He could not defeat these winds and currents.

His vision blurred with the rain and he fancied he saw faces, shining figures, beckoning and calling him. Voices in the wind. “Nathaniel, Nathaniel,” they called.

“Mother?” he cried, as the figures, seemingly just phantoms in the clouds, solidified. A mass of red hair, another of lighter hair. “Faermorn?” Another figure appeared, paler in aspect and raven of hair. “Maric?”

“Nathaniel, Nathaniel, come, come,” the figures called.

He hooked one arm into the spokes of the wheel and reached out with the other. “Mother, Faermorn, Maric, where are you? Where should I come?” A sudden gust turned the ships head further into the whirlpool. The wheel spun, hurling him to the deck.  He clawed at the woodwork, grasping his lifeline and hauled himself upright again.

The figures grew closer, smiling, beckoning, almost blinding in their radiance. “Come, Nathaniel, come…”

He reached towards them. “Help me, help me!”

The figures continued to smile and beckon, calling his name, but then a shadow appeared. A darker shape eclipsed the others.  Skin the colour of old pewter, and an array of antlers that seemed almost one with the forks of lightning. “Yeeessss, come Nathaniel,” came a much uglier voice, sending spikes of ice down his spine. “Come to me at last, Nathaniel, you shall finally be mine…”

“NO!” shouted Nathaniel, “I killed you. I beheaded you and left your body to the crows!”

The figure laughed, loud and hollow. “So you would like to think. But soon, you will be mine again!”

“NO!” cried Nathaniel once again.

The figure laughed again, “Oh yes!” and then threw his head back and howled…

 

Nathaniel awoke, trembling and sweating a pink sheen of blood. The bedclothes were strewn on the floor, those that were not tangled around his legs. His heart hammered in his chest and his breath was coming in frantic gasps. He lay there for a moment, staring up at the familiar awning over the bed, forcing himself to slow his breathing and calm his heart-rate. He extricated himself from the sheets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, forcing himself to a sitting position. Without even thinking, he gestured at the candle on the night stand, lighting it with a touch of elemental fire. He picked up his watch and glanced at it. Dawn was barely an hour away. “I have got to get me a better class of dream,” he grumbled to himself. “Maybe Dyisi or one of the fae can make me a potion.” He sighed and stood up, heading for the wash stand. “Or maybe not. Who knows what the fae might consider a pleasant dream.”

As he washed, he touched the castle sense with his mind and saw that the staff and the guards were already up and preparing for the Solstice celebrations. Except for the vampires. He chuckled as he sensed them pulling blankets over their heads with the intent of avoiding the longest day as much as possible. “I’m with you guys,” he muttered, glancing wistfully back at the bed. But, the fae blood in him was too strong. The turning of the wheel of the year called to him.  He reached out his senses further, to the will-o-wisps that fluttered and dipped around the castle. His face fell as they reported that there was no word from the Queen. She was, so far as they could tell, still on her travels. “Ah well,” he sighed, “We can celebrate together whenever. I have my duties here anyway. The village is expecting me to make an appearance.”

There was a soft knock at the door and in response to his “come”, a servant entered with a tray. A pot of coffee and some bread and honey for his breakfast. “Bless you,” he said with a smile and dismissed the servant with a wave. There would be a more symbolic breaking of fast later during the solstice rituals, but for now, he just needed something to clear his head and settle his stomach. Even the aroma of the coffee was starting to ease the throbbing in his head. He threw back the first cup in a couple of mouthfuls, and then drank a second at a more leisurely pace as he finished his ablutions and got dressed. A few hunks of honeyed bread took the edge off his hunger, and soon he was ready to face the day.

He descended the stairs to the main hall, where the servants all stood ready and waiting. They bowed as one and then formed up behind him as he went further down the stairs. Outside, the guard took up positions around them as he lead the mini procession down from the castle rock to the main green where the villagers waited. He bowed to them and gave the words of greeting. They bowed in return and formed up behind the guard. He led them to the fire pit and waited as the others spread out in a loose horseshoe shape around him, the open end facing east, where the horizon showed glints of rose.

“The wheel turns,” started Nathaniel, “the night has grown short, and the day long, and now we stand on the cusp, the height of the summer…”  he continued the invocation, extemporising from previous years, and memories of some of the things his mother had said at this time of year. At the appropriate moment, as the sun crested the horizon, he said the words of welcome and cast another elemental spell into the fire pit, bringing it to life. “May the blessings of the season be upon us.”  He gestured to the villagers, beckoning them to come closer. Behind him, the servants brought cauldrons to warm on the fire pit and baskets of bread. He took one of the baskets, piled with fresh loaves, still warm from the bakery and a large goblet of wine. These he took around the circle, starting with the guards and servants, and then going to each of the villagers in turn, offering each a portion of bread and a sip of wine. A servant tagged along with a pitcher, ready to refill the goblet, and a basket with more bread, just in case. Once each had received this symbolic portion, Nathaniel returned to the centre and poured the last of the wine on the ground and scattered some bread. “We give life to the land, as it gives life to us. We bless it as it blesses us. So mote it be.” The villagers echoed his words. “Come,” said Nathaniel, “let us break our fast together.”

The formal part of the celebration was over, and the villagers gathered around the fire pit. The servants moved around, serving bread and honey, fruits, cold meats, hot drinks as each preferred. Nathaniel served the same to his stewards as they sat around on the benches nearest the fire pit.

Kustav looked up enquiringly at the hovering wisps. Nathaniel followed his glanced and shook his head, answering the unasked question. “I don’t think we will be seeing Her Majesty today. No doubt she has things to do with the courts, somewhere or other. She has her duties as I have mine. Such are the burdens of the crown.”

“You don’t wear one,” said Kustav. “But, there’s probably a coronet somewhere in the castle treasury.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “Maybe, but Maric never wore it, so neither shall I. I don’t like such things anyway. It’s not as if…”

He was interrupted by the sound of an eldritch howl that echoed and swirled around the village. The villagers looked up from their breakfasts, some looking curious, some looking alarmed. The guards were immediately alert, hands going to sword hilts.

Nathaniel sighed. “Can’t we have just one celebration without being interrupted,” he grumbled at his stewards. He stood up and called out to the villagers. “OK folks, don’t panic. It’s probably nothing, and if it isn’t, it’s likely the fae’s business, not ours. So, finish your breakfast and go about your business. We’ll sound the alarm if you need to get back indoors.”

He turned back to the guards “Ok lads, back to work.  Vuk, Davor, secure the perimeter and get some of the lads down to ground level to secure the farms. Kustav, you’re with me. Let’s go find out what the hell that is.”  He sent one of the servants scurrying back to the castle to fetch his sword. “Never a dull moment,” he said, clapping Kustav on the shoulder, “never a dull moment.”

 

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

marictombpic

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.