Cat People

I went to the Roads today. It is strange how a place that is so inhospitable, so cold and desolate, can feel like home in many ways. I suppose it is more by association than anything. The Cait are among my dearest friends and Valene, dearest of them all, a friend long before I even knew of the Cait, long before I came to this strange place.

As ever, when I went to the abode of the Cait Queen, the Cait deferred to me. I went first to her chambers, more in faint hope than anything else, and spent some time seated where she would normally have slept, if nothing else, for the faint scent of mint that still lingered. Some of the younger Cait, perhaps sensing my mood, came and offered affection, climbing into my lap and rubbing against my leg. I scratched them in return and played with them, as one might with kittens and it lifted my mood. After a while, one of the older Cait peered around the entrance and asked if there was anything I required, so I said that I wished to speak with Sebastian.

I went into the throne room and perched on one arm of the empty throne, as I was wont to do and soon Sebastian arrived and perched on the other. We gave each other greeting and he asked what it was I wished. I explained the situation, and said that all I asked was passage through the Roads so that Mornoth and his men could retrieve the demi-fae queen.

Passage through the Roads I could have, he told me, adding that as Sigil, I need not even ask, however, I think he appreciated the courtesy.  The matter of the demi-fae queen was one he agreed needed dealing with. He then looked towards the entrance to the bower, and like me, said that his only concern was with Mother. Strange that I had thought the same thing, or perhaps not. I said that I would deal with Mother and suggested that maybe a few snacks from the casualties of the encounter would suffice to appease her. Sebastian agreed, saying that perhaps, in a strange way, I knew her best.

I thanked him, albeit indirectly, feeling safer doing so among these fae than others and said that I would send for help once we had identified the location of the demi-fae. As I got up to leave, I could not help but glance at the empty throne seat between us. Sebastian noticed my glance and read the unasked question. “She fares well enough,” he said in answer, but could not elaborate more. I asked that he would pass on my love and to tell her that we all missed her and that she was always welcome, wherever my queen and I might be. I left then, dismissing the young Cait as I made my way across the arid landscape. I was preparing to open the veil to pass through, back to the castle, but I changed my mind. The castle could wait, I thought, and instead, made my way to the bower and the arms of my beloved Queen.

Cat People

In Search of a Rose

Lord Mornoth came to visit for the first time today. Although I have seen him quite a few times, it has always been in the faerie realms with Maric or with Gwyneth. This is the first time I have seen him on my home ground, and, come to that, the first time I have seen him on my own. It was a most interesting meeting. And he seems a most interesting person. With just the two of us, discussing mutually beneficial business, he was quite civilised and charming, seemingly lacking in any of the taint of madness and cruelty that so defined Gwythyr. Perhaps, this is the old-school, what the Unseelie should be, different, but in their own ways, honourable and civilised beings.

I received him in the main hall, which I felt was more comfortable than my office. He was amenable to this, provided I was happy that out discussions would remain confidential. I assured him that the servants were quite discreet. Mabel served wine and he favoured her with a faint smile, which I think fascinated and terrified her in equal measure. I cannot say I blame her, for Mornoth does in many ways resemble that late and unlamented former King of the Unseelie.

After I dismissed Mabel and the other servants, he remarked on the fact that she, and others, had been touched by darkness and offered aid if he could.  I admitted that we had not yet completely cleansed the castle and its people of the taint of the late king; for all that I had boiled the bastard’s brains, removed his head and dropped it in a volcano. That got a flicker of amusement, I fancy, from Mornoth. Not one for excessive displays of emotion, this seneschal, at least, not in front of the likes of me. Perhaps among his own kind at their festivals, he is another man entirely. I told him that we were dealing with the taint as best we could, and that I would remember his kind offer should we have need of such aid.

We moved on to the business for which he came; the matter of the rogue demi-fae queen, Desiree and the sithen rose that she controls. She escaped her confinement, that much I knew, and had found herself a refuge.  He wished to retrieve her before she could gather enough strength to strike back. Having heard of my status among the Cait, he enquired if I would be willing to ask passage of them, for Mornoth and his men, through the Shadow Roads to the place where Desiree had hidden herself, in order to retrieve her.

I explained my position among the Cait, as Sigil to Queen Valene, which I said was somewhat similar to that of Rook among his kind, in case he was not familiar with the term. I also told him of my past association with Valene and that after Gwyneth, she was my dearest friend. The Cait had been cooperative during our last battles, so I saw no reason that they would not be this time. I told him that I would ask Sebastian, and furthermore, offered myself as guide, since I was adept at navigating the Roads myself. The only problem I could foresee was Nemaine. I told Mornoth that she and I had some sort of understanding, without admitting that I wasn’t entirely sure that I knew what that understanding was save that it related to the affection between Valene and myself. I said that it was likely that her price, should she demand one, would be first choice of any casualties of the encounter, and if she demanded more, then I would have to deal with that.

He said he knew of the Carrion Crow and would not wish her tender mercies on anyone, neither would he wish to place me under further obligation to her. He remarked that some of the minions with Desiree might prefer a fate at the claws of Nemaine to their current existence. He would be glad of my assistance, and offered a great boon from himself and his people for this service.

I told him that he would not be placing me under any further obligation to Nemaine. As Sigil to her daughter, all obligations regarding the Cait were mine anyway. That was the way of things and he should not concern himself on that account.

We would need to formulate a plan for the extraction and confinement of the demi-fae queen, which matter I would leave in his hands. Dyisi would be responsible for locating her, and the Cait and I would guide Mornoth’s men through the roads. I also mentioned my skill with the Myst Roses, offering that this may be of some use in dealing with the Sithen rose. He said that they were distant relations and while the techniques for dealing with them were similar, the comparison was somewhat like that between a mouse and a tiger. A matter for another time, he suggested.

I addressed the matter of the boon. I would rather regard such things as a matter of cooperation between our peoples for our mutual benefit, I told him, rather than tying ourselves to formal obligations. That he accepted with good grace and made ready to take his leave. I was to send word via a wisp once I had made arrangements with the Cait and then we would coordinate our efforts to capture the demi-fae queen. He left then, seeming pleased with our arrangements, and with promises to talk of wine and communing with plants at a later date.

I must confess, from previous occasions, I had been suspicious of Mornoth, but this meeting had been very civilised, almost pleasant. Perhaps I have misjudged him. We will have to wait and see. In the meanwhile, I need to go and see Sebastian. I do not look forward to this. Sebastian is a good friend, and it will be good to be among the Cait again, but it will be hard to go there and not see Valene. Still, these things cannot be helped. She has her reasons for being in seclusion and I have to respect that. I must attend to my obligations, as she must to hers. Time enough for other things later.

In Search of a Rose

Maiden Voyage

 

Gerald Bryson, my old friend and Master of the Odiham Castle, was always impressed that I had insisted on taking all the seamanship training available. As Chief Purser, my duties were largely commercial and more concerned with the provisioning of the ship rather than its operation, and so I was only required to take some basic seamanship training. Nevertheless, I did all the training I could. I used to joke to Gerald that I was after his job. In truth, I never aspired to be Master of my own vessel, it was more my insatiable curiosity and it seemed a fine thing to know how to navigate, how to operate a vessel and such like. I never imagined that I would one day be the one giving such training. And yet, that is what I have spent much of my time doing these last few weeks. Kustav and a few of the guards, and a seemingly random assortment of the villagers, were the only ones who claimed any nautical knowledge, and two of those were fishermen rather than sailors. Marek and Ivor, two young lads who are still finding their place in the village workforce also volunteered and proved able students.

It scarcely seems possible, but in just a very few weeks, I seem to have acquired a moderately competent crew. They lack experience, of course, save for a few voyages around the bay and the island itself, but they have good heart and I am sure they will do well. Some things we have not been able to learn, though. The weather somewhat uncharacteristically, failed to produce anything approaching storms, but, you can’t have everything. The lads know the theory, but, well, we will just have to see.

And now, it is time for the big one, and in truth, I am terrified. Not about the sailing bit. I can master the ship well enough, and my crew know what to do. In these waters, and the waters around my intended destination, the English Channel and Thames Estuary that I knew as a young man, I am confident of my abilities, but there is one big hurdle to overcome. Getting from here to there. On foot, I know my way well enough, to get to London via the Shadow Roads, and I know well enough how to get there by the means that Alec gave me, that which Dyisi calls realm-walking. Of course, it is one thing taking myself to such places by that means; it is a completely different thing taking myself, my crew and the ship that way. I am almost certain that this was how Alec would take the ship on those New Moon voyages to get provisions for Jasper Cove. Almost certain, anyway, but there is another way I know of. Those masters and captains that would sail into the docks at the Isle of Legacies did so by mastery of the Nexus, but that is a skill I never learned. Perhaps Alec, in one of his guises there, had that skill, so perhaps his voyages from Jasper Cove were so achieved, but I don’t believe so. Legacies was lost because the Nexus became unstable and took that land, and maybe others, deep into the realms of, for want of a better word, impossibility, so I doubt Alec would risk that way.

I don’t have any of Alec’s writings. His offer to make me his librarian and archivist came only in his guise of Greyson, on my way from Jasper Cove to Ashmourne Wylds, and by then, his library was largely lost. I have only his writings in the form of Dee’s journals, and that knowledge that he passed to me via the blood when he gave me my freedom, if that is the right word. Having that knowledge, and applying it, however, are two very different things. Such time as I have not been training, I have spent studying every word, every page of the journals, at least, those sections that are applicable to the realm walking, such as there are. To that, I have added my own knowledge, my own powers, and those bestowed upon me by Maric. First, I bound the ship to me, and myself to the ship, much as I did with the castle, though the sentience of the ship is barely recognisable, the faintest vestiges of the trees that its timbers once were. I marked it and bound it with my blood, making the ship as much a part of me as is possible for a mass of timbers and ropes and iron.

Then it was time for my first attempt. In our sailing training exercises, we would make fast at a spot on the far side of the island from our birth before returning the way we came, or continuing and completing the circumnavigation. That, I considered was a safe spot to aim for. The first time, I did do without the crew. There seemed no point in taking unnecessary risks. I stood at the wheel, and spread myself, my essence, as it were, until the ship and I seemed one, and then exercised that, what shall I call it, muscle that allows me to walk the realms. It worked! I damned near capsized the ship, and there was an almighty crash as we hit the water, but fortunately, the timbers held. It was an elementary mistake, and one that was understandable, given my lack of experience in moving large objects. Sailing to that spot was one thing, as the ship was already in the water, and the water could flow around it as it moved. Moving suddenly from one spot to another, on the other hand, doesn’t allow the water to flow gradually. Displacing a very considerable amount of water in one go makes a very spectacular splash and a lot of noise, and I was damned lucky I didn’t capsize or destroy the hull. Having achieved the basic principle, however, I was able to adjust, and the return journey was considerably smoother and a lot less noisy.

The question then remained, could I do this with a crew? I explained as best I could, in terms they could appreciate, pitching it as the same process that brought them to this land in the first place, and allowed us to move the village from  the hill, to the Shadow Roads, back again to its new location, and to our current location. Except, of course, this was under my control. After I had practised sufficiently that I felt confident moving the ship from one point to another, I did so again, only this time, with me and Kustav. Of all the people here, he is most closely bound to me. Having achieved that a few times, I then asked the crew to all make a simple blood bond with me. Not as deep as that between Kustav and I, but enough that I could include them in my influence.

Having established my confidence in that, I then tried to go further, to a spot I knew well, just off the Eastern Frisian Islands, where the Odiham Castle would often lay up for the night. That took a lot more effort and near drained me. I had to rest up for a couple of hours before I felt capable of making the return trip, but I managed to do so safely.

And so, I am as prepared as I can be. There remains also, the matter of finance. We do not lack for gold, but such coinage as are held in our vaults, those from Maric’s land, and such Midori as I retained from Jasper Cove, are unlikely to be met with anything other than suspicion in 19th century London. I made a few trips via the Shadow Roads, but my tame jeweller there can only take so much gold in any one trip, even with the aid of a couple of his less than honest acquaintances. I can only hope that I can find some means of exchanging gold for currency when I get there.

The ship is ready, the crew is as ready as it can be, and soon, I will provision the ship for our first journey into the unknown, our maiden voyage, as it were. May all the gods help us.

 

A Sailor’s Life

Nathaniel  looked at the assembled group, surveying them with a slightly raised eyebrow. “Is this it?” he asks, looking at Kustav.

Kustav shrugged. “You asked for everybody in the town who has any nautical experience. This is it, plus Marek and Ivor who fancied having a go.”

Nathaniel surveyed his team. Kustav and a few more of the guards, several villagers, two of whose nautical experience he suspected was limited to the rowing boat they used to go fishing, and two gawky lads who seemed mostly to spend their time picking fruit by climbing trees, which skill might come in useful.

“OK, well, this should be enough provided we don’t do anything too complicated.”

He led the way down to the pier. “This is my ship, which I have renamed The Bold Admiral, after the ship that brought me here… or, at least, to where I was before I came here.”  He walked down the pier and positioned himself halfway down the length of the ship. “OK, the basics. The pointy end is the front, otherwise known as the bow, direction-wise, that is fore. The blunt end is the back, otherwise known as the stern, and that direction is aft. If you are facing the front, your left side is known as port, the right side is known as starboard. Don’t complain that left and right or front and back are just as good, that’s just the way things are. The big stick in the middle is the mast, and those cloth things are the sails…”  He stopped when he noticed the looks he was getting. “OK, maybe we don’t need to be that basic, except, maybe, for Marek and Ivor. For them, this is a big wooden box that floats. We call it a ship.” The two lads rolled their eyes while the others laughed. “Seriously, though, come aboard and let’s get familiar with the ship.”

A couple of hours later, everybody was familiar with the layout of the ship and its various parts, even to the extent of knowing the different between yards and masts,  stays and shrouds, halyards and buntlines etc, and even Marek and Ivor could tell their port from starboard. “Amazing,” remarked Kustav, during a break for cigarettes and coffee. “Before, they barely knew their left from right, now they know their port from starboard.” There was much laughter and general good-natured ribbing of the two, who had, nevertheless proved able pupils. Nathaniel finished his coffee and tipped the dregs over the side. “OK, lads, now for some basic procedures,” he said, “raising and lowering the anchor, furling sails, manning the pumps etc. Now, when we are under sail, different people will have different duties, but I want all of you to learn all of these, so that we can operate the ship whatever the circumstances. Now, I will be the one giving the orders. When I give you an order, you will respond ‘aye aye, sir’ to indicate that you have heard and understood the order and are going to carry it out forthwith. If you wish to agree with something I have said, you just say, ‘aye, sir’. Have you got that?” There was a chorus of “Aye, sir” and one or two “Aye Aye, sir”. Nathaniel sighed. “Ok, most of you got it. The rest can pick it up as we go along. Right, let’s go learn about the anchor.”

The next few days continued in a similar vein, as the trainee crew came to learn just how the ship operated and could carry out all the actions that Nathaniel could have wished with ease and without having to have it explained. The day came a week later, when he felt they were ready to take her out on the water. Nathaniel stood by the wheel and surveyed the crew with satisfaction, feeling that he could now call them a crew. “Are we ready, lads?” There was a loud chorus of “Aye, sir” and a cheer. “Right then, stand by to cast off.” He looked around one last time and gave the orders required. The wind started to fill the sail and pull the ship forward. Soon they were clear of the pier and nosing out into the bay. “Hard a-port,” he cried, turning the wheel and laughing for the sheer joy of being afloat once more.

Kustav stopped leaning on the bulwarks and came over, looking at Nathaniel with a quizzical expression.

“What is it?” asked Nathaniel with a broad smile.  He took a great draught of the sea air. “Isn’t it a grand thing to be sailing around the bay?”

“So, it would seem,” said Kustav, returning the smile. “If you don’t mind me saying so, I haven’t seen you looking this relaxed and happy since… well, since your marriage to Her Majesty.”

Nathaniel laughed. “Probably not.  Life hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs since then. But this… this is something I know how to do, something I can control. I was with the Haskins Shipping Company for many years before… before I was changed…”  He took another lungful of the sea air. “I just hadn’t realised just how much I missed being at sea.”  He turned suddenly, “Watch out those for’ard sails!”  He nodded with satisfaction as the crew sprang into action and turned back to Kustav. “The sea was my home for many years. How could I not be happy?”

Kustav smiled, “Why indeed. It is good to see you so. If you don’t mind me saying so, you have seemed somewhat melancholy of late.”

Nathaniel nodded. “Indeed, I have. I miss Maric. I miss Queen Valene. I miss Wren and the rest of my children, and of course I miss my wife. She, at least does occasionally come back.”  He looked up at Kustav. “Sometimes, I even miss the days when I didn’t have responsibility for a whole town.” He runs his hand over the wheel. “Whereas, this is freedom…”  H e sighed, and sobered slightly. “Well, sort of. As Master of this vessel, I am bound to her just as much as I am bound to Mysthaven.”

Kustav nodded. “I understand. There is a bond between a captain and his vessel. A different bond from that which binds me to you, or to the town, but, perhaps, not so different. It’s a bond for which we would both die.”

Nathaniel reached across and clapped Kustav on the shoulder. “Exactly, my friend, exactly.” He stepped forward and called down to the crew. “Let go the mainsail. Let’s see what this vessel can do.”

A few hours later, Nathaniel and his crew had successfully manoeuvred the Bold Admiral around the bay a few times, and then circumnavigated the island before bringing her deftly back to the pier. Once the ship was safely moored, Nathaniel invited the crew up on the deck with him. “Well done lads, you have more than proved your worth. Soon, we’ll be ready for a real voyage. Well done again. The drinks are on me back up at the tavern tonight. But first…”  He disappeared into the cabin and emerged a short while later with a tray, a jug and an array of flagons. “But first, some grog.”  He filled each of the flagons and passed them around. He raised his own flagon. “To the Bold Admiral, and her gallant crew.”

“The Bold Admiral,” they echoed back, and quaffed their grog.

A Sailor’s Life

 

 

 

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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