It was not a demon. At least, not in the sense I understand the term. I wish it had been. I can scarcely believe it, as I write, but what I faced the other night was the leader of the Wild Hunt, no less! In the absence of eight-legged horses, and the presence of far too many antlers, I am tended to think that this was more akin to the English or Welsh myths than the Norse ones. Either way, that is what I faced down the other night, and again last night. I do not know if I would have been happier knowing that at the time or not. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. I still would not have let it have Aoibheann at the time, and I would not let it have Wren last night, when I did know who it was. Call it stupidity masquerading as bravery; call it whatever you like, but I could not let that happen.
I went across to the tavern earlier in the evening, after seeing the mysterious equine figure from my window. It turned out that he was not alone, for Gwyn was there. Naturally, I was highly delighted to see her up and apparently well, even if somebody appeared to have taken a pair of shears to her hair. We hugged and I asked what had happened to her. She did not really know, or, at least, was reluctant to discuss it at the time, but did so later. She thought it was sweet that I had been reading to her (a sentiment echoed by our horse-headed customer, whose name was Tilver), even if she was not impressed with the choice of Coleridge, and suggested that I might like TS Eliot. I had not heard of this poet, but this was hardly surprising as he was only apparently born at the end of the 19th century. Gwyn promised to get me some to read, remarking that he was a ‘total Tory fucktard’ but ‘wrote some dazzling shit’. Some day, I will get the hang of Gywn’s colourful idiom. We discovered we had a mutual like of Walt Whitman, which I would have read to her, had I not been wearing a different jacket.
Gwyn remarked that she was beginning to learn about this place, that it was very strange, and dangerous. I concurred and related briefly my encounter with the antlered demon the previous night. This somewhat alarmed Gwyn and it became clear that she had encountered this being as well. She asked if he had taken anybody and I was able to tell her no, despite the efforts of Aoibheann to sacrifice the ‘beautiful barmaid, Natalie’. Tilver expressed doubt that I could be mistaken for a beautiful barmaid, but Gwyn assured him that I was very handsome and had lots of friends, which was sweet of her. I confessed I did not know why things had happened the way they did and told her of Aoibheann’s strange behaviour and apparent misconception that I was a woman. This seemed to amuse Gwyn, but confused Tilver. He then excused himself, leaving Gwyn and I alone to talk.
Gywn offered an empty glass at me, so I poured her a large rum and we sat down. It seems I have not been the only one to encounter the antlered one. Gwyn had gone to take some money from Aoibheann to give to Anna at the infirmary and then ended up at the castle, where Alec and Vedis were arguing with somebody called Llwyd – the leader of the Wild Hunt! As I said earlier, not a demon. Alec told Gwyn not to look in his eyes, which she did not, but as he left, passing her, he touched her and everything went cold and black. All the while she was out, she felt as though she was part of the pack of hounds, forever chasing, forever hunting with no beginning or end in sight. Until, some woman she did not know, came and offered her the chance to get back, at the price of losing her hair and never revealing the identity of the one who brought her back.
Aoibheann appeared, looking like she hadn’t slept in days, and seemed most curious about Gwyn’s hair. Gwyn was more concerned with why Aoibheann had been going through her things and letting her room be used by somebody else. Still, Aiobheann seemed to want to know who had cut Gwyn’s hair, and kept asking if it was somebody called Fiona. Whoever this person was, she supposedly looks like Aoibheann, leading to Gwyn wondering if it was her sister. She said it wasn’t but that it was complicated, and that she was from her home village. She would not elaborate further, but wrote something on a scrap of paper, which she gave to Gwyn.
The conversation then veered in the direction of the beautiful Natalie, but Aoibheann did not seem to notice my little digs. Instead, Gwyn spoke of all the boys loving me for some reason. I told her briefly about Grayson and it transpired that she thought I was, as they say in her day, gay. Despite my assurances otherwise, she seemed determined to hang on to that belief. To be honest, I don’t much care, any more than I care if Aoibheann thinks I am a woman, save that it seems to be a cause of friction
Tilver returned and as the most sober and least tired member of staff, I got up and got him a drink, as I did for Wren, who turned up on her patrols. We all sat down and Gywn spoke more on what she knew of the legends, in particular, the Welsh versions that she knew from her grandmother. We speculated on means of defence. I speculated that, if he were of faerie stock, then cold iron might help. Wren suggested stale bread, which I had not heard of, but at least was in plentiful supply around the tavern.
Gywn took herself off to bed soon after, a little the worse for all the rum she had drunk, and Aoibheann was not far behind. I joked with Wren about her patrols and lack on interest in maths, though I did manage to pique her interest by talking about permutations and combinations. I started to explain by getting her to pick cards from the deck and asking how many ways she could do that, but we were interrupted by the sound of horns. I recognised the sound as being Llwyd’s horn and suggested that Wren should hurry back to the castle, but before she could leave, the antlered figure was outside the tavern. I told Wren to get back inside or into the kitchen. She went, but only as far as hiding behind the bar. Surprisingly, Tilver stepped up to head the defence, challenging Llwyd to a game of some sort. With him so occupied, I just made sure there was no direct angle for him to get at Wren. While he seemed disdainful of Tilver’s offer, he did not make any overly aggressive moves and much like the previous evening, vanished as quickly as he came.
I shook Tilver’s hand and told him drinks were on me for the foreseeable future, sent Wren back to the palace, and then retired myself. There is only so much excitement a man can take in one day.