Something is terribly wrong! Something is wrong with this place, and perhaps with me. I do not pretend to understand the balance of forces that power this place, or the various arrangements that allow the substitution of the various powers, but something has gone awry. The Huntsman’s hounds, the Cŵn, are off the leash and out of control.
I was woken by the sound of an empty rum bottle falling off the cabinet by my bed. I do not remember drinking it all, which would not have been unusual for my younger self, when I would sometimes drink to excess, but my present self lacks the ability to digest and absorb the alcohol to any great degree. I remember I had been working on notes for the “Black Friars” idea, which had apparently not gone well, judging by the small drift of discarded notes, but what alarmed me more was that a night, a day, and much of another night had passed. Again, this would not have been notable in my heavy drinking days, but now? These lapses are becoming all too frequent of late. It may be subconscious avoidance – all too often of late I have looked out of the window at an empty courtyard and deserted tavern and felt disinclined to even venture out into that loneliness. I hauled myself out of bed and steeled myself. Avoidance was not the answer, I told myself, and made ready, washing and changing, to go face the rest of the world.
Something felt wrong as I ventured across the courtyard, there was a palpable feeling of dread and fear, and the place seemed even emptier than normal. Then there was the smell, a smell to which my senses are particularly attuned, that of blood. And blood there was, too much of it, though to my mind, any blood is too much, when spilled this way, all over the walls and the floor at the foot of the stairs. Ice-cold fear swept through me, tempered only by the heat of my anger if anybody I cared for had been harmed. Together they made a steely calm, with the rage bubbling under, should I find whoever or whatever had done this. My first concern was for the living, but just in case something dangerous was abroad, I retrieved my sword from under the counter and strapped it on before heading across to the infirmary, fearing what I might find there, and hoping against hope that whatever I found was preferable to death.
What I found was a disheartening sight. Aoibheann was confined to bed, with all manner of medical devices attached to her. The moving picture device, like before, seemed to have a very pessimistic view of her temperature – perhaps it measures on a different scale – and her pulse looked low, at least, so far as I could remember, not having one of my own to compare with. She was very weak, but managed to tell me that it was the Cŵn, the Huntsman’s hounds that had attacked her, that they had somehow escaped his control. Her voice was weak and even talking seemed to tire her, so I told her to save her strength and to concentrate on getting well. Wren was there, hunched up in one of the armchairs, guarding, or perhaps just keeping Aoibheann company. She looked worried and tired, but claimed she had managed to sleep when I asked. I wondered aloud, though mostly to myself, if the hounds being loose was part of the consort arrangement. Wren heard me, but said she didn’t know.
Daimon arrived, looking worried. I had not seen him since that first night in the tavern, but if there was any ill-will between us, he did not show it. Obviously, his concern was for Aoibheann, so I moved away to let them be together, just telling him that she was weak but conscious. I did not like to pry, but I did hear him say that something had happened to the Huntsman and that the Cŵn were running wild, killing indiscriminately, and that he had taken what steps he could, in the short time he had before returning to his form as the White Stag.
Having moved away, I realised that one of the beds in the other room was occupied, by the queen, who was just regaining consciousness. I helped her to some water and told her what little I knew. Hadley, who had been playing quietly by the side of the bed, was most anxious to be with her mother, now she was awake, and we helped her up onto the bed. Wren came in to be with her sister and her mother.
Behind me, I heard Daimon saying something to Aoibheann about not chasing him as the stag, and as I turned, he shifted into bird form and flew off. Aoibheann tried to stop him and fell out of bed, so I hurried back into her room to help her back to bed. I was not prepared for the result. I don’t know if it was because she is modest, and only had a skimpy hospital gown on, or something else, but she flailed at me to leave her alone, even though I was trying to help her. Then, she bit me, hard, and I fear she may have ingested some of my blood, as she seemed to react even worse, shouting at me about always trying to touch her. I don’t know if that was the vitae or her medication, but she was not to be placated. I left her where she was, making sure that all her various medical attachments were safely in place and went in search of a nurse to attend to her.
I do not know now, what I have done. I have never touched her inappropriately; just a friendly hand on the shoulder, or comforting squeeze of the hands. Perhaps that is too much for her, I don’t know, but I must remember to be more careful in future. Or perhaps it was because of the blood. Given my recent conversation with Brigitte concerning ghouls, it is possible, even if I had no intent. I must consult with her as to the best thing to do.