I explored the castle courtyard this morning. It was quiet. Besides the market stalls, I found several buildings that might come under the heading of rude dwellings, the stables, where I availed myself of a snack from one of the horses, what would appear to be the state rooms, and a chapel of some sort. Well, it had stained glass windows, but no crosses. Like Father Monocerous’ chapel in London, it did not appear to repel me and I did not appear to burst into flames, so I don’t know how holy it is. Perhaps that lore about my kind is incorrect. Given that I seem to not burst into flames when I go out in daylight, maybe many things I thought I knew are wrong. Of course, I have no idea how ‘natural’ the sunlight is in the various strange realms that have been my home these past few years. Maybe real sunlight would kill me.
Having exhausted the entertainment possibilities of the castle, at least, the bits I could find a way to get into, I took myself off into the woods. At the bottom of the path leading to the castle, I saw a similar path heading up on the other side of the path from the bridge. It looked vaguely familiar and when I climbed it, I found myself by the large standing stone with the Celtic knotwork carving that I had seen before. Further up on the ridge, I found a stone arch, a trilithon, like a smaller version of Stonehenge. Beyond it was an ornate door set into a large stone. I did consider trying the door, but on inspection, the stone seemed no bigger than an outside privy, so I could not imagine where, if anywhere, the door would lead. On reflection, I decided against it. If my suspicions about this place are correct, and this is some fae realm, then who knows where such a door may lead.
I retraced my steps to the carved stone, noticing there was a bowl on the top bearing a small flame. An altar, then, I thought, or so it seemed. I was struck by the contrast between the apparent extreme age of the stone and the ephemeral and presumably current nature of the flame. I say apparent, for who knows what time period this land occupies, if any, relative to my own. The appearance of the castle is that of many centuries before my birth, but then, castles of that age endured even into my time. Nadya’s ideas of science, of abiogenesis, could date from as recently as my mother’s generation. Who can tell? Even so, the setting of the stone, seated deep in its landscape, the maturity of the plants, the lichen and moss, at least gave the impression of having great age here, whatever the relative time to my own might be.
I have always been fascinated by Celtic knotwork, and have oft wondered if some mathematical principle underlies the design. There is a pleasingly mathematical precision in the sequence of under and over passing of the design, in the symmetry, and, in the way that the designs are complete, ending back where they started without an apparent break. I was tracing the design with my fingers, wondering about this when I thought I heard a noise, something more than the natural noises of the birds and the wind. I looked around, but could see nothing, though I was certain that there had been a tree behind me that was no longer there. In the case that there was some being around, to whom this was a special place, I spoke softly, apologising for the intrusion and stating that I was merely a seeker of knowledge.
A voice replied. A voice unlike any I have heard before, haunting and beautiful, as though played on the same instrument that made the sounds of the wind in the branches. It told me that I was not intruding, for I came here without force, and apparently better purpose. I scanned the area again and then I saw her. Her form was that of a woman, beautiful and sensual, yet, at the same time, that of a graceful tree, her limbs branches, and her fingers twigs. Green, she was, green as the forest around her, which was why I had not seen her at first. Green that is, apart from long hair, its colour almost a match for my own. Could this be a dryad? I made greeting softly and gave my name, just managing to stop my usual habit of giving my full name, for it occurred to me as I spoke that creatures of magic, as surely she was, could gain power by knowing your true name. She told me that I was not disturbing; else she would have left me to wander. She appeared as fascinated by my appearance as I was hers, remarking that my leaves seemed dead and that Nathaniel Bee was a rather long name. I had no answer for the former, saying that I had never had leaves, only arms and legs and such. I told her she could call me Nate, if that was easier, and asked how I might address her.
“Aerodine,” she told me, but it was as if it was something she had to recall, even saying it was something she was called once. Then she told me that my feet trod differently. I looked at hers, which were there, yet, at the same time, it looked as if she were rooted there. I could only tell her that my feet had always been on the earth, not within it, not being like her, adding that despite that, I cherished the beauty of the place and its residents. She looked at me, seeming amused and teasing, asking me why a man of knowledge had never played in the mud.
“That was different,” I told her, explaining that I had indeed done so many times as a child, and added that Alexandra and I had often walked barefoot in the countryside, when there was nobody to see us. This pleased her, and she told me that we had experienced the earth and heard the trees, even if we had not perhaps understood, and asked when I had last walked barefoot. Memories came back, from my younger days, when Mother and I would walk in the woodlands near our home, and how she had entreated me to commune with the trees, after asking permission, to talk with them and to listen. As a child, I had not thought to question my mother, much less because my head was filled with the wonders of the stories I had read, or had read to me, of magical lands, of faeries, spirits and such like. I told the dryad of this, not mentioning the stories, and told her how I had sensed something, but had not been able to understand.
“Perhaps,” I said, “I had been expecting words rather than feelings.” In answer to her question, I could not remember, other than a couple of weeks ago, when I had left one of my notebooks back at the tavern and had not bothered to put my shoes on when I went back to get it. My answer pleased her, so far as I could interpret her expression.
“Fools are often the wisest among men, as their heads are not wrapped in realities around them,” she said. “They speak to others, themselves, more so in feelings, than with words. It takes a long time to make the words.” I nodded, understanding her. Then, she straightened up and then said “This land is dangerous.” I acknowledged that too, but told her I had walked many lands where there were dangers, more due to foolish men than anything else. I indicated that I carried the sword, for defence only, omitting that I was not skilled in its use. She told me that such weapons were of little use unless they were of legendary crafting. I thought to mention the bit about the wood faeries, but since I am still not entirely convinced by Aoibheann’s story regarding that, I felt it better not to. She then spoke of the dwellings with the stone barriers, nodding towards the hill. She knew, then, of the castle, but I was not entirely sure how she felt about it, although she did say that many beings who went there were ruthless. I told her that I had been there, and made acquaintance of some of the men there, qualifying that, in case she thought them enemy, by saying I sought to know them first, before deciding where I stood. She said that she had heard many new steps in the land, that there was a lot of noise, and asked how I had come there.
I told her briefly of the cove, of how it was a place detached from time, held there by four powers. I told her how it had come under attack by the forces of death and how I had fled, finding my way to this land. I told her that I would always tread lightly on the land and asked if I might come again and speak with her. She said that she did not control who comes and goes here, but that I could if I wished. We were interrupted by a crashing sound, and as we both turned, we saw Aoibheann tumbling down the slope to land on the grass nearby.
“That one does not have wings enough,” the dryad said. I started to scramble down to help Aoibheann, but she managed to get to her feet readily enough. I was about to respond to Aerodine’s comment about wings, but Aoibheann interrupted. She told me that she had seen Sophia, and that she was looking for me. She seemed most insistent that I go find her now. Relieved though I was to hear that Sophia was safe, I did not necessarily share Aoibheann’s fears about the place, and knew full well that Sophia was no fool when it came to survival. Much as I tried to convince her that Sophia was well able to look after herself, I knew she would not be satisfied until I went in search of her. I am not entirely sure if her impatience was for Sophia’s benefit, to get me to find her, or to get rid of me so she could talk with Aerodine. The latter would not be surprising, knowing Aoibheann’s fascination with beings of Faerie. I wonder if she realises that the Huntsman is also cut of that cloth. I made my apologies to Aerodine, saying I would return. She bade me farewell and reminded me to enjoy walking barefoot some time.
I searched a while in likely places, going both ways from that bridge where I had first arrived, but found no sign of her. She is sensible. She will no doubt get back to the castle at some point and I will find her there. I retired to the castle grounds and found a quiet spot. I read a few entries from the journal, but, as yet, have no clue how to proceed with my quest. Perhaps inspiration will come.