It has been an evening of much joy, and much sadness. I have been reunited with missing friends and I am delivered of at least one part of my quest. I cannot take much joy in that achievement, save that I now know the fate of a few more people.
The first reunion was with my erstwhile colleague and friend at the Lucky Leaf, Gwyn. I was standing on the bridge, talking idly of wild food and mushrooms with Nadya, when I spied a familiar shape further down the path. Any doubts about her identity were dispelled when she came marching down the path, asking me where the loving fuck I had been, where she was and then told me she had missed me – “you posh ginger fuck” – was the phrase she used, I think. After all the adventures of recent times, her reaction was reassuringly normal. Our conversation was brief as Nadya kept reminding us how dangerous it was for humans out here. If only she knew. However, it seemed wise advice, so I suggested we went to get a drink and something to eat. This latter was more for Gwyn’s benefit than my own, though I thought it amusing to continue the charade with Nadya.
We made it to the castle without incident, aside from Gwyn’s complaints about tall steps and her short legs. There I found bread and ham for Gwyn and a jug of water. For myself, I felt I deserved a glass of rum. I briefly summarised what I knew of the place and told her who, of our mutual acquaintances, I had found here so far. Nadya sat herself down and started sorting through her gatherings. I told Gwyn a few more things and asked where she had been. She had no real answer, remembering only that she had been with Eli in the bakery, and everything after that was fuzzy. This seemed strange to me, but only a little, given the rather abstract nature of time in Jasper Cove. Perhaps she missed the last few months entirely, without that time passing for her. After what I had told her about this castle and the surrounding island, she said she was a little unsure where she would be safer. I pointed out that this castle, whatever else it was, at least had shelter and beds, pointing in the direction of the accommodation in the wings. Her spirits seemed revived as she joked that at last she would get to sleep with me. I had to laugh at that and reminded her that, so far as she was concerned, she had thought that I was a lover of men. She laughed and asked for some rum. I poured her one and offered one to Nadya, who surprised my by accepting.
At this point, I was almost knocked off my feet by Sophia, rushing in and hugging me. I was overjoyed to see her and hugged back, hard. It was a relief, even if I had already known she was safe. I commented that I was glad she hadn’t been eaten by a sluagh, which, of course, meant I then had to explain what that was. We joked about how Aoibheann seemed to think that everything was going to eat her and Nadya commented that she was probably right. Such optimism from one apparently so young. I told Sophia that I was pleased to see her, adding that I was relieved, even though Greyson had told me that she would be safe. I also made brief introductions to Gwyn and Nadya.
As if on cue, Isabella appeared. I bowed and greeted her, but she had heard the name I spoke, Greyson, because she asked if that was indeed what I had said. I told her this was so, but that things were complicated. She demanded to know when I had seen him last. I offered to go somewhere more private, but she would have none of it.
Wary of the others in earshot, I told her my tale, trying to be as circumspect as I could. Of course, I omitted the bits about Dee’s journal, instead telling her some of what passed in the boat, and what he had told me of his history. I glossed over this after confirming that she knew of this. We were interrupted somewhat by Nadya, who seemed upset that Isabella had neither introduced herself, not responded to her various comments about who is the lady. She stamped her foot and eventually departed for her wagon. Isabella did briefly acknowledge Gwyn and Sophia, but was more intent on hearing my story. After a while, Gwyn retired to one of the bunks and Sophia, perhaps recognising that I had important business with Isabella, departed to take a walk.
I finished my tale of Greyson/Alec by telling her about my appointment as Keeper of Lore and the quest to find his son, and presumably daughters. I added my belief that he loved her, phrasing it, possibly hopefully, in the present tense. She seemed a little confused, because Malachai had been with her, but she was missing the girls. I apologised for the confusion, saying that I had seen the girls running on the path, as I had been, and had assumed that Malachai was with them. I said that I had not seen the girls, but promised I would do my best to find them.
Aoibheann arrived, apparently not having known Isabella was here. She was lost for words beyond, “your majesty”. She was also distracted by the arrival of an older child, Madeleine. I did not know the child, but recognise the voice as the one who had been upstairs with Kale that night before Jasper Cove fell.
I continued my tale, telling her about the noises I had heard just before I left the boat, the noises like the creatures that had attacked Jasper Cove. I told her that Greyson had seemed determined to face them. In the hope of giving some comfort, I added that anybody who could outwit the four horsemen and the grim reaper would surely find his way to survive again. Perhaps she took some comfort from that; it was hard to tell behind the tears she was trying so hard not to shed. This broke my heart. Normally, I would be there to offer comfort, but I did not feel I knew Isabella well enough to hold her, to let her cry, as I would with others. Instead, I took her hand and kissed it, as a courtier might, promising again that I was at her service, and would do what I could to find her children, and, if I could, her love. I knew not what else I could say or do, so after asking permission to depart and commence searching, I departed. She had Aoibheann there, and the child, Madeleine. Perhaps that would strengthen her somewhat while I searched.