I think I have been cogitating too much on Dee’s concept of a multiverse or metaverse. I am still no closer to deciding if his “Philosopher’s Stone” is some kind of atomic particle, a mathematical construct, or possibly both. Whatever it is, I cannot even begin to imagine what combination of “invisible forces” or mathematical equations could result in my personal current “ripple on a lake of an infinite number of ripples”.
In order to clear my head after pondering Dee’s journal, I took myself out of the castle, away from physical constructs, petty arguments and multi-species politics. I took the by now familiar route down the hill and up the other side, up to the carven stone. There, I remembered my arboreal friend’s advice and decided to go barefoot. The grass was cool and soft beneath my feet and the sensation brought back a flood of memories; of times with Alexandra, and of times with Mother. The latter, especially, remembering a time on a family holiday in Cornwall, when Gilbert and my father had gone fishing, while Mother and I walked up onto the moors to visit a standing stone she had read about. At her instigation, we both went barefoot once we got off the path, but I do remember being slightly surprised as Mother not only removed her footwear, but also unpinned her hair, hitched up her skirts and danced around the stone, laughing. I was at that awkward age, so felt a little embarrassed because I could see her legs. But, we were a long way from anybody who might see her, and it was at times like this that I felt Mother was at her happiest and freest. Once I overcome my embarrassment, I joined her, and we danced around the stone like fools, laughing and caring for nothing.
My senses brought me back to the present. It was a heavenly scent that I had not noticed here before. I realised that the stone looked different. A climbing rose had grown up around part of it, which surely could not have grown naturally in the few days since I had been there before. The blooms were twins of the one that still sat on my desk, if a little smaller. That, in part, confirmed my suppositions about the origin of my rose. I approached closer, drawn by the scent and lifted one of the more accessible blooms, thinking to smell it more closely. The moment I touched it, I heard a strange sound; a song, it seemed, a song somehow composed of the sounds of nature, yet at the same time, being a sweet, female voice. It startled me somewhat, and I looked around quickly, trying to fathom the source of it. I could not see anybody around, so turned my attention back to the rose. The song had ceased the moment I dropped it. Suspecting something of a magical bent, I picked up the rose again and the song restarted. A simple tune, and simple words – think of me – but nevertheless beautiful, even if the melody sounded strange to my ears, so used to Western musical scales. The voice sounded much like that of Aerodine’s so I had to assume she was somehow responsible. I held the rose a little longer, humming along as best I could. I could not see anybody around, but whispered “thank you” anyway.
“You are welcome,” came a breathy reply. I turned around, and there was Aerodine, somehow emerging from the landscape like a moving optical illusion. Compared to previously, she seemed shy, bashful and hesitant, telling me she had wanted to see me again, but didn’t know how. She told me she had gone to the castle, but wasn’t sure if I would understand her message. I reassured her as best I could, explaining that it had taken me a while to work it out. I said that other matters had distracted me, even though I had wanted to come sooner. I also explained about feeling the energy of the rose, and associating that with this place. This seemed to surprise her, not realising that I could feel such things. That seemed fair to me, I don’t understand it either. I can’t imagine I absorbed that much working for Winter or Katarina and Artur, unless there was something mother never told me. I told her about the “tingle” I felt from the rose, and from the disturbed earth outside the hut, and how that had led me to believe it came from her. That, she said was where she had tried to hide from one of the guards and told me she was flattered that I had wanted to come and see her.
“It is peaceful here,” I told her, “very beautiful and spiritual. I have not felt like this for many years, not since my mother used to take me out in the woods and bid me talk to the trees. And then there was you. Part of this place, yet you accepted me into your place, revealed yourself to me, and that intrigues me.” I also apologised for having not brought a gift. I could have made something from wood, but… That seemed to amuse her, telling me that wood had its uses, and that it was fine, so long as I didn’t cut down a tree for a mere trinket. She told me that I intrigued her, as I was somehow different. That caused a bit of a twinge of embarrassment, wondering if she was somehow picking up on my nature. I resolved that I should tell her about that soon. I won’t make the same mistake I made with Aoibheann. However, she admitted she did not know how I was different. Then she asked about my mother, asking if she was the one who gave me life, and leaves, and asked what else she did.
I wondered how I might explain what Mother was to me. I agreed that yes, she was the one who gave me life, that I was the fruit of her womb, which phrase I thought might appeal to her. I explained how Mother had taught me to read, about music and such things. I also said that I had gained many of my values from her, especially when it came to respecting nature, respecting people, and being proud of myself, and how to stand up to bullies. That latter required explanation, so I told her about being teased for having red hair. She reached out, wanting to touch mine, so I pulled the queue over my shoulder to let her play with it, just like Mother used to do. She remarked that it was being autumn early, presumably because of the colour, but I told her it was always red. I told her about being teased for the hair, for liking books, and the numerous other torments that children like to inflict upon each other. She did not look as though she entirely understood how Mother told me to deal with such things until I likened it to a tree bending in the wind to avoid breaking.
She continued to play with my hair, looking as though she was enjoying it, and I have to admit, I was too. It was a gentle intimacy without any threat of obligation. She asked about my big knife, wondering if I wore it because of the bullies. I had forgotten I was still wearing the sword at my back. I told her it was for protection only, that I abhorred violence, but wore it in case of being attacked by things like the sluagh. That got a reaction, and not a good one. I do not think she likes the sluagh any more than Aoibheann apparently does, but she would not speak of them, changing the subject to ask what I wanted to ask of her.
I did not know where to begin. There were so many things I wanted to know, about her, about this realm, about the stone. My first question was simple enough, although I felt embarrassed about asking it. I have been referring to her as a dryad here, so I wanted to know if that was correct.
“That was one of many names I had,” she told me, adding that she was “woman, flora, spirit and intellect, wise, old and young”. All the while, she was braiding my hair. “I change with the seasons,” she said, “I am new and fresh, I speak with trees, I commune with the earth, I love and I laugh and I play,” she added, continuing, “And I find you very…” Very what, I did not discover, for she dropped my hair, covered her face, looking, so far as I could tell, embarrassed. I smiled and told her that I liked all of those things, especially the intellect, adding that I found her pleasing to the eye too. I am sure, had she been a human woman, she would have blushed heavily. As it was, she peered at me between her fingers, saying that I flattered her, and that she was very different. She told me that she had met a woman called Rachel, who had said that she was unladylike. She did not trust her, she told me. I nodded, explaining that Rachel was nice enough, but not the most intellectual of people, so might not understand. I also warned her that Rachel was bound to another, so it was possibly wise not to admit any secrets to her. I held out my hand for hers and promised that anything she told me was completely confidential unless she told me otherwise. It took a moment for her to realise what I meant by offering my hand, then she took it, the feel of her… bark… strange, yet pleasant against my skin.
“You may speak of what you wish,” she told me, and then told me that she needed to rest. Before she went, she asked if she could beg a small favour, a small pleasure. I asked what it was she wished and she asked if she might ask a kiss. I was a little surprised, and that suspicious part of me wondered if there was any risk to this, knowing how even the simplest things can be complicated, when dealing with the fae. I consented, and she leaned forward and laid the softest of kisses on my cheek. It felt like I had been brushed by the petals of a rose. It was a gentle and graceful gesture that I returned, kissing her softly on her cheek. With that, she let go of my hand and leaned back, fading into the landscape as softly as she had appeared.
I left there, deep in thought. A friendship has been forged, certainly, but is there something more? I do not know, and know even less what that might entail. It is too soon to tell, but for now, I feel a strong reluctance to stay away. Where that might lead, I don’t know; I can only wait to find out.
* It seemed an entirely appropriate title, as well as being an excellent song by Seal. Technically, it should be some 100 years or more in Nathaniel’s future, but it is entirely possible he heard it on the Box of Jukes at some point. I think he would have liked it.