Once upon a time, reality was so simple. I went to work, earned my keep, came home, albeit only every couple of weeks, to a loving wife and family. Then, I lost my wife, and not long after, lost my own life, and was reborn into a new darker reality, in which creatures I had regarded as myth were real. Long before this mysterious journal of Dee’s was thrust upon me, I had already experienced one shift of reality. Then others befell me. In the course of seeking the one who made me, I almost took another to be one of my kind. In seeking what became of her, I found myself in a darker, mysterious London, torn away from the city I knew. Then London was lost and I found myself taken to another place by the boatman, and when that place burned, I found myself here, in this place whose name I still do not know.
I do not know what Dee’s own experiences were when he first conceived the notion of many realities, but like me, he must have subsequently come to experience them, since I knew him in two of them. A new friend turned out to be an old friend, and turned out to be much older than I imagined. And now, I am charged with trying to make sense of it. Today, it was another old friend who added yet another dimension to my thinking about said realities.
The castle courtyard was quiet, so I was sitting in the tavern, catching up on my reading, and my journal, when the sound of tinkling bells drew my head out from the pages of my book. It was Valene, one of my dearest friends from the London. Somewhat changed in appearance from those days, but my body and my senses knew her. She tugged gently at my hair and climbed on my lap. That same familiar, easy, untrammelled intimacy we had always known was still there. Suddenly, I realised how much I had missed that, missed that special closeness and friendship that, of all others, was the least fettered by conditions and obligations. I kissed her and asked where she had gotten the pretty wings, and very pretty they were; black, lacy and, as I discovered when I put my arms around her, no more substantial than smoke and shadows. She said she had made them. I told her it was good to see her and asked if this was where she had been hiding, or had she made a journey as complex as my own.
“I belong here,” she told me, adding that the Valene I had known in London was a changeling, a cuckoo in a nest, and that she was really fae, so belonged in this fae realm. I said that I had always thought there was something unearthly about her. I told her that I had often thought about her and mentioned the recent dream in which she sent me a message via a cat.
Her answer to that came as somewhat of a surprise, albeit less of a surprise than it might have been before I started considering alternative realities. She had sent a message to me, using one of her feline messengers. Does this mean my dream is something more than just a dream? I would have questioned her more on this, but she did not feel comfortable talking about such things in the castle. She said that she would take me to her den, but I had to trust her and step only where she stepped or risk being eaten. I didn’t dare ask by whom, just got up, placed a hand on her shoulder, and did as she asked.
She opened a portal, and we walked through it. I did not really get much chance to see what was… between… before we found ourselves in what looked like a cave, complete with giant mushrooms that seemed to serve as lanterns. This was her home in this realm, she told me, although her real home was in the shadowy land we had walked to get here. I hadn’t even realised there was anything between portals, but then, I always hated travelling that way in London, so maybe I just didn’t look carefully. We settled down in a more comfortable spot and snuggled while we talked.
She wanted to know what I knew of the fae in this land. I didn’t have much to tell her. I told her about Isabella and Gwyn, without mentioning names. I told her I knew Padishar was Raven to the Unseelie Queen, just as I had once been. I told her I was friends with a dryad, and that I had heard rumour that both Llwyd and the Huntsman had been seen in this land.
“Would you like me to tell you the story?” She asked, “Or should I just give you the straight facts?” I leaned back and let her use my arm as a pillow, more comfortable with her than almost anyone I knew. I told her she could tell her tale any way she liked.
“You and Faermorn, I believe met once,” she started her tale. I had only a vague memory of this, but let her continue. “She was hiding in Fiendish Pleasures with Padi and me guarding her. We knew she was important but had no idea how important, not really.” She smiled, possibly it was a fond memory. “She was, and is, beautiful; everything you could love in a woman and than more, something that makes you want to protect her, when it’s usually the other way around. She started us all down this journey, but most of all Padi and I. We started out by keeping her safe from the Unseelie King of this Realm who used the poor Cwyn to attack. Around this time, the Nexus was beginning to become unstable, people were beginning to flee and my true self was starting to awaken. At first it was just the shadows, they would creep around and follow me, and than I started to see the roads…oh gods, the Roads Nate, I wish I could show you them. They are everywhere but no one ever sees them.” I cuddled her against me and motioned her to continue the tale. Her eyes were soft, unfocussed, caught up in her memories. “When London fell, I fled on my roads, taking what I could with me, just to end up on the Shadow Roads, where I learned the truth about myself. I am Cait Sidhe” She paused to clear her throat, looking very nervous for a moment. “Well a half-blood Cait Sidhe, but still the strongest that the Cait have. They are like the cat that visited you, not-humanoid, though they can speak if they wish. The other half of me came from the Slaugh, which is why I am stronger, their strong blood mixed with the Wyld magic I have from the Cait. Well it was no surprise that Sebastos, the old Cait King, stepped down, in theory, and made me their Queen.”
I hugged her and attempted a bow, not very easy when lying down, addressing her as “Your Majesty.” I was curious about the Sluagh comment, since as far as I knew, they were spirits of the dead and asked her about them. She swatted me for the “majesty” comment, insisting that she was, and always will be just Valene to me. The sluagh, she told me, were creatures of nightmare, but not evil, any more than any fae was good or evil. She entreated me to remember that the fae rarely do anything without good reason. I wondered if she included herself in that. Maybe she did, because she rolled over onto me and, taking my finger, reminded me that she has terrifying teeth in her mouth. I thought back to a more intimate occasion in an upstairs room and thought that it was probably a good thing I hadn’t known about the teeth then. Of course, she may not have had them in that form. I reminded her that I was not inexperienced with the motivations of the fae, having served both Artur and Katarina, as well as Winter. I assured her that, nevertheless, I still trusted her, even with the teeth.
What more she had to tell me, I did not get the chance to learn. Suddenly, she moved into a very alert pose, and I was reminded just how feline she was, looking very much like a cat that has sighted something threatening. She kissed me quickly, explaining that she had to go, because something was trying to invade her realm. Her caits needed her, she said, somehow changing her clothes into something more martial. I was near the bridge, she told me, saying I could remain there or make my way home. And with that, she was gone.
I waited a while, thinking on the things she had told me. Could the sweetest, and dearest of my friends, be part nightmare? I had to allow that it was possible. After all, to some, I would be considered a nightmare. And over the past couple of years, I have been friends to were-creatures, dragons, demons and even a devil. All of whom might be considered creatures of nightmare. I could not hold it against her, for she had always been good to me. As I had said to her earlier, I take each person, fae, or otherwise, as I find them, and would not condemn any individual for the actions of others of their kind. I opened my journal where the sprig of mint was still pressed between the pages, and was reassured by its scent. Whatever else Val may be, she has always been a friend to me, and that she shall stay. Content with that thought, I eased my way round the sleeping hound at the cave entrance and, after some stumbling around in the woods, made my way back to the castle.
* Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. For those not old enough, here is the song