I was up early again this morning. Much of the castle was quiet, with only the smell of baking bread to give any indication of life. I took the opportunity to make use of the workshop tools again. I had an idea for what to do with my piece of wood. I could shape it into an approximate facsimile of the standing stone, carve the knot-work on one side and make it into a candle holder. Simple in concept, but did I have the skills to execute it? Shaping the wood was simple enough, and I soon had the rough outline I wanted. A moment’s foraging in the smithy found some nails that would serve to weight the base, and to provide a spike for the candle at the other end. I must be out of practice with sharpening though, as it took me a while to get a decent edge on my pocket knife. I kept a few of the offcuts to practice on. I haven’t carved anything in many years, so I didn’t want to ruin my main piece by starting off with that.
The topology of the knot-work fascinates me. I wasted entirely too much time tracing the pattern and trying to work out if there were mathematical formulae to describe it. I was sitting outside my hut, trying to work it out when I realised that Valene was sitting next to me, watching me with amusement. I don’t know how long she had been there, or even how she had arrived, since I hadn’t heard the bells. It was probably a good thing she had come; I had been concentrating so hard on the knot-work and practicing the carving that my neck and wrists ached. I smiled and asked if she had managed to repel the invaders. She had, she told me, adding that they had been rather weak but provided food for her people. I could probably have done without knowing that last bit. We spoke briefly about the relative sparseness of our respective accommodations for a bit. Then, leaning back and looking at the sky, she asked if I had ever felt free.
That was an odd question, but in a way, it was something that had been on my mind of late. I related, for the second time in only a few days, tales of walking barefoot with mother, and dancing in forest glades. I said I sometimes could recapture that feeling when out in the woods on my own, and also the brief time I had at sea, with just me and my ship. Another freedom occurred to me. The freedom I had always felt with her, never having to be anything else when I was with her. I told her that and she was pleased, saying I never need wear a mask with her. I had always known this, but it was nice to be told. I should remember that more often. Maybe Aoibheann would still be speaking to me if I had. She told me that her freedom was being who she was, since discovering her real nature, not bothering to glamour herself and walk among men in disguise, but just being herself. There was a sad note to that, since she added that some decisions meant that her wings would be clipped and her feet tethered. That saddened me, as I had always considered her a free spirit. I assumed this to be the burden of her elevation to the throne and said so.
“Not only that,” she said, “but close enough to the truth my friend. I have responsibilities, so I can’t up and vanish like I used to. I must stay close and deal with politics. My court is a minor one compared to the Seelie, the Unseelie and the Sluagh, but we are not minor fae. We are considered the greater fae and our magic is strong. We control the Roads while our kin, The Cŵn are the Huntsman’s hounds. Both jobs are important; without the Roads between, there would be no true Faerie, without the hounds, there would be no hunt, no law to this land, for in essence that is what the Wild Hunt is.” I found this rather a lot to take in, given my own experience of the Cŵn. I mentioned said experience, and that of Aoibheann’s, saying that was why I now wore a sword. She told me that the hound at her cave door was a Cŵn that she had tamed with her music. She made me chuckle, by referring to Aoibheann as a daft kitten who had gotten lost and found herself at the cave door. Valene had had to calm her with the song and lead her back along the Roads to the castle, adding that she did not belong out there. I had to agree, but said also that I wasn’t sure where she belonged; her being scared of almost everything in the castle and believing it to be cursed, but too scared of the sluagh to venture outside it much. While I regretted that she was no longer talking to me, I said, I much preferred the company of people I could have an intelligent conversation with.
She had mentioned the Roads again, so I asked, thinking of intelligent conversation and my quest, if the Roads went anywhere near a library. It was half a joke, but there was always the chance they might. They led, she told me, to wherever I wanted them to go. Then, she started singing. A different song from the one I was used to, and for a few moments, I saw shining paths; twining and intersecting, making shapes that seemed almost impossible in the real world, like a drawing I had once seen that played tricks with perspective to make a cube that couldn’t possibly be made. It was almost like seeing Celtic knot-work in multiple dimensions. It was fascinating and beautiful and I was saddened when the song stopped and the vision faded.
“That’s what I see all the time,” she said, kissing me gently. For a moment, I felt almost like a child at the end of a book, wanting to ask her to bring it back. Instead, I asked of one such as I could learn to walk those roads. She told me yes, with a guide, otherwise a carrion crow, the devourer of the lost, would eat my soul. I would have asked more, but with that sudden change of mood that she is so good at, she was up on her feet again. It was time for her to feed, she said. Given what she had said earlier, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know about that. I kissed her goodbye, and suddenly, she was gone.
Those Roads tempt me sorely. Maybe somewhere on those, I can find answers to my quest. Am I brave enough to risk the carrion crow? Am I ready to leave this strange land before I find out why the ways of the fae fascinate me so? I don’t know. I really don’t know.
(With thanks to the fabulous Valene Silverpard for her words included in the above (and in the previous post too))