Fear of the Cat*

I went over to the tavern this afternoon, just for a change of scenery.  My hut, cosy though it is, is somewhat on the small side and lacking in entertainment value.  I did not feel up to going outside the castle after my walk this morning, and so the tavern it was. There was a curious sense of déjà vu, since it was as empty as the Lucky Leaf often was.  That didn’t bother me overly much, as I just wanted to get on with reading Dee’s journal and updating my own.  It seems as if Royce has not given up his bodyguard duties, since he appeared from somewhere or other and followed me to the tavern. I figured I owed him something, so I stripped a good plateful of meat from the joint on the counter and put it down for him. He looked at it with his usual “are you kidding?” expression, but then, with the cat equivalent of a shrug, got on with eating. I settled down, hoping my studies would bring me some answers.

That wasn’t to be, as I was interrupted by a rather distressed looking and breathless Gwyn, with bloodstains on her neck. She came running in, then came to a halt, muttering the word fuck between breaths.  I asked her what was up and she started blaming me, for telling her that there was nothing harmful out there.

“Something tried to get me,” she said, pointing at the smear of blood on her neck and dared me to make a joke about that.  I decided that this was good advice and went to the bar, fetching her a glass of water, another of rum, and a wet rag with which to wipe the blood off.  I said that our encounter with the sluagh the previous day had disproved the theory about there being nothing bad out there and asked what she had encountered. Since she didn’t seem to be recoiling from me, I started to clean up her neck, looking for any injuries while I did so. She took the rum and told me she had encountered two women; one dancing on tiptoe around a tree and another watching.  The first one had been smiling at her, but the other came close and tried to sniff her. This latter had blood on her face, so she had asked if she was alright.  Then, when that second one touched her, she had told her “No thank you” which was apparently not the thing to say.  The first one told her that thanking them was not a good idea, even with the word no.  The second one explained that this could imply a debt, but she would let it go, suggesting that Gwyn run, which she did. She then drained the rum in one go and asked for another.

The business about debts from saying thank you sounded like fae talk to me.  I said that the bad guys didn’t normally give you the chance to run and speculated that the sniffing might mean that the second one was of a type that relied more on scent than other senses. I poured her another drink and was about to bin the rag I had used to wipe her clean when I noticed a familiar scent.  I sniffed at the rag and there was an unmistakeable smell of mint mixed in with the blood.  Could Valene be mixed up in this somehow?  She had been rather bloody last time I had seen her. I glared at Royce, indicating that I would quite like a word with his Queen.  Gwyn was complaining that she had been sniffed and that the woman had called her a child.  I remarked that this wasn’t unusual among such creatures and admitted even I had called Aoibheann a child the previous night.  That upset her more because she thought Aoibheann hated her and wouldn’t even acknowledge her existence and promptly burst into tears, saying she didn’t want to be here and just wanted something good to happen.  I hugged her and held her while she cried; trying to assure her that Aoibheann would come around. I couldn’t promise her good things, I told her, but she had my friendship and protection, which may well count among those who had been bothering her.  I looked over at Royce again, mouthing, “I want a word.”  This time, he seemed to understand and slunk off, hopefully in search of his mistress. Gwyn was still crying, blowing her nose on the hanky I gave her and complaining that things kept trying to eat her, she didn’t have anything to read and that she hadn’t been kissed since somebody called Richard had shanked her in his car.

That confused me somewhat, since I understood that word to mean stabbed, but thought maybe it was some modern slang for something else.  She explained that they had been in his car, and was showing her his new knife when a truck hit them, causing him to stab her.  That was the last thing she remembered before arriving in Jasper Cove.  I wasn’t sure I could do anything about the lack of kissing, but assured her I would try to prevent her from being eaten, and offered her the loan of some of the few books I still had with me.

Valene turned up, so I guess Royce did understand me.  She looked as though she were at the end of her tether and looked even bloodier than she had the previous day.  I asked her what she had been doing to frighten my friend. She explained that she had found Gwyn wandering alone in the fae part of the island, not knowing the rules of that land, and had faced down a visiting Unseelie royal who might otherwise have eaten her, having realised that she belonged to me.  Gwyn had noticed her by now, squeaking out “It’s her”.  I hugged her again to reassure her she was safe and made introductions, asking Valene to accord Gwyn the same favour she showed me.

Gwyn explained that she was fae too, but didn’t know much and had just wanted to get outside this shit-hole castle for a couple of hours. Valene explained some more about the fae and their ways.  It sounded a bit harsh, but rang true.

“You may be fae, child,” she said, “and yes, I know you do not like to be called that, but in my head you are all children, not knowing the rules upon the land you are standing. But one thing I will tell you right now. There is no true good or true evil here, the fae are creatures of self. We are selfish and self-absorbed, plotting and planning, scheming our dreams and hopes away.  The reason Nate was fine was because he has my mark of favour and I dragged him through my Roads to my den…”  Her explanation faltered, as she appeared to be in some pain. I asked if there was anything we could do, but she didn’t answer.  Gwyn, in the meanwhile, seemed a little braver, complaining that Isabella had promised to teach her, but hadn’t done much yet, so could Valene do any better? Apparently she could.

“Never thank a fae,” she told her, “even unintentionally. Never accept a gift from a fae, especially one you do not know well. Your best bet for getting on the good side of us is through compliments, but take care to not over do it. Fae are notoriously vain creatures. Fae can not truly lie to you, but they can twist the truth enough to make you think that up is down and down is up.  Just be careful.” That sounded like good advice to me and was clearly more than anybody else had given her. Gwyn seemed to appreciate it.

“Well, that’s the most advice anybody’s given me since this whole fucked up thing started,” she said, starting to walk towards the door. “It’s definitely time for me to go. I’ll do something stupid if I don’t.” Wheels appeared to be turning in her head as she stopped and turned to me. “Right. Kiss me, you posh fuck,” she said, looking up expectantly. I was a little taken by surprise, even though I had previously speculated on her flirting.  On one hand, I did not want to give her any further disappointment, on the other; I suspected she had drunk the rum a little too quickly, so didn’t want to appear to take advantage of her state.

”Well,” I said, sounding a little surprised. “Far be it from me to refuse a lady.” I leaned down and laid the softest of kisses on her lips, chaste enough, but with a hint of promise before backing off slightly. “But, just in case this counts as something stupid, we can always reconvene when you are a little more rested.”  I gave her another kiss, again relatively chaste.  “That’s the trouble with being a posh fuck.  I always have to be the gentleman.” I smiled at her tenderly. “And gentlemen take things slowly,” I added.  Valene seemed to find this amusing, calling me a tease for kissing and never taking things further before vanishing into the shadows. Gwyn smiled.

“Well, thank you,” she said. “Now, if you’re fae, I’m completely screwed, right?”  She grinned, and with that, was gone out of the door, presumably back to her dwelling.

I shall have to wait and see if that was just the alcohol talking, her distress at what happened or if she has feelings towards me. If she does, then life gets a little more complicated, especially if Aerodine’s transformation is for my benefit.  And that’s without any complications possible from the other ladies in my life. I wish I could say this was unfamiliar territory, but it is bringing back memories of complicated times in London when I found myself in similar circumstances.  Of course then, one of the complications was my dear friend Greyson. I wish I had somebody I could turn to for advice. And, there was something else on my mind.

“If you’re fae, I’m completely screwed,” Gwyn had said.  That is a good question.  That is one that has been in my mind since my feeble joke the previous day about Mother having some explaining to do if Gwyn was my sister.  Could there have been more to Mother’s habit of walking barefoot and dancing in the woods than just a simple escape from the strictures and mores of Victorian society? Was there some deeper reason for all the Romantic poetry and fairy stories in her library?  Surely she would have said something, wouldn’t she? Unless she was trying to protect me, but then, why, and from what? Could there be a reason for my attraction to the areas outside the castle?

There are too many questions, dear diary, and I don’t know where to go for the answers. Perhaps sleep will bring something.  Who knows, maybe that other Nathaniel, out there on his boat, knows something I don’t.

 

*Hmm, can I get away with a song that is only one letter different?

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