I find myself very sad tonight. A recently made friend got taken away by spiders and an older friend and I had ‘words’ and she now finds herself at risk of expulsion from the castle or worse. Not, I hasten to add, as a result of the words we had, though the tension that has come between us may have helped.
After struggling with thoughts on how I could help Sophia, I was beginning to feel somewhat befuddled and took myself out to the Celtic rock, thinking some air that didn’t smell of middens might help. Aerodine was there, albeit somewhat altered in appearance, as if transforming herself into a more human form. I have no idea if this is something seasonal, something she can do at will, like a shape-shifter, or something caused by external events. Biology classes at school didn’t exactly cover the life-cycles of mythological beings.
She appeared to be somewhat surprised, pleasantly, that I was alive, and was concerned that I was out in the open while the Huntsman was around. I tried to explain that I had previous encounters with the Huntsman and he never seemed particularly interested in me. I was almost tempted to mention the ‘beautiful Natalie’ but decided that might be too difficult to explain. It was hard enough explaining what “clearing my head” meant.
We didn’t get much chance to talk, as we were interrupted by a rather large winged being – a sluagh, I later learned – who seemed most amused to find presumed mortal beings out on their own, offering us ‘darkest greetings’. This was not so far removed from the ‘dark paths’ greetings that was common in London, so I returned it politely. At this point, Gwyn, with her usual exquisite timing, turned up saying she had decided to see what all the fuss was about outside the castle, then adding that Weirdland doesn’t disappoint before asking if this was a bad time. On that, I wasn’t sure. The sluagh hadn’t made any aggressive moves at this point, although I was not entirely at ease with his presence. I looked to Aerodine for some clue. She presumably did know this creature, because she started to transform back towards her tree shape, and urged us to run.
The sluagh decided that we didn’t need the ‘nature creature’ here. Thousands of spiders appeared, presumably commanded by the sluagh, and enveloped her in webs before carrying her away. At least, I think they carried her away. It is possible she did her disappearing into the earth trick. I have to trust that she is safe, wherever she got taken or went. She did not appear to be unduly alarmed by what was happening, seeming more concerned for my safety, even as she was being enveloped. The sluagh said he wanted words with the rest of us. Not wishing to get involved in whatever this being intended, I politely pointed out that it was the nature creature I had come to see and if he wanted words, he could make an appointment. He merely replied that appointments did not exist here, only what nature showed us. I’m not entirely sure what that meant, but I had a bad feeling about the encounter and took Gwyn’s hand, ready to drag her away, or even fly carrying her if I could, should the encounter worsen. She asked me what the creature was. I was about to answer when a voice came from behind us, saying that she thought it was a demon. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the creature, so only quickly glanced behind to see that it was Rachel, although somewhat changed in shape, lacking as she now did, the horns and tail.
“Oh, I am much worse than a demon,” said the creature, “far worse.” I tightened my grip on Gwyn’s hand telling her that I thought Aerodine’s suggestion had been directed to us, and that it was maybe a good idea. Gwyn, meanwhile, had been startled by Rachel’s arrival, reacting, as usual, with an assortment of colourful phrases – ‘fuck me gently with a chain saw’ being the most memorable. I was sorely tempted to question this suggestion, but there were more pressing matters.
A black cat added to the confusion, brushing past my legs and placing itself between us and the sluagh and just sitting there, as cats do, casually licking its paw and yet somehow conveying a subtle threat. If that wasn’t bad enough, I recognised the cat – it was the same one that had been in my dream, delivering a message from Valene. Since it appeared to be there to defend me, although I wasn’t entirely sure what good it would be against the much larger sluagh creature, I wasn’t about to question it, much less its existence in case it proved to be a dream. I started backing up slowly, ready to run if needed, thanking the creature for its hospitality in its land and suggesting it visit me in mine – in this case, hoping it was a literal as some other demonic types and would try to find me in England.
Flight proved unnecessary. The creature told us to take our leave, saying it would no doubt see us again soon, and flew off. Gwyn berated me for inviting it, so I explained about the literalness. She then asked if I was planning on passing her off as my little sister, referring to the hand-holding. I told her that my mother would have some explaining to do if she was my sister, but that on the other hand, that would mean I had fae blood too, which would explain a heck of a lot. The hand-holding, I said, was in case I had to fly, literally, to get away.
Meanwhile, there was a certain amount of discussion with Rachel; about the fact that she smelled bad, the absence of horns and the fact that it hadn’t been a glamour – instead, she thought she was a demon. Only thought she was a demon? I pointed her in the general direction of the pond that I thought Sophia had used to bathe and suggested that getting away from this spot would be a good idea. Rachel declined the offer of a drink on the grounds of fasting and disappeared off on her own business while Gywn and I headed back to the castle.
Oh yes, I almost forgot the cat. It was still sitting there, washing, so I asked it what it was doing there after being in my dream. Damn me if the thing didn’t speak. He told me that his queen had asked him to keep an eye on my, to make sure that I didn’t get eaten. Oh, and it was he who told me that the creature had been a sluagh.
Back at the castle, things quickly went bad. I saw Isabella and Aoibheann talking by the well. I was going to leave them to it, but Isabella saw me and waved me over. Gwyn wasn’t sure if that included her, so hung back and eventually headed off to her lair by the portcullis. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on with Isabella. She appeared to be questioning Aoibheann about her eyesight and something to do with what may or may not have been magical fire in the tavern. Aoibheann was trying to explain, in her halting way, clearly discomfited by my presence, that Vedis – she could barely bring herself to say the name – and Galyanna were there, but she thought the magic wasn’t demonic, instead thinking it to be fae. She wasn’t sure if that was what had caused her to temporarily lose her sight, or whether she had taken some poison.
Meanwhile, Isabella asked if I had requested a meeting, suggesting we could go somewhere more private if necessary. I assured her it could wait, being as some of it concerned our mutual friend and other things were for our ears only. She was quite happy to leave it for now and, after asking Aoibheann some more questions, pretty much dismissed her, advising her to avoid getting blinded if she could manage that. Aoibheann started to go, but then blurted out something about the Sluagh and the Unseelie working together, as if this was interesting. Isabella thanked her for that snippet of information. As she started to leave, I realised that Valene was standing behind me, as was the black cat, who was winding round her legs. That made sense. Valene explained what I had already been told by the cat, so I thanked her and made to introduce her to Isabella, except, in the few moments my back had been turned, she had gone.
And that is when it started. All I said was “And that was Isabella, but she seems to have gone.” All of a sudden, Aoibheann erupted.
“The queen of Jasper Cove,” she said, sounding irritated, apparently by me dropping all of Isabella’s titles. “Jasper Cove may be no more, and she may no longer be yours, but she is still my queen.” I was somewhat at a loss about this. I had deliberately not given Isabella’s titles because she had already left, and anyway, I did not know for sure that she wanted that rank to be generally broadcast. I am afraid I let the remark rankle and told her she had no right to question my loyalties or jump to conclusions when she knew nothing of my dealings with others. I told her how it must be so simple, in her world where everything is black and white. I also accused her of treating me as a pariah when I had never done her any harm and suggested she try asking a few questions and listening to the answers.
Valene opined that Isabella may have been a queen, but it took more than title to be one in this land, asking what it was that Aoibheann wanted to ask of her. Aoibheann was too irritated with me to answer at first, saying only that there had been a cat, presumably another bodyguard like mine. Then she really started to annoy me, by questioning my loyalty.
“If you were truly loyal to anyone, Nathaniel, there would be no question about it,” she said, then saying her world was not black and white, instead, being stained with blood and pain and death. That was too much, even for my even temper.
“You know nothing, you foolish girl,” I told her holding my arm up, indicating the scar around my right wrist. “My loyalty is sealed in blood, and in oaths. I was most likely the last person to see the one you knew as Alec alive, and he bound me by oaths to carry out his wishes concerning Isabella and other things that are none of your concern. I have been friends with Valene here for a long time, and her friendship has always been true, fully deserving my loyalty and friendship without reservation and she knows that. And, I served you, in your tavern, loyally and honestly, without pay, even when you were at your coldest to me. On more than one occasion, I put myself at risk of death to defend you, even if you didn’t know it. Even now, I would still do so, despite your current attitude to me. So, no, you do not have the right to question my loyalty.” Valene seemed mildly amused by this bickering and accused us of acting like kittens. The cat, she told Aoibheann, was called Nualla, and was her bodyguard, just as Royce was mine. She then threatened to throw us to the shadow roads if we didn’t start behaving and promptly vanished. Aoibheann was not to be put off her stride.
“Loyalty is not shown by speaking of the oaths one carries, Ballard,” she told me, her tone flat. “I need not speak of how I serve those I do, I simply do. Words can be such pretty things, but I cannot trust yours, not when you do not know what some of them mean.” Now that was rich, coming from a girl who was barely literate when I first knew her. I launched into her.
“Really?” I said. “Please, do enlighten me as to these words that I don’t know the meaning of. You know nothing, child, and you certainly do not know me. But, hey, it’s your life, it’s your head. Please, carry on with your misplaced certainties, and I hope they hold you in good stead.” I turned away, looking towards the market stalls and realised that Cristof had arrived and had asked if anything was wrong. “And, frankly, you can doubt me all you want. I don’t give a rat’s arse,” I said, before answering Cristof with a simple. “No, just a difference of opinion.”
Aoibheann was clearly further discomfited by the arrival of another vampire and said something about the problem being that she was still talking to me. He did not seem convinced, or pleased and said that he had heard us arguing about loyalty. He then turned his attentions to Aoibheann, clearly furious about something. He gave her a long telling off about loyalties and fealties, being most displeased that she had made the comment about the Unseelie & Sluagh in front of Isabella, who, despite her not being a queen here, was still fae, as was Valene. He told her that her words could have caused untold damage to the relations he was trying to maintain between the castle and the various courts. I was surprised by his anger and frankly, given what he had told me about our clan’s weakness in regard of frenzy, took a step back in case he lost it. He continued in that vein for a while and finished by telling her that if she caused any trouble, he would serve her up on a silver platter to whoever she offended. I almost felt sorry for her, knowing her better than he did and knowing that she just didn’t have a clue about politics, and certainly was very unlikely to have wanted to cause harm.
Turning to me, he said he did not know of my dealings with Isabella, but bade me to not speak of fae court business. I assured him that my business with her concerned only matters related to her possibly late husband and that I knew little enough of the business of the fae courts, so could not speak thereof. I apologised for disturbing the peace with my argument and, my anger having now evaporated as quickly as it had come, I apologised to Aoibheann too, for my harsh words, explaining that loyalty and friendship were very important to me, adding that I hoped we could find a way to make a peace between us. She seemed also to have calmed down a little. She apologised to Cristof, saying that she in no way intended harm to come to anybody in the castle, but added she could not promise that she might yet inadvertently cause harm. She seemed to have resigned herself to being banished, for she then turned to me.
“Nathaniel,” she said. “I will place my trust in you again. I am asking you to look after the children. All of them. Jada, Kale, Madeleine, any others you might find.” She turned back to Cristof and said “I suppose I am no longer welcome in these walls?” I felt for her at that point, but felt a little admiration that she was standing up, ready to take the consequences of her actions, albeit unintentional.
Cristof did not banish her. He explained a little about his view of dealings with the fae, giving her fair warning not to place too much trust, or fealty in them, for fear that they might use her. He also told her that this was her only warning and any future treasonous act might well result in execution. That seemed harsh to me, for the poor girl, I did not doubt, intended no such thing, but had to admit, in her naivety, might let slip things she shouldn’t. I resolved to try to explain a few things to her, if she ever listens to me again. I thanked her for her trust regarding the children and promised I would always be there for them and hoped she would be too. I also thanked Cristof for his forbearance.
That seemed to be the end of it for the evening. I bade them goodnight and returned to my hut. I had to think about. I regretted my brief display of temper, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I don’t know why it upsets me so, other than that friendship and loyalty are the two things I hold most dear. I will admit that it might not seem so from Aoibheann’s point of view. I wonder if I can even begin to explain how I can be cordial with the likes of Vedis without that being a betrayal of loyalties. I really don’t know where to begin.