Living in a Tree*

I take back my previous remark. I think Aoibheann has definitely got the edge on Brigitte when it comes to exasperation. Of course, being here as opposed to wherever Brigitte got to gives her the advantage.  Having to rescue her from a tree definitely improved her score last night.  I never did find out what had spooked her, but it must have been something pretty horrific.

I was minding my own business, as usual, in the tavern when Aoibheann came in.  She looked like she hadn’t slept much, or paid much attention to her clothing.  She marched with grim determination to the bar, helped herself to a bottle of gin and disappeared behind the bar.  I walked slowly around to see what was up and found her sitting on the floor, taking large swigs directly from the bottle. Figuring she might be more comfortable with me joining her if I had a drink, I started to pour myself a glass of rum and asked what was bothering her.  Despite my best efforts to be as unthreatening as I could manage, she panicked, grabbed another bottle and bolted out of the tavern. Against my better judgement, I followed her out into the yard and saw she was heading for the portcullis and out of the castle. I started to run after her, exchanging an exasperated look with the gate guards who had clearly decided against arguing with Aoibheann when she was in one of her moods.  Halfway down the stairs, I realised I was still holding the bottle of rum, so slipped it into my pocket, thinking I might need it later.

I followed at a safe distance, trying not to scare her further by appearing to chase her, until she reached the bridge over the river, where she stopped in the shelter of a large and handsome tree. It looked a little like a silver birch and had golden leaves, which led me to the conclusion that this was the famed Ardan.  She settled herself in the roots and resumed her communion with the bottle.  Rather than call out, which might have startled her, I started to whistle softly, a sea-shanty tune she had heard me whistle many times before, hoping the familiarity would reassure her. I was wrong. Displaying an unforeseen agility, she bolted again, straight upwards, and secured herself on one of the first major branches, well out of reach. Well, out of my normal reach. I could easily have flown high enough but I didn’t want to spook her any further by reminding her I was no longer merely human. I called out to her gently, but all she would say in return was “Don’t touch my tree!”

I wasn’t aware of having sent out any prayers, but even so, the prayers I didn’t send were answered in the form of Gwyn, who turned up, apparently on a walk. I beckoned her over and tried to convey by mime that Aoibheann had treed herself with a bottle. Gwyn called out to her, calling her sweetie and asking what was wrong. Possibly predictably, her reply – everything – was less than helpful. Gwyn and I looked at each other, sharing a moment of understanding that this might take a while and sat down.  I pulled the bottle of rum from my pocket and took a swig.

“Everything?” I asked “That could take a while.  Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Gwyn chimed in, reminding Aoibheann that we loved her and just wanted to help. All she would say was that she didn’t want to talk about it.  I passed the bottle to Gwyn, giving her a hug and ruffling her hair. “At least I’ve got some relatively sane company,” I told her.  She just giggled and looked around, asking where.  Aoibheann meanwhile had moved closer to the trunk, but still steadfastly refusing to come down or talk about what was bothering her.  We tried getting her to talk about something else, like the tree. She introduced the tree by name, told us quite emphatically that he was HER tree and warned us against making him angry. I could not quite imagine what that might mean and didn’t really want to, but Gwyn went ahead and asked. All Aoibheann would say to that was that it would be better to not find out. I made a mental note to ask Aerodine, as she probably knows a lot more about trees than anybody else.  Aoibheann did say that she felt safer near the tree, which was a start.  We tried to ask what it was she felt safe from, but she would not elaborate.

We switched tack, trying to persuade her to come down so we could talk, but she said she’d rather stay.  Gwyn tried warning her that she was drinking and could fall asleep and fall out, but that didn’t help.  We debated going up to get her, but were a little uncertain. I could certainly fly up there, but did not think that Aoibheann, in her current fragile state, was ready for that sight. Gwyn thought she could get there, but was not certain of her abilities and was afraid she might not be able to control it and would end up breaking some bones, or dropping Aoibheann and breaking some of hers.

Curiously, that seemed to do the trick. At the very mention of broken bones, Aoibheann suddenly decided she wanted to be at ground level, though she descended with less grace than she ascended. We tried to get her to join our little rum party, but she refused, hanging on to her bottle of mead for dear life. When we tried to approach her, she looked ready to flee, saying she had to run away, but from what and to where she would not say. I tried to think of places where she might feel safe and I realised that we were not far from Valene’s den, so offered to take her there. I was sure that Nualla or Royce could guide us there, or, if not, we could go back to the castle. Again she just shouted that we didn’t understand; she just had to get away. Gwyn tried cajoling her.

“Aoibheann Healaighthe,” she said, “you are among the most impossible, most beautiful, most lovable creatures I know. I don’t know what any of us would do without you. Maybe I can’t fix whatever’s wrong, but I can stand here and love you; that’s all I know to do right now.” She took a deep breath. “Please, just let us help?” I couldn’t have put it better so just told her that the same went for me.

Serendipity came to my aid; for no sooner had I mentioned Royce and Nualla when Valene herself appeared over the bridge. She took in the situation instantly and called to Aoibheann to calm herself.  At first, she refused but Valene persisted, getting closer to her and summoning up that song, that calming music I knew so well. She also gave some clue as to what might have frightened her, mentioning that she knew some unknown person could be terrifying, but that it was only a glamour. I did not know who this terrifying person might have been, but I guessed he was probably fae. Aoibheann was getting calmer, but still concerned as to this, whoever he was, coming back. Valene assured her that while said person was terrifying, he was not going to cause her any harm and definitely not bring war into her court or her home. She referred to said person’s queen being her consort, so I concluded from that that we were talking about the Unseelie king.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or Val’s song and the reassurances, but either way, Aoibheann calmed down somewhat and, wonder of wonders, came over to Gwyn and I and made a creditable attempt at a group hug. She decided she wanted to go back to the castle and then rather awkwardly suggested that if Gwyn & I wanted to be alone, she could make it there herself. Perhaps understandable, since Gwyn and I had been somewhat ‘touchy-feely’, to borrow a phrase I once heard her use, of late.  Gwyn assured her that she would rather go with her, so off we trouped, back to the castle, there to put Aoibheann to bed and then Gwyn and I put a good dent in the rest of the bottle.

 

On the subject of living in the trees…

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