Sometimes, I wonder if Aoibheann and I actually speak the same language. Even allowing for the few hundred years difference between us and the possibility that English is not her first language, there are times when we simply do not communicate.
After all the excitement of meeting Her Majesty, and the destruction, we spent a relatively comfortable night in the Underhill. I was much refreshed and ready to set out on my self-appointed task, which I suppose is now by Royal Appointment. I wonder if I can get one of those badges that you see on packets of mustard and such like. I was planning on getting out there and finding people to talk to. Galyanna, for one, who witnessed the explosions that started the fire; Aerodine likewise, provided we can get over the wholesale destruction bit; the Huntsman even, for surely he knows who it was he was hunting. I also had thoughts as to reviewing the situation at the site of the castle, in the hope that perhaps a new village, one that would not offend the Courts or the Wyld could be constructed there. Aoibheann, on the other hand, seemed to be of the opinion that it would be most ungrateful and rude of me to leave the Underhill. She viewed my appointment as something akin to being a diplomat, which I cannot entirely disagree with, however her view was that a diplomat should sit around and wait, doing nothing unless so bid. Maybe that’s how things get done, or possibly not done, where she comes from, but I was more inclined to use my initiative and go out and gain information. No matter how I tried to argue it, she could not see my point of view any more than I could see hers.
I was about ready to leave anyway when Gwyn arrived, fresh from a wash and looking for something to eat. Aoibheann was much more enthusiastic about getting something to eat than she was about my suggested mission, so I left them to it while I attended to my own nutritional needs. Apparently, the message had been conveyed from Her Majesty concerning my needs. When I enquired of one of the servants, I was taken to a more private area and asked to wait. A few minutes later, I heard giggling in the tunnels and three young ladies, only part fae, so far as I was able to judge entered the room shyly. They whispered among themselves in some language I did not understand, though the feel of it was not unlike Gaelic. After a certain amount of apparent negotiation, or possibly comparison of rank, one of the three stepped forward and shyly offered her arm while the other two tittered behind their hands. She was much prettier and cleaner than the castle denizens, and her vitae tasted much sweeter for it, quite apart from that heady hint of the fae side. I tried, so far as I know how, to make it as pleasurable for her as I could, and I think I succeeded, from the expression on her face. I licked the wound clean, closing it up and released her arm, thanking her gravely. She smiled shyly, blushing, and then retreated to the company of her friends. There was a certain amount of giggling and chatter among them. They all thanked me solemnly before breaking into giggles again and disappearing.
I returned to the main cave to find the girls suitable refreshed. Gwyn was ready to accompany on my mission. She looked ready for anything in long boots and the leggings that I believe she calls jeans. I remembered a song on the box of jukes about boots and asked if they were made for walking. She obviously knew the song, for she sang the chorus. I grinned at her.
“That was the one,” I said. “Hmm, she’s smart, she’s pretty and she can sing. I might have to keep her after all.” I stood up, winking at her. “So, to borrow a line from said song, Are you ready boots?” She laughed at that.
“Well, you’re stuck with me for now. You’ve got no choice but to keep me when we’re forced to live in the same cave.” She stood up, promising Aoibheann that we would come back safely. Possibly a rash promise, but I liked her optimism. Said optimism was quickly drained away by the sonorous sound of Paash’ voice from nearby. She sounded like she was in one of her very black moods, saying that she did not know the song, but that it didn’t matter any more. I could understand her depression, as she had lost yet another business in the destruction of the castle.
I sympathised, saying, “It was tough on all of us, but at least we were all still alive,” which I quickly modified for Paash’ and my benefit by adding “for a given value of alive.” Gwyn opined that she felt alive, but suggested she could be hallucinating. I acknowledged this was possible, as I was feeling slightly high from the part-fae blood. Paash took her time replying, sounding even more depressed.
“You don’t understand though,” she said. “I was tasked to protect the castle. All those hours, those notes, and I failed, again. Like I failed Miishee, once again I’ve proven myself inadequate.” There was a long, drawn out sigh, and then she asked. “Is there a fire in there?” We assured her that there was and gave directions to find us in the cave. She came to the cave mouth, looking more depressed than I had ever seen her, even worse than the time she begged Aoibheann and I to burn her hat. She broke down weeping, telling us that she knew a way to protect the castle, but had failed, saying she could have protected all of us. Gwyn sighed and asked if taking the blame for things was a national sport round here. Paash just stood there, weeping and trembling.
“I could have prevented this… I had a way… I could have protected everyone. I would have taken just one thing, one thing that I was too selfish to give.” I decided to go for the firm approach. I told her it was not her fault. I told her that nobody, not even her, could have held back an entire forest. Gwyn was less charitable, suggesting that Aoibheann feed Paash something so that she would shut up. Aoibheann went over, trying to get her to come in.
“Luuham,” she sighed, walking over. “Do not make me carry you inside. Dwelling on what could have been only makes it take longer to heal,” she warned, trying to keep her voice soft. “Besides, that castle was doomed from the start.” Paash’ mood shifted to a darker tone, angry and aggressive.
“Don’t worry, Paahiinaa, when I get in there, you can personally push me into the fire and watch me burn,” she said, turning to Gwyn. “And if you are too weak, too fragile, too much of a mewling, whining child to do it, I’ll do it myself. You don’t need to carry me. I’ll make it in myself, and be done with this. It would have taken my life to protect the castle anyway.” I tried to address Paash’ fears again.
“Paash, had I been there, I too would have given my life. Not for the castle, that is just stone and mortar, but for the people within. And if I had, I would now be dead, and the castle would still be in ruins. I tried to convince the dryads not to attack, but they would not listen. Nobody is going to blame you but yourself, and that will achieve nothing. The important thing now is to survive, and do what we can to make a better life. So, quit whining, put it behind you and start thinking about tomorrow.” Gwyn meanwhile, complained that she was not a mewling child, but rather, was fed up of listening to Paash sounding like one. Aoibheann tried to intervene, telling us to get along and trying to bring Paash up to date with recent events and where we were. Paash was not to be deflected, slipping further into that blackness that constantly lurks somewhere behind her eyes.
“Well, do it! If it will make your constant whining stop, Gwyn, kill me, make me shut up. I’ve killed for you. Ever wondered where Elijah went after I bought his bakery? All I hear you do is complain and curse, like a swayback. Is that what you are then? Do you get paid… what is the human word, to get fucked? Maybe you’re just in grief over your favourite customer’s phallus. That’s it, you miss lying with Elijah.” She smiled, humourlessly and then dropped her glamour, the orange hide and mane fading to show the blackened twisted skeleton I had seen only once before. “Prove you’re not. Kill the monster standing before you, or live like the cowardly swayback you are!” Gwyn stood up, her temper flaring, but speaking calmly.
“For your information,” she said, “I worked my arse off in the Lucky Leaf for Aoibh. I washed the linens. I cleared the tables. I did any work she put in front of me. You can ask her: she’s not a liar, and she’s not a bitch even if she’s got one for a foster mother.” Her knuckles were white as she clasped her hands into fists. “And Elijah may have been a jerk, but he didn’t deserve death, so that’s on your head, full stop. As for what I do for a living, what I did… I’m a scholar. I teach people. And I’ve never fucked anyone, ever, in my life, certainly not him. I’m also a pacifist, so I’m afraid that even though you are succeeding in angering me right now, I’m too good to kill you, you mad cow.” She started towards the door. I just glared at Paash.
“You will not speak to my friend like that,” I told her, coldly, trying to keep my anger in check. “She has done nothing to deserve it. She certainly did not ask you to kill for her. Nobody did. That is for your conscience, if you have one. She will not raise a hand to you, and neither will I. I would not give you that satisfaction. Now, get over it.” I took Gwyn’s hand and headed out of the cave. “Come Gwyn; let’s go find some fresh air.” Paash more or less growled at us.
“To thing I thought of you as a friend,” she said, snarling and moved closer to the brazier, looking as if she was preparing to throw herself in it. Gwyn sighed.
“I didn’t say we weren’t friends, you idiot. I said shut the fuck up with the whining and let us take care of you, but all you heard was shut the fuck up, so that’s what I’m going to do, from here on out.” She stalked out of the cave. I turned to follow her, but before I did, I remembered what Paash had told me last time she had been in her blackest mood, about the hat being the seat of her un-life. I called to Aoibheann to take the hat, saying that it would not work without the hat. I left then, following Gwyn by the sound of her footsteps and the brushing of the undergrowth.
I caught up with her on the nearby shore, a pleasant, sheltered place. She was in floods of tears. I sat down and put my arms about her. She could barely choke out her words.
“What does anybody see in her? She’s never been nice to me, not once, except when she and Aoibheann rescued me from the bakery. And what a thing to say, to suggest! And now everybody knows I have no experience with men, and nobody gives a fuck about teachers here, and she’s right; I have no practical skills, so I might as well get good at killing octogenarian ponies.” I held her tight, wiping the tears away, trying to explain. I could not justify Paash’ words, but knew where they came from.
“She’s a 90-yr old undead widow with, I suspect, a depressive illness and personality problems, and no way to treat them. Maybe they have treatments in your time, but she doesn’t. She’s striking out and you happened to be in the way. What she said was horrible, yes, but I know it’s not true, you know it’s not true, and Aoibheann knows it’s not true.” I hugged her close, stroking her hair. “Don’t let the ranting of a bitter old woman get to you. You are beautiful, you are smart, and who gives a shit about your experience or otherwise with men? Paash has no clue about humans, Aoiheann is inexperienced and probably doesn’t know what half those words mean and I love you anyway.” She wrapped herself around me, crying onto my shoulder.
“I’m not mean! I’m not! I’m nice! I’m not like Rachel, I’m not like her.” My watch chimed the quarter hour, which seemed to startle her. “And what the fuck is that tinkling noise? It’s driving me crazy.” I lifted her face and kissed her, getting a warm kiss back.
“Of course you are not mean. Nobody thinks that. Paash just has a horribly foul temper and strikes out. Don’t take any notice.” I pulled my watch out. “Sorry, I had it set to chime the quarters and forgot.” I opened the back and flicked the tiny lever to silent. Her tears turned, via snuffles, to giggles.
“Seriously? I thought it was something to do with the Queen, some sort of fairy noise. I should have noticed it got louder when I was nearer you.” She sniffled, pulling a handkerchief out of her pocket, and blowing. “So attractive, right?” She stuffed the handkerchief back in. “Do you know what? Let’s go to Valene’s. I don’t want to go back there tonight. Valene won’t mind, will she?” I stood and helped her up.
“She already said we were free to treat it as our home. Of course she won’t mind,” I told her. “And don’t worry about it. You should see me when I cry – pretty pink tears. Come; let us go for a walk before I decide to do something about your inexperience right here.” I winked at her. She winked back.
“You always make me blush,” she said. “Yeah; come on. Let’s go to a place where everybody likes us.” And so we did, and what passed there is nobody’s business but ours.