Sometimes, there are layers to Aoibheann that I could never suspect.  For a supposedly simple girl, she can occasionally be as devious as the devil himself. Whether her ideas were prompted by her urge to get revenge on Braeden, or to protect Gwyn, or maybe even both, I don’t know.  All I know is that she has had an idea.  It’s crazy, but it might just work.

I found Gwyn in the little meadow near the sithen, not doing much other than glancing at the sky; no doubt keeping an eye out for the hunter. I stepped up and wrapped my arms around her for a kiss.  Unfortunately, she hadn’t seen me, so I did manage to frighten her somewhat. I apologised and kissed again, just to make sure.  Aoibheann came by, telling us she had been sleepwalking, instead of the sleep she had promised us.  Gwyn tried to remonstrate with her about that, but Aoibheann had more news.  She had run into the Huntsman.  She did not say what passed between them, but her main point that he was awake, and so it was very possible that our meeting with him would be soon. Gwyn confirmed that this was what she had been watching for, for the Huntsman to take her away to certain death.  I held her close and told her nobody was going to their death, not if I could help it.

Aoibheann had more on her mind, and started to tell us about the Huntsman, since she has far more knowledge about him than the rest of us.  “There are things, you need to know.  Things about the Huntsman.  Things about life.  You need not fear death, Gwyn, there are things much, much worse,” she told us, fidgeting. “The faster you run, the brighter you shine.  He seeks brightness, he seeks to take it. His claws can tear your soul from your body.  He has claws, Gwyn, even when you can’t see them.”  We sat down together to think.  Gwyn said that she had a feeling it was that way, and she should know, having been in his dream for so long.  She was afraid that she could never outrun him. Aoibheann continued her description. “At times, the sound of his horn, or the howl of his cŵn will precede his coming, but he need not make sound if he wishes. He hungers for the hunt, always.  It is what he is.  He cares little for what I suppose you would call ‘civility’ but he can be very civilized if he wishes to be.  He’d usually rather tear your heart out with his teeth, though.  The White Stag, the perfect prey, is the one he seeks more than anything else.  Next to him… her, the little rabbit is his favourite.”  Something about the way she said it gave me pause for thought. I have heard her talk about the rabbit before, almost as though it was herself – a nickname perhaps?

Gwyn sat, rubbing her hands as though they were itching. “Well, I’ve said I’ll go. I have to go,” she said. “So I’m guessing shapeshifting would be a bad thing, then? I do run faster as the horse. Even though I wasn’t physically there in the Hunt, I saw enough to know that there’s a weird logic to it all.”

As she spoke, I started trying to remember what I knew of contract law.  I studied enough of the stuff to become an accountant, after all.  Wording was important.  “You agreed, but to what? Can you remember the exact words Braeden used, and you used?  You have to be very precise dealing with these beings.  They are a bit like lawyers and philosophy professors.”

Aoibheann chipped in with her thoughts. “I will go with you. The terms are simply that he will come, and you must go with him, and no harm will come to me.”  She smirked slightly, apparently pleased with this. “But… I.. I.. I don’t know, Gwyn.  So far as I know, short of the White Stag and the Little Rabbit, no one has ever actually managed to successfully escape him.”

Gwyn was not sure that Aoibheann should go with her, but acknowledged that there was no way to stop her.  She recalled the words that had passed between her and Braeden. “I can remember. He wanted to take me to the Huntsman. I told him I’d go if he promised not to do any more harm to Aoibheann. He said, ‘No harm will come to Aoibheann.’ He swore it. So I told him I’d go with him to meet the Huntsman. We clasped hands.”

I thought about that. I couldn’t see any exclusions that would prevent us going together. “You agreed to meet with him. The only condition laid down was lack of harm to Aoibheann. Therefore we can go with you, since there was no stipulation that you go alone. You agreed to a meeting, no more. I think we can reasonably argue that you only agreed to meet, not to join him, follow him be eaten by him etc.  His motivations may be strange to us, but I believe him to be reasonable, in his own way.”  Gwyn agreed, but then mentioned that she thought there was some bond between Braeden and the Huntsman, wondering if that was his job, to bring him prey.

“Bring him prey…”  I mused on that point for a moment. “That seems unlikely. After all, it is his purpose to hunt, and it’s not hunting if somebody brings the prey to him. I do not entirely understand our Sluagh captain. From observation, and from things Valene has said and done, I am not entirely sure he is sane, at least, not in the way we understand sanity. We can speculate all we want, but until he comes, or sends word, we don’t know.”  Aoibheann told me that he was not, very bluntly.  Then she started laughing and asked if I had a letter opener or some other small knife, saying Gwyn would need it.

Gwyn was not so sure about this idea. “A knife? What am I going to do, cut his horns off? Of course he’s not sane; look how he waltzed into the cavern the other night, acting like a complete gentleman when in fact he is a monster. I know we don’t know. But it’s been more than a day now, and I’m starting to get anxious. What will I need a knife for, Aoibh?” I echoed that question.

Aoibheann giggled. “Gwyn is going to stab me! Then Braeden will be forsworn, and if I need Llwyd to heal me, he will, which means the Huntsman won’t be a problem.” Gwyn and I just gaped at her. She was shocked at the idea, but my mind was working faster, since I had already been in lawyer mode.

“Absolutely not.” She shook her head. You are not thinking clearly. No fucking way. Nyet. Nón. No wnaf. Nicht. Ni bhéidh mé. Under no circumstances. No, no, no.”

I just stared at Aoibheann. “Aoibheann Healaighthe, that is the most devious, underhand… and absolutely brilliant idea.  Crazy as fuck, but it might just work. I always knew there was a genius hiding behind that pretty face.”  I looked at Gwyn.  “She’s right, it might just work.  The stipulation was no harm. I doubt Aoibheann is suggesting you stab her through the heart or anything.  A small jab in the arm or leg is still harm. Hmm, maybe even just a kick or a punch would count as harm…”  Aoibheann thought about it for a moment and suggested that maybe I could do the stabbing. Gwyn was still not convinced, thinking that it might be just as dishonourable for her action to be the undoing of the oath.

I thought about it for a moment. “You asked if he would promise not to harm Aoibheann. But that is not what he said.  He said; no harm would come to Aoibheann – not harm from him, just no harm. You did not ask him to promise that nobody would harm her.  You did not promise that you would not harm her. He did not promise that he would not harm her. He promised that no harm would come to her.  It’s a very fine point, but these are fae we are dealing with.  If you can’t do it, then we can work something else out. I could pretend, say, that I was angry with Aoibheann for being part of this, and I could hurt her…” I looked at Aoibheann, just to make sure she was happy with the idea still. “…which I would not enjoy, by the way.”

Aoibheann seemed generally ok with me stabbing her, but not the entire plan. “No, no, best to do it abruptly.  If you seem angry with me, Braeden may suspect your intent and keep you away from me. Just stab me,” she said, as if this was no big deal.  “Then be prepared– I do not know what Braeden will do, if I get through to Llwyd quickly enough, he would help fend the sluagh off, but… overcoming the Huntsman’s control is a difficult thing in and of itself.”  She smiled happily. “Oh, I’m starting to feel like myself again. I think I’ll go get a glass of mead.”  She stood up, as did we all.  Gwyn said she would think about it, but wasn’t too happy about the idea of getting Braeden angry, which was fair enough. I suggested that maybe he would be too angry at himself for leaving a loophole, and then thanked Aoibheann for her idea, which was so crazy; I could never have come up with it. She smiled and skipped off in the direction of the sithen, presumably to get her mead.

Gwyn and I did not follow her. We had hungers for other than honeyed wine and departed to Valene’s den, there to deal with those hungers.  Plain desires, or fear of what may yet come?  We did not know, or care, so long as we were together.


* Any excuse to play some Seal



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