In Taberna Quando Sumus

Sometimes, I think I am reverting to teenage years. Twice recently, I have found myself hanging around on the Seelie hill, near the sithen entrance.  Of course, I have hung out in that area before, by the Celtic stone, but, have I been moping, hoping that Gwyn will be allowed to come out to play?

The first time, I was just hanging around; I don’t even remember why I was up there, when Aerodine appeared from out of the earth.  She was pleased to see me, but worried that I might be in danger. I could not see any sign of the sluagh or the Huntsman, so I reckoned I was fairly safe. We spoke of her distrust of both courts, though she did acknowledge that the Seelie were perhaps marginally the better of the two. She then spoke of her fear of being alone. Something was moving within the earth, some new threat, and she feared that many friends would be lost.  I assured her that I would do my best to not be lost. We kissed, albeit mostly chastely, and then she departed to tend to her trees.

The following night, I was up there again, but this time, with purpose, trying to get an overview of the land.  I had joked about the making of a map, but somehow, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I took to the various high points to make some sketches. Of course, the one time I was up there not seeking Gwyn was the one time she came looking for me. After assorted personal matters and talking about the map, we set off in search of Aoibheann, since neither of us had seen her for a while.  We found her eventually, fast asleep in the higher reaches of Ardan’s branches.  We debated the various means of waking her, or just putting mattresses down for her to fall on.  In the end, Gwyn found an acorn and launched it with surprising accuracy.  While Aoibheann was coming to, an old friend appeared out of nowhere – the Phoenix that I had known back in Jasper Cove. Evidently, he had appeared here before, because Aoibheann started screaming and moaning about the voices in her head. The Phoenix was, as usual, somewhat cryptic in his communications, but I managed to ascertain that this was him on a previous 500 year cycle – before we met in Jasper Cove. I am not sure how useful that is to know, but if we assume that Jasper was somewhat concurrent with Gwyn’s time; that would put us back in the 16th century. Of course, who knows that that means in real time?  I have ceased putting years in the diary because I have no idea when I am, and only an approximate idea of when I am relative to the year, whatever one it is.  All that mental effort suddenly made me feel very tired, so I left Aoibheann in Gwyn’s care and headed to Val’s to rest.

Last night was more interesting.  I took myself up to the tavern on the hill for want of something better to do. With Gwyn firmly aligned with the Seelie Court, it would not be prudent for her to be seen hanging around the Unseelie Sithen, and as much as I like it there, what with bathing pools and willing donors, it seems empty without her to visit. So, I thought I might as well start making myself at home in the village. At least it is relatively neutral territory, so far as the courts are concerned, and it is quite pleasant, once you get used to the relative gloom compared to the rest of the island.

So, there I was, seated by the fire with my book and a glass of rum for company when there was a certain amount of commotion outside. I could hear Nadya’s voice, and somebody that sounded like the strange demon called Bunny that I had seen once before in the old tavern. I also thought I heard Bella’s voice.  There was another voice, speaking mostly incomprehensible nonsense. I thought I had heard it before and it later turned out to be the Toreador I had met a few days before, Gabrielle. While that was going on, Gywn came into the tavern and came over to kiss me. Behind her was a man in leathers that I later learned was a Viking by the name of Tristan and the Lady Astrid. Tristan was dispatched to get drinks while Astrid greeted me warmly. I told her that I had never dreamed that Dame Fortune might smile sufficiently upon me to see her again. She called me a flatterer and I claimed that my words would always be insufficient to be called flattery. It was quite gratifying, how easily we slipped back into the roles we knew. I made my usual gentlemanly kiss of her hand and then asked Gwyn if it was ok for me to hug Astrid, which, of course, it was. That hug, just in itself, was almost like healing a hurt that I hadn’t even known was there. I guess I have missed my friends from the London days more than I thought.

We were interrupted by the commotion outside. Nadya came in, somewhat flustered and made an announcement about having lost some important artefact. It was a vial on a leather cord, containing blood and bones. She was very agitated about it, believing it to be a very dangerous artefact. She offered the choice of any treasure from her collection for its return and Bunny offered the granting of a wish as well.  It all sounded very serious and they could not understand why we weren’t getting overly excited about it.  Bella came in, somewhat out of breath, saying she had searched all around the sithen and had not found it.  Nadya and Bunny got even more annoyed, urging us all to take part in the search, asking us to think of the children, or what might happen to them if a child got hold of it.  I sighed and offered the services of the Cait, figuring that they would be able to cover more ground than I would, and would have better senses. I went outside and told Royce about it, asking him to spread the word among the Cait.

Tristan brought a drink back for Astrid, who seemed somewhat irritated by the fuss that was going on.  I joked about Bloody Vampires with her, which got me a smile.  Then Gabrielle came in. She looked like she had been in the wars somewhat, clothes torn, bloodied and bruised.  I tried to ask her what had happened to her, but all I got was incoherent nonsense.  Something about somebody called Alice, something about knives and a hive.  None of it made sense, so I had to conclude that she was insane, hopefully temporarily. I wondered if this was a characteristic of the Toreador that I didn’t know about, but thought it unlikely, since Brigitte had never shown any signs of it. Gabrielle went on about mirrors and other stuff that didn’t make sense and eventually ran off, sounding like she was chasing after whomever this Alice person was.

Astrid was getting more irritated by the goings on. She finished her drink and then left. I managed to get a few words with her before she departed, apologising for the fuss and explaining who the various people were. I told her that Valene was here, which pleased her, and then made loose arrangements to meet up soon to catch up.  Bella came flitting out, apparently also tired by the argument about the missing vial, whispered something to Astrid and then they set off, presumably for the Sithen.

I went back in to find I had Gwyn to myself. I hadn’t noticed Tristan leaving, but I assume he did, and didn’t just disappear into thin air. On the other hand, he might have. It isn’t exactly a rare talent in these parts.  She asked about my brief catch-up with Astrid, so I told her that we were in the same boat, with her husband, Sebastion, also being non-fae. In the interests of full disclosure, I told her about my history with Astrid, and my sort of crush on her. Gwyn said she didn’t mind, which accorded with my view that she didn’t do jealousy and such like. Indeed, she said she liked hearing about my past because it made her feel special that I would open up to her.  She then hugged me and told me I smelled like home, which was possibly the nicest thing that has been said to me in a long time.

I poured us both a glass of rum while we reminisced and toasted the late, lamented, Lucky Leaf. She then became more sombre and told me about the events preceding their arrival at the tavern. Gabrielle had been found unconscious; she had been there for a while by the look of it.  I guessed that meant she was in torpor. Astrid and Bella had been trying to heal her when Bella did something and she woke up and attacked the nearest person, who happened to be Tristan.  Rachel had also been there and warned everybody to stay well back.  The attack had been brutal and mindless, which had quite scared Gwyn.  She then asked me if I had ever done that.

I sighed.  I had known that this was something I was going to have had to explain to her at some point, so now seemed as good a time as any. I explained about the frenzy, and how my clan were more prone to it than most. I explained what it was, how there was no control, how the beast came to the fore.

“There is no control.   We call it the beast – the animal instinct that is in all of us. If that comes to the fore, there is no control, no reason, any more than you would expect from, say, a maddened dog or an inured lion. If you ever see me starting to get like that, run, hide, and get out of my sight. As much as I love you, if I were in a frenzy, you would be nothing but a meal to me.”  She looked doubtful, saying she couldn’t imagine me hurting her or anyone. She wanted to know how that could be.  I told her it was a kind of madness.  “I would never willingly hurt you in any way. I would hope that my love for you would hold me back, but… if the madness took me, I might not even know you. I pray to whatever gods are listening that it never happens.” I felt myself shiver as I hugged her. “It is not a nice thing, but, I love you, and so you should know this about me.”  She looked at me, and I almost felt my heart break, she looked so vulnerable, with unshed tears in her eyes.  Then, she brushed my cheek with her hand and told me she loved me. I kissed the tears away before kissing her properly. “And I love you, Miss Gwyneth Evans, more than I would have thought possible. Now, let’s get another drink before I start spouting love poems and embarrassing us both.”

She laughed and held out her glass. “I would love them, you know. No matter how bad they were. I’d compromise my critical eye for you.” I shuddered and told her please no, never to do that, because I needed her critical eye to keep me grounded. We spoke for a while about her fairy training, at least, the bits she was allowed to speak about. We agreed it was irritating that there had to be secrets, but I assured her I understood and was not upset.  She told me that she had met the queen, who had told her that she could see her mother. And then we spoke of other things, including our respective failings.  She asked what I thought my biggest failing was.  That was a tricky one, so I opted for talking about the mask I wear, how I hide my shyness and insecurity behind this confident façade, adding that I was really happy she had gotten behind that mask.  We kissed and then I confessed to another failing – that I had not taken her off to a nice comfortable bed in one of the cabins.  That was a failing that was easily rectifiable, and so we did.

 

 In the Tavern…

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