I woke alone in the cabin near the tavern; alone save for the scent of Gwyn on my pillow. The images from my dreams were unsatisfactory, and fragmented, like images in the shards of a shattered mirror, leaving my only with a sense of unease. Outside the cabin, there was a tension in the air, and the smell was wrong – too much fresh earth and the sharp tang of fractured stone. And there was a rumbling, almost unheard, a tremor of the earth that I could feel in my bones. Something bad was going on, something wrong with the world, but my only thoughts were for Gwyn. Had she returned to the sithen after our night together? I knew I was not welcome there, but maybe the guards could confirm that she was safe, if nothing else.
I made my way down the crude stone steps and along the ridge that led down to the standing stones. Something about the landscape was wrong, but I could not place what it was, only that there was a disturbance in the atmosphere, in the feeling, in the energy that I could sense. I hurried down and knocked at the door. The guards there looked harassed and tired. At first, all they would do was confirm that Gwyn was indeed safe within the tavern and were set to send me away when another voice called from inside. He was one of the senior guards by the look and sound of him. He berated the guard for refusing me, reminding him of orders that had been issued by Her Majesty to admit all who sought sanctuary from the crisis. I made my way back up the hill and stepped through into the sithen. I assured the guard that I would not hold it against him, and that I would mostly likely forget who he was if anybody asked who refused me. A small thing that didn’t cost me anything, yet might buy me favour with the gate guard for some future occasion. I did not know what the crisis was, but, for the moment, I was intent on finding Gwyn, and then, if required, doing what I could to help with the problem.
Inside the sithen, I found myself lost. Gone were the pink mist and the arched walkway into the centre. Instead, there were more trees, an assortment of marble gazebos, fountains and stuff. I headed for the nearest one that appeared to have movement. Of course, I walked straight in on the Queen. I managed to get my courtly voice in gear. “Your Majesty, may your light shine always, I do beg your pardon for the intrusion. With all the strangeness going on outside, I came seeking news of Gwyneth and your guard said it was ok to come in. I apologise again for the intrusion.” She bade me be at ease, assuring me that Gwyn was safe and that I could go join her and shelter here for the duration of the crisis. I bowed again and thanked her without thanking her, as I have learned to do. “Your Majesty is most kind. I do not fully comprehend the nature of this crisis, but if there is any way I can be of service, then Your Majesty need only ask. Likewise, if there is any business arising from our last meeting, then I am likewise at Your Majesty’s service.” She nodded and waved me in the general direction of another gazebo.
There I found Blaise and Aislyn, locked in some kind of embrace, but Aislyn looked to be in pain more than anything. Tristan was there, so I made up for the introduction that hadn’t happened the previous evening. That might have been a mistake, since his full introduction was, if I remember it all correctly, Tristan, of the First People, a retainer for King Carda, Lord of Hulsk, Keeper of the Midnight Sun, Slayer of Dragons, and as the poets sing, Drinker of Mead. I may have mis-remembered some of that. I felt a little inadequate, so I threw in my honorary title of Slayer of Onions, just for the heck of it, which he seemed to enjoy. I managed to procure a drink from one of the servants and took a look around. Aoibheann was outside the gazebo with Rachel, and did not look happy. This was, I learned later, because she was temporarily blinded and deaf, voluntarily, so she would not be a security risk to the sithen. Blaise and Gwyn were able to communicate with her, but otherwise, she was working by touch. Blaise tried to reassure her until Gwyn turned up and then left her in Gwyn’s care so he could attend to Aislyn. Gwyn had clearly been exploring the wardrobes in the sithen, since she, Rachel and Aoibheann were dressed in identical dresses, save for being different colours. I made introductions, since Tristan probably hadn’t met Aoibheann or Rachel yet. I got the titles in the wrong order, but I don’t think he minded. Gwyn explained about the temporary curse, which surprised him as he didn’t see how Aoibheann could be much of a threat. I thought the same until I was reminded that she is somehow bound to answer the Huntsman’s questions. Rachel was not a threat because she was bound by Gwyn. That surprised Tristan even more, wondering how such a small woman could bind a demon. Nobody tried to explain that, not even Rachel. We spoke of various things, but soon, I felt weary again, as I sometimes do, and asked Gwyn to show me to our sleeping quarters. She said she would do so, but wanted to spend more time with Aoibheann, so she would leave me there, promising that she would make it up to me when she came back to bed.
Before we could do so, we were interrupted by Valene, who asked Gwyn if she could have a word with her Sigil. Gwyn, obviously, was perfectly ok with this and offered to get her a drink. Aoibheann, meanwhile, was a little agitated, possibly feeling the cold, and Rachel was just wary. Valene was pleasant enough to Gwyn and Aoibheann, but was less so to Rachel, calling her a demonling. I took Val aside, noting how weary she looked, and how cold she felt, even more than normal. The Cait Sidhe were going to war, she told me, then kissed me. I felt a sudden access of fear, for the way she kissed me felt like she was saying goodbye. She asked me to look after Royce and Nualla and the two kittens, the two youngest – Rhys and Ianto. I returned her kiss, trying to show her the love I had for her and told her to be safe. I also told her to send for me, if she needed me, even in battle. I knew I was obliged, by virtue of being her Sigil, but that I would have done anyway, without any oath, because of our bond of friendship. Blaise came back and greeted her, watching as the kittens tumbled out of the shadows and cuddled up to Aiobheann. She thanked him for allowing her access and giving a safe haven for the young ones and then turned to depart. There was nothing more I could do. She had given me my task, to take care of those Cait she left with us. I watched her go, wishing her a safe journey and safe return, and then returned to Gwyn. Blaise had returned, and since he was able to communicate with Aoibheann, Gwyn took me off to the sleeping quarters and lay with me until I was asleep.