I knew there was something odd about the ears. Methinks that my beloved has been trying a little too hard to fit in with her new family and slipped up in letting me see them. At least she was suitably contrite about it. I do wonder if I have given an overly stern impression of myself, seeing how nervous she was about telling me. Still, the secret is out and we are none the worse for it. We also finally got to meet Lord Maric, who turned out to be quite a charming fellow, if a little old-fashioned in his manner, even from my point of view. As a result, there is a chance I may have gotten myself the opportunity to be useful in a professional capacity. It’s about time.
As often seems to be the case these days, we were in the tavern. It would seem that my refugee status has been revoked, so I am no longer welcome in the Seelie Sithen, and there is little point in me going to the Unseelie one as Gwyn can not go there. It is not an ideal situation, but, that’s how it is. Gwyn came in looking a little sheepish, saying she needed to talk to me. That sounded ominous, so I asked if I needed a drink first. She said she didn’t know and stood there, looking at the ground. When I asked her to spit it out, whatever it was, she said that she had lied to me. Specifically, she had lied to me about the ears. They hadn’t grown overnight because of some rite of passage or magical energy. She had glamoured them so she could fit in with the others, and had forgotten to take them off when she came to see me. I had thought it rather odd the previous evening. I was relieved that it was something so trivial, but she looked so downcast about it, I could not help but tease her a little. I adopted a stern expression and said I would have to think about this. She went to get drinks while I did so. When she returned, I spoke very seriously, saying that there was really only one thing I could do. I took both our drinks and before she could get away, hoisted her onto my shoulder and playfully spanked her on the behind. I resorted to her vernacular and called her a fucking idiot for thinking I would be angry about something so trivial. That set her giggling, but then she sobered up and said we would have to talk later before saying “Hello sir.”
I let her to the ground gently and turned. There was a well-dressed and evidently refined gentleman watching us. He spoke with a cultured voice with just the hint of a foreign accent. He asked if there was any conflict here, and if we were new arrivals. He introduced himself with a slight bow as Lord Maric, lord of the village. He seemed amiable enough, but from his bearing and manner, I decided to switch to a more formal mode. I introduced the two of us, apologised for the high spirits and explained that we had actually been resident on the island for some time. Gwyn managed a curtsey – they have been training her in the sithen – and spoke about a letter she had sent concerning the villagers.
No apology was necessary, he told us, as he welcomed us both and commended Gwyn on her charitable acts before inviting us to join him in a drink at one of the tables. His manner was formal, but friendly, although he did seem to have a bit more of a glint in his eyes when he spoke to Gwyn. Clearly the man has good taste, but I had no fears in that direction. He told us that the villagers would be made welcome and provided for and then asked if we were intending to stay. I complimented him for his kindness in respect of the villagers and then described myself as somewhat of a nomad, but that when I wasn’t travelling, I would most likely base myself in the village. Just in case he had an eye to Gwyn, I made some comment about home being where my heart was, and put my arm round her. Master of subtlety, that’s me. Gwyn was marginally less subtle. She told him that many of the villagers had lived on this hilltop in the old castle. She told him that she lived mostly in the Seelie sithen, but frequently found reason to come to the tavern when I was there.
Maric declined my offer of rum, claiming he had specific tastes. The barman brought him something dark and thick, a deep, ruby-red fluid, glistening in the glass. I did not need my nose to tell me what was in there. He begged us to indulge him with tales of what was happening in this strange land. In particular, he was keen to know of the Seelie Sithen, speaking as though he did not know what that was. I glanced briefly at his glass and said that I too had specific tastes, but still enjoyed a glass of rum. I agreed that this was a strange land and suggested that maybe it would be easier if he asked questions, which we would try to answer.
Gwyn explained that she was fae and told him about the two courts, saying that he was likely to encounter many fae about the land. She also explained what a sithen was, commenting on the etymology of the word for some strange reason, but could reference only Chaucer’s use of it to mean since, or from another time. That latter made more sense to me, but I was just amused she felt compelled to comment upon it. The mention of the fae got his attention, asking if she meant it in the sense of the fairy tales he knew as a child. That intrigued me, his sense of wonder reminding me of how I had been when I first arrived in London, knowing only of humans and vampires. He asked the name of the land and who ruled here.
I muttered the opening few lines of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales quietly, since Gwyn’s comment had brought it to mind, before addressing his question. The land was called Ashmourne Wylds, I told him, and went on to say that who ruled depended on who and where you were. I listed the Seelie and Unseelie, the Sluagh and the Cait as all having their own rulers, without giving names. I mentioned the demons, and the current absence of their leader, the humans, whose leader I did not know, even if they had one, and that there was the castle that had stood upon this site and was now somewhat removed from this place.
Gwyn told him that the fairy tales were not necessarily accurate. She spoke of brownies and tricksters and those that were the stuff of nightmares. She then asked if I was aware of the commotion. Outside the tavern, I could hear some noise, and what sounded like Braeden’s voice. Maric seemed to note it too, but mostly ignored it, other than indicating with a nod that some of his men, who I could see outside, should keep a watch on whatever it was. He toasted me, commenting that he always appreciated good poetry along with good drink. He was most intrigued by what we had told him, considering it a mystery, and telling us that solving mysteries was a hobby of his. His face had grown a little sterner at my mention of the ruler of the castle, reminding us that he was the ruler here, that all were welcome in return for loyalty and obedience to his laws.
I told Gwyn that I suspected it was Braeden, but so long as he stayed outside, I cared not for his antics tonight. I said to Maric that there were likely many mysteries to be found on the island and offered to help in solving them, outlining my skills as an accountant, a sailor, a scholar, a trader and as one somewhat skilled in construction. I also asked what his laws might be. Gwyn agreed that we did not need to worry about Braeden tonight and tried to draw Maric out a little, saying how many people had colourful stories of how they had arrived here and that she would love to hear his.
Maric gave me more attention for a moment, saying he had need of my skills if I was willing to exercise them on his behalf. His steward would much appreciate my assistance when it came to running the village. In return, he would offer me access to accommodations and the library at the castle. His laws turned out to be somewhat similar to those that Cristof had once posted outside the tavern, save for the addition that he had first claim on any who died within the village when there was nobody to revive them. His story, however, was brief. He had woken from a strange dream to find himself here, not knowing why. So far, he had discovered a doorway to his homeland, which, from his description, appeared to be the portal to Cristof’s castle. Well, Cristof had said that his castle was now in the mortal realm, so that made some sort of sense. I told him I would be happy to lend my skills in exchange for access to a library. I hoped I didn’t sound too eager, but I had been deprived of books for rather a long time. I gave a very brief rundown of my story, from London in 1891, to seeking my sire, to the shipwreck and the arrival here. Gwyn added that her story was similar, save for the bit in London, but then suddenly squealed in delight, pointing out a bunny-rabbit that had wandered into the tavern.
Maric told us that he would love to hear our stories in more detail at some later date, but was somewhat bemused by Gwyn’s transformation. He looked over at the alleged rabbit, which it did appear to be, aside from the rather long horn sticking out from the top of its head. I gave it a rather suspicious look, making a joke about wondering what Paasheeluu had been up to, she being the only other being I knew in these parts with such a horn. Gwyn wondered if Paasheeluu could have made such a thing, or even if it was Paasheeluu in a shape-shifted form. The creature glared at us and spoke with a lisping voice, telling us not to confuse it with a rabbit. It was somewhat blood-stained and apparently hungry, since it was attempting to eat the carpet. Maric addressed the creature in what I guessed was his more official voice, asking it what it was and what it wanted. Direct, and to the point. I liked that. He also looked at me and asked about Braeden and Paasheeluu, commenting that they sounded like trouble.
The creature told us that it was an al-miraj, and that it sought food. Gwyn ordered some food from the barman, asking him to feed the creature and put the food on her tab. Meanwhile, I told Maric that he need have no worries about Paasheeluu, telling him that she was a unicorn and mostly harmless. Braeden, I explained, was the Raven Captain – chief bodyguard – to the Sluagh Queen, adding that though there might be some honour left in him, he was somewhat unstable, so could not be relied upon. Gwyn was less than polite, calling him a nasty piece of work, advising Maric that against engaging with him, because the sluagh were definitely the stuff of nightmares.
Maric, for all his reserve, seemed delighted, almost eager, to hear our stories, however he had other tasks he needed to attend to. He promised to show us around the library any time we wished, then bowed and left us, leaving his guards to keep an eye on things. The barman brought over a selection of foodstuffs and placed them on the ground before the al-miraj, which tucked in eagerly. Finding ourselves alone again, Gwyn asked if I would walk her home. There was a slight hint in her voice, so I asked if she had in mind a long walk home via one of the cottages in the village. That, it appeared, was exactly what she had in mind. On the way there, she asked if I had thought that Maric was like me. I nodded and told her that it hadn’t been ruby port he had been drinking. We found our way into the cottage and there demonstrated very well that for all Maric’s leering, he had no chance, no chance at all.