Darkness swirled around like a gathering storm, draining light and warmth from the skies, leaving only cold and a great sense of unease. Formless shadows and danced, growing darker and stronger and slowly coalescing into a fearsome and terrible shape. Wings of velvet darkness, somehow bigger than worlds, spread across the sky, framing the tall, horned figure of the Unseelie King, his dread gaze sweeping around, pinning me, freezing me, unable to move or speak. Shadows danced in attendance, hugging close to his skin, their tendrils bringing with them the scents of night, of wild flowers, of cold, damp earth. His face, a terrifying beauty forged in the coldest ice, radiated a bone-chilling fear, a primal terror that cut deep, bypassing all rationale or reason. His voice, as dark and cold and final as the last trump, spoke my name. “Nathaniel, I have come for you.”
The voice rattled in my skull and I became fully awake, the sound echoing only in my head. There were no other sounds, save the sighing of the wind in the trees outside and distant birdsong; no shadows, save those cast by the light from the window and the sputtering remains of my candle; no scents, save those of hot wax and the lingering hints of Gwyn’s perfume on my pillow from the last time we had been together here. The images danced and shattered and flowed away like reflections on a tumbling brook. Nothing was left, save that feeling of dread and the echo of those final words – I have come for you.
I lay a while, gathering my breath, waiting for my pulse to slow, then sat up with a loud gasp. Breath? A pulse? I raised my fingers to my neck, but if there was a pulse there now, it was a pale and feeble echo, gone before I was sure it was there. Had that been part of the dream too, or was I developing the skill to emulate it, but only when suitably stimulated by lust or fear?
I swung myself out of bed, attended to my ablutions and changed my clothes. Royce came in from his patrols and dropped a note at my feet, which had somewhat grudgingly delivered to him by Nualla as I slept. In it, she apologised for not having been able to come to see me. Prince Blaise had offered to adopt her formally as his ward, and she had accepted. She was now Lady Gwyneth of Rónaofa, which title would stand her in good stead among the sidhe. She had thus had to spend the evening with her new family. I tucked the letter away in my bag with a sigh. I knew it was important for her to discover her fae roots, and to integrate with them, but part of me was a little sad that here was an aspect of her life I could not be part of, at least, not as yet.
I busied myself with my morning routine, such as it was, and soon I was comfortably seated in the tavern, enjoying the snap and crackle of the fire as the morning sun had yet to overcome the chill of the morning air; or was it chill lingering from my dream? I needed to think. Had this been just a random nightmare, or a message from the Unseelie King? I had not seen, nor heard from Isabella since that chance meeting in the woods, so I did not know if she had come to any decisions regarding Gwythyr’s offer. Had he grown impatient and decided to come claim us regardless? Gwyn, I knew was safe, if he did so decide, for she was now formally part of the Seelie Court, but Aoibheann and I had no such prior claim to save us, unless my allegiance to Valene was sufficient. Try as I might, I could not think what to do, so put the problem aside for a while and concentrated on bringing my neglected diary up to date, at least, as far as our meeting with Lord Maric.
I was thus occupied when my dear heart appeared, peering around the edge of the tavern door. I gave her my best mock-stern look and asked if there were any other body parts about which I had been misinformed. I addressed her as Lady Evans just to let her know that I had received her note. She said that I was welcome to inspect her, to ensure that everything was in working order. I told her that I was fully intending to, in minute detail, producing a magnifying lens from my bag and pretending to examine her with it. I joked about having to ask permission from her guardian, but she assured me that he was unlikely to be a problem, especially with the amount of dirt she had on him. I was mightily pleased to hear this and held her close for a kiss. Even at this hour of the morning, I could feel my desire rising. I complimented her on her outfit and then I suddenly remembered an earlier night, before the funeral, when she had asked me to guess why she was wearing a particular dress. That, she told me, when I asked, was mostly because she wanted me to take it off her. That was a concept I could agree with as she started to run her fingernails up my back, making me shiver, even through the tunic.
I was just telling her how much nicer her clothes would look scattered over the floor when she told me she had been having a bad dream. It turned out she had also dreamed of Gwythyr coming for her. She was afraid that he could use her true name to make her dance to his tune, and she did not want to play his reindeer games. I tried to reassure her that she was most likely safe, since she was formally part of the Seelie Court, so he would have no claim on her, unlike Aoibheann and me. I told her I wasn’t sure that Valene’s claim on me would be enough and the other fruitless thoughts I had been having earlier in the morning. Something she had said didn’t make sense though, and I had to ask, even though it was getting off the topic, what reindeer games had to do with anything. She sang a verse of what was apparently a popular song in her time about a reindeer with a red nose called Rudolf. I was not sure I was any the wiser, but at least it had lifted the mood a little. I assured her that the Tenacious Trinity was not so easily beaten.
She told me, talking of the trinity, that Blaise had taken a liking to Aoibheann, and had was allowing her in the sithen. He was supposedly teaching her to talk to Ardan. The cynical part of me commented that it wasn’t that odd that he had taken a liking to Aoibheann. She was, after all, female and possessed of a pulse. I joked that maybe I should dress up as Natalie to gain his favour, except, of course, I lacked a pulse. I did wonder however, if Aoibheann had also had the same dream as us, but it turned out that Gwyn had left before Aoibheann was awake, wanting to be with me as much as I had wanted to be with her. I suggested that if she had no pressing need to be back at the sithen, we should go and find a floor that was in need of redecoration. She did have a pressing need, but it was not to be back at the sithen. That accorded very well with my needs, and so we retired to the cottage I had claimed as my own to take our ease.