As I might say, if I were writing a book, it was later the same day. Much as we might have liked to spend the whole of the day in my hut, Gwyn had duties at the sithen, largely, I heard later, involving roses. She did manage to get away after dinner, and find me, once again, ensconced by the fire in the tavern. She asked how I had been spending my time, which I had to say was somewhat unproductive, save for updating my diary, so I told her I had been working on the idea of a conceptual art installation called “Your shirt would look good on my floor”. That idea appealed and we were just getting into the idea of going off and experimenting with the concept when we were interrupted.
He seemed to be a young man, though since he appeared to be of the fae persuasion, he could have been any age. He came in, dressed in black and leather and knelt by the fire, warming himself a while before greeting us as fellow travellers. We greeted him in like manner, slipping into the more flowery speech that seemed to suit the fae. Gwyn asked if he had come far. He did not answer for a moment, producing an old and well-worn coin from somewhere and flipping it in his fingers. He replied in verse:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
The words were unfamiliar to me, but I made comment about a poet being in our midst and told him our names. Gwyn appeared to recognise the words, for she replied in kind, possibly quoting parts from the same poem, asking if he had left his little horse outside and had he many miles to go before he slept. She guessed that he must be familiar with her time period if he knew Robert Frost, presumably the poet quoted, and asked our visitor his name. He just smiled and flipped the coin a few times before tossing it, clapping his hand over it and asking “Heads or Tails”.
I declined on the basis of not knowing what we were wagering, and besides, as an accountant, doing random things with money was well… I left the decision to Gwyn and called for drinks from the barman, guessing that our new friend would probably not object to mead.
Gwyn laughed, saying she was the reckless one while I was gravity. She called tails. Her hand trailed idly across my thigh, causing me to think more on possible art installations. I brushed my fingers against hers and speculated that Gravity and Reckless were good names, but what should be the name of the third member our trinity. It was always tails, she said. Our new friend told us we were wagering answers to questions, saying that if Luck loved us, we should be in good favour. The coin came up heads, which, he told us, meant we owed an answer to a question, or some other piece of information.
Gwyn shrugged and started telling him some facts about a tiny deer in Africa called the Dik-Dik. I guess that counted as information, though I had never heard of such a creature. She suggested Cursed as a name for Aoibheann, which I didn’t like. Our friend took his drink and showed the coin again. Since the wagers appeared, on the surface, to be harmless, though you can never be sure with the fae, I decided to join in and called Heads for the next toss. He tossed the coin again and it came up Heads. He said that Lady Luck clearly did favour me and said I could ask a question.
I denied having any relationship with Lady Luck, reckoning my chances even unless he had an unusual coin, and asked the question that Gwyn had asked. His name was Maddoc, he told us with a bow, and then quoted part of the fairy’s speech from Midsummer Night’s Dream about wandering everywhere and serving the faerie queen. I acknowledged his name, and just for laughs, asked which queen, claiming I knew several. Gwyn meanwhile suggested Silence as a name for Aoibheann and called Tails again. The coin came up heads and he chose to ask a question of her – “Who are you?” Her answer made me laugh. Not poetry, but in the spirit of the game.
“I am a highly intelligent biomolecular miracle,” She told him. “I am also a unicorn. I am also a child. I am also a lover. I am pretty, petty, petulant, precise, pedantic, prurient, powerful, progressive, pagan, peaceful, and proud.” I applauded her answer and suggested Unwavering as a name for Aoibheann, which she liked. Maddoc responded to my question about the queen, even though we had not tossed for it, by reciting part of “She Walks in Beauty”, before asking me to call again.
As I called Tails, a well-dressed man walked into the tavern, saying he was in search of Nathaniel and Gwyn, because Lord Maric had business with them. This man I took to be the steward Maric had mentioned the previous evening. The name sounded like Oh Say, but I learned was simply spelled Ose. We acknowledged his greeting while Maddoc tossed the coin. Once again, Lady Luck favoured me, so I asked him what poem would describe him. He thought for a moment, then grinned and recited something I didn’t know.
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
With that, he finished his drink, stood up, kissed Gwyn on the nose and left us with lines from Burns’ “Ae Fond Kiss”, disappearing off into the night.
We turned our attention to Ose. Lord Maric had taken me at my word, and wished Gwyn and me to trade on his behalf with the other factions in this land. Gwyn told him that she would have to seek permission from her guardian, but would otherwise be honoured. I told him that I was an experienced trader and would be honoured to act upon his lord’s behalf. I requested access to the village records, accounts and audits and such like, so that I could make a proper assessment of the village’s trading capacity; what goods and services it could offer in exchange for foods, materials and such like. I also requested a letter of accreditation that I could present to the various factions, in order that they would know I was authorised to trade on his behalf. I offered to draft such a letter, having had similar myself when trading on behalf of the shipping company. I told him I was on good terms with the leaders of the major factions, a little bit of hyperbole, but not overly removed from the truth.
He was most grateful and asked that I get a draft to him as soon as I was able. Like his lord, he seemed to be unfamiliar with the courts and other factions, which is why we had been asked to carry out the trading. He promised that we would meet again soon to discuss arrangements and then left us, saying I should leave my draft letter with the guards or house servants if he or Lord Maric were unavailable.
Gywn and I had a short time to ourselves, during which we commented on the entertainment value of Maddoc. She told me that the poem that he had recited, about the mask, was by a man called Paul Laurence Dunbar whose life had overlapped mine, but whose poems may not have been published by the time I left that life. We started to talk about art, but before we could resume our artistic endeavours, we were interrupted once again, this time by the Prince himself, Blaise. He had clearly been hunting as he had a brace of rabbits, which he gave to the barman in exchange for a glass of ale. In an odd way, that made me like him a little more, since it was the first time I had seen any of the fae, Gwyn excepted, drink anything other than mead. He told us that he had been hunting an invisible woman, allowing me to joke that I had not seen such, and neither, he joked back, had he.
Gwyn told him about the offer of working with Lord Maric. Blaise considered this and tentatively agreed; provide it did not encroach on her other studies. I pointed out that I was an experienced trader and could not wish for a better student than Gwyn, adding that I could teach her skills that might otherwise be lacking and would be of benefit to the sithen. To my pleasant surprise, he agreed that it would be a good thing.
The pleasant nature of the evening was soon enhanced by the arrival of Lady Astrid. Blaise rose and greeted her, as did I. He enquired after her husband and daughter, but sadly, they were not with her at present. Sebastion was sleeping and apparently, Ingrid, the daughter, was not speaking with her at the moment. Blaise finished his drink, told me that Gwyn would be useful when dealing with the fae, as she would be able to see past any glamours and then left us, claiming another engagement.
Astrid came and took the chair vacated by Blaise. I remarked that it had scarcely seemed possible that the young woman I had seen her with at the sithen could be her daughter, as it had only been a couple of years since I left London. To my shock, she said that one hundred human years had passed since last we met. Of course, I could not fail to compliment her on having hardly changed in all that time, saying it boded well for my beloved Gwyn. With that, I started to make my excuses, saying I had to go and draft the letter of accreditation. Gwyn kissed me and promised she would do her best to come and help me proofread the letter later, and maybe start working on our art installation.
As I was leaving, I almost ran into the aforementioned Ingrid. She was dressed beautifully in what I understood to be called a tulip dress. I took a brief moment to compliment her on her loveliness and told her to only believe half of what her mother might tell her about me, preferably the good half. With that I was gone, back to my hut, there to draft my letter. I waited as long as I could, but Gwyn did not arrive. No doubt her duties in the sithen called her away, for she would not otherwise disappoint me if she had the choice. I was not overly disappointed, for we had enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon together already and in truth, I felt I needed a rest.