The human mind, and for all that has gone on, I like to think that my mind is still human, is a remarkably resilient thing. Mine survived my embrace, which as well as being very painful, shattered much of what I believed about the world. I survived my arrival in that strange and mysterious version of London, where my perceptions of reality were challenged on a daily basis. I even survived meeting Greyson again in a place where I least expected him. I am a little wobbly after being brought back to life, but I think I am coping. I am sure it is temporary, so I am making the best of it while I can and trying to not think about it being over. I wonder if my upbringing, on a diet of King Arthur and Merlin, on the Faerie Queen and such like contributed to my resilience, having for my younger years, believed in such things, even if adulthood put paid to many of those youthful illusions. Faerie queens are quite easily to believe in now. Having just entertained one over a glass of rum in my humble cottage, it is hard not to.
I had gone in search of Isabella, since she had said she would come to me. First, though, I found Giada who, like many who arrive here in Ashmourne, seemed to have abandoned the mores and fashions of the world we knew in London for the freer dress sense that is common here. It looked well on her, and it was while we were talking about such things that Isabella turned up. I made introductions, but being mindful of Isabella’s caution about keeping her presence low-key, I introduced her simply as Isabella. That was, it seemed the wrong thing to do, for she admonished me for forgetting her title, at least, at first, until I reminded her of her previous instruction, then she thanked me for my discretion, but told me she was through hiding. I made the introductions again, this time with the appropriate titles, but then we had to leave Giada, so that Isabella could answer my questions.
My humble cottage was perhaps not the most elegant place to entertain a queen, but it was all I had that I knew to be private. I offered her the seat while I made myself as comfortable as I could on the edge of the bed and offered her some rum. She asked what questions I had, while advising that she might not be able to answer them all.
I chuckled and raised my fingers to the pulse point on my neck. “Well, my questions would be just about everything starting with W and one ending in W.” That latter being How? Specifically that in reference to my having a pulse. She told me that it was an uncontrolled burst of life energy, an accident, which she would have shielded me from had she seen me. I told her I wasn’t complaining, since it had enabled me to enjoy food for the first time in many years. Of course, it also meant I had gotten drunk on the rum, hence the hangover. I asked if that meant that she was, as had been rumoured, a lifebringer. She seemed amused by that, or possibly my hangover. She gestured at the glass, so I poured for both of us and responded with yes to my question about being a lifebringer, though I suspected things were not that simple. I found myself at a loss as to what to ask, so instead, I told her the story that she had missed. I told her of the downfall of the castle, of our shelter with the Unseelie Queen, of the King’s interest in claiming us. I told her about Gwyn giving her true name, of her adoption by the Seelie Court, about Valene’s deal. I told her about the dreams and that the King was still after those of us left unclaimed, and I told her of Aislyn’s speculations as to what the King wanted.
All she commented on that was that the King did not understand what he wanted, and she then bade me ask the question I really wanted the answer to. I could not frame it. Instead, I am afraid I rambled somewhat, about conflicting claims, about my various obligations to Maric and to Valene, about thinking I had seen Alec and about not understanding the nature of Jasper Cove or this place.
She was patient with me, perhaps understanding my bewilderment. She told me not to swear to any of the courts. She told me that she would protect Aoibheann and me, and yes, I had seen Alec and I would see him again soon. This place was faerie and was held together by kings and queens, but I should be asking what held Jasper Cove together.
I related what little I could remember and had surmised about the four consorts, how I knew, or at least, thought I knew who three of them were, but was unsure about the centre, and even less sure about the fifth one, the one I regarded as a referee or border guard. She told me that this was a pretty good description, and was very necessary given how much Alec and her sister fought. Sadly, the referee had not done their job, which was why the Huntsman caused so much chaos. Then she advised me to look to the Celtic pantheon for a model of the mythos.
I laughed, saying that I had not read any of those for a while, remembering only a few of the names. One question did occur. I had not realised that one of the consorts was her sister. She would not tell me about her, save for remarking that I knew her quite well. That was a puzzle I had to put by for another time, for fear I would understand even less. I asked if the consorts were out of a job, now that Jasper Cove was gone. She laughed and said I had it backwards; Jasper Cove was their sanctuary, created to bind their powers. I could not help but smile to see her laugh, and said so. I told her it sounded like some sort of care home for assorted deities to keep them busy and stopping them blowing a hole in the cosmos. It was more of a beautiful accident, she said, a home where she could raise a family, and how it hurt that it was gone, and hurt more that those she cared for were being hurt because of it. Most of all, she could not be bound to the Unseelie King.
I decided I could take no more cosmology and asked instead what I should do, adding the bit about me being part fae, in case that made a difference. She bade me speak of her as queen, to call her queen, and in the immediate term, could I negotiate sanctuary for her in Lord Maric’s castle.
These things, I told her, I would do, but I felt there was more I could do. I told her, in case she had not already realised, how friendship was the most important thing to me. I said that while a queen may have her subjects, her courtiers, advisors and such like, I would like this particular queen to know that she had a friend, outside of oaths, outside of rank and title, if she would accept that.
That earned me a smile, much more so than other things, and more surprisingly, a kiss on the cheek. She told me I had a friend in her too, and that we would sort things out, together, including Aoibheann too. With that, she finished her drink and made ready to leave.
Gwyn came in at that point and stepped up to my side. I wasn’t sure if she was defending me or claiming her territory. Isabella just smiled at her and told her she was looking more fae every day and how it suited her. She assured her that she would not harm me, so she need not look so defensive. Gwyn replied that Isabella looked more beautiful than ever, but, that she did not know her any more, even if she ever had. Isabella appeared to understand why Gwyn would be angry with her, for disappearing so much and not being able to teach her. An explanation was due her, but before she gave one, she needed to know that the information would go no further.
I assured her that Gwyn was trustworthy. She herself promised that she would not be reporting back what she had been told. Isabella, surprisingly, said she would take Gwyn at her word and not require an oath, which she would have of anybody else sworn to the Seelie sithen. She explained about the life energy, how I had received an accidental dose, but she did not know now much, or how permanent it was. She did not go into further details because Gwyn said that it was safer if she did not know, since she would then be able to answer direct questions honestly. Isabella thought that wise of her and said she regretted not having been able to teach her. She assured Gwyn that, whatever she might believe; neither she, nor Alec ever regarded her with anything but the highest regard.
She made to leave us then. I promised I would arrange the meeting with Maric as soon as I could, and then we were alone to enjoy each others’ company as only we know how.
Later, much later, in the small hours of the night, I began to wonder, about the sister that Isabella had mentioned, who I supposedly knew well. Who did I know well? It could not be Gwyn, unless they were both really good actors. Aoibheann? Well, she certainly had an odd relationship with the three I believed to be consorts, but I do not recall her fighting with Alec. Brigitte seemed unlikely. Anna, I knew well enough, even if she did not know me. Vedis? Could a demon of lust and a fae of light be sisters? I was still no closer on the subject of the referee. Try as I might, I could make no more sense of it. I had some answers for Who and What, very little on the Where and How, and I wasn’t even going to think about the Why.
One good thing about this being alive lark, when I can’t sleep, I can at least dull my brain with drink.