Sometimes I wonder if I should have changed course during my university years and trained for the bar instead of accountancy. Both disciplines require a precise mind and attention to detail and both, at times, require you to be very careful as to how your words could be interpreted. In both disciplines, one has to be able to dance around the precise interpretation of the facts. I sometimes wonder at some of the interpretations I got away with in defining things as allowable expenses. Either way, both disciplines would be child’s play compared to having a conversation with the fae, much less trying to conduct negotiations with them. I was in with Her Seelie Majesty and her aide, Lady Twilight, for less than an hour and I am exhausted.
I don’t know what prompted me to try the sithen today, other than a mild guilt over the events of the previous evening and Ose’s untutored attempts at speaking with the fae in the form of Valene. Perhaps I had some unknown sense that the Queen was at home and amenable to visitors. Whatever the reason, I decided to go there and present myself at the gates. I was received hospitably enough and escorted into the sithen; not, to my surprise, to the gazebo that I had thus far thought of as being the throne room, but beyond it, behind the screen of trees, to a similar sleeping chamber to the one that Gwyn and I had shared. I was received there by the Queen, standing by a bed on which laid the Seelie King, who I had not seen since that one time in the bar in Jasper Cove. He was unconscious, so far as I could tell, and the Queen was laying hands upon him, a glow of light seemingly flowing from her hands to him. I could only assume that she was healing him in some way.
She greeted me, referring to me as a friend of one of her court, Gwyn, I guessed, saying she would not normally conduct business here, but sometimes you have to do what you can. She then asked about my loyalty, glancing at the letter that I had handed to the guard and mentioning that I had once offered my services to her. This was, perhaps, not the best start to a meeting, but I had expected something of the sort and had some idea of the words lined up in my head. I bowed elaborately and prepared to make my speech.
“Your Majesty is most kind to receive me. I am sure you have much more important things to attend to. Your Majesty’s concern is understandable. My allegiance, always, lies with those who I love, and with those I consider friends. My dearest love is Lady Gwyn, a member of this Court and ward to His Highness, Prince Blaise. I like to think, therefore, that I am a friend to this court, even if I have made no formal declarations. ” I gestured at the letter in her hand. “In the matter of my service to Lord Maric, that is a business arrangement. I have expertise and experience in the business of trading, and it is for that expertise that he has retained my services. That, and the fact that I am more familiar with this land.” I bowed again. “I regret that circumstances have been such that we have not had the opportunity to discuss what service I may offer this court and Your Majesty and would welcome that opportunity when it suits Your Majesty. For now, the matter in hand is that business which Lord Maric has directed to discuss, namely, the matter of the needs of the village atop the hill.” Another woman entered the room, dark of hair and winged more like a butterfly than the gossamer ones most seemed to favour. The Queen passed the letter over to her before addressing me.
Loyalty was the most important value in her court, she told me. In kinder times, she would not need to be so strict, but these were not kinder times. She said she was willing to hear what I had to say on behalf of Maric, but after that would discuss the terms of my future visitations. The new arrival, who I later learned was Lady Twilight, perused the letter and then asked if I could be trusted, friend of the court or not. I was mildly offended, since she did not know me, but chose not to rise to the implied rebuff. Instead, I gave her my best smile and bowed, making my introductions in the usual way, before addressing the Queen’s concerns.
“Your Majesty, loyalty is also my most important value; it is like life-blood to me. That and love, friendship and trust. I would sooner die than betray somebody I considered friend. Even though I am not sworn to this court, I would sooner die than bring disrepute or harm to this court, this place or to its people. For many years, I built a reputation for honest trading across a dozen seaports in half a dozen countries, when I traded on behalf of my employers. If you wish a character reference, I would direct Your Majesty to speak with a lady of this court, Lady Astrid Muircastle, with whom I have been acquainted for many years.” I bowed again. “My apologies, but as I said, loyalty is a very important virtue. As to the business I bring, I can discuss that with Your Majesty, or any delegated official as Your Majesty chooses. Whichever way, I shall conduct that business openly and honestly, if my life depended upon it.”
The Queen acknowledged Twilight’s words with a nod, and then regarded me solemnly, as if weighing me up. For a brief moment, I got a glimpse of how weary she was, and yet, a hint of the sheer age, power and determination that lay behind that smile. She told me that my friendships with members of her court were reason enough to continue our association, and that my eloquence brought me more leniency than I realised. However, good intentions could not bring back the dead, and so she required of me an oath, upon my life, that I would bring no harm and treachery to this court, that being the only trust that would be granted one not of the sidhe race. I sighed inwardly, not wanting to get myself tied up with more oaths. At least this one was a personal thing, upon myself, rather than swearing loyalty to any one faction. I adopted an appropriate posture, on one knee and made an appropriate oath. She spoke the words I had heard before in another place – “so be it” – and I felt that wash of magic roll over me as the oath was sealed. For a moment, I felt a tremor of fear, knowing the fate of oath-breakers, but dominated myself. I had no intention of doing so, but could never tell what might befall. She bade me rise and told me that I would have to be escorted at all times while within the sithen, until such times as the intentions of Maric were better known.
I explained how Maric and some of the villagers, those who were not former residents of the castle, had awoken and found themselves in this land strange to them, and how they were short of food, wishing to offer their services as tailors, blacksmiths etc, as well as possibly military ser vice in exchange for goods. I told her how my intention was to get them to be self-sufficient, so was hoping to get grain, goats, chickens, rabbits etc, so that they could start to be able to feed themselves. I also suggested that since the season was late for growing crops, it would be helpful if they could be allowed to forage for fruit, nuts and suchlike on the island, with permission, of course.
She commented, more or less to herself, that it was an interesting situation. They had little use for human coin, which I had expected, nor did they approve of agriculture particularly. However, she thought it would be in the best interests of all to avoid uncontrolled scavenging. There may be some use for craftspersons, but she would leave that in the hands of her advisor. This was when she introduced the other fae as Lady Twilight. She would allow limited foraging on Seelie lands only, with an escort. The rest she would leave in the hands of Twilight, who said that she would speak with the warehouses and asked for details and numbers. I told her that I was awaiting a full audit from Maric and suggested we meet a few days hence. I addressed the Queen once more, telling her that her kindness would bring her great favour among the villagers. I had thought to mention the benefits of winning their loyalty, to balance out any loyalties they might feel to the demons for sheltering them, but I thought I would save that for another day. Since I had thought of the other factions, I felt it best to be completely open with her and told her, in the interests of full disclosure, that I would also be dealing with her Unseelie counterpart, promising on my oath that nothing that passed in this place would be spoken of. She was not overly pleased with that, reminding me that my oath was the only reason I was allowed to walk freely while having dealing with her sworn enemies. She then gave me leave to depart, saying I was free to walk safely in her lands. I bowed and took my leave, commenting as I did so that even sworn enemies needed to communicate at times, so if she ever needed an emissary…
On the way out, Lady Twilight told me to leave messages with the guards and they would find her and I told her that I could usually be found in the village, or Gwyn could usually find me. With that, I was gone, back to the village, there to switch fae mode off with a hefty slug of rum. I like them, but by the gods, it is hard work dealing with them.