Memory, hither come,
And tune your merry notes;
And, while upon the wind,
Your music floats,
I’ll pore upon the stream,
Where sighing lovers dream,
And fish for fancies as they pass
Within the watery glass.
I’ll drink of the clear stream,
And hear the linnet’s song;
And there I’ll lie and dream
The day along:
And, when night comes, I’ll go
To places fit for woe,
Walking along the darken’d valley,
With silent Melancholy.
So wrote William Blake, way back in seventeen eighty something. And, this night, I found myself going to those places fit for woe, and walking that darken’d valley. It is over ten years since I lost my darling Alex to the throes of childbirth, more years since the three, no, four times we had to deal with the losses of all those pregnancies she could not carry to term. I had thought those times all in the past, but it seems not, at least, not tonight. Tonight’s events brought those memories flooding back, with a pain I had all but forgotten. Even so, I had to put my pain aside for this night, so that I could try to help with the pain of another.
I had originally intended to go down to Val’s den, in the hope of arranging a meeting with her Unseelie Majesty, but I ran across Gwyn, sitting down by Ardan with Aislyn and the one I vaguely remembered from that first visit to the sithen as being called Renata. I suspect they had been talking about Aoibheann, and our recent encounter with the tree, but I wasn’t really sure. Renata seemed one of those prone to random comments that didn’t really make sense, talking about cheese and asking if we were from the city called the big potato. Helene turned up as well, apparently foraging for any plants that might be of use to her potion-making. It was about this point that Aislyn started complaining of stomach cramps. Helene suggested eating fennel, but Aislyn seemed to think that this was not going to help, saying that she needed to get back to the sithen as soon as possible. There was something in her manner, I could not say what, that seemed very familiar, but it was too elusive for me.
Then she got up from where she had been sitting, and we could all see the tell-tale red stains on the ground and on her dress. She glamoured both as quickly as she could, but we had all seen it. My heart sank like a stone, knowing only too well what was happening, or possibly had happened. Whatever else had been on my mind, whatever else my intentions might have been that night, they no longer mattered. Aislyn was in distress and that’s all that mattered. We made it back to the sithen in record time, with Helene tagging along in case she could be of any help with her potions. Aislyn went in straight away with her guard while Gwyn and I negotiated with the guards for Helene. Sadly, they were not convinced, so I asked her if she would go back to the village and somebody would fetch her if there was anything she could do.
Once inside the sithen, Aislyn seemed uncertain what to do. Gwyn was trying to guide her towards the central tree, which I vaguely understood was related to the source of the sithen’s power, so she could get some healing, but Aislyn was insistent that she needed to attend the queen. Gwyn tried to cajole her into taking some rest, to think of herself for once. I weighed in, suggesting that there were others who could attend the queen. Even in her pain, Aislyn kept insisting that the queen was more important. Again, I asked what she could do for the queen in her current state, trying to tell her she should care for herself first. Then, all the memories came flooding back, of all the similar conversations I had had with Alex, and for a moment, I could not speak. Instead, I just buried my face in Gwyn’s hair while I tried to get a grip on myself. Gwyn continued her persuasion, aware that something was bothering me, but how could she know what? She insisted that Aislyn should take care of herself, that Blaise would want her to take care of herself first, and even offered to go to the queen herself and offer what little help she could. Finally, Aislyn gave in, or maybe had no more energy to fight, and allowed the guard to escort her off, presumably to her bed-chamber. We both told her to rest well, and asked the guard to send for us if there was anything we could do. With that, they were gone.
Gwyn took both my hands, needing comfort for herself, but looked at me curiously. All I could say was that I would have thought I could cope after a dozen years. She looked puzzled for a moment, and then the penny dropped. “Your wife,” she said before pulling me into a hug. I nodded and explained about the four miscarriages that I knew of before she finally managed to carry a pregnancy to term with Arthur. She nodded her understanding, even if she did not have anything she could say. I told her there was nothing to be said, saying I was fine now, and it was just that the memories had overwhelmed me for the moment.
I tried to steer the conversation back to more practical matters, wondering what we could do, since there was little we could do for Aislyn for the moment. Her smile returned as she hugged me again and told me that what she really needed was something to eat, possibly involving pork. That seemed a reasonable idea, though we weren’t going to find that in the sithen. So, we left word with the guards where we were and went off for dinner at the tavern.
We did not stay long, in case we were needed and returned to the sithen to spend the night there. For some reason, my sleep was disturbed by dreams. Dreams of Alex, dreams of Arthur and dreams of darker things, of cold, unspeakable cruelty and the ever-present threat of the Unseelie King, even within the protection of the sithen. For once, I did not feel so rested when I awoke, which was unusual for me in this place. I pushed those thoughts aside, as there were things closer to hand to worry about. For all that I was not overly fond of Aislyn; I understood her pain only too well, maybe more than many others here. If there was something I could do to help, to reassure her; that is what I had to do. His Unseelie Majesty could wait.