King of the Birds

My love has changed, but she is still my love. The same person is still there inside that changed body. It just takes some getting used to, that is all. Though, I must admit, it is quite refreshing to not have to bend down quite so far to kiss her. Other things have changed, though. Things have changed within the sithen, and of that, I cannot really speak, save that Blaise now appears to be in charge of things. This change is not one that I am sure I like. While Her Majesty could be beautiful and terrifying at the same time, at least I felt I could talk with her, and I knew from her responses that she listened and heard what I had to say. I cannot, in all honesty, say the same of Blaise.

I was in the sithen a few days ago, visiting Gwyn, now that she has recovered her strength. One change that I may speak of is that there is now a visitors’ pavilion, where anybody from the island may enter and be entertained, though few are permitted beyond that point. There, at least, Gwyn put her foot down in insisting that I had special privileges. And so we wandered down to the fountain where she started to tell me of the changes that had taken place. We did not get very far, because Blaise joined the conversation, well, mostly, he took it over. He admonished me that I should not speak of the changes within the sithen; for fear that their enemies might take advantage. I responded by reminding him that I took my oaths seriously, and that my oath still stood, despite the things that changed, and moreover, I would stand in defence of the sithen, despite my lack of swordsmanship, to my death if necessary.

He ignored me. He didn’t even acknowledge what I had said. Indeed, he scarcely acknowledged that I had even spoken, whereas I know Her Majesty would have thanked me for my words. Instead, he started telling Gwyn how she had more responsibilities now, and how, as his daughter, would be like unto a princess. He would need her support, and her first task would be to take a census of the Seelie court and its allies.  There was other stuff, but I was clearly not included in this conversation, so took myself off to the side of the fountain and read. And that was it, so far as my part in the conversation was concerned until Blaise wandered off to take care of other things, and Gwyn and I retired to her chambers to sleep.

In happier news, there was a ball a couple of nights ago, hosted by Lord Maric to celebrate his Naming Day.  I’m not quite sure what a Naming Day might be. If he were of my era, I might think it a celebration of his Christening, but somehow I feel he predates that custom, so I am unsure. Perhaps where he comes from, they have a naming ceremony that is more important than the actual birth date.  Whatever the reason, there was a party, with food and drinks in the castle, and dancing in a pavilion outside.

And what a gathering it was. When I arrived with Gwyn, we found Giada there, and Valene, though the latter was skulking in a corner in a plague mask, avoiding the crowds. I know she isn’t comfortable in large gatherings, but we both decided to hug and kiss her anyway, and I think she appreciated the gesture.  Aoibheann came from upstairs, trying to sneak in and pretend she wasn’t late. Much as I hate to use the word predictable, when it comes to Aoibheann, there was a certain inevitability about the fact that her mask was that of white rabbit. I decided to be kind and complimented her on continuing the Alice theme rather than referencing her nickname.

After that, it turned out to be an evening of surprises. First there was the arrival of Isabella and Alec, looking more like himself than my last encounter with him as the Boatman, but the real delight was that they had brought Wren with them. I later gathered Ember would have been there too, but she was unwell. No mention was made of Hadley and Malachai, but they would have been too young anyway. Wren was dressed in a formal dinner suit, complete with wine-coloured waistcoat, and somehow, it suited her better than the formal court garb I had seen her in Jasper Cove. Naturally, of course, I had to remonstrate with her, asking her why Patrolman Wren was out of uniform. To my delight, she responded with a salute and a broad smile, seemingly as pleased to see me as I was her, and claimed they had made her dress up for the ball. I assured her that she looked splendid anyway.

I didn’t get much of a chance to speak to Alec, and to be truthful, I wasn’t sure how to react, given his coldness and lack of clarity the last time we had met, but then, that was the Boatman rather than him, so maybe, as Alec, he would have been warmer.  So far as I could see, he was perfectly warm to Aoibheann and to Gwyn as he was circulating. Isabella got somewhat cornered by Maric, who just can’t seem to resist a beautiful woman. Either that, or he is after what happened to me, which given his enthusiastic interest in that, may well be the case.

I circulated as best I could, talking briefly to Giada and a gentleman I didn’t know, and whose name I never got, although he did appear to be of the fae persuasion. My Seelie warehouse contact, Lady Twilight turned up in a magnificent, if somewhat sombre dress, which I heard later had been her mother’s mourning dress. An odd choice, especially as most fae can glamour pretty any clothing they want to. Perhaps that is a skill she lacks.

Maric made us welcome and directed us to eat, drink and be merry, as the servants started bringing out assorted foodstuffs. He also advised that arrangements could be made for those with special diets, which I would have taken advantage of, had there been a chance.  I didn’t, because the party was interrupted.  First of all, it was unexplained draughts putting the various candles and lanterns out. And as hard as Maric’s servants worked getting them lit again, they kept going out again. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but it had the flavour of somebody using some kind of magical powers.  And then, just to add to the fun, whatever was putting the candles out decided to drop some disgusting black gloop on everybody. To my good fortune, I managed to just dodge out of the way, or perhaps it was my vampire-enhanced speed.  Others were not so lucky, and I could hear various complaints about people getting the stuff on their shoes and clothes.  Maric was very good about it, offering people the use of his facilities to get cleaned up, while suggesting that everybody move outside to the pavilion for dancing.

And so we did. Gwyn had managed to shield herself, making good use of the training she has received from Siansa, Blaise and Aislyn, so she was equally free of the sludge. It suddenly occurred to me, as we went into the pavilion, that for all the time we have spent together, Gwyn and I had never had occasion to dance together. When I mentioned it to her, she had to agree. The last occasion we might have had a chance to would have been the ball at the palace in Jasper Cove, but I had left early, and we were not, to borrow her phrase, an item at the time. I apologised in advance that the only dances I knew were the more traditional ballroom ones, and didn’t know anything ‘modern’, from her point of view. I told her how I had been taught from a very early age, because being able to dance was expected of young gentlemen in my time. She was quite content with that, and so we danced.

We danced for quite a long time.  We were the first to dance, but were soon joined by Blaise and Aislyn and a few others. It has been some while since I ventured onto the dance floor, but I think I can safely say I have not forgotten the steps I learned from Mother, and indeed, Father, who was as fond of dancing as she was. And Gwyn danced very well, so perhaps the dances that were popular in my time have not been forgotten in hers. After a while, we took a break so that we could be sociable for a while. I was worried when I saw Braeden approaching Giada, but, so far as I could tell, he was behaving himself, and she did not seem to be the slightest bit alarmed or worried by him. Perhaps they have met before and agreed to be civil with one another.

I saw that Wren had come into the pavilion and was watching the dancing with curiosity. I wondered if she had learned to dance in her parents’ palace and asked if she knew how to dance. She told me she did not, so I asked if she would like to try it. She was slightly reluctant at first, and worried that she might step on my feet. I told her I would stick to simple steps, and that my feet were quite capable of getting out of the way. And so, we ventured out onto the floor. I showed her the basic steps and counted her through them until she got the hang of it, just as I had learned, save that in this case, I was leading, rather than learning to lead. She mastered the basic steps quite easily, although she was concentrating hard on not stepping in me.  She soon relaxed into it, so I added a few more steps, again, describing them and counting her through them. She was a very adept pupil, as I would expect from one of her upbringing, and it was a pleasure to dance with her. I think she enjoyed it too, which pleased me, as she is not normally given to what she might think of as ‘girly’ pursuits. At least, she wasn’t in Jasper Cove. Wherever she has been since we both left that place may have changed things, but somehow I doubt it. I did hear Gwyn joking with her about the wren being the king of the birds later, which I think she enjoyed.

While I was dancing, I noticed a woman watching me from the far side of the pavilion. I had not seen her before in Ashmourne, yet she seemed familiar. I saw her speaking with Maric for a short while and was sure I heard the name Branwen. That triggered a memory. Could this be the same Branwen who made me manager of her art gallery way back, when I was still in London?  The face definitely looked familiar. As soon as I could, I made my way over and greeted her, as I might welcome any newcomer. She greeted me back and said that she was sure we had met before, so I reminded her about the gallery. Sure enough, it was one and the same Branwen. We didn’t really get much of a chance to catch up as she was very tired from her journey, so I pointed her at the guest accommodation, and promised we would catch up soon.

After that, Gwyn and I were both a little tired, and, it has to be said, hungry for each other’s company and the intimacy we had not had the chance to share since before her transformation. And so we made our apologies and goodbyes and retired to the privacy of my cottage.

Oh, and a brief note about the following day. I went to the tavern for a drink and had a brief meeting with Maric, Aoibheann and a young traveller by the name of Kellin. I must have been still tired from after the ball, for I managed once again to fall asleep over my drink in my chair by the fire. Maric asked me if I still wanted to continue my training, but he mostly seemed to be interested in my condition. I fear that he may wish to undergo a similar resurrection to my own, which I can understand. I just hope h e won’t use his continuing hospitality towards Isabella as a bargaining tool to elicit a similar energy boost. Just to add to all the fun, Aoibheann asked me if I would deliver a letter on her behalf to Her Unseelie Majesty. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed because that’s what you do for friends. Also, it gives me additional incentive to meet with the queen, because it is true that I have been avoiding that particular mission for fear of His Unseelie Majesty. I guess I have to face that some time, so why not get it over with soon?

 The wren, the wren, the king of the birds…


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