After my exertions of the previous day, I felt I deserved a quiet drink in the tavern. Gwyn was occupied with sithen matters, so I had a little time to myself to relax with a glass of rum and the comfort of the tavern fireplace. Aoibheann came in later and seemed surprised that I was back so soon, or perhaps, she was surprised I made it back at all. I assured her that I had managed to make my way to the Unseelie Court, had presented my case to Her Majesty, and had made it back without being eaten by anybody. She was quite surprised that I hadn’t been asked to stay three days and enjoy the court’s hospitality. Then she asked about my meeting with the Queen.
I told her that the Queen had been most gracious, explaining, first of all, what had been agreed regarding trade with the village, although that, I should almost certainly be directing to Lord Maric. I told her that the Queen had read her letter and had agreed to the meeting, provided I was held somewhere other than the village, for she was reluctant to venture there without knowing the reason for the meeting. Some other venue was agreeable, and she would be accompanied by her Rook and her Ravens.
Aoibheann speculated that the fae sometimes feel strange after going through the gates, and then asked what we should do next, or should she leave it to Maric to organise things. I told her that arrangements would be made with the Queen’s Rook, Janus, and it was probably best if I continued to act as messenger. I ordered another rum and had Hal bring Aoibheann a glass of mead, as I could see she really wanted one, despite having refused my offer when she arrived. She took the drink gratefully and suggested that the bridge, by Ardan might be a good place to meet. I agreed that might be an acceptable compromise. She said she would discuss it with Maric and then we could start to make arrangements.
Our discussion was pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of Valene, appearing silently as she is wont to do and tugging gently at my hair. I was highly delighted to see her, since I had missed her after the ball, and demonstrated this by scooping her into my lap and giving her a kiss that left no doubt as to how much I had missed her. Poor Aoibheann didn’t know where to look. Valene joked that maybe she should slide off my lap and try for a kiss from Aoibheann. I said she could try, but wouldn’t want her to do anything that would make our friend uncomfortable, so maybe she should settle for a hug. Aoibheann rather pointedly reminded us that she could hear us, which we knew, of course. Valene did get up, but only kissed her on the forehead and reminded her that she was among friends and perfectly safe.
I asked if she wanted a drink and she asked for an absinthe. This made me chuckle, thinking of the green fairy and how that had led to the first time with Gwyn and me. Fortunately, she didn’t ask me to explain. Instead I told Aoibheann that what Valene had said was true for both of us, that she was our friend with no conditions, no ifs or buts. Aoibheann, predictably, looked embarrassed, saying that she knew she was among friends, but where she comes from, friends don’t kiss each other. Valene explained that being a cat, she was not known for her modesty. She kissed those she cared about as a silent way of saying that she was with them, and loved them, no matter what their faults.
I told Aoibheann that where I came from, public displays of affection were somewhat frowned upon, but that I had changed and now enjoyed hugging and kissing my friends. However, I would not do so to anybody’s discomfort. I did tell her that I loved her and if she didn’t like that, then, it was tough. She turned even redder, then started apologising, for being surrounded by people who love her, and have loved her despite all the crazy things, and yet she was still to scared to tell us everything or touch us because she was terrified she might lose us. It wasn’t much, but it was the most she has said on the subject of friendship in a while.
Valene told her that we stayed with her because we wished to, because we thought her worth protecting and worth loving. We loved her because she was worth loving, and was worth much more than she might think she was. It didn’t matter what choices she made, or how frail, or what sins, it was the inner soul we loved. She then added that unless she decided to become a mass murderer and take over the entire realm, she wouldn’t scare us off.
I got up, hugged Aoibheann and told her that the same went for me. No matter what, she would not lose us, and we would not willingly leave her. I was getting tired by now and was ready to return to my humble abode, but before I did, I told her that, if she wanted, she could try touching me or even hugging me, just to prove that I wasn’t going to disappear, save for heading back to my cottage. She stood up, and almost looked as though she would try it, but shied off at the last minute, claiming the excuse that Maric’s men might be watching, and then managed to give Valene an almost-hug. Valene had to leave also, and so we both bade Aoibheann a good night and made our way to our respective homes.
I’ll give her due respect, she did at least try, and I am pleased that she is starting to talk to us. She hasn’t confided much, but at least she has admitted why. All we can do is wait, and be understanding, and let her come to us, which I am sure she will, eventually.