Every life has a story. I have come to learn that over the years. Some are long, some are short, and the majority might be considered uneventful by many. And, when those lives are over, little remains to tell their story, save the memories of those who knew them. And when those lives are over, even less remains of their story apart from the possibility that somebody somewhere might pass on the tale that their uncle told them about something their grandfather once did. Those lives have their documentation, of course, but in the baldest possible way – certificates of birth, school certificates, employee records, marriage certificates, death certificates and perhaps a few other legal documents – house deeds, probate and such like. Else how would I have been able to reconstruct my family history? But that does not tell their story, only a few key milestones in their lives. Those documents do not tell me who those people were, or what they were like. I do not know if I had this in mind when I started my diary, I do not recall that being among my motivations, but then, I was 12 years old, and my head was filled with stories of knights and maidens and kings and queens, of faeries and dragons. Little did I realise then that my own life, my own story, would become just as fantastical as those tales. I wonder if I would have ever put pen to paper if I had known.
And now, I know another story, well stories, I suppose. I have yet to digest them properly, but perhaps they explain things I had previously suspected. And, like the tales I read as a child, there are queens and wizards and the like. Only these tales are real, or at least, as real as anything in my life is.
When my sword arm had wearied to the point where I was more of a hazard to my own men than I was to the sluagh, I took a break from the affray, returning to the castle for rest and refreshment. I had thoughts, at that moment, only of a seat by the fire and a large glass of rum. It was not to be. As I was taking my refreshment, I heard the maids gossiping about something that had frightened Aoibheann that morning. As I looked at them, curious about their gossip, I noticed that they seemed to be having difficulty breathing. I would have probably noticed it myself, had breathing been a more familiar activity to me instead of still being a novelty that I often forgot. There was a chill in the air too, far more than might be expected from the weather, a chill that seemed to be centred on the door to Aoibheann’s room. I went to the door and knocked, asking if everything was all right in there. Aoibheann answered softly, so softly that I might not have heard without my enhanced senses. She answered in the negative and said something about me startling her. There was another voice, barely recognisable, yet still familiar, and one that might well be associated with the chill. Aoibheann’s voice continued; reassuring whoever it was that she was safe.
It sounded like my beloved Valene. Taking Aoibheann’s comment as warning, I opened the door slowly, not wishing to startle her any more than I had, calling out, “Val, is that you my love?”
It was her, looking as tired and worn as I have ever seen her, ragged and bloody, with many fresh wounds from her thorny crown. I ran to embrace her, careless of the blood and the thorns, knowing only that my love was in distress. She resisted at first, perhaps startled, then relaxed into the embrace. As she did so, the chill started to recede, and the air seemed to return, a transition I remembered from my occasionally forays into the Shadow Roads, so I assumed that is where she had come from. Her tail curled around me, keeping me at her side. I ordered food and drink to be brought – warmed wine and raw meat, with perhaps some cooked meat to follow. Valene acknowledged that briefly, and then looked back at Aoibheann, asking her, again, apparently, what it was she wanted.
Aoibheann did not seem to have an answer at first, then spoke of Faermorn, worried because she felt that the queen was no longer safe. Valene went very still in my arms, and I could feel her pain through our bond. She told us that the queen was not safe, that she was somehow gone, as she could no longer feel her in her head. There had been a sense of fear, terror and loss, but then the bond she had was gone, and she no longer knew how her queen fared. I held her and kissed her, trying to reassure her. I told her that I had felt the Unseelie King awakening, so it was possible that the Queen had somehow shielded herself, cutting herself off from all who could be used against her. I offered to help her search, if there was a way past the attack, and once she had recovered her strength somewhat.
Aoibheann had a different view. She said that the queen was alive, and in her dreams. There was more, she said, but looked as though she wasn’t sure how to explain. Valene told us that Faermorn was always able to travel the dream paths, so if she was appearing in Aoibheann’s dreams, then there was hope. She urged Aoibheann to tell it all. This sounded like it could take some time, so we made ourselves comfortable by the fireside. Although the chill of the Roads had gone, Valene was still desperately cold, and needed more warmth than I could provide.
The Huntsman had spoken to Aoibheann in the old tongue, in her sleep. While she did not understand the words, she could remember them well enough to relate them to Faermorn and ask what they meant. They were riddles, the Queen told her. I do not recall exactly what Aoibheann said, something about the last Wild Hunt, something about night quenching the well and something about a rabbit. Of course, there had to be something about a rabbit. Apparently, the queen was not sure what to make of it at first, but then she got very upset and flew away. Aoibheann tried to calm her, but the magic burned, and then she was gone. Now, Aoibheann keeps seeing Faermorn’s memories.
Valene was silent for a moment, listening, but then asked what we knew of the Wild Hunt. The true hunt before it got perverted into what it is now, our Huntsman not being the natural huntsman. Her question seemed mostly directed at Aoibheann, who had more experience of him than most, but I offered my opinion. I said that I knew mostly of the Celtic and Norse myths, which seemed very different to what we had here and back in Jasper Cove. I opined that the way he had become the hunter, called into that role by the makers of Jasper Cove, may have created something very different from what it should have been. I continued to hold Valene close, even when the servant brought warmed wine and raw meat. She accepted these gratefully, but mindful of Aoibheann’s sensitivities, was discreet about how she ate it.
Aoibheann offered her view; that the Huntsman was meant to hunt those who broke oaths, but that Gwythyr had twisted that purpose somehow. More interestingly, she told us that she knew what Faermorn had been, before she had a name, and that she had spent time hiding among humans. Valene agreed that was what the hunt had been, and that the cŵn once served a true purpose. Gwythyr had indeed corrupted them, and the hunt, to hunt for him and to hunt Faermorn. She took more of the food and began to tell us the story.
Once, there was a Wishing Well, but this was no well of stone, this was a living, beautiful woman. This woman accidentally bound a fae king, bound him to love her, a burning, obsessive love that caused him to be mad, so that all he could think about was owning her. She fled, and hid herself among mortals for a while. There, she met a mage, a mage under a curse to record all of history. She bound him to herself as her protector and guardian.
Aoibheann muttered something about him, presumably meaning the fae king, not loving her, for nobody would hurt the one they loved. Oh, sweet innocent Aoibheann, how little she knows. Valene was of a similar view to mine. She explained that this was exactly what obsessive love was, and while love is a beautiful thing, like anything, it can be corrupted. She continued her story. This mage, she told us, made deal after deal, bartering his very soul to keep the woman safe, not knowing the true nature of the one he was bound to. They came to a city apart from time, a city of magic and somehow separated from the rest of the world. There they met a neko, a lady of leisure, though that was not the term she used, and this neko took them under her wing and offered them her protection.
I stiffened for a moment, realising that this was herself she spoke of, the darling Valene I had known so well at Fiendish Pleasures and elsewhere. A part of this story that I knew some of, and had not realised this at the time. I kissed her and urged her to go on.
This city, she told us, was one without daylight, as I knew only too well, protected and shielded. The enemy could not get to the woman there, save by sending dreams. He also sent a man by the name of Llwyd. This man tried and tried again, fighting the demons, presumably clan Seid, though she didn’t explicitly say so, the neko and the mage, to try to take the woman away. And so it went on until that city fell, and they were ripped away and found themselves in the fae realm. There, the Wishing Well became the woman in white, as the only way to survive in the fae realms was to become one of them. The neko and the mage came too, each changing in their own way in order to survive. The enemy came after them, until Valene was able to trap him in a place that she called her own – the shadow roads, I wondered – buying them time.
Aoibheann was clearly affected by this story, so far, collapsing into Valene’s lap, seemingly crying and muttering something about Padishar being the mage concerned. She also added, a propos of nothing, that Clan Seid offered their island as a refuge to the people of Mysthaven if necessary. Valene continued the story. She told her that she, Padishar, the Seids and Faermorn battled to save her, how they fought long and hard, a time they called the Long Winter, losing many in the process. They changed, in their quest – Faermorn becoming queen, Padishar, being bound to a fate he could no longer control, and Valene herself changing from the neko I had known to the Cait Queen I knew now. She told Aoibheann to hold on to this story, when Faermorn visited in her dreams. To hold on to that story and know that Faermorn persevered through those times and was loved by those who gave their lives for her.
There was silence a while, save for Aoibheann’s muffled sobs, as we absorbed the story we had been told. I held Valene close and kissed her, saying that it was a sorry tale, but most likely far worse to experience than to relate. There was so much more I wanted to know, so much more that I wanted to ask her, but she was clearly tired and in need of rest. Much as I would have loved to stay, protecting her in my arms while she slept, I had other duties. The village was still under attack and I was needed at the front line. For now, she needed rest, and she could get that here, in Aoibheann’s room in the castle. I left them snuggled together by the fire, and returned to the fray, where I had no leisure to ponder on the tale Valene had told. That would have to wait, until there was peace to do so, if that time ever came.