Duchess Returns

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

(William Shakespeare, As You Like It. Spoken by Jaques)

My world, as it currently stands, is a small place. This faerie island, standing apart from the world I once knew is currently all I know. And just like the Immortal Bard’s men and women, those here have their exits and entrances. But, I am damned if I can work out where the wings of this particular stage are. Many of the friends I knew in Jasper Cove did not cross the same bridge I did, and are either lost, or went to some other place, as did Wren and Ember. Others made it across, as I did, others came later. Unlike Jasper Cove, there is no Boatman, or at least, none that I know of, but perhaps, like Jasper Cove, there is a way out, albeit at some cost, such as the memories the Boatman demanded. I can only hope that this is true for those I cared about. I have not seen Sophia in many months. I have not heard news of her from any of the factions, or news of her remains, so I have to hope that she escaped this place, and is safely homed elsewhere.

Some, though, make their own exits and entrances, as I found out only the other evening.

I was in the tavern, which I much prefer as a working environment to the desk in the corner of the castle, at least, for such work as I can do with the paperwork I can carry with me. I had gone there for a change of scenery and company, and a quick tour of the village, to check on the progress of rebuilding, gave me sufficient excuse. I sat down with my checklist of tasks, and was well pleased with how many I was able to check as done. I was also slightly puzzled by a scrap of paper I had found in the bin by my desk. It was in Aoibheann’s handwriting, and appeared to be some sort of shopping list. She came into the tavern, looking as though she had been working hard, and I asked her about it. She claimed to not know anything about it and tried to divert my attention by offering to help with the masonry works.

Before she could answer further, our attention was diverted somewhat more drastically by strange sounds from outside the tavern. A loud humming that seemed to make the very rocks vibrate, mixed in with strange, unearthly sounds. I also felt a tinge in the air of magic. Fearing some sort of attack, I drew my sword and went to the tavern entrance, ready to defend against anything that might come at us. Aoibheann cried out that it might be the Sluagh, so I told her to get behind me. I stood, ready to strike, sniffing the air for the stench of living sluagh.

A ball of light, a bright green glow was forming, humming with a loud noise that set my teeth on edge, and even to my uneducated senses, seemed to be throbbing with magical energy. Out of the shimmering light, new sounds emerged, voices, speaking a strange language that was almost unknown to me, yet sounded strangely familiar. The glow spread out to form a shimmering circle, and I realised I had seen such things before. It was a portal of some sort.  I wondered if this was some new tactic on the part of our enemies, using a portal to gain access to the centre of the village instead of fighting up the hill. I stood with my sword poised, ready to summon the guards if anything bad came through.

Then I saw shapes, uncertain at first, and wavering in the green light. Familiar shapes, equine shapes, shapes I had not seen since the funeral pyre we held on Cristof’s land. Was this Breheyu, I wondered, aloud, cautiously returning my sword to its sheath. The voices continued, and I was sure I heard the name Paasheeluu among the unfamiliar syllables. I asked Aoibheann if she had been trying any summoning spells. She denied trying any such thing, but then came closer and spoke back to the indistinct forms in the glow, using the same language, albeit uncertainly. I only recognised the word she used for Mother, and Paasheeluu’s name. The figure grew more distinct, it was clearly one of Paasheeluu’s species, but a pale, ivory colour, rather than her warm orange tones. As Aoibheann spoke, another figure appeared, and this seemed to be Paasheeluu, shouting at us to not touch the portal as it was not stable yet, and Seeuu, whoever that might be, possibly her pale companion, was trying to get it fine-tuned before the crystals started shattering. Even as she spoke, there was the sound of something exploding, and I saw pieces of crystal flying around through the green glow.

I had very little experience of portals, but it occurred to me that such a thing might need some sort of anchor at the destination end. I fumbled my small piece of unicorn horn from my pocket and held it out so that she could see it, asking “Would this help?” Aoibheann asked if we could help stabilise the portal.  It certainly needed it, as the shape kept shifting, the images through it wavering and shimmering, and the noises were getting louder and louder. Paasheeluu shouted that it would help, but any instructions she might have been trying to give got lost in the roar of the wavering magic. I did not really know what to do, but thought that maybe energising my crystal would give the portal something to lock onto. I took Aoibheann’s hand in mine, placing the crystal between our palms. Concentrate!  I told her, summoning up all the energies I knew, and pouring them into the crystal. With our hands joined, I could tell that Aoibheann was doing the same, our energies merging and flowing into our crystal, causing it to glow brightly. For a few brief moments, our energies joined with that of the portal. The image shifted and wavered, and briefly became completely clear and undistorted. At that moment, Paasheeluu and her ivory-coloured companion came rushing through, just making it before the portal shattered in a shower of metal and crystalline debris that went flying everywhere.

What was left of the portal vanished, leaving only the afterglow in my eyes. I released Aoibheann’s hand and dropped the crystal in my pocket. Fortunately, neither of us had gotten hit by the flying debris, which was more than I could say for Paasheeluu and her companion, both of whom were trapped. Aoibheann ran forward to try to help Paasheeluu, but she could not move the metal strut that was trapping her on her own. I went forward and lifted it out of the way, surprised once again at how easily I lifted it. Perhaps I did gain some strength from Maric’s blood. Paasheeluu got up and made her way over to her companion, who was trapped under an engraved panel. I joked about her knowing how to make an entrance, but she was more concerned for her friend, or possibly, her lover, judging from the things she was saying. I followed her and helped remove the debris that was trapping the other one.

Orie came rushing in, wondering what the hell was going on. He arrived just in time to catch Aoibheann, who was clearly overcome by events and was fainting.  Paasheeluu was clearly conflicted, but realised that Aoibheann’s condition was mild. As we cleared the debris from the fallen companion, Seeuu, presumably, I saw that she was of Paasheeluu’s kind, but had additional gems around the horn and rather strange clay plate for a chest. This latter was cracked, revealing a dim glow from within.  Paasheeluu was mightily relieved by this, but her wording seemed odd, describing her friend as not dead, but damaged, rather than injured.  Between us, we carried the other one inside. Paasheeluu thanked me for my help, explaining that she had been working for a long while to create a portal so that she could return to her Hiinaa. I told Hal to get food and drink for both of them, but Paasheeluu said that Seeuu would not be eaten until she was able to repair her. Again, this seemed an odd way of putting things, but then, her use of English language had always been somewhat shaky.

Whatever she may have meant, I did not have a chance to enquire as one of the servants came, requesting my presence to deal with some things in the castle. No doubt, Paasheeluu and Aoibheann had a lot of catching up to do, as they were much closer than I ever was, and much as I had my doubts about Orie, I felt he would be able to look after them in the event of any problems. And so, I left them to it. There was only so much excitement I could deal with in one evening, and fortunately, the business in the castle was sufficiently mundane and not in the least bit exciting, which was just what I needed before retiring for the night.

 The Duchess Returns

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