I think it is fair to say that I love Aoibheann. Not in the way I love Gwyn and Valene, for, although she is, by any criteria, beautiful, there is no physical attraction there. It is more the love that one might have for a sibling; and in a way, she has become the sister I never had. If my observation of sibling relationships is any guide, she certainly fulfils the apparently required attributes of a younger sister in managing to be infuriating, perplexing and incomprehensible to a mere older brother.
Just how perplexing she could be was brought home to me by one of the guards, who found various scraps of paper around the hillside, apparently written by Aoibheann. He brought one to my attention as I was checking off the progress of the clean-up. It was an invitation to a tea-party. There was nothing wrong in that, to my mind, as she has had such things before, but I did have issues with her choice of guests, namely, the Huntsman. I think I exclaimed “Oh dear gods!” or something similar rather loudly, judging by the guard’s reaction. I apologised and thanked him for bringing it to my attention, saying I would deal with it. I had no idea HOW I would deal with it, but I said I would do so, and so I set off to the castle.
I don’t know if Aoibheann somehow sensed I was looking for her, or if something else was wrong, but as I climbed the stairs, calling out for her, I got there just in time to catch her as she fainted. I carried her to one of the armchairs, and bearing in mind her previous reactions to waking up with me nearby, I made sure she was comfortable and then went and sat in the other armchair, a suitable distance away, after pouring a couple of glasses of wine, one of which I placed by her chair for when she woke. I sat and waited, calling her name softly occasionally. Unlike previous fainting spells, however, this time she seemed reluctant to return to consciousness.
Maric came up the stairs, rushing as soon as he saw Aoibheann lying unconscious on the chair. I explained what had happened and then showed him the invitation. His face darkened as he read it, and I sensed some unease from him, more so than his obvious worry about Aoibheann. He knelt by her side and tried to revive her. She did not seem to respond much, other than staring blankly, and for some inexplicable reason, trying to bite the arm of the chair.
I explained how the note had come into my possession and how I had been about to ask her about it when she fainted. I told him that I was not quite sure what she may have been intending by the invitation, or what we could do about it. I said that I suspected others had been invited and suggested that we maybe tried to turn it into a diplomatic conference, in which case we could maybe rely on the rules of diplomacy to prevent any great harm coming of the event. He was not convinced, saying that he doubted that the Huntsman would want to talk. We should round up our forces and prepare to mount what defences we could, he said, clearly expecting the worse from the encounter. Despite his fear, he continued to comfort Aoibheann, telling her she was safe and among friends. I do not know if she could hear or understand him, but at least she appeared calmer.
I spoke then of the things I had learned about the Huntsman of late, how his true calling had been perverted by the Unseelie King. I also said that there was another side to him, a side that was important to Aoibheann. He had some great fascination with her and I was not sure that he would actually intend any harm. I agreed that we should be prepared, but that we should approach the matter with caution and diplomacy first. I told him that I had previous dealings with the Huntsman, so was quite prepared to face him again. There was also the matter of who else had been invited. Once we knew that, we might have a very different situation on our hands. Once again, I felt I was perhaps overstepping my mark and apologised if I had done so.
He assured me that no apology was necessary; I was just doing what he required of me. He agreed that we should prepare for the worst case scenario, but allow for diplomacy first. He then gathered Aoibheann into his arms, preparing to take her to the comfort of her bed, telling her this was what he was doing. Then he continued to speak, except his lips were not moving, and I realised I was hearing his voice in my head only. I was momentarily surprised, but this was not my first experience of telepathic communication. He asked me to accompany him to Aoibheann’s chambers, as he was quite worried about her condition. He was worried that it might be similar to something that had happened to him earlier, when a strange fit came upon him, which caused him to wander down to the Unseelie lands, there finding a lake that was not there before, one that was populated by a strange sea-monster.
I responded that I had been vaguely aware of a similar compulsion, although I had not acted upon it. I was not quite sure what I should say, bearing in mind my oath to Faermorn, so I said that I feared there was much amiss in the Unseelie realms. The compulsion may have been a general thing rather than directed at any individuals. I suggested that I should go down to the Unseelie lands and reconnoitre, to see if I could find out what was amiss. He agreed with this, but said I take some guards with me as it was dangerous out there. I could understand his protectiveness, but told him that I would rather go alone, or with just one guard, as too much of an armed presence might be seen as provocative. I had a certain amount of leeway, I told him, in the Unseelie lands, whereas the guards did not, so I did not want to put them in unnecessary danger. I understood the risks, I said, but would prefer to do things my own way. Reluctantly, he agreed, telling me to do my scouting and to return safely. I left him then, to see to Aoibheann, suggesting that he find out from her who else had been invited. I was not ready to go into the mists just yet, but I had other things to attend to first. She was safe in his hands, I knew now. I had had doubts before, but now, from the feelings I could sense through the bond, I could discern his fondness for her, and felt no sense that he might intend her harm.