I should, by now, be used to Aoibheann’s thought processes and her tortuous logic, but sometimes she manages to make a logical leap that baffles me. Quite how she got from a casual comment about the possibility of Dori and I being distant kin to worrying that I was going to break up with Gwyn, I do not really know.
I had tired of the endless paperwork, and so I took myself down towards the tavern for a change of scenery and a drink. Before I got to the tavern, I encountered Dorina, hanging around outside, looking thoughtful. She was slightly startled when I greeted her, but relaxed when she saw it was me, but was still a little wary of somebody, and I realised that Aoibheann had followed me, unseen, out of the castle. I made introductions and in answer to Aoibheann’s whispered question, confirmed that Dori was a visitor from the demon isle. I did not venture an opinion on whether or not Dori was also a demon, since I had no view on that myself.
I then explained to Aoibheann that Dori and I had been trying to work out if we were distantly related, since we had the same style and colour of hair and both had ancestors from Ireland. She seemed to take this quite the wrong way, saying that she imagined it would be distant enough, but it didn’t matter because of me and Gwyn. I was not quite sure what she meant by this, or what my relationship with Gwyn might have to do with me possibly having distant kinship to Dori. It was only later that I wondered if she had perhaps thought that the only reason we might want to work out our kinship was to see if we were too close kin to enter into a relationship. But, since I was with Gwyn, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to get into a relationship. I know that she probably thinks I am too much the ladies’ man because of my closeness with Valene and Helene, but that doesn’t mean I am going to throw myself at every attractive woman that comes to this land. I have to keep reminding myself that she comes from a different era, and perhaps a different land than the one I knew. Given that she seemed slightly worried about my relationship with Gwyn, I did tell her that we had managed to get some time together the previous evening. Perhaps she took some comfort from that.
We took ourselves over to the tavern, partly because it was warmer there, and partly because Dori seemed nervous that there was someone about other than the three of us. We sat down and ordered drinks. Dori asked for the strongest we had, so I had Hal bring her some of the special rum, thinking she might appreciate it. Discussion turned to the matter of the sluagh and whether it was their queen or their captain that had been responsible for the attack. Aoibheann and I were both certain that it was down to Braeden. I learned that she had invited him to the tea-party too, but he had not turned up. When I asked her how the party had gone, she would only say that the Huntsman had come, but had been offended by the sluagh queen and then everybody had left. From her manner, I guessed that there was more to it than that. I doubted that the Huntsman would easily take umbrage, and if he did, there would surely have been more of a mess about the place. Aoibheann seemed to know a bit more than she was letting on, telling us that the sluagh queen could feel the madness of others, and that Braeden was capable of inspiring great madness. I could not disagree with that bit, as he had never struck me as being entirely sane.
Unfortunately, I was not able to continue the discussion, interesting though it was, as I had business to attend to in the castle. As they say, there’s no rest for the wicked. I wonder what it was that I did.
It was some time later that I returned to the tavern. There I ran into Helene, who was conducting a new arrival around the village. A red-haired lady of the fae persuasion, judging by the wings, whose name I later learned was Fate. I made the introductions and gave her the usual welcoming speech, in which I included an offer to make introduction for her, if she was inclined to meet with any of the fae courts. I asked if she wanted anything to eat or drink and she just asked for some honey and nuts and a glass of mead. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but I could not place it, though the comment she made about being from a place that was dark and cold did put me in mind of my time in London. She was obviously tired from her journey here, so once Hal had served her with the food and drink she wanted, I directed her to the guest cottage, telling her to make herself comfortable there.
Helene told me that she was ready to test her potion, and asked if I could get word to Valene. I directed Royce, who had been sitting on my shoulder, to pass on the message. He gave me his well-practised grumpy look, reminded me that he wasn’t a messenger boy, and then padded off into the shadows. Helene was still not entirely happy about the idea of testing the potion on Valene and so I wondered if perhaps one of the other cait could be persuaded. Ket’Lyn had arrived by this time, and she was of the opinion that the cait would do anything for a free meal. I had to disagree with her there, knowing the cait to be independent and not overly biddable. I only got away with it because of my special relationship with Valene. She shrugged and turned her attention to Helene, snuggling up to her and giving her a kiss. Helene blushed slightly, and I got the impression that this was not the first time they had been intimate. Quite what the nature of that was, I did not get a chance to find out, as once again, I had to return to the castle to sort something out with the servants. Once, I would have been more worried, but I knew that Helene was no longer the innocent she had been when I had known her in London. She did not seem overly worried by Ket’Lyn’s attentions, and so I left them to it. It wasn’t really my business anyway, at least, not until it affected the smooth running of the village, which somehow I doubted it would.
The subject of intimacies came up the following evening. Aoibheann came and found me in the tavern, as is so often the case, and clearly she had something on her mind. It took some persuading and a glass of mead for her to tell me what was up. She told me she had written three goodbye letters to Maric, but had then burned them. She could not leave him, she said, but she could not stay either, because of Ket’Lyn and Lucis. I was not sure what to make of this, and double-checked that it was Lucis she meant and not Umbra. She assured me that it was Lucis. When I asked what the problem was, she blushed and prevaricated for a while before telling me that the two of them kept trying to get her alone. It was clear from her discomfort that this ‘alone’ time included attempted and unwelcome intimacy. She was afraid to tell Maric in case he reacted badly to this and that might adversely affect the alliance with the demons. She said that everybody had told her that the alliance was necessary for mutual survival, so if she left, then that conflict would be removed and the alliance would stand. She didn’t sound entirely convinced that the alliance was a good thing, which accorded, in part, with my view, but she didn’t want to jeopardise it.
I told her that I wasn’t entirely convinced by the alliance either, but until I had the chance to discuss the terms of it with Maric, I did not know what it would entail and what the costs might be. However, I was fairly sure that Maric would have included Aoibheann’s safety in the agreement, and if he had not yet agreed terms, I would make sure that was included. I told her that Ket’Lyn likely had no malice intended, and that it was her nature to try to seduce. Aoibheann’s beauty and innocence would no doubt appeal. After much persuasion, Aoibheann eventually agreed to let me speak to Ket’Lyn, to see if I could get her to leave Aoibheann alone. We agreed to not tell Maric for the meantime, at least, not until relations with the demons were more formalised.
That agreed; she made another of those logical leaps that are so characteristic, and asked if I had had a chance to work on the story about the blue penguins in the desert. I apologised that I had not yet had the time to look at it, but that I would. She said that she would also try to write a story and we could then see which one worked best. She then admitted that her motivation was to read stories to the Huntsman, because he apparently enjoyed stories, and perhaps it would distract him from trying to tear her apart. Since we were on the subject of the Huntsman, she told me that this was one of the reasons she wanted to go and see Ardan, because she had had a vision in which the Huntsman had touched the tree and it had left a black mark. We talked of what the Huntsman might want with the tree, and why he had given it to her. I opined that he might be seeking redemption, but she said that it was more that he sought to return home, wherever that was. Given that I had seen Alec, or rather, the Boatman come out of the tree, I wondered if it was a portal of some sort. She also told me that another reason she wanted to see Ardan was because she was afraid that the Mallorn trees, which are necessary for the existence of Faerie, were in danger, and thus, Faerie was in danger too.
With that, she excused herself back to the castle, leaving me to contemplate on the nature and purpose of the Huntsman, why he had given her the seedling to grow the tree and what connection it had to Alec and the Boatman. Much as I tried, I could not come to any sensible conclusions, and so retired to my bed, to think afresh another day.