“Needs must, when the devil drives”, as the old saying goes. Or, if I recall my Shakespeare correctly, “My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives.” I don’t know if I am particularly driven on by the flesh, at least, not in this context (though, in the context of my relationship with Gwyn, perhaps I am; it is said that contact with the fae can lead to addiction), but if I am to be ready to face the dangers that are looming, then it may be that my body does require something more, and if that can only be obtained by consuming the vitae of one more powerful than I, then my misgivings must yield to practicality.
I had received a somewhat jumbled thought during the night. All I could tell was that Maric was angry and it was something to do with Aoibheann. Given Aoibheann’s propensity for getting into trouble, this wasn’t exactly surprising, but wasn’t sufficiently specific. I went to the castle, but Maric wasn’t around, and he didn’t respond to my mental query.
It was a reasonably pleasant afternoon, so I took a volume from the library – a series of treatises on different views of the end of times, thinking that perhaps there might be clues therein that might help us understand that which Vedis seems to be prophesising – and made myself comfortable at the table on the village green. I had only been there a few minutes, reading, when I realised that Sophia was standing there. As I looked up, she made some comment about hoping we had managed to deal with “our pressing business” the previous evening. Although she spoke politely, she did still seem a little bitter. I apologised for having had to desert her, explaining that sometimes, when Maric said “when you’ve got a moment”, it means now, and added that the pressing business concerned the safety of the town, so I had to go and attend to it. She wasn’t impressed, complaining that she was used to being ignored. She also said something about not having any interest in falling in love, despite being told by some girl that she should. She then walked off in the direction of the tavern, saying she was going for a fitting of her dress.
I followed her to the tavern, hoping I could ease her annoyance with us, and also because I thought she might have some answers to questions that had arisen during my reading. I made sure she was decent before entering the tailor’s shop, and asked who had told her she should fall in love. From her description, it sounded like it had been Dori. I moved on to my more important questions, and asked if the Sisters she had dwelt with had ever mentioned other orders, such as the Sisterhood of the Void. She told me that other orders had been mentioned, but only ones to do with St Brendan. I then asked what their views of the Kraken were, and did they have any stories linking it to the end of the world. I wasn’t sure about that last bit, as I was possibly thinking more of Jörmungandr, from the Norse myths?
She didn’t know anything linking the Kraken to end times. The sisters sang to it, and it would come close. To them, it was like a guard dog, protecting the waters around the convent. It never harmed anybody, which was why she had no fears about going to visit the sea-creature here. I tried to warn her that the nature of the creature here was unknown, therefore her safety could not be guaranteed, plus there were the other dangers – the cŵn and the sluagh. I almost told her about when she had been captured by the sluagh, but I wasn’t sure she wanted that memory just yet. I also added a warning about the unpleasant nature of the Unseelie guards. I wasn’t quite sure how much of a problem that was likely to be, given that they should have been pre-occupied with the hunt for their Queen, but given what had happened to Giada, I felt it necessary to warn her. I said that in the latter case, I would add her to the list of approved foragers, which might prevent trouble with the guards at least. She wasn’t to be swayed though. She hadn’t had any problems, so she would continue to go visit there, but she thanked me for my concern and my warning. She seemed pleased to be added to the foragers’ list and told me that she had been catching Crawdaddies and picking mushrooms, but she wasn’t sure about the latter.
Lucis came in and was introduced and she asked about the Crawdaddies. I asked if Sophia might be able to teach some of the other villagers how to fish for them, and suggested she spoke to Helene about identifying mushrooms. I would have suggested Renata, but I did not know if she still even dwelt within the sithen. She was happy to teach and said she would look out for Helene. Lucis seemed to recognise her accent and they spoke for a while about where they came from for a while before Sophia departed to try on her dress again.
Further discussion was cut short by the arrival of Maric, who clearly needed to have a word with me. I apologised to Lucis for leaving her alone and followed Maric back to the castle. We went straight to the first part of the cellars, where he told me that Aoibheann had gone again, and he was sure that the Huntsman had her. He was clearly frustrated and angry, and for once, not bothering to try to hide it behind his usual suave exterior. He wanted to be able to reach the Huntsman so that he could rescue her. He could sense that she was alive and well, but not where she was. I told him that I did not know how to get to his realm, wherever that was. Aside from breaking an oath, I did not know any other way to attract his attention. I confirmed that last time she went missing; it was Valene who had helped find her. He asked me to contact Valene and ask for her help again. He was worried about the price, since Valene was fae, but whatever it was, he would pay it. I assured him that I had known Valene for a long time, and that I trusted her with my life. If she had wanted something, she would have asked. At most, I suggested, she might want the right of sanctuary here.
I tried to think of other methods. If Maric could not track her through the blood bond, then I doubted that other methods, using her hair or such like would be any better. I wondered if any of the weapons might have the Huntsman’s blood on, but I could not recall any of us every having injured him. I had injured several of the cŵn, so we might be able to track one of them through the blood, and maybe they would be where He was. I remembered that Aoibheann had once ingested some of my blood accidentally and told Maric about this, but, as I suspected, it was too long ago for me to be able to have any link to track her by, so we were unlikely to be able to combine abilities. The thought occurred to me that Aoibheann had some fondness for the Huntsman, or at least, that part of him that was Llwyd, so killing him might not necessarily be the best option. I told Maric that, and he agreed, but, when it came down to it, he would kill to save her.
I was about to go off to see if I could find Valene, since we had two things to discuss now, but I paused. Whatever was going to happen, we needed to have all our strength, and that included me learning to use the blood magic that Maric had started to teach me. I stopped and asked if now was a good time, since I may have to use the abilities. He agreed, saying that there was no time for more reasonable methods. He added, rather alarmingly, that he would have to rework the secret door to work with my blood, as opposed to my blood with some of his in it. If the worse came to the worse, he said, I would be Lord of Mysthaven in his stead, and I would have to carry on what he had started. That seemed a little morbid, but practical, given the circumstances. Normally, he said, this training would take time and practice, but time was not a luxury we had.
We took a seat, just in case it proved too overwhelming. He warned me that we would be uncomfortably close, but we would have to cope. With that, he offered his wrist. I just grinned and said he had better do the honours, since last time, I had nearly broken a fang. He nodded, telling me that was one of the things you could do with the blood – harden the flesh against damage, though here, of course, it was an inconvenience. He then applied the bite himself, and as the blood welled up, offered me his wrist. “Come Nathaniel,” he said, “and drink from me. Let me show you the world into which you have been born.” It sounded formal, almost like a ritual. I bent my face and drank.
The vitae was strong and fierce, and I could feel the inrush of power, filling me far more than before. Everything else in the room faded into the background, and both he and I seemed far more real and solid, as though everything else were just mist and shadows. Memories flooded back and forth – Katharina bending over me, offering her wrist, saying “Mein Gott, was habe ich getan? Trinken, verdammt!” My oaths to Brigitte, to Catt and Katia, the burning of Jasper Cove and my encounter with Greyson, the strength of my feelings for Gwyn, for Valene and my friends. From him, scenes of depravity, vampires torturing people, himself included, the rape and pillage of a village not unlike this one, the love and loss of a warrior queen, another, more innocent woman, loss and destruction, and somewhere, his freedom… “Concentrate on the blood,” he told me, “Focus on it, feel it, imagine what you can do with it…”
And that was all I knew. Darkness took me, and I knew nothing more until some hours later, when I awoke, still seated on the bench seat in the cellar, and he was gone, leaving only some dried blood on my lips, and the mass of shared memories and emotions. I made my way out of the cellars and up to the main hall. I needed a drink, and a chance to adapt to what I had learned and what I had gained. I could feel his powers buzzing in me, but knew not what to do with them. I needed time, and time I did not have.