Life is change. From the moment we slide wetly, mewling into the world until we leave it with a dry gasp and the sound of earth clods on a wooden casket, life changes us. Of course, I don’t know if the latter is going to apply to me. My existence being what it is; there may well be no need for someone to intone “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dist” over my mortal remains. If this existence ever comes to an end, I doubt there will be any mortal remains. I am not the man I once was. In truth, I am not sure I am even a man any more, at least, not as it is generally understood. The man I once was never considered himself a warrior, save in his youthful imaginings of knights in shining armour, and yet, I have done battle now against numerous foes. The man I once was considered himself agnostic at best when it came to the existence of God, let along Gods plural, for all that he enjoyed debating such with the vicar over Sunday lunch. He certainly never conceived the idea that he might meet with any God. And yet, it has happened, more than once. I wonder what the Rev. Elverson would have made of that.
Today, I have stood alongside warriors more able than I, battled monsters on land and at sea, come face to face with a God, and seen a faerie queen returned to her people. The youth who started a diary some 30 years ago, so far as I can work out, never imagined he would write such an entry. An imagination he had, that was for certain, but I cannot conceive that he would have thought such things. How strange life is.
As I said in my last entry, time was something I did not have. Awakening from my swoon after feeding from Maric, I barely had time to haul myself up to the main hall and get myself a drink before I was called once again to take up the sword. Gossip from the servants had it that Aoibheann had gone down to the lake to confront the monster, which news was rapidly confirmed when Royce emerged from the shadows to tell me the same thing, and that Sophia was also attempting to commune with the monster.
I grabbed my sword, ran down to the armoury to get some of the iron spears and filings bags and headed down towards the lake, barely noticing that I ran much faster than was normal with me. At least, that was the plan. Before I could get to the lake, there were the cŵn to contend with. At least they seemed to be without their master, which evened the odds somewhat. Orie and Galyanna were already engaged with them, so I joined in, jabbing with one of the spears while I asked Orie for a situation report. He told me things were not good and the plan was that we were to hold the cŵn while others tried to kill the beast with magic. I also gathered that Sophia had tried swimming in the lake and singing to the monster, presumably thinking that she could calm it as the sisters had at St Brendans, and had rapidly discovered this was not any Kraken to be calmed by song, making it back out of the lake by the skin of her teeth. Aoibheann had also been there, and it had been her that had attracted the attention of the hounds, deliberately it seemed. I arrived just as she narrowly avoided a bite and started retreating. Whatever it was she had done, Galyanna wasn’t overly impressed, calling to me that Maric’s pet should learn when to hold her tongue and learn what an alliance meant. I didn’t have time to question or argue, as we were knee-deep in cŵn, and those seemed our first priority. Orie was shooting at them as well as swinging his axe, Galyanna was swinging her weapon. I must ask her one day what it is called.
We dispatched a few of the cŵn, but they kept coming. Aoibheann ran and one of them managed to get past us and pursued her. It looked like she was heading back to the hill of the standing stone. Galyanna threw herself at it and brought it down, by sheer weight and the spikes on her armour. I despatched another, but yet another got past me and bit at me. Strangely, it barely broke the skin, and I realised, as I started swinging my sword, that it seemed less heavy than I was used to. Perhaps I had gained something from Maric’s blood. Gwyn appeared, floating in mid-air and started casting defensive magic. The cŵn mostly ignored her and were concentrating on Orie, Galyanna and I. We were not in a good defensive position and Orie called out to me for ideas. I was so surprised I didn’t even question why he was asking the person with the least tactical experience. Perhaps he was just looking to authority, which, despite my lack of military experience, I did have. The hounds were after Aoibheann, and so she had to be our priority. I called out that we should fall back to the hill, where we would have the advantage of higher ground. I yelled at Gwyn to keep to defensive measures and to stay well out of the line of fire, since we were using iron weapons. She had other priorities though, and she shouted at Galyanna to protect me before flying off towards where Aoibheann had retreated. Something was going on up there. Behind us, there was some strange glow from the hilltop and even with my limited knowledge; I could feel the edge of magic grating at my senses.
We fell back, an orderly retreat, keeping out backs to the hill and the cŵn to our front, Galyanna took the brunt of the defence while Orie and I started to gain the hilltop. Once again, it seemed that few words were needed for us to act like a well-disciplined team. I would expect that of Galyanna and Orie, experienced warriors both, but of myself? Perhaps I did learn something in my reading, even if this was hardly a battle against the dragons or the Saxons. I did not know for sure, only that it was working. Between us, we held off the pack of cŵn while behind us, something magic was being wrought. I could hear the voices of Aerodine, Aoibheann and Gwyn, even if I did not understand half of what they were saying, or in Aerodine’s case, singing.
The light broke over us, like a second sunrise, a golden light that seemed to make everything else recede, making even the landscape seem as insubstantial as the mists. The world was suddenly the fae trees and the standing stones, light and fire dancing between them. Energy rushed around and surrounded us, this was LIFE, the life of the forest, against which that which I had received from Isabella was a mere penny candle. This was the true spirit and life of the forest, the song of life and everything it contained. The cŵn were forgotten as I gazed upon a face larger than worlds and knew, without being told, that this was Cernunnos, the God of the Forest. And he was asking who had woken him.
All at once, my memories came flooding back, and I could hear my mother’s voice once again, as she spoke of the trees and the woods, her urging me to greet the trees, to commune with them. Oh, would that I had understood then as I understood now! All that she had said, and much of what she had been seemed so clear now. I reached for Gwyn’s hand, saying without realising it, that I now understood what she had meant, my mother, all those years ago.
I could hear Aerodine’s song, and Aoibheann speaking behind me, but much of what was lost, save for something in Gaelic, that I somehow knew meant the little rabbit. She spoke to him of dreams and home, and I knew she spoke of Llwyd. The God spoke to her of making a home for his dreams, so that he could live on. That seemed to be for a future time. The God turned his head and directed his gaze out to where the sea-monster thrashed around in the shallows. All the gems adorning its hide were dull, save for one, that glowed brightly, and we knew, without knowing how, that this was where Faermorn was. The light of the God directed us, and, almost as one, we moved towards it. All was dreamlike and when we gained the shore, the water was no more than mist to us. Our task was clear, to rescue the queen from her crystal prison.
Galyanna was there first, a blur of speed, all spikes and blade, hacking at the creature’s body, though she appeared a mere tiny speck against its side. Aerodine continued her song and made her way closer, her song unearthly and sung in tones that no mortal mouth could make. The vibrations surrounded us, strong enough to rattle our teeth, and perhaps, strong enough to shatter the crystal. Inch by inch, she climbed the side of the creature; her roots digging deep to hold on as it thrashed and shook, making her way closer and closer to the crystal, in which we could see the limp and almost lifeless form of the Unseelie Queen. I knew not what the others were doing, save that I could feel Gwyn’s magic. Without knowing why, I waded into the ghostly waters, driven by the siren song, perhaps, or the power of the God. I could not begin to comprehend the size of this creature and I imagined that this must have been how man first felt when encountering a whale. This was no ordinary beast, I knew without being told, this was a creature of faerie, and I knew what I had to do. I waited until the creature’s maw came thrashing close to where I was, and hurled all the bags of filings I had down its ravenous gullet.
Time paused, it seemed, and perhaps that was the last straw, along with Aerodine’s song, Galyanna’s attacks, and whatever the others had been doing. The beast thrashed once more and then shuddered its last before exploding, the chunks of flesh and blood no more substantial than the mist-like water, save for some chunks that hit Galyanna, knocking her out of her flight and sending her plummeting to the lake-bed. As I dived in an attempt to catch her, I saw that the crystal prison had shattered too; allowing Aerodine to take up the injured, but apparently alive body of the Queen in her arms and carry her away. My dive was true and I caught the tumbling Galyanna before she hit the ground. The blow winded me and I still don’t know how I managed to avoid anything more than minor scratches from the spike on her armour. I could see the others were running or flying back to the shore. Aoibheann and Gwyn seemed safe and for once, I took to flight, to get Galyanna to shore as quickly as possible. Even in her severely injured state, with a big lump of monster tooth stuck in her side, her concern was for Faermorn. I assured her that Aerodine had taken her safely, and was presumably on her way to the Underhill. Go tend to the others, she told me, tugging at the remains of the tooth. I told her that she was being stubborn, but she insisted she would be alright. I knew her not to be stupid, and perhaps she knew herself and her injuries best. We make a good team, I told her, adding that some day, we should train together. With that, I left her to tend to her wounds, while I went to help the others.
There was not much help needed. Aoibheann and Gwyn had made it safely to shore, as had Orie. The cŵn were nowhere to be seen and the landscape came flowing back to its normal appearance, sold, dependable, real. The light was gone, and so, presumably was the God. The queen was safe, and our mission, for now, was done.
I have encountered Gods, and battled monsters. What else is there to be?