I have often wondered why so much of the village is covered in roses, when we could be growing things that are edible. I have also long accused them of being vicious little bastards that were just a little too keen on snagging any exposed bits of flesh if you were not careful walking through them. Well, it seems I was right. I was spending time with Gwyn in the cottage when Maric sent me a rather gleeful message that his experiments had been working, and we were blessed with vampire roses as our first line of defence. They are hungry and dangerous, but he could control them, as would I. Oh, and they generate the mists too, though I didn’t quite fathom out how that works.
It was somewhat of an evening of interruptions, but I suppose that goes with the job. A steward’s work is never done, especially when the boss has a direct line into your head.
Gwyn came to the cottage, knocking as usual, and, as usual, entering without waiting. Tonight, it didn’t matter, but I should gently point out some time that I might be engaged on official business. On the other hand, perhaps I should make it a rule that official business doesn’t happen in my cottage. I have to have free time occasionally. As it was, I was struggling with θεούς και δαίμονες again and bemoaning my lack of attention in Greek classes at school. I was more than happy to put it aside and make room for her to join me on the bed. We had much to talk about. I had not seen her since my various dealings with Maric concerning the fate of the realm, and then there was also the matters relating to Alec. For herself, she was just happy to enjoy a little oasis of peace without the cŵn baying at the doors of the sithen. Such things required a little fortification, so I poured us both a glass of rum and toasted the future, even if I wasn’t certain what that future would be.
I told her about the approaching end times, as predicted by Vedis. I told her about Vedis offer to conceal the castle within some part of Hell while we waited out the doom. I told her that we were not particularly keen on that idea and about our meeting with Nemaine to discuss the alternative of shifting the village into the Shadow Roads for the duration. I paused, taking a sip of the rum and then told her about the other things, how I had become bonded with Maric, feeding from him, in order to do the things that were necessary to ensure the safety of the castle. I apologised for not having been able to discuss it with her before, explaining that it had been a necessity.
She almost drew back, exclaiming “You did what?” Then she relaxed, trying to think through it all. We couldn’t change the past, so she had to believe I did it for the good of all. She was worried about my relationship with Maric because she didn’t like him, didn’t trust him and was concerned that this would indebt me to him. She took a breath to calm herself, saying she wasn’t judging me. I was the cool-headed one, she said, the level-headed one who makes the right decisions. She took a sip of her drink and moved on to the choice between Nemaine and Vedis, which she didn’t think was much of a choice. “I think I need another kiss,” she said, finally.
I leaned in and was happy to oblige, stroking her hair and trying to explain. I told her that I fully understood, because I had not trusted or liked Maric much at first, but now, because of the bond, I had been inside his head, and I knew him better. I knew him to be more alike to me than I could possibly have imagined, in our devotion to friendship and loyalty, in our willingness to die for our friends, in our belief in honour. In an attempt to lighten the mood, I also mentioned how he really had it bad for Aoibheann, joking that if he were a teenager, he would be hanging outside her window and writing bad poetry. Oh, and I didn’t tell her that bit
That got a laugh, but she wasn’t exactly surprised. She said she would try to rethink her attitude to him, but then asked if his powers were like glamour, could he be being dishonest with me.
We were interrupted by somebody banging on the village bell. I hadn’t yet had the chance to issue the emergency procedures to anybody but the guards, so I didn’t think it could be a real alarm. I knew I should have tied up the clapper with some padding or something to stop it being used, or posted a notice on it. It wasn’t one of the proposed emergency signals. I excused myself for the moment and went to the door where I saw Orie banging on the bell and shouting that he had an announcement to make, causing much confusion and a certain amount of worry among the villagers. I was about to go and intervene, but Kustav beat me to it, apparently asking him why he was sounding the bell when there was no danger. He appeared to be a lot calmer about it than I would have been. Whatever he said, Orie seemed to be determined to go ahead with his announcement. He had apparently gotten wind of our plans for the villagers and started shouting that their Lord was intending to take them into the Shadow Roads. They had the choice, he said, of refuge with Vedis, which would be safer and would have food. Clearly he had no clue exactly what had been offered by Vedis. Whatever his intention, it didn’t seem to have the effect he might have hoped for as most of the villagers either ignored him or just stared in confusion. I could just about see what Kustav said to him – something about them already knowing, before walking off and leaving him to it. I shrugged and closed the door. There wasn’t anything I could add to that.
Returning to Gwyn’s side on the bed, I explained further that it was mind-to-mind communication, and that I didn’t think Maric could lie to me that way. I told her about the teaching he had been doing and how the power I had gained from him had made me stronger and tougher – I would have sustained worse injuries in our battle with the sea-monster without it. I also explained that I knew he had a hunger for fae blood, though he had iron control and wouldn’t act upon it, but it might explain why she felt a little odd around him. She need have no fear though, he would not touch her. I winked and told her I had a certain hunger for fae things too and kissed her, asking what her story was.
She flushed and told me all her blood belonged to me. She told me about the sithen still being under siege from the cŵn, which bit I knew about and how so many of the Seelie fae were joining with the tree and leaving, which I hadn’t known, though I had suspected, given that I had seen none of the Seelie other than her of late. Those that were left were dead against the idea of letting the Huntsman in, as Aoibheann had been wondering, but pretty soon, it was going to have to be her decision, as the Princess, not something she relished. She curled up closer and started to tell me what Alec had said. Some I already knew, about his fears for the stability of this realm and the safety of our souls. Aoibheann would likely remain anchored to Ardan, he had said, but had somewhat told her off for giving part of herself to the Huntsman, something which Gwyn had also intended to do, should Aoibheann ever stop avoiding the opportunities to do so. Gwyn, like me, was too far changed to go back, even if she wanted to, and would need to be anchored to a goddess so that she might too travel the realms. He was planning on giving her into Isabella’s keeping, who would share essence with her somehow. It would all be explained soon. Preferably, she said, looking with irritation in the direction of the castle, before everything fell apart.
I refilled our glasses, thinking we probably needed it. I told her what I had been thinking about the Huntsman needing to go home. Part of him was Llwyd, and to Llwyd, the sithen was home. There had been the comment about him needing to get home so he could remember. Perhaps that was what was needed. If the Huntsman could be admitted to the sithen, under whatever restraints we could manage, maybe Llwyd could become free of him again. We needed to talk to Aoibheann about that.
I took a mouthful of the rum and continued, telling her about the encounter with Alec. I told her what he had explained to me about the anchors and his fears for the stability of the realm. In my case, though, he had given me my own anchor. I told her that I had told him about her, Valene and the others being my anchors now. I was free of him, free of the Boatman, free. It was scary, but exhilarating. However, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, not until he had given me some training on how to walk the realms.
She wondered, quietly, what Isabella was going to tell her. She asked about the training and what else had happened, as she had felt something strange, something that had touched the area around my cottage. Could I tell her, or was it a secret, and what would I do with this power, where would I go? She seemed almost fearful. I told her that, in order for me to be released, and take of Alec’s power, I had fed from him, while he worked the energy and magic required. Whatever he was, I said, it wasn’t human. The training, I said, was something I didn’t know about, and until then, I would have to be careful, since thinking about somebody too hard could be enough to make me travel to wherever they were, possibly without our clothes. Given how much I thought about my mother, I told her, I didn’t want to end up 6ft deep in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Chatham.
She still looked a little tearful. She knew I missed my mother, she said, pulling back a little with the hint of a tear in her eye. She was sure that Alec was a demon of some sort. Then she started talking about how she couldn’t go back and how her human parents might not know her, about how Blaise and Sia and Renata were all gone and how she didn’t know about her real family. Clearly upset, she wanted to know that I wasn’t going to go, and I wasn’t going to end up in the graveyard at St Mary’s.
I held her close and kissed her. I wasn’t going anywhere without her, I assured her. While I might go to visit wherever Wren and the girls were, and other places, here, with her was home. Besides, I told her, I still had a job to do, saving the world here. I remembered something else Maric had said, about me now being his heir, and told her about that too. But, whatever else happened, I wasn’t going to be leaving her. I hugged her close, and as I had expected, she started crying on me, apologising while she did so. It was just that Blaise had left, and the others had left, and she was trying to write a letter to him, but couldn’t get it finished… I just held her and let her cry for a bit.
I was being interrupted again. I could see, through Maric’s eyes, that he was in the castle, and Vedis was preparing some sort of portal. Maric was alert, defensive in case anything bad came through, and was warning me to be ready, in case anything happened. I acknowledged the thought briefly and returned my attention to Gwyn. I understood how she felt. She had only just gotten used to her new family and now they were going. I could understand – so many of my friends who had turned up here and just vanished again. However, with Faermorn returned, maybe things would improve, especially if we could restore Llwyd. In the meantime, we had our friends, we had Aoibheann, we had Valene and the cait, and we had each other.
I got another image from Maric, a figure in a red suit stepping through the portal, a cigar in his mouth, looking somewhat surprised, and not really pleased. I could tell that he was not the person they had been expecting, but, for the moment, I got no alarm signals, so I felt I didn’t have to leave to lend assistance. Not that I would have, not while Gwyn needed me.
She managed to stop crying, though she still had the sniffles. She asked if we could be each other’s anchors. While I couldn’t answer that in Alec’s terms, I could answer it in mine. I placed her hand on my heart and mine on hers. “Hand to hand, heart to heart, mind to mind, anchor to anchor,” I said. There was something else, I told her, a way for me to be able to keep track of her and communicate with her. Once Maric had taught me, I could do that, but she would have to feed from me. She said that scrying worked, but had often thought about something like that. There were things about me she didn’t know, that she couldn’t reach, and she wanted to know them all, and she would, somehow.
“Everything?” I asked, “Even the bits you might not like?” We would have to see on that. Besides, I would need more training from Maric before I was ready to let her bite me. I asked if she knew when she was going to see Isabella. Not that I expected a proper answer on that. Isabella, like Alec, had a habit of turning up when they felt like it, which was pretty much what Gwyn said in reply to my question. She nuzzled a little closer, claiming there were probably things I knew about her that I didn’t like, such as the time she shot ice shards from her fingers. Her teeth, she added, were probably not sharp enough to bite me. They could do other things, she said, somewhat muffled, as she started undoing my tunic buttons with her teeth, but not sharp. I told her that I had nearly broken a fang trying to bite Maric, but we would work it out. What passed after that is not for these pages, save that we needed our time together, and thankfully, we were not interrupted again.