I have never been captured by a sea-monster. I had never even seen a sea-monster until recently, despite all my years at sea. Being thrown overboard and having a crewmate attempt to duck me while wearing a canvas monster’s head (the welcoming tradition on my first ship) doesn’t count. So, I don’t know what it is like, and I have few references to give an indication. Even the Book of Jonah, while relating that Jonah spend three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish, says only that he spent the time praying and says nothing else of his experience there. I cannot, therefore, imagine what Faermorn went through, save that it cannot have been pleasant. No captivity is pleasant, and what I saw of her prison on the side of that great beast did not appear comfortable in the least. I can only hope that perhaps she was unconscious and did not have to suffer it so much. Now she is returned to us, and is recovering. I can only hope that she has the time to become again what she once was, the brightest light in the Unseelie Court. For now, that light is dimmed by her experience, although her beauty remains, at least, in my eyes. They say that a cat may look at a king, so perhaps a humble scholar may look at a queen. And, perhaps, that scholar may be considered akin to a friend. I would like to think so. Certainly, I was made welcome, and perhaps she took some comfort from my company.
I had not set out to visit a queen, save that doing so, voluntarily or otherwise, is always a possibility when you venture into her lands, yet visit I did. I was doing my rounds of the village, making sure everybody had a copy of the emergency procedures, and more importantly, understood them. I spent some time with Helene, trying to reassure her and trying to persuade her to stay close to the village for the time being. I also had a brief chat with Ket’Lyn, though I am sure she is making her own arrangements on the demon isle. Then, finding myself close to the Mystgate, I ventured out to the edge of the hill, to gaze once more on the beauty of this land. My mood was sombre as I looked out across to the distant brightness that was Ardan, and beyond the Tree of the Unseelie. I pressed my hands into the ground, trying to recall and recover that ecstatic life I had felt when encountering Cernunnos, and the connection I had felt with the things mother had told me so long ago. I even found myself talking to her for a moment, before remembering Alec’s words about accidentally travelling to people I was thinking about. I resolved that I would take a walk once more among the woods and standing stones, perhaps even Valene’s little refuge. The howl of the cŵn still attacking the Seelie sithen decided me against going in that direction, so I set off down the hill and turned towards the bridge.
It had been some time since I ventured past Ardan and beyond the bridge, so long, in fact, that I quite lost my bearings until I found myself by the ancient bridge and steps that I knew led up to the Unseelie tree. There, I did not presume to go without invitation, so I sat for a while, communing with nature and the spirit of the area. After a while, I felt a rush of air and the soft rustle of wings. Opening my eyes, I found myself face to face with one of the Ravens. He asked me what I sought here; addressing me as favoured of the queen, and reminded me it was not safe to wander. I felt no fear, strangely, as I never really have, even this side of the bridge. I shrugged and said that few places were safe any more. This place was beautiful, I said, and worth the risk. Since he was there, I asked him how the queen fared, having not heard any news since Aerodine had taken her from the great beast. I also asked if he would pass on my regards.
He looked at me, glancing here and there, and almost furtively, came closer and told me that she was faring poorly. Since she had named me as friend, he was prepared to take me to her. She could use the company of friends, he said, but I would have to be blindfolded on the way there. I told him it was an honour to be considered friend and an honour to be received by her majesty. To demonstrate my willingness, I pulled a cloth from my bag and blindfolded myself.
He grasped me, not gently, but not unkindly and flew me some distance, in what direction I did not know, and deposited me in a pleasant-looking grove, gesturing at me to follow a path, which I did until I came to a door not unlike the one to the Underhill. He indicated that I should go in and that I had better lift her spirits or else. He then took up guard duty at the door. I got the distinct impression that this meeting was clandestine and would not be approved of by some.
Inside seemed to be the queen’s private chambers. I called out softly, not wanting to disturb anybody. There was a faint voice asking who I was, so I called out my name. The same voice, barely more than a whisper directed me to come around the side. I followed the voice around the corner until I found myself in what appeared to be the queen’s bedchamber.
She was there, curled up in a huge pile of furs and blankets, still beautiful, but somehow dimmed, as though the golden light that usually surrounded her was barely there. Pale, she looked too, with the only colour being from her lips. I bowed, and then squatted down close by. Forgive me for intruding, I said to her, explaining that her raven had indicated she might appreciate some company. She sighed, saying that they fussed so. Nevertheless, she would appreciate pleasant company to take her mind off things. I told her that this was a pleasant place to recover, and if there was anything else I could do, just to let me know. I told her that everybody should have a friend to come and visit, even a queen, perhaps, especially a queen. She smiled, asking how I was and then said that she needed to thank those who had fought for her so bravely. Take my hand, she said, and let me thank you.
I managed to stifle my surprise, knowing full well the significance of thanks among the fae, let alone from a fae queen. I tried to play it down by saying I would have done the same for any friend, because that is what friends do. I shuffled closer and took her hand in mind. Her power flared, as I expected it would, but was barely a ghost against what I knew she could be. There was that same sense of her being able to be anything that I desired, but it was at a very low ebb. I held her hand and waited. She thanked me for my bravery, and for my friendship, which she said was a rare and precious treasure. She asked if I would stay awhile, so that she would not be alone.
I managed to not react to the low state of her energy, other than trying to summon up some of my own, if she would have it. I kept her hand in mine. I told her that the way I saw it, a queen is always surrounded by courtiers and subjects, all eager to curry favour. She had been gracious to me, even though I was not of her court, or even of her people. For that, I had only my friendship to give. Some might hesitate to offer that to a queen, but having got a sense of her through Valene, I was happy to offer it without thought of reward.
She smiled and squeezed my hand – a friendly gesture, or perhaps more, I could not tell, with her energies so low, though it did seem that the mere contact had brightened her up a little. She told me that having lived as human for many years; she did not have the aloofness associated with her kind. Experience was too precious to waste it on pointless cruelty. Kindness for its own sake, she said was a rare wonder, and she thanked me for bestowing it on her. She paused, and then asked if I could convey a message to Valene. Their bond had been broken by what happened in the lake, perhaps forever, and she could no longer sense her. She said that it might be for the best, as she didn’t want anybody to suffer for her again.
I leaned and kissed the back of her hand, gently, as I might any lady to whom I had been introduced. I tried to recall the energy I had felt during the encounter with Cernunnos, the link I had felt with all the life energy of the forest, and tried to channel some of that into the kiss, in the hope of giving her some healing. I related that Valene had told some of that story to Aoibheann and me. I also told her how distressed Valene had been at the loss of the link. Valene and I were close, I told her, even before we both came to this land, before I became her Sigil, and I knew that she would endure that suffering again for love of Faermorn. I reached out through my senses, through the link I had, but could not feel Valene. Thinking her to perhaps still be in the Roads, I told Faermorn that I would gladly convey such a message.
Something stirred in her at my kiss, and perhaps my attempt to channel energy, for she gasped slightly. My words however, seemed to calm her somewhat. She said that there were many stories, but some only she and ‘he’ knew. She seemed to struggle with some decision and eventually decided that yes, she would like me to bring Valene to her if I could, if she wanted to see her. She needed to feel love again.
Somehow, I could not drop the hand, not just yet, as she seemed to need it. I know that skin contact is something different for the fae, as I have experienced with Gwyn, so would not deny her what small comfort she could derive from mine. We all had our stories, I told her, indicating my diaries, but only those who were part of them truly knew. Love, I said, I was sure was a difficult thing, as so many people would see only the glamour and the power and think themselves in love with that. Valene, I was sure, could see the person behind the glamour, and that was who she loved. And there were other kinds of love – I mentioned all those who had fought on her behalf without thought of reward. So, she should not think herself unloved.
Her expression was faint, but for a few moments, more like the queen I had known, as she said that all those who had helped her would be thanked. I was too kind she said, and she spoke of the love of her consorts, like the feeling of coming home. But there was the other kind of love, that burns you up like the sun, the love that shatters you into a million pieces, the love that you bleed for over and over again. In the end, there was only love.
I could see the faintest hint of tears in her. I told her that I had known such love, with Alex, with Gwyn. Our poets and bards spoke of such love, I told her. Since she had dwelled among us for a while, perhaps she knew something of our poets. After all, some said that poets got their gifts from the faerie folk. They wrote of love. One even wrote of a Faerie Queen, I said, but that was far too long. Perhaps I could tell her other tales, other poems. She lay back on her covers, her eyes too old for such a youthful face, and a bittersweet smile was all she could manage. A story would be lovely, she told me, still keeping her hand in mine.
I reached for my bag with my other hand, to bring out what books of poems I had, but first, I thought I would go with the Bard’s most famous sonnet. I needed no book to recite that for her. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…” And thus passed the rest of the evening, with Shakespeare, with Blake, with Whitman, until sleep claimed her with at last, and she lay there, seemingly content, with a smile on her face. I released her hand with one last gentle kiss and covered her over; giving her into the care of whatever servants tended her. Once outside, the Raven seemed slightly happier for my efforts and returned me once again to the bridge, from where I made my own way home.
I felt better for having seen her, I think perhaps I had something to prove to myself, or to her, about friendship unfettered by oaths or obedience or a desire for favour. I hope I succeeded. Even if I didn’t I was content I had given her a couple of hours of peace. And, perhaps, that was the greatest gift I could give.