Mother was fond of her roses. She spent many hours in the garden, tending them. I would sometimes help her with things like dead-heading, trimming, and of course, feeding them. Father had plenty of horses at the yard for pulling the delivery carts and suchlike, so we always had an ample supply of manure. I remember not being very keen on the idea of handling manure, but it made Mother happy, and so I did it. I never imagined I might be feeding roses in a very different way, from my own veins.
As well as communing with carnivorous roses, I have learned how to operate the wards on the dungeons and shared a little more of my life with Maric. Despite the bond, he seems to get quite concerned when he doesn’t know something about me. I suppose he has put a lot of trust in me, and who knows, maybe being that old, he can’t help getting a little paranoid sometimes.
He came to the cottage while I was trying to make some sense of some of the things that had happened, mostly reading up on what is known of Cernunnos, which is almost nothing. After some comments about the cosiness of my abode and the reminder that I could be staying at the castle, he asked me to tell him what had passed recently, and any other business I felt I wanted to share. He was worried that I seemed unsettled.
I explained that, while I liked the castle, I needed some place where I could get away from being steward for a while. I told him briefly about fulfilling a promise to reunite Valene and Faermorn, saying that it had been an emotional occasion and how I had ended up falling asleep there. I asked if he wanted to talk here or at the castle. He said that we could proceed to the castle later, so I got out the bottle of special rum, poured two glasses and asked what he wished to know. He was concerned, he said, since he felt that dealings with the fae could be dangerous, and also that I seemed changed somehow. He wanted to know about the personal matter I had mentioned.
For a moment, I could not recall specifically what he meant. Was it the business with Aoibheann, which I told him had been resolved with a quiet word in the right ear, or was it about my encounter with Alec? It was the latter he wished to know about. I told him it was complicated. I gave him a very potted history of how I had come to London, and thenceforth to Jasper Cove and after that to here in Ashmourne Wylds. I told him how my presence in Jasper Cove and subsequently here was a cause of paradox, because I was out of my normal time stream, and that in order to balance that and keep me safe, my soul had been anchored in the Boatman. Since Alec was now removing the Boatman from the tree, since her feared for the stability of this place, he had given my anchor back to me, releasing me from the Boatman.
He took that on board amiably enough, though I think he was going to have further words with Aoibheann regarding the tree. He suggested there should be a Naming Day celebration to mark my freedom. I told him that I wasn’t sure what the absolute date was. I mentioned various significant dates – my birthday, the day I was embraced and such like. I said that, if I had been keeping my diary accurately, which was by no means certain, given the times I neglected it, and those times when I seemed to have slept for days on end, that my release had probably been on the 20th of March. I wasn’t entirely sure what a Naming Day was anyway, so did not know what event I should choose for it.
We finished our drinks and got up to head to the castle. He said that it could be whatever day spoke to me. As time went on, he said, I would be wanting such guideposts. Perhaps that would be so, especially if I live as long as he had. He told me that his Naming Day was not the day he was born, or became a vampire. It was the day that he had taken control of his own life, his own freedom, the beginning of a new life. There was more, I could tell, faint hints of his memories of darker times, but he did not speak of it more.
We went down to the laboratory in the dungeon, which now sported a large and mysterious mirror on a stand. This was, I assumed the mirror portal that he and Vedis had set up. He pointed out the pentagram formed by the beams that crossed the room halfway up, and other markings in the floor and elsewhere. These formed part of the ward, which had been set up long ago, at great effort. The mirror supposedly led to Vedis’ realm as a last means of escape, but given that Vedis was in contention over some parts of her lands, he had set it up here as a precaution. He went back up the stairs to the landing above the beams. I followed him, floating upwards without thinking, rather than using the stairs. He showed me the brick that he could press against to enable and disable the ward. It was, like most things, keyed to his blood, so he would need to set it up so that I could do the same. That would need a sample of my blood, he said, taking a vial from the laboratory table. We left, enabling the ward as we did so. On the way up the stairs, he took a rose from one of the vases in a niche in the wall. It was one of the ones from the edge of the village green, yet seemed to thrive down here in the dungeon, away from the light.
We returned to his chambers, where we poured some wine and he updated me on the deals he had made. Both came with too high a price, he said, but he hoped to offset one against the other. Nemaine, obviously, wanted the bodies, whereas Vedis wanted Maric and his warriors to help in her bid to reclaim her kingdom in Hell. He and his men were committed, he said, but part of the deal was that Aoibheann and I were exempted from any of the conditions. I was a little taken aback by this. Aoibheann, I could understand, as she had no place in any battle, but I was not one to stand idly by. This, he knew, but he needed me to take care of the castle and the village, and he could not do both. I had to see his point and acquiesced, albeit reluctantly. I would have my hands full taking care of the villagers and the castle, as well as looking after Aoibheann.
He went on to the matter of being able to breathe while we were in the Shadow Roads. This was where the roses came in. The roses, he told me, were responsible for generating the mists that protected the village. As well as the mists, they generated breathable air as well. He had been researching them and they appeared to be some fae creature. They were roses, to all appearances, but with a hive-mind sentience. They craved blood, although they could just as well thrive on soil and water, just like ordinary roses. He had been working with them, feeding them his blood, which was what made them stronger and almost immortal. They now responded to his will. I had noticed that they seemed to be more than just normal roses. He wanted to show me how I could do the same, but again, this would need my blood. I could then control them and use them to defend the village as well as providing the air that we needed.
He gave me the vial and the rose he had brought up from the dungeon. I knew what to do with the former, but was at a bit of a loss as to the latter, other than, perhaps, that he wanted me to feed it. I bit myself at the wrist and dribbled enough blood to fill the vial, which I corked and gave to Maric. I then turned my attention to the rose. I asked which bit of it drank blood. He told me that the thorns could siphon blood. I just needed to focus my will on it, and, through the blood, make my skin soft enough for it.
I placed my arm on my knee, wrist uppermost and lay the rose down along my bare skin. I used the blood power as he had said, but when I focussed my will on the rose, my other aspect kicked in. It was fae; I had fae energy in me from the encounter with Faermorn and Valene. It was that which called to the rose. I could not call what I picked up sense, exactly, more a need, an awareness of, well, hunger was the nearest thing I could equate it too. It ‘knew’ there was blood at hand. I watched as the rose wrapped itself along my arm, the thorns turning towards the skin and piercing.
As the blood, in tiny amounts, began to seep from the wound, and be siphoned up by the thorn, the rose’s ‘senses’ and mine merged. I could feel its need for the blood, a sensation akin to pleasure. Suddenly, I was aware of the thicket of roses, and a strange sense of the village, filtered through their unknown senses and my mind’s interpretation. I sensed the bounty of the earth beneath them and that of the sun above, the people in the village a different pull, which I could only liken to be a bit like walking down a street and passing a bakery or a pie shop. There was sentience there, but it was, as Maric had likened it to a bee, a thousand tiny voices that only between them made something that could be heard. There were a myriad of sensations that I could not interpret precisely, my own senses being very different from theirs. The rose on my arm was digging in, evidently ‘enjoying’ my blood. Rather strangely, unlike my own feeding, or being fed from, this felt something akin to a kiss on the skin. I felt a sense of comparison, and for a moment, there was the sense of the earth, but enriched, something that tasted good, and beneficial. Though it was a very different sense, I felt that it was comparing my blood favourably to horse manure, even though the latter was much appreciated. Taste, was the best sense I could apply to it. It was drinking heavily, for a single bloom, even though it could have only been tiny amounts it was taking from me. I willed my skin to harden again and at the same time, through the blood, or possibly my fae side, commanded it to stop. The thorns withdrew, and for a moment, the bloom turned towards me as though looking at me.
I looked up and saw that Maric was watching in fascination. That was the strangest experience, I told him, adding that apparently, I tasted better than horse shit. Well, at least, taste was the best word I could think of. He clapped me on the shoulder, pleased with my progress in communing with the plants. We needed to renew our bond soon, he said, getting up, but for now, he had other business to attend to. He departed, leaving me alone with my new friend. I took it then, with me to the cottage, acquiring a small vase from the castle on the way. A sentient rose – how strange my life is becoming.