These coming days are going to be hard for all. The villagers, save those who normally work in the castle are deprived of their normal activities, which is especially hard on those who are used to being outdoors and able to roam free. I am doing my best to keep people occupied and to deal with problems, but it can be hard. The longer we are confined, the harder it is going to be. Of course there is going to be some discontent, and I lack Maric’s long history with them. Still the stewards and the guards have come to trust me, and know that Maric would not have invested me as his deputy and heir without good reason. I can rely on them to help me keep things in order. So far, things are going well, but I fear that young Orie has been making grumbling noises, and perhaps influencing people who should know better. I am going to have to deal with him at some point. I only hope I can do so peacefully.
The waiting is hardest of all on Aoibheann, who is like a soul lost without Maric. I see her doing her best to be the charming hostess, as she might think Maric would want her to be, but it is hard on her, and I do not know what I can do for her other than what I have always done, been her friend.
While doing my rounds, I came across Lucis. I was glad to do so, since I had seen her name on the lists that my fellow stewards had checked off as the evacuation was in progress, but had not seen her myself. She seemed to be well, but kept asking about the Shadow Roads. She was remarkably keen to go visiting in the Roads, but would not explain why. I tried my best to explain the dangers involved in exploring the roads, and the conditions under which we were guests there, but she kept asking. I told her that if she came to me with a proposal, where she wanted to go and why, I would speak with Valene and/or Nemaine to see if it could be arranged. The best I could get from her was that she would think about it.
Aoibheann turned up, looking somewhat out of sorts and carrying some wine. She did not look as though she had slept much of late, and, as ever when she is stressed, also looked as though she had not eaten. She clearly wanted to discuss something, so we retired to Maric’s chambers for privacy. From the look of things, she had been spending most of her time here, waiting on Maric.
And it was Maric of whom she wished to speak. I had been expecting this, and already had some idea of what I was going to say. I explained about what being in torpor meant and reminded her of the time that Gwyn had been in a coma after her first encounter with the Huntsman. It was like that, I told her, and it was the state we went into when we needed to heal. I did not know how long it would take, but he would heal. I mentioned that I was looking through his library for any information on how we could help, e.g. by feeding him to help him heal, but I had not found anything yet. That was the main thing she wanted to hear – that he would wake up.
She then asked about the obligation we had to wage war on behalf of the Seids and wanted to know what we were going to do. She said that she knew I had history with the Seids, and was friends with their queen, but she still felt that they would serve their own interests first whereas we had to serve our own. Without Maric, it was up to us to protect Mysthaven. This, or course, I knew, for this was the duty that Maric had charged me with, and she should know that well enough.
I told her that I would be doing whatever I could to help bring Maric back, for I would far rather have his hand on the tiller than mine, since I was not the warrior he was. So far as the war with the Seids was concerned, I had rather thought that was over. She and I were excluded from that obligation anyway, and I was waiting news from Galyanna on how the demons fared. I reminded her that Maric had entrusted the village to me, and she should know me well enough to know that I would do that to the very limits of my ability, even unto my death. Nothing, not even my friendship with the Seids, was going to get in the way of that duty.
She agreed with my hope that the war was over, but then burst into tears, saying that Maric had always been so strong, and so good at convincing you that things would be fine, but she couldn’t do that and she couldn’t stop crying. She only left his room because she figured that he would be attending to the guests. I hugged her and agreed with her regarding his optimism. I reminded her how much he cared for her and how he loved her. It was my job to take care of the village, there was no need to treat it as a social gathering. I concentrated for a moment on the mental link with Maric, knowing only that he was not gone. I told Aoibheann this and told her to hang on to that. We vampires were hard to kill, especially one as old and strong as Maric. Keep that in mind, I said, and be strong, because that would be what he wanted, for us to be strong, so that we could be ready to greet him with a smile when he returned. She pulled herself together, saying that it was always a social occasion in the castle. We should have a ball, she said, when he wakes.
I hugged her again and told her that was the spirit. That was the spirit of the Tenacious Trinity, and no bugger was going to defeat us. I had told Gwythyr that, I said. I had told the Huntsman that, I would tell Vedis that, I had even told Alec that when he dragged me off to some place called Cranberry Cove without asking. Nobody was going to defeat us if I had to shove my sword up the arse of every single demon they had in hell. I raised the glass of wine and toasted the Tenacious Trinity, Maric and all of Mysthaven. That managed to get a smile out of her, albeit a slightly surprised one. I guess she isn’t used to my saltier language. She acknowledged the toast and then asked why I hadn’t brought back any cranberries. I had to tell her I didn’t even know what a cranberry was, and I was fairly sure I hadn’t seen one, just Alec, who had been too busy telling me things were made of wavy lines.
I hesitated a moment and then broached another subject, that of her protection, which Maric had also charged me with. I told her that he had taught me how to make that bond, the same one she had made with Maric, so that he could know how she was and where she was. I could make that same bond, if she wanted, but only if she wanted, and I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t. The offer was there, if she wanted. She went quiet for a moment, and then said that the last thing Maric had said to her was to stay safe. She thought about it some more and said that she would do it, but for the moment, she was in no danger in the Vaults, and anyway, Maric might wakeup soon. I hugged her again and told her I understood. The offer was still there, if and when she wanted to take it. We parted then, with her promising to eat something, and I went on my rounds, to make sure everything was running as it should be.
Later, in the storage area of the vaults, I heard movement, and Helene emerged from the shadows. I was mightily pleased to see her. Although she had been on the list, I hadn’t seen her for myself, and so I had been worried. I told her this, but she seemed distant, grumpy even, wondering where else she could have been. Then she said she had not seen me in many days and asked if everything was all right.
I opined that we seemed to have come through the various battles; that most of the villagers were safe, and we were well provisioned for the foreseeable future. I apologised for being relatively absent, but I had been busy, being in charge of everything. I asked what was bothering her.
She did not understand what was happening here. She feared that I had changed, that something in Maric’s influence had made me somebody she did not recognise. I was perturbed, for, so far as I knew, I was the same person I had always been. I said that I had been training with him, gaining better use of my powers, but I was otherwise unchanged, I hoped. However, since she was expressing the fear, there must be something. I told her briefly why we were here, and why we had taken the options we had to save the village. I asked her to explain. What was it she feared?
She could not understand how I could have faith in this man; how I could know that he had the best interests of everybody here, when he acted as though everything was secondary to the maiden in his bed? Perhaps she was the cause of all this and we should offer her to the devils and be done with it.
I was genuinely surprised and not a little disturbed. I guessed she meant Aoibheann, but something was not right, and I wondered if Orie had been stirring the pot. I asked what gave her these ideas. So far as I knew, Aoibheann was still a maiden and Maric had not bedded her. I knew Aoibheann well enough to know she would not go easily to any man’s bed. I told Helene that it was true that Maric loved her, but that he was even more old-fashioned than me in such matters. I explained that I too had distrusted him at first, but had since seen him put his life on the line for everybody, not just Aoibheann. That he had given up everything to protect his people. I then told her that he had taught me to communicate telepathically, so I had seen inside his head. I told her how it was very difficult to keep such communications down to single thoughts, and so had learned a lot more about him, how he was even more obsessively honourable than me, even more willing to sacrifice himself for those he cared for. Yes, he could seem a bit creepy, but that was just the way he was.
Look, I said, you know me, you know I do not trust easily, and you know I would not lie to you. I explained that Maric had agreed to go to battle, against Lucifer himself, to protect his own, leaving behind even Aoibheann. I asked her then, what made her thing otherwise, what questions did she have?
She started to speak, but began to cry. She told me she was too tired, too tired to leave a place that had become home to this black void. And she was worried about Raziel. I moved closer and drew her to me. I reminded her that I had already promised that Raziel would receive no welcome here. I reminded her again that I had never lied to her. I did not know what was going to be happening over the next few days, but whatever it was, I would be working for everybody’s benefit. She had my promise on that. I held her close while she sobbed some more, barely able to stand, crying that she couldn’t do this any more, in French. I continued to hug her, reassuring her in the same language that she could, that she was strong, and that I would always be there for her. I called up the blood energy, mixing in a little of the fae joy in life and project some strength and happiness to her.
Perhaps she took some comfort from it, because she stopped crying, apologising for acting like this. She did not like it here, and she did not trust the Roads. I told her she was right to not do so. They were not nice, but better than the alternative. Yes, it wasn’t nice here, but we just had to make the best of things. In the meanwhile, I was there for her and would never harm her or anybody I cared about. And I would smack anybody who said otherwise. That got a giggle out of her, saying she would never expect anything less from me. She asked what she would have done had we never met, kissing me on the cheek. I returned the kiss, on her lips. I did not know that. I also did not know what might have happened had I been less old-fashioned with her when there were things she wanted to know. But, there was no point in speculating. We had to get on with what we had. She didn’t have to like or trust Maric, I told her, but for now, I was in charge, and she had better damn well trust me, or I would apply my hands to her backside. I told her to go and get some food and then some sleep, in a proper bunk. She accepted the kiss without protest, smiling again finally, and blushing a little at my threat. She agreed that she needed some sleep and departed for the sleeping areas.
I felt a little heavy in the heart, that one of my oldest friends should doubt me, even if it seemed I had talked her around. Perhaps, from what she said, somebody had been stirring things against Maric, and the only person I could think of who might do that was Orie. I am going to have to have words with him.