Hell and Back

We are more than just ourselves. So I wrote in my last entry. That certainly seems to be the case for me today. My stewarding hat is almost worn out. And, it also seems to be so for Galyanna, who has a perilous trip ahead of her. But, she, like me, is more than just herself. She has her duties, as do I.

The day did not start well, with a handwritten note popped under the door. It was from Dori.

Dear Nathaniel,

In the moments that I have known you, I have grown to trust you greatly. Though we joke about how we might be a distant cousin, part of me wishes I had a sibling like you. I have come to look to you almost as an older brother. Because of this, I fear I must ask for your help. The beast we spoke of has broken free, and has done something horrible. I realize I can no longer try to suppress her and I have come to make a decision. I need to speak with you privately at your earliest convenience. Currently I am in hiding to protect others from the beast. When you are available to speak in private, please tell Hal you, “would like to eat corn beef and cabbage.” state that your mother hasn’t made it for you in years.

I am sorry to cause you so much stress. I wish I was writing to you with better news…

Please be safe.

Sincerely,

Miss Quinn…

I cursed volubly, remembering I had not managed to consult with Maric about teaching control to a dhampyr. I had to hope she had not killed anyone. I took myself down to the eating area. Luckily, it was empty at the time, save for Hal, who looked a little puzzled when I asked for the corn beef. He’s smart enough though, and when a hooded figure appeared from the shadows, it only took a brief not from me for him to realise this was official business and make himself scarce for the moment. The figure sat down and lowered the hood. It was Dori, looking worried and tearful. I asked her what had happened.

He beast had come through. She had thought it under control, but then she had woken up with blood on her, scars, and a dagger in her hand. She described how she had attacked and stabbed a woman with golden wings in the shoulder and in the gut. She did not know what happened to her after that, or if she was still alive. That was not news I wanted to hear, but, even in that, there was a glimmer of hope. I had not heard any reports of dead bodies, and Lucis, of all people, would understand about inner beasts, so perhaps, the situation could be salvaged, assuming she could be healed. I told Dori that I knew who she meant and tried to reassure her that she did not die easily. I tried to think what I could do to help, but could not remember what she had told me her father had done. I asked her about it and she told me it was like a mental shield, a wall to keep the beast contained. I had to think about that. I knew shielding techniques well enough, but those were mostly for attacks from without, rather than from within. I told her I would have to think on it and see what I could do. The thought occurred that being fed might help, so I asked if it was easier to keep control if she had fed on the blood. She started to tell me that she was not aware of feeding on blood while she was in human form. She perhaps would have said more, but something spooked her and she fled, murmuring that she would be back.

I turned and saw that Galyanna was emerging from the shadows. I bade her join me and asked her to tell me her news if there was any. She chuckled, watching Dori vanish, saying that she seemed to have that effect on people, but whether it was the warrior or the mask, she did not say. She had received no news of Vedis, and, lacking any other options; she knew she had to return to Hell to seek her. I explained that Dori was a troubled soul at the moment, who would probably flee from anybody other than myself. I assured her that I was always pleased to see her, masked or not, adding that I considered it a privilege to see her face. I expressed my regret at the lack of news, telling her that I had not been able to sense anything of her. I asked if it was safe for her to visit Hell, knowing full well it was a foolish question, as she would go anyway.

The showing of her face, and the true form I had seen before that, she told me, was a matter of trust between us, which pleased me greatly. Then she gave me a warning. Orie was not satisfied with the way things where going, with Galyanna’s decisions, thinking that she was abandoning the humans by refusing to take them to hell. She sighed and asked why we dealt with humans.

I had to laugh at her question, answering flippantly that they tasted delicious. More soberly, I said that I had to because I had been one, and many of them were my friends, quite apart from it being my duty to care for them, even Orie. I told her that I feared he was fomenting trouble, mentioning my conversation with Helene, and asked if she had any advice. She did not have any, saying that if she did, she would be using it on Aoibheann too, because she seemed determined to make the demons sound monstrous. I had to defend Aoibheann somewhat, especially as Vedis had tormented her somewhat when we first came to this land. We spoke of loyalties and decided that the villagers of Mysthaven would remain loyal to Maric or his representative, and those of the former castle Griffin would be loyal to Vedis for offering them shelter. I suggested that perhaps when things were less fraught, we could have some sort of social gathering get the two sets of villagers together.

She agreed that this was a good idea, but feared that she would be too busy preparing for her trip. I told her that I would go with her, had I not my duties here. She thanked me for that, agreeing that I would be a suitable fellow traveller, but I was right, I had my duties here. She would go alone, and that was the price we paid. I reminded her that it was the price we all chose to pay, by our service. I wished her luck in her quest and told her, as I had Faermorn, that it should be au revoir.

Orie turned up just as we were finishing. While not appearing overly aggressive, his stance was bordering on confrontational. He had grievances, he said. First was that he and the people of the island were never meant to have been stranded here, but he understood there was nothing that could be done about that. They had been locked up here with no plan of action, they couldn’t go anywhere in case that destroyed the universe, so all they had left to do was to sit here to be food for blood-suckers.

I curbed my irritation, and I could tell, from her stance, that Galyanna was doing the same. She rolled her eyes and repeated her question about why we deal with humans. She made a parting comment about how the islanders had no reason to not trust Vedis and herself until a soldier came forward with a list of grievances. She left then in the direction of the vaults, a lone warrior bound for hell, and, I had to hope, back. I watched her sadly and then turned my attention back to Orie, keeping my tone and expression mild. Diplomacy was called for here, much as I wanted to bit him for upsetting Helene, and things were tense enough in the vaults without an angry scene inflaming matters.

I told him that there were plans that were ongoing, and apologised for not having had time to brief him. I did have some good news for him, having been briefed by Kustav the previous day – the village was now habitable again. The roses had done their job and provided breathable air, and Kustav’s men had managed to repair and reconstruct much of the damage done to the village by the sluagh. I had rather hoped I could make a general announcement, but since he was here, I told him about this. I reminded him that there were plenty of supplies and that the next stage was waiting for conditions to be stable enough to emerge from the Shadow Roads. As for returning to the demon island, that would have to wait on the results of Galyanna’s expedition. Lastly, I told him that feeding arrangements regarding blood were entirely by voluntary arrangement.

There was a slight sound somewhere in the shadows. I guessed it to be Dori, still trying to hide and so ignored it. Orie also seemed to notice, but his grievance was still with me, so he also ignored it. He was convinced that the ‘different nature’ of some of the inhabitants meant that he could not trust them to act on the best behalf of the villagers. I guessed that he had heard, or discerned my nature, but again, refused to react. I told him that ALL were welcome in the village, whatever their nature, provided they abided by the rules of the land.

Orie seemed to be determined to have it out, determined to name me for what I was. Me, my ‘dandy lord’, his guards and friends, seemed to be of a certain persuasion, and he did not believe that their interests, meaning the normal people and the fae, were being kept safe by our kind. I could lock myself away with my princess and the woman we had driven mad, but the rest of them were out here together and didn’t have much faith in the ability of a steward appointed by an absent lord to make good on his promises. He started squaring up to me as he spoke.

I resisted the temptation to laugh. He was threatening me? Threatening a rebellion? I wasn’t quite sure if I should admire his optimism or laugh at his stupidity. Quite apart from the fact that most of the village were loyal to Maric, and thus me, and the fact that I had the entire castle guard to call upon, I was fairly sure I could pull his head off with both hands. Not that I would, of course, no matter how tempting it might be. That is not my way. Outwardly, I stayed just as calm as before. I explained that the majority of the villagers were Maric’s people long before he arrived in this land, that most of them were people he had given sanctuary to, no matter what their race. They were thus rather loyal. Whether he liked it or not, this was Maric’s land and I was his appointed deputy and had full authority here. So, while he stayed here in this land, he would abide by the laws and by my decisions. If he didn’t like it, he was welcome to try his luck in the Shadow Roads, or ask Galyanna if he could go to Hell with her. I then softened my tone, telling him I didn’t want to argue or fight with him. By this time tomorrow, we would be free to go back to the village. If he had any specific complaints, I told him, he should bring them to me and I would try to sort it out. Otherwise, I asked him to please desist from trying to make trouble. Things were hard enough for everybody without that.

Orie gave me a half-hearted salute, saying he didn’t make trouble, but neither did he walk away from it. He would set up camp in with the islanders as soon as we were able to access the village and wait until he heard from Vedis. He also wanted to speak to the Cait about accessing the Shadow Roads. He then turned on his heels and disappeared back to the sleeping area in the vaults. I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that it had not come to blows or sanctions. I hope that this will continue to be the case, for I dislike using any of the powers granted me, or the ones I have innately. I made a note to set a couple of the guards to assist the islanders with their camp set up and to reserve one of the cottages for them until they were able to return to their homes.

As soon as he had departed, Dori emerged from the shadows, asking how I managed to not rip his throat out. I told her I was blessed with strong will, which was fortunate because, much as I might have wanted to rip his head off, my position demanded that I use diplomacy. She told me that that she wanted to try to find a way to merge with her beast in a controlled way. She also thought that she ought to go to hell with Galyanna, as part of her punishment. I had to raise an eyebrow at that, thinking that maybe she had a different perspective on hell, or in this case, Hell. I told her that the Hell we were dealing with was somewhat more real a place than the one that the priests used to go on about on Sundays. Besides, Galyanna was on a covert mission, and did not need the distraction of somebody else. As for punishment, I would have to think on that, and speak with Lucis. I did not mention that I thought Lucis would understand about the actions of the beast. I thought, however, that accepting her beast might be a good approach, and I began to think of ideas of how I could help that. I told her that we would speak again soon, if she thought she could keep herself in control. She assured me that she could and disappeared once more into the shadows.

I sent for Kustav and my deputies while I waited for Hal to come back. We had a couple of drinks together and I thanked them for their hard work. Since the news was already out to Orie, I scribbled a quick notice and sent them to spread the word to all our guests. Then I buried myself in working out the logistics of getting everybody back above ground. A steward’s work is never done. And there was I thinking it was going to just be doing the accounting.

 Hell and Back

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