It is nice to be able to breathe outdoor air again, even if it is air produced by carnivorous vampire roses. On reflection, I think it is probably best that I keep that particular piece of information to myself, as I am fairly sure most people would rather not know that. I am also fairly sure that very few diarists have ever written such words, at least, in that order. Would that this were the strangest thing in my diary. Somehow, I doubt that will remain true for very long.
The village is reconstructed as best we could manage, and the villagers are returning to their homes. Orie and his islanders have set up camp by the cottage I assigned to them, and seem reasonably content, for now. To celebrate our return, I declared it open house in the tavern, so that everybody could come and have a drink. Actually, the tavern was one of the first buildings finished. We have our priorities right here. It’s a little different from before, and I am not entirely convinced by the new door. It may have been a little draughty having the open entrance, on the other hand, it made it quite clear that this was an area people could come to. I shall have to see if we can’t prop it open, or fit one of those stable-style doors, so people can see in. The important thing is we have a tavern in the town. Maybe we can get a brighter sign outside.
Aoibheann turned up in a very pretty dress and asked how she looked. Of course I told her she looked beautiful, qualifying that with the addition that she always looked beautiful, just even more so tonight. Predictably, she got a bit embarrassed and blushed, even though she had been the one to ask. She asked me if I could let her back into the vaults again, because she wanted to write a letter to Maric before… She stopped and said she had something to tell me.
I never found out what she had to tell me, or what she wanted to write to Maric about. Gwyn turned up wearing, and I use the term very loosely, a gown that seemed to consist of a dozen or so roses and very little else. She was in full faerie queen mode, glorious and beautiful, and flustering the heck out of poor Hal, who should be used to such things by now. Aoibheann was even more flustered, apparently forgetting how to breathe or indeed talk. I am not quite sure why; she managed perfectly well in Faermorn’s presence at our last meeting. Admittedly, Faermorn was not at her peak at the time, but still. I am better used to such things than most, but even so, when I got up to welcome her with a kiss, the Wyld energy rose up between us and it was very hard to break off that kiss. I got somewhat carried away before remembering where we were. My ears also got carried away, growing the points again, and I have no idea if that was fae glamour or vampire shape-shifting. Given who I was kissing, possibly the former.
While Aoibheann tried to recover her composure, we talked about the business of becoming consort, whether or not we should dress up and have a ceremony for it and so forth. I asked if there was any sort of handbook in the sithen library about how to be a consort, but apparently such a thing does not exist. Maybe it doesn’t happen often enough for it to be worth writing one. Great, I said, another job that doesn’t come with instructions. Just like every minute of my life since I walked into Katharina’s apartment in Grazerstrasse. And, come to that, just like Gwyn’s life since she went off the road in that carriage thing back in London.
Aoibheann recovered herself as far as breathing and saying the occasional word. We tried to suggest ways to help her get a grip – suggesting she visualise Gwyn as she was when she first arrived in the Lucky Leaf, her scrubbing floors etc. I also suggested a technique I used sometimes to deal with things – to disengage myself from them, as though I were an actor, or somebody reading a book – putting myself at one remove from the actions and emotions that were bothering me. We were almost starting to make progress when our efforts were suddenly rendered useless by a visitor to the tavern, whose presence rendered Aoibheann even more speechless than before.
Our visitor was most evidently fae royalty. I barely recognised him at first, and then only in the same way that I recognise the Gwyn I know now as the same Gwyn that I met in the beginning. This was clearly Janus – vital, alert, compelling, and, yes, beautiful. Of course, he was Unseelie, and that part of me, that which I got from Faermorn, recognised that, and I felt the Wyld stir in me again. I took a breath and allowed it to do its thing, riding it as one might a wave, the way I was used to standing on deck in a storm. I stood and made formal welcome, offering him a drink.
Gwyn confirmed my guess by making appropriate and formal introductions, introducing Aoibheann as the carer for Ardan and me as her love and her consort. He greeted us likewise, but then insisted that as he was a guest, there was no need for formalities, and as Consort to his Queen, I could address him by name. His voice was deep and slow, sounding much like the forest itself. He approached and cupped Gwyn’s chin affectionately, and then stood before me and did the same with my chin, lifting it until he could look into my eyes. His gaze was compelling and strangely stirring, calling my Wyld again, a strange temptation. He told me that I felt like his lost lady. I let the Wyld run through me, riding it again, resisting the temptation that was in those eyes. Behind me, I could hear Aoibheann saying something about wanting to touch his wings, but I concentrated on maintaining my composure, thankful for my will and my closer experience. I told him that he did my much honour and congratulated him on his elevation, even if, as I said, it had to be tempered by commiserations for the circumstances of it. I touched myself above the heart and said that She, Faermorn, was here in me and always would be. That was a great honour and privilege for me and while she was there, she would not be lost. Her light would live on in those of us privileged to know her.
Gwyn echoed my sentiments and busied herself getting Hal to pour drinks. Janus, meanwhile, kissed me on the forehead. He likewise echoed my sentiments about Faermorn living on. He went on to say that he didn’t know what Gwyn had told me and explained how times were changing and how he intended to unite the courts. He was of both, he said, and both would be one. With a natural grace, he let me go and went to his knees before Aoibheann, offering the wings for her touch. She reached out, nervously, and brushed them, letting out a slight sigh before finally managing a squeaky good evening.
I welcomed Janus’ comment and explained how I felt very much the same, which is why I had striven to be a friend to both courts, to both queens, and a bridge between them. I explained how my mother’s heritage was mostly likely Seelie, as was my love, but my gift had come from Faermorn, from the Unseelie, so I too felt myself part of both and offered to do whatever I could to help. Gwyn ran her fingers through my hair saying that she was sure I could do anything in the world if I wanted to. Her presence was intoxicating, and spreading out through the tavern, giving everybody pause and stirring more than one to kiss or otherwise express themselves to the ones they were with. Even Hal was taken up with kissing his lady, while one of the smaller daughters ran out to give the wine to Janus.
Janus chuckled at Aoibheann’s reaction, getting up and kissing her on the forehead. He then brushed his fingers over her eyes, muttering something. I felt the brush of fae magic, and it seemed to me he was doing something to help her see properly, so she would not be so glamoured by him or by Gwyn. It seemed to work, even if all she could say then was that there was something wrong with her before introducing herself. He gave the little girl a hug and sent her back to her father before addressing me again. He told me there was much work to be done, much rebuilding, much that he and my consort would need to do. But, he added, she would return to me.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. I told him that sounded like a long-term loan and hoped that we could come to a more equitable arrangement. I was still coming to terms with this additional element in my relationship with Gwyn, and did not much like the idea that she would be gone for an extended period. I told him, as if it were not obvious, that I was rather partial to her company. Even so, I had to add, I recognised that there were duties to be done, and I would not stand in the way of that. Gwyn went on to explain how important we were to her, how she had met us and what we had done for her, Aoibheann and I. We were her family and hoped that we would be their, her and Janus’ family too. Janus said that we seemed good friends to have, saying that the trees spoke well of Aoibheann and that the Cait Queen, a hard person to impress, spoke highly of me.
Aoibheann blushed at his comments and then excused herself, saying there were things to attend to in the castle. She would have Kustav let her in, so I didn’t need to go with her.
I told her that she was fine and if she needed help with her letter, I would be glad to do so. I looked back at Janus and told him that the Cait Queen and I went back a long time, from before she was queen. The thought occurred to me that so did Gwyn and I. I suggested that it was becoming a habit, my female friends becoming queens. Perhaps that should be my new name – Nathaniel the Queen-Maker. I joked to Aoibheann as she departed that she would be next, which earned me a dirty look as she left. Well, I might not be far out. When Maric returns, he might make her Lady of Mysthaven, which is about as near to being queen as damn it.
Gwyn was amused by that idea, repeating what she had said earlier about me being able to do anything. She looked at Janus and asked if they had work to do tonight, or could she take her leave of him. He bowed gently and bade us enjoy our leisure for tonight, before fading into the shadows, or possibly the trees, it was hard to tell. I bade him farewell and then took my leave of the tavern, reminding Hal to provide drinks for all who came. If this was to be our night of leisure, I was not going to spend it in the bar, when I could be spending it with my Lady. Besides, I wanted to show her my new quarters in the castle. And other things too, but those are not for these pages.
I am now even more confused, for I had expected to dislike, or at least be wary of Janus, and yet I did not. His views accorded well with mine regarding the uniting of the courts. There was something else too, something I did not acknowledge to myself until Gwyn was long asleep in my arms. There had been that temptation in his eyes. Was it just the glamour and the Wyld, or was there something more there? Something I had not felt since I last saw Greyson? I do not know what to make of that. My life is complicated enough as it is.