Nathaniel stirs restlessly, his sleep disturbed by a strangely familiar yet elusive sound, just on the edge of hearing, not quite resolving itself into something recognisable.
The voice is tantalisingly familiar, warm and tender with a hint of gentle amusement. Nathaniel struggles towards recognition, the name and the voice calling to him somehow, a haunting echo from his past.
“Eoghan? Come, little one, surely you can’t have forgotten?” Nathaniel blinks his way to wakefulness, mildly alarmed to find himself standing in a lush, verdant landscape, wearing a simple silk robe. He looks around, confused, seeking the source of the voice. He freezes as he sees a figure in the near distance, a tall, slim figure with a riot of red hair forming a halo around her face, a circlet of roses around her brow. His jaw drops in disbelief as he walks rapidly towards the figure. It is a figure and face he knows well, yet somehow straighter, stronger, unbent by the consumption that had plagued her life.
“Mother?” He shakes his head. “Mother? How can it be you?” The figure chuckles warmly, smiling a tender smile, full of love and pride.
“Of course, little Eoghan. Who else even knows that name to call you by it? Only you and I knew that name, my private and secret name for you.” She smiles again, beckoning him closer. Nathaniel moves closer, still staring in disbelief at the figure before him, a tall, stately woman, her red hair a mass of curls cascading down over her shoulders, which were bare but for a diaphanous robe draped around her. “Look at you, Eoghan. Not so little now are you, my son?” Nathaniel looks at her, still confused, too afraid to hope or smile yet.
“Mother, I don’t understand. How can you be here? And where is here?” He reaches out a tentative hand towards her. She smiles, taking his hand in her own. It is warm and vibrant and her skin glows slightly where their hands touch. She caresses the back of his hand with the fingers on her other hand, and he trembles slightly as the Wyld stirs at the touch. She gestures around herself, the gesture graceful as the rest of her.
“These are the Summerlands, my son. Where else would I be? I have waited so long, Eoghan, for you to come into your heritage.” Her tone is soft, and slightly wistful. “I tried so hard, when you were young, to guide you, to help you find it. You remember all the walks in the woods, the dancing, all the talking to the trees? All that time I was hoping for a sign that your heritage would come through. I knew it was never going to come for Gilbert, but I had such high hopes of you, Eoghan. But, for all your dreaming, you resisted, somehow, and it did not come while I was with you.” She leans forward and kisses his face. “But now, look at you, my son. For all that has happened, you have come to it now, even if it comes by the gift of the Unseelie Queen,” her lip curls slightly at this, and then she smiles again, “And even more so by way of the ones you love. And now that it has come, I can be content.” She drops his hand, taking his head between both her hands and kissing him on the forehead. He trembles once again, afraid and yet joyful at the same time. That kiss is so familiar, and now, he finally recognises the slight tingle that he remembered from his childhood for what it was, the touch of the Wyld. Nathaniel looks into those green eyes, eyes that match his own and all the love and loss comes welling up. His face crumples and the tears come flooding out as he collapses into her embrace.
“I miss you so much, mother, I’ve missed you every single day, every day since… ” His voice becomes indistinct as she clasps him to her bosom, holding him, petting his hair and whispering his name until the sobs subside. She lifts his face and kisses away the tears, another familiar gesture from the times he had fallen and hurt himself as a child, or come home crying from school after being bullied.
“I know, my love, I know. I have missed you too, but I kept hoping that some day your heritage would come through so that we could see each other again. And now it has at long last.” She touches him on the forehead and over his heart. “But in a way, I have always been with you, in here.” He looks up at her, embarrassed by his emotional outburst.
“Not so little? Hah! Yet, here I am, 40 years old, or so, and crying like a baby.” He sighs heavily. “I’m sorry. A lot has happened recently, and sometimes, it is overwhelming, and sometimes, I have felt so lost. So, so lost.” He sighs again and rests his head against her chest, petals from his mother’s circlet gently floating down and settling on his head and his shoulders.
“Hush now,” she chides him, gently. “You will manage; you always have, even through the hardest times. You may bend occasionally, but you don’t break. You’ve always been strong.” He gives a short, self-deprecating laugh.
“I didn’t do so well when Alex died. I was pretty broken then. I probably still would be, if you hadn’t rescued me.” She tuts at him, cuffing him gently on the ear and shaking her head.
“No, no. It might have taken a little longer, but you would have made it through anyway. And there is no shame in a son needing his mother’s help now and again. But, enough of the past, it’s time to leave the past behind and look to the future. You have a lot to do and a lot to learn.” She lifts his face up and looks at him, full of pride. “Look at you, my son, practically a lord of the manor, consort to a queen, to two queens even.” He laughs and shrugs.
“I was told recently that the past and future are the same thing, but I am not sure I buy that entirely. And, all those other things, I did not seek them, they just happened to me. Too many things, too quickly, so that I am not sure I know what I am any more.” He clasps her hands in his. “I don’t know what I am.” She gives a dismissive sideways nod of the head and then smiles at him, holding his eyes with her own.
“The one who currently calls himself Alec? He has his way, you have yours. Do not let his peculiar notions distract you.” She squeezes his hands together and presses them against his own chest, still holding them in hers. “You are yourself. Have you forgotten what I taught you, what your father taught you, for all those years? You are yourself; you know that, you know that deep inside, for all your doubts.” He looks into her face, still uncertain.
“But what am I? I was human, now I learn I am part-fae, and there is also that other side, the darker side of what I am. I am not the person I once was, and now, I am losing my friends because of it.” She reaches up and pets the side of his face tenderly
“Growing pains, my love, that is all. I know it’s hard, but I know you will pull through it. I know you, you will do what is right; whatever the personal cost to you, and it will be the right thing. And if your friends really are your friends, they will see that. As for your darker side, I can’t help you with that. I know your mentor is no longer available, but I do know you can handle it. It did not turn you into a monster, and I see nothing in you that suggests it will. You are already learning to integrate both aspects, even if you don’t know it yet. These, for example,” she reaches and touches the points of his ears. “You did that using both aspects of your nature, without even being taught how. It will become easier.” She kisses his face again. “Just be yourself, my son, just as I have always taught you, and everything will work out for the best.” Nathaniel straightens up, looks into her eyes and knows she speaks the truth. He kisses her either side of her mouth, then shakes himself, settling himself down.
“You’re right, mother, as always. I will try, I always do try. Thank you.”
“Of course I’m right. I’m your mother and mothers are always right.” She kisses him back, and then steps back slightly, a faraway look in her eyes for a moment. She looks back at him with love. “Alas, my darling son, I cannot tarry here much longer, and I should let you get back to your rest.” She takes his hands and squeezes them one last time. “But do not worry; I shall see you again soon, and we can talk more of your heritage. I love you. Remember that.” She moves back a few steps, the glow around her increasing and merging somehow with the mist that has suddenly sprung up. Nathaniel watches, raptly, a mixture of love, happiness and sadness on his face.
“I love you too, mother, always,” he calls, softly. She smiles one last time, and then she is gone, the glow fading into the mists, which then fade themselves, leaving him alone in the green landscape.
Nathaniel turns over, the restlessness gone, his face crushes a few stray rose petals on his pillow, releasing a slight scent and he smiles, faintly, at rest once again.
I dreamed of Mother last night. At least, I think it was a dream. It may not have been. I have learned that dreamtime and reality are not so far apart here in Faerie. In my dream, she wore roses around her head, and there were rose petals on my pillow in the morning, and they did not come from Gwyn or the village. So, perhaps, like other, less pleasant dreams I have had here, it was real too. That is what I hope, anyway. Faermorn had said such things were possible, after my Quickening.
I dreamed of Mother, and she called to me by that name I had all but forgotten, that name she gave to me so long ago, and told me when I was very young, walking alone with her in the woods near our home. Eoghan, she called me, Eoghan Ruadh in full, she called me, and told me it was to be our secret, private name, that only she and I shared.
I dreamed of Mother, and we were together again for a short while, visiting together in the Summerlands. When she passed from me, so long ago, I never considered, never wanted to consider what came after for her. She no more believed in a Heaven than I did, for all that we were regular church-goers, and I did not want to consider the alternatives. Of course, I did not know then of her fae side, but now I know the Summerlands to be the dwelling place of the fae who have gone beyond, so that would seem right for that part of her that was fae.
I dreamed of Mother, and she was tall and graceful and strong and beautiful and glorious, the way I always choose to remember her before the illness took her strength and her looks. She was warm, and soft, and very, very real, everything I remember, even to the way her kiss on my forehead tingled. I had never thought about it before, but now I know that to be the touch of Wyld, which I had not known about at the time.
I dreamed of Mother and she told me she had been waiting, waiting so long, hoping that some day I would come to my fae heritage. It had not come in her lifetime, for all the times she tried to encourage it, with the barefoot woodland walks, the talking to trees, and all the things about relating to nature. And now, at last, through the gift of the Unseelie Queen and the love of Gwyn and Valene, it had come, and we could be together again.
I dreamed of Mother, and I cried like a child on her breast; cried because I have missed her so much all these years; cried because I was overjoyed to see her; cried because I have been feeling so lost with all the troubles and responsibilities; cried because I could, because nobody else could see me cry, because I am always having to be the one to be strong; cried because of my more recent loss, of that Faerie Queen who was starting to become like the mother I had lost; cried because I had been saving all those tears for so long.
I dreamed of Mother, and she held me, and soothed me and comforted me, just like she had done for the young boy I had once been. She told me to be strong and confident and reminded me to be true to myself, again, just as she had advised that young, shy boy so long ago. She told me I was still learning and growing, but that she knew I would do the right thing. She told me that I was already learning to integrate my differing natures, despite all my doubts to the contrary.
I dreamed of Mother, of the mother who could heal all hurts with a kiss and a caress, who could expunge doubts and fears with a few gentle words, of the mother who turned a shy, timid boy into a man. I dreamed of Mother who gave me music and poetry and literature and the sheer joy of life. I dreamed of Mother, who was light and life and joy and beauty and grace and who was the world to her husband and her sons.
I dreamed of Mother; no, I walked with Mother; I walked with Mother in the Summerlands, and she held me in her arms and I held her in mine, and her kiss was on my face and mine on hers. I walked with Mother in the Summerlands, and I know I shall do so again. And that is the greatest Gift of all.
I walked with Mother, and YES, it was real.