Stray Heart

Everything has a price. The accountant in me knows that for certain. I am paying the price for being steward in the lack of time I have for my friends, at least, until I get better organised. The price of our deal with Vedis has yet to be paid, and it will be the men now under my command that will pay it. I don’t yet know when we will pay the price for the deal with Nemaine. The price of being the lover of a fae queen is not being the only one, but then, I cannot claim that I have ever been truly monogamous. There is even a price, from my queen, for reviving my mentor, but that is one I think I can manage. Mother told me I was strong. I guess I will have to believe her. I also learned tonight that I was not the only one with news about mothers.

 

I was, at least, today, able to close the vaults, save for those who have business there – the castle staff, myself, Aoibheann and Galyanna. All the villagers have been located and accounted for, and all are safe.

Helene was one of the last to be brought up, having chosen a secluded corner away from the others. I had asked Kustav to bring her to me when he found her, and so he did, to my office in the castle. She did not look as though she had slept much, and was not overly receptive to my hugs. She told me that some brutes had knocked her about in the vaults, but she would not say who, or give me any means to identify them. I did give thought to things she had told me about her relationships after our ways had parted in London, and wondered if perhaps she had become inured to violence and abuse. I let it drop, hoping that maybe she would talk about it later. She told me she felt lost, restless, unhappy, without really knowing why. There was too much thinking, she said. That, I could understand. I told her how it was hard for me to wind down at the end of the day, with all the steward things I had to deal with. I suggested that maybe she could help me out in the castle, helping to sort through all the medicinal supplies, hers and the castle’s. I had not been overly organised in dispensing them to the guards and others, and it really needed looking after.

A thought occurred to me, and I asked if she was worried about her husband. I tried to lighten the mood a little by referring to him as Razhole. That, at least, got a laugh, even if it was slightly manic. When she calmed down a bit, she did admit that, not knowing where she was, she did worry that he would find her. And, she was lonely. I reminded her once again that her husband would find no welcome here, and even as I spoke, I feared that the loneliness might tempt her back to him. I promised that I would try to make more time, for her, and all my friends. Being steward made it difficult, but I would try. It wasn’t that, she said, it was something more, the company of a gentleman. I felt a moment of sadness, covering it up by telling her that I wouldn’t have thought that somebody as pretty as her would be lacking in company. I joked that I would offer such company, but things were complicated enough as it is. The thought then occurred to me that I was perhaps not so constrained, if Gwyn was busy with Janus… I stopped that line of thought. As I said, things were complicated enough as it is.

Kustav interrupted me with a message that Galyanna wished for a meeting. I told him I would be out shortly and then told Helene that she should never doubt my love for her. I suggested that for the immediate future, she should take one of the spare beds in the castle, to avoid further trouble. I apologised for having to cut our time short, but there were steward duties to be done. I suggested she dined here in the castle before taking some rest and then accompanied her out to the main hall.

Galyanna was out in the main hall, talking to Aoibheann, which I could see was a little uncomfortable for Aoibheann. Gwyn arrived, bringing her queenly glow and the scent of flowers. I made such introductions as I thought were needed and tried to persuade Helene to stay, but she appeared really uncomfortable, but I could not tell if that was just because of numbers, or because of specific company. I made my apologies to Gwyn and left her to play hostess while I took Galyanna to the office to see what business she had.

She told me that she had managed to get some response from Vedis. She was not at her full strength yet and not yet able to lead her people to where they needed to be. Galyanna did not yet know which part of Hell she was in, but when she did, and was ready, she would tear her way there. I was delighted to hear that Vedis was still with us, and expressed the hope that she, and Galyanna would soon be at their full strength again. We discussed the matter of Maric’s pledge to Vedis, and I assured Galyanna that I would honour Maric’s promise, and that she would have his warriors to fight alongside her if she wished them. I mentioned that I was specifically excluded from Maric’s deal, however, if it could be arranged, I would go to, if she needed another arm. She chuckled, suggesting that my queen might have an opinion on that matter, which was most likely true. I agreed that she might, but said that Gwyn, like myself, and like Galyanna, all knew that we were more than just ourselves, and we all understood the duties we had. We would have to see what was possible when the time came. In the meanwhile, I urged her to take time to recover, to make use of such facilities as we had if she needed them. She, in turn, urged me to tend to my people, as she would to hers, rather than feel obliged to any courtesy towards her. We started to return to the main hall and I told her that it was no obligation on my part, but an honour to do her courtesy, and asked if she would join us for a while, at least, in the main hall.

When we returned, I found Gwyn in full command mode, telling Aoibheann to put down a knife. I wasn’t sure what I had walked in on, but it seemed that the discussion had been about reviving Maric. Aoibheann tried to make some excuse about wondering how Gwyn healed people. I told them what I had learned about the healing process, and how we could try giving him some of our blood to help with the healing. I didn’t mention the other sort of magic that Gwyn and I had inadvertently tried a few days beforehand, figuring that it would be too embarrassing for Aoibheann. We tried urging Galyanna to stay, but she clearly felt that she was making people uncomfortable and departed, returning to her vigil, giving me a brief glance that clearly reminded me that demon blood would work well too, since I hadn’t mentioned that before. I made a mental note of that, but decided it would not be wise to mention it in front of Aoibheann. Gwyn seemed to be in favour of the idea, but told me there would be a price. Isn’t there always? I thought.

The discussion on healing did have one beneficial side-effect. Aoibheann suddenly got the idea that her blood would be of better use to Maric if she were fully healthy and properly fed. Finally, we found a means to persuade her to eat properly. She was going to take the rest of her dinner to her rooms, but then remembered that was currently in Maric’s chambers. Instead, she decided she would finish her meal and then Kustav would take her to the chambers to rest. I had a quick word with the servants to make sure that she did indeed eat properly and then Gwyn and I retired to my apartments.

We took a bottle of wine with us and made ourselves comfortable by the fire. Once we were seated, I told her about the dream, how I had dreamed about Mother. I told her what we had spoken about, how I had cried, and how she had told be to be myself. We spoke about that for a while, and how Mother had been my rock, how Faermorn had started to be a monitor, and how Gwyn was my rock in a different way. She agreed that the mother-son bond was important and could she come back to that later.

She had other things to talk about. She spoke of love, and our capacity to love each other and yet have room to love others. She spoke of there being so many to love, and so many different types of love. Then she spoke of a woman in Cranberry Cove, a woman who had asked our out on a date, to go dancing. I would like her, she said, she is very scientific.

I was not quite sure what she was saying. We already knew that we each had that capacity; after all, we had taken Valene to our bed. Was she saying I should not have resisted with Faermorn? Was she asking me permission to take this woman as a lover? Was she giving me permission to take a lover? We talked about Faermorn and why I had resisted. She asked what I would be most comfortable with. I told her that wasn’t a like thing to happen, for us to be somewhere else, in a cottage by the sea, with no more responsibilities, no complicated decisions other than what to wear or not wear, who we might want to take to our bed, no weight of expectation of a whole village or realm on our shoulders. I sighed and told her that all I wanted, needed, was to know that she was there for me and that I was there for her. She told me about this woman, Teri, who apparently uses science and magic to investigate crimes. She told me about the various things she wanted to show me in her century – televisions, telephones, automobiles and computers and things. Then she returned to the subject of mothers, and of Maric. We chose to speak of mothers first.

She had received a gift during her anointing. Whether it came from Faermorn or Saone, or the Seelie tree itself, she did not know. The gift was knowledge. The knowledge that she had been living alongside her birth mother for some months in the sithen and had not known it. The knowledge that the Lady Siansa was her mother. And now, Siansa was lost to her, not even knowing their relationship. I almost spit out my wine in surprise. After she had told me about Gwythyr and what he had said about her tasting like Saone, I had maybe expected that this meant she was related to the Seelie Queen. I had not even considered Siansa, but then I had hardly met the woman, save when Gwyn was going through her change. I held her close for a while, and could only say how sorry I was. She said that this was the first time she had told anybody, and that it felt better for doing so. Of course, she now had to find her mother again, and I said that I would do anything I could to help. She thanked me for that and then moved onto the matter of Maric, or rather, her price for helping, for giving blood.

She asked me if I remembered her asking what it was like, to be fed from, one night in the tavern. I replied that I recalled talking about it several times, but that we had never actually gotten round to it. She told me she recalled it very clearly and told me how she had thought we would be each other’s beginning and ending, that she would give me all her important moments and share in mine. There was something very young and innocent about her face for a moment. Then she said that Gwythyr had taken that from her, something she had wanted me to be the first to do. What she wanted was for us to have our moment, for me to feed from her as though she were my only lover, the woman who shared that cottage by the sea, for us to spend that time together, delighting in each other, slowly and sweetly – everything that Gwythyr was not. She would make a new memory, and that was her price, her price for giving blood to Maric.

I looked at her and thought about that for a while. I thought back to the times back in London, when Elizabeth had wanted me to feed, when Helene had asked, and all others who had been close to me, and thought how I had not done so with any of them. I looked at Gwyn and told her this. I told her how I had fed as a practicality, because I needed to – from the girls at the bordellos, from drunken shipmates and such like, or from Borris’ cellars in London. I told her how I had always kept my personal life separate from my feeding. A form of denial, I admitted, a way to distance myself from that ‘monstrous’ side of my nature. I did not deny it any longer, but that separation had become a habit. The upshot being that, in a very real way, when I fed from her, it would be as if she and I were the only lovers. She would be the first, my only lover. And, if we could, we would do that far away from here, where we could find a cottage by the sea, and we could make that our own memory, for just the two of us.

I think I managed to surprise her. She just looked at me for a few moments, with no words. Then she told me that I made her humble, and even shed a tear, which she wiped off and gave to me. She told me that she would find us a cottage by the sea and decorate it with things we loved, and we would go there when we could, just the two of us, and talked about what we would do there. Clearly I had said the right thing, but what passed after that is not for these pages.

 

Stray Heart

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