Healing takes many forms – physical and emotional, and there are many ways to heal – with potions, with blood, with magic and even prayer, or so Rev Elverson would always tell me. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a touch, a hug, or a night spent together. Sometimes, healing is a little harder, especially when the healing skills belong in the hands of a skilled artisan, such as a clockmaker. The former I can do. The latter is outside my skill-set, and I am not sure where I would find such a skill-set. Perhaps the smith might have something to offer.
We have a new arrival in the village. She is young, charming, delightful in many ways, and very pretty, with porcelain skin. Actual porcelain skin, not porcelain skin as the poets might have it, but actual porcelain. Her name is Niamh, and she is a living, clockwork doll.
I had just finished my evening meeting with Kustav and the Balfour, the head servant when one Hal’s kids came over asking if I could attend upon Aoibheann in the tavern. I finished up my business, put the paperwork away and headed over. I had been intending to head over there anyway, so I wandered over to find Aoibheann and this Niamh sitting by the fire. Introductions were made and we got to talking. Aoibheann said that Niamh had fallen down a rabbit hole and had landed in front of her and Gwyn.
Niamh, I learned had come from London, where her father taught medicine at the university and sometimes literature. She did not say which university, but I did learn when – she had come from 1872, which was interesting, as that was when I was in my second year of university. I meant to ask further questions, in case I knew this professor that was her father, but didn’t get the chance. I discovered, after the comment about rabbit holes, that Alice was her favourite book. Aoibheann was more concerned with how we could help fix Niamh. Apparently, something had gone wrong, possibly when she landed here, and the parts of her mechanisms that enabled her to feel heat and touch, and to smell, were no longer working. Aoibheann had been wondering if Valene might be able to help find her father, or if anybody here might be able to help with the repairs.
I could not think of anybody in the village, save for the blacksmith, perhaps, who might at least be able to take a look and see if there was anything obviously disconnected or loose. And if Valene couldn’t find Niamh’s father, we might be able to find a master clock-maker. Aoibheann had been concerned that she hadn’t seen Valene for a while, so I pointed out that she likely had a lot to do getting the Cait back in order after the battle with the sluagh. I promised Niamh that we would look into it, and in the meanwhile, she should let us know if she was winding down so that we could make sure she was kept wound up. She left us then, asking if she could go and look at books in the library.
Helene turned up shortly thereafter, looking very tired and somewhat the worse for wear. Aoibheann and I both greeted her and asked if there was anything we could do to help her. She looked as if she needed the heat of the fire, and she asked for some food and somewhere to sleep in privacy. I took her upstairs to the tailor’s room, so she could have the latter, but she would only sit there. I had Hal bring some water for washing and tried to help her clean up a bit. All she would say to me was that she was so unhappy and she did not understand why. She was so tired and could not sleep because she had such terrible dreams.
I decided to take her back to the castle, which she agreed to readily enough. I took her to my rooms and bade her make use of the bathtub. I gave her clothes to the servants to have them cleaned and dried, and also had them bring a pot of tea and some cognac. Helene seemed to relax somewhat once in the tub, the heat and the cleanliness a healing thing on its own. We had no shyness between us, so I sat beside her so that we could talk. She told me about the deep unhappiness and loneliness she felt, and she could not explain it. She had come to London with nothing, and built a life there, before it all went away. She had tried to be a wife and mother, and now, again, she had nothing. She didn’t know if she had the strength to start again. And she didn’t know what we were doing here and what we were working towards.
I didn’t have any ready answers for her. I assured her that it was ok to feel the way she did. She was in a strange place, and did not know many people. All I could say was that we were, for the moment, working on keeping the community together. The faerie courts were gone and the new king and queen were trying to rebuild the faerie realm, and the rest of us were concentrating on making sure everybody was well, building up our strength in order to survive whatever was going to happen next.
She swivelled in the bath clinging on to me. She wanted to know how I could be sure that the sidhe were not playing us, deceiving us. She told me that the Seelie Prince had taken her as a lover, but had then left her, with nothing more than the rose she wore. I held her, despite the water dripping down my clothes and told her that the kings and queens she may have encountered were gone now. The new Queen of the Seelie, I told her, I knew well, and although I did not really know the Unseelie King, he had been Raven to the previous Unseelie Queen and I had known her. I was sure that they would not wish any harm upon us. As for Blaise, I didn’t know for certain if it was connected, but I did know that he had been ordered by his family to make his relationship with Aislyn work, so he might have had no choice but to cease his relationship with Helene. She held on to me still, saying that he had said as much to her, and she understood duty. But, he had promised to help her, to give her work, and to give her meaning. At the moment, she felt that she was no one.
I reminded her hat she was important to me, and that I was sure she would have a role here in the castle, in the village, as I had already suggested to her. By now, she was almost out of the bath, and practically in my lap. I grabbed one of the towels I had prepared and wrapped it around her. She started to calm down and she began asking questions about the village, how many people there were. We talked about that, about the refugees from the demon isle and Orie’s dissatisfaction with the current regime. She told me that she thought he was actually a very loyal person, willing to die for what he believed in. I acknowledged that, saying that we had that in common. I resolved to try to speak with him before too long, before any disagreements escalated.
Turning my attention back to her, I asked if she wanted anything to eat, or did she just want some rest. She opted for the latter, so I asked if she would like to spend the night here, with me, a night of rest in the arms of somebody who cared for her. She was a little shy about it at first, so I reminded her of that night, a long time ago, when she had been afraid to sleep in the castle on her own, so I had stayed the night with her, albeit on her sofa at the time. She relaxed then and agreed that she would like to spend the night with me. I had already had the servants bring a nightgown that she could wear, so I gave that to her while I changed into my own. And so we took to the bed, chastely, taking comfort in each others’ company. We chatted idly for a short while, but soon she was asleep in my arms. That, I hoped would be a healing thing for her, the comfort of a friend without any other demands or motivations. Just to be on the safe side, I put up my shields, extending them so far as I could, to include her, just in case her bad dreams came from outside, and soon we were both asleep, snug and safe in my bed.