I have a dhampyr in custody. Poor Dorina lost the battle with her beast and started stalking one of the villagers. Fortunately, Vasily & Mirko were on hand and managed to tackle her before any harm was done, save that the poor girl she was stalking was terrified. I blame myself, since I had promised to work with her on controlling the beast, but had not found the time. I ordered her confined to one of the rooms in the cellars, for her own safety as well as that of others, pending finding some solution to her problem. Sadly, this is the least of our problems at the moment.
We have been too long in these Shadow Roads. The villagers have grown restless, even without Horace stirring them up and the Crow has grown impatient. More than impatient, it would seem, and this was graphically brought home to us. Young Tomas, a woodcutter by trade, a harmless soul, if a little reckless and impatient, wandered too far outside the village and into the roads without a guide. The Crow, damn her, took him, killed him, and returned his remains to us, with barely enough left to recognise him, and not enough of him left to even offer the dark gift. We will do what we can for his family, but nothing can compensate for their loss. And, much as I would like to tear the damned bitch apart for this, I fear she may well feel that she was within her rights, since he wandered there without permission and without a guide. She is cold and implacable, and the apparent regard she has for me because of my relationship with Valene will hold no sway if I try to argue.
She wants us gone, but I do not know where we could go. Our options are limited. I doubt that the sanctuary of the Sisterhood of the Void would appeal to the villagers. Not knowing what became of the land outside the hilltop, that leaves only the realm that Janus and Gwyn constructed, the realm of faerie. Could we go there? It would not be vastly different from where we were before, save that we would not be on the border between the Seelie and Unseelie realms any more. I must speak with Gwyn and Janus about this.
We, and the Crow, are not the only ones impatient for a move. I was in my chambers, working on some papers when I noticed that the roses in the bowl seemed bigger and livelier than before. Bearing in mind Maric’s last request of me before he headed off for hell, I decided to try a little experiment. I bared my arm and offered it to the roses, putting myself en rapport with them as I had done a few times before. They were eager, like small children, wrapping themselves around me, pulling at my arm rather than drinking from me. Finally, one bloom pierced the skin and started to feed. Their mood, if I may put it like that, was frantic, frantic with fear, if a plant can feel fear. There was a strong sense of danger, from the ground, from beyond the mists. Most of all, they wanted to go home. I tried to think calming thoughts, imagining a generous dose of horse-shit, which Mother and Father used to swear by for the roses in our garden. Mostly I was thinking that I wanted to go home too, wherever that was. That was something I no longer knew. Home was here in the castle, but that was not all. Home was where the heart was, perhaps, and I thought briefly of Gwyn and the faerie realm. As soon as I started thinking about that, the roses seemed to get excited, eager, as if the scene I was imagining felt like home to them too. This, at least, made some sort of sense, since they were creatures of fae. More so, more than eager, they positively thrummed with power, as if they might drag us all there with their eagerness to be home. Much as the idea appealed, I could not let that happen, not without talking to Gwyn and Janus first. I tried to convey restraint to the roses, though I found it hard to imagine any concept that would make sense. Waiting for spring, perhaps, waiting for the rain, for the right conditions to bloom. Maybe they got the idea.
I may have learned more, but the opportunity was lost. I felt Maric’s thoughts calling to me from somewhere, just as I started to pick up the castle sense again. Aoibheann had returned from wherever she had been – I had not seen her for a couple of days. I disengaged myself from the roses and went downstairs, meeting Kustav on the stairs, who explained that Maric was back from hell, apparently bringing a Tammi with him. He was downstairs in his chambers, Kustav explained.
I hurried down the stairs and into the cellars. There I found Aoibheann. I did not know where she had been, but she looked as though she had been sleeping rough, if indeed, she had been sleeping at all, which suggested that she had been on one of her expeditions to the Huntsman’s forest or some such. She also looked as though she had been slobbered on by some large animal. She was guiltily trying to open the secret door to the vaults. When I greeted her, she made some excuse about needing her brush. That she certainly did, and much more. I decided against asking what had happened and instead told her the news about Maric, reckoning that this was news she would want to hear. I told her to go and get washed and changed while I went down to see if he was in a state to receive visitors.
She was not so easily dissuaded, demanding to know why I could go and see if he was ready for visitors and she could not. She came up with some crackpot scheme about me distracting him with a bottle of wine while she dashed in to get her brush and fixed her hair. That earned her my best perplexed look while I explained that this was hardly likely to work. For a start, I told her, I was his steward, a lot stronger than her and wearing armour, so if Maric was not in a fit state, I was less likely to get hurt. Two, if he was well, he could already track where she was, so trying to sneak past wasn’t going to work. Three, I said, the state she was in, it was going to take more than a few strokes of her hair-brush to get her into a fit state to be seen. Finally, I added, I could ask him without going down there if necessary. I sent her off to my rooms to bathe and change.
She grumbled somewhat and very reluctantly agreed, provided I took Kustav with me so he could fetch her as soon as Maric was ready for her. I gathered myself and prepared to access the link, asking Maric if he was fit to receive visitors, adding that Aoibheann was ready to tear the castle down stone by stone if I didn’t tell her something. To my relief, his reply was composed, and his mind seemed stronger, more rational than last time I had seen him. Yes, he was fit to receive visitors, albeit not for a long time. I told him that I had sent Aoibheann away to get herself cleaned up, adding that I had not asked, which he agreed was wise.
Down in his chambers, Maric looked well enough and was clearly back to his normal self, save for a certain red tinge to his eyes. He greeted me formally and offered wine, every bit the urbane and polished host once again. I responded formally, but could not resist commenting on the eyes, reminding him that he had told me I should not release him until all the red was gone. However, given that I lacked the chains and assistance of the wolf brothers, I guessed I would have to let it pass for now. I accepted the glass of wine and apologised for the somewhat improvised method of feeding and waking him up, explaining that even with Kustav’s help, I had experienced some difficulty deciphering his books and notes on the care of torpored vampires.
He acknowledged that, and that I was right, but we did not have the luxury of time. He was back, and suspected that there were some changes about him that he would have to deal with. He expressed his eternal gratitude for my care and attention. I felt a little uncomfortable with that, and explained what little I knew of boons and how some kindred set great store by them. I did not keep account of such things, despite my profession, and sought only to do what was necessary, to do my duty to my lord and my friend, and to the village he left in my care.
That said, I suggested that I should deliver a summary of events while he had been out of commission, for fear that Aoibheann would grow impatient if I were to go into detail.
He asked what I knew of Tammi and I told him what little I knew, being mainly that she was pursued by forces unknown that could possibly become a threat should they track her to here, for which warning he thanked me. I told him about our Dhampyr, which news concerned him, but he was sure we could work something out between us to help her.
I told him that our main concern was getting out of the Shadow Roads. I told him what had become of Damir and about the crows, seeing both as a warning that our welcome was growing thin. I told him that Gwyn and Janus had called a new faerie realm into existence and how they were King and Queen together, despite being of opposing courts, and had agreed to work together to build a new land. That realm, I said, was likely the only option we had for getting away from the Roads. However, we would have to negotiate with the Crown before we did anything about that. I also told him about the losses we had suffered during the assorted battles, of the five guards who had passed on, the two that had asked to be brought back, and that I had only succeeded in saving one, who was now in torpor, pending help on raising a childer. That led me to happier news, as I told him the news about Gwyn being with child, multiple children, with it being likely that Janus and I were both the fathers somehow.
Maric took it all in, frowning at the bad news, thanking me for the update and congratulating me on the good news, news which must seem almost miraculous for such as we were. He bade me to not worry about my childer, we would revive him when we had time, and he would guide me in what must be done.
He had news of his own, news which he insisted remain between the two of us. Galyanna had succeeded in her quest to repair the mirror and Vedis had been rescued from the Hell realms. For now, she was confined to the laboratory, non-corporeal, her spirit residing in the walls where she could not influence others. This was taking a certain amount of effort from him, which was why he could not afford to grow weak again. There were still bargains to be fulfilled, demons to be fought, and a Crow to appease. He agreed with me that we must find our way out of the Roads as soon as we could. I told him I understood, knowing what I did of Radek’s mission and agreed it was best that Aoibheann not be told for now. Galyanna obviously knew, but it was best we kept it as quiet as we could.
Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Aoibheann, who had clearly decided she could wait no longer. She had bathed and washed her hair, though it looked as though she had been in a hurry to dry it. She was wearing a dress I had not seen before, but it suited her well. It was not the red dress she had mentioned to me before, so perhaps she was saving that for a more suitable occasion. I finished my wine and got up, briefly concluding my conversation with Maric on fairly neutral subjects, saying that I would leave them now, as I was sure they had catching up to do. We continued the conversation mentally for a few moments, but it was clear that he was impatient to spend time with his lady. Even so, he asked that I send Kustav down in half an hour or so, to fetch her, as he was still tired. I promised I would do so and left them to it. I did have a moment of doubt as to the wisdom of this, but I trusted to his willpower and his love for her. I left as he offered her a seat and the inevitable glass of wine.
I returned to my office. Maric may be back, but that did not make much of a difference to my duties, save that some decisions I could now refer to him. We still had much to do.