Treading Grapes

I do not give my promise lightly. I never have. And I do so even more carefully since my world changed and brought me into contact with faeries and demons. I am relieved, therefore, that I am able to keep my promise to Wren. I am also relieved to find that Vedis, at least, a version of her, is back with us. On a slightly more confusing note, Aoibheann seems to have decided that treading grapes is a suitable activity for our Lughnasadh celebration. I suppose it counts as part of the harvest.

I had been waiting for an opportunity to broach the subject of Wren with Maric, and I thought I had one when I came into my office and found him there. Circumstances, of course, had pre-empted me, as I found him looking out of the window, where he could quite clearly see Wren talking to Aoibheann. I poured wine for both us and said that I had been meaning to talk to him about that.

He just looked at me and said “Indeed,” before taking the wine and toasting the best steward of them all. Sometimes, part of me thinks that he does it to tease me, knowing how I am embarrassed by praise. I shrugged it off and told him the circumstances of her arrival, how she had clearly been in the wars before getting here and my suspicion that she had wanted to be somewhere safe with people who knew her. I told him that I didn’t know the full story yet, but pending that, I had given her my protection. I felt it was important to get that sorted, before I identified her.

He looked at me. The link between us was mostly closed, but I could tell he was concerned. Given what had happened last time we sheltered a child; that was understandable. He said that he would trust my judgement, but asked if there was anything he should know, anything that might present a threat to the village.

I took a deep breath and explained who Wren was, what little I had been able to learn of her situation and why I had offered her protection. Unlike Hadley, I told him, Wren had come here of her own free will, and was more than capable of making her own decisions. I told him how much I cared for her and that I could not turn her away. I was prepared to accept full responsibility for her.

That news got a surprised reaction from him, learning that we had another Damondred child, albeit an adopted one, in our midst. He faced me, looking quite grim as he summarised our current situation. We were in a new place, where we could be safe and self-sufficient, but we had a more porous border. We had the cŵn prowling around with unknown intentions towards Aoibheann. We had the whole business of trying to restore Vedis to her throne. We had a possible war brewing in Faerie over the attack on Ardan. We had the Crow wanting her due, and now we had another Damondred child and the possible reaction to that to contend with. He thought about it, fixing me with his gaze, almost as though he was searching my mind, which I am fairly sure he can’t do without me knowing. After a long moment, he managed to crack a smile. He would trust to my judgement, he said, and if danger came, well, we would just have to face it. He asked me to introduce him to Wren. I guessed he had forgotten the brief meeting at his naming ball.

I reminded him of this as we walked down to the orchards and explained why I was so fond of Wren and suggesting she might like to train with the guards. On the way, I gave him my thoughts on what we might do to deal with the cŵn and Nemaine. I told him how many bodies we had, and we discussed briefly what to do with them to pay Nemaine’s price. There was also the matter of Vojin, the one guard who had requested the embrace, and who I had kept in torpor ever since. Since we had spoken of the need to defend the village, I outlined my idea of having volunteers from the village train as a reserve defence force to supplement the guard in times of need.

He liked the idea of training the villagers, as he had been thinking on the same lines himself, so we agreed to make a start on setting that up. Vojin was something that would have to be included in part of my training, which he wanted to resume, now that he felt more stable. The other things we would have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

We had reached the orchards, where it appeared that Aoibheann was discussing the possibilities of singing to the plants to make them grow better. I called Wren to attention and then introduced her as Patrolman Wren, a fine, upstanding young person who would be a credit to any body of guards anywhere. That got me a smile, a salute and an approximation to attention stance. Maric took it in the spirit I intended and greeted her most graciously, saying that we were always in need of good patrolmen. He greeted Aoibheann in the usual way and suggested that we all retire to the tavern for refreshment.

My attention was then diverted by the large half-barrel of grapes on the stone slab in front of the little bower at the back of the castle. It was half full of grapes that looked a little squashed. This could have had something to do with Aoibheann’s next question, which was whether or not we thought treading grapes would be a fun activity, possibly for the Lughnasadh celebration. She seemed worried that they might not be ripe enough. I dragged my attention back to the conversation and suggested that we could make verjus, which I vaguely remembered as being made from unripe grapes. Maric seemed to think this was a good idea. Wren meanwhile, was responding to Maric’s bow with one of her own, and looking mightily relieved that he was letting her stay.

We started to head towards the tavern, but were interrupted by a red-haired woman who appeared out of the vaults. It took me a moment to recognise her, but with the voice, I realised it was Vedis, in something approximating to her human form. She wanted to know if we had kidnapped another child, which put Aoibheann somewhat on the defensive, insisting that Hadley had come of her own accord, as had Wren, albeit not entirely intentionally.

I greeted her and congratulated her on her apparent, partial recovery. I assured her that Wren was here of her own free will and was my personal responsibility. Maric echoed my assurances and added that we would be prepared against any attack.

Vedis thank me, but explained that this was a temporary vessel for Vedis’ memories, which apparently included fond ones of me. She was most gracious to Wren, but then, she had known her before. Maric suggested that I escort Vedis to the tavern, but unfortunately, I had a few things I needed to take care of so I suggested that they go on without me. I would have joined them later, but I had too much paperwork, and ended up taking supper at my desk. By the time I finished, it was well past Wren’s bedtime, and perilously close to mine. I slept better though, knowing that Wren was officially welcome here. I look forward to renewing our friendship.

 Treading Grapes


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