Nothing, it seems, is ever really gone from us. The old Huntsman and the old Unseelie King still plague us, in spirit, if not in person. I do not yet know what we can do about either.
I went down to the training area, where I found Galyanna practicing with more than her usual ferocity. The sword destroying the targets and, it seemed, carrying some corruption, since what was left of the targets fell quickly to decay. She greeted me in her normal fashion and told me that the shard had disappeared that way, pointing to the wall of the castle by the weapons racks.
I did not know what she meant, so asked her – what shard was this?
She hesitated for a moment and then told me the story, a story that began back in London. Padishar had come to their home, having been attacked by Gwythyr. There was a shard of a sword still embedded in him and it was corrupting and consuming him from inside. She had performed an extraction to save Padishar. Since corruption was her specialist power, she kept the shard to study it. She had had it since then, thinking it contained and secure, but something here, something had resonated with it and woken it from dormancy, and it had escaped from her and burrowed into the walls of the castle. She had intended no harm, she said, and had repeatedly tried to destroy it.
I moved to where the shard had entered the stonework. There was a wound, blackened and glassy. I scratched at it with a loose stone lying around, and then, gently, carefully, placed my hand on the stone nearby and opened myself to the castle senses. I moved carefully, expanding my sense slowly, ready to draw back at the first sign of trouble. I was reminded of chemistry lessons at school, where we had been taught to smell things by opening bottles and wafting air towards us above the opening, rather than sticking our noses in and taking a deep breath. Even that cautious approach was not cautious enough, for I sensed, smelled, and tasted the very nature of Gwythyr himself, his unmistakable taint and chill. I stepped away sharply, shaking my hand as if I had spilled something highly unpleasant on it, wiping it on the grass even, anything to wipe away that sensation. I don’t know quite what I said, other than I swore like a trooper. The taint was definitely there in the stonework, and I was able to trace it back to the vaults. There, I could not trace it further, since it seemed to have come to rest somewhere close to the discontinuity, that place where the fabric of the castle was somewhat disjointed through some unknown dimension. That discontinuity being the result of us moving the castle back to the faerie realms while part of the vaults was still connected to Hell.
I advised Galyanna of my findings and assured her that I attached no blame to her. So far as I was concerned, it was all down to the bastard former king. As I was talking, I realised I had not seen her since the demise of Vedis and offered my condolences. I said I would have offered a hug, but understood that was not her thing. She seemed quite stoic about it, as I would expect, saying she would not be deterred, even by Lucifer himself, and would burn heaven itself to the ground to bring her back. She then moved on to ask about training and about working with Kitori.
I told her I was fine with her continuing the training in our training area, but given what she was doing to the targets, asked if she could perhaps provide her own. I asked about Kitori and she assured me that Kitori would obey her, and thus, would obey the law within Mysthaven.
I said I would need to go and investigate further in the vaults and asked if there was anything else I could do for her. She asked only that I would take care of the children. I told her they were always in my care, as if they were my own children. She said they were family to her too, as Vedis had claimed them as nieces. I wondered about that for a moment, as I had some doubts about Vedis’ relationship to Alec, but let it pass.
I left her then and went to the vaults, trying to trace the shard further. I had the rough location, but it was difficult to tell, almost as if it was trying to hide from me. Plus, it was an unpleasant experience, letting myself be open to his bastardness’ influence again. I was about to give up when Maric contacted me through the link. He relayed the news that Janus had said that the girls, Hadley and Wren would some day have to choose their allegiance, to the Seelie or Unseelie Courts. I suggested that this might be a while off yet, as they were not of an age, and anyway, at the moment, Wren was not yet ready to acknowledge her fae heritage. I then updated him on the matter of the shard and what I had learned so far. He seemed annoyed by this, and much perturbed. He was already perturbed by the situation with Aoibheann. He was worried that somehow, the Huntsman had his influence on her somehow, and he was trying to persuade her to go with him to Janus to see if they could sort it out. He asked me to join him in his chambers as soon as I was able.
I wasn’t getting anywhere chasing the shard, so I headed over to his chambers. Aoibheann was there with him, looking a little uncomfortable or possibly a little self-conscious maybe because of being in Maric’s room with me there too. Maric offered wine and we spoke of the accords and the village defences. Aoibheann was not entirely convinced about the accords, since only Janus and Gwyn were party to them. At least I was able to tell her that the minor courts were sworn to Janus, so he would answer for them. I told her he had given me a list of the other courts, so that I would be able to open negotiations with them, such as they were. Meanwhile, Maric was asking me through the link to sense Aoibheann, to see if I could tell if there was any Huntsman influence. I tried, but it was hard, what with the taint of Gwythyr on me still, from sensing the shard. I told Maric that something was definitely odd, but couldn’t tell exactly what.
I mentioned that I had offered to include the new Huntsman in the accords, if he so wished, which got an odd reaction from Aoibheann. She had been talking about the guards on the perimeter and how they should be challenging visitors. Maric asked if Llwyd should be on that list. Aoibheann was not convinced that the Huntsman would be interested, and that it could be a bad idea. I admitted it was tricky, since he was part of the fae hierarchy. I moved on to talk about re-educating the populace on fae behaviour and how to deal with them, so that we could avoid some of the more likely issues, and suggested that a refresher on dealing with the Huntsman would be in order.
I also brought up the idea of having a system of flags to advise the villagers of the expected state of readiness. This would be intended as a general status rather than a specific alert, e.g. if the amber flag was flying, people should be a little more cautious. It did not mean there was an actual alert, so much as a warning that situations were such that there could be – e.g. around full moon, when the Huntsman was more likely to be on the prowl. Maric liked the idea, but it took some explaining to get Aoibheann to appreciate the concept.
I noticed she had avoided Maric’s question about Llwyd, and so had he, for he asked it again. She merely answered in the affirmative and made some comment about him being different. I asked what she meant by that, and, having had a few moments to gather myself, opened my fae senses to her again. This time, I could definitely sense the Huntsman within her. I explained this to Maric through the link, and further explained how Llwyd had once been joined with the Huntsman and maybe that was why he pursued her, to get it back. I finally realised what had been meant when Aoibheann had said yes to the Huntsman’s request about a home. I explained this to Maric and said that it was unlikely that Aoibheann would assist in getting him out of her, as she had agreed to it. Naturally, he was very annoyed by this and wondered how we could get rid of it. The only thing I could think of was talking to Janus. He would have the most experience of the Huntsman. The other thing I thought was that perhaps we could make another vessel for him – such as he had done for Vedis’ memories – and somehow get him into that and out of Aoibheann. This was possible, he agreed, but like me, was not sure how we could tempt the Huntsman out of his ‘home’. He needed to speak to Aoibheann, and somehow persuade her to go with him to Janus. He noticed that she was a little riled by me at present and suggested that I leave, so that she might better listen to him.
I had no problem with that. I finished my wine and made my excuses, claiming I had a headache, and left them to it. I wanted out of there anyway, needing time to settle myself, and somehow cleanse myself of the taint of Gwythyr. I was not sure how, but I returned to my room and took a bath. That, and the relaxation helped somewhat, but I am still perturbed by the taint being in the fabric of the castle.