The days after the defeat of Gwythyr were taken up with the aftermath. The castle foundations and vaults suffered greatly, with the ice and cold created by Gwythyr. Dyisi was able to access the vaults and capture the Wyrmthorn, that remnant of what had been Gwythyr’s sword, which escaped from Galyanna so many moons ago and wreaked such havoc. She fashioned a bag of some sort that would hold it safe, and then, by her own means, stepped into some other realm, where she was able to direct it into the heart of a sun, that most destructive of fires. Whether it was our own sun, or some distant star, I do not know. All I know that it is gone. And now, we could begin the process of recovery.
Much of the vaults, I fear, we may not be able to recover. Ice and water and Gwythyr’s foul influence has caused much damage. It took some time to clean out the water, as the ice he left began to melt, and that was noxious with the grisly remains of those he killed. My stewards and I had to survey the damage and plan for the eventual return of the castle residents and the villagers, once we were sure that all was safe for them to do so.
Dyisi used her abilities to bring Maric out of his torpor much sooner than I expected, and with minimal loss of limbs. Would that it had been so easy on previous occasions. However, he seemed changed by the experience. Change was inevitable, for as well as the man I knew, there was that darker influence, the spirit of the Huntsman still within him, and with that, the influence of the Unseelie Throne. For some time, it has been clear that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to reconcile his duties to the fae with his duties to the people of Mysthaven, and he has hinted to me before that a time for change was due.
He came to me, shortly before the equinox. While he was, for the most part, the man I knew, it was clear that something was tugging at him. He caressed the books and spoke of them being his most prized possessions. At the same time, that other side of him thought it worthless drivel and would tear it all down, to the last stone. That other side of him showed for a moment, in the claws that almost tore the binding of one of the books, but Maric dominated again. He would not let that happen. He entrusted the castle, the village, everything in it to me, to protect it and them for him and from him, from all, even the Summerlands. But, before I swore it, I had to know all the secrets.
I had been expecting this, and so I was not surprised. I was standing by one of the library cases, idly browsing. In my hands was a volume of Plato, Timaeus, to be precise. I opened it at random and read “τὸν μὲν οὖν ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὑρεῖν τε ἔργον καὶ εὑρόντα εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον λέγειν.” I thought back to my Greek lessons in school and translated as best I could, conscious as I did that Dyisi had joined us. “It would be a hard task to discover the maker and father of this universe of ours, and even if we did find him, it would be impossible to speak of him to everyone.” It seemed appropriate, since I knew not what hand had framed the universe I now inhabited. I put the book back and spoke of my family’s library, the thing that my mother loved above all else, save for her family and how she would have let the rest of the house burn, if she could have saved the library. The castle, the village and its people were already in my keeping, I told him. I was already pledged to the land, like the kings of old. The burden was already mine. The damage done by Gwythyr, the deaths and suffering he caused, happened on my watch, they were my burden to bear. Against that, there was the joy of the land and its inhabitants, the greatest joy I knew save that of my beloved wife, so long absent in the throes of winter. Speak your secrets, I bade him.
He took my hand, and Dyisi’s and showed me, through the mental link. The tale he told was a horrendous one. Perhaps some day I shall write it down in more detail. He told of years of torture and torment at the hands of the one who had made him, a chase into the mountains, and one final torment, finding the tomb of the one who had been Maric’s wife and Queen. His sire had lied to him that the Queen had too been embraced and kept apart as part of his punishment. Maric finally gained his revenge, turning his anger upon his sire and defeating him. Furthermore, he used his skills to change the remains of his sire, the stones of the tomb, and even the bones of his queen, fashioning from them, a castle of stone, this very castle in which I now stood. The enormity of that revelation staggered me, not only in the scope of this ancient vampire’s powers, but also the realisation of what the castle was. I only had limited experience of linking to the castle sense, and so I had little idea of what made it so. Now I did.
He asked if, knowing now what the castle was, if I still wanted to take on the responsibility of ruling over the realm. I understood better now, I told him, what the castle was, but added that I also understood what it was now, for to my mind, it had been shaped by the many years since its formation, the many lives that had passed through it, all those that had come before, including me. My word still stood, I said. I had not qualified my pledge. I had not, I said, resorting to humour, pledged myself to the castle, except for the yucky bits. There was one condition, though, I added. I would accept that responsibility for the people IF they would have me. I did not say, nor did I need to, that he had been their lord for many hundreds of years, and I had been here but a few. I think he understood.
My comment about the yucky bits almost brought a smile to his face. His tone was formal though, and spoke the words “So be it” to seal that pact. That I felt, that slight tremor of the Wyld when any oath is made. I was a noble soul, he told me, and the people would accept me gladly. And, he added, I need not fear that the influence of Gwythyr would taint me through the castle again. He had the power to prevent that. We needed now to drink of each other, as we had done before, and then to spill our blood for the castle. He would enact the rite that would make me master of it, just as he was and had been. Again, there was the question, if I was willing. I answered in deed, by baring my wrist and offering it to him, even as I took his and raised it to my mouth.
We fed from each other with an intensity we had not known before, and I felt the essence of the Wyld, both from his position as Unseelie King, and from that other side of his, as well as the truly ancient vampire that he was, as if he was trying to pour his essence into me. Then, as we fed, he led me to the walls and there, we allowed our blood to pour out onto the hungry stones. As our blood poured out, he spoke in a tongue I did not know, nor could even guess, save that it seemed ancient. Its intention, however, was very clear. A rite of some sort, as I could feel the power, a magical energy quite unlike any of my own. It spoke to the stones and bones, to that ancient husk and then, it spoke to me, connecting me to that castle sense and the whole of the domain and all that was within. Much like the first time I fed from Maric, or the Quickening I received from Faermorn, it was overwhelming, and, like those times, I had to ride it like a surfer. This was the real connection to the castle. By comparison, my previous experience of the castle sense was like hearing a cheerful workman whistling a Mozart tune instead of hearing a full orchestra playing the same.
I stood, leaning my head against the wall as I tried to integrate this new sense, vaguely aware of a change in Maric, as if he had not so much shared that link to the castle, as transferred it, a strange sense that another burden had been relieved. “Good luck,” he told me, “and rule well.” I told him that I would do so, as I had always tried to do. I giggled then, perhaps a little intoxicated by the transfer of power and asked if I still needed to call him my lord, or was that me now. I sobered again and told him that, no matter what, he always had my friendship. He accepted that with good grace and said it was a rare and wondrous thing. And yes, he was no longer lord, and that we were equal in the eyes of his people. He wished me good fortune and the best of the vine. I sensed that here, was a beginning of a parting.
His attention turned to Dyisi and the sword that she had been carrying. Strange it was, seeming fashioned from crystal rather than bronze or steel, and more besides. In the mix of feelings and emotions that flowed, from him, from Dyisi, I sensed it was more than a sword, as if it held something more. She handed it to him and spoke as if it were a person, as did he. Could a soul be trapped somehow in a sword of crystal? Dyisi spoke of him seeking forgiveness and atonement. He spoke of setting somebody, Aelia perhaps, free. I sensed that his was another lost love. Trapped somehow in this sword? I could not tell, only surmise from what was said and what was felt. He needed to release her, and this was something he needed to do alone, for he knew not how dangerous she would be. He promised he would come back and share with Dyisi whatever could be shared, and then he was gone, disappearing into the shadows. Dyisi left too, radiating strange emotions, compassion for Maric, love for him, and sadness, as if she too sensed an ending, and a sense of other feelings held in check.
And so, I stood, alone in my office, master now of this castle and all the domain. Maric has laid his burden down, and I must, perforce, take it up, not knowing when, if ever, I may lay my burden down. That, I do not have time to consider. I have my people to take care of.