When I was younger, Mother would sometimes talk of the things she wanted to do in the future, when Gilbert and I were finally out of her hair. All the things she could do with the time currently occupied by her maternal obligations. Personally, I found it difficult to imagine what more she could do, given her music, her gardening, her reading, not to mention her political and charitable and social activities outside the home. Such talks were doubly tinged with unexpressed sadness. There was always the spectre of her illness hovering over any thoughts of the future – wondering how much time she would have then. Also, even at that age, I sensed that for all that she wanted her boys to have their own lives; she dreaded the thought of the empty nest.
And now, I think I have some inkling of how she felt. My own son, Arthur, regards Gilbert and Sarah as his parents, and I am just his Uncle Nate (Nathaniel being too much of a mouthful for him). The truth, we decided, was something we would save until he attained his majority. When, or indeed, if, that will ever pass, I can not know. Some four years of my experience have passed since I was able to write to them, which would mean he would be about ten years old now, assuming that where he is, time passes in the normal fashion, no matter what my personal experience of it might be. I wonder if they grow concerned, thinking me lost at sea, or disappeared in America somehow. Either way, I never had much time to grow attached to Arthur, and, my own circumstances notwithstanding, I must assume that he thrives.
Here, in this strange place that has become my home, I have new children. Three were born of my flesh, at least in part. Mine and Janus’ and Gwyneth’s. Such are the vagaries of things here that they were born seemingly young adults, in body, if not in wisdom. Thus, I did not share their childhood, for they had none, and already, they make their own way in the world. Eilian, impetuous youth that he seemed, is gone away to be tutored by Blaise, who stands in stead of his grandfather. Drysi with all the attitude of a rebellious teenager lives her own life now, and rarely visits with us. And Bronwyn flits hither and thither like a butterfly, but harder to catch than a shaft of moonlight. Now that Gwythyr is gone, perhaps it is safe for her to be around me and I can spend more time getting to know her.
Lastly, but by no means least, is Wren. She I did at least get to see grow, if only for a short period of her life. She was Alec’s and Isabel’s daughter, but not, as I learned, by blood, and Dauphine to his kingdom. But she cared not for that, and cared less for the fripperies of being a princess. She much preferred marching around the town square, patrolling as though she were the palace guard. As one who had often fantasised about being an Arthurian knight, I acknowledged that and went along with it, addressing her as Patrolman Wren, saluting her as I night any other soldier and such like. I think that was where we started to bond, as I was the only one who took her seriously. I missed her when Jasper Cove burned and the bridge took her elsewhere, and so I was delighted when circumstances, unfortunate though I later learned they were, brought her to Ashmourne Wylds.
Here we really became closer, whether it was talking about books and music, or teasing her about maths lessons. I persuaded the castle guard to allow her to train with them, and they accepted her as one of their own. I gave her the rank of adjutant at my side. Over time, we grew closer, until she trusted me enough to tell of the circumstances that caused her to flee here. Similarly, I was able to be there for her as she dealt with the realisation that she too was fae-blooded, and through the traumas of dealing with the magic that she knew not how to control. I came to love her as the daughter I had never had, and was delighted beyond measure when she allowed me to adopt her as my own.
And now, she is gone from here and from me. Of late, I had not had much time to see her, with all the problems in the castle and elsewhere, and had assumed that she had made herself comfortable in that little book-lined cottage that she had adopted in the faerie bower. But, it was not so. Today, I came home to a letter from her, explaining that she had gone away and why.
She has not been feeling herself, she said. Even when working with the animals, which I know she so loved to do, she did not feel right. She spoke with Dyisi, who took her somewhere else, to somewhere with no wars, somewhere that was not scary for a barely teenage girl, somewhere she might make friends of her own age, somewhere she didn’t have to be in court, or be anything other than herself. It was just meant to be a holiday until she felt better, but now, she wanted to stay, she did not know for how long.
She apologised for not talking to me first. She knew she had to go, and she knew that I was perhaps the only person who might have been able to persuade her to stay. She said that she missed me, and asked me to not be mad with her. Perhaps, she said, we could write, or maybe I could even come to visit.
I am not so proud that I cannot admit that I shed a tear when I read her words, which, at first, felt like a blow to the stomach. I had failed my beloved daughter. However, on reflection, I see that she is right. I cannot blame her, and I should not blame myself. This is no place for a teenager. We’ve had to deal with plague-bearing witches, fae wars, the predations of Gwythyr and far too much death. Those particular battles may be over, but I cannot promise that there will not be more. I cannot protect her from all that might occur here.
Also, aside from me, she has no family any more. Alex and Isabella betrayed and abandoned her. She and Ember were separated long before she arrived here. Hadley chose her own means of escape, becoming in short order, a demon, and now an adult and a mother. And others even remotely her age – Riley from Jasper Cove, Jada and Kale… all are gone or never even arrived here. And of those she was close to, other than family, only a few are around. I have not seen Galyanna, who had her own reasons for caring for Wren, in months. Even Aoibheann has become strange to us, in the sense of absent, rather than her innate strangeness, and even that has become more marked of late, such that it seems I scarcely know her.
No, I cannot blame her. And, much as I might wish to, I cannot blame Dyisi for taking her away. Better she went in the company of somebody experienced in stepping across realms than strike out on her own, with her imperfect mastery of such things. And, much as I am upset that Dyisi did not consult with me, I understand that she did so for Wren, lest I would, as she put it in her letter, “be the only one who would have made her not want to go.” Dyisi is far older and wiser than I ever will be, and I am sure that she would not take her any place that she would be at risk of harm.
That said; there is a hole in my life, and in my heart, that is unlikely to be filled. If my memories, and my diary, serve me accurately, it is some three and a half years since I first addressed Wren as patrolman. Since when, she has become as dear to me as anyone. She could not be dearer to me if she was my own flesh and blood, and I am going to miss her terribly. Even being saluted by Milos and Vasily as I left the castle to come here to my cottage by the sea brought a tear to my eye, thinking of the customary greeting between Wren and me. For now, I shall content myself with the trust that, wherever she is, she is well and happy. And, that wherever she is, she well knows how much I loved her and will continue to love her. There will be letters, I am sure, and visits, but for now, I shall take solace in the familiar sounds of the sea. And I shall raise a glass – “Be well, my darling daughter. Be safe, be happy, and be everything you can possibly want to be.”