What would a man not do for his beloved child? What would a man not do for a lost love? What is a man to do when the one houses the echo of the other? What is a man to do when saving one might mean an end for the other?
These latter are questions no man should have to face. And, in what I once thought passed for a normal life, would be unlikely. The nearest I can imagine would be if the circumstances of my son, Arthur’s, birth had been different and I had been forced to choose between saving the life of my wife or my unborn son. But, this is no normal life, and thus, these are questions I have to face.
I took food and drink, including mead, which I thought she would like, to the Shadowroads, to Valene’s cave, where I had left my daughter to shelter. One place I hoped she would be safe from Gwythyr’s gaze. I found her there, safe in the care of the Cait, and in the company of Aoibheann, who she likes to call Auntie. I suppose that is fair. In my time, it was a common enough designation for friends of the family who were more of the parent’s generation, even if they were not actual relatives. And while Aoibheann and I are of a similar age, or generation, we are far from kin.
What they had been discussing, I did not know, though I noted that Bronwyn was being nibbled by the Wyld roses that Aoibheann carried. Whatever it was, the prospect of mead distracted them both from it for a few moments. I embraced Bronwyn as a father might, and then poured mead for us all. When I enquired if she was rested, she averred that she had not, fearing that the dreams would follow her even here. She said that Aoibheann had told her that she carried an inheritance, she called it, from somebody called Faermorn, and that this might be why she was being pursued. She burrowed further into my embrace and asked if I knew why the darkness was coming for her.
This was the question I had most hoped to avoid, but I could not deny her. I took the goblet from her so that I could hold both her hands as I answered her as best I could. I told her that Faermorn had been the Queen of Winter, the Unseelie Queen, as her mother was the Queen of Summer or Seelie Queen. I told how she had been a good friend to me, and had been responsible for my Quickening, though I did not use that word. I omitted that Faermorn and I had been intimate, for I thought that this might confuse matters. I told her that Faermorn had passed on, so far as this applied to the high fae. I told how Gwythyr had been her husband, and that he was a cruel and dangerous man with a mad, obsessive, possessive and dangerous love for his wife, who would destroy and kill to possess her. I told how we thought he had died, and yet a part of him had come back, how I had killed him or so I had thought, and how, now, he had possessed another and continued his pursuit. I then told her how she was the very image, shape, looks and scent of Faermorn, as if she was Faermorn reborn, and that was why he pursued her.
She froze for a few moments as she digested this. I could see the conflict and confusion on her face, as if this touched on something she already knew, or had suspected. She fell against me asking what she should do, for she did not know. This brought more of a pang to my heart, for in truth, I did not know the answers. All I could do was to reassure her that we would keep her safe, that we would work out what to do, and we would do it. I promised that I would not let him harm her.
I returned to my original intention on coming here now, to make that bond between us, so that we would always be able to find each other, no matter where, or when, we might be. The bond that would enable us to call upon each other, whenever and wherever we were. That, in itself, was a good thing, but, I also hoped that through that, I could teach her how to anchor herself. Initially, to me, and later, to her mother. Some time, in the future, when things were better, maybe I could give her the opportunity to be her own anchor, as Alec had taught me to be mine. But that was for the future, when she had a surer idea of herself. I explained this, save for the bit about being her own anchor, and how it could best be achieved by making a blood bond.
She shivered for a moment, mumbling something about being tired of running, which I realised was in response to something Aoibheann had said, almost unheard, about running until you wanted to be caught. At the same time, there was a whisper of something from the roses. Something strange and darker that the roses I knew, as though the one that Aoibheann carried were kin to the ones in the village, and yet apart from them. Bound to another, perhaps. It was but a fleeting sensation, and then it was gone as Bronwyn turned back to me and assented. “Whatever you think will work, father,” she said.
I kissed her and took her hand in mine. I nicked my own wrist with my teeth and offered this to her, just as I took the gentlest of bites at her wrist, taking only enough from her to form the bond. She took only a taste from me, understandable, perhaps, for she was not a blood-feeder like me. I kept my shields tightly closed, to avoid overwhelming her with all the things the bond could be, allowing only the essence of the bond to flow. Even in that taste, I could tell that the Wyld was strong in her. She was as potent as any fae I had tasted, not surprising, given her parentage. Alarming, most of all, even in her blood, her essence, she tasted most like Faermorn as anything.
I opened the link a tiny bit, just to confirm it was there, but no more. This was going to be hard enough for her. Meanwhile, Aoibheann was telling her that her wishes may be granted if she wished them strongly enough. I forbore to comment, but silently applauded Bronwyn’s reply that she did not know what to wish for. I gave her the goblet and bade her drink, saying we would continue with the bonding and the lessons in a short while. I though it best to give the blood a chance to work.
Aoibheann spoke, though she did not entirely make sense. Perhaps it made sense to her, as she was following her own train of thought. She spoke of fear being a prison. She spoke of Bronwyn not leaving her when they were both under the sleeping curse and she spoke of being a better Auntie and friend. Then she addressed the issue at hand, saying she could hunt him, him presumably being Gwythyr. She said that she could find his thornwyrms but had not fathomed out how to destroy them. Then, as she is sometimes wont to do, asked something that it had not occurred to me, nor anyone else, to ask. We were all out to destroy Gwythyr, but we had not asked Bronwyn’s wishes. Did she seek vengeance, or would she rather Aoibheann stayed her hand? In truth, it had not occurred to me to even think to ask. It was a good question, though, to my mind, it was a question for Faermorn rather than Bronwyn. Perhaps, as she often does, Aoibheann was showing more insight than the rest of us.
Bronwyn slumped, and even with the link closed, I could feel the despair. Something in her eyes shifted and she spoke, saying that this would never end until she was put to rest, but her voice sounded more like that of Faermorn. She stared off into space and then got up, drifting towards the cave entrance. Aoibheann followed her a moment or two later, calling out to her as Bronwyn and as Faermorn. Perhaps she too had seen that echo of the former queen. I left them to it for a while, strangely trusting Aoibheann’s instincts in this. But, much as I tried, I could not help but overhear something of what was said. What I did hear was somewhat disturbing for it seemed as though Aoibheann was talking more to Faermorn that to Bronwyn. Faermorn, if it was she, spoke of pure light being the only thing that would destroy the thorns. She would help Aoibheann lure him out and then, they would be able to bring this madness to an end. The way she spoke, it seemed that her plan involved giving up her dream of life and being free at last. That would have chilled me to the core, but for the addition that she, presumably Bronwyn, should have her own life. Was this the harsh dilemma I faced? Could it be that I could not save both? That the only way to save my daughter meant the end for my friend?
Free at last. That tugged at my heart and while I still grieved for my friend, the one who called me her warrior poet, I could understand her wanting an end. I would need to hear it from her to be sure, and I did not know if she would speak with me. If that was the case, then, much as it would hurt, I would have to agree with her wishes. Perhaps she is right, perhaps this will never end until both of them, she and Gwythyr, are gone beyond. I sighed. My priority had to be for my daughter. For all that I had loved Faermorn, she had already gone once and had had a life. My daughter had yet to live hers. I decided that I would try to complete the bond, and perhaps, in so doing, would manage to communicate with Faermorn and learn her wishes.
I rose and joined them at the cave entrance, asking Aoibheann to give us a few moments. I took Bronwyn inside and made us comfortable on the blankets. I looked at her and asked if she knew me, hoping, perhaps, that Faermorn would speak. She merely looked confused and said I was her father. I tried again, asking if there was some other name or title she knew, and as a hint, placing my hand on the hilt of the sword and reciting ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…’
That didn’t seem register either. All she could come up with was Consort and Lord of Mysthaven. I sighed. Perhaps for now, Faermorn was not there to hear. I told Bronwyn that she had spoken to Aoibheann in another voice, one that had once called me her warrior poet. If that meant anything, it didn’t show. Perhaps now was not the time.
I returned to the matter of the bond. I took her hands and told her how we were bonded by family, as father and daughter, by love, but also through the power of the blood we had shared, and that would link us. As we touched, I caught a glimpse of her essence, on the cusp of maturity. Soon, she would no longer be the girl she is, perhaps. I let go of her fingers and bade her to try to reach out to me with her mind. I bade her see me without her eyes, hear me without her ears, speak to me without her tongue. She told me that she loved me, in the normal manner, before letting go.
I waited, watching the concentration on her face, and gently called her with my mind, keeping the link just open enough for us to connect. I could feel her, pushing against the resistance and then she burst through, a flood of the Wyld energy and the power of the high sidhe that she truly was, or would be. And then she was there, almost glowing, but surrounded by her fears and nightmares. She addressed me as Father and asked if I was safe, if He hadn’t seen me.
I let the tide of her thoughts ride over me, acknowledging the taste of them but not, for now, reading them. I placed a mental blanket around her shoulders, to warm and calm her, to reassure her. Gently, I told her, one thing at a time. Now that we were connected, I could show her, in ways that words could not convey, how to narrow the range of her thoughts, reinforcing that with words, telling her to imagine she was speaking, as the best way to focus the thoughts and communication. I sent warmth and comfort as I told her, through the link, that I was as safe as I could be. For, if he could find me, he would have done so by now. And although I had partaken of his blood, he had not partaken of mine, and so did not have that bond, not like she and I did. Do not worry about that for now, I told her.
I asked her to concentrate on the link between us. I centred myself, focussing on the very core of my being, that unshakeable rock, that solidity that came from my parents and beyond, the certainty of my will. I opened myself to her, so that she could see that and told her to see it. I started to explain the nature of the bond needed to make the anchor. Reach out and touch me, I said, and see me reaching out to touch you, here, and here. I reinforced that by physically touching her over the heart and on the forehead. I told her to visualise a connection between us. Naturally, because of my background, I used the metaphor of a ship anchored to shore by an unbreakable rope, of a lighthouse shining as a guide. Thinking of how ethereal she was, I also used the idea of a kite on a string, again, an unbreakable link. As I explained, I opened the link further, to show her those things that could not be expressed in words – the essential nature of the connection between us. “No matter how strong the storm, no matter how wild the wind, I will always be there, always connected to you and you will always be able to return to home, to me, no matter where you are. I am the lighthouse, the beacon, the anchor. Set that here in your heart and your head. No matter where, no matter when, no matter what, you will always be able to come home to me.”
I could feel her steadying herself, getting her balance as my words reached her, a guide and a focus and she reached out back to me, like someone swimming against the tide to the shore. Despite the despair and fear, and the echoes of other lives, she reached for me, reached for the shore, her anchor.
And then she was there. The bond, the anchor chain, the kite-string, was complete. “Home,” she whispered, “father.”
I let my love and happiness show through the bond, as well as kissing her on the forehead. “Always,” I told her. I switched back to regular speaking and told her we should stick to that when we were together in person, in case we forgot how. I said that we would be able to contact each other through the link wherever and whenever we were, no matter how far. We should use it sparingly and with focus, lest we share things we didn’t intend. Even though father and daughter should have no need of secrets, not everything needed to be shared.
I showed her, briefly, an echo of the darkness and despair I had felt from her and took her hands. I blanketed that darkness with light. I told her that she could be resilient, and that she was strong. I reminded her of her heritage – high fae through her mother and her other father, the Tuatha de Danaan back through my mother, the power of Isabella and Faermorn through my quickening and all that I had gained as a vampire from my sire and through Maric. With that heritage, from that stock, she would be unbreakable and undefeatable.
She wrapped herself in my arms and cried for a while, perhaps more in relief than anything and I could sense her building on the love and encouragement. “I am strong?” she asked, adding that she wanted to be strong like me, but she did not know how to be strong. And she did not know how to fight him.
I thought back to Mr Li, back on board the Odiham Castle, telling me of the martial arts he knew and the philosophy behind them and, in particular saying something about the grass bending before the wind. I wished now I could remember more of what he had told me, but it had been a conversation over quite a lot of rum. I opened the link again to show her the rock and told her that she had that within her too, from me and from her mother, that strength of will. We might bend occasionally, like the grass before the wind, but we don’t break. Fighting him was also a matter of will and knowledge. We would have to research how to defeat him. Aoibheann had said something about the light destroying the thornywms, and we would look into that. Perhaps her other voice would know more. For now we would stay out of his way until we knew how to defeat him. I assured her that no matter what, she would not have to face him alone.
That seemed to be what she needed to hear. She thanked me and then drew herself further into my arms, repeating like a mantra, “I am not alone.” She ventured to ask one question. She said that she sometimes felt things that were not her. She wanted to know if that was the other voice I spoke of, because she did not want to lose herself.
I held her and assured her again that she was not alone and that she would not lose herself. We would learn how to deal with that other voice. I could tell that exhaustion was catching up with her. That was understandable; she had been through a lot and had had to absorb a lot. I stroked her head and whispered that she was not alone and she fell asleep, in my arms, repeating that. Rest was the best thing for her, and for me. I detached my sword and gave orders for the Cait to give us the room, but remain on guard. I drew the blankets over us both and lay down, still keeping her in my arms, so she could rest safely. And so could I.
Sleep was a while coming, the weight of the responsibility I now held resting heavily on my shoulders, even if that was eased by knowing she was safely anchored. We still faced many trials, and there was much yet to do, but we would face those things together, father and daughter, and we would triumph.