With all this thought of changing my role, I decided it would help if I actually experienced some of Gwyn’s time. I must admit to being somewhat wary of going there. Gwyn once quoted a line from a book she had studied – “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” If I remember correctly, it was in the context of an elderly man reminiscing about his youth, which might be some 60 odd years in his past. My time, from Gwyn’s point of view is twice that distant in her past, and her time is twice that distance in my future. Either way, the words “they do things differently there” apply equally to the future. At least with the past, there are memories, or records to inform you. That is not the case with regard to the future. Yes, to Gwyn, it is her present and recent past, but to me, it is terra incognita, no matter how much she might tell me about it.
Still, it is something I must face some day, and there’s no time like the present. Which phrase, in this context, seems somewhat incongruous. I need to tell her about Bronwyn and Faermorn and Gwythyr anyway. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good idea on top of dealing with her abdication, but I can not put it off forever. I determined that I would forgo calling her via the mirrors and pay a surprise visit instead. In retrospect, perhaps not the wisest of choices, but I have never claimed to be wise, despite what I might tell my children when I want them to listen to me. Still, I had to go. I selected some clothing she had left for me on some previous visit – a soft leather jacket over denim jeans, which were comfortable enough, if a little cramped around the crotch. I had at least worn these before and soon got used to the discomfort.
I decided to take the route through the Shadow Roads, even though I could just step across the realms to get there. At least through the Roads, I have some semblance of a journey, which softens the shock of the transition somewhat. I never liked taking portals back in London, and those were only short cuts between different parts of London. Stepping across the realms is even worse, when the distance, and the time gap, are both large, and largely unknown. One day, I will get used to it. Plus, going via the Roads, there is at least some warning – the parting of the veil, and the coldness of the air, so I don’t just suddenly materialise in the middle of a room. A small difference, but to me, a form of courtesy. Gwyn knows the way through the Roads well enough, and her staff, if she took any with her, should know the signs too.
The Roads deposited me in the Atrium, as she likes to call it, a small enclosed area where she had planned to receive those with business from Faerie. Whether she will continue to use it as such, I do not know. As yet, I do not know if she intends to cut all ties with the Fae. I find that hard to believe, and surely there are Fae in this time too. Either way, it made sense that I would land here, as this place, at least, I had visited before.
What was new, though, was a small herd of tiny winged unicorns, or possibly alicorns, if I recall correctly. I was a bit nonplussed when I saw them, and memories came flooding back of my first painful lessons in magic from Mitternacht, or Paasheeluu as she preferred to be called. I knelt and greeted them. “Hi, I’m Nathaniel, nice to meet you. Are any of you related to an undead mortician by the name of Paasheeluu?” Perhaps that was a bit blunt, but it didn’t seem to matter. They were friendly enough, nosing my hand in case I had something to eat, but displayed no evidence of sapience. They accepted mint imperials readily enough though.
The room adjoining the atrium was set for a feast, but there was no sign of any guests. Nor was there any sign of my wife. I sat at the table and contemplated the suckling pig, who did not seem to be amused by the apple shoved in his mouth, and who could blame him. Somewhere, nearby, I could hear some rather strange bleeping noises and the occasional cry of frustration. “Hello?” I called out. There were more bleeps and another cry of frustration and a few moments later, Bran appeared, clutching some small brightly coloured object that appeared to be the source of the beeps. “Damn it, I was almost on level …” He looked up and stopped mid-sentence. “Lord Ballard,” he said, “we were not expecting you.”
I frowned at him. “It’s me, Bran,” I said, gently chiding him. “Nobody else is around, so I think we can dispense with titles. And it was a last minute decision to come. So, where is Her Maj… my wife?”
Bran shrugged. “I think she has gone shopping. For what, or where, I do not know. She went, she came back with a lot of clothing, including some for you, I think, and she went again. I don’t know when she will be back.” He looked around the room, then back at his bleeping gadget, and then back at me. “You could try waiting down at the house, I suppose. You could try on some of the clothes that she bought, maybe explore the island. It will be something to do while you wait for her.”
I asked how I could get to the house and he directed me to a portal that he assured me would take me there. “Do you need anything else?”
I swiped some food from the feast table and a bottle of wine. “No, this will do, thanks. I’ll let you get on with your… levelling…” He thanked me and hurried away, his attention focussed once again on the noisy gadget.
The house I had seen very briefly before. It seems to be built on a rocky outcrop looking down over the bay with just a stone bridge linking it to the rest of the island at the same level. In older times, it would have been an ideal location for a castle. With the only access being up a steep rock face, or the bridge, it was easily defendable.
One thing I noticed that I had not seen before, standing near the door, was what I assumed to be some manner of vehicle. It had two wheels arranged in line, like some kind of velocipede and was bright pink. I assumed it must be operated by an infernal combustion engine, since the seating arrangement appeared to preclude any propulsion by foot. Perhaps it is for when she visits the mainland, for it did not seem that anywhere on the island was far enough away that it could not be walked in a reasonably short time.
I could see a statue nearby, a seated figure playing a harp. I could have sworn I had seen this before, perhaps somewhere in her bower. It’s certainly a very moving piece and I know it is important to her, which may be why it is here.
I went inside the house and made my way to the bedroom, where I did indeed find assorted items of clothing. One suit came from a bag labelled Vintage Clothing by somebody called Gabriel. With its high collar and elaborate bow tie, it would not have looked out of place at one of my mother’s social gatherings.
Another suit, also by Gilbert, was likely of a more modern design. I could find no fault with it, save that the necktie was constructed of leather and rather short with a metal ring looped through the end. Perhaps this is what the well-dressed men of the 21st century wear now, even if it did look rather as if some kind of leash could be attached. I was briefly reminded of a strange bar I once went to in Rotterdam where some clients paid good money to be led around on a leash, but I doubt this was what Gwyn had in mind. I tried it out as I wandered around the house, trying to determine the function of some of the rooms. I did not find a library, which distressed me somewhat. Indeed, there was only one bookcase that I could find, which is an extreme oversight. One that I hope she will remedy.
I tried on yet another suit. This one seemed more comfortable and less formal, but still elegant enough for all but the most formal of gatherings. It seemed quite apposite as I wandered into a large room at the side of the house. A room walled with much glass in the manner of an orangery or conservatory. I could imagine Mother really enjoying this space, except she would have had it filled with exotic plants and furniture made of cane. Perhaps this will come
There did not appear to be much else to find in the house. I am sure Gwyn just hasn’t finished furnishing it yet, or perhaps she is waiting for my input. That would be nice. I trust to her judgement, but I prefer wood to wrought iron. I am sure we can find some suitable compromise.
I donned more casual wear in order to explore some of the places I had seen from the bridge. Another pair of jeans and a heavy sweater that felt as though it was designed for the outdoors was my choice. And so I set off to explore. From my vantage point on the outcrop, I could see down to an area that looked as if it served for a docks area as well as recreation, with a wooden-decked promenade and assorted waterside buildings, one of which was rather pleasingly fashioned as an old-style sailing ship.
I made that one my first destination and headed down to the waterside, passing by market stalls offering various goods, including fruit and vegetables and craft pottery. From what Gwyn has told me of the inhabitants, I could not imagine that the permanent residents would be buying a great deal of pottery, but I supposed they must have a lot of visitors. Pretty soon, I found myself on what passed for a crow’s nest on the ship-shaped building. I grinned as I remembered my first days at sea with Haskins Shipping. Though, in that case, I am fairly sure I had been sent to the crow’s nest as some sort of hazing for the new guy.
Back on dry land, so to speak, I ascended the great wooden staircase, avoiding a number of people on velocipedes that were available for hire and had a look round what I guessed was the commercial district. It was an eclectic area – essentials such as a grocers and a bookshop, and yes, I do count a bookshop as an essential – crowded with sweetshops and various eateries. The bookshop could have been an expensive excursion for me, save that I had neglected to bring any money with me. Such American dollars as I might have had in my possession would, no doubt, been an anachronism, as they would have been left over from my honeymoon in 1880. One book did intrigue me enough to ask the assistant to put it by until I could come back with the appropriate money. It was the title that caught my eye – The Once and Future King, which echoed the words that Malory ascribed to Arthur’s tomb – Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus. On examination, it did appear to be a retelling of the Arthurian stories, and one new to me. It would have to be, as the flyleaf proclaimed it to have been first published in 1958. I will look forward to reading it, as and when I equip myself with modern currency.
Further on, I found another wooden walkway, narrower than the promenade one, and of more rustic construction, leading down to a pleasant looking beach, with some wooden structure, perhaps a house or a tavern, I could not tell from here, at the end. In the gathering dusk, with the light on the water, it was a most beautiful spot indeed. I was tempted to explore further, but it was getting darker, and, in truth, I was a little overwhelmed with it all, and decided to head back to the house.
This was going to be all new to me, and I was ill-prepared, knowing only a little of what had passed in the world since I left it 125 years ago The assistant in the bookshop had loved my accent, and somehow, that was enough to excuse my apparent lack of familiarity with my surroundings and lack of currency. Perhaps an Englishman abroad is considered somewhat of an eccentricity, even in these times. If that is so, it could be to my advantage until I am better educated in the ways of these times. For now, I can take comfort in the food I swiped from Bran’s table and the scent of my beloved Gwyn in the bed. Who knows, maybe she will return before morning and we can spend some time together.
For those that need to know these things:
Slink Physique Male Mesh Body, Hands, Feet. Labyrinth Shape D Mesh Head & Pale Skin, Ikon Sunrise Eyes (Verdigris), No.Match No.Hunt hair
Clothing in order of appearance:
A&D Clothing – Ewan jacket, James pants, Seattle shoes
Gabriel Vintage Suit & Shoes
Gabriel Leather Tie Suit & Shoes
Emerald Couture Russell outfit in grey
Native Urban Clean Jeans & Enhanced Boots, Sweet Lass Kenji Sweater (Moss)