HitS 1760402 Wherever You Will Go

Perhaps I should have stayed. I had not been back in Mysthaven long, scarcely enough time to change into more appropriate clothing and make a start on my paperwork when word came via a wisp that Gwyn had returned from her shopping, or wherever she had been. This time, I thought I had better make sure, in case she was planning on disappearing again, and called her via the mirror.

She did not appear overly delighted to see me, but then, perhaps I caught her at a bad time, which, given the circumstances was quite likely. Nevertheless, she agreed that we should talk and I told her that I would be right over. I changed back into some modern clothes and, since she was expecting me, decided to realm-hop there to save time.

I did not know quite what sort of mood to expect, given she had been a little short in our brief exchange via the mirror, but I figured that a loving hug was probably the best greeting. She accepted that readily enough and rested her head against my chest before saying that she guessed I had heard the news.

I averred that I possibly had, but that it rather depended on what news, and that whatever it was, I probably had more.

“There’s always more,” she said, drily. The news she assumed that I knew was that she had vacated the throne. Or, as she put it, that she wouldn’t be back handling that drama clusterfuck any time soon, or indeed, ever. She detached herself from my embrace and began pacing. For all the difference she had made in the Wylds, she might just as well stop fucking about with all the lords and ladies and get on with enjoying her life. I was free to divorce her and carry on ruling Mysthaven and dealing with the Gwynns, she told me.

I laughed and told her I wasn’t planning on divorcing her any time soon and joked that it would be tricky to find any lawyer qualified to handle the case even if I did. I told her that I had heard of her stepping down – how I had felt the disturbance in the Wyld and after getting a rather confused report from a wisp, had gotten a better one from Dyisi. I would have come sooner to talk with her about it, but said I had been somewhat distracted saving Bronwyn.

We summoned Bran, distracting him again; it seemed, from his gadget. A Nintendo, Gwyn called it. He brought us some wine and then returned to whatever it was he had been doing. Bronwyn seemed to need a lot of saving; she commented and wondered if she had others to do that for her now.

I took a glass of the wine and leaned against the table. I told her about the battle with the Sithen Rose and the Thornwyrms and the end of Desirie. I then spoke of Bronwyn and how Faermorn’s spirit had been occupying her. Gwyn said she had noticed, but didn’t really want to look into it in great detail, which probably made her a bad mother. I went on to explain how I had spoken with Faermorn and how we had conceived the plan to rid ourselves of Gwythyr forever. I told how Dyisi had tempted Gwythyr, in Llwyd’s body, to the Shadowroads, where he would be at his weakest. I told her how Dyisi had attacked with her soul-gathering sword and I had attacked with my blood magic and how Faermorn’s spirit had left Bronwyn, drawn Gwythyr’s spirit out of Llwyd, and joined with him in passing on to wherever. I also told her how, right at the last; Vedis had claimed what was left – Llwyd, for whatever imprisonment she had planned for him. Gwythyr and Faermorn were gone, and Bronwyn was safe at last.

Gwyn seemed sceptical and then said that while she acknowledged what I had done in defeating the foes back there, she no longer cared. She was sick of being the focus of drama and conflict, which is why she had dumped her duties onto Mornoth. She had found a place here, she said, where there was at least, the semblance of peace. I was welcome to stay with her, and she very much wanted me to do so, but, she would not stop me going back to the Wylds and doing whatever was needed there. She would come back if I needed somebody to dance with, but she would not otherwise get involved. She looked at me and apologised for sounding so combative.

I told her again that I was not disappointed. She was the person I loved, throne or no throne. I invoked the Bard’s words – uneasy lies the head that wears a crown – and I did not blame her for laying down hers. Now that Bronwyn was safe, and I emphasised that I was certain it was truly over, I was trying to work out how I could lay down mine, how I could fulfil my promise to Maric and still leave Mysthaven behind me. She acknowledged that this, at least was something to celebrate. I went on to tell her how Bronwyn had slept like a log after the battle, but, on waking, had felt that Mornoth needed her and she had gone to him. And she was probably just what the Wylds, and Mornoth needed. Our daughter had a fine heritage behind her and I was sure she would do well.

Gwyn shrugged, perhaps agreeing and then gestured at the table, asking if I was expecting dinner. I told her I had found it laid for a feast when I arrived and had not been able to extract an explanation from Bran. I certainly hadn’t invited anybody and very few people knew I was here. Even if they did, only Bronwyn and Wren would be able to reach me. And Valene, should she want to.

Gwyn, for her part, said that maybe Dyisi might want to have words. Apparently, Clutie was blaming her for the abdication. Since we were on the subject of family, she told me she had written to her mother. I assumed she meant Sia, her biological mother. I told her I had no problem with that. We needed all the family we could get. I had none any more from my earthly life, save that it was possible that I had descendents out there in the 21st century, and I could hardly go seeking them out.

I took her by the hands again and told her I didn’t care about castles or thrones or crowns or lordships, only her and our family, biological and chosen. Wherever she went, that is where I would go. If that meant living here and commuting to Mysthaven until such time as I could pass on the Lordship to somebody more fitting, then that’s what I would do.  And, maybe, some day, we would be able to live a life where we could get up in the morning knowing that the biggest decisions we’d have to deal with would be what to wear.

We did make one decision then. That nobody else was turning up for dinner so we might as well eat, and so we did, and, for the first time in a long while, spent an evening, and night, together as husband and wife. No titles, no headgear, just Nate and Gwyn together. May there be many more such evenings.

Wherever You Will Go

 

 

 

 

Farewell (again) to a Queen

When beggars die there are no comets seen.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Such were Calphurnia’s words to Caesar. Were this true, then the heavens above Mysthaven would, this night, be ablaze with light. One queen and one king, gone, forever this time, to that bourne from which no traveller returns. One prince, plucked from this realm to spend his days in Hell. And one queen departed her throne to seek sanctuary in her own time. The latter, my beloved wife, Gwyn, is only gone back, or should I say forward, to the time she knew before all this madness, and who can blame her? She, at least, I can be with whenever I choose, and soon, I may join her in that distant time.

Yes, indeed, there should be comets enough drive even the most optimistic seers into a frenzy of end-of-the-world predictions, but these heavens blazed nothing.  Not even to proclaim that my darling daughter is safe at last, saved by the passing of three of the above. That she is safe brings me joy, which helps to assuage the loss of my lover, my mentor and my friend. It is hard to lose a friend, harder still to lose them again, but this time, the loss is tempered by the knowledge that she is at last at peace, and that this, in the end, was her choice, to save herself, and to save my child.

As I sit here in my eyrie, my refuge on the upper floors of the castle, I feel alone, more so than I have for many a year. The castle presence provides some background comfort, the gentle swish and sigh of its inhabitants going about their daily lives. I have my books, my belongings, my glass of rum, the gentle flicker of the lamps, and the familiarity of my journal, and yet I feel myself a stranger here. Maric is gone to his rest, a matter of a bargain he had made long ago. Wren has gone to a place where she feels safe. Gallyana I have not seen in a long time, perhaps on some extended mission for Vedis. And now, Faermorn has gone; one last act of sacrifice to end her pain, and to make my darling Bronwyn safe.

I spoke, in my last journal entry, that I had one final reckoning with Gwythyr. That came this day, sooner than I had expected, but, in the end, perhaps it was better than waiting.

It started with a disturbance in the Wyld. Even here in the castle, I could sense it. Something was amiss, more than the usual changes that the Equinox brings. I went outside and stood at the edge of the rock, looking towards the Mallorn tree, which seemed the likely source of the disturbance. Was something going wrong with the Equinox rituals?  I summoned a wisp and asked what was going on. It returned a few minutes later with some confused tale of Gwyneth having quit the throne, handing it off to Lord Mornoth, the Unseelie Seneschal and going away somewhere. This was not quite the handover that was expected. I guessed that she had gone off back to the 21st century, which seems to be her preferred retreat these days, and was considering going after her when I felt another twinge in the Wyld. This time, though, it was my daughter, Bronwyn, a twinge echoed through the mental link. Gwyneth could wait a while. She was more than capable of taking care of herself, but my daughter….

I stepped through the veil into the Shadow Roads, welcoming the cold and stark landscape as a second home. More so, these days, than Mysthaven. I went to Bronwyn, sensing her anxiety through the bond, and hugged her close, sending soothing thoughts to calm her. I felt her relief as she sensed I was safe, but she wanted to know what was happening. She could feel something, but knew not what it was.

I held her some more and assured her that I was indeed safe. I explained that we had had a bit of a battle with the roses, which had been corrupted by the thornwyrms, but that Auntie Aoibheann, Lord Mornoth and myself had defeated them. As to what else was happening, I was not sure, save that it seemed that her mother had abdicated the throne in Mornoth’s favour.

As I spoke, a wisp arrived to tell me that Dyisi wished to see me. I hugged Bronwyn some more and began to pick up thoughts that a father perhaps would not wish to hear from his daughter. Especially when I mentioned Mornoth – concern, and perhaps more. Was my daughter sweet on the Unseelie Seneschal? Perhaps so. So far as the Unseelie were concerned, he seemed to me to be more honourable than most, and more charming. And he had been kind to her.  I recalled my early days with Gwyneth and my dealings with Blaise, when he placed himself in loco parentis to her. I admonished Bronwyn gently. “Slow down there, young lady. Time enough for that sort of thing when you are older,” I told her. “Your mother’s stepfather told her that she should wait until she was 100 years old before she could consider such things.” Honesty compelled me to add that it hadn’t worked, but again, perhaps that was something that a father and daughter should not share.  I kissed her and let go the embrace so I could open the rift and call Dyisi to join us. “What news?” I asked her.

She stepped through, looking a little harassed. She paused a moment as if assembling her thoughts. “Gwyn has handed all her duties and kingship to Mornoth,” she said, “in rather spectacular fashion.” She paused a moment. “He has not taken it well. If I were to hazard a guess, it was because he is not royal sidhe and lacks the ability to handle such power.”

Bronwyn, in her way, admonished me back, saying she had lived a life already, albeit by a dream, and had had a husband and children. I could feel her gathering herself together, composing herself, her heritage starting to show through with self confidence and determination. “I know what needs to be done,” she said, “I will do whatever is needed to set the Queen free.” As Mornoth was mentioned again, I felt her thoughts about him, quickly buried. I could tell she wanted to go to him, to help him, and, I suspected, to help the realm. As I said, her heritage was shining through. “Let us get this done, so I can be free,” she said, “Then I can go to him and help him.”

I felt a surge of pride and love for my daughter, who was maturing before my eyes. For one so young, she seemed to understand duty. I kissed her and told her so. She truly was her father’s and mother’s daughter. Knowing and accepting duty was a blessing and a burden, I told her, but perhaps, sensing her feelings towards Mornoth, she would be lucky and have duty and desire coincide.

I turned to Dyisi and told her I suspected I knew where Gwyneth had gone to, but, before I could go to her, there were things to be done. Did she know of Faermorn’s plan to deal with Gwthyr and did we need to find and summon Aoibheann for this?

If it was the dark one and his son we sought, then Dyisi knew how to bring them here, where they would perhaps be the most vulnerable. I nodded and agreed that this was what we needed to do. Bronwyn chimed in, saying that bringing him here was the thing to do, and then, she, meaning Faermorn would do the rest. I felt the strength in her, as well as the vulnerability. She did not know now to defend herself, should he attack her first.

I said I hoped that Faermorn’s sense of timing would render that unnecessary, but, just in case, I would teach her a few basic defence and attack skills. I demonstrated, through the link, for words were inadequate here, how to bend before the wind, and yet remain steadfast. Her will, I told her, was unbreakable. I also demonstrated the attack I had used on Gwythyr before, of boiling the blood. I did not know how well it would work, without the inherent power of the blood that was in me, but hoped it would, at least, distract him long enough for Dyisi and I to defend her.

Dyisi brought out the crystal sword, the one I had last seen her use to capture the soul of Queen Teuta’s captive, and then sank into a meditative stance. I had not the same link with her as I did with Bronwyn, yet I could sense she was putting herself out there, in spirit form, crossing the realms to find Gwythyr and Llwyd. Beside me, Bronwyn fretted, not at all sure she had the power to do what I had shown her. She was still young, and not yet Quickened, and did not know her true potential, and yet, she stood strong. As we waited, I speculated on what we should do with Llwyd, should our plan succeed and Gwythyr’s spirit was driven from him. He was insane even before that, but was their something that could yet be saved? I did not know, and neither did my daughter. We would have to wait and see, I said. By rights, he had been in the custody of Vedis, so perhaps the final decision would be hers. I noticed that the Cait were still lingering around, unsure of their role. This is not your fight, I told them. Defend yourself, and your realm if needed, but do not otherwise engage.

The wyld rippled, reality bent a moment, and suddenly, he was upon us. The form of Llwyd, and the madness of Gwythyr within, roaring as best he could in the thin air. “Faermorn!!!” was his cry as he lunged towards Bronwyn.

“This is your cue,” I yelled, mentally, at Bronwyn, hoping that Faermorn’s spirit would be the one to hear it.” As I did so, I leapt before her; sword raised to deflect any blows, and hurled my blood magic at Llwyd’s body, seeking to paralyse him, to freeze him where he stood. Perhaps I succeeded, at least in part, for he fell to his knees, but that massive, and very dangerous, cudgel swung at me with great force. Behind him, Dyisi rose up like a force of nature and plunged the crystal sword into his back, tearing at those parts of the spirit that remained. “Push him out,” she shouted, “Feel this conduit and push him out.”

Beside me, I felt Bronwyn stiffen and stand taller, and I knew Faermorn’s presence in her, for the now, taking over. The friendship and love between her, and me, her warrior-poet, flooded through the link, but her purpose was clear, her focus was on her pursuer, her creator, the one she hated and loved in equal measure. She did not flinch from his attack, but raised her hands, bringing forth a light that was as bright and painful as any I had seen. Before she could cast it, however, I had leaped in front of her, to defend my daughter. She stayed her hand, and waited her chance.

I sensed her impending attack and rolled to dodge both that and Gwythyr’s giant cudgel. “This ends, now!” I shouted. I cast fire and blood boil at him, aiming for the arm that held the club. That seemed to succeed for the moment, causing the arm, and the cudgel, to come crashing to the ground. Within him, I could sense a struggle between the two spirits, as the combined efforts of Llwyd and the crystal sworn forced Gwythyr out, out into the open, and out into the mercy, or otherwise, of Faermorn’s power.

Bronwyn/Faermorn advanced on the stricken sidhe. Her appreciation for Dyisi and I leaked through the link, but her focus was on her king. Her hands glowed with a brilliant, piercing light, perhaps some form of Hand of Power, and it burned away the helm that covered Llwyd’s head. There seemed two faces there, that of the mad prince, and that of the late king. The latter, forced by magic from Dyisi and Faermorn, drifted out from the former, making a smoky cloud that resembled the former king. Faermorn spoke of the place of her birth, a place so similar to the Shadow Roads, she said. But no more, Gwythyr, she told him. She would no longer try to escape him. She would no longer hide in this corporeal form. It was but a dream, and now that dream must end. As he had named her, she would now un-name herself. She would no longer be Faermorn; she would be TobarFiorUisge no more. She told him farewell, and then the essence of what I knew as Faermorn, rose ghostlike out of Bronwyn’s body, her shape fading into the Wyld, revealing another. Soucanna the Fair, was the name that came through the link to me, once the Seelie Queen. A bright and glorious being. She spoke to Gwythyr as an equal, in melodious tones. Her spirit could not rest while he longed for her, she told him. Faermorn could not replace her and he knew that. This madness, that had caused so much pain, should end. She reached out and cupped his face in her hands. Come, let us rest together, forever, she said.

I could see Dyisi behind him, still hanging on to the physical form of Llwyd. Cautiously, she waited to see what would pass. The body slumped as, with a soundless roar, Gwythyr withdrew his control. His spirit resumed its familiar shape and he called out to Faermorn, or TobarFiorUisge, the other name she had used.  Conflicted thoughts burned in the ether, in the Wyld, as her words stabbed him and burned him and when the spirit of Faermorn fled, he seemed ready to drown in sorry and rage. But, the sound of his former queen, Soucanna, captured his attention. Hope and love welled within the rage and hatred and he fell hungrily towards the image of his queen, seeking the kiss she offered him. And then, they were gone. As their lips met, their spirits somehow merged and sank into the Wyld. GwythyrGwynn, to give him full title, and Faermorn/ TobarFiorUisge/Soucanna were both gone forever.

Llwyd, still injured, and still wrapped in his own madness realised he had his own mind back and tried to rise. But, before he could, two familiar and lovely hands, tipped in crimson nails, reached out from another rift that opened beneath his feet, and snatched him away. The Demon Queen, at the last, reclaiming her prize, for whatever torments she could devise.

The battle was done. Dyisi slumped as the body she held was dragged away from her, and sat there, cradling the sword in her arms. Bronwyn, freed from the spirit of Faermorn, also slumped into a faint on the ground, no doubt overwhelmed by all that had passed. My body ached, my heart was rent in twain,and I cried out in anguish for my lost mentor, lover and friend. But, my daughter needed me. I forced my way through my sorrow, struggled to my feet, and gathered my daughter into my arms. I took her through into the cave and laid her among the furs by the fire. I fell down beside her, caring not for blankets or the warmth of the fire. Only then could I give vent to my grief.  I bade Faermorn goodbye and thanks, not knowing if what remained of her, if anything, could hear. I buried my face in the furs and gave way to the sobs, crying for my lost friend, and in the relief that my child was, at last, safe, crying until the sleep claimed me.

When I was a child, my mother would read to me at bedtime, even when I was more than capable of reading for myself. It was one of those things we did. When a chapter came to an end, and she closed the book to give me a kiss goodnight, I would sometimes cry for more, as I did not want the story to end. Sometimes, I was even more upset when that was the final chapter of the book, and there would be no more. With a heavy heart, I know there are no more chapters in the book of Faermorn. For all that I had loved her, and been honoured to be a part of some of the brighter chapters of her story, her story was over. Two words, centred, starkly alone at the bottom of the page – “The End”. There would be no “And they lived happily every after,” just “The End.” Tomorrow, there would be another story, another book. The book of Bronwyn. Bronwyn, my radiant daughter. Perhaps she will take her place on the throne beside Mornoth and become a wise and powerful queen. I do not know, for this book is as yet unwritten. At least, I hope, I will have a hand in the writing of her story, and, as any loving father would, make it as happy a story as I can. What father would not, for his daughter?

“Dear friend goodbye
No tear in my eyes
So sad it ends
As it began”

White Queen (As it Began) – Queen

 

No More The Rose

The roses are, at last, quieted and defeated, and the rogue demi-fae queen is dealt with at last. That which had corrupted them to other purpose has also been defeated, but not the who. He, he that corrupted them remains, but there, we have a plan too.

I had been concerned, for some time, about the roses that have, for a long time, been a part of the defence of the village. I had been receiving reports of aggressive behaviour towards the villages. Some, perhaps could be the result of mistaken intent. Communications with them is not a precise art or science, and it was entirely possible that the villagers’ normal activities could be misconstrued as an attack. However, some of the incidents have been more worrying, implying a darker motive.

I decided to investigate further and went out to the castle grounds to commune with them, to see if I could determine what it was that was affecting their behaviour.  I must confess I was not in the best of moods and demanded “What the hells is going on with you lot?” At least, that was how I framed it in words.  I had to frame it in simpler concepts through the link, visualising the attacks, and framing it as a query.

The answer was not entirely clear. Their thought processes are so foreign to our own and so it is not always easy to understand each other. Through the mess of inchoate images I got the impression of barbs, more than the normal thorns of the roses, bitter, nasty things with a taste of the thornwyrms. The mind of my Mystroses were being drowned by the corrupted mind of the Wyldroses, and somewhere, the tinkling tones of the rogue demi-fae queen, bending them to her own purposes.

The thornwyrms worried me the most, as they had the flavour of Gwythyr about them. My anger rose somewhat, but I quashed it, shaped it and used it. I fed some of my blood to the roses in my grasp, imbuing it with some of my magic, the magic of life, or anti-life, and fire – “take it”, I told them, “this is my blood, take it and use it to burn them” – I visualised them partaking of my magic, through my blood, and burning the wyrms. To my surprise, they seemed to understand the concept, and those within reach swarmed around me, taking of the blood, and, it seemed to me taking the fight to the wyrms. I let them feed as much as was safe to give them, and then hardened my skin until I could disengage.

It was shortly after that, that a wisp arrived from Lord Mornoth. Perhaps, somehow, my efforts had reached him. He was sure that Desirie, and possibly the former king, were somehow controlling the roses. That much accorded with my impressions I had received from the roses. He asked if I could spare forces for the battle to retrieve the demi-fae queen. Dyisi was tasked with guarding the unborn child, but he needed my help, and my relationship with the Cait, to get the forces to where they were needed. We agreed I would muster some of my forces in the Shadow Roads, ready to go to wherever we were needed, and to maintain an escape route if needed. He and Aoibheann would find their way to the centre of the Weald, where they suspected Desirie was hidden, and then I would join them when needed.

I directed Kustav , as the strongest of the three brothers, and the one most experienced with conditions in the Shadow Roads, to come with me, and bring the strongest of the vampires. The other brothers I left in charge of defending the village and directing the reserve force if needed.

I took my forces to the Roads and waited, feeling for Aoibheann’s pattern so that I could open the rift near to her as quickly as possible. I directed the Cait to stand by to keep the rift open as an escape route, or to close if it became a threat. And, should we need to retreat, to assist the escapees as best they could.

I waited, and soon, through the wisp, came the call. I concentrated on my memories of Aoibheann’s pattern and parted the veil, sending a blast of icy cold air through to the much warmer climes of the Weald, causing a temporary swirl of mist.

The scene before me was nightmarish. This was not the Weald as I knew it, from my brief visits there. Snow choked a meadow around a sink hole from which the roses poured and writhed. I could feel their thirst for blood even without opening my mind to them. Mornoth arrived with Aoibheann, and, for some inexplicable reason, Mikachu, who immediately jumped on the shoulders of one of my men and started shouting encouragement.

I directed my men to hold the perimeter and to hold the escape route free. The plan seemed to be that Mornoth would use his Hand of Power to pull the demi-fae out of her hiding place. Aoibheann would be fighting the thornwyrms by means of her own powers.  I offered my own abilities with the roses, which was gratefully accepted.

With a few cries of encouragement, possibly spurred by mint imperials given to her by my guards, from Mikachu, battle was joined. With swords and scythes, my men started to expand the perimeter, giving Mornoth room to work. As we beat back the tide of possibly rabid roses, he summoned up the raw power of the Wyld – easily done here in the centre of the Weald – causing the very ground to shudder. Even with my limited knowledge of the fae magic, I could recognise his use of the Hand of Power, very likely Earth power, from the taste of it.

The sight, and taste of the thornwyrms, spurred me to anger, which fuelled my efforts to burn the wyrms. My blood magic, normally attuned to life, I inverted and sent out as death, death and fire, blasting the blood and sap that flowed in the roses, and even more, I focussed the death it could cause on the wyrms. “Burn, you fuckers,” I cried, “burn and die.” My beloved wife has definitely had an effect on my vocabulary. Whatever the words, the effects were what I desired, as the roses fell back, withering and curling up in the smoke of the fires I rained down on them.

Beside us, Aoibheann surged with her own mastery of the Wyld energies. I could feel her senses weaving in and out of the roses, seeking out the wyrms, wrapping light around the darkness of the wyrms, drowning and burning them in the light. She laughed as she did so, occasionally, bursting into some unknowable song as she sought out the wyrms, to destroy them. Never had she seemed so alien to me. She is no longer the uncertain, slightly crazy girl I had known. Now I truly saw her as the Mother of Trees, wielding the Wyld energy as one born to it.

The battle became even more nightmarish – my fire and blood, Aoibheann’s dazzling light and Mornoth’s Hand of Power, together bending and twisting the fabric of reality, the very ether boiling with the energy of the Wyld, raw and untamed, only barely controlled by our efforts. For a few moments, it felt as if we would be overwhelmed, but, slowly, the tide seemed to turn in our favour.

The very ground heaved and boiled, spewing upwards and crushing the flood of roses under the earth and rocks and eventually disgorged the centre of all the chaos, the mother of all the roses, the Sithen Rose. A multitude of thorns festooned the central bulk, each bearing an impaled demi-fae. And the centre itself, a horrific merger of rose and our lamented demi-fae queen, Desirie, embedded in, and somehow, part of the Sithen Rose itself. Wyld magic seethed around us – that which Mornoth wielded, and that which Desirie was trying to control, driving the throngs of thornwyrms.

The roses fell by the wayside as Mornoth pressed his advantage, getting closer and closer to the impaled demi-fae queen. As the roses fell, it became increasingly apparent there was another influence at work here, an influence I knew only too well. The cold, bitter and cruel influence of Gwythyr, somehow corrupting Desirie’s quest for revenge into something darker, a quest to conquer the realm and to claim the unborn child. The taint of Gwythyr spurred us to greater effort. Aoibheann’s light burrowing and forking like prehensile lightning, blasting the thorns with the pure light. My blood magic burning the roses that assaulted us, and those few that yet lived falling to the swords of my men. Finally, Mornoth reached the centre and reached down, grasping the tiny fae queen and pulling her free as the thorns that impaled her crumbled to ashes.

That which Mornoth held was a pale shadow of the jewelled creature she had been, all pallid skin and dimmed eyes and almost drained of vitality. “Please kill me,” she pleaded of Mornoth, “Release me from him… before he takes our child.”

Mornoth was silent a moment, and then bowed his head. “As you wish,” he said, quietly. I could sense that this was not what he had intended for her, but, at the end, it was the best he could do for her, and the child. The energies around him shifted, changing hue to something more soothing. Green light flowed from his hand into the tiny creature until seemed full of light, becoming more and more transparent until nothing was left but a tiny sparkling mote of light, and then even that winked out.

It was over.

Mornoth knelt silently among the wreckage. Around us, such roses as had not been burned lay placid and harmless. The thornwyrms that had infested them were reduced to dust on the wind. Aoibheann fell, dizzied by the power she had been wielding, singing something about a thousand shiny stars. For a moment, she sounded as though she had some business of her own with the remains of Desirie – “there lies the woman who set fire to my children,” she said, but made no other move, watching as the tiny queen evaporated into light. All that seemed left, then, was her concern for the trees, and she stumbled off, intent on healing what she could. Mornoth looked as though me might go after her, but remained, clutching at his chest as if in pain. He too, needed time to rest and recuperate. He thanked us for our help, and then he was gone. Only the ferret, Mikachu, seemed unaffected, apparently delighted by the pretty lights and the mints my men had given her, as she gambolled off into the distance.

For myself, I ached from the effort of wielding the powers of my blood and the fire, and yet, felt strangely invigorated by my proximity to the heart of the Weald, the Wellspring of the Wyld energies. As I stood again, I realised that the Wyld had affected my appearance, bringing my horns and wings into full splendour. It did not matter here, and most of my men had seen it before. I chuckled and willed them back out of sight. My men seemed to have other concerns anyway.  Many of them were clutching at their chests and looking at me with confusion. As well they might. I did not need to exercise my magic to tell what had happened. They too were experiencing the shock that I had experienced so long ago now, when Isabella’s life-giver magic had inadvertently restarted my heart. Perhaps their shock was greater. It had been a scant dozen years since Katarina had stopped mine, whereas some of them had not known a heartbeat in a century or more. “Do not worry,” I assured them. “You’ll get used to it.  Enjoy it while you can and come and see me if you have any questions.”  They nodded and managed to smile through their bewilderment. Most, by now, knew something of what had happened to me; how I came to be a vampire with a beating heart. “Look at it this way,” I said. “We just won a battle, and we deserve a celebration. And, for the first time in many a year for most of you, that celebration can include wine and beer and…”  I paused for dramatic effect, “… bacon sandwiches!”  They looked at me with even more shocked expressions, and then smiles and laughter broke through, shattering the tension. “Baaaaaaacon!” many of them cried with glee. “Come on,” I said, making my way back towards the rift, “Hal’s going to be working overtime tonight. And I’m buying.”  We formed up, walking in easy camaraderie as I led them back through the Shadow Roads to home.  “I’ll see you in the tavern shortly,” I told them as I ushered the last one through.

I went back from the rift to Valene’s cave to see Bronwyn, but found her sleeping. I needed none of my powers to tell that she slept restlessly and uneasily, perhaps still haunted by the dreams that were not her own. I knelt and kissed her gently, just enough for that to enter her dreams, but not enough to wake her and I sent soothing thoughts through the link. “Sleep well, my darling,” I muttered. She quieted then and settled further into the bundle of furs and blankets, the faintest ghost of a smile now on her face. I got up and left, thanking the Cait for their hospitality and their care and headed back to Mysthaven. I would celebrate with my men tonight, but, for me, the battle was not yet won. I still had one final reckoning with Gwythyr. Only when that was done, and my daughter finally safe, could I truly relax. “May that day come soon,” I murmured, addressing whatever powers might be listening.  I took a deep breath and pushed open the tavern door, composing my face into a smile. “What ho, lads! Drinks are on me! And the bacon sandwiches.” Yes, a time of reckoning was due, but for now my men needed me.

No More The Rose

I Know How To Save A Life

It is the duty of a parent to do what is best for their children, even if there is heartache and pain in what needs to be done. When my beloved Alexandra died giving birth to my son, Arthur, there was really only one sensible path forward; for him to be adopted by my brother Gilbert and his wife, and raised as their own. Even if it meant that I could only ever be an uncle rather than a father. Perhaps, one day, when he achieves his majority, the truth can be told, but that will be Gilbert’s choice, not mine.

When Wren came into my life, she was the dauphine, princess to Alec and Isabella, but to me, she was a smart kid marching around the castle as proud and brave as any soldier, and so I called her Patrolman Wren, and through that, we became friends. When her family betrayed her, I was more than happy, nay honoured, to adopt her as my own. Even so, I was unable to provide her with the life she wanted, nor the protection she needed, and so she chose to leave Mysthaven for a safer place, and for her sake, I had to honour that choice, even if it meant us being parted.

Then came my three children by Gwyn. There, I did not have the experience of raising them, for they were born adult, at least, in appearance. But the time came that decisions had to be made, and it seemed best that Drysi and Eilian would find a better home elsewhere, with their extended family. That left only Bronwyn, the most ethereal and unworldly of them all. She was the hardest, for me, for she was the very image and embodiment of my late friend, mentor, lover and queen, Faermorn. It was even harder when it became clear that my daughter was unwitting host to the soul of my departed queen. By what means, I do not know how, save that I must have played my part, when I visited with Faermorn in the Summerlands and perhaps, provided her with the means to achieve that which she desired, a return to life. Had I known how she would return, I might have made other choices, but that is by and by now.

For all that I loved Faermorn; her presence now presents a mortal danger to my daughter. The late and unlamented Gwythyr has also achieved a return, in the form of Llwyd, and seeks, as ever, his wife and queen. He will stop at nothing to gain her and if he gains her, he gains my daughter too, and she will be forever lost to me. Thus, the dilemma facing me – until Gwythyr is gone, she will never be safe, unless I can find some way to separate my queen from my daughter, and even then, could I let Faermorn fall into his hands again?

Such thoughts have been running around in my head to no avail. I lack the experience and knowledge to answer the questions and there are none left of the high fae to help me.

Except for Faermorn.

I was sitting in my office, in a brown study, wondering what I should do, when Bronwyn called me through our mental link. She wished for my presence, and there was no way I could deny her. I could have walked across the realms in an instant, but out of respect for my Cait cousins, I parted the veil as Valene had taught me and stepped through into that stark, chilly, airless landscape that nevertheless, was a much home to me as any place. There I found my daughter, standing morosely outside of Valene’s dwelling. I went straight to her and took her into my arms. I held her for a few moments, father and daughter together. I was her refuge, her safety, her home and I could feel the unquestioning love and trust of a daughter for her father through our bond. I hoped above hope that I would always be worthy of that love and trust.

“I just wanted to see you,” she told me, as she thanked me for coming. She told me how cold she felt here, and although she accepted my assurance that this was the safest place for her, she increasingly felt she did not belong. It was harder for her to keep her thoughts anchored here, and, most telling of all, she told me that her dreams did not seem to be her own.

I joked that I would have asked Nemaine for a better climate, but feared what price she might demand. I led her into the cave and made us comfortable on the bedding by the fire. The dreams were not her own, I told her, and admitted that I did not know how to separate her from them, or the owner of those dreams.

There was a shift, a subtle change in her scent and demeanour and in her voice. “My warrior poet,” she said, softly, in Faermorn’s tone.

“I am here, my queen,” I answered her, overlaying my words with my sense memories of her, to reinforce the connection. I knew that she was the only person I could ask for advice, and needed to hang on to this connection as long as I could. “We should speak of what must be done,” I said, adding that this situation was not good for her, or my child.

The connection strengthened, bringing echoes of times past, and of all the things she had been, and the things she had been to me. With it came the burden and regret, the weight of all the lives she had lived and all that had become her. “I am sorry,” she told me. “I have caused so much suffering, pain and death to too many.” She told me that she had to put a stop to it, to end it at long last.

Through her words and the link, I knew, all to well, what she meant. For this to end, would mean an end to her. I opened the link a little more, to show her my love and respect and friendship. “This was not by your design,” I told her.  “That she should return in the form of my daughter was unfortunate, but not an act of malice.” I told her that I did not hold her responsible for what had passed, and especially not for what he, Gwythyr, had done. “What can we do?” I asked her.

Her mutual affection for me welled up through the link, along with a great and heavy sorrow. “There is only one thing that can be done,” she said, “I must end.” She told me it was the only way she could atone. She looked away, shivering in the cold as she stared into the fire. She thanked me for my forgiveness, but said she could not forgive herself. Too many had suffered. Her presence brushed against me, again suffused with sorrow, as she told me more. She was but a dream given flesh, and there was no way she could escape him, any more than she could escape her own shadow because they were two sides of an accursed coin. She looked back at me, taking my hands again. “I must go,” she said, “and he will follow me. It is the only way to free your child from my fate.” Tears flowed as she asked. “Will you help me, will you help me to say goodbye?”

I allowed my own tears to fall as I told her that I had lost too many friends. All the high ones were gone, save for her and Gwythyr, and them in borrowed bodies. I told her how Gwyneth and I had inherited our positions of leadership, but we lacked experience and knowledge. Faermorn was the last of those I could trust for advice, but even that must pass. “You know well that I love you and value your counsel,” I said, “but I also know some of what you have been through. If you wish for an end, then, for that love, I will do what is needed. For love, for friendship, and for my child. What would you have me do?”

She smiled through her tears, and I felt her relief through the bond, that I had agreed without argument. “We have nothing but the moment to live the life given us, my warrior poet”, she sighed, “but I have been blessed and honoured to have known you, to be loved and to love you, Nathaniel.”  She started to droop with the effort of maintaining the presence. I could feel her fading into the background, but, nevertheless, she persevered, as she tried to explain. I would have to bring her, and Bronwyn, into danger, into the same place as Gwythyr, then she would leave, and he would follow. After that, it would be down to me and Aoibheann, and whoever else was there to aid us, to ensure Bronwyn’s safety and to drive what was left of Llwyd away.  The land would then be saved. She faded then, and was gone, leaving only my beloved daughter, blinking and confused. She seemed to have no memory of what had passed between Faermorn and ame, and sought, once again, the comfort of my arms.

I held her and whispered reassuring words for a while. I told her that I had spoken with the one whose dreams she held. I told her that we had agreed that there would be an end, but it would not be pleasant, for we would have to confront the one who pursued her. After that, I assured her, there would be an end to the dreams, an end to the pursuit and all that ailed her. I lay back, drawing her down with me, making us both comfortable on the bed. Then, I told her, we could go anywhere we pleased, and be safe, and warm. That seemed to reassure her, and so, we rested.

I can not, and will not, lose my daughter. I would rather that I did not have to lose a friend, a lover and a mentor either, but that is the choice she has made – to end her suffering, her pain, her dream made flesh. For the love and friendship we had, I will do what I must to give her that surcease. If I must lose a life to save a life, so be it.

I Know How to Save a Life

Run for Home

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.

Run For Home

 

Father and Daughter

Nobody ever said parenting was going to be easy. And it has proved not to be, but then, my circumstances were, and are, to say the least, unusual. I hope I have always tried my best, emulating, so far as I can, my own parents, but it hasn’t always worked out as planned. As I said, my circumstances are unusual.

I lost my dear wife, Alexandra, to the throes of childbirth, bringing my only biological son into the world. And then, my experience of parenting ended almost before it was begun, since we, as a family, agreed that my brother Gilbert and his wife would adopt Arthur and bring him up as their own. That seemed the best way forward at the time, and, while I might sometimes regret that I did not get to be a father to him, I still believe that it was for the best.

Some ten years later, at least, so far as I am able to judge based on my experience of time, I was delighted to be able to adopt Wren. A matter of political expediency, perhaps, but also born of genuine love. I hope I did a better job with her. At least, so it seemed to me. But even so, I was unable to keep her safe here in Mysthaven, and so she has gone. Dyisi tells me that she is somewhere safe, and is happy, but I have yet to have a chance to visit to find out for myself.

And then, there are my three children with Gwyn. I do not know if all three are mine alone, if some are Janus’ alone or they are somehow the issue of all three of us. Not that it matters to me. They are my children, no matter what. Here I have had little chance of doing any parenting as they were born adult. For two of them, I have little fear. Drysi and Eilian are well-disposed with extended family, learning their way among fae kind. But Bronwyn, ethereal and other-worldly as she is, she is another matter. Drifting here and there, hopping realms at random, I worried for her, until Dyisi assured me that she had temporarily anchored her to a safe place.

That is no longer the case.

Something spooked her, so far as we can tell, and she slipped those bonds before I was able to go and bring her home. Where she was, I did not know, save that I heard her calling to me, as I was walking in the orchards. She had been on my mind as I enjoyed the scent of the fruit, and then I heard her call. I sent word to Dyisi via a wisp and she bade me join her by one of the pools, there to use the water to scry for my child.

The waters stirred and showed me my daughter, falling from where I did not know, storm-tossed and seemingly uncaring of her fate. Then my blood ran colder than I could have imagined. She was pursued. Red and black, antlers and wings and rampant insanity. Llywd!  Llwyd, who I had thought secure in Vedis’ care. Llwyd, who I had last seen arguing with the magician, Padishar, and more chillingly, with the spirit of Gwythyr. He chased her, calling out Faermorn’s name, still believing her to be his lost wife.

I did not hesitate; I did not stop to think. I leaped, not knowing where I was going, beyond that it was to my daughter’s aid, not even knowing for sure the mechanism I used, save that it was that ability to walk the realms given to me by Alex. Perhaps my flight was assisted by Dyisi. I knew not and cared not. All I cared for was to be with my daughter.

I crossed, ripping reality asunder and found myself plummeting also. Falling close to Llwyd/Gwythyr, while below me, Bronwyn fell still. All the anger I had came rushing through as I aimed the same spell I had used before on Gwythyr, blood and fire, calling out “Boil, you bastard!”

I could not tell how much damage I caused, but I had his attention, and screams of pain, but I had not taken his life again. He turned his attention to me, as we both fell, and swung his cudgel at me. A weapon more powerful than its physical appearance, struck only a glancing blow, but even that grated on my senses, much as I imaged cold iron would upon the fae. I turned my hatred and anger on that, calling on fire again, seeking to melt it or burn it from his hands. What effect it had was not apparent. He merely laughed and cast some manner of cold darkness at me, but somehow it passed me by. I called out to Bronwyn to flee and below, I could hear her call for her father, but still she fell, too scared to do anything.

I cursed mightily and turned my back on Llwyd/Gwythyr, marshalling my powers of flight to accelerate towards Bronwyn, caring not for what he might aim at me. I could hear him screaming at me that we would never escape and that he would find me, but I ignored him, concentrating on gathering Bronwyn into my arms, crying out for her as she cried out for me. The storm buffeted us both, as did the screams of Llwyd/Gwythyr, but somehow I had her! The Roads! That was my first thought, praying to whatever gods might hear me that I could do this. Opening a rift was my normal way  to the Roads, but I had no time, and did not know if I could close it before Llwyd/Gwythyr followed. I thought of Valene’s cave, a place of safety for me so many times and hopped realms again in mid-flight, even as Llwyd/Gwythyr’s screams followed me.

A change in the air, the almost total absence of air, and familiar chill told me that I had succeeded. Clutching Bronwyn close, I decelerated rapidly, not wishing to strike the cold, unforgiving ground here at any speed. And then we were down. Bronwyn shivered and trembled in my arms, burying her face in my shoulders. Wet through, we were, from the storm, and chilled by the wind, far beyond the normal chill of this place. I hurried to the cave, surprising the Cait, who probably wondered how we got there, since I had not opened the normal rift. Nevertheless, they scattered to do my bidding, bringing blankets and preparing a fire. I told them only that this was my child and that we sought shelter.

Bronwyn’s sobs subsided enough that she could speak, calling me father over and over. She was so tired, too tired to run any more, she said. There was nowhere to hide, she told me, saying she could no longer keep me safe.

I held her until the trembling eased, kissing the top of her head. “That was my job,” I told her, “to keep her safe, to keep me safe.” I told her there were other places we could go, places I could go that he would not know. I would keep her safe from him until such time as I could deal with him finally and for good. She would not leave go of me, so I made a nest for us by the fire, among the furs and blankets the Cait brought us. Eventually, she cried herself to sleep in my arms. For myself, I could not sleep, and lay there; holding her, thinking what I might be able to do, until the anger subsided and exhaustion claimed me to.

I have my daughter. I will keep her safe, if I have to tear down worlds to do so. Gwythyr will die. And this time, I will leave no remnant to come back!

Father and Daughter – Paul Simon

 

Thorn in my Side

I was not raised to diplomacy, not in any formal sense. That said, watching my parents navigate the social and business circles in which they had to mix was an education in itself. I watched Father dealing with local and national government departments on projects, and cantankerous private clients who didn’t know what they really wanted, or, worse, did know what they wanted, but that was either impossible, or way outside the budgets they had available. I watched Mother at social and charitable events, outwardly the perfect society lady, even with the worst of snobs and those who, frankly, lacked much in intelligence and education. And I learned from both. Later, as Purser on the various ships, I learned the art of negotiation. My rise to seniority was proof I learned that well.

And now, consorting with lords and ladies, kings and queens, those things have proved invaluable, especially when dealing with the fae courts, where every word, every nuance counts, and the tiniest opportunity for misinterpretation could be a matter of life or death.

Now, of course, I had something different to deal with; the angry ghost of an ancient queen. Though, I am not so sure of the ghost bit. That battle on the mountain peak seemed real enough to me, as did the blood that spilled when she was hit. But that was by the by. The fact was that Dyisi and I had gone to her realm, and stolen from her, that which had been her very purpose in life, or death. The fact that, by doing so, we had helped to fulfil that purpose might well be irrelevant and may or may not serve in mitigation of our actions. Either way, I had an angry ghost connected to the castle, whose actions might adversely affect the castle, and I had to deal with it. Through the castle sense, I could hear echoes of her anger, and while others in the castle might not have my connection to it, I am sure they felt it too.

From what little experience I had of the Queen, I reckoned that honesty and diplomacy would serve better than fancy words, but I felt I needed more. Perhaps if I learned something of her, I might be better equipped to deal, and so I took myself to the library, there to learn what I could. As I searched among the older parts of the library, it occurred to me that perhaps, somewhere in the more ancient sections of Maric’s documents, from when he was still Agron, there might be something  more personal, something he had written about her, or even for her. Normally, I would not like to delve into something so personal, but needs must. Perhaps I would learn something useful, and, the thought also occurred, there might be something there, some memory of his time after he was parted from Teuta, that she would appreciate learning. A gift, perhaps, that would help placate her anger.

Maric’s library contains many books, but those I sought, I reckoned perhaps to be among those he kept most secure, in the laboratory, and thus it proved to be. There, among the esoteric tomes on alchemy and other magics, I found older books, ancient books in cracked and faded leather. Journals of his early years among the undead, at least, from then up until the fall of the Roman Empire. After that, nothing. Among them, however, was a smaller tome. Stained red leather and pages that seemed to be papyrus. It was Maric’s hand, that I knew, though even that had changed somewhat over the years, and in his native tongue. I grabbed a couple of pieces of clean fabric before handling it further, as I might with any ancient tome. Had I cotton gloves to hand, I would have worn those, but this would suffice.

I carefully cracked it open, gently turning to the first proper page, and I knew I had found what I sought. There, on the first page, the first word, was her name – Teuta.

“’Teuta. My true wife and only love. My one and only regret, through all the years of blood and suffering. That I could not see you one last time. But my sire took even that from me and so I have made him a monument to your tomb, my love. ‘If only I could have joined you in Neretva once more as we did in our youth. I still remember the taste of the apricots you loved so.”

I read on, skimming as I was wont to do when trying to get the sense of a book quickly. Many pages there were, of memories, memories of his mortal life and his mortal wife, of that which he had lost.  I could scarcely breathe as I read them. Here were the roots of the man I had known and loved, here in a deeply personal eulogy to the woman he had loved and the life he had lost. I resolved to take this to her, that she might see and read his words. The scholar in me rebelled a tad, wanting to know more, and so I made a few notes of the highlights.

Dyisi, who had been studying tomes of her own, almost unnoticed by me, looked up. I showed her the small volume and read aloud the first few lines. “I should take this to Teuta,” I said. “I need to go to her anyway, and make what explanations I can. Perhaps this will appease her somewhat.”

I could not decide which was better, to go alone, or to go with Dyisi. On the one hand, Dyisi was better equipped to explain what had passed, but on the other, Teuta might see her as the agency of stealing her prisoner from her, and might not be best pleased. We resolved that I would go first, and make what peace I could, and if it seemed wise to do so, I would summon Dyisi and she could best explain her part.

I went armed, in case should things go badly, but to show peaceful intent, I peace-tied the sword, wrapping a cord around the hilt and my belt so that it could not be quickly drawn. It was a risk, I knew that, but I felt it was worth it to show I was not there to fight.

The transition was much harder than before. Why I could not tell. Perhaps I was no longer welcome, or perhaps, with the prisoner gone, that realm was not linked so strongly to the castle. Either way, it was an almost painful journey to that bleak mountain place. I found it much as I had left it; windswept, grey and sullen, and yet, ragged-edged as if the very realm was starting to fade. Maybe its existence was tied to its purpose, which we had taken away.

The queen was kneeling a short distance away, by some small cairn, it looked. Her posture indicated prayer, though to what gods I did not know. Such history as I had learned made no mention of their religion. I could only guess that perhaps it was similar to that of the Greeks or the Romans, since it pre-dated Christ. I approached quietly and slowly, hands well away from my weapons in a gesture I hoped would be interpreted as peaceful. Once I was sure she was aware of my presence, and we were close enough to speak, I went to one knee and bowed, addressing her simply and respectfully – “My queen.”

She stood and looked at me. A proud, fierce, determined woman, her eyes dark with anger. She, too, kept her hand from her weapon, but I could tell I was one wrong word away from it being loosed. “I am queen to no-one,” she said, “and of nowhere now. My love is gone, as is my purpose.” She asked why I had come. Did I seek to claim this place too, as I had her husband’s home, she asked, gesturing me to rise.

I rose, slowly, giving another bow as I did so, taking a moment to gather my thoughts and formulate my response. “You were Agron’s Queen and his dearest love,” I told her. “In his memory, I shall still accord you that title and the respect due. From what little I know, from what little I have learned, I could not accord you any other title, save, perhaps of warrior. I make no claim on this place, or any other save that which Agron, known to me as Maric, bequeathed me, the castle known to me as Mysthaven. What I did, what I always do, is for him, in accordance with his will, and his wishes, and my duty to protect the castle. As to why I come. I come to accord you the respect you deserve, to make what peace I can.” I reached slowly towards the bag, not wishing to make any motion that could be perceived as a threat. “I also found, among Agron’s writings, some thoughts he had of you. Here, in his hand, in his words. He spoke of his love for you, his regret that his sire prevented him from seeing you one last time, and of apricots in a place called Neretva. May I retrieve it so I may pass it to you?”

She still stayed her hand from her sword, which was a good sign, though she seemed unimpressed by my words. The mention of Neretva, though, that brought a sudden glint of life, of interest, to her eyes. Her voice seemed stronger, more alive as she bade me to do so, saying she would accept this gift from me, addressing me still by title rather than name.

I undid the clasps of my bag and withdrew the parcel, slowly unwrapping it and refolding the fabric as a makeshift cushion on which one might offer a gift and offered it to her. “These are his words, of his life after he had to leave you, in his hand. He was my friend and mentor, and so I treasure this, but, as his queen and his love, it should be yours and I give it freely. I wish only peace between us, you and I, as ones who both loved him.”

She looked at the book and pulled off her gauntlet, reaching out with her bared hand. Somehow, as she touched it, it rejuvenated, becoming as it might once have been when first he wrote in it. There was something more, something profound in that simple contact, as if it gave more than the simple sense of touch. I could see new life in her, real feelings, even if she would not acknowledge them openly.  She took the book from me and held it to her as tenderly as one might a child. She thanked me for the gift and said that for this, there could be a peace between us. However, there was still an accounting to me made for the one she swore to guard. Everything there was tied to that, as she was to her tomb.

I thanked her for the peace and asked if Dyisi, an Oracle of Greece, might be permitted to join us, as she would be better able to explain. I told her that she too had loved Agron, and had also been acting on his wishes.  Some measure of anger returned to her eyes at the mention of Dyisi, but, nevertheless, she granted permission with a nod.  It suddenly occurred to me that I had never tried this means of communication with Dyisi, but I sent the call out anyway. It must have worked, as she appeared a few moments later.

She bowed and addressed Teuta in Greek. A formal greeting one might give to a queen, so far as I was able to translate. Again, there was a sense of anger held in check from Teuta, and her expression was hard and cold. However, she stayed her hand and gave a warrior’s salute to Dyisi, greeting her and saying she would hear her petition for peace. I stepped back to allow Dyisi to speak.

Dyisi started by apologising, knowing that the removal of the treacherous one she had been guarding was done suddenly and without notice. Her syntax seemed strange, almost as if she were unfamiliar with the language, but perhaps it was just me, so used to thinking in English and European languages.  She spoke of Maric being called to the gods, and of the promise made that needed to be fulfilled. She said it was unfortunate that she had been unable to discuss the matter in advance, before the prisoner escaped his chains. She assured Teuta that her prisoner would not be being set free with Scots. That puzzled me for a moment. I assumed she meant scot-free, but I doubted that was an idiom that Teuta would understand, being of 17th century origin. I almost stepped in to explain, but waited for her to finish. Perhaps Teuta would understand the intent. Dyisi went on to explain that the prisoner was being moved to a place where his binds and his pain would never fade. A place that mortals called Hell, a place of damnation under rule of the Queen of Hell.

Teuta paused a long while before answering. As I expected, she had not understood everything Dyisi had said, but had understood the intent.  She said that she would choose to believe that Dyisi was following a duty laid upon her by Agron.  She knew that Agron would never allow Otho to go free, and so, if he had been taken to a realm of death and despair, she would consider her duty fulfilled.

Her face grew harder, then, as she addressed another matter. “I wish to know why you attacked me with that cursed talisman. I can not pull this thorn from my side. If you intended to bring me low, you have succeeded. If you intended to remove my anchor and undo me, you have made a valiant effort. The only reason I have not taken my retribution upon you both is due to your request for parlay and in honour of my husband’s alliances. Remedy the destruction you have caused, else when this parlay is over, we shall be enemies ever more.”

For myself, I was did not have an immediate answer regarding any talisman. Perhaps it was something to do with Dyisi’s magic, for mine had used no talisman. Still, I had to make answer. I turned back to Teuta and gave another bow. I chose my words carefully, all too painfully aware that any mistake on my part could be fatal. “If, by our actions, we have caused injury to you or this place, then I apologise without reservation,” I said. “No harm was ever intended towards yourself or this place. We sought only that which we have stated, that which Agron wished us to do, the capture of Otho and his delivery to the Queen of Hell. If, in the execution of that duty, either in the capture of Otho, or in defence of ourselves from his attack, we have caused you harm, then it was without intent or malice and again, I offer my apologies. We did not, nor do we now, bear any malice or ill will towards you or this place. If it is within our powers to undo such harm as we have done, then we will do everything in our powers to do so and make such reparations as we may. We all seek to do that which my friend, your husband wished, and in his name, I will do whatever is needed to assure a peace between us.” I looked to Dyisi for further explanation and agreement. “Is that not so?”

Dyisi seemed to be concentrating, as I had often seen her do when working her magical powers. She held out her hand and called out, in a commanding voice, for her staff. “Ru!” she called.  She explained that it had been her staff, which was designed to protect her and keep her from harm. Had she known that in so doing, it would have caused harm to the land and to the queen, she would have prevented it from doing so. There was a brief rush of wind, and the staff flew from some nearby concealment to her hand. As it did so, there was a brief cry of pain from Teuta and she clutched at her side, as if some fresh pain had hit. It was brief, though, and she then relaxed, as if some pain had been removed, perhaps the thorn in her side that she had mentioned. Dyisi continued, offering to make another gift – I assumed she meant her ability to call to the places of the dead, so that Agron and Teuta might once again speak – “No one should be so long with regrets of the heart,” she said.

Teuta thanked us, seeming sincere and looked at us then, for the first time, with a smile, a smile that lit up her face and showed the queen she had once been. There would be peace between us, she said and perhaps we would become allies. To Dyisi’s offer, she shook her head. She had no regrets. She had lived a long life and ruled a prosperous kingdom. While she had had other loves in her life, Agron was always first in her heart. She had pledged her love to him and sworn to punish his betrayers.  This she had done in life and would do in death, tied to this place and to her husband’s creation. She stepped away then, holding herself at her side, perhaps still feeling the pain of that thorn’s extraction and said she needed to rest. She bade us go in peace and offered that if we wanted to learn more of her times, we would be welcome to return.

I said only that I would be honoured to do so, as her husband had been my dearest friend and mentor. While circumstance had made me a warrior and lord, I was, at heart, a scholar and would love to learn more of that time. We both made our respects and prepared to withdraw. The transition was easier this time, back to the familiar halls of the castle. And even as we arrived, I could feel that things were better now. That background of anger and pain was gone. I spared a glance for the tower wall and the crack, which I knew we could now repair and make new.

Dyisi and I parted without words. Each of us, no doubt, remembering the man we had both known and loved. For myself, I was content with a glass of wine drunk in his honour and an hour or so reading some other parts of his journals.  Another chapter was closed. No doubt, the new day would bring fresh challenges, but for now I was content.

 

Thorn in my Side