Stolen Child

My navigation, via the mists or the Shadow Roads, is not always reliable. I took myself to Mysthaven again, seeking answers regarding the carrots, among other things. At least, that was my intention, but something drew me elsewhere, to one of the gates in Faerie. And there I found what in the present circumstance counted as a crowd. There was Aoibheann, clutching a carrot to her as one might carry a child, and a creature resembling a unicorn. The latter, I guessed, by her manner of movement, and later, her speech, to be Mika, albeit in an unfamiliar shape. There was another; a man of somewhat disreputable appearance, so I hesitated to give him the accolade of gentleman. Him I did not know, though there was something about him that seemed familiar. He did not seem pleased to be there, nor did he seem pleased to encounter Aoibheann, much less myself. And, if we did not know him, he appeared to know us. He expressed his displeasure in somewhat colourful and exasperated language, addressing me as Lord of the roses and misty villagers, which, while not strictly my title, was at least broadly accurate. He also seemed to be annoyed at the lack of drink in the vicinity. In speaking, he revealed himself to be that feckless black stallion, Anathema wearing his other skin.

Mika bounced around excitedly in a manner more suited to her ferret shape than a unicorn, pawing at Anathema’s cheap suit and chattering about him having no manners and shouting at trees. She also seemed tempted by the idea of a party, though in her case, if this shape was anything like the ferret, I fancied she would be more excited by candy than wine.

Aoibheann, meanwhile, was more excited by the fact that there were so many people in one place, taking that as a possible sign that the land was awakening. The idea that Anathema had been shouting at the trees particularly interested her, and she asked what he had said and if they had replied. I felt sorry for her if he had, given that she herself had been unable to communicate with her children. She was less certain about his description of his current shape as his other skin, imagining that he maybe had killed and skinned somebody for it. He protested this, explaining that he was a shape-shifter, not a skin-walker. I’m not sure that she understood the difference. I do not know why not. It is not as if she has no experience of beings that wear different shapes at times.  Maric and myself for two, although neither of us ever skinned anybody for it. Check that. I have never skinned anybody. I am not so sure I can claim that for Maric.

I could not help but be mildly amused. “Last time I saw you,” I replied to him, “you had more legs and borrowed my son for some,” I hesitated, trying to think of some way of putting it that wouldn’t offend Aoibheann, “interesting times.” He protested that the bargain with Eilian had been fair and square, and that the interesting times had been the price for riding him. I replied that I did not doubt the validity of the bargain; moreover, I thought that my son would have learned a useful life lesson from it. Given that everybody was somewhat focused on the idea of drink, particularly mead, I suggested that there might be some in the tavern. After all, if there was somebody around growing carrots, I said, or at least, carrot-shaped things, then possibly somebody would have stocked the tavern with mead. Mika liked that idea, as did Anathema.

Aoibheann held the carrot closer to her chest, saying that carrots did not usually have fangs. She said that she had intended to help the carrot to find its name, but was now worried that she had stolen it, stolen a child from its parents. The Wyld had affected more than the roses, she offered by way of explanation. There was something unknown, some new danger lurking in my realm. Given my thoughts regarding the Kraken-like disturbances, this was not exactly news to me. I acknowledged this was likely, but I would have to wait and see what it might be, so long as it wasn’t the late and unlamented former king. I eyed her pet carrot, more bemused than anything. I suggested that I would maybe have similar facility with the carrots as I did with the roses. They knew me well enough, and if they were kin to the carrots, then perhaps the carrots would know me in some distant way. It would be worth investigating when I was back at the village. On that thought, I suggested that we return to village in the hope of maybe finding the mead that everybody, save myself, was keen to find.

Or, at least, that was my plan. I parted the veil with the intention of stepping back to the village, leaving them to follow, or make their way there by their own means, but again, my navigation failed me and I found myself back in Awenia. Or, perhaps it was not my error, for as soon as I set foot in my home, I was set upon by Clutie and Bran with various household matters of urgency. None, to my mind were so urgent that they could not have waited for Gwyn to return from wherever, but I have long since learned there is no arguing with them once they get ideas in their heads. By the time it was all sorted to their satisfaction, it was long past the time when it would have been worth returning to the tavern. I shall have to visit Mysthaven soon to see if tge roses, or the carrots, could tell me what is about the land. Or, maybe I would rather not know. I would probably not, but I am Lord of Mysthaven, so I have little choice in that respect, and even if I were not, I still doubt I would have the choice. There is a duty on me, and that has nothing to do with titles. It never has.

Stolen Child

 

 

 

 

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Ghost Town

I have often written, in these pages, of the fragile and fluid nature of reality. It is something I have experienced many times.  What I thought I knew was reality changed when Katarina almost killed me and brought me back to a new life. Then I discovered that creatures of myth and legend were real. That, in time, took me to a London that was not the one I had known as a young man, a London where it was forever 1891 and where creatures such as I had become roamed freely. Thence, my journeys took me to Jasper Cove, a reality created by that scoundrel and demon, John Dee, known to me as Alec, among other names. And, when Jasper Cove burned, I had to flee, to the Wylds, which until Gwyn took me away, in part anyway, to the 21st century, became my home. Nowhere has the fluid nature of reality been more evident than there. The castle on the hill, ruled by one of my own kind, Cristof, was destroyed by the tree folk, and in its place, came Mysthaven, since the passing of Maric, my realm to rule. It has rebuilt itself several times since I have been there, and is still in the process of rebuilding itself.

I went to see how things fared there a few days past. The castle still seems to be in flux. It may well be that this is down to my relative absence. The castle is bound to me, and I to it, so it is possible that it cannot finish reshaping itself without my presence. And, I suppose it would be nice if I had some choice over the furniture. Ideally, I would build some myself, but, even with the somewhat fluid nature of time between realm-jumps, I doubt I would be able to do so in any sensible time-frame. But that is another matter. Elsewhere, the village seems to be progressing nicely.

It is curious how things develop, though. The villagers, my stewards and my guards seem to have a semi-ghostly existence. There and not there at the same time, perhaps only called into existence from some sort of limbo when I am there. And yet, here in the village gardens, fruit and vegetables are growing. I paused by a bed of carrots that seemed to be growing well, despite the perpetual twilight. Who, I wondered, had planted these and tended them? Did the villagers manifest at other times to tend the garden and other parts of the village? Where did they go in the meanwhile? Did they go into some sort of limbo, a dream time or such like?

 

I was interrupted in my speculations by the arrival of Aoibheann, who drifted in from who knows where. As ever, she spoke somewhat cryptically, saying, by way of greeting, that she believed there was more than one Mysthaven. She joined me by the vegetable bed and squatted, looking at the carrots as if she intended to pick one.

I likewise neglected to make any actual greeting. I commented that she and I had been around long enough to know that the land and the town were as fluid as our imaginations. At least this version, I added, was not built on floating rocks, which I had always thought an affront to Sir Isaac Newton. I don’t know why I said that bit, as it was very unlikely that she would have known who Newton was, much less that he formulated the theory of gravity.

I was right. She did not register any sign of recognition, and at first, just challenged my assertion, asking how I knew what the current incarnation of Mysthaven was built upon. She then went on to wonder if perhaps it was that there was more than one of her, rather than more than one Mysthaven. The thought of more than one Aoibheann was a slightly scary one, but I didn’t say anything.  She speculated that whether there was more than one Mysthaven or more than one of her, the symptoms would be similar.  She told me there were times she came to Mysthaven and there was no sign of life. It was the same in Faerie, she said. Her children, by which I presumed she meant the trees, were sleeping and no winged or legged creature was stirring, save the cŵn, and those she had only heard, not encountered. Perhaps there was some fragmented version of the realm where her children were still awake, she wondered.

This touched all too closely to my own speculations as to the fluid nature of reality. I suggested that it was possible that the residents of the realm were somehow dormant while the land was reshaping itself so that they might be protected from the changes. She and I, having the ability to walk the realms might be less affected by it.

She shook her head and said that she did not consider herself unaffected. She told me that she felt as a ghost, not seeing the people here, and not being seen by them. She had tried recently to move some books and her hands passed through them as though they were not there. She had not eaten in months and it seemed as if waking and dreaming were one and the same. The theory that there might be more than one of her seemed to comfort her somehow. I could not think why, other than perhaps it allowed her to believe that another her was elsewhere, solid and able to interact with her children and others. She bent and tried to pull at one of the carrots with far more concentration than might otherwise be justified by such a simple act, wondering aloud, as I had, who tended them. Perhaps her supposed insubstantial nature made the act harder. “I saw your daughter,” she said, almost as an afterthought.

This surprised me. I reached out with my other senses, seeking Bronwyn for myself, but, as before, she was somehow distant, veiled from me. I could tell she was well enough, but otherwise could not tell where or when she might be, not could I sense her thoughts or send her mine. I told Aoibheann this, saying that it was both curious and vexing, for the anchorage we had created for each other should have been sufficient. I asked Aoibheann how Bronwyn and Mornoth fared.

Aoibheann’s concentration seemed to be all upon the vegetable she was trying to pick. From where I stood, it looked as if she lacked substance enough to grasp it, and yet, after a moment, she did manage to do so and fell backwards, clutching her prize. She told me that she had only seen Bronwyn for a moment before being whisked away to Mysthaven, and all that she could tell was that she had had something important to convey. This, she said seemed to happen to her a lot, that whenever something of importance was happening, she got distracted. She certainly seemed distracted as she was speaking, staring at the carrot as though she were not entirely convinced it was real, and then holding it up to her ears as if she somehow expected it to speak. She held it more as one might a small animal than a root vegetable.

I reached out again, but Bronwyn was no more reachable than before. I let my sense spread out into the land, touching the Wyld, perhaps to reassure myself that it was still there.  The energy was still there, so different, and yet similar to the Wyld in Awenia, as if two strains from the same primal source. And yet, under it there was something more chaotic than normal, as if something vast lurked beneath the surface. I was reminded of Tennyson’s words:

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth:

Not the most comforting of thoughts, I had to say.  I put it to one side and asked if Aoibheann had any substance when she was with Ardan. She said that she was not. Ardan and Awnye also slept, and she had no more awareness of them than I did of Bronwyn. I wondered at that, since she had much more of a facility with the trees than I ever did, so it seemed strange that she should find them dormant. I did mention my feelings regarding the Kraken, but I am not sure if that registered with her, being more of a Norse mythology. She still seemed preoccupied with the carrot, again, treating it as though it were some small creature. I was interrupted by an alarm from my phone, albeit briefly, as it succumbed to the malaise that seems to affect technology here. However, my trusty watch also tinkled its reminder. I made to bid Aoibheann farewell, and she managed to pull her attention away from the carrot to wish me safe travels. Her attention returned to it and I was sure she was talking to it.

I felt a ripple in the atmosphere as I parted the veil to step back to Awenia, which gave me pause, as I had never felt that before. Looking back, I saw Aoibheann laying the carrot down on the ground and offering her thumb to it, and I could have sworn that it looked back at her. I had little time before I continued my journey and stepped back to home, but, there was something familiar in the way they were interacting. As the veil closed behind me, I realised what it was. It reminded me of the Myst Roses and my dealings with them. “Myst Carrots?” I wondered, aloud to myself. The idea made me laugh, but, on reflection, I supposed it was entirely possible. I must return again to Mysthaven and see what else there is to learn. There is already much to trouble me – the distance between me and my daughter, the disturbance in the Wyld and now, possibly sentient carrots? I hope nobody tells Hal’s wife. She might not want to put those in a stew.

Ghost Town

 

Another Time Another Place

I have, it seems, become accustomed to the company of people who share at least some common experience with me. They are the people who understand what I am, where I am from and where I have been. They are my family – Gwyn, Wren, Bronwen, Drysi and Eilian; my extended family – Dyisi Valene, Aoibheann, and those who are only with me now in spirit – Faermorn and Maric. They all know me and know of my story, or at least those parts I have shared, and I do not need to explain.

And yet, there are times when I must move among those who do not understand, those who do not know. And, to make things worse, there are times when I would not be able to explain. There will be those to whom my story would be inexplicable. How could I explain my story to people for whom the vampire, the fae and other such beings exist only in fiction and lore? How could I explain the where and when of my journeys to those for whom yesterday, today and tomorrow happen only in strict succession, for whom the past is the past and the future comes one day at a time?

Of course, sometimes, it can come down a much simpler thing, such as the question “how old are you?”  Now this is a complicated question at the best of times, even among those who understand. I was born in 1853, by the calendar I once knew. I was embraced in 1885, when I was just shy of my 32nd birthday. There followed six years of travelling in what I foolishly believed to be the real world before I fetched up in the Isle of Legacies, that strange place that resembled, yet did not resemble, the London I knew as a young man. By then, I would have been 38 years of age by the calendar, but, the embrace stopped the process of aging, so was I 38 or 32? Some while later, I found myself in Jasper Cove, which was, so far as I could tell, contemporaneous with the modern day that Gwyn knew, the 21st century, albeit somehow in parallel to, rather than part of that time. By then, perhaps two years had passed, so far as I could tell, so was I 40, 34, or was I 159 years old? Such a simple question, yet so hard to answer.

I had reason to reflect on this question recently. Lacking anything constructive to occupy my time while the Consilium Arcanum’s gears grind slowly through the process of making Awenia an open fae realm, I decided to take to the Shadow Roads and go exploring. The Cait were happy to see me, but sadly there was no sign of their queen, save for the lingering scent of mint. So, after a while, I took my leave of them and, lacking any particular destination, decided to part the veil from the Roads and, trust to chance for my destination.  Well, not entirely to chance. My other ability, to walk the realms, given to me by Alec, my demonic former friend, would normally only take me to places or people I knew, however, I had learned that it could take me to other places where realm-walking was possible. So I reached out with that sense, and let that guide me, to see where it would take me.

It took me to a night club. Of course it did. Whatever the mechanisms are that allow me to travel this way, they must be influenced by experience, and after faerie and medieval castles, much of my experience has been in such places. This did not stop me being slightly exasperated. “A nightclub! Why is it always a nightclub?  All of time and space and I end up in a nightclub,” is more or less what I said once I got my bearings.

I was not expecting an answer, but I got one. An elegant young lady, dressed for some evening occasion, appeared and said that she supposed there were worse places. I could not disagree, and commented that given my navigational skills, this was entirely possible.  Hoping to get some clue as to my whereabouts, I asked if I would regret asking where I was.

She told me that I was in a club, in a mansion called La Chateau De La Rose. Fortunately, she said, there wasn’t an event on, because I wouldn’t have passed the dress code. This was likely true, as I was dressed casually. I promised to wear my tux next time. As to where I was, she then suggested using a smart phone or a GPS unit. That at least gave me some clue as to the when, if not the where. This place must more or less be concurrent with the time I had left. I knew that my phone was apparently a smart one and that it had GPS, however, I had not yet mastered the use of it, despite Wren’s guidance. I pulled it out and fumbled fruitlessly for a few moments before giving up and admitting my lack of expertise with technology.

And then came the question that stumped me. Well, not so much of a question as a statement that raised many questions I was ill-prepared to answer.

“You look pretty young not to know anything about technology!”

I had to admit that she was probably correct in that assumption. Whatever numerical value one might attach to my age, I look to be a man in his 30s, and it would be fair to assume that any man of that age would be familiar with the technology of the present time, which, I had to assume, was roughly commensurate with the time I had left, i.e. early in the 21st century. I prevaricated, saying that as a former night-club manager myself; I would probably not have let myself in dressed this way. She gestured to some armchairs nearby and suggested we sit. She then added a further question, asking where I had come from.

I was still at a loss as to an answer that made sense. Other than the approximate time period, I knew nothing of this place and certainly did not know how they would react to the somewhat paranormal nature of myself and my travels. I opted for a believable half-truth. “Technically, I am about 40,” I told her and explained that I had only recently been introduced to technology. “It’s complicated,” I said, adding that this also applied to the matter of my travels.

She seemed to accept that, taking this to mean that I must have been living in the woods, somewhere off the grid. I had come across this phrase before as referring to people who prefer to live a simpler life, or sometimes wishing not to be noticed by the authorities. In either case, an avoidance of technology was involved. It seemed safe enough to let her continue with this assumption. I agreed that “off the grid” was a good way to put it and said that my daughter had been teaching me about technology. That also seemed a safer option than mentioning I had also learned from a demon that went by the name of Skeleton, and from my fae queen wife.

I decided to change the subject away from possibly risky territory towards something more plausible, like me needing a job, since I had mentioned my own involvement in the night club business. She had used the word “we” in respect of having a dress code, so I asked if she was part of the club management. She was not, but gave me some names – Mitch and Amythe who might be able to help. I recorded this in my trusty notebook, as has been my habit for many years. Then I noticed her expression and thought I would show that I did have some facility with modern technology by getting my phone out and making a similar note on that. Of course, being inexperienced, I managed to set off the music player by mistake, but that turned out to be a fortuitous accident, for it diverted the conversation onto more pleasing matters.

Wren had shown me how to download music onto the phone, so when I accidentally started the player, it started playing the Overture to the Mikado. I managed to stop it after a few bars, but that was enough for my new friend to recognise. She commented on me being caught between two technologies but complimented me on my taste in music and appreciation for the theatre. I told her I was pleasantly surprised to meet a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, saying that too few people appreciated such things these days. I also thought I’d establish my more serious music credentials by singing a few lines of An die Freude. I told her a little about my mother and how she had raised me on fine literature, music and the other arts. She seemed most impressed that I had been raised in a cultured household. She used the word ‘classical’, which I thought quite amusing, as that word might well apply to my Victorian upbringing from her point of view. Of course, I didn’t mention that, but I did say I had practical skills too, learning the craft of building, and especially woodwork, from my father.

I did ask after her background, but I received no answer. She looked to be lost in thought for a while and then departed abruptly without a word. Perhaps some pager or phone message I had not noticed, or some other summons by means unknown. Or, for all I knew, she had suddenly grown bored and decided to leave. Either way, she did not return, and, lacking any other company, I decided I should return home. This place, whatever land it might be, intrigues me, so I shall explore further another day.

Another Time Another Place

Into the Mist

I mentioned, in my last journal entry, a hankering to go travelling. I would have thought that I would have tired of it by now. I have travelled for most of my adult life.  There were all my years with the Haskins shipping company aboard the Carisbrooke Castle, Raglan Castle and Odiham Castle. Then there were my journeys in search of Katarina; journeys that came to naught, but did lead me, by and by, to London. There I sought atonement for a mistake I made in Richmond, Virginia with the lovely Vyktorya, only to find that she fared well enough and had found a home among the Sabbat. It was only years later, in Jasper Cove and later, Ashmourne Wylds, that I learned of her grisly fate from her adopted daughter, Sophia, also now lost to me through the vagaries of the fractured realities we both walked. And there  are other journeys – from London to Jasper Cove to Ashmourne Wylds to Mysthaven and finally to White Owl Island, which my memory still insists existed, and Awenia, which I now regard as home.

I have another home, of course, back in Mysthaven. That home I have neglected for too long, being too caught up in the affairs of the island and Awenia. And so, shortly before Yule, I took a journey there to see how things fared at my old home. In keeping with the theme of recent journal entries, I found that much there had changed, as once again, the realm has reshaped itself. Gone at least, are the floating lumps of rock, upon which much of the castle and village of Mysthaven rested. I am not sorry to see those gone, for they offended my sensibilities as a rational man. I have come to believe much that I would not normally have believed, but floating rocks was a hard one to accept. Of course, I did not dare give voice to such belief in case the rocks heard me and forgot how, which would have been somewhat of a disaster for all concerned.

No, this reshaped realm seems, thus far anyway, to be very much rooted in terra firma, so I can cross villagers falling off of the edge from my list of things to worry about. The mists remain, but the world seems darker than I remember. Most of the buildings have changed and there is more stone and ironwork than I remember. In some ways, with the stone and iron and the gloom, it reminded me of when I first arrived on the Isle of Legacies. Most of all, the castle had changed. It loomed much larger and in a very different style to that which it had been, seeming in places to resemble a cathedral as much as anything. Given that Maric had shaped the castle from the bones of his sire and tormentor, it made sense that the castle should be malleable and changeable, even if it had not changed when the landscape reformed itself before. The process of change was clearly ongoing, as everything still seemed to be in a state of flux and I was reminded of times I had been to the construction sites with my father when buildings were as yet unfinished.

I did not get much opportunity to explore, for my attention was distracted by a familiar shape, or so I thought – a distinctly feline shape dressed largely in black. My heart skipped a beat for a moment, but when I got a closer look, it was not that other queen of my life, Valene. Whoever it was, I did not get a chance to discover for she slipped away into the shadows before I could speak. And then, there was another familiar shape, if a little wilder and more fae in appearance than I remembered. Aoibheann, Mother of Trees was there. I smiled and greeted my long-lost friend, saying it had been far too long.

This seemed to confuse her for a moment as she started to say that she had only just spoken to me before changing her mind and wishing me a good evening. This is perhaps not surprising; as it was likely time had passed differently here, or for her, than it had for me. Her next question confounded me somewhat, asking if I had ever found that violin. For a moment I could only think of Wren’s violin that I had long ago promised to restore for her after it had gotten wet on her travels. I was wrong; it was Maric’s violin to which she referred. She said that she understood that the castle and the village were mine, and that she did not contest that, or that I could guard it better, especially in her current state, but that she would like something of his, even if she feared that she might destroy even that. She paused a moment, seemingly choking slightly on her words and asked if I could hear the howls.

I had to profess that I had not, but then, I had been back in the realm but a few minutes and had not fully adjusted. I reached out with my other senses, but could sense nothing, at least, not in that brief moment. I did not know what she feared, but afterwards wondered if it was the cŵn that she had heard. Since I could sense nothing at the time, I addressed her other concerns. The castle and the village were mine only in the sense that Maric had appointed me guardian and protector, but that did not make them my property. I assured her that anything within the castle, or without, she may have, save that I preferred to keep the library intact if I could, and so would reserve judgement on any books she might desire. Mention of Maric brought back that sense of loss and sadness that he was gone from us. I had loved him too, I told her. Perhaps not in the same way, but nevertheless, I had loved him. I promised that as and when the castle had finished rebuilding itself, I would take account of the castle and its contents and anything she wished, including the violin if I found it, he could have with my blessing.

There was more on her mind, as is often the case with her. She composed herself before continuing. She had awoken something, she told me, but she did not know what. She loved him too, loved him still, but was concerned for the realm. Her heart grew wylder and she feared what might come of that. Everything slumbered, she said – the realm, and the mallorn trees, Ardan and Awnye. Something was wrong. Perhaps it was her doing or perhaps it was the King and Queen’s, she did not know. All she did know was that she was dangerous and it was a danger that the people of Mysthaven deserved a reprieve from.

I sighed inwardly. I had heard such talk from her before, but I could not tell for certain if this was yet more drama of the sort that always surrounds her, or that something was going on. Since I know longer know exactly what Aoibheann is, I could not say for certain that she was not a danger. She may be. Not through malevolence or intent, but perhaps through impetuousness or something implicit in her nature that might bring danger from others. I reached out my senses again, touching the castle. There was trouble there, I could tell, but from that brief touch I could not tell what that might be, whether it be the pangs of the reshaping or some other cause. Mention of the King and Queen gave me cause to reach out further, to my beloved daughter, Bronwyn. This troubled me somewhat, for, while I could sense her, I could not tell where she was, nor could I communicate. I did not sense any immediate danger, but it troubled me nevertheless.

My watch reminded me that, back in Awenia, it was time for dinner, and I had promised Gwyn that I would return to eat with her. I told Aoibheann that I would reach out to the King and Queen and see how things fared with them, and that I should also reach out to Queen Teuta, since she was so tightly bound with the castle. I bade her well, then, and left her, to return to my other home, and to my wife. I only spoke of it briefly with Gwyn, since she has more or less cut herself off completely from that former life and has no further interest in Mysthaven. That is easier for her, since she was able to pass on her duties and responsibilities to Mornoth and Bronwyn. I did not have that luxury, and will not until such time as I can pass on my burden, if ever. After that, I spoke no more of it, and gave my attention to the business of organising our new home. Indeed, I gave it no further thought until the celebrations were over. Some time soon, I must return and see what passes there now. It is still, in part, my home, and I miss my daughter.

Eivør – Í Tokuni

 

 

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