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