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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

O Captain, My Captain

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

There is a scar around my wrist; a thin line, almost like a seam, as if my hand had once been severed from my wrist, and this is indeed what happened. It was done my by friend, Catt, who I loved dearly, so many years ago in London. She, like me, had been kindred, but became fae – in her case by means of a great rite performed by Artur and Katia, who held the Unseelie Throne there. She became Captain of the Ravens for Katia and wished to recruit me to the ranks of the Ravens, to help protect her queen. A blood vow was required, but when Catt went to cut my palm, she slipped and almost completely severed my hand. Fortunately, Katia was able to heal me, save for that small thin scar.

I think of Catt often when I look at the scar. Even all these years later, I still miss her. And when I think of her, I think of Whitman’s poem – O Captain, my Captain – because that was how I would jokingly address her.  It had no more significance than that. I was not mourning her death, though I do mourn her absence. So far as I know, she lives still, in some far, unknown place. I am sure I would know if something had happened, as my scar tingles occasionally, as it did not long before I left London, when I was briefly able to meet and embrace her through a short-lived portal. Ice-cold she was, like my beloved Valene, but still alive. Perhaps, some day, I shall see her again.

Now, this poem comes to mind again, in fuller meaning. For, like Whitman, I mourn for a leader I have lost.

Equinox came, in a quiet fanfare of blossom, warmer winds and birdsong. We gathered, as ever, at the base of Ardan, there to enact and witness the turning of the seasons and the handing of the throne from the Winter King to the Summer Queen. Both courts were there, along with Helene, Dyisi and Aoibheann. I was among the last to arrive. As I had hoped and expected, this was the occasion for the return of my life and my love, Gwyneth. I gave her formal greeting, both as Steward of Mysthaven and her Consort, with the deference due a Queen, and then a more personal greeting as a husband would to a wife he had not seen in many months. She returned that kiss equally, whispering that there were many tales she had to tell. As I had for her, I replied, unable to suppress a brief flicker of pain at the memory of some of those tales.

Further greetings were made. Aoibheann somewhat bizarrely suggested that Maric should dance with Dyisi, since the Queen was pre-occupied. I said we had a right to be, having been separated for so long, but, yes, there were duties to be done. Personal matters could wait. I unwrapped Gwyn from my arms and offered her hand to the Winter King. “Majesties, please, let the wheel turn.”

He bestowed a fond kiss on Aoibheann, suggesting she should dance for the trees, for Ardan and Awnye, and a bestowed another on Dyisi before stepping forward to take Gwyneth’s hand.

“All I have ever done, all I have ever risked, was for love,” he said. “And for duty. I have defied the very Gods, of the natural order itself, to become what I am. Something never meant to be. All so that I could follow my heart where it led… and to atone for my failings. To protect enough lives that perhaps it would balance out the ones I have taken so copiously, so recklessly. And the ones I failed to protect. All to love and to be loved once more…Though in truth I deserve neither. It was all a gamble, a wayward dream, a grasp for redemption. A new life to erase the old, striving to the light that I can never truly hold.” He drew Gwyn towards him before continuing. “But I realize now, I will not succeed. The heart knows the irony…that your kiss at the Equinox brought my doom. The Land, the Gods, call to me too strongly for me to escape their pull for much longer. Once my power is given, I will fall.” He paused, looking deep into her eyes. “I know this will take the burden of my presence from you. But I must lay another upon you in its place. You are so young yet to be Queen. But your time to truly shine has come, perhaps too soon. I wish for you to be the most powerful dazzling Queen you can be when Spring awakens. I wish for you to rule all of Summerlands, completely and fearlessly. I wish you to compel even those who hate you to kneel to you in the name of peace for all time to come. These things I wish for you, my Summer Queen, once my power is yours….Welcome Spring, and Winter be no more, for this season, with this kiss.”

Dyisi stood back, wrapping her arms around herself, and I could tell she was holding herself in check, knowing this change was inevitable, and yet, for all her control, she pulsed with contained emotions. Aoibheann was less contained, crying out in anger and pain, asking what she should wish for, that the gods would deny her. Her voice cracked and she just about managed to say “so be it,” before falling silent.

Gwyneth took his hands, and told him that he had fully deserved all the love and power he had been given, and all the power he had taken, for duty’s sake. I stepped back, for this final act was between them, saying only that I did not regard this as adieu, so much as au revoir, assuring him that we would stand and protect this realm.

They drew together, embraced and made the kiss that would seal the compact, mark the changing of the season, and so much, much more. The power of the Wyld broke upon us like a sudden flood, flowing into the Summer Queen and the land, shaking it and changing it, surrounding it, and us. Through that power, and the closeness of the bonds that we all had, we all felt the momentous nature of what was becoming, what this change meant to Maric, the Winter King.

To join the Gods was to Love them.

To know Love like this was to let go of the hearth warm comfort of normal love. This was an emotion that destroyed all barriers, shattered all safety, swept away all thoughts of basic existence entirely.

To know such Love was to know utter terror, seamless bliss, mindless fear, blinding joy, all facets of the same irresistible convergence beyond the bounds of mere corporeal forms.

To be broken open upon the anvil of Creation, to gladly scream one’s life away in a raging explosion of stardust, reseeding the universe with new life.

 To embrace the Gods was to face annihilation.

 And to enjoy every exhilarating terrifying agonizing orgasmic second of it.

 Before being remade into the purest expression of one’s dying irrational passionate heart….

His form shredded and blew away, becoming one with the wind and the leaves, as insubstantial as the mist dispersed by the morning sun, until there was nothing left but the wind and the rain.

Lord Maric of Mysthaven, Huntsman and Winter King, my mentor and friend, was no more.

Around me, I could feel the others responding. Dyisi throbbed and glowed with her barely contained emotions, speaking some farewell or bless in her native tongue that I had not the wits to translate. Helene collapsed to her knees with a heartfelt sigh. Aoibheann cried out in a voice heavy with tear that she would “fucking dance” and vanished, gone no doubt to a place where she could mourn. Only Gwyneth stood proud and alone. Whatever her feelings, she had to complete the rite. She spoke the words to welcome the Spring, as bluebells sprouted where she stood, and the very air wept a fine mist of rain.

“Farewell, my friend,” I said, and bowing my head, recited the words that I had spoken at my mother’s funeral, and over the graves of the Cait, so long ago when Valene first took me there. The words of Christina Rosetti:

“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”

There seemed little left to say or do. Each of us, I thought, would need to celebrate or mourn in our own way. I took Gwyneth’s hand and said as such, and she agreed. Together, we took our own way to her bower, there to renew our love and mark the changes of the season on our own way.

Around us, the power of that passing echoed throughout the very fabric of the land, changing and shaping it in ways we could not begin to imagine. Maric, my master, my mentor, my friend, was gone and a new era was begun.

 

 

Things I Remember

Much has occurred since I last laid pen to paper in my journal. Perhaps some day, I can write of those things in more detail, from memory and hastily scribbled notes. Such as I write here, are just the highlights, if such a word is applicable to some less than pleasant turns of events. No doubt I shall remember others once I have finished this entry. Others, I will perhaps leave to others to remember.

Another realm collided with ours, leading to battles with witches and others. This in turn stirred up the goblins and demi-fae, leading to a battle in which I had to take up my sword, and my magical abilities to defeat the foes. Blood magic is surprisingly effective against a cloud of demi-fae, as, it seems, was a threat to make kebabs out of any of them I caught trespassing in the future against those I consider mine. The queen of the demi-fae, responsible for so much of the tragedy was spared, only for the sake of the child she carried. At least, until the child she carried was born.

Maric, by virtue of his merging with the Huntsman seized the Unseelie Throne. This was not well received in the Unseelie Court, but none could make a better claim, and none dared stand against him. It fell to me to write the proclamation, which was duly signed by the senior members of the court. Having established his position, Maric made his relationship with Aoibheann official, and again, it fell to me to write the official proclamation.

This, in turn, led me to examine my relationship with Gwyn. While I had thought that we were happy in our relationship, an “open relationship” as I understand the modern terminology, it became clear that Gwyn wanted more, and, upon reflection, so did I.  At first I was reluctant, given that my official status of Consort was contentious enough among the Seelie Court, and I did not want to fan the political fires more by formalising that further with marriage.  For all that I still regard myself as a humble accountant, I am more than that, a representative of a sovereign power, and she is Queen of the Seelie. Among such people, marriage is much more than a declaration of love. After some debate, we decided to go ahead anyway. Selfish of us, perhaps, but something we both desired and longed for, and that, to us was worth more than the complaints that might come from the courts. The courts all attended, and the service was conducted by Valene, who returned briefly from her exile to bless us and join us. Our respective positions mean that we still have to maintain separate households, but, we spend as much time together as we can, and her chambers in the Seelie bower are as much home to me now as my chambers in the castle.

The long gestation of our children, in the care of Ardan, finally came to an end, and our children were born. Such is the strangeness of things in faerie; that they were born adult, at least, physically. In appearance, they could pass for 20 or so. Mentally, they could pass for young adults, but they have a lot to learn. In no particular order, they are – Eilian, an impetuous young man, Drysi, very much the rebellious teenager and then, Bronwyn.  The latter is the most enigmatic of all – as ethereal as moonlight on sparkling stream and the very image, in appearance and even in scent, of my beloved Faermorn. Perhaps, this is what Faermorn strived for at last. When last I joined with her in the Beyond of the Summerlands, that was what she desired most, to be once again, the woman she had been. That was what Horace had been striving to achieve for her, with his hunting for artefacts, and what I had sought to help with, in a much more personal way. And now, perhaps this is the result – reborn in the form of my own daughter. How strange life is – the woman who was one my mentor, and my lover, is now my daughter, and I must needs put aside what we were, and be the mentor and protector to her.

The infection of the castle continued until it was necessary to evacuate the staff and most of the villagers to a camp in the Seelie lands. That fragment of Gwythyr’s sword spread its influence until it was able to summon forth Gwythyr himself. At first, he was trapped in the castle vaults, but his influence spread, sending out his thorned creepers. He captured and tortured and killed several of our villagers and we were powerless to stop him. We contrived a plan, thinking that the scent of Bronwyn, so alike to his beloved late queen, could lure him out, away from the source of his power, and into the Shadow Roads, where we reasoned he would be at his weakest. Said plan was thrown into some disarray, when Aoibheann, impetuous girl that she is, confronted him herself. Foolish though this was, it achieved our desired aim, allowing Maric and I to follow him to the Shadow Roads. Maric engaged him while the Cait and I managed to drag Mika, who had gone with Aoibheann,  to safety through a portal I opened. Aoibheann was too tangled up in his thorns to get her clear. Then he noticed me and tried to attack through the blood bond he had created. He failed. But, that was enough. I gave vent to the anger that had been building up and attacked. I don’t know what quite I did, only that I combined my mastery of fire and the blood magic that Maric had taught me with the intention of boiling the blood in his brain. It is not my nature to strike in anger, much less to use magic when angry, but perhaps this time, it helped.  All I know is that I felt the power burning out of me and he fell, motionless, to the ground. And like a sticking plaster ripped off, the hold he had on me was gone. That cold spot inside was no more, like an ache or bruise that has been there so long, it has been forgotten. I took no chances. I opened a portal and called the demi-fae to take Aoibheann back to the Seelie bower and attend to her. Once she was safely away, I did the same to get Maric safely away into Kustav’s custody. Then, I took my sword and removed Gwythyr’s head and, with the aid of the Cait, opened a portal to that fiery place I had once known in the tunnels of London, and booted the head through. The rest, I left for Nemaine, though I somehow doubt even her depraved tastes could stomach that vile creature. Then I retired to Valene’s chambers, to comfort myself with at least her scent, if not her presence and wept for all those that Gwythyr had harmed.

Other things passed, and perhaps some day I shall write of them more. More recent things, I shall address in other entries. But for now, these are the things I remember.

The Collectors – Things I Remember