Sacrifice

I do not consider myself a selfish man. I would like to think that those that know me would not consider me selfish either. Tonight, however, I want to be selfish. I want to lock my chamber doors and indulge myself in a bottle of rum or two. I would seek the company of my loves, Gwyn and Val, but that seems not to be an option tonight. Neither, frankly, is the rum, tempting though it might be. Such are the burdens of my position. The immediate danger might be past, but I cannot yet lay down my responsibilities. I know this, I’ve always known this, but sometimes, it would be nice if I could.

The ritual is done. The taint, the corruption cast by the Morning Star is gone, leaving only faint echoes, like the last vestiges of a bruise. There may be some residual damage, but the corruption is gone. That much gladdens my heart, that I have done my duty to the people of Mysthaven, yet, my gladness is overshadowed by sadness. Vedis, whichever version of her it was that walked these lands, is also gone. I should, perhaps, have realised that was a possibility in advance, but I did not think to explore the ramifications of cleansing the taint fully. She was also corrupted, she was also tainted. The corruption that affected the castle came from the same source as the curse that was placed on her. So, when the taint was cleansed… And now, she is gone. To where, I do not know. I want to believe that she has just gone somewhere else, and will yet live, but I do not know for certain. From those years I have known Vedis, nothing is certain until it is. Sadly, what is certain is that Hadley was there to witness this end, and I do not know what I can do to help her overcome that.

Dyisi is also gone. She cast away her life as part of the sacrifice required for the ritual. I know this from what she said, and from the echoes I can read from the castle, echoes that tell of a body immolated, of blood spilled and of life-force cast out to drive away the taint. She told me beforehand that a sacrifice was required and that she did so gladly. I have to believe that in her case, this is not a permanent sacrifice. I have to believe that, or else, I have to face that I have yet again lost a friend. I had not known her as long as Vedis, but I had come to trust her, to enjoy her company, and to value her wisdom and counsel. She often spoke of other threads, other strands, as though there were other stories being told, other realities in which she also lived. Perhaps she still does, and is gone only from this strand, and who knows, maybe she will some day find her way back to this one.

Outside of the town, I do not know what is passing in Faerie. I know that Horace went out there, to speak with Ardan. I know that he got into an argument with Gwrgi, but I do not know what that was about – perhaps it was to do with the music, or perhaps something else. I only know that he went chasing after the cŵn in a rage, and after that, I heard nothing, as I needed all my forces here in the town, and as yet, I have not had the chance to investigate. I do not know when I will have that chance.

The evening started with a visitation, from Galyanna’s apprentice, Kitori, no less. She apparently came from somewhere outside the village and presented herself at the border, whereupon the guards brought her to the castle to see me.

Unlike Galyanna, this one went without a mask, at least for this meeting, but like Galyanna, she was pleasing to the eye, albeit in a somewhat pale fashion. I did not pay this much heed, as my experience of demons has been that they mostly present a pleasing appearance, at least for their human aspect. I greeted her by name and invited her to sit. She looked at me as she took the seat, commenting that while I knew her name, she had not the pleasure of mine. She also remarked that perhaps the lord was busy with Lucifer’s fun gift.

I smiled and told her my name, that I was steward to Lord Maric and in charge while he was busy. It was my job to know things, I said, and recited what little I did know of her – that she was Galyanna’s apprentice, that she had been playing the role of Asmodeus’ Talon and fooling us all. To lighten the mood a touch, I added that I had heard that she had been impertinent to the Morning Star, for which I expressed my admiration, and that she was therefore likely not welcome downstairs.

Before she could answer, I felt Maric through the link. He was clearly struggling with a lot of things, and all he could convey to me was that I should get Dyisi to do the ritual, whatever the cost. I summoned one of the guards and sent him to find Dyisi, and to tell her to go ahead as soon as possible. She would know what I meant.

Kitori agreed that I knew the superficial bits at least, and the reason she was here. She warned me that her second in command might be following her, so I should be on the lookout, for a large person that did not speak much. She wanted to know what my part in all this was.

I summoned another guard and told him to put the word out about this second in command. I was not sure what to make of Kitori’s remark about the superficial things, so I said that if I had not given her the credit due, I apologised. Obviously, I could only rely on what information I had from Galyanna, and given that she had not been able to reveal her undercover role, that, of necessity, was not flattering. I explained to her that my main concern was always the well-being of the village. I was currently removing all our supplies from the castle to prevent them being affected by Lucifer’s gift. In Maric’s absence, I was in charge, including defence, though there I had to rely heavily on the experience of the guards. For the moment, I said, Maric was trying to counter, or at least contain, Lucifer’s gift, and that I had sent for Dyisi so that she could carry out the ritual intended to dispel the gift. In the meanwhile, I had been researching spells of my own that might help. I asked if she had anything that could help.

She accepted my comment in good grace, as the compliment that was meant, saying that if I knew more, then things might not be so pleasant. I assured her that this was not so – she was what she was and I would not hold her nature against her, any more than I would hold it against Galyanna. She and I had fought too many times alongside each other and I trusted her with my life. She told me that her power was that of destruction, but she would do what she could. Her inclination would be to destroy the mirror, and then deal with the leftovers. This, at least, I could agree with.

We were interrupted again by the guards. They told me that they had found Dyisi, who was already hurrying back to the castle and to the vaults to carry out the ritual. Vedis was already in the vaults, they told me and Hadley had been seen trying to get to talk to Vedis. They also told me that Horace had been at Ardan, and was now engaging with Gwrgi, possibly violently. I immediately sent him to sound a stage two alert in the village, to get the guards on the borders and to get everybody indoors. As a secondary precaution, I ordered the evacuation of the castle, sending the staff across to the tavern in the case of any side-effects of Dyisi’s ritual on the castle itself.

I told Kitori that I did not know her, but that I would have to take Galyanna’s word and trust her. We would go to the vaults, I said, and if there was anything she could do, or could help Vedis do, so much the better.

I led the way outside, round through the orchards to the vaults entrance and opened it. Inside, I found Vedis sitting on the floor and told her that I had brought a Talon to see if she could help. It was then that I realised that Hadley was there in the room. Vedis, or at least, the most recent version of Vedis, the fleshy vessel that Maric created for her memories, was explaining to her that Connor, whoever that was, wanted Vedis dead. I tried to persuade Hadley to leave, as I did not regard this as a safe place to be at the moment. The memory of Vedis was telling Hadley that Vedis had loved her and that so did she. Hadley tried to tell me that she had only wanted to talk to Vedis and hadn’t touched her or anything. She was trying to tell Vedis that she loved her too when everything went crazy.

Pain ripped through the castle, and I fell to the ground screaming. I felt the pain of Dyisi, slashing at her own innards, spilling her guts, her blood, her life onto the castle stones. I felt the power of her sacrifice streaming through the stones, driving the corruption, the taint away, hitting my senses like a thousand tooth extractions. I felt the pain as the power of the ritual ripped at the memory of Vedis, crushing her bones, her flesh, her blood, dragging her through the stones of the castle floor towards the circle, the vortex that had been created by the ritual, realising only too late what the ritual would do to Vedis and that part of her that was corrupted. I knew that Maric too felt the same pains, even more so than I, for the castle was so much more part of him. I felt him adding his powers to that of the ritual power, tearing the corruption, the taint away, from the castle, almost as though he were tearing away his own flesh. The screams, of Vedis, of Dyisi, of Maric, tore through my ears, through my mind, along with the sound of Hadley screaming NO! And then, it was gone. All sense of Dyisi was snuffed out, that of Vedis dwindled into the far distance, yet at the same time close at hand until there was but a faint echo, and the sense of Maric falling, both bodily and mentally into the black void of unconsciousness. All else was silence, save for my own laboured breathing and the sobbing of Hadley.

I struggled to my knees, my dulled and beleaguered senses reaching out gingerly, and realising the corruption was gone, save for the shadows it cast, like the ache of a bruise. I gathered Hadley to me, holding her, trying to stem her sobs, saying over and over again, I was sorry. She was crying and asking if they had killed her and where she had gone. I had no answer for her and told her that I did not know. I wished I did know, but I did not. I could only tell her that I had known Vedis for a long time, and that it took a lot to kill her permanently. She had always come back before, I said, so I hoped that she would again. I could not tell her for certain, but I hoped that she would. She tried to pull away, still sobbing and saying she wanted to go home. All I could do was to take her back outside and give her into the care of the guards outside. I asked her to go back to the tavern, or to Dorina’s cottage, wherever she felt safe, and preferably where Wren was, and instructed the guard to stay with her until she was with Wren or Dorina. She went then, still crying, but she went just the same.

I wanted so much to curl up myself and block out the echoes of the pain I still felt, but I could not. With Maric out of things, the village was my responsibility. I ordered the guards to stand down the alert, and get the people back to their homes, and the staff back to the castle, at least, the minimal complement needed to keep things running. It was then, with a heavy heart, that I took myself down to the deeper levels of the vaults, to the laboratory, to where the ritual had happened.

It was dark, and without even thinking, I lit some candles, purely by the blood magic Maric had taught me. The stench of blood hit me as I came down the stairs, but all there was to see was Maric’s inert form, collapsed on the floor in his most monstrous form, and the pool of blood in the centre of the floor. The mirror was a dark, brooding presence, almost malignant, in the corner of the lab. Of Dyisi, her body, her belongings, there was no sign.

There was little I could do. I carefully moved Maric’s body away from the pool of blood and improvised a pillow and blanket for him. He was deeply unconscious and I could not reach him through the link. I felt around the locality, gingerly, to confirm that the taint was gone, but did not dare probe too deeply. The pain of the change was all too fresh in my mind. I closed up the lab and returned to the vaults entrance, telling the guards to prevent anybody from going in or out without my express consent. There was still the matter of whatever it was that Horace was up to out in Faerie, and I had no means of telling that. I set the guard on high alert on the borders with instructions to alert me the moment anything happened outside the borders. I sent one of them to go round the village and make sure that everybody was accounted for, especially the kids.

I returned then to my chambers, giving everybody instructions to alert me if anything happened. I allowed myself the luxury of a large glass of rum, but only the one, in case I was needed, and slumped into my armchair. The castle, and the village, was safe for now, but the cost was high. Dyisi was gone from the strand, having cast away her life for us. If she ever returns, I do not know how we could repay her. Vedis is gone, to where I do not know, and I have a traumatised child who should not have seen what she saw. These and many things I would have to deal with. It was going to be a long night.

Sacrifice

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Bottle of Fire

I should be afraid. There are many things I should be afraid of. With everything that goes on here, it is a wonder that I do not spend more time curled up in a ball gibbering with fear. But that is not in my nature. Of all the things that are going on, the demonic taint, the threat of retribution from the Morning Star, the presence of the Huntsman, the lurking sense that Gwthyr is not entirely gone, there is plenty to fear. Why then does the prospect of our dear Aoibheann practicing magic worry me so? She has just as much right as any of us. Perhaps it is just her unpredictable nature, the fear that a simple light spell might end up setting fire to an entire building or something.

She came to me in the office, clearly on the verge of breaking down in tears. She cannot have failed to notice all the to-ing and fro-ing of the guards and villagers with supplies or to have heard that things were going on in the vaults. All she could gasp was “Maric, Vaults, Demons” at me. I sat her down on the sofa and asked her to breathe for a few minutes before I explained what was going on. I wasn’t sure how up to date she was, so briefly told her about the failed mission, the intervention of the Morning Star, the curse that had come through the mirror and how it was corrupting the castle. I told her that Maric was working on holding it back and that Dyisi was working on a ritual to cure the taint.

As ever, bless her, she focussed on the bits the thought she understood, suggesting that what we needed was a bucket of water and some vinegar to cleanse the taint. I explained in more detail about the demonic corruption and what I thought might be needed – a combination of Maric’s efforts, Dyisi’s ritual and the spells I was trying to research from the ancient book on demons that Maric had rescued from Alexandria. I added that if a bucket of vinegar would help, I would have her down there with a mop as well. She asked if it was something we could send back through the mirror, which thought had also occurred to me. I had to tell her that the corruption was already through and unlike a piece of mouldy bread, we couldn’t just pick the green bits off and throw them away. If that were an option, I would have no compunction about destroying the mirror and worrying about a new portal later.

We were interrupted by a servant, telling me that Horace and Dyisi wanted to see me. I said I would be out shortly and made my apologies to Aoibheann, assuming she probably wouldn’t want to be party to this conversation.

When I got out to the hall, I found Dyisi and Horace there. The latter was rigged for some serious expedition with an eclectic set of weapons, guns and protective gear, including what looked like a round Viking shield. Dyisi advised me that she had completed her research and modifications to the ritual and was ready when we were, unless we had found some other means. I told her I had been researching spells from my book on Gods and Demons, but had been struggling with the translation. I stopped mid-sentence and slapped myself on the head. Here I had been struggling with what I could remember of my schoolboy ancient Greek, and here was somebody who was almost certainly alive when the language was current. I told her where and approximately when the book had come from and asked if she could help with the translation, which she averred she could.

Horace, meanwhile, was complaining that he had not been allowed in the vaults. He had to see Vedis, he said, presumably concerning his mission to restore Faermorn. I told him that the vaults were sealed off for the moment because of the demonic corruption, and nobody was allowed down there until we found a means of dealing with it. I was prepared, however to get a message to Vedis, so that she could perhaps come and speak with him.

Horace was not so easily put off. Lucifer had some beef with him and he was going to Hell and he was going to put a bullet in Lucifer’s face and fix this shit once and for all. At least, that’s what he said, more or less, although he tried to change shoot to negotiate with after.

I opined that shooting Lucifer in the face might possibly be an unwise, not to say, terminal move, no matter how satisfying it might seem. I suggested that maybe we should try to speak to Vedis before taking such drastic action.

Dyisi was more pragmatic, suggesting that maybe he should have coated bullets before engaging such an opponent. She is clearly a good influence on him, and they seemed to have developed some sort of relationship. He was impressed with her advice and wished he had consulted with her earlier. At least he agreed to hold off on any immediate action. For a start, he wished to speak to me about our mutual friend first. He then decided that he had things he needed to do, talking to Ardan. I thanked him for consulting with me before taking action and off he went, Dyisi following soon after, once I had given her the demons book to translate for me.

Aoibheann had clearly been busy in my office when I went to fetch the book. With what I wasn’t quite sure at first, since the main evidence I had was that the rest of the bottle of wine I had opened earlier had been emptied into one of the pans of the scales on my desk. When I asked, she said she needed somewhere to keep the fire. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but then she showed me the bottle. Sure enough, she had somehow captured a flame in it. I have to say I was more than a little impressed, if somewhat worried. The concept of Aoibheann and fire magic was frankly terrifying, but I declined to comment. She put it forward as a possible solution to our problem of taint, thinking that if she could capture fire in a bottle, we could maybe capture the taint. As ideas go, it wasn’t a bad one, even quite a good one, considering normal Aoibheann-logic. However, I did have doubts about the execution. I thanked her for the idea and said that we could review it once we had some better idea from Dyisi as to what the other spells would do.

I left her to it after that. There were other spells to read up on, and those at least were in a language I understood better. I just hope that Aoibheann doesn’t set anything on fire in the meantime.

 

 

Mint Imperials

Dyisi is a treasure! She brought me a bag of mint imperials, just when I was almost out of the meagre store I had. I always loved them and since I became what I am, they have been a tasty supplement to dental hygiene. Not a replacement, by any means. When my diet was mostly blood, dental hygiene took on a whole new level of importance, and the mints helped freshen the mouth (not the breath, for I did not breathe in those days). Since regaining the ability to eat solid food, I have to be even more careful, since that invariably means eating things that are bad for my teeth (and yes, I’ll admit, the mints probably come into that category). With the addition of the occasional moth to my diet, I definitely need them, since moth is not a pleasant taste once I switch back to my normal shape.

I found a small gathering on the green, Maric, Aoibheann, Wren, Hadley and Dyisi. That’s when she gave me the mints. She also brought some books for Aoibheann to read. I do not know them, so they perhaps happened after my time. Peter Pan I had heard of before, from Wren and Hadley, as the source for their adopted surname. Winnie the Pooh, which I later gathered was about a bear, was new to me, as what I was told was a racy novel about vampires. I am not sure this is such a good idea. She has enough misconceptions about us as it is. There were also, apparently, chocolates.

Conversation ranged around the difficulties of cooking and eating dinosaurs, the reality of stories, and the problems and paradoxes of time travel. This latter was prompted by Maric’s perhaps incautious mention of the spatial and temporal aspects of the Shadow Roads, which led to Wren asking about them. I told her they were the realm of the Cait and that they were a dangerous place to go, mentioning, without naming her, the eating habits of the local goddess there. Maric at least echoed my sentiment that people should not go there. I told Wren that I would tell her about it later.

On the matter of being in books, I ventured that I had always wanted to visit the Arthurian court, since they had been my favourite books growing up, and were largely responsible for my holding, so far as I could, to the ideas of chivalry. I admitted that the real knights might well have been dirty, smelly soldiers who drank and womanised too much. Dyisi said that she had experienced the Wonderland portrayed in the Lewis Caroll books.

Given the various gifts that Dyisi had brought, Maric spoke of the possibility of trade and suggested that I should draw up a list of things we needed, subject, of course, to the carrying capability of Dyisi’s pouch. Wren gave Aoibheann a bracelet she had made, much like the one she made me, except the beads either side of the initial letter were fashioned to look like acorns – for Ardan – she said. Aoibheann, in turn, gave Wren what she called a letter of commendation, though she did not disclose for what.

Orie turned up, looking somehow more relaxed and seeming younger than before. He and Dyisi appear to be fond of one another, which is a good thing. We exchanged greetings and enquiries after each others’ health and he seemed more amenable to me, perhaps as a result of our conversation the other day. He commented that he was not yet advanced on his quest, which I could not respond to as I had not yet managed to find Faermorn in my dreams.

Maric and I had a side conversation in silence. I asked about his ‘experiment’ and he said that it had failed. They had gone to restore Vedis, but the mission had failed because Lucifer himself intervened, and now Vedis was banished, which likely applied to Galyanna and Kitori too. This latter was a surprise – Kitori had apparently been working with Galyanna all along. Galyanna had insisted in strict secrecy, which was why he had not been able to tell me about the mission in advance, but she had kept the news about Kitori even from him.

What happens now, he did not know, save that Vedis, Galyanna and Kitori are unlikely to be able to return to Hell. He was fairly hopeful that retribution would not follow them here, but was worried about the vaults, because of their connection to Hell through the mirror. I suggested that we should, as a matter of urgency, make contingency plans for any attack.

He also asked me to speak to the children about the relationship with the fae courts, and in particular, about the choice of courts that may be someday forced upon them. He felt that would better come from me, with my greater experience. I told him I would do so, as well as teaching them about the Shadowroads and other things they should know about.

He had to leave then; there was a sense of instability from the castle, somewhere in the vaults. To me, it felt like toothache. Maric said he had to go and investigate, but charged me to take care of the village, as I always do.

I left the gathering too, as I had duties in the castle. There was much to think about, but at least I can do so with fresh breath.

A song by a band called the Mint Imperials

Parlez Vous

I have found myself being somewhat tired of late. I know that the practising of the bat form is physically demanding, though I grow better used to it in time. At least, when I am flying, I feel free, more so than when I flew the way I did before, when I was always afraid I would forget how. I feel free, unburdened by duties and loyalties, and sometimes, I find myself looking to the far horizon and wondering what lies out there. I do not think I would willingly leave here, but sometimes, it would be nice to just be me, and not have to worry about so many things. I have not slept well these last few days, and have neglected my studies, and my diary. That latter, I will try now to remedy.

I fear, sometimes, that the strain of trying to reconcile my different natures is getting to me. I suppose I should expect this. In some ways, the powers of the vampire should be the very antithesis of those of the fae. Some would say that the powers of the vampire are those of death, whereas those of the fae are of life. I am not so sure. The vampiric powers derive from the blood, which could be regarded as the essence of life. Now my first magic lessons came from Paasheeluu, and her power definitely came from death, but I did not partake of her power, save that a fragment of horn was my focus, just her teachings. My research has thus far found little of use. My situation is, if not unique, at least very rare.

Most of the time, I feel that I am integrating the aspects well. Save for those times I exercise those powers I know to be purely vampiric, such as the ones I learned before I knew I was fae, I do not distinguish between the powers when I used them. But then, I so rarely exercise any of my powers unless I have to. I guess for the same reason that I prefer to not dress in a manner that befits my station. However, lately, I have been experience fatigue, headaches and suchlike, which, sadly, I have allowed to manifest itself in occasional grumpiness.

The other day, I found the Darlings and Aoibheann down by the river. I didn’t really get much of a chance to find out what was going on, save that they had gone there in pursuit of a lost lamb and had had a bit of a spat about something – the kids, that is. All I know is that Aoibheann and Wren were in the water, and then we found Hadley entangled in the roots of a nearby tree. Between us, Aoibheann and I managed to free her, albeit somewhat bruised and having fainted. I tried to soothe things a little, talking about how we needed to try to fix this, then Aoibheann reacted, as she often does to my optimistic approach by saying that things can’t always be fixed. Words were said that left us both less than well-tempered and I fear that Wren may have taken my words as suggesting she was to blame for the accident. Aoibheann was determined to take Hadley to Ardan and spend some time there. I suggested that maybe we should have a picnic and went back to the castle for some supplies. Unfortunately, castle business intervened and I did not make it back. I do hope that Wren will still speak to me. I thought we had made progress the other day, but I fear I might have set that back a little.

-=oOo=-

I did not get much of a chance to speak with them the following day. I had heard them talking by the orchards but before I could go and see them, I was interrupted by one of the guards, warning me of a potentially hostile visitor at the Mystgate. I took a few of the guards with me and went to investigate, sending Mirko to the bell, ready to sound an alert if necessary.

What I found by the gate was a very large being, heavily armoured, very dark, but emitting an internal glow, as if he were powered by a furnace of some sort. I was reminded of the character I had seen around London sometimes, whose name I don’t recall at the moment. It was lifting one of the guards out of the way. I told it that we preferred visitors to not do that to our guards and asked what it wanted. I signalled to one of the guards that we should stand by for a stage two alert.

It put the guard down and faced me. It squatted, placed its hand a few feet off the ground and made a clawing gesture. I was not sure what to make of this. Perhaps it had lost something or it was hurt? It tried again, making a deep groaning noise, at which, black smoke and sparks emerged from its visor. It tapped itself on the chest, pointed at its eyes, made a sweeping gesture in the direction of the village, and then produced a dagger, which it waved around before putting it away again. It also repeated the hand held out flat above the ground gesture. It was looking for something, or someone, maybe a short person with a dagger. I told him that there were no such people within the village, and that I would not permit it to use any weapons there.

The smell of the smoke reached me, and something in that suggested a demonic origin, as if the general appearance had not already done so. It faced me, and somehow, looked irritated by having to play charades. This time, it tried speaking, though the noises that emerged reminded me of the times Father would be having cartloads of gravel or rubble delivered from wooden carts, rather than an actual voice. It managed two words that were comprehensible – Galyanna and Parlay.

That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. This was clearly an emissary from Kitori, or possibly Asmodeus, and therefore dangerous. I told it that I had not seen Galyanna for some days, but if I did, I would pass on the message. I warned it that any dealings it had with Galyanna should take place outside the village. We were a peaceful people, I said, and wished to remain so. If it wished, it could return the following day and I would leave a message with the guards as to Galyanna’s response, if any. It appeared to understand and indicated that it would return to talk. It then turned and disappeared into the dusk.

I stood the guards down from high alert, but recommended they kept extra vigilance and told them to spread the word that I was to be alerted as soon as Galyanna appeared.

I went back to the village, intending to warn people of this possible threat and to report the news to Maric when he woke. On the way, I encountered Dyisi, sitting under the tree. I thanked her for obtaining the doll for Hadley and asked if I owed her anything for it. She waved that off and said that she could obtain things, other things, if I wished. I thought of the various trade goods that I had wanted to obtain, but thought this was possibly impractical, as I would need things by the cartload. One selfish thought did occur. I missed my mint imperials and had been feeling the want of them of late. While practising the bat form, I had been unable to resist the temptation to consume, as bats do, moths and other flying insects. Even with a good brushing of teeth and a glass of rum after, that is still a hard taste to get out of one’s mouth. I didn’t tell her about the bat thing, but did ask if she could obtain the mints, which she reckoned she could. I would have spoken more on trade, but the guard alerted me to the presence of Galyanna down by the gate.

I went to see her and told her what had passed. She was not best pleased. She had been quite jovial when I arrived, at least, as jovial as she ever is, but as soon as I told her about the demon, she switched into full warrior mode. She partly drew her sword and went immediately to the gate, facing out, searching. She told me to put the village on lockdown and that I was not to let any of the guards go with her, or patrolmen. I was not entirely happy about letting her go on her own, but deferred to her greater experience. I was more than happy to not let any patrolmen go with her. I told her to be careful and asked that she tell the guards when it was safe to stand down the alert if I was not around.

I went back to the village and sounded the alert, telling everybody to get inside. I found Wren, Hadley and Aoibheann in Dorina’s cottage, apparently cooking something, so I told them to stay inside or return to the castle as soon as possible.

What passed, I do not yet know, as I have not seen Galyanna since. I heard the all-clear sounded some time after she left, and the guards tell me that she returned safely and told them to sound it. I will have to see what happened next time I see her.

-=oOo=-

Horace came to see me in the morning, to talk about Faermorn. I had asked him to do so after the incident with Gwrgi, but had not had opportunity until now. He declined coffee, saying he had already drunk too much at the tavern, and asked what I knew of Faermorn.

I decided to level with him, and told him of my part-fae nature, and how Faermorn had helped me to reconnect with that shortly before she departed. I explained briefly the nature of the fae afterlife, such as I knew of it, and then told him that she still visited me in my dreams, although it was more real than that.

She did the same to him, he said, visiting him in his dreams. She had told him he could help to restore her, but he needed some items to do so. His first task, he said, was to recover the stolen branch of the Mallorn tree from Esterwell and bring it back here.

That would be no easy task, I said. I told him that I would ask if he was sure, but I knew, from my own experience, that he would do anything for her. I asked that he keep me advised of his plans. While the Damondreds themselves could no longer come here, they could send others, and I would want to be prepared. I offered what help I could and asked what other items he needed.

He declined any assistance on the ground. It would be a hit and run operation, he said. The other item was the red stone, part of that which had imprisoned Faermorn on the side of the sea-monster. He needed to speak to Vedis or Galyanna in order to obtain this.

He looked down at his hands. He was already changing, it seemed, and he did not know how the restoration of Faermorn would change him further, or how it would affect the Summerlands. I did not know either, but I had to take a pragmatic approach. I told him how Gwyneth and Janus had built a new Summerlands, as the land that was part of Faermorn was no longer. They were the monarchs now and anything concerning the fae monarchy was their business to sort out. My business was the protection of Mysthaven. I felt a slight twinge at that, since I loved Gwyneth and, in a different way, Faermorn and did not want to see conflict. But then, surely Faermorn knew she could not regain the throne. I could not think how that would work and put the matter aside for the moment. I told Horace that I had known the wrath of the Damondreds, so I admired his bravery in even thinking of going up against them.

He shook his head, saying he had seen brave men, but he was something else. He had seen the horrors of war, he had seen no-mans-land, and after that, he could do anything. He stood to go, saying he would keep me advised of his plans and thanked me for my offer of assistance.

I stood too and saluted him before shaking his hand. Nevertheless, I told him, I still admired his courage. I said I would speak to Vedis about the stone and repeated that if there was anything he needed, to let me know.

He left then, and I sat for a while considering. Up until now, I had been less than patient with him, finding his attitudes irritating, but now I had new respect for him. I was still concerned as to the nature of his mission. Had she truly visited him, or was he under some elf-struck delusion? I would have to try to go to Faermorn in my dreams soon.

Later that day, I joined Wren, Hadley and Aoibheann for archery practice. I fear I may have accidentally started a competition of some sort, since my first arrow flew true and hit dead centre of the gold. That was a bit of a fluke, however, and subsequent shots were more consistent with my normal skill. Wren and Aoibheann both managed to hit the target and even Hadley did after one or two false starts. Everybody seemed relaxed, so I didn’t pursue any of the questions I had for Wren, and the evening passed quite pleasantly.

 

Parlez Vous

Darling

The girls have decided on a new surname. Well, Hadley seems to have decided on it and Wren is going along with it. Henceforth, they will be known as Hadley and Wren Darling. Apparently, this is the surname of some children in a book called Peter Pan. I have heard Wren and Gwyn speak of this book before. I seem to recall it involves a boy who never grows up. I wonder if there is any significance to that. For myself, I would rather it commemorated the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Grace Darling, but I doubt that they have even heard of her. I did suggest that we have some sort of naming ceremony to mark the change that they could celebrate on anniversaries, like Maric had the Naming Day ball. Neither was keen on the idea, but I told them I would record them in the village census under their new name anyway.

Val came briefly to visit, but Royce and Nualla dragged her away pretty quickly, not even letting her stay for a drink and a warm by the fire in the tavern. At least she was there long enough to hug Aoibheann and meet the Darlings. Wren was a little confused by my kissing Valene and asked if Gwyn would be mad. I didn’t want to get into details, but assured her that Gwyn and I loved each other very much, as did Val and I, and nobody was going to get mad.

Senna turned up, apparently in search of a drink. I asked her about Patch and the Metatron. It turns out that Metatron is one of the archangels, the one who has the role of being the heavenly scribe. Now that she mentioned it, I remember vaguely reading about that somewhere. Or it could have been during the after-dinner discussion I had with the Rev. Elverson about angels dancing on pinheads. If I recall, a lot of port was consumed that night. Senna was not at all pleased with the idea of angels being around the place, they and demons being natural enemies of course. She was unsure if he was a threat or not – he had been sent here to observe, but the question remains of what conclusion might be drawn from the observation. On the other hand, it was also still Patch. For the moment, all we could do was, like him, observe, and see what happens.

Wren wasn’t entirely sure what an archangel was, so I dredged up what I could recall of the angelic host – cherubim, seraphim, archangels and suchlike, likening them to ranks in the army. Harder to explain was why the angels were the bad guys, at least, from Senna’s perspective, and, to some extent, from the perspective of our current situation. I didn’t really want to get into a major theological discussion, especially with Aoibheann around who would likely understand it even less than Wren. I left it that Angels were supposedly on the side of humanity, but that their views on that might be coloured by circumstances, e.g. us helping Vedis and co. Generally speaking the best thing to do was stay out of it.

I changed the subject by suggesting we relocated to the cabin for tea and cakes, or in Senna’s case, strong drink. Hadley joined us, trying to sneak up on Wren and poking her from behind. She looked a little dishevelled, possibly because of her adventures, and possibly because nobody was around making her comb her hair or wash or anything. It was likely she hadn’t brought any clothes with her. Aoibheann had clearly come to the same conclusion, since she asked me if she could have an allowance to get some clothes and other essentials for Hadley and Wren. I told her that was fine, and that as lady of the household, she could make decisions about that level of expenditure without asking me first, just so long as she told me about it at some point. She wasn’t entirely sure about that, but I insisted. She then put herself in charge of dealing with Hadley’s hair. Wren made some noises about having to get a job to pay for her things but I would have none of it. They were my responsibility, so I would pay for things until they were in a position to start earning. Maybe when she was a fully paid up member of the guard, she could start paying for herself, but for now, I told her, don’t worry about it.

I left them to it then, telling Hal to put the cakes and drink on my tab. I had other duties that evening, and some sleep to catch up on.

Darling

Arms of an Angel

Well, that was something of an interesting day. There had been a demon attack overnight, I had a visit from three demons, and a visit from a fourth demon under the direction of an angel. On the plus side, I am reunited with my beloved Queen of the Cait.

My morning report from the guards and the stewards rather disturbingly included an attack by Kitori overnight. The purpose of the attack was unknown, but fortunately, Galyanna had been on hand, and assisted by others, had contained the fight and taken it outside the village boundaries.

I heard that Galyanna had returned, so I left the castle and went to thank her, finding her near the tavern with Karl Seid. The latter was just visiting, he said, and departed for the tavern soon after. It seemed a peaceful enough day, the main noise being Wren and Hadley playing and talking about climbing trees.

Galyanna told me some more about the attack. Hal had taken charge of the children and sheltered them in the tavern with the help of the guards. The other guards had assisted her and respected her decision to take the fight elsewhere. I nodded and thanked her; pleased that all had gone according to the standard procedures that Maric, Kustav and I had worked out. I told her that there were standing orders that the guard follow her guidance when it came to demonic attacks. While we were talking, a fiery-red-headed figure approached, almost dwarfed by the huge sword on her back. It was Senna. Galyanna told me that she had arrived last night and that she had thought her to be working for Kitori at first; however, she had assisted in the defence of the village. Senna was her usual jovial and irreverent self, calling me Natey and being highly delighted to have had the chance to use her sword almost as soon as we had arrived. I welcomed her back and thanked her for her assistance.

My senses picked up that I was being watched, and I realised that many of the Cait were lurking in the undergrowth, including Royce. He approached and told me, rather cryptically, that SHE wished my presence. My heart skipped a beat. Maric had told me that he had spoken with Valene and Sebastios, so I assumed that SHE was Valene, hoping desperately that it wasn’t that other female ruler of that domain. Before I could answer him, there was a loud whooshing sound as something plummeted at high speed, landing near the castle, sending out a gust of wind that rattled the trees all around. I asked Royce to despatch one of the younger Cait to tell Valene that I would be honoured to attend upon HER, just as soon as I ascertained that this latest happening was no threat.

By the time I got to the castle, the guards had formed a defensive ring, surrounding the figure that stood there, but seemed a little uncertain as to what to do. It was a strange figure, radiating a curious sense of peace. In appearance, it looked to be of angelic origin, to my limited experience of such beings, yet there was something familiar. It regarded us calmly, telling us that it meant us no harm. I recognised something about the voice and the face. It was Galyanna’s apprentice, Patch.

I told the guard to stand down, saying this one was known to us, and asked what he wanted. Beside me, Galyanna was not so sure; muttering something about what had Patch done to himself.

When it spoke, its manner was strange. “This one,” it said, “had been sent here to observe this realm.” He apparently heard Galyanna’s remark, for he addressed her, saying that this one had been corrected and reformed, to come here and make a note of the balance of this realm on behalf of somebody called the Grand Metatron. I had no idea what kind of name Metatron was, but there appeared to be no immediate danger. I decided to leave it in Galyanna’s hands, since she was much more familiar with Patch and his… eccentricities. Perhaps I should have stayed, but there did not appear to be any immediate threat. It was Patch, albeit in the arms of an angel. I had to trust that no danger was forthcoming. Besides, I was eager to go with Royce and see my beloved Cait Queen. I told the children to stay well away and to do what Galyanna told them. I left her to deal with this new visitor, saying that I would leave some of the Cait to observe and that she should send one of them for me if there was any danger.

I observed for a moment. Galyanna seemed to be less than pleased, but it did not look as if there was going to be any immediate dangerous activity. I went back to Royce and let him part the ways for me, through to the Roads and Valene’s abode.

She was there, seated on her throne, surrounded by the Cait, all trailing by the throne, each eager for a little attention. She looked much as she ever did, but perhaps with some more white in her hair. I paid it no heed, for to me she was always lovely. I smiled and approached gently, asking who I should greet first, my Queen or my Love. Mindful that there might be members of her court present, I knelt and gave her formal greeting from a kneeling position.

She asked if they were different, for surely she was both. I got up again, teasing her slightly, saying that she was indeed both, but that protocols should be observed. I then said that now I could greet my Love and drew her into a warm embrace and longing kiss. I told her I had missed her greatly, and that the Cait had sometimes let me come and watch her sleeping, but that wasn’t quite the same thing.

She wrapped herself up in my embrace, pulling me down so I could share the throne with her, there being plenty of room for her slight body next to mine. We snuggled for a few moments and she said she had noticed my scent in the room. She said that the Cait had been bringing her up to date, but asked me to tell her what she had missed.

I scarcely knew where to begin. I pulled her closer, if that were possible, into my embrace, sharing my warmth with her since I had it to spare. I told her of the battles with the demons, of our sheltering in the Roads, and the price we had paid for that. I told her of the passing of the old rulers of Faerie and the rise of Gwyneth and Janus, of the rebuilding of the Summerlands and the joining of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. I told her that we now dwelt in the Summerlands. I told her what had become of Vedis and how we were trying to restore her. I told her of the arrival of Patch just before I had come to her. Finally, wanting to give her some cheer, I told her of the children that Gwyn, Janus and I were going to have.

She took a while, taking the news in, nuzzling against me and trailing her fingers through my hair. Up close, I could see that there was more white in hers, but again, it mattered not to me. She made comment about how life changed while sleepers sleep. She was not surprised that Nemaine had taken the bodies and taken one who had not been dead. She had warned me that she was treacherous even before we thought of taking the village there. She herself had slumbered long, she told me, for her power had ebbed. But now the change of seasons had come, and winter’s approach had woken her. She said that He was whispering through the trees, presumably the spirit of Winter, and how he still owned a part of her, just as her Queen had. I was a little chilled by that, wondering if the He she spoke of was Gwythr.

Perhaps sensing her mood, one of the kittens braved the leap into her lap and curled up there, asking and offering comfort. She stroked it as we spoke. She gave her blessing to the new King and Queen. She had not known Janus well, but he and she shared a sorrow. She also proffered blessing on the children we were going to have. There was a touch of melancholy there as she told me that she had long known she was barren, as half-blood fae often were. She said that I would have to let her visit them often, saying that they would be guarded by her and her people because we were beloved by her kind and especially her. She had missed me, even in her slumbers, as one who had seen her through good times and bad. She had dreamed, she said, of the past, and of Home.

I kissed her and said it was a shame, because she would have had beautiful children. I told her I was surprised to be a father, having thought myself to be sterile as a vampire and having only a small portion of fae blood by birth. I could only assume that the life-giver energy from Isabella and the Quickening from Faermorn were what had allowed me to have issue. The thought of Faermorn brought the start of a tear to my eyes, as had the longing in Valene’s voice when she spoke of her. I told her that I missed Faermorn too, but knew that she was not truly gone, for she had come to me in dreams, had come to her warrior-poet.

I held her close again and kissed her over and over. I did not know where home was any more, I told her, but being with her felt like home. And, wherever I was, she would always be welcome with me, wherever I was was her home too. I kissed her again and told her how much I had missed her.

She plucked the young Cait from her lap and set it down, standing and drawing me up too. Nothing ever dies, she told me, but sometimes things were too far from sight and mind. She looked to make a decision to forget melancholy thoughts for the now and asked if I would stay the night with her. She knew I had duties, as did she, but for now, she wanted just one night of togetherness – not Queen and Sigil or Steward, just Nathaniel and Valene. She looked up at me and the longing in her eyes almost broke my heart. There was no way I was going to refuse her, come hell or high water. “Always,” I told her, “always, my love, always.” I lifted her then, for another kiss and then let her lead me to her chambers, to a place of privacy, where we could lie together as old friends, old lovers, regardless of rank and title, to enjoy each other for as long as the night would let us.

 Arms of an Angel

Dreams of Children

Hadley walks among us again, in her dreams. I don’t know how she does this, but while she is sleeping in her home back, presumably in Esterwell, she projects herself here, and walks and talks with us. She is doing this, I discovered, because she wants to come here. She is not happy at home, she feels her parents are too busy to spend time with her and she wants to move here. Worse still, Aoibheann, Wren, and Vedis are actively considering ways of achieving this.

I found them in the village, discussing possibilities. I had not encountered the child myself before, but I had been told that she had been visiting Aoibheann for the past few days, or possibly nights. Who knows what time it is in Esterwell? So far as I could make out from what I heard, Aoibheann was under the impression that Vedis was going to make a body for the dream Hadley to inhabit, whereas Wren was sure that Vedis could make a portal to bring her here in person. I gathered that they had been told this by a gypsy lady, who I later learned was Phaedra. The idea, apparently, would be that Vedis would make the portal and Hadley could then wake up and come through physically. She was unable to do this at the moment because her own magic is blocked.

Naturally, I was extremely concerned at this turn of events. After what had happened before, I did not want to think what retribution the Damondreds would seek if Hadley were to come here again. Against that, the child seemed extremely earnest in her desire to leave there and come here, as did Aoibheann and Wren, who were all looking at me, almost pleading with me to allow this.

I squatted down and addressed the child, asking what was wrong and why she wanted to come here, then addressed the same question to Wren and Aoibheann. I also asked Aoibheann if she had forgotten what had happened last time Hadley had been here.

Aoibheann tried to convince me that it couldn’t happen again. Mysthaven was protected now, so Alec could not come here and do anything. She said that Maric was aware of Hadley’s presence and that he had promised to protect her. It wasn’t safe for Hadley, she said, she could get trapped in her dreams and possibly die. What kind of people would we be if we sent her back when she didn’t want to go? Wren chipped in saying that she was afraid Hadley would be hurt. Her parents were blocking her from using her magic, which was not good for her. She also said they lied to her a lot, although she did not explicate about what.

Hadley answered me for herself. She was not happy there. For the past five days, she had only woken up long enough to eat and go to the bathroom so that she could spend lots of time here. Her parents were busy with work and the babysitter didn’t care very much. She looked up at me and looked as if she was about to cry. She didn’t want to live like this, she said. Would I want to live in a world where I didn’t know who I was and everybody lied to me? She didn’t.

I took this on board soberly. She appeared genuinely distressed and this didn’t seem like the complaints of a temporarily neglected child. And, I was only too aware of the ways that Alec and Isabella could treat people. I told her that no, I would not want to live like that. I felt conflicted. She clearly did not want to be where she was, and to some extent, I could not blame her, but, on the other hand, I had to consider the possible consequences. I stood up and told them all that I wanted to help if I could, but pointed out I would need to ask Maric first, and we had to consider all the possible ramifications. How could we do this? How could we protect ourselves? Was there a way we could shield Hadley so Alec and Isabella couldn’t track her here? I squatted down and asked her again, was she absolutely sure this was what she wanted to do?

Aoibheann chipped in again, saying that she was sure Maric’s exile of Alec and Isabella would extend to blocking tracking spells. I resisted pointing out that, as the thought came to me, they wouldn’t need a spell. If Hadley disappeared, given recent events, this might be the first place they looked. If Hadley still had access to her magic, then they might be likely to look elsewhere, but, without it, we were the most likely place to look. Aoibheann also pointed out that it had been five days already, and we might not have the luxury of doing things the right way, as if time was of the essence. We didn’t even know how much time it would take Vedis to do this, she said. Wren chipped in asking if we could find out if Vedis could even do this, before we got into any other technical details.

Hadley responded to my question without even seeming to have to think about it. She was absolutely sure, she said. Her family was here now, along with all her real memories. Back there was only loneliness and lies. She told me she had been risking her life for five days coming here and even without being able to touch things, those days were the happiest she could remember.

I told her that I understood. I still thought we should ask Maric first, before doing anything, but Wren was right, first we should find out what was possible, and if Vedis could not do this, then we had to look at the alternatives. As it happened, Vedis turned up as I was speaking, as did Sophia. I greeted them both with a smile, lifting my hand to catch the kiss that Vedis had blown at me. I enquired if Sophia was on one of her furloughs, which she said she was. She did not look to be entirely up to speed with what was going on, and I couldn’t blame her. She said something about being lost and about something being better in the void with the sisters. She clearly knew Vedis, which made sense, and asked her if she should be going home now. I mentioned that she had met Hadley and Wren before in Jasper Cove, but I couldn’t tell if that triggered any memories.

Aoibheann greeted them both and the decided she needed to go and get something from the castle, something that would help though she did not say what. She scurried off at high speed, leaving us to explain the situation to Vedis. Wren simply said that we needed Vedis’ help. Hadley tried to explain, though her explanation was a little hurried and fractured. She said that a woman called something beginning with Ph had said that she knew Vedis and that Vedis would be able to help her come here in real form instead of dreams.

I explained in a more logical manner, introducing Hadley, before remembering that Vedis may have known her from Jasper Cove days, even if she had been but a babe then. I said that they wanted to know if she could do such a thing. I pointed out that while I was sympathetic to the idea, I was aware of the potential consequences, so did not want to proceed before consulting Maric. I made a quick call through the mental link, but he was not awake, or otherwise reachable. In his absence, I emphasised again the need to check with him first.

Vedis said that she could do this thing. She had no desire to invoke Alec and Isabella’s wrath either, but if it was what Hadley wanted, then there was little they could do. She agreed that Maric should be consulted first; however, she wanted to know who was going to pay for this favour. She looked at Hadley and asked what she would offer her to do this for her. I was immediately concerned. Hadley was too young to be making deals with demons, and, to my mind, Vedis had no place asking a child such a thing. Before I could say anything, the situation was further complicated by the arrival of none other than Horace, riding in on a horse. I greeted him briefly, focussing again on Vedis. I said that it was good that she was willing to do this for us, but warned her that it was not fair to expect a child to enter into such a bargain. Perhaps it would be better to discuss terms later.

Vedis looked distracted for a moment, saying something about “Not here, not now.” I realised she was talking to Sophia, who had started humming, possibly a similar song to the one she had sung part of when she visited last. She told Hadley to make sure she was near a mirror and she would find her. She agreed that we should discuss terms later. She said I should speak with Maric as soon as possible, but she was going to do this tomorrow, with or without his approval. She briefly greeted Horace, and then said she had to take Sophia back to the sisters. With that, she was gone, with Sophia following mutely.

Aoibheann came running back, though I did not see anything with her that would help with the task in hand. Wren mentioned again something about the gypsy lady, presumably meaning Phaedra, having something in payment, and told Hadley that she would be with us soon. Hadley looked delighted with the proceedings and promised Wren a real hug soon.

Horace meanwhile looked somewhat confused by what was going on, staring after Vedis and asking if it was her. I told him I it was. His story was a long one, he said, claiming he needed to speak with Galyanna as soon as possible. He was paying far too much attention to Hadley for my liking and it occurred to me that he may have come here from Esterwell and therefore, possibly knew the child. I told him that I did not know where Galyanna was and warned him that he should respect the child’s privacy and not speak of her presence. He agreed that it was not his business but repeated his insistence that he needed to speak to Galyanna.

I was about to repeat that I did not know where she was, when said worthy appeared from behind the tree. I greeted her jovially and pointed her at Horace. Before I left, I asked him to come and speak with me another day and suggested he take a room at the new tavern.

I left them then, returning to the castle to leave a note for Maric. I just hoped that he would be awake and able to deal with it before anything drastic happened.

Dreams of Children