Living on an Island Pt 2

Morning produced a sense of dislocation and confusion as to where there hell I was until I dragged myself out of the bed and looked out of the window. I had to laugh at myself. There was a time in my life when waking in up in a strange bed was a not uncommon experience. But, I am not that man now. The morning failed to produce a wife of any description. It also failed to produce coffee, or at least, none that I could find in the kitchen. There was nothing to it; I would have to go back to the official residence, for want of any better name for it, where I was fairly sure I remembered seeing some variation on the theme of infernal coffee machine. First, I selected an outfit – more jeans and a jacket of heavy cotton in a colour and style that reminded me of army uniforms.

I went back up to the Atrium, and, sure enough, there was a coffee machine. In some ways, it was more aesthetically pleasing than the one in the Lucky Leaf, being largely constructed in brass. On the other hand, though, it was just as frustrating. After 10 fruitless minutes trying to fathom the damned thing out, I bellowed for help.

Bran appeared a few minutes later. He looked as though he had not slept much and was muttering about levels again. When I asked him to show me how to operate the infernal machine, he sighed and put his bleeping gadget aside. I could see coloured shapes moving on one side of it and was reminded of Riley, back in the days of Jasper Cove and the gadget she liked to play with. I speculated that it was probably one of the Internet things that Gwyn and Wren often spoke of. Bran demonstrated the workings of the machine ably enough, although I did have to turn one valve for him because he had apparently strained his thumb. Possibly in pursuit of the levels that seemed to be his current obsession.  I also asked him about currency and he rather reluctantly gave me what looked to amount to $200 in tens and twenties. He assured me this should be sufficient to complete my purchase of the book, and pay for such meals as I felt I needed during the course of the day.

I finished my coffee and returned to the house before heading down towards the dock area again. There was an intriguing vessel tied up against a jetty. I guessed it to be a small yacht, possibly intended for pleasure trips. It looked very modern and sleek compared to similar sized vessels I had encountered in my days with the shipping company, but then, I suppose, that is to be expected over the course of a hundred plus years. Again, I felt the sea calling me, and I stood there, imagining where one might go on such a vessel.

“Top of the morning t’you,” came a voice from behind, disturbing my reverie. The accent was very Irish. “If you’re wanting a cruise, you’ll have to be booking up at the office there.” I turned to see a bearded individual in a short jacket covered in badges. He had brown hair and a beard and a somewhat piercing gaze.

“I’m sorry,” I said, jumping back onto the jetty. “I’m a bit of a sailor myself and got carried away admiring this vessel.”

He looked to be slightly taken aback by my accent. “That’s ok,” he said, “no harm done. You’re English then?”

I nodded. “Guilty as charged. Nathaniel Ballard,” I said, offering my hand. “I’m Gwyneth’s husband.”  I gestured back towards the house, which could be seen over the top of the crow’s nest on the other building.

“Ah,” he said, shaking my hand. There was a momentary tingle of Wyld energy there, causing me to wonder if he was fae. Our eyes met for a moment, and there was a hint of recognition as if he had felt it too. “She has mentioned you. Aodhán O’Súileabháin at your service. Or Aidan O’Sullivan, if you prefer the easier way of spelling. General factotum and chief mechanic.”  He started walking towards one of the buildings near the yacht. A workshop of some sort, I guessed from the tool cabinets. “What do you do? Gwyneth said you were some sort of Lord of the Manor.”

“Did she now?” I laughed. “Well, sort of, yes. But I’m thinking of retiring to here. Technically, I’m an accountant, albeit one a little out of practice. And I’m a pretty good carpenter and joiner.” I looked at him. “Oh, and did you really say top of the morning just now?”

“All good skills,” he said, laughing. “We could do with a skilled woodworker. Have you done much shipbuilding?” He shuffled a couple of tools around. “Oh, and yes I did. People expect it.”

“I don’t,” I said. “I’ve served with many an Irishman in my sailing days, gotten extremely drunk with them on many occasions, and never once did any of them say top of the morning.”

“You got me,” he said, softening the accent somewhat. “I’ll try to avoid doing it again.”

We chatted about boats and woodwork for a while before I took my leave, agreeing to meet for a drink at some future occasion.  I explored the dock area a while longer, before taking myself back up to the top of the grand stairway. I had seen a lighthouse up on a high point and determined to go find that. I followed the paths as far as they took me and then struck out through the woods, past a picnic spot and up onto the promontory. The lighthouse was a pleasant building, and while it appeared to be operational, the living space, so far as I could see through the windows, looked to be abandoned. I made a note to find out why some day.

Heading back through the woods, I encountered some carved standing stones. Whether they were some piece of public art, a memorial of some sort, or were of ritual significance, I couldn’t tell, although there did seem to be a hint of magic of some sort about them. Maybe they were Native American – Gwyn had once gently chided me for using the term Indian – artefacts.

I made my way back to the commercial district and paid for my book. I must get Gwyn to explain modern economics. I have no idea if $10 is a good price for a second-hand book. Given that I noticed that a tall mocha, which, from the aroma, is something related to coffee, was $4.75, so maybe that is good. A book for the price of two cups of coffee?

There is an interesting fountain near the bookshop. Half horse, half fish, which is, if I recall correctly, a hippocampus. From limited observation, it appears to be just a fountain. Mind you, if it comes to life at certain phases of the moon or something, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised.

I found a more conventional fountain in a nearby public garden. Well, I say more conventional… it did have four gargoyle like creatures spitting water into the lower level, but was otherwise conventional fountain-shaped.

The garden also featured a pleasant stone gazebo, which, were it back home in England, one might imagine being occupied by the local brass band. Of course, I don’t know if they have such things in this century, or in this country. I also liked the sculpture of a woman whose body was the trunk of a tree. I was reminded of my old friend and occasional lover, Aerodine, the dryad and found myself wondering what became of her.

Beyond the gardens, I found an intriguing structure. Part of it was old stone, such as one might find in the ruins of a medieval castle back home in England, though I could no imagine that such a structure might exist here, at least, not of that antiquity. But then, I do not know the history of these parts, any of it. Obviously, I don’t know that which occurred since my home time, but I don’t know anything much of what happened before that. I remember reading an article about a place called Mesa Verde in Colorado where there are stone structures comparable to those in medieval Europe, so I suppose it is possible. There is much to learn.

I returned to the house to change, as the day had warmed up considerably since I left. One outfit that Gwyn had left for me consisted of a light sweater and a pair of short trousers that reminded me of the shorts we were required to wear for football practice at school. A part of me rebelled at that memory, for I had had no love of sports at school, much less for the inevitable hacked shins and shoulder charges and trips that the bullies would try to claim were a fair tackle. Nevertheless, I chose to ignore those memories. Mother would have been proud. I still felt a little rebellious going outside so casually dressed, a relic, perhaps of the mores of my time, but my appearance did not excite any comment.

I took lunch at one of the eateries near the bookshop. Many of the dishes were unfamiliar to me, so I opted for a cheeseburger and fries, remembering the treats that Valene would sometimes send her Cait out to get for me, and a refreshing glass of cold cider. What the waiter meant by his comment – “You’re English, right? You’ll be wanting hard cider then”- I do not know. I shall have to ask Gwyn.  The cheeseburger and fries resembled the paper-wrapped things that the Cait had obtained for me so long ago about as much as rotgut whisky in a dockside tavern resembles fine single malt. The burger part had recognisable meat, the fries were crisp and chunky and it was served hot. OK, I can hardly blame the Cait for the latter. They had to transport it through the Shadow Roads and nothing retains heat there for very long. This was a delicious meal and very satisfying, aside from one small ingredient, but that will have to wait until I get back to Mysthaven. While Gwyn has told me this is a sanctuary for supernaturals of all sorts, I do not yet know how my kind would be received. That’s one disadvantage of having lived in Mysthaven for so long, my feeding habits have become lazy. That is something else I shall have to relearn.

I decided to head back down to the beach, feeling I was more suitably attired. I rather enjoyed the long wooden walkway that led down to the beach. It reminded me of some of the smaller ports I had docked at over the years, although it lacked the smell of tar and seaweed that I associated with such places. It took a rather twisted path down from the town, which made me wonder how many people had fallen off attempting to negotiate it in an inebriated state. Something, I hasten to add, I never did in my sailing days, excluding that one time in Rotterdam.

The bridge that leads to our house proved interesting from below. Carved stone in a somewhat Celtic style and an entertaining grotesque looking down from its apex. Looking through the arch, it seemed to lead to the end of the promenade area, close to the ship-fashioned building.

The other end of the beach was occupied by a rambling wooden building. Some of it was presumably a residence, but parts looked to be a shop or workshop for surf boards. At least, that is what I guessed these strange items were. I had heard of such things from some of my sailor friends who had visited Hawaii and such like places. I gather the idea is to stand or lie on the board and ride the waves. The waves I could see here did not look particularly energetic but maybe I had come on a calm day. I added it to my list of things to learn more about. It’s going to be a long list, but then, I don’t intend to die for a long time yet, so I hope there will be time.

Of more interest was a large mobile structure to one side of the building. It put me in mind of a vardo, a Romany caravan, but on a much larger scale. What its purpose might be here on a beach, I could not guess.

I wandered further around the beach area for some time until evening set in, when I returned to the part of the beach near the vardo. There was a well-established fire-pit on the beach, with plenty of driftwood for fuel. I had no matches or tinderbox about my person, but then, I hardly need such a thing with my mastery of fire magic. Fortunately, that still seemed to work here, and soon I had a very respectable fire going. This attracted the attention of somebody from the house – none other than my old friend Dyisi, whose establishment this apparently was. I suppose I should not have been surprised to see her. She was not overly surprised to see me either, greeting me somewhat nonchalantly and joining me around the fire. She asked after Gwyn and I said I had not yet seen her since her abdication. I told her a little of my explorations and we chatted of things of little consequence. It occurred to me that this was a rare and precious thing. To sit and converse with a friend, with no matters of import to discuss – no political upheavals, no battles to plan, no rogue fae to confront. A rare and precious thing indeed.

I could have sat there all night, but, alas, for all the peace that I felt here, I still had my duties, so after one last look at the remnants of the sunlight on the water, I took my leave after asking Bran to send word when Gwyn returned. But, I shall return again to this island. I think I like it here.

 

Living on the Island – Julia Pietrucha

Green jacket – Hoorenbeek Outfit Mesh 28

Sweater & Shorts – Mahlberg Tailors

Sandals – MB Mesh Addict

 

 

 

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Farewell (again) to a Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Queen (As it Began) – Queen

 

Father and Daughter

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

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

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

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

That is no longer the case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father and Daughter – Paul Simon

 

Thorn in my Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thorn in my Side

 

 

Queen and Soldier

Mother raised me to treat all equally, with respect and due honour. One time, when I was deep in the depths of one of my Arthurian books, and was less than polite when the maid, Mavis, enquired if I required a pot of tea, she admonished me, reminding me I should treat a maid as I would a princess. I took that to heart. Of course, princesses were not a daily part of our lives, outside of my reading. Mother meeting Princess Alexandra at a charity function didn’t count. So I figured I would treat all as I would a Lady, with a capital L. It seemed to serve me well enough.

Now, my life is different. I consort regularly with Kings and Queens. Indeed, I am consort, and husband, to the Seelie Queen. I hope I always treat her as a lady. When we are together, as husband and wife, she is still my Gwyn, that girl from South London I fell in love with, and I so treat her. Of course, there are times, even intimate ones, when she has to be Queen, and I have to treat her thus. It is second nature to me now, manners and words learned dealing with Alex and Isabella, with Sa’One and Faermorn, with Gwythyr even, and Janus, and Valene.

One thing I do know, it is not wise to anger a Queen. Of course, that cannot always be avoided, especially when the interests of countries, or realms, are at odds. I’ve always preferred diplomacy, but that is not always possible. Now, I fear that by doing my duty to Maric – I cannot yet get used to calling him Agron – and by Dyisi also doing her duty to him, we may have angered a 2,000 year old Queen. What we did, we did in accordance with his will, our duty to him, which is not far removed from the duty that Queen Teuta has undertaken. Whether she would see it that way or not, I did not know. I could only hope that she would listen when we tried to explain.

Since my last meeting with Queen Teuta, I had sensed problems through the castle. I heard distant screams of anger from that desolate place where she guards that which remains of Maric’s sire in his eternal torment. I feared that the bonds were weakening, as she said they might. I did not know what will become of her, or of the castle, should he escape them. As I understood things, Dyisi had the means to capture said sire, so that he may be transferred to the tender care of Vedis, there to be imprisoned and undergo such torment as she can supply. What we did not know was if Teuta would see it that way, if she would accept that as being a valid continuance of her duty. However, we were duty bound to try.

I had been studying such histories as I could find in the library, to learn more of this Teuta, but as ever with history, found myself overwhelmed with the sheer volume of it, and finding that which I needed among such volume. Dyisi came into the library as I was complaining of this and enquired what ailed me. I explained my problem, commenting that life was easier when Ilyria had just been a place mentioned in a Shakespeare play. When she asked why, I told her of my attempts to diagnose the problems with the tower and my conversation with Queen Teuta. I told her how we had reached some measure of accommodation by virtue of us both seeking only to do our duties to Maric, or Agron as I now knew him to have been called. I told how the Queen feared that the bonds on her prisoner were weakening with Maric’s passing and wondered if, perhaps, we could convince her that our quest to capture the prisoner and deliver him to Vedis would be a valid continuation of her duty. Maybe then, she could find rest and rejoin her love.

That brought a brief wave of sadness from Dyisi. Perhaps she was also thinking of Maric. There was something she could try, she mused, which might help convince her. She had had partial visions of what might be happening, through the sword Maric had given her. That it would be instrumental in capturing the soul of the prisoner. She did not know for sure, but was convinced it was worth a try. She was curious how I had managed to reach Teuta, for she had mostly had fleeting visions from the prisoner. I explained how I had been trying to sense what was ailing the castle, and through that sense, had been able to sense the wherever or whenever that held the Queen and her prisoner. I was sure that, now knowing this place, I could realm-walk there, and then, Dyisi, knowing me, could go there also.

We resolved to make contact and see how the lie of the land, intending then to form our plans. It was not to be so, though. As soon as I reached out to that desolate hill, where I had last seen the Queen, I heard screams and shouts, of a maddened voice that I had heard before from the prisoner. Of the prisoner himself, there was no sign, save for a tangle of chains leading away from the rock where he had been bound.  “Shit!” I said, turning my senses back to Dyisi. “Looks like the bastard got away. We are going to have to go there.”  I called out to the servants to bring my sword and my armour. I feared I was going to need it. The diplomat might have to be a soldier too.

Dyisi seemed to be focussing her senses too, as if she could hear something we could not, perhaps through her connection to the escaped prisoner.  “We need to be more corporeal,” she said and stepped away, her own means of travel, heading, I assumed, for that mountain top. I focussed my senses again and likewise stepped across.  Here was a very different realm. The comfortable ambience of faerie, of life and chaos, so familiar, I scarcely noticed it, save for now that it was gone, was replaced by something colder; death and order, a drain on that part of me that was a living thing. For the other part of me, the vampire, and in a strange way, the accountant, it felt almost familiar in its own way. It was grey and sullen, almost monochrome, as lifeless as the Shadowroads, but in a very different way. How far it might extend was anybody’s guess as vision was bounded by cloud, as grey as everything else. We were on a mountain slope and in the distance; we could hear the rattling of chains, the mad laughter and the cursing of an angry woman; Teuta, no doubt.

“You take me to the nicest places,” I joked to Dysi and pointed towards the mountain peak, in the direction of the sounds, and the remains of chains. “If we had any sense, we’d head the other way, but, we few, we happy few are not so sensible.”

“You do not let me take you anywhere else,” she replied, with a smirk. “Sensible people do not make history,” she added, reaching for my hand. “Come, I have a quicker way to get there.” It didn’t even occur to me to wonder about the risks of hand-to-hand contact, and anyway, I was wearing gauntlets. While it was her regular hand that took mine, I could see others, blue ones , moving as if in some kind of dance.  Before I could make a comment about Kali, she had taken my hand and we passed, in the blink of an eye, to the mountain peak, besides Teuta.

I barely had time to make brief introduction before battle was upon us, saying only that we had little time for formalities, and that Dyisi and I were here to assist.

Teuta had little time or energy to spare us more than an angry glance. We should not have come, she told us, as Otho, her prisoner, I assumed, was trying to escape. Get back, she told us and do not give him a conduit. Her words were punctuated with swings of her sword, defending herself from the attacks. Otho, a desiccated shell of a man, a leathery cadaver with a manic grin swung his arms, using the chains as whips. All the while, he screamed madly of being promised so much, of freedom. “Yes, yes,” he cried, “come and let me be free.”

Dyisi and I shared the equivalent of a shrug. We had our duty to do, regardless of the dangers to ourselves. She drew out her staff as well as the strange, blue sword, commenting about how often she had been told she should not be somewhere, a sentiment I echoed silently.  The blue arms weaved as if casting some spell, and perhaps they were, since the chains did not strike, raising only sparks in the air. “If you harm me,” she addressed the prisoner, “I can not be your saviour.” To the Queen, she said that she had no intention of giving him conduit. She only wished to carry out that which Maric had bid her, to collect the tormented one, who had been calling to her for so long.

For myself, I said only that I would protect that which was mine, as bidden by Maric, and that we would give the prisoner no conduit, no surcease, only that which Maric, Teuta’s husband, had willed.

Teuta’s manner registered disbelief, that Maric would ever free this craven betrayer. There was a brief pause while she considered this, but then, battle was rejoined. She swung her sword almost recklessly and seemed also to call to the winds, for the chains that had littered the hillside flew up and converged on the prisoner.

Except he was no longer there to be caught. He had flung himself with unnatural speed in my direction, screaming “Life, give me life!” I called on my will, on the power of blood, and in this cold and rocky place, upon the element of earth. “Be Still!” I shouted. “You shall have no life of me.” Instead, I cast my powers at him, blood and stone and death, hoping to turn that which yet lived within him to stone. Beside me, I barely registered Dyisi ramming her staff into the ground. A shield or ward, perhaps, I could not tell, save that it, too, called on the earth. She moved with inhuman speed, ducking under our attacker and driving the sword into the middle of his torso.

All manner of chaos let loose. My magic struck home almost at the same time as Dyisi’s sword.  Behind us, Teuta screamed, as chains whipped around madly. She flung her own sword at the prisoner’s head, again, striking at the same time as our own attacks. “Cassius Varus Otho,” she screamed, “Betrayer and damned! You will never be free of your crimes while I exist!”  It seemed the very rocks cried out and thrust at us, knocking us away like we weighed nothing.  We were blown from the mountain, blown even from that distant realm, and then there was nothing. We lay, tumbled and bruised upon the flagstones of the castle hall. The distant sounds of clanking chains and the echoes of an angry queen’s screams reverberated for a while and then fell silent. Dyisi still held the sword, glowing a strange and sickly colour. Perhaps it had succeeded in capturing the soul of Otho. Of her staff, there was no sign.

Dyisi left me then, no doubt to attend to whatever fate awaited that which was trapped within the sword. For myself, I was dog-tired and in pain, and sore afraid that we had made an enemy of such an ancient Queen. What, if any, reparations, it would be possible for us to make, I did not know. Would she hear my explanations, or even receive me? I did not know. I could not know, until I tried to return, to see what fate I might find. Eventually, with the aid of some rum, sleep overtook the fears and allowed me some rest.

 

The Queen and the Soldier – Suzanne Vega

 

 

That is Not Dead Which Can Eternal Lie

There is a word I learned from the German language. That word is wanderlust, a strong desire to travel or to explore the world. It is a useful word that has no direct equivalent in English, though I can see this German word being borrowed, as it scarcely needs translation. I have been suffering from it somewhat more than normal of late. Perhaps it is because I am now possessed of a ship and could go anywhere, though that is less of an excuse as I have long had the ability to go where I may choose, via the roads or by walking the realms. Tonight, however, there is a heavier reason – fear. A fear that would, were I not who I am, drive me far away from here.

I, of all people, should know that the physical is not all there is of a man, or indeed any being. I have conversed with my late mother. I have spoken and more with my beloved Faermorn since she passed beyond the veil. And they are but two that I have had direct experience of since their supposed deaths. And yet, I allowed myself to believe that we were, at last, free of the late Unseelie King. It was naïve of me. I may have boiled the bastard’s brains, kicked his head into a volcano and left the rest for the crows, but was that enough? I am not so sure.

Having concluded my negotiations with the Cait, and spent much needed time in the arms of my loving wife, I had to return to the business at hand. I sent word to Lord Mornoth, via a wisp, that the Cait were agreeable to our request and that we should stand ready to carry out the extraction of the demifae. All I could do, then, was wait.

It was Dyisi who came to me. She found me outside the castle, standing by the well and gazing to the far horizon.  I was in need of direction, she had been told.

I joked that this had often been said of me over the years, and that I had often felt the lack of it, a sorry state for one who had trained as a navigator. Her comment, I suspect, was of a less rhetorical nature and so I returned to the matter at hand. The finding the location of the demifae queen so that I could guide Lord Mornoth and his men through the Shadow Roads to capture her.

She could serve either purpose, she said, but Lord Mornoth’s requirement should be attended to. All she required was water, she told me, and warned me that I should pay close attention.

I chuckled and indicated that I was standing by a well. I did comment that I had wondered how the well still worked, given we were on a lump of rock floating in the air, but did not discuss it further, in case the rock heard me. I drew a bucket of water and passed it to her, settling myself down to see what might be seen. Her admonition was unnecessary, as I am not unversed in water divination.

She placed the bucket securely on the ground so that it would not be disturbed and began to stir it with her staff, again, warning me to pay attention. I could see her preparing for the trance-like state required and prepared myself likewise as she called the name of the one she sought.

The water turned somehow oily and dark and images began to appear. Deep tunnels, dark tunnels, tunnels that went far beyond any I had seen under the Faerie lands. Tunnels that led further into the Underdark, which place I knew little of save that it extended under the Weald. A not unlikely place for the Demifae queen to hide, given her recent allies. And there she was, communing with that monstrous offshoot of the Sithen rose, no doubt planning and plotting her next treachery…

And then, of a sudden, it was gone, the tunnel, the rose and the queen. Instead, a vision of another place, of two men. Two faces I had not seen in many a day or even year. One, the sorcerer or demon, I knew not which, Padishar. The other, the figure of Llwyd, or something much like him, yet strangely distorted. The water rippled and gave forth voices.  Llwyd, demanding of Padishar, the wretched mage, he called him, that he free him from his prison or be dragged down. The voice changed then, freezing my blood in its coldness and ice, a voice I had hoped never to hear again, that of Gwythyr shouting that he would take them both. Give in and be done with it, he said. Llwyd’s body shuddered with the intrusion and again demanded freedom of the mage…

What more passed, I could not tell, for the vision shattered and Dyisi collapsed, gasping for breath and shaking with the terror and fear that had emanated from the vision.  I rushed to help her up, remembering just in time not to touch her flesh with my bare hand. I shouted to Mirko and Vasily to come help. I instructed Vasily to take care of Dyisi, give her water or whatever else she needed. Mirko I sent to summon Kustav and the stewards. I needed to meet with them as soon as possible. While I waited for them, I summoned two more wisps and bade them send word to Mornoth and Gwyn, explaining what we had seen and suggesting we meet to discuss the situation as soon as possible.

There was not much I could say to my stewards, other than putting them on alert that we might not have seen the last of the Unseelie King as we had thought. Perhaps there was no immediate threat, but they should be on the lookout for any manifestations that might indicate his activity. Otherwise, there was not a lot we could do. I bade them to keep it to themselves as far as possible, as I did not want to alarm the staff or the villagers. I don’t know what else I can do. LLwyd, I had thought safe in the tender care of Vedis. Perhaps I need to speak to her.

That is Not Dead Which Can Eternal Lie

Wayward Child

I would say that I was not one who was given much to introspection, but then, the very existence of this journal would contradict that. Of late, I seem to have been doing too much of it of late. There is not much to divert me from such, other than work and research. My wife is off on her travels, so much so that it might as well be winter; for all that I have seen her. Wren is off somewhere safe from wars and such like, and who knows where the others are. Eilian and Drysi can fend for themselves, but I worry for Bronwyn. I need to spend time with her, but finding her is like trying to catch the wind.

So, lacking other diversions, I have been busying myself with research. Some has been specific, such as how to deal with the warrior queen guarding the spirit trapped in the castle so we can hand it over to Vedis. I’ve also been trying to find some clues in Alec’s John Dee journal as to the business of anchors. If I can fathom that out, then maybe I can help Bronwyn to find her way home.

There can be such a thing as too much research. When I found myself dreaming in Illyrian, I figured it was time I took a break. Up until recently, all I knew about Illyria was a brief reference in Twelfth Night and reading in one of my school text books that it was pretty much a dead language. Now I seem to be accidentally speaking it. I guess I’ve spent too much time in Maric’s journals.

Yes, even I recognise that you can spend too much time buried in books. Although, as I write, I can see Mother’s face, her eyebrows raised in disbelief, saying “really?” So, I forced myself to put the books away and head down to the tavern. For once, I fancied a beer rather than a rum, which mildly surprised Hal. I bought a round of drinks for those villagers that were taking their ease. Hal may be from a land and time far away, but some things are constant for all landlords, and one of those is listening to a customer’s woes. So I briefly shared my frustration with the paperwork, the research and the fact that I had read so many of Maric’s papers that I was starting to dream in Illyrian, a language I barely spoke. I then realised, from Hal’s expression, that I had actually ordered my beer in said language.

Dyisi appeared, as she is wont to do, while I was speaking, and I rather absentmindedly greeted her in Greek. Badly pronounced, I would judge from her reaction, suggesting that I stick to my own language, while appreciating the attempt. I laughed and said that at least speaking Greek made more sense as I had studied it at school whereas I could only have learned Illyrian by osmosis or possibly Maric gave it to me via the blood bond. It wasn’t as if much of the language survived in my era. I joked that it would be fun to go back to my own time and find a linguistics scholar to freak out with my knowledge of the language. Except, of course, that isn’t my time any more. I’d be as much an alien in that time as I had been when I first arrived here.

I shook myself out of that line of thought and ordered a bacon sandwich. Nothing is realer than one of Hal’s bacon sandwiches. I asked Dyisi what was happening out there and if any sword-wielding warrior queens were investing the castle.

She passed on that question, choosing instead to tell me about her attempts to restore Gwrgi to his elven self rather than that of the were-cwn. Unfortunately, Aoibheann had interfered, claiming Gwrgi as her own, as if he were some puppy, and claiming the Weald as her own. She radiated displeasure and I could not say that I blamed her. I said that I had heard the howling and suggested that I might too howl if I were stuck in the Weald with Aoibheann. I got the impression that Dyisi was out of patience with Aoibheann, which I can totally understand. The girl rushes into trouble like a moth to a flame. As Dyisi put it, there is no maw she won’t rush headlong into. She would rather not have any dealings with her at all. I understood where she was coming from, but I am still bound, by honour and duty, to protect Aoibheann if I can. She may not be the Aoibheann I knew when I first came to Jasper Cove, but I still had to help her if I could, even if the Tenacious Trinity was no more. Dyisi was of the opinion that perhaps, sometimes, Aoibheann needs to learn that her actions have consequences. Privately, I doubted it; for all the traumas she has experienced over the years, she shows no sign of learning to be cautious. Outwardly, though, I agreed with Dyisi, but even so, if she were going to try something monumentally stupid that might cause the universe to implode; I would be bound to try to prevent her.

The discussion was clearly frustrating Dyisi. We agreed that we would maybe try to do something about Gwrgi while Aoibheann wasn’t around and moved on to the subject of my offspring. Dyisi said that she may be able to find a way to locate my wayward daughter, Bronwyn.  She, of my children causes the most concern. Drysi and Eilian are better able to look after themselves and Wren is somewhere safe. I told Dyisi that I had been researching in Dee’s journal to see what I could learn of this matter of being anchored. While Alec had granted me the power to be my own anchor, I still put down my own anchors in this reality. I thought perhaps that I could somehow give Bronwyn an anchor of her own, to tie her to this place, or perhaps, better, to me, given the mutable nature of our reality. Given how many different places the castle had been of late, I did not think it a suitable anchor point. If she were anchored to me, and later, to Gwyn, that would be better, for both her mother and I are well able to find our way around the various realms, and, wherever we were, would always be a home for Bronwyn.

Dyisi agreed that would be beneficial. She was fairly sure that Bronwyn was in a place and time that Wren would think of as modern. That would be the future, from my point of view, but, according to Dyisi, it was as safe a place as she could be. Once she had dealt with other things she needed to do, we would work on locating Bronwyn and seeing what we could do for her. The mention of Wren made me sad for a moment, and I asked Dyisi to pass on my love and perhaps see if there was some way I could visit soon. She assured me that we could do this.

I left her then, as I still had duties to attend to and I had spent more time over a drink and sandwich than I had intended. On the way back to the castle, I looked down at the cottage, and the ship, still yet to be re-christened the Bold Admiral, in memory of my home in London. I must train some of the guards and reserves to be a crew, for I cannot handle her myself, unlike the original Bold Admiral. Perhaps then, I could sail her elsewhere, as Alec did with his ship in Jasper Cove, to obtain supplies. Anchors aweigh, I thought, chuckling to myself. A different sort of anchor, in this case. Which brought my mind back to Bronwyn and what best to do for her. Should I bring her home? Maybe she is happy where she is. Maybe she is safer there from the residues of G…  Maybe I could travel there and teach her how to make an anchor for herself, if she considers that place her home, and teach her how to anchor to me, so that she will always have her family to go to. I returned to my study, but I could not concentrate. Perhaps sleep will bring me better answers.

Wayward Child