Two Hunters

((catch-up post – original RP 27 oct 14))

The mist brings us yet another visitor. This time, a travelling elf by the name of Ivoron. At least, he would seem to be elven, judging by appearances, even if I know those to be unreliable. He seems amiable enough, but I fear he might have a hard time adjusting to our somewhat eclectic populace, in particular, those of the demonic persuasion.

I had been talking with Wren outside the tavern , about poetry and Homer’s Odyssey, but the conversation then turned to the matter of Aoibheann’s sanity and how this was affected by the presence of the Huntsman in her. I explained about the idea of making a vessel for the Huntsman, much as we had made a vessel for Vedis’ memories before. The problem with that, as we both recognised it, was persuading him to leave Aoibheann, and, come to that, persuading Aoibheann to let him go. There was another problem, of course – what to do then with two Huntsmen. I did briefly wonder of the, for want of a better way of putting it, laws of nature could even allow two Huntsmen to exist. We also wondered if the Huntsman would be saner than he had been, without the influence of Llwyd.

Our visitor arrived, looking somewhat lost. I gave him the usual welcome, asking his name and pointing out where he could find the rules and such like. He seemed a little on edge, asking if we knew of a person called Heydr, but relaxed when we assured him that we did not. I could only assume that he had some problem with the person concerned, or was perhaps being pursued by him. I noted that for something I would need to ask him about later, in case said pursuer could present a danger to the town.

I suggested that we retire to the tavern for refreshment. I included Galyanna in this invitation, as she suddenly appeared out of the shadows. She asked about the Huntsman situation, since she had overheard part of the conversation, so I explained that.  Ivoron seemed somewhat alarmed by her, so I introduced her as a warrior and friend. Wren introduced her as a ninja, which phrase he clearly didn’t understand. Galyanna then introduced herself as the Talon of Queen Vedis. While she didn’t explicitly explain her demon nature, perhaps Ivoron understood the term, for he withdrew from us, giving the impression he would rather sleep outside than associate with demons. I did not get the chance to speak with him further, as I had other duties to attend to. Even if I had had the time to explain, I am not sure he would have understood. How do you explain, to somebody who has not lived through the times we have, how I count a demon among my closest friends and as somebody I would trust my life to? I’m not sure I know myself.

Wolves In The Throne Room – I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots (from an album called Two Hunters)

 

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To Find the King

The walking hat-rack is back. The new one that is. And he is on the hunt. What is more worrying is that he is hunting one that I had thought dead – the old Seelie King and part-time Huntsman, Llwyd.

I was busy getting the supplies brought back from various places and put back where they belonged in the vaults when I saw Wren by the tree. I took a break from the supply logistics to go say hello and ask after her sister. She had left Hadley in Dorina’s care in the hope that she would talk to her more if she wasn’t there, but as far as she knew, Dorina was taking good care of her and Helene had helped to fix her arm.

That reminded me that I needed to talk to Helene and apologise on Davor’s behalf. I mentioned to Wren that Helene had been giving the poor guy a hard time over the supplies being stored in her cottage. She laughed and agreed it wasn’t Davor’s fault. We started to walk to Helene’s cottage to see if she was there, but ran into Hadley on the way. She said that she had seen Helene at her cottage, cleaning. As I looked up, I saw Helene leaving the cottage and heading down out of the village.

I left Wren to look after Hadley and followed Helene, catching up with her in a small clearing where she was gathering mushrooms. I reminded her about wanting to know when people were going outside the village but softened it because she was an approved forager still. She apologised and said she had been meaning to collect the mushrooms earlier but had been distracted by all the business with Davor dumping stuff in her cottage. She needed to get them by the full moon. I apologised in behalf of Davor and pointed out that he was doing so on my orders and asked if she could cut him a little slack. She said that she would and then mentioned that he was being a little slow in the romancing, and was still bringing her flowers. I told her that he was out of practice, reminding her of how oblivious I had been when we first knew each other. Perhaps she should take the initiative and thank him with a kiss when he next brought flowers. I would have said more, but I saw some figures moving in the undergrowth nearby – cŵn!

I gently moved Helene behind me and stood between her and the cŵn, fearing that their master might be somewhere around. Until Helene had mentioned her picking habits, I had forgotten it was full moon. Sure enough, the antlered figure appeared out of the gloom. It was, so far as I could tell, the new one. He appeared to be mildly amused, saying “What have we here.”

I greeted him politely and respectfully. I had no reason not to. Thus far, in my limited experience, he had behaved properly, and so far as I knew, neither Helene, nor I, were on his hit list. I explained that we were merely gathering herbs, nothing more and, remembering our previous encounter, asked if my queen had been able to give him the answers he sought.

He chuckled, remarking on the politeness when there had been fire before. Valene had no answers, he said, because he had no questions, which left me no wiser as to the business he had wished. What he had here, he said, was game, presumably us, before a hunter.

I was not going to be cowed. This was, after all a fae creature, and there were always rules, and games to be played. Behind me, I could tell that Helene was intensely fascinated, so I told her, in French, to be wary and to let me do the speaking. Politeness was always merited, I told him, as was fire, at times. But there was no game here, I said, surely we did not merit his attention when there were doubtless more worthy quarry.

That earned me a loud laugh from him. Indeed there were more worthy quarry; else he would have had the pack take us. He sought the one who was the shadow of what he had once been, the one who had wounded the stray puppy. Behind me, I heard Helene asking how I could be so calm and then saying she wished to go back to her cottage. I let her leave, trusting the Huntsman’s word that she was not his prey. I asked if he meant Horace and explained about the Accords, saying that I was intending to take Horace into custody for discharging a weapon in faerie and that we had means in place to determine his fate.

That was not what he meant. It was Llwyd that he sought. He had been the cause of the events in which Gwrgi had been wounded. It may have been Horace who fired the weapon, but it had been Llwyd who escalated things. That struck a cold chill in me. I had been getting the feeling for some time that something was amiss, but this was the first real evidence that the old kings were on the prowl. While I would rather Llwyd than Gwythyr, I had no idea how much if Llwyd’s sanity remained. The Huntsman continued, saying that Horace meant as little to him as I did. He advised me, very pointedly, to return to my castle before his generosity ran out; for tonight, he intended to hunt.

I had a number of questions, but I felt it wise to retreat while I could. I said that I had thought Llwyd long gone. As for Horace, he would be dealt with in our way. What issue there was between the Huntsman and Llwyd was not my concern, I said, save it threatened the village. I told him I would leave him to his hunt and would advise my people to stay indoors this night. I bade him goodnight and good hunting and left, making my way quickly to the main village entrance. There I told the guard to quickly spread the word that the Huntsman was on the prowl and that everybody should stay within the village, and preferably indoors for tonight and the next couple of nights.

Dorina was there, by the gate, with Hadley in her arms, trying to get her to sleep, singing a song that appeared to be French for whatever will be will be. We spoke a little about Hadley and what we could do for her – perhaps some herbal drinks to help her sleep. We concluded that there was little we could do about the memories, save be there for her as she processed them.

Dorina had another matter to raise with me. She wanted to make a more positive contribution to the village. She could help with healing and treatment, by making her various remedies and such like. She also said she was not unskilled with weapons and wondered if there was a way she could contribute to the defence of the village. I suggested that perhaps she and Helene could be appointed as official healers and maybe we could set up some space as an infirmary of sorts, rather than having them operate out of their cottages. I also told her about the reserve force and said that I would speak to Kustav about getting her involved.

She had one last matter for me – she needed to speak to Maric about controlling her other half. I had to tell her that he was not going to be available for a few days, but if she came to see me soon, there might be something I could do. I suggested she take Hadley back to the cottage and try to get her some sleep. In the meanwhile, I would get on with making sure the villagers were alert to the dangers of the Huntsman.

Even after making the rounds, and being absolutely sure that everybody was accounted for and understood the situation; I still felt a sense of disquiet. The Huntsman, for all that he is a danger, at least follows the rules. I wish I could say the same about Llwyd. He might be Seelie, but that does not mean he is good, or sane. That worries me more than anything.

To Find the King

The Hound

The cŵn is gone, but Gwrgi lives. Whatever fight it was that Horace had with Gwrgi resulted in the latter being shot, with lead and with iron. And in the process of healing him, he has been restored to his original, so far as I know, form.

After the trauma of the cleansing of the corruption, and the efforts involved with cleaning up afterwards, I was half-asleep in my chambers, when I felt a surge of pain and anger and loss from Valene. I jerked me awake and upright, calling out her name in response. As I called to her, I saw images, as if through her eyes, of the large cŵn sprawled out on the ground, in a cave, clearly injured, and I could see Valene’s hands burning as she pulled iron balls from his flesh.

I called out for Royce, but there was no sign of him. In desperation, I reached out with my hand, slashing at the air as I had seen him do with his paws, when he opened the way to the Roads. To my immense surprise, it actually worked, as if I had always known the means to open the way to the Roads, but had never realised it. I stepped through and ran from there to Valene’s throne room, her cave, her sanctuary, but there was no sign of her there. I ran back to the signpost at the centre of the Roads, scanning it for any sign, for any clue. I called out her name again, desperate to get to her as once more her pain and loss echoed through me. The sign-post hummed and rippled, the names on the posts moving too fast for me to comprehend, and it seemed like it was whispering all the names as they rippled past. I could not follow them, nor hear them and almost despaired. I stopped, and decided to stop trying to understand. This was not a time for logical thought; I had to trust to instinct. I focussed my mind on Valene and reached out again, tearing a hole that I had to trust would take me to her.

The tear opened up in a great cave, filled with crystalline light and a well of clear water. I had seen this place before, in my dreams of Faermorn, but before I could get a sense of where I was, I was overwhelmed with the power of the Wyld. It knocked me to my knees as it rushed over me and through me. This was so much more than I had experienced before. It was raw, primal, a bright power that dazzled and burned. For a few moments, I felt myself drowning in it until I stopped resisting, let it flow over me, around me, through me, and felt myself bob to the surface, like a swimmer temporarily swamped by a wave. I felt my fae side bursting out, my ears lengthening, and something else happening to my head.

As I regained the use of my senses, I saw Valene crouched over the body of the cŵn, throwing power at him to help heal his wounds, while around him there were iron balls, and silver, that had perhaps once been bullets. The rage and frustration flooded through her, blinding her, and I knew not if she was even aware of my presence. Nevertheless, I ran to her, holding her from behind, pouring my love and protection into her. Her blood and her tears were falling on the bedraggled skin of Gwrgi, merging with swirls and patterns that were appearing on the skin. His flesh writhed and twisted, pushing out the contamination. I could feel the magic rushing through her as she pushed it at him, healing, changing, restoring. Even as I held her, I could feel her body changing, her shape and appearance shifting, flickering too fast for me to see until, with a final scream, she pushed more magic into Gwrgi and collapsed in my arms. I held her tight, not knowing what else I could do, gazing down at a familiar shape, a familiar pale, spotted skin – the shape I had known and loved so many years ago in London.

The magic surged through Gwrgi’s body, and he writhed on the ground, contorting and shifting, limbs lengthening here, shrinking there, the hair receding into the skin until, there before me, lay a humanoid form, pale-haired, elven in shape. I stared, even as I held Valene tight in my arms. Could this be the original form that Gwrgi had been before he had been taken by the Huntsman? She had once told me that he was an elf beforehand.

She shuddered against me, coming to, eyes focussing on the form before her. She darted forward, rolling him over and wrapping herself around him. I went with her, knowing only I needed to be with her. She turned and looked at me with eyes I knew so well, seemingly aware of my presence for the first time. She seemed confused, perhaps by my presence, or perhaps by the restoration of her friend or possibly both. Gwrgi rolled over, briefly opening his eyes and recognising Valene before lapsing into unconsciousness.

It was then that we noticed Cait were lining up around us, forming a protective cordon. I looked up and there, at the edge of the lake, was the Huntsman, staring at us, with three of his cŵn behind him. Valene whispered at me to help get Gwrgi upright between us. I had to take most of the weight since she is so small compared to him, and me. We stood and faced the Huntsman. Valene addressed him saying that she had come to recover what was hers. Her kind had offered no harm or hindrance to him. She named Gwrgi Swiftfoot and she named me, saying we were hers and she would not give us to him.

The Huntsman shook his head and said he had no claim on either of us and did not want us. We were not of his pack, had no debts, and were not foresworn. There was, however, an issue that needed to be resolved, something to do with what had happened the previous night. I did not know what that might be about unless it was something to do with the events that had caused Gwrgi to be injured. Whatever it was, he seemed angry about it. I stood beside Valene and said that he knew who I was, so any issues he had, he could speak of with me too.

Valene shook her head. She asked me to take Gwrgi back to her den and take care of him for her. She would speak with the Huntsman. She assured me that she would not be in danger, and the Huntsman’s word was good. Curiously, that much I trusted. I gathered Gwrgi into my arms and asked if she could spare some of the Cait to assist me. With that, I parted the ways and stepped through to her den, leaving her to deal with the Huntsman’s issues.

I made up a bed for Gwrgi as best I could, and asked the Cait to fetch me some cloths and water. While that was being dealt with, I parted the ways again and went briefly to my own chambers, where I found some older clothes of mine that might fit Gwrgi in his elven shape. Once I got back, I cleaned him up as best I could while he was unconscious and made him comfortable. He could come and have a bath back at the castle once he was awake again. That done, I made myself comfortable on the throne and dozed until Valene returned. She did not speak of what passed with her and the Huntsman, instead, she curled up against Gwrgi and insisted I join her, so I curled up against her on the other side until we all drifted off into uneasy sleep.

I had all but forgotten the strange sensation on my head when I first arrived in the cave, but when I saw my reflection in the bowl of water, I realised I had grown a pair of very fine horns, curved like a ram’s. I can only assume that was a result of the additional Wyld energy down there. It took me until part-way through the following day before I could get them to go away again, which led to a certain amount of embarrassment at my morning meeting with the staff. I dare not even speculate what aspect of my nature that represents.

The Hound

 

The Wild Hunt Again

I suppose it would be a bit much to expect a celebration here to go off without a hitch, or attracting unexpected visitors. There are always going to be problems, but sometimes, it seems history insists on repeating itself. Old problems present themselves again. Or perhaps they are new ones. It’s getting hard to tell.

The Huntsman is back. Or, perhaps I should say, A Huntsman. This is a question that has yet to be resolved. On the plus side, his arrival did at least distract us from the other old/new problem; Aoibheann’s fabled cooking skills when it comes to tarts.

It started out as a pleasant afternoon of socialising. Not many of the villagers came forward for the match-making, but I was sure that there would be some pairing up later. Aoibheann had been running around like mad, no doubt driving the servants crazy, but, by the time the party started, we had food, tables and everything we needed, including a large selection of tarts that Aoibheann had apparently made for the pie-eating contest.

We had a good turn-out. Dorina & Helene were there. I noticed that Davor was being most attentive to Helene, perhaps trying to make up for the incident with the tail. Dorina had a present for Aoibheann, which looked to be a very nice dress. Vedis was there in a dress that Aoibheann seemed to regard as incomplete. If only she had seen some of Vedis’ outfits back in the day. I wonder what she would have made of them. Wren joined us, seeming very interested in the tarts. I recalled that she was fond of cakes and pastries. There was even a surprise visit from Dyisi, who I thought had vanished entirely. She was her usual enigmatic self, claiming she kept in touch with events while she was away. Even more pleasantly, Gwyn made an appearance, which pleased me greatly, as we had not had much time together of late.

I would have joined her immediately, but I had concerns about the pie-eating contest, or rather, the tart-eating contest. Aoibheann had made the tarts, and despite her assertion that they were raspberry, they didn’t look quite the right colour. Maric clearly noticed my concern and communicated as such through the mental link. I explained about Aoibheann’s previous adventures with making tarts and he suggested that he could guide me through using the blood-magic to determine if they were safe. Meanwhile, Vedis was approaching and seemed to be organising some of the ladies to be judges of the contest. I just had to contend with Wren, who looked far too eager to get started. But then, she always did have a great love of baked goods.

I dipped a couple of fingers in the tart filling while nobody was looking and tasted it, applying my fae senses and the blood sense that Maric was teaching me through the link. I wasn’t sure at first, so tried again with the second finger. It was not good. If it wasn’t belladonna, it was something very much like it, a fae relative thereof perhaps. Whatever it was, it was not safe to eat. I told Maric this, suggesting that maybe we needed some sort of distraction, like the dancing or some other games to distract the guests from eating the tarts while we got them out of the way.

We got it!

A howling arose somewhere outside the village. I felt it as much as heard it, as did Maric, and his anger and protectiveness flared through the link. He practically hissed the word cŵn through the link and told me to rally the men, as if that instruction were needed.

The guards were already taking up defensive positions as I directed Vedis to protect Wren and Davor to take care of the ladies. I ran out onto the clearing to confront the threat. It was the biggest cŵn I had seen, a huge beast that went upright on its hind legs. Behind him was a pack of regular cŵn, howling and slavering. I had not seen the like since the Huntsman’s assault on the hill. Mindful of Aoibheann’s sensitivities, I did not draw my weapon, instead, challenging it to state who it was and what business it had here. Behind me, Maric made sure that Aoibheann and Dorina were safe before joining me. He stated his name and position and likewise asked the beast what it wanted.

It snarled and roared at us, its massive claws coming up, and I almost drew my sword. However, it did not attack. The claws went to its own jaw, seemingly grabbing it and pulling it away, stretching its mouth and pulling it back, as though trying to peel its own hide from itself. A more familiar, and more alarming shape emerged, shrugging the fur back as though it were a cloak. The face black as ebony, the antlers standing proud, the eyes red and ominous. “Is it not Lughnasadh,” it asked, “I am the guest of honour.” It was the Huntsman.

At least, that was the aspect it showed. Yet, somehow, it was different. The antlers were different, the shape was different, the shades of its skin were different, and yet, it was still the Huntsman. I felt Gwyneth step up beside me, taking my hand, and I did not need to look to see that she had assumed her full regal glory and presence. She greeted him formally and with social pleasantries, but said that she could not welcome him as this was not her land. She likewise introduced himself and asked his business, pointing out that she had thought his time later in the year.

I felt the Wyld within me connecting with Gwyn’s and welcomed that connection. I had felt Maric’s hunger earlier, when she had arrived, so drew her aside slightly, to give him more space and reduce the distraction. I looked around and saw that the guards were doing their jobs, taking up defensive positions in accordance with the emergency procedures we had devised. I signalled to a couple of them to start herding the villagers inside, or, if they could, to the castle. Now that Maric had arrived, I let him deal with the visitor, as my primary duty was to the villagers now. Glancing around, I could see that all was well, so stood prepared, pending further developments. I felt a brief thought from Maric, a mild irritation that what to him was a fae matter, had intruded on his territory.

He greeted the Huntsman and told him that he was welcome to join us, provided he offered no threat or harm to the village or its people. Then, came another howling, a different one, that we both recognised as the cŵn we thought might be Gwrgi, lurking on the edge of the village. That raised another complication, which Maric acknowledged, pointing out that the other was not his to control and suggested that whatever business there was should be conducted quickly, and taken out of the village. The other cŵn, he said was not his to control, he told the Huntsman, warning him not fight here in the village.

The Huntsman addressed Gwyn, saying that he sought knowledge of what had happened to the Mallorn Tree, and demanded angrily to know why he had not been summoned. He reigned in the anger and told Maric that he did not care about the castle or its inhabitants, and depending on what answers he got, would not harm anyone. He had not harmed anybody so far, and that, he offered, was a sign of his benevolent nature.

Maric acknowledged that and said he would take the Huntsman’s word, saying that he would hold them to it. He knew as well as I did, by now, the importance of a fae’s word. But before he could get into any further discussions, or before Gwyn could answer the Huntsman’s questions, Gwrgi came barrelling in at high speed, all anger and rage, intent upon our visitor until the pack fell upon him. Gwrgi was in the centre of the pack, which was now a mass of snapping claws and lunging paws and an almost unbelievable cacophony of howls and snarls. The fight roiled around in grey savagery, sending all our livestock skittering towards us in fear. The guards formed up into a defensive ring, ready to protect the village, but fortunately, the fight tumbled away, out of the village and into the fae lands. The Huntsman turned, remarking that he would have to deal with the ‘stray’ first and strode off, any discussions with us forgotten.

Maric and I silently agreed that this was no longer our fight, provided it stayed outside the village. It was not for us to intervene between the cŵn and the Huntsman. We could only hope that Aoibheann had not seen who was involved in the fight; else we might have had to restrain her to stop her running off after them. Maric quietly directed everybody to retreat to the castle, leaving the guards on high alert. He had to carry Aoibheann, who had fallen down, possibly in a faint, but it turned out later that she had consumed some of the berries that she had put in the tarts.

It was a more sober evening after that. Dyisi left during the confrontation and clearly the return of the Huntsman had been too much for Vedis, who retreated to the cellars. The rest of us took food and drink and passed the evening quietly, and a little nervously, jumping at any sound from outside, but we were fortunate that neither beast returned to bother us.

On the plus side, at least nobody had to eat the tarts.

Wild Hunt

Box of Treasures

We all have our treasured possessions. Mine go with me in my pockets, my shoulder bag, in the trunk with my various bits and pieces. Mother’s locket is always around my neck. The few letters I had from Alex, from Katharina, the playbill from Vyktorya’s concert, and sundry other items are always with me. For Aoibheann, it was her box of treasures, as she called it, the one she kept under the counter in the Lucky Leaf. Some items were truly treasures – gems and coins proffered by arrivals in Jasper Cove, not yet familiar with the Midori – but others, much like mine, could be treasures only to her.  Such things were precious to her, and she was heartbroken when she thought it lost in the flight from Jasper Cove. But, perhaps nothing is lost forever…

I had returned from my rounds of the village, and settled myself with a cup of tea and yet more books from the library, from which I hoped I could perhaps coax more information on the coming doom, or the characters predicted therein. My research was not to be, as I heard Gwyn calling out, asking about the tea, and suggesting that there be bourbon for Aoibheann. I could also hear Aoibheann, seemingly crying, which would have alarmed me, but Gwyn’s tone had not conveyed any sense of things going wrong.

They came into the hall and Aoibheann immediately sat down on the rug. I could see the tears on her face, but they seemed tears of happiness, and well they might be, as I saw that she held that very box of treasures in her hand. At first, she seemed to not know what to do with it, but then she remembered the key around her neck, opened it up, and began to sift through the treasures therein. Some I could see glinting, silver and gold coins that had once passed across the bar, something that looked like a note from me, and a small volume of Blake poems.

I felt an irrational surge of happiness on her behalf, knowing how sad she had been to lose that box, although I was curious how she had come by it. The happiness was momentarily derailed by Gwyn’s irritation, demanding to know where I had been. I had missed everything, she told me. Alec had been to visit, and there were things we needed to talk about.

I replied mildly, knowing her irritation to normally be short-lived. I had been rather busy, I explained, trying to set up a meeting with Valene to discuss hiding the village in the Shadowroads, since the alternative was hiding in Hell. Plus, I had been researching ways to deal with the Huntsman, putting in place emergency procedures for the village, wondering when I could get to see Faermorn to discuss what, if anything we could do to help save Faerie and such like. I asked which version of Alec she had seen, adding it was probably a good thing I had missed him, since I was rather irritated by our last encounter, and had an overwhelming urge to kick him where it hurts.

She said that I should probably talk to him before kicking him. He had come to give Aoibheann her box and to tell us how he thought things were going to play out in the near future, or possibly far future, it was hard to tell with him.  I agreed that I should probably talk to him, to see if his vision of the future was better than the one Vedis predicted, in which the angels, or possibly devils, were coming to get her and anybody else who got in the way. I asked if she was sure it was the real Alec and not the Boatman facsimile.

Aoibheann piped up, still looking happily through her treasured possessions. It was definitely Alec, she said. And while he was still a monster, perhaps everybody else was, and at least he understood her now. He had agreed to remove the Boatman from Arden, which seemed to please her. She agreed with Gwyn that I should really speak with him.

Gwyn did not know what Vedis had said, having never spoken with her. Alec had said that he would keep our souls safe, because he feared that this realm was falling apart, largely because of the Huntsman’s behaviour. That accorded well with my thoughts, given his role in what had happened to Jasper Cove. She reminded me of the noises we had heard at the sithen the previous night, with the cŵn still besieging the place. She feared it would not stand for much longer. Already, most of the Seelie sidhe were becoming one with the tree and she was one of the few left. I felt her pain, as I had heard, perhaps more than she, with my enhanced hearing, the sounds of the beasts at the door. I also felt the pain she had in losing what had become her family. As I looked at her, she told me that Alec was planning on giving her into Isabella’s care, so that she would have something of the goddess about her, able to travel the realms as they did. It would not be wise, he had told her, to go back to her old life. That she agreed with, as there was nothing that could make her go back there now. I could understand, although I knew there were things she missed from that life. I too could not imagine going back to that world, where magic and such was hidden, if indeed, it was present at all.

I explained a bit further about Vedis’ proposal to hide the castle in some part of Hell where we would be safe, in exchange for assistance in her battle against those who would seek to reclaim her. I explained that neither of us relished that prospect, which was why we were hoping we could negotiate with Nemaine for sanctuary in the Shadowroads instead. I told her that she was always a goddess to me and asked how I might summon Alec.

Meanwhile, Aoibheann was deep in thought, looking away from her treasures for a moment. She wondered aloud if she should try to find out what the Huntsman wanted, why he wanted to get into the sithen. She then asked if he could be admitted, if she could get him to be peaceful. Gwyn wasn’t so sure about that, as she could not imagine any reality in which he would be peaceful. She started to say that it wasn’t her decision, but then stopped, realising that she probably was the senior authority in the sithen at the moment, and that it mostly likely was her decision. That, she said, she would have to think about. That triggered a thought in my mind, but for the moment, I could not pin it down. There was some sense to Aoibheann’s suggestion, but for now, I could not place it.

While I could not immediately identify what it was that struck a chord, something did occur to me. There were the rules of hospitality that Aoibheann had mentioned regarding her tea party. Perhaps, if he were invited, perhaps those rules would somehow bind him to non-aggressive behaviour. OK, that hadn’t worked out too well at her party, but that may have been something to do with the Sluagh Queen’s bodyguard. There was a chance, that somewhere in his insanity, we could reach the part of him that was still sane and somehow persuade him, perhaps by oath to behave well.

Aoibheann nodded, adding that she knew that he did not wish to be ruled by the insanity, and that perhaps she could calm him down. As to entrance to the sithen, that was, of course, down to Gwyn, since it was her home. Gwyn said that she would have to think about it, and take some advice from those few fae that remained. A good, hard, and long think, except that she did not have that much time. She left then, to consult what she could, while I returned to my studies, at least for a while, until I met with Kustav and the palace guards to discuss the emergency procedures.

Box of Treasures – by Sara Elizabeth

Needs Must…

“Needs must, when the devil drives”, as the old saying goes. Or, if I recall my Shakespeare correctly, “My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives.” I don’t know if I am particularly driven on by the flesh, at least, not in this context (though, in the context of my relationship with Gwyn, perhaps I am; it is said that contact with the fae can lead to addiction), but if I am to be ready to face the dangers that are looming, then it may be that my body does require something more, and if that can only be obtained by consuming the vitae of one more powerful than I, then my misgivings must yield to practicality.

I had received a somewhat jumbled thought during the night. All I could tell was that Maric was angry and it was something to do with Aoibheann. Given Aoibheann’s propensity for getting into trouble, this wasn’t exactly surprising, but wasn’t sufficiently specific. I went to the castle, but Maric wasn’t around, and he didn’t respond to my mental query.

It was a reasonably pleasant afternoon, so I took a volume from the library – a series of treatises on different views of the end of times, thinking that perhaps there might be clues therein that might help us understand that which Vedis seems to be prophesising – and made myself comfortable at the table on the village green. I had only been there a few minutes, reading, when I realised that Sophia was standing there. As I looked up, she made some comment about hoping we had managed to deal with “our pressing business” the previous evening. Although she spoke politely, she did still seem a little bitter. I apologised for having had to desert her, explaining that sometimes, when Maric said “when you’ve got a moment”, it means now, and added that the pressing business concerned the safety of the town, so I had to go and attend to it. She wasn’t impressed, complaining that she was used to being ignored. She also said something about not having any interest in falling in love, despite being told by some girl that she should. She then walked off in the direction of the tavern, saying she was going for a fitting of her dress.

I followed her to the tavern, hoping I could ease her annoyance with us, and also because I thought she might have some answers to questions that had arisen during my reading. I made sure she was decent before entering the tailor’s shop, and asked who had told her she should fall in love. From her description, it sounded like it had been Dori. I moved on to my more important questions, and asked if the Sisters she had dwelt with had ever mentioned other orders, such as the Sisterhood of the Void. She told me that other orders had been mentioned, but only ones to do with St Brendan. I then asked what their views of the Kraken were, and did they have any stories linking it to the end of the world. I wasn’t sure about that last bit, as I was possibly thinking more of Jörmungandr, from the Norse myths?

She didn’t know anything linking the Kraken to end times. The sisters sang to it, and it would come close. To them, it was like a guard dog, protecting the waters around the convent. It never harmed anybody, which was why she had no fears about going to visit the sea-creature here. I tried to warn her that the nature of the creature here was unknown, therefore her safety could not be guaranteed, plus there were the other dangers – the cŵn and the sluagh. I almost told her about when she had been captured by the sluagh, but I wasn’t sure she wanted that memory just yet. I also added a warning about the unpleasant nature of the Unseelie guards. I wasn’t quite sure how much of a problem that was likely to be, given that they should have been pre-occupied with the hunt for their Queen, but given what had happened to Giada, I felt it necessary to warn her. I said that in the latter case, I would add her to the list of approved foragers, which might prevent trouble with the guards at least. She wasn’t to be swayed though. She hadn’t had any problems, so she would continue to go visit there, but she thanked me for my concern and my warning. She seemed pleased to be added to the foragers’ list and told me that she had been catching Crawdaddies and picking mushrooms, but she wasn’t sure about the latter.

Lucis came in and was introduced and she asked about the Crawdaddies. I asked if Sophia might be able to teach some of the other villagers how to fish for them, and suggested she spoke to Helene about identifying mushrooms. I would have suggested Renata, but I did not know if she still even dwelt within the sithen. She was happy to teach and said she would look out for Helene. Lucis seemed to recognise her accent and they spoke for a while about where they came from for a while before Sophia departed to try on her dress again.

Further discussion was cut short by the arrival of Maric, who clearly needed to have a word with me. I apologised to Lucis for leaving her alone and followed Maric back to the castle. We went straight to the first part of the cellars, where he told me that Aoibheann had gone again, and he was sure that the Huntsman had her. He was clearly frustrated and angry, and for once, not bothering to try to hide it behind his usual suave exterior. He wanted to be able to reach the Huntsman so that he could rescue her. He could sense that she was alive and well, but not where she was.  I told him that I did not know how to get to his realm, wherever that was. Aside from breaking an oath, I did not know any other way to attract his attention. I confirmed that last time she went missing; it was Valene who had helped find her. He asked me to contact Valene and ask for her help again. He was worried about the price, since Valene was fae, but whatever it was, he would pay it. I assured him that I had known Valene for a long time, and that I trusted her with my life. If she had wanted something, she would have asked. At most, I suggested, she might want the right of sanctuary here.

I tried to think of other methods. If Maric could not track her through the blood bond, then I doubted that other methods, using her hair or such like would be any better. I wondered if any of the weapons might have the Huntsman’s blood on, but I could not recall any of us every having injured him. I had injured several of the cŵn, so we might be able to track one of them through the blood, and maybe they would be where He was. I remembered that Aoibheann had once ingested some of my blood accidentally and told Maric about this, but, as I suspected, it was too long ago for me to be able to have any link to track her by, so we were unlikely to be able to combine abilities. The thought occurred to me that Aoibheann had some fondness for the Huntsman, or at least, that part of him that was Llwyd, so killing him might not necessarily be the best option. I told Maric that, and he agreed, but, when it came down to it, he would kill to save her.

I was about to go off to see if I could find Valene, since we had two things to discuss now, but I paused. Whatever was going to happen, we needed to have all our strength, and that included me learning to use the blood magic that Maric had started to teach me. I stopped and asked if now was a good time, since I may have to use the abilities. He agreed, saying that there was no time for more reasonable methods. He added, rather alarmingly, that he would have to rework the secret door to work with my blood, as opposed to my blood with some of his in it. If the worse came to the worse, he said, I would be Lord of Mysthaven in his stead, and I would have to carry on what he had started. That seemed a little morbid, but practical, given the circumstances. Normally, he said, this training would take time and practice, but time was not a luxury we had.

We took a seat, just in case it proved too overwhelming. He warned me that we would be uncomfortably close, but we would have to cope. With that, he offered his wrist. I just grinned and said he had better do the honours, since last time, I had nearly broken a fang.  He nodded, telling me that was one of the things you could do with the blood – harden the flesh against damage, though here, of course, it was an inconvenience.  He then applied the bite himself, and as the blood welled up, offered me his wrist. “Come Nathaniel,” he said, “and drink from me. Let me show you the world into which you have been born.”  It sounded formal, almost like a ritual. I bent my face and drank.

The vitae was strong and fierce, and I could feel the inrush of power, filling me far more than before. Everything else in the room faded into the background, and both he and I seemed far more real and solid, as though everything else were just mist and shadows.  Memories flooded back and forth – Katharina bending over me, offering her wrist, saying “Mein Gott, was habe ich getan? Trinken, verdammt!” My oaths to Brigitte, to Catt and Katia, the burning of Jasper Cove and my encounter with Greyson, the strength of my feelings for Gwyn, for Valene and my friends. From him, scenes of depravity, vampires torturing people, himself included, the rape and pillage of a village not unlike this one, the love and loss of a warrior queen, another, more innocent woman, loss and destruction, and somewhere, his freedom…  “Concentrate on the blood,” he told me, “Focus on it, feel it, imagine what you can do with it…”

And that was all I knew. Darkness took me, and I knew nothing more until some hours later, when I awoke, still seated on the bench seat in the cellar, and he was gone, leaving only some dried blood on my lips, and the mass of shared memories and emotions. I made my way out of the cellars and up to the main hall. I needed a drink, and a chance to adapt to what I had learned and what I had gained. I could feel his powers buzzing in me, but knew not what to do with them. I needed time, and time I did not have.

Needs Must… (I don’t know this singer, but I like it a lot)

Wyld Hunt

It should have been a joyous reunion, a friend thought lost safely returned. Alas, life in Ashmourne Wylds is rarely that simple, and rarely does life here cooperate with what should have been. That said, epic battles aside, I am glad that my friend is returned, even if she barely remembers me.

I was in the castle, perusing the library for a bestiary. I was hoping I might be able to find something to identify the sea-monster that was eating the Unseelie lands. Surely somebody like Maric would have some bestiary or other in his collection. I did find a copy of Aristotle’s “τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά” or Metaphysica, which then led me to said Aristotle’s History of Animals – “Περὶ Τὰ Ζῷα Ἱστορίαι”.  Interesting though both works were, I doubted that my recall of Ancient Greek from my schooldays was really up to reading them. Mr Matterson, my teacher at school had never been overly impressed with my command of the language, and that was back then when it was fresh, relatively, in my memory. Any further search was interrupted by Helene, wondering what I was looking for. I expect she wanted to ask me about the potion testing, but then my duties as steward intervened. We had a visitor who was looking for a place called Ashmourne Wylds.

It was Sophia! I almost leaped down the stairs to greet her with a hug, but something stopped me. She showed almost no sign of recognition, looking at us and shaking her head as though trying to remember something. She accepted that I apparently knew her, since I had addressed her by name, but otherwise appeared to regard me as a stranger.

I tried to explain a little of our history together, but she could not recall anything, other than a vague recollection of a Mr Cove. I tried to explain a little further, but for the moment, it was not registering. I decided to leave it for the moment. This was not my first experience with memory loss, so I thought I had better not press the matter. I invited her in for food, drink and shelter, and so we made our way to the table. She told us that she had been down by the lake, where she had barely escaped from a giant sea-monster. She said that she had been directed here by the Sisters at a Convent called St Branden’s by the Sea, an order which apparently, among other things, could command the Kraken. I was most intrigued by this, but before I could ask further questions, we were interrupted again, by an all too familiar and terrifying sound.

It was the Huntsman’s horn, wailing across the landscape, chilling the heart of all who heard it, including my own. However, I had no time to indulge my personal feelings. I now had duties to perform, duties I would have done anyway, but were now official. I explained briefly, for Sophia’s benefit, about the Wyld Hunt, while hurrying them downstairs and into the castle cellars. At the same time, I shouted orders to the castle staff to mobilise for a lockdown if necessary. I did not know where Maric was, so started giving orders to the guards for the defence of the castle, and for those who would join the defence at the gate, presuming that the attack would come from there.

As the guards came filing in, arming themselves, I told them to arm for fae, i.e. take the iron-tipped weapons and the iron-filing grenades. A thought occurred to me and I asked Helene if she had her potion ready for testing. She had two doses with her, so I asked one of the servants to bring some hunks of meat and told her to treat the meat and then have the guards bring them to me at wherever the fight was going on.

Whatever else I might have been going to say was driven from my mind as I heard a loud scream from outside. It was Aoibheann’s voice. I grabbed my sword, some of my iron grenades and I ran. I ran in the direction of the scream, over near the edge of the village, by the gate. Maric’s guard captain came with me along with three of the guards I now knew to be werewolves and two who were kindred. I could not have asked for better.

When we reached the scene of the action, we saw three main threats – the Huntsman, who was chasing Aoibheann, but much like a cat plays with a mouse, letting her get away slightly, before going after her again. Then there were the cŵn, slavering and howling as usual, and one much larger than the others, going upright, much as I had seen weres do. Against them, so far as I could tell, were Orie, swinging a large axe, and Vedis, who was shouting at Aoibheann to run, while trying to attract the Huntsman’s attention.

Melee was engaged, and my memory of the sequence of events is faulty. Some of the guards engaged the cŵn, others the large cŵn. Orie swung at the larger one with his axe and got in a splendid blow at the creature’s hips. As I was advancing, the other guards appeared, with the doped meat, and Helene following close behind. I bade her stay back in the shelter of the trees. We tried throwing the meat at the larger cŵn, and the other piece at the Huntsman, but neither appeared to have much effect, though I hoped that maybe some of the lesser cŵn would have a go at it. As things turned out, I did not get the chance to find out.

The iron filing bags proved effective. My aim was off, so I missed the Huntsman himself, but the debris flew all over the place and several of the cŵn went off howling. Vedis attacked the Huntsman with what looked like a bolt of lightning. That seemed to get his attention, distracting him momentarily from Aoibheann. As I pressed my attack, with another of the filings bags, this time at the greater cŵn, I heard Maric’s voice in my head, saying that he would be there soon. Sure enough, he reappeared, almost before I had finished updating him on the situation.

Any planned strategy or tactics he might have had in mind went straight out of the window when he saw how close the Huntsman was to Aoibheann and he launched himself into the fray, presumably hoping to knock him over and release Aoibheann. Guards ran to back him up, swords in hand. Meanwhile, Orie got a shot in with his gun, while taking a wound to the leg with one of the spears that the beast had picked up and thrown back at us. I lobbed a bag of filings at him in the hope of distracting him, but before I could follow up with a more physical attack, I got another mental command from Maric – “see to the villagers”.

I was torn. My friend was under attack, and my place was to be there to defend her, but I realised he was right. He and the guards had things in hand, and they were far better warriors than me. I ran back to the village and started shouting for everyone to make their way to the castle. Each person I grabbed to, I sent to tell others, so as to get the word out as quickly as possible. I ran back down to the cellars and was relieved to see that Sophia and Helene had made it back safely. I opened the way to the vaults, ushered them down and then went back upstairs to direct the villagers to safety.

All I could do then was to wait. I trusted Maric’s abilities as a warrior, and did not doubt his determination to rescue Aoibheann. Much as I wanted to be out there, in the fight, somebody had to stay here and be in charge. As I sat down at the desk, after making sure the castle was secure and all the people were accounted for, my mind went back to my time on board ship, where we had well-planned and practised procedures in the event of an emergency or a fire. Even further back, I remembered the fire-drills at school. It occurs to me, as I write, that we should put procedures in place. Perhaps a bell, with different rings for things like being on alert, time to evacuate to the castle and such like. If we could train some of the guards and more sensible villagers to be marshals and such like, we would be well prepared for future emergencies. I must put this idea to Maric, once the current emergency was over.

 The Wild Hunt, by Legendgo check them out and buy CDs