Mother and Child

Dorina seems to be bonding with Hadley well. We have had a couple of conversations since the other night. She tells me that she lost her mother when she was Hadley’s age, so she understands the pain. Hadley started calling her Mama, so she started calling her daughter. And now she was happy to take that role. Especially now that Hadley had also lost her auntie Vedis. I gave her some of the background, and how they had known Vedis before they came to this place, back in Jasper Cove.

I said that she seemed to be doing a fine job, and was glad that Helene was able to help with the healing. I did not mention that the previous day, I had gone to see Helene, and had been able to use my fae powers to sense Hadley’s arm, after much persuasion, just to reassure myself that it was a purely physical injury with no supernatural component. I did tell her to be on the lookout for any manifestations of magic, explaining that Hadley had magic, but had not yet learned to control it properly. I also thought of what had happened in Hadley’s immediate past and suggested that Dorina should be as honest as possible with Hadley, since her parents had lied to her so much.

She appreciated that, especially as Lorcan, her father, if I recall correctly, had lied to her a lot. She understood that pain too. I think she will be a good mother to Hadley.

She had other more disturbing news. She had an encounter with Lucis. They had some sort of disagreement, possibly while her other half was in control. On some previous encounter, Lucis had lost her wings as a result of something Dorina did and was after payback. Dorina offered blood, but Lucis wanted more, she wanted Dorina to serve her. That, she could not do, she said, because she had already sworn to protect the village and to protect Hadley, taking another oath was not something she could risk, especially with the Huntsman around. I asked if she was sure it was Lucis, thinking of that darker nature that she had – Umbra – but she was fairly sure that it was Lucis herself, albeit a little crazy. I commended her for not taking any further oath and asked that she keep me advised if there were further developments.

She told me a little more about how she was working with her darker half. She had stopped calling it the beast, and was allowing it partial control, going hunting for animals etc. This had been working, but the other half was growing tired of animal blood. She wanted to speak to Maric about it. I had to explain about the torpor and suggested that if he didn’t recover soon, I would try to help. She offered blood, if that would help, which was nice of her, but I do not know how dhampyr blood would work. I had been planning on using my own, but even that had risks, because of his weakness for the fae. I thanked her anyway and said I would get back to her if it was needed.

So, we have a Lucis in town again. I shall have to keep an eye out. She was always a bit of a wild-card and if she is less sane than normal, it could present a problem. I shall have to keep an eye out.

Mother and Child

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Parlez Vous

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

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

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

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

-=oOo=-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-=oOo=-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Parlez Vous

Sanctuary

I woke alone in the cabin near the tavern; alone save for the scent of Gwyn on my pillow. The images from my dreams were unsatisfactory, and fragmented, like images in the shards of a shattered mirror, leaving my only with a sense of unease. Outside the cabin, there was a tension in the air, and the smell was wrong – too much fresh earth and the sharp tang of fractured stone. And there was a rumbling, almost unheard, a tremor of the earth that I could feel in my bones. Something bad was going on, something wrong with the world, but my only thoughts were for Gwyn. Had she returned to the sithen after our night together? I knew I was not welcome there, but maybe the guards could confirm that she was safe, if nothing else.

I made my way down the crude stone steps and along the ridge that led down to the standing stones. Something about the landscape was wrong, but I could not place what it was, only that there was a disturbance in the atmosphere, in the feeling, in the energy that I could sense. I hurried down and knocked at the door. The guards there looked harassed and tired. At first, all they would do was confirm that Gwyn was indeed safe within the tavern and were set to send me away when another voice called from inside. He was one of the senior guards by the look and sound of him. He berated the guard for refusing me, reminding him of orders that had been issued by Her Majesty to admit all who sought sanctuary from the crisis. I made my way back up the hill and stepped through into the sithen. I assured the guard that I would not hold it against him, and that I would mostly likely forget who he was if anybody asked who refused me. A small thing that didn’t cost me anything, yet might buy me favour with the gate guard for some future occasion. I did not know what the crisis was, but, for the moment, I was intent on finding Gwyn, and then, if required, doing what I could to help with the problem.

Inside the sithen, I found myself lost. Gone were the pink mist and the arched walkway into the centre. Instead, there were more trees, an assortment of marble gazebos, fountains and stuff.  I headed for the nearest one that appeared to have movement. Of course, I walked straight in on the Queen.  I managed to get my courtly voice in gear. “Your Majesty, may your light shine always, I do beg your pardon for the intrusion. With all the strangeness going on outside, I came seeking news of Gwyneth and your guard said it was ok to come in. I apologise again for the intrusion.” She bade me be at ease, assuring me that Gwyn was safe and that I could go join her and shelter here for the duration of the crisis. I bowed again and thanked her without thanking her, as I have learned to do. “Your Majesty is most kind. I do not fully comprehend the nature of this crisis, but if there is any way I can be of service, then Your Majesty need only ask. Likewise, if there is any business arising from our last meeting, then I am likewise at Your Majesty’s service.” She nodded and waved me in the general direction of another gazebo.

There I found Blaise and Aislyn, locked in some kind of embrace, but Aislyn looked to be in pain more than anything. Tristan was there, so I made up for the introduction that hadn’t happened the previous evening. That might have been a mistake, since his full introduction was, if I remember it all correctly, Tristan, of the First People, a retainer for King Carda, Lord of Hulsk, Keeper of the Midnight Sun, Slayer of Dragons, and as the poets sing, Drinker of Mead.  I may have mis-remembered some of that. I felt a little inadequate, so I threw in my honorary title of Slayer of Onions, just for the heck of it, which he seemed to enjoy.  I managed to procure a drink from one of the servants and took a look around.  Aoibheann was outside the gazebo with Rachel, and did not look happy.  This was, I learned later, because she was temporarily blinded and deaf, voluntarily, so she would not be a security risk to the sithen. Blaise and Gwyn were able to communicate with her, but otherwise, she was working by touch.  Blaise tried to reassure her until Gwyn turned up and then left her in Gwyn’s care so he could attend to Aislyn.  Gwyn had clearly been exploring the wardrobes in the sithen, since she, Rachel and Aoibheann were dressed in identical dresses, save for being different colours.  I made introductions, since Tristan probably hadn’t met Aoibheann or Rachel yet.  I got the titles in the wrong order, but I don’t think he minded.  Gwyn explained about the temporary curse, which surprised him as he didn’t see how Aoibheann could be much of a threat.  I thought the same until I was reminded that she is somehow bound to answer the Huntsman’s questions. Rachel was not a threat because she was bound by Gwyn.  That surprised Tristan even more, wondering how such a small woman could bind a demon.  Nobody tried to explain that, not even Rachel. We spoke of various things, but soon, I felt weary again, as I sometimes do, and asked Gwyn to show me to our sleeping quarters. She said she would do so, but wanted to spend more time with Aoibheann, so she would leave me there, promising that she would make it up to me when she came back to bed.

Before we could do so, we were interrupted by Valene, who asked Gwyn if she could have a word with her Sigil. Gwyn, obviously, was perfectly ok with this and offered to get her a drink. Aoibheann, meanwhile, was a little agitated, possibly feeling the cold, and Rachel was just wary. Valene was pleasant enough to Gwyn and Aoibheann, but was less so to Rachel, calling her a demonling. I took Val aside, noting how weary she looked, and how cold she felt, even more than normal.  The Cait Sidhe were going to war, she told me, then kissed me. I felt a sudden access of fear, for the way she kissed me felt like she was saying goodbye.  She asked me to look after Royce and Nualla and the two kittens, the two youngest – Rhys and Ianto. I returned her kiss, trying to show her the love I had for her and told her to be safe. I also told her to send for me, if she needed me, even in battle. I knew I was obliged, by virtue of being her Sigil, but that I would have done anyway, without any oath, because of our bond of friendship.  Blaise came back and greeted her, watching as the kittens tumbled out of the shadows and cuddled up to Aiobheann.  She thanked him for allowing her access and giving a safe haven for the young ones and then turned to depart. There was nothing more I could do. She had given me my task, to take care of those Cait she left with us. I watched her go, wishing her a safe journey and safe return, and then returned to Gwyn. Blaise had returned, and since he was able to communicate with Aoibheann, Gwyn took me off to the sleeping quarters and lay with me until I was asleep.

 

She Sells Sanctuary

 

Who Wants to Live Forever?*

I try not to worry about the future. In the chaotic confusion that has become my life over the past eight years, and especially the last two years or so, I have found it prudent not to look to tomorrow, for tomorrow might not be there. London was swallowed by the darkness, Jasper Cove burned, and who knows what might become of this island or what may become of those of us who live here.  Instead, I have come to appreciate the advice from Horace’s Ode; that which Mr Quelch taught us, long ago in school Latin classes.  How did it go now?  Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.  Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.  Seize the day! It seems appropriate in the unpredictable world I now inhabit. Of course, the future has its bright spots. In around 100 years, from my perspective, it will deliver up a bright jewel in the form of Gwyneth Eiranwen Evans. I would never have thought that this pint-sized, potty-mouthed young woman who affects the speech of a common flower-girl would be the one to slide past my defences and find a space in my heart. I am so glad she did.

That little spot of green by the shore, where we met Gwythyr, has become one of my favourite spots to sit and read.  Gwyn found me there and apologised for running off the previous night, because she had really needed to speak to Valene. I was not worried, since I had known where she was going to be. For all my comments to Giada the previous evening, I did trust Valene. I told her that it was fine, because is gave me the chance to talk to Giada, adding that she was free to ask about that any time she wanted. I asked how she had gotten on with Valene.

Valene had told her that she needed to be more devious, and that she should not worry too much, as many changelings don’t know their true name. This was not so in Gwyn’s case, she believes it to be her full name as her grandmother had told it to her, and admonished her to never tell anyone about it.  She was still worried that Rachel might have heard it when she blurted it out to the King. Personally, I wasn’t sure that Rachel had the wit to remember it, and we didn’t even know if she had listened to the whole of our meeting.

Val’s advice was apparently that she should try to determine Rachel’s true name, which might give her some leverage. The downside of this would be that we would actually have to talk to the girl. I told her about the name I knew – Rachel Spencer – and how she had been a Caitiff back in London, explaining that was a vampire without clan, or, I suppose, more correctly, one who did not know her bloodline. Gwyn said that she found it difficult to talk to Rachel because she would keep going on about how ungrateful we were concerning her supposed sacrifice to save our lives. I had to laugh at that, remarking on how Rachel was often going on at me for not letting things drop.

We got off the subject of Rachel for a while as Gwyn told me that Valene had another visitor that she appeared sweet on.  Said stranger went by the name of Raven, and apparently his interest had been piqued by this realm. I had to laugh at that.

“Everybody seems to be a Raven of some sort. I was a Raven, twice. My friend Catt nearly cut my hand off making me a Raven – she was a Raven Captain, like Major Fuckbeak, only a lot prettier. Padishar is apparently a Raven….  Ah well, it is an interesting realm… possibly in the sense of living in interesting times.” She laughed and told me a joke about how you got laid at a pagan gathering – just page Morgan or Raven. Apparently, in her time, these are popular names among pagans.  Strange choices, I thought later – since many people regard Morgan, aka Morgen le Fey, as an unsympathetic character and ravens are widely regarded as portents of death or doom.  Maybe they are otherwise regarded in the 21st century.  We went from there to talking about Paash. I think I had made some comment about getting her to bake a cake for Rachel, and if she still annoyed us, lacing it with senna pods.  Gwyn grumbled that Paash was probably not in a mood to do any favours, referring back to the recent confrontation.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Half the time, she doesn’t even remember when she gets in her black moods.  Sometimes, I think she is senile.”  I asked if they still had senility in the 21st century.

“Yeah; but they call it senile dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease.” She told me. “Lots of people are studying it to try and find a cure. Cancer is beatable, so who knows? Maybe they’ll figure it out.” She looked up at the sky. “Sometimes I really miss the 21st century.”  That, I could understand, as there were many things I missed about my time, not least, having access to a library.

“How are they doing with the consumption?  That is what took my mother?  Is that still a problem?” I asked, reaching over and petting her tenderly. “It must be hard.  I miss a lot of things about my former life, but I guess I am better at getting used to it.  Life at sea does that.  You’re away from home, sometimes for months at a time.  Your world is tiny, taking a few minutes to walk from end to end, no trees or grass or ponds. The same group of people around you constantly…  Oh, and no women, unless there were some among the passengers, and fraternising was… discouraged.”  I drew her onto my lap, kissing her.  “But, it’s not all bad here.” She snuggled into my embrace, playing with my hair.

“Consumption… that’s tuberculosis, I think? It’s mostly eradicated, but living conditions in some places in the world were causing it to make a comeback. And polio, they cured polio.” I thought about that, speculating on how I might see her time, in 120 years or so. Then, for some reason, I had a sudden access of fear… what could happen in that time?  I shivered and hugged her close to me.

“I am scared too, Gwyn, scared of that,” I told her. “Scared that I will be just the same in 120 years, while people around me grow old and die. I don’t know how to deal with that, and I have nobody to ask…”  I kissed her, almost urgently. “I don’t know and I am scared of that.” She held me closely, kissing my face gently.

“I think I understand,” she said softly. “Valene must be immortal, or nearly so. And who knows, maybe I am too? In 120 years, we could still be friends. You’ll find someone to ask; there’s bound to be another vampire out there who would share some knowledge with you. You just might have to wait a while. If I knew, I would tell you. If I knew everything, I would tell you that, too.” I laughed and told her not to do that, because then we would have nothing left to talk about and would get bored.  I changed the subject again and wondered if we would be able to get anywhere if we took the boat on the river, the one by Val’s den.

“You want to run away?” she asked, locking her hands together behind my neck. “I think there’s nothing beyond the sea. I think we’d row and row, because there’d be no wind, and then we’d turn around and find ourselves just an hour from shore. We could be out there for days, and we’d find nothing.” She shivered. “Would you please kiss me again? I’m starting to scare myself.” I had no problem complying with that request.

“You ask the most dreadful things of me sometimes.”  I did as she asked. “I am not prone to running away, especially when I do not know where I am running to.  I don’t think this place is done with me yet.  Maybe Aoibh is right; maybe we have a destiny here.”  I shrugged, thinking of my arrival in Jasper Cove. “But then, I thought I was going to make a new life, when the boatman offered me his hand, and we know how that turned out.  Of course, had I known who he was then…” I paused for a moment. Had I left myself open to question?  I had not told her all about Greyson, but it was something she should know.  I thought then of Dee’s journal, wondering if I could place that burden on her. I needed another head to help me understand it, but could I do that to her, given Greyson’s warning? Before I could cover myself, she asked if I knew who the boatman was. I guess I was committed now.

“I thought I did, when I arrived,” I told her. “I was convinced he was Charon, but I never thought more about it until the night Jasper Cove burned.”  I made myself more comfortable, lying down and drawing her onto my shoulder. It was time to tell the story. “Way, way back, when I was still in London, I became city treasurer. A young man, an economics graduate from Cambridge came to me, offering his services as my assistant. His name was Greyson, Greyson Devonshire.  He was a very attractive young man, pretty almost, gentle, kind, studious.  We became great friends, and had I the wits to realise it, we may have become more than just friends. I am terrible at noticing when a woman takes a shine to me, much less when a young man did. I think I was loosely aware that he loved me, and even less aware that I loved him.  Had he stayed longer…”  I paused a moment, uncertain. From what Gwyn had told me, attitudes to such relationships were more relaxed in her time, and she had given no indication of prejudice. Fortunately, I was right in my recollection.  She snuggled closer and told me I would fit in well in the 21st century, saying I was a metrosexual, whatever one of those was. She asked if Greyson had any ulterior motive beyond wanting to get in my pants. I assured her that he had no motives that I knew of. In light of later events, there may have been, but surely even he could have known the future.  I continued the story.

“Elections came. There were some irregularities, but we were unable to prove anything, and the mayor I served lost the election. The new mayor sacked us both. Shortly after that, just as I was beginning to acknowledge I had feelings for him, Greyson had to leave London.  I never saw him again. Or so I thought.  Anyway, skip forward a few months or maybe a few years. I don’t know in absolute terms, only that it was a few months of duration for me. I found myself in Jasper Cove. There I made friends, including their majesties, Alec and Isabella.  They treated me well enough, particularly Alec. I liked him, even though we never really got to spend much time together, but there was something odd.  Sometimes, I would see him looking at me strangely, or he would say something… as though we had known each other longer than we had.  Sometimes, it even seemed that he was flirting with me, even in front of Isabella…”  She laughed and said that Alec had flirted with her too. I continued, winding my fingers into her hair.

“The night Jasper burned, I was with Sophia. We grabbed our things and ran, following the fireflies to the bridge at the end of the island.  As I ran across the bridge, I somehow got separated from Sophia and found myself on the boat again, only this time, the boatman was Greyson. Shock doesn’t begin to cover it. He greeted me as old friends do, saying we didn’t have much time. I just sat in the boat, holding on to his hand like a lifeline.  He then explained how he was Greyson, but I had also known him as Alec, but he thought it better to greet me in a shape I knew better.  He had a quest for me, he said, to keep the lore of Jasper Cove, and other things.  He then told me something else. Greyson was not the first face, or name he had worn.”  I stopped playing with her hair and looked at her. “How well do you know the Elizabethan era?” I asked, qualifying that. “I suppose, for you, I should say the first Elizabethan era.”  She told me she was ok reading the English of the time, but was not really up on her history. I asked if she knew of John Dee, Elizabeth’s astrologer, alchemist and other things. She admitted it was not something she knew much about, and had not heard of him.

“Dee was an astrologer, advisor, alchemist, some said magician… pretty much a polymath,” I told her. “Known for, among other things, seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.”  She dismissed that with a snort.

“That’s the sort of thing that draws an urbane chuckle in 21st century academic circles. We don’t believe it exists, of course.” She said. “But I do like a nice polymath, even when the science is suspect.” I grinned at her.

“That’s good to know. But back then, the Philosopher’s Stone was believed to be the base element, from which all other things were made.  It was also supposed to give immortality. Many alchemists sought to discover it. Dee succeeded.” Gwyn stretched her legs into a more comfortable position.

“So Greyson made himself immortal, and he’s been different people ever since, including our Alec.” She nodded. “Right. My disbelief is just going to be perpetually fucking suspended; I can go with that. If that’s what happened, where is Alec–Greyson–Dee? Where is he now?” I shrugged.

“Well, technically, Dee made himself immortal…  well, let’s say he defeated, or at least postponed death.  Who he was in the 200 plus years between then and my age, I don’t know, and I don’t know who he was between then and Alec. As to where he is now, that’s a good question.”  I slipped my hand into my bag, having, for a moment, a slight fear that I may have lost the diary when the castle fell. To my relief, it was still there in my bag. “Greyson gave me some tasks, quests even – to find his son, Malachi, who is with Isabella, so that is done; to be keeper of the lore of Jasper Cove and those in it, which I suppose I have been doing anyway, through my diary… and one last task.”  I thought for a moment, could I ask this of her?  I pulled the book out and placed it in my lap, my fingers stroking it for a few minutes.  I looked at her. “The last task, he bade me to be very careful with, to reveal it to very few, for fear it might bring danger to those who know of it. He even bade me keep it from Isabella…”  I took her hand.  “I need another mind, another intellect, but, I don’t want to place you at risk, our lives are difficult enough as it is.  It is your choice, entirely freely, with no obligation or pressure. If you do not want to know about it, then I will understand entirely and would not love you any the less for it.”  She squeezed my hand, looking at me.  She spoke slowly, as if thinking out loud.

“So, here’s the thing,” she said. “I’m like you. I’m a knowledge ho — whore. I want to know everything. And here’s the other thing. We’re in danger from so many different directions, I’m pretty sure one more won’t hurt.” There was a pause, her eyes flickering from mine to our hands and back again. “And here’s the other thing aside from the other two things. I care about you; you’re telling me important stuff and I’m conscious of everything about you, every touch and every word, and,” she paused again. “See, it’s impossible for me to be dishonest, but I’m trying not to dissemble. Or evade. Or even be a little bit unclear. I do want to know about it. But whether that’s because I care about you and want to make your burden lighter, which would be the morally sound reason, or because I’m becoming just as much of a fatalist as Aoibheann, which would be the what the fuck we’re all going to die anyway reason, or because I just want to know everything, which would be the selfish, typical Gwyn reason, I don’t know. Does that make sense? Is it all right with you if I don’t know why I want to know?”  I smiled and kissed her, aware of a slight tear in the corner of my eye.

“Your reasons are your reasons and they are good reasons. I’m so glad I have you. Life would be unbearable without somebody who doesn’t give me a blank look when I quote from the Bard or Blake.” I chuckled, “Well, ok, I probably give you blank looks sometimes when you speak of post 19th century things, but at least I know you would be able to explain.”  I kissed her again, then picked up the diary. “Dee kept a journal, partly about his quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, and about other things.  I am trying to understand it and make sense of things from it.  Some of what he says might explain some of what has happened to me, to you – for example, the concept of multiple realities. Other things, I am still trying to get to grips with.  Here, have a look at the first two pages.”  I passed the volume to her, handling it with care and reverence. She fluffed my hair.

“I knew I’d be sharing your life with books of some kind, but I get the lap. Put the book in my lap.” I told her my lap was always hers, so she got onto it, and then I handed her the journal. She looked at it, brushing it with her fingertips. She told me that we ought to be wearing gloves, since something like this was probably worth a lot of money, at least, in her day. I shrugged telling her that I usually cleaned my hands first, and since I don’t sweat, I was less likely to mark it. As for the worth of the book.

“Somehow, I can’t imagine in what sane version of reality I could even admit that this document exists, let alone sell it.  And what the heck would I do with a large amount of money here?  What is there to spend it on?  It’s not like I can take you on a luxury cruise to the Americas or something.” I nibbled the nearest ear gently, “Which would be a terrible thing, stuck in a cabin with you for two weeks.” She shivered and complained she was trying to read.  She managed to find a handkerchief in my pocket and used that to turn the pages, agreeing that money would be fairly pointless here. She peered closely at the handwritten pages and I told her it was Secretary Hand, which was appropriate for the period.  She read through the first entry with interest.

“Well. OK. First of all, this is a 21st century fantasist’s dream come true. Words like ‘metaverse’ and ‘multiverse’. Imagine what it would be like to be the first person who ever wrote such a thing down.” I nodded.

“I’m not sure what to make of metaverse, but multiverse – that I can well believe, given the places I have been since… since my world got turned upside down. I like the idea of any one reality being like ripples on a pond, and the idea that maybe you could calculate one or other of them.  I remember when I first read it, I had to laugh, thinking of all the times I tried to convince Wren of the value of mathematics.  I wrote about it in my diary.”  I let her continue reading while I tried to find the appropriate diary entry. Had it really been that long ago?

“There are whole cosmological theories built around this concept,” she said. “It’s well-loved by authors and, yeah, fantasists. So well loved that there are whole libraries’ worth of books written with this concept at their core. And so well loved that I know many, many people who walk around in their daily lives, hoping a portal will open up somewhere and they’ll be whisked into the fantasy land of their choice.” She grimaced. “One of the reasons I was half-convinced I’d ended up in a coma, when I was first in Jasper, is that fantasies like this played a big part in my life, and not just in childhood.” She looked at my diary curiously. “Do you find keeping a diary cathartic? I don’t think I could ever keep one up consistently.” I laughed and told her I had kept one since Mother bought me my first one for my 12th birthday. I was intrigued by the idea of fiction embracing such a concept, even with the benefit of 120 or so years of scientific advancement, compared to my era. I found the entry for the first of June, or, at least, what I estimated to be the first of June, having no idea of the absolute date any more, and showed her the entry.

“How about my idea here, that the fundamental particle is more of a mathematical concept?”   She nodded.

“I do not know much about higher mathematics,” she admitted. “I never studied it much. But, if you imagine a mathematical and physical reality, concept and form, then sure, the Philosopher’s Stone might just as well be an equation, or a concept. I guess it makes more sense than figuring out how to physically turn lead into gold.” I took the diary back, glancing briefly at nearby entries before sliding it back into my bag.

“I never did any of the esoteric stuff – enough maths to be an accountant, but I am sure, if you can describe a circle, or the path of a gun-shell with mathematics, then, maybe maths can describe anything… even the maths that is describing the maths that is…” I tailed off and shuddered, feeling a little lost in that concept. “Now that starts to make my head hurt.  I wonder what the equation for this is.”  I kissed the middle of the back of her neck.  She shivered again and lowered her head, revealing more shoulder and neck. I took that as an invitation and started exploring the additional skin with my lips

“Yeah, it’s a lot to think about, innit? I do know most of my mathematician friends just start laughing if someone starts a sentence by saying, ‘First, consider that you have a sphere…’ and then I sort of lose the plot. You have this knack for distracting me.” I chuckled, kissing her shoulders some more.

“Maybe I’m trying to increase your circulation, get more blood to the brain. I could well be wrong. I don’t think my blood is going to my brain, unless the taunts of certain crude women are to be believed.”  I sighed happily, resting my chin on her shoulder.  “I have no clue what to make of the next entry, which is 66 years later.  He would have been well over 100 years old by then.  I can believe that isolating the fundamental particle could be an anomaly, like isolating a single pole on a magnet, but that that means in terms of the macro existence, I don’t know.  Maybe that fixed point is like where the pebble hit the water in the pond, and maybe there are many Dees, Alecs, Greysons etc out there, all trying to work it out. Heck, maybe now, I’m one of them…”  That thought was definitely something that had not occurred before, and was a little disturbing. “That’s a scary thought.  Now I am involved in this quest, does that make me one of them?”  She giggled.

“Ooh, how old are you exactly, Mr Ballard? The only thing I find comforting there is I’ve recently found my lifespan may be somewhat longer than I’d previous anticipated, myself.” She twisted around and kissed my nose and lips. “Seriously? I think that way lies madness, paradox, time travelling to kill your grandfather, that kind of thing. Of course, it might be that Dee was just a bit full of himself. There are theories that say multiple parallel universes are created all the time, whenever there is a choice to be made, anywhere, creating an infinite number of possible realities– any of which is somehow inaccessible to most people. But not,” she kissed my forehead, “it would seem, to us. Of course how we do it; that seems to be beyond our current level of knowledge.”

“Life is full of paradox and confusion as it is,” I said with a laugh. “Hey, suppose I had got intimate with Greyson.  Would that be incest?  Masturbation?  Or just plain weird? Hmmm… Maybe there is a me out there who played it safe and didn’t kiss you.  Who did what I always used to do, and failed to notice that somebody liked me.  I think I like this ripple better.”  I took the journal back, scanning the pages in the vain hope of further enlightenment. “Well, now you’ve seen it, do you still want to be my Watson?”

“Oh, very much,” Gwyn replied. “I don’t know how I can help you, since my mind runs well farther into fantasy than yours, I think — but I’m willing to give it a shot.” She frowned. “I wouldn’t like that reality where you didn’t kiss me very much either. In that one, I’d be that girl trying to figure out what is wrong with her. It would have too many parallels to my old life. Just one thing, though: why were you worried it would be somehow dangerous for me to read this? Or am I remembering things wrong?” I smiled, riffling through the diary again, to the fateful day when Jasper Cove burned, and everything I thought I knew was turned upside down, again.

“I can only go by what Greyson told me.”  I found the page. “I wrote it down, as best I could remember.”  I read from that entry. “’Keep the journal hidden, even from Isabella if you can,’ he said with a saddened smile.  ‘For I fear all who know of its whereabouts are in grave danger from the secrets written in those pages. For the rest: find Isabella, find my son, and tell her of the task I have given you.’  He turned once again towards the banks, his face hardening, his face determined.  ‘We may not ever meet again Nathaniel, my friend, my confidant; but whatever happens I hope you look upon my memory with fondness, whatever names I have called myself.’”  He face fell, looking sad at what might have been the last words Alec or Greyson ever spoke.

“So, I guess he really is gone,” she said. “I really liked Alec.” I gathered her into my arms, lying back on the rock.

“So did I love, so did I. And I’m not so sure.  Anybody who held off death for, what, 400 years or so isn’t going to go down easily. Maybe we will see him again somehow,”  She snuggled into my arms, sounding sleepy.

“That would be nice. We could take him to Valene’s and pet him like a kitten.” With that, her voice drifted off into the sounds of one sleeping.  I pulled my jacket over both of us and lay down, wishing her pleasant dreams.  I drifted a while, my feelings a mixture of contentment and concern. I had somebody to share my quest, but at what cost?  That was a question I could not answer.

 

Only one person can ask this question… the inimitable Freddie

Skating Away?*

A vampire might reasonably be considered an exotic creature, yet there are times when I feel quite mundane.  Certainly when I went into the tavern this afternoon, I felt very much the dull one. Of course, when you are up against Rachel, with her decorated horns and tail, our ice-skate-footed friend, whose name I learned was Rangda, and what turned out to be a satyr called Muskwood, one can’t help to be the normal-looking one, even with the pointy teeth.

I don’t know quite what sort of conversation I had walked in upon, but it seemed to involve the satyr trying to persuade Rachel that she didn’t need clothes with some bullshit story, pardon my language, about plants feeling pain as they are ripped from the ground.  OK, I know my dryad friend is capable of feeling pain and pleasure, but I’m not sure that principle extends down to things like flax and cotton. Admittedly, the process of making linen from flax does involve a certain amount of abuse, but cotton comes from a bit the plant is throwing away anyway. I don’t remember how hemp is made.  Those were the only plant fabrics I could think of at the time. Everything else on my body comes from animals – wool, leather, silk.  On the other hand, he is a satyr, so maybe he took any excuse to get a woman, even one with horns, naked.

Skater-girl made brief pleasantries and then flew off, again. I know twice does not make something a habit, but I am beginning to wonder. It’s not as if I have any desire to bite her.  I don’t know if she is demonic, fae or other, and besides, those feet look dangerous.

Rachel, meanwhile, asked me to not pull her tail in future. I protested it was the easiest bit to grab and told her I would so promise if she would promise not to provoke my friends. This led to somewhat of a debate, with her claiming that all she was doing was trying to help and what was wrong with that?  Aoibheann turned up and weighed into the argument on my side. I was beginning to wonder of Rachel was not aware of what she was doing, since she has only been a demon for a short while.  I could feel some sympathy for that, having been a vampire for only a short time and still finding my way with my powers. However, as Aoibheann neatly put it, she still had to take responsibility. Rachel could not see the harm she was doing, even when I explained that while she had indeed offered to exact the revenge, putting herself at risk, it could still reflect harm on Gwyn for future encounters with the Raven. Aoibheann got fed up with trying to convince her and disappeared off, possibly to bang something against the wall in frustration, judging by the noises I was hearing. Rachel herself stormed off in a sulk, still proclaiming her innocence.  I must have a word with Padishar, find out what it is she is feeding on, if that is what she is doing, and how to prevent it.

Mention of the Unseelie Raven caught the satyr’s attention, advising that it wasn’t a good idea to get on said creature’s bad side (not that I am sure he has a good side). I spoke of my own raven experiences, which he found odd, given my nature, and advised me about speaking too freely of my abilities. I discovered from that conversation that he was Seelie, so wasn’t going to tell anybody. He had far better things to do than spilling blood.  I would have commented that I didn’t approve of spilling it either, regarding that as being a waste, but I figured that Aoibheann, who had come back in with grazed knuckles, might take it the wrong way.  I helped her clean said knuckles with some vodka and a piece of clean rag – the one I used to wrap the older piece of unicorn crystal in and then, lacking anything else to do, left her to the tavern, the satyr by now having lost interest.

I am still wondering about the plants feeling pain comment. I must ask Aerodine next time I see her.

 

* It has to be Jethro

 

Keep Me Warm*

 

I do not lack for company, or friends, old and new. I like to think that I am always there for them. Sometimes, they are there for me, which can only be a good thing. Sometimes, in unexpected ways.

When I was much younger than I am today, I would sometimes go camping with my brother, Gilbert.  It was not so great an adventure as it might sound.  We did not pack up our tents and hike into the middle of the moors, for there were none such close to home. No, the camping that Gilbert and I undertook was a much more modest affair. For a start, we were barely out of earshot of home, in a small copse that backed on to our parents’ house. Our tent was a makeshift affair, fashioned out of old ropes and tarpaulins and strung from a tree branch. Our beds had once seen service as canvas bench seats in an old charabanc.  We would set up a small fire and sit around it, making toast and telling outrageous tales of ghosts and monsters, going to bed very late and sleeping until the sun woke us late in the morning.  Now, of course, I know that those monsters, and possibly the ghosts, are real, and I am one of them. I wonder what Gilbert would make of that?

Why is this relevant?  Well, that was the last time, not counting an occasion during my university years, when my house-mates and I got very drunk and ended up falling asleep in a London park, that I ever slept outdoors.  That is, until this past night.

My last journal entry was not entirely accurate. I did, indeed go to the stone, but it was not until the morning that I returned to the castle. As I left the tavern, I had briefly spotted a figure that might have been Aerodine close by the tavern, but I did not stop, I just wanted out of the castle. I went to the stone, seeking a quiet spot to calm myself down but I found much more.  Aerodine must have followed me shortly after I left, and found me hunched into a ball, leaning against the stone and muttering “oh shit” over and over again. I did not even see her until she called my name and I looked up to see her standing there, looking concerned. Maybe I did need company after all, or perhaps it is something about her.  I do not know, but just seeing her made me feel better. She sat down and offered comfort and a shoulder, ok, a knee, to lean on.

She managed to calm me down, but was curious about what it was I had done.  Particularly, how I had managed to stop Cristof in his tracks. I was not entirely sure how to answer that, given that I don’t actually know myself, but also because whatever it is, it is a vampiric ability. I told her that I did not know; only that it was an ability I seemed to have. She seemed to accept that, and then said that I was strange for a human. There was nothing for it, I had to fess up. After a moment of confusion caused by me using the term kindred, she understood me. Despite my fears, she was unperturbed. For all that she reacted, I might as well have confessed to being a tennis coach or something.  She spoke instead about me being touched.  Not mentally disturbed, but having connections to the fae, possibly through my mother.

I don’t know if it was some kind of magic I couldn’t sense or just her presence, but I was becoming more and more relaxed. I found myself speaking about Mother, her love of the outdoors, of plants and herbs, her love of books.  I even told her about Father, of whom I rarely speak in these pages. I spoke of many things that I haven’t spoken of to many people, of the values each of my parents gave me and how they formed me, and she listened without judgement. Her presence was a life-affirming thing in itself. The undergrowth surrounded us, making a safe place for the two of us, a special place and I took some comfort there, from her kindness, her warmth and much else. What else we spoke of and what else passed and how she gave of herself, I shall write of another time. Suffice to say, the whole night passed and it was early morn before I took my leave of her and returned to the castle, much refreshed, and in much better spirits than I had left it.

 

* Elaine Morgan/Rose Among Thorns

Interplanetary Craft?*

It’s been a day or two of fragmentary conversations, mostly with Gywn & Aoibheann.  We’ve been like ships that pass in the night, or spaceships if Gywn was to be believed.

I found Aoibheann standing outside the tavern at one point, nervously fiddling with her broom.  We exchanged cordial greetings, enquired after each other’s health etc.  She admitted to being nervous, but wouldn’t let on about what. I empathised and told her she had every right to be, so long as it wasn’t about me. I pointed out that I wasn’t her boss, her father, her brother etc, just her friend, adding that I knew that things had been difficult, but wanted to put that behind us.  She accepted that, and promptly changed the subject, saying that she probably needed to eat and disappeared off in the direction of the vegetable stall.  More cabbage stew, I guess. Maybe some day she will open up to me.

 

Later, I ran into Gwyn, looking very pretty in a skirt and some kind of hair-net. As usual, she brushed off the compliment and asked if something had happened, like a spaceship visiting, because she had heard a strange noise, a popping noise, and something seemed different.  I hadn’t heard anything, but then, I have previously slept through severe storms and Huntsman visits, so that was no guide.  I told her I hadn’t seen any spaceships, so far as I knew, making it a question.  She went on to tell me that spaceships usually look like two saucers stuck together, only big enough for people to be inside.  I didn’t really know what to say to that, other than I hadn’t seen any such. I only knew a little of spacecraft from my readings of the likes of Mr Verne and Mr Wells.  Oh, and the inside of Kzzz’ ship, but I only really knew the insides of that from the shared dream.

She wondered if maybe there had been a riot of some sort.  Again, I could not recall any such thing, but I did say that I had felt like punching Cristof after the stunt he had pulled a day or so beforehand. She was in agreement with that sentiment, saying that she was almost tempted to run off and join the Unseelie, because, as she put it, “fuck him.”  I laughed and said that it had probably been several centuries since anybody had fucked Cristof.  Then, thinking about it, it was minus several centuries since I had fucked anyone, so I wasn’t one to talk.  I told her that I could probably arrange an introduction to the Unseelie through Valene, which I had been intending to do anyway. She said that she’d think about it, since she wasn’t sure she needed to go right to the top. She continued on to the tavern while I continued my perambulations outside the castle, just for a breath of non-midden air.

 

Later still, well, the next day, even, I ran into Aoibheann, who was in a very agitated state. She fired a whole string of questions at me, asking if Gwyn was awake, how she was and how angry she was with Aoibheann.  I tried to get her to calm down to try to elicit the story. It seemed that the two of them had gone for a walk, which they had thought safe enough, until they ran into the Captain of the Unseelie Ravens.  I had a brief moment of hope that this might mean that Catt had returned, but since I had had no tingles from my scar, it was only a vain hope; or, as it turned out, no hope at all.  This Raven turned out to be a huge crow-like being who had challenged them for being out of their territory. Naturally, Gwyn’s attitude had kicked in and Aoibheann was convinced that this was why Gwyn had gotten stabbed and probably now hated her.  And the only reason she was still alive was because Nualla had protected them.  She was also convinced that Nualla hated her and thought she was too stupid to live, so now, the Unseelie court would hate her too and everybody would turn against her.  She was also convinced that Valene was only protecting her because of Vedis…  She ran out of breath, so I took the opportunity to speak. I tried to reassure her that Gwyn was very much her own person, and would probably have gone into the woods on her own anyway, so was very unlikely to blame anybody, apart, possibly, from her attacker. I assured her that it was unlikely that the cats hated her – they were just being like cats, mentioning the nicest thing that Royce had said about me was that I was ok for a bloody outsider.  As for Vedis, I told her I would see if I could intervene, having some previous experience with said demon.  And, I said, no matter what else, I would not turn against her.

She was not to be convinced.  No matter how hard I try to explain how I value personal loyalties compared to, for want of a better word, political ones, she could not understand.  Maybe loyalty/fealty etc is all or nothing to her.  My country, right or wrong, being a phrase I had once heard, but that is not how I think.  The problem is how to explain it to her. To her, if I joined with the Unseelie, which she seems to think I might, given my previous associations, and she joins with the Seelie, she could not see how I could still be loyal to her.  I thought of my discussions with Sophia, regarding Tory and myself back in London, and related how the kindred had opposing factions, yet I was still friends with one of the supposed opposition.  I would have mentioned the Montagus and Capulets, but I doubted her reading included the Bard. She still didn’t get it. While she admitted that factions could occasionally form alliances, she could not see how I could be loyal to a friend and to a faction at the same time.  In the end, I gave up, saying it was my way, and maybe some day she would understand, when she knew me better.  I bade her farewell and promised that I would never harm her if I could possibly avoid it.

Later, I wondered if I might have given her another example – say, if we did find ourselves in opposite courts and I was told to kill her as an enemy, how I would refuse that order.  Maybe that would work.  I don’t know. Would she regard that as disloyalty?  Maybe I should ask her what she would do if Isabella ordered her to kill me. I don’t know, I really don’t know.  Maybe some day, she’ll work it out.

 

 
* Only the best…