Queen and Soldier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Queen and the Soldier – Suzanne Vega

 

 

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Si monumentum requiris, circumspice

There is a corner of St Mary’s Church in Chatham that has my name on it. Well, the Ballard family name anyway. Grandfather reserved the plot many years ago. He and my grandmother are there, as are my parents. It is a modest family tomb in pinkish grey granite with a little ornamental iron railing around the edge, in a pleasant spot on the sunny side of the churchyard, with some shade from the old yew trees. I know it well. As a family, we always visited and maintained the graves of my grandparents and after Mother died, I was a frequent visitor. Part of me always wondered if she would preferred to have been cremated and have her ashes scattered in the woods that she so loved, but I forbore to suggest it when she passed, knowing may father’s wishes on the matter. Perhaps the yew trees sufficed to connect her with those woods.

There are two panels on the tomb as yet untouched by the mason’s chisel, someday to receive the names of Gilbert Edwin Ballard, my brother, and me. Of course, under present circumstances, I cannot imagine when the latter might happen. I know that it is possible for me to die, but that may be a long time hence. Nathaniel William Ballard – 1855 to well, anything more than 1955 is going to look extremely suspicious. This is assuming, of course, that there is anything left of me to inter. From what I know of our lore, there will be little more than dust left when I go, if that. Certainly there was nothing left of Maric, not even his clothes, when the privations of the years finally took him.

There is a graveyard by the castle, for those residents of the town that declined Maric’s gift and who had remains to inter. I have ordered that stones be made for those who passed as a result of Gwythyr’s actions, even if there is precious little left to inter. For Maric, there is nothing to inter. I resolved, however, that there should be something. If not for his remains, then for the people of the town. A memorial or monument to remember him by.

For this, I wanted something more than the plain limestone slabs that mark the other graves, and while our craftsmen are skilled, I did not know if they had the wherewithal to construct what I envisaged. My thoughts initially were to go back to London, exchange more gold for cash with my tame jeweller and have the stonemasons of London construct something. But there were logistical problems there – getting heavy stones back, assembling them etc. Gwyneth reminded me that there are skilled craftsmen among the fae, which I had not considered. I supposed I had always imagined them working with delicate things – jewellery and such like.  But, I was wrong.

Bran introduced me to one such person, skilled in stonework, by the name of Hornblende. I showed him some sketches I had done, of what I envisaged as a suitable memorial. A rectangular base, akin to a large chest, and a stele thereupon, and on either side, two urns for flowers. Red and black, I said. Hornblende showed me some samples and I chose those that seemed most suitable. We refined the sketches and I set him to work and left him to it. While I am not unskilled in the craft of the builder, I am more used to brick and wood, than working with stone.

For myself, I took to the workshop to start to craft a casket, of the best woods I could find, and lined with lead. Therein, I thought, I would place a bottle of Maric’s favourite wine, and a few personal items left of his. Said casket could then to be placed in the base of the memorial, in lieu of his bones. Perhaps there could be more, I thought. This memorial was for all the townsfolk. Perhaps, I thought, each who wished to do so could give some small item in remembrance, or even just a note, expressing their thoughts and memories, to be placed in the casket too. This idea pleased me greatly, and so I made a proclamation to the townsfolk, suggesting they might like to do so. And I sent similar missives to the fae courts, in case they wished to honour him too. Yes, this will be a fitting memorial.

Of course, Maric was so much more than could be contained in a casket of missives and small, personal items. Much more than a few slabs of marble and granite could convey. There is always going to be a much larger monument – in his legacy – the town of Mysthaven and its inhabitants. The home that he made it, the people he shaped, including me, and what it can be in the future. That is the lasting legacy, a lasting monument to the man I knew. I am reminded of the words that Sir Christopher Wren’s son had inscribed on his tomb – “Lector, si monumentum requires, circumspice” – Reader, if you require a monument, look around you. Perhaps I could borrow those words for this memorial. I am sure Sir Christopher would not mind.

Monument

marictombpic

O Captain, My Captain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To join the Gods was to Love them.

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

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

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

 To embrace the Gods was to face annihilation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Laying Down the Burden

The days after the defeat of Gwythyr were taken up with the aftermath. The castle foundations and vaults suffered greatly, with the ice and cold created by Gwythyr. Dyisi was able to access the vaults and capture the Wyrmthorn, that remnant of what had been Gwythyr’s sword, which escaped from Galyanna so many moons ago and wreaked such havoc. She fashioned a bag of some sort that would hold it safe, and then, by her own means, stepped into some other realm, where she was able to direct it into the heart of a sun, that most destructive of fires.  Whether it was our own sun, or some distant star, I do not know. All I know that it is gone. And now, we could begin the process of recovery.

Much of the vaults, I fear, we may not be able to recover. Ice and water and Gwythyr’s foul influence has caused much damage. It took some time to clean out the water, as the ice he left began to melt, and that was noxious with the grisly remains of those he killed. My stewards and I had to survey the damage and plan for the eventual return of the castle residents and the villagers, once we were sure that all was safe for them to do so.

Dyisi used her abilities to bring Maric out of his torpor much sooner than I expected, and with minimal loss of limbs. Would that it had been so easy on previous occasions. However, he seemed changed by the experience. Change was inevitable, for as well as the man I knew, there was that darker influence, the spirit of the Huntsman still within him, and with that, the influence of the Unseelie Throne. For some time, it has been clear that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to reconcile his duties to the fae with his duties to the people of Mysthaven, and he has hinted to me before that a time for change was due.

He came to me, shortly before the equinox. While he was, for the most part, the man I knew, it was clear that something was tugging at him.  He caressed the books and spoke of them being his most prized possessions. At the same time, that other side of him thought it worthless drivel and would tear it all down, to the last stone. That other side of him showed for a moment, in the claws that almost tore the binding of one of the books, but Maric dominated again. He would not let that happen. He entrusted the castle, the village, everything in it to me, to protect it and them for him and from him, from all, even the Summerlands. But, before I swore it, I had to know all the secrets.

I had been expecting this, and so I was not surprised. I was standing by one of the library cases, idly browsing. In my hands was a volume of Plato, Timaeus, to be precise. I opened it at random and read “τὸν μὲν οὖν ποιητὴν καὶ πατέρα τοῦδε τοῦ παντὸς εὑρεῖν τε ἔργον καὶ εὑρόντα εἰς πάντας ἀδύνατον λέγειν.” I thought back to my Greek lessons in school and translated as best I could, conscious as I did that Dyisi had joined us. “It would be a hard task to discover the maker and father of this universe of ours, and even if we did find him, it would be impossible to speak of him to everyone.” It seemed appropriate, since I knew not what hand had framed the universe I now inhabited. I put the book back and spoke of my family’s library, the thing that my mother loved above all else, save for her family and how she would have let the rest of the house burn, if she could have saved the library. The castle, the village and its people were already in my keeping, I told him. I was already pledged to the land, like the kings of old. The burden was already mine. The damage done by Gwythyr, the deaths and suffering he caused, happened on my watch, they were my burden to bear. Against that, there was the joy of the land and its inhabitants, the greatest joy I knew save that of my beloved wife, so long absent in the throes of winter. Speak your secrets, I bade him.

He took my hand, and Dyisi’s and showed me, through the mental link. The tale he told was a horrendous one. Perhaps some day I shall write it down in more detail. He told of years of torture and torment at the hands of the one who had made him, a chase into the mountains, and one final torment, finding the tomb of the one who had been Maric’s wife and Queen. His sire had lied to him that the Queen had too been embraced and kept apart as part of his punishment. Maric finally gained his revenge, turning his anger upon his sire and defeating him. Furthermore, he used his skills to change the remains of his sire, the stones of the tomb, and even the bones of his queen, fashioning from them, a castle of stone, this very castle in which I now stood. The enormity of that revelation staggered me, not only in the scope of this ancient vampire’s powers, but also the realisation of what the castle was. I only had limited experience of linking to the castle sense, and so I had little idea of what made it so. Now I did.

He asked if, knowing now what the castle was, if I still wanted to take on the responsibility of ruling over the realm. I understood better now, I told him, what the castle was, but added that I also understood what it was now, for to my mind, it had been shaped by the many years since its formation, the many lives that had passed through it, all those that had come before, including me. My word still stood, I said. I had not qualified my pledge. I had not, I said, resorting to humour, pledged myself to the castle, except for the yucky bits. There was one condition, though, I added. I would accept that responsibility for the people IF they would have me. I did not say, nor did I need to, that he had been their lord for many hundreds of years, and I had been here but a few. I think he understood.

My comment about the yucky bits almost brought a smile to his face. His tone was formal though, and spoke the words “So be it” to seal that pact. That I felt, that slight tremor of the Wyld when any oath is made.  I was a noble soul, he told me, and the people would accept me gladly. And, he added, I need not fear that the influence of Gwythyr would taint me through the castle again. He had the power to prevent that. We needed now to drink of each other, as we had done before, and then to spill our blood for the castle. He would enact the rite that would make me master of it, just as he was and had been.  Again, there was the question, if I was willing. I answered in deed, by baring my wrist and offering it to him, even as I took his and raised it to my mouth.

We fed from each other with an intensity we had not known before, and I felt the essence of the Wyld, both from his position as Unseelie King, and from that other side of his, as well as the truly ancient vampire that he was, as if he was trying to pour his essence into me. Then, as we fed, he led me to the walls and there, we allowed our blood to pour out onto the hungry stones. As our blood poured out, he spoke in a tongue I did not know, nor could even guess, save that it seemed ancient. Its intention, however, was very clear. A rite of some sort, as I could feel the power, a magical energy quite unlike any of my own. It spoke to the stones and bones, to that ancient husk and then, it spoke to me, connecting me to that castle sense and the whole of the domain and all that was within. Much like the first time I fed from Maric, or the Quickening I received from Faermorn, it was overwhelming, and, like those times, I had to ride it like a surfer. This was the real connection to the castle. By comparison, my previous experience of the castle sense was like hearing a cheerful workman whistling a Mozart tune instead of hearing a full orchestra playing the same.

I stood, leaning my head against the wall as I tried to integrate this new sense, vaguely aware of a change in Maric, as if he had not so much shared that link to the castle, as transferred it, a strange sense that another burden had been relieved. “Good luck,” he told me, “and rule well.” I told him that I would do so, as I had always tried to do. I giggled then, perhaps a little intoxicated by the transfer of power and asked if I still needed to call him my lord, or was that me now. I sobered again and told him that, no matter what, he always had my friendship. He accepted that with good grace and said it was a rare and wondrous thing. And yes, he was no longer lord, and that we were equal in the eyes of his people. He wished me good fortune and the best of the vine. I sensed that here, was a beginning of a parting.

His attention turned to Dyisi and the sword that she had been carrying. Strange it was, seeming fashioned from crystal rather than bronze or steel, and more besides. In the mix of feelings and emotions that flowed, from him, from Dyisi, I sensed it was more than a sword, as if it held something more. She handed it to him and spoke as if it were a person, as did he. Could a soul be trapped somehow in a sword of crystal? Dyisi spoke of him seeking forgiveness and atonement. He spoke of setting somebody, Aelia perhaps, free. I sensed that his was another lost love. Trapped somehow in this sword? I could not tell, only surmise from what was said and what was felt. He needed to release her, and this was something he needed to do alone, for he knew not how dangerous she would be. He promised he would come back and share with Dyisi whatever could be shared, and then he was gone, disappearing into the shadows. Dyisi left too, radiating strange emotions, compassion for Maric, love for him, and sadness, as if she too sensed an ending, and a sense of other feelings held in check.

And so, I stood, alone in my office, master now of this castle and all the domain. Maric has laid his burden down, and I must, perforce, take it up, not knowing when, if ever, I may lay my burden down. That, I do not have time to consider. I have my people to take care of.

Lay my Burden Down – Alison Krauss and Union Station

 

 

 

Things I Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Collectors – Things I Remember

 

Sweet Child of Mine

((Catchup post – original RP 8 March 2015))

Maybe some day, I will find the missing volume of my journal, or, I may recreate those entries from memory and other records. However, there are some things I must recall and record. It was in early March, the eighth of March to be precise, that Wren officially became part of my family.

We had discussed it before, of course, and she had eventually overcome the reluctance caused by her previous unhappy experiences of adoption. However, we had not gotten around to doing anything official, as I hadn’t had the chance to discuss it with Maric. The chance came that evening, shortly after full moon.

We had been socialising around the fire pits by the tree, as usual. Myself, Dyisi, Wren and Aoibheann. The latter had her new pet in tow, a small deer-like creature that we had only recently identified as a dik-dik. There was also a recent arrival, Johaan, a somewhat androgynous ghost from the German Confederation, who turned out to be quite the book-lover. Maric returned, apparently none-the-worse for his full-moon-driven hunting. He didn’t appear to show any evidence of having killed or fed, but I couldn’t say for sure. I know only that Helene had been safe, for I had sat with her, in my chambers, on the night of the full moon to prevent her from going to him.

We spoke a while on how it was that some people who arrived here in the Wylds often had connection to people already here. Johaan for example, had known Dyisi in some other realm. Helene had known me in London. And, of course, Hadley and Wren had separately found their way here, possibly because of their connections with Aoibheann, Gwyn and I. We discussed that for a while, and that brought up the subject of family. This seemed an ideal opportunity, since Maric seemed in an affable mood, to bring up the matter of Wren’s adoption, and making it official.

Much to my delight, and Wren’s, Maric was fully in favour of doing so, giving his blessing, and suggesting we repair to my office to draw up the papers, after which, he suggested, we have a small party to celebrate.

Dyisi came with us, as did Aoibheann and Johaan, though the latter’s interest was more in the library than our family concerns, and Aoibheann got bored and went to organise some wine and cakes.

Then I had to work out the best way to make the adoption official. A certificate of adoption seemed the best idea. While I had drawn up and engaged in many contracts over the years, they had always been of a more commercial and financial nature. I considered the matter and decided that what was important was the actual declaration of the adoption, and the identification of the parties concerned. Knowing this importance the fae placed on pedigree, I enquired as to Wren’s family history, which, sadly, thanks to assorted adoptions, there was very little, save that she knew her original surname. That was going to have to do, so to avoid things looking unbalanced, I quoted my pedigree only as far as my parents.

I drafted a short adoption notice and showed it to Maric and Wren, who made a few suggestions, which I incorporated. I then got out some of the nicer, heavier duty paper, such as I had used for Maric’s betrothal notice and his confirmation as Winter King, and wrote it out in my best formal hand.

I signed it, Wren signed it, and I was pleased to see that she wrote the new surname in a slightly clearer hand. Dyisi witnessed it, signing in Greek lettering, and finally, Maric, signed it in blood and affixed his seal. After that, he spoke a few words in some ancient tongue, yet I seemed to understand it as sealing the contract magically. The last few words I recognised from elsewhere, whatever the actual words were, the context was “so mote it be” and so it was. We retired then to the main hall to enjoy cakes and drinks, even allowing Wren a small glass of cider for the special occasion.

So, that is my joyous news, dear journal, if a little late. I have a family again, a family by choice, and I feel I could not have chosen better. The tomboy princess I once saluted and addressed as Patrolman, as she marched up and down the village square in Jasper Cove is now my daughter, and I could not love her more if she were my own flesh and blood. And now that she has a place in my family, I can better protect her when the fae come calling.
adoptionwren

Where Loyalties Lie

((Catchup Post – original RP  10 Nov 2014))

Am I the only one who sees shades of grey? Perhaps that is my failing, that I try to see things from different side, try to see the merit or otherwise in all things. Does that make me soft? Does that make me indecisive? Is it a blessing or curse that I see both sides? I don’t know, but it is very much part of who I am, so I suppose I have to take it as a good thing. Sometimes, though, it is hard, when others around me don’t and it falls to me to be the reasonable one. I should be used to it with Aoibheann, who rarely sees shades of grey in anything, but it’s harder with Maric. But then, he sometimes lacks experience in certain things. I never imagined I would be the experienced one when dealing with a vampire who is over 1000 years old. Hadley has gone to Hell, literally. Depending on who you believe, she was kidnapped by Vedis, or at least, the memory of Vedis. Or, Hadley summoned Vedis somehow and convinced her to take her to Hell. Either way, Maric is not pleased and neither is Dorina. Not knowing the circumstances, I must defer judgement. I do know Hadley was not entirely happy here, and I know she is fond of her Aunty Vedis, but until I know more, I can’t say which story I believe. Or perhaps it is somewhere in between. I do know that Maric is determined to rescue her. I can understand that, as he vowed to protect her, and, at the moment, can not, or perhaps will not, see how Hell can be a good place for a young child. Although I have some sympathy with that view, I am less certain of it. But then, I have more experience of Vedis than most here, and for all that she is a queen of demons, I do not believe she would wish harm upon the child. Maric called a meeting, with me and Galyanna, with Aoibheann and Wren turning up in tow. It did not go well. Maric was extremely angry at everybody – for letting Vedis into the village, for letting her take Hadley away, for not informing the village guards that she was here. He was angry that he had failed in his protection of Hadley, angry that he had been betrayed, as he saw it, by Vedis, and most angry that Hadley was in a place that he deemed unsuitable. Wren was confused, understandably so, because nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Vedis had visited the village, which, as an ally she was allowed to do, Hadley had gone with her, regarding Vedis as a friend and auntie, and nobody had given orders to the contrary. Galyanna was angry because she also felt betrayed, because her queen had been killed and she had not been given the chance to voice an opinion, or find an alternative method of getting rid of Morning Star’s taint. She also questioned Maric’s right to demand anything of her, especially not demanding that she go down to hell and to treat Vedis effectively as the enemy. She asked me what I would do if the circumstances were reversed, if Vedis had killed Maric and then demanded that I help her against him. That was a question I could not answer, I told her. I told her that, like her, I was bound by my oaths and my loyalties to my friends. And, if there was a conflict of interests, only then could I decide, only then could I make a judgement call as to what the greater good was, or perhaps the lesser evil. Until I knew Hadley’s circumstances, I could not decide what I would do. She thanked me for my honesty. She would go to Hell, she said, and if Hadley was in danger, she would rescue her. If, on the other hand, she was safe and well and happy there, she would defend her equally fiercely. She turned to leave, urging Wren to go with her. I could see that Maric was beginning to lose control, and it was not helped by Aoibheann’s simplistic view of things, urging him not to trust Galyanna. He began to scream and shout at us, seemingly unable to see anything other than Hadley’s presence in Hell as a bad thing. Just then, Dorina came charging in, attempting to attack Galyanna. I managed to grab her and command her to be still. I succeeded in that and then, reckoning the situation beginning to get out of hand, tried to project calm, especially at Maric and Aoibheann, saying there was no point in fighting among ourselves. Whatever our disagreements, our first priority was to ascertain Hadley’s safety or otherwise and take appropriate action. Aoibheann appeared offended and stalked off. Galyanna somehow did not defend herself from Dorina’s attack, perhaps considering her the lesser threat. She claimed, and I believed her, that she had not lied to us, nor broken any oath, else she, too, would be being hunted by the cŵn. She asked Wren how many times she had lied to her, or put her in danger. Every word came out cold, measured, as though she were holding herself in check by main force. She had to go, she said, to prepare for her journey to find out what had happened. Wren started to say that Galyanna had never lied to her, but, thing were getting tense, and I could sense Maric was almost at breaking point. Even as I started to suggest that Wren and Dorina follow Galyanna’s example and leave, Maric yelled at us to do so. An explosion was imminent. I grabbed Wren and started to leave, trying to grab Dorina as well, but she refused to leave him. She said he hadn’t abandoned her, so she would not abandon him. I tried to dissuade her but she was adamant. I reasoned that she and Maric had their own bond, and perhaps that would protect her. I needed to get Wren to safety, so that is what I did. I am left, though, in a quandary. Maric seems intent on snatching Hadley away from the jaws of Hell, literally, as he can see no good in that place. If he so orders, then I would have to obey. Yet, I have known Vedis and Galyanna a long time, longer than I have known Maric, and they have never betrayed me, that I know of. Until I hear Hadley’s story from her mouth, I cannot decide. And I do not know, in the current circumstances, how that would be achieved.