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.